As we move into another fall, a couple of things are on our plate in addition to our normal operations. We’re working hard on harvest pickling – it has been a fun couple of weeks so far of purchasing, processing and canning. We’re refining our recipes and getting a little more inventive this year with our pickles and preserves. We’re working on building a pantry shelf in our stand to help house all of the new jars. On the garden front, it’s a bit of an inverse time of year for that kind of thing, but we’re talking about garlic! This project should bear some wonderful fruit next year – we’re working on growing a large patch of garlic that we’re going to sell at market and use in our prep. Thanks a million to Bill Hatten for donating copious land, labour, and love!
We’re excited for the spring and all the fresh new produce we’ll be growing and getting this year. One of the more exciting but lesser known native Ontario crops comes right at the beginning of the growing season. Wild leeks, or ramps, are a North American native member of the allium (onion) family. They are more often than not the first budding plants in their region for the year, so the best time to spot a patch is by looking around soon after the spring thaw. Since these guys are so delectable, with a mildly onion-like but very distinct flavour, they are unfortunately over-harvested. This combined with their long gestation / maturation time – a wild leek plant takes a few years to settle in – means that you should only ever pick a few at a time, and the largest ones in the patch at that. If you should be so lucky, clean them up and separate the tops from the stems. The tops make a wonderful pesto, and the stems can be sliced and lightly cooked to add a wonderful springtime “onion/garlic yet not” flavour to almost any dish. Alternatively, pickle the stems for a snappy crunchy snack. We owe it to these plants to enjoy them in moderation, though, or we won’t be enjoying anything at all. Just remember the best things come in small doses!
Curing, smoking and preserving meats pre-dates refrigeration technology. We owe so many delicacies to this technique – salt cod, prosciutto, salami, bacon, and jerky. Beef jerky has its roots as a ration, dried out so that as little as possible moisture remains. Why? To minimize or eliminate the chance for bacterial growth. To make meat food-safe at room temperature.We make our own beef jerky and the process is fun and simple.
Ingredients - A high quality lean cut of beef is required here. You will notice the difference. Normally you look for some fat marbling in a quality piece of beef, however in this case fat is your enemy as it will render out and make the jerky greasy. We use the inside round cut of Ontario beef for our jerky. As a marinade we use a combination of soy sauce, worcestershire, chili powder and brown sugar.
Procedure - Steaks are cut against the grain as the resultant portion of meat is easier to cut and cooks tenderly. Jerky, on the other hand, must be sliced parallel to the fibrous grain that runs through it. When the jerky finishes drying, the cells holding the fibers together lose their volume. If it were cut like a steak, the resultant product can crumble and even fall apart. Once sliced, the beef is placed in the marinade for 6 hours. An alternative method at this step is a dry cure. Once cured, we dry with paper towel and place on a bare sheet tray into our gas oven overnight with only the pilot lit.
Product - The result is a delicious dry snack, with a much lower sodium content than other commercial jerkies, and no additives, preservatives, hormones or antibiotics. We then put out scale and vacuum sealer to work portioning 40g portions. The yield is approximately 20% of the fresh product by weight.
Try this at home! You don’t need a dehydrator, just your home oven set very low (~120F) and propped open to allow moisture to escape, slowly drying the meat without burning. Depending on when you’ll eat it and on your particular tastes, you can try drying it out less or more. Better yet come grab a bag of ours next time you’re in for a sandwich!