Farewell, summer, hello green tomatoes!

Some garden chores we do without thinking much of it. You know the ones I mean — the weeding, cutting plants back, staking them, crushing caterpillars or looking for eggs on the underside of a leaf. But others have more weight because they are harbingers of their seasons. As we move ever more firmly out of summer territory and into the persistently nostalgic realm of fall we have been performing the requisite garden chores — sowing garlic, peas and broad beans, and tending the cool weather veg. And last weekend, I cast off my final moorings to summer as we gathered the green tomatoes.

The sun abandoned us last weekend and a chilly rain fell. At night, cold winds with ice on their breath rushed down from the mountain, and sent us in search of woolens stowed away months ago. We retreated to the warmth of the wood stove, with chestnuts crackling merrily atop its lid. I finally had to face it — no tomato was going to ripen in weather like this. Ali and I cut the plants down and gathered the hard green fruit. At the end of it, we had about 10 kilos. (The tomato plants had cheered up once the heat receded a bit, and when it started to rain a little on top of that, they started fruiting like mad.)

10 kilos is a lot of fried green tomatoes, but luckily we had other plans, too. While we were living in Nairobi, my mother learned how to make green tomato chutney, and it has been a staple of our pantry ever since. It is lovely, gingery, vinegary stuff that keeps forever — we have had bottles for years and they just mellow and mature, getting yummier as the time goes by. Somehow, years have passed since we last made chutney (last year, for instance, was not a banner year for tomatoes in our garden), so I told my mom that we would have to make a big batch. And boy did we ever — not once, but twice!

Let me be very clear about one thing here — my mom did all the work. My sole contribution to this process was to get all the ingredients and talk up the importance of having lots of chutney. That got my mom all fired up, and no sooner had I mentioned that I hoped we could get it done before the tomatoes started to ripen than my mother started chopping tomatoes. She made two batches of chutney, each using 4 kilos of tomatoes. Since you may have more or less than that, I am writing the recipe for one kilo, so that it can be easily multiplied or divided.


1 kg. green tomatoes (I like to weigh them after I chop them)

65 g. ginger

100 g. garlic

500 ml cider vinegar

350-400 g brown sugar

1 T Garam Masala

1. Chop your tomatoes and mince the garlic and ginger.

2. Toss them in a non-reactive pot and add the vinegar and sugar. Simmer over low heat until the whole thing gets dark brown and thickens to your liking. You will want to stir it once in a while, particularly towards the end.

3. If, like us, you did not stir enough towards the end and it starts to catch on the bottom and get a bit scorched, don’t panic. Just dump it all out without agitating the bottom of the pot, and no one will be the wiser. As penance, you may eat as much of the burnt chutney as you can stand, but it’s not really necessary. Just soak your pot and let it go.

4. Stir in the Garam Masala, and add a bit more if you think it needs it.

5. Pack it in jars, eat it out of the pot, hoard it, give it away. (If you want to can it, you could do what I did and sterilize your jars, pack them and then process them in a water bath for 5 minutes.)

We ended up with 10 big (650 ml) jars of chutney and a few bowls for the table. Amazingly, it did not deplete the tomatoes, so I am pickling the rest.

I use the formula for sour pickles that can be found in Sandor Katz’s excellent book, Wild Fermentation. It is one of my favorite books about food because it is about so much more than just food (as if food weren’t enough!). He recommends a 5.4% brine solution, which is to my liking. The only change I have made is that I throw a few chickpeas in because that’s what folks around here do, and this is pickling country!


2 litres water

108 grams non-iodized salt

fresh dill

2 heads garlic

a pinch of peppercorns

3 or 4 chickpeas

vegetables — green tomatoes, for example. Cucumbers work too!

a handful grape, horseradish or cherry leaves (keeps things crunchy, but you can make respectable pickles without these)

1. Dissolve the salt in the water. Pack your jars — dill first, then everything else and cover with brine.

2. You need to keep your vegetables submerged in the brine. I can never find a plate that will fit into any of the jars that I use for pickling and I am sadly lacking in crocks, so this is what I do: I get a gallon sized ziploc bag and fill it about a third full with brine. Then I let all the air out before I seal it and I end up with a floppy brine bladder. This fits into any space and keeps everything in the brine and out of the air where it belongs.

3. You will most likely encounter scum while your pickles are fermenting. Skim it, and if you remove the brine bladder and it has scum all over it, it is easy to rinse off.

4. Depending on the weather, you could start tasting your pickles after 5 (hot weather) to 7 (cooler weather) days. When they are as sour as you want them to be, move them into the fridge (or if you have a nice chilly basement, that works too).

And lest I sound too gloomy about fall, let me close with a look at some of the good things about this season:

Pomegranates, persimmons, and gourds…. oh my!

smells and squeaks

The garden is full of scents! A honeysuckle that we planted in the outdoor kitchen is in full bloom, and the scent of it wafts about, making kitchen work positively dreamy.

The stinky and the sweet: fresh garlic and the honeysuckle by the kitchen.

As I worked on lunch, Ali wandered over with a flower from the white peony. It’s got a scent that reminds me of lily of the valley, but the scent of it in say, a talcum powder.

Can you spot the spider? Who could blame it for choosing such a sweet smelling home.

I was working on getting some lunch together — bubble and squeak and rarebits. My dad was a great fan of bubble and squeak — I think he liked to say it as much as he liked to eat it. There’s a nice article in the Guardian that breaks it down into a simple formula (equal parts potato and cabbage by volume not by weight, fry well). I thought it would make a good lunch for Kaya as well.

At the table, Kaya happily submitted to eating a few bites of the bubble and squeak that I had pureed for him, before making a lunge for my rarebit. I broke off a piece and gave it to him, and he tore away at it with his new front teeth. He demolished about half of it, eating it as fast as I could give it to him. It was a minimalist sort of rarebit (no beer, for instance), but as he liked it so much, I thought I would share the recipe. It’s a nice thing to make to go alongside a soup or a vegetable dish.

Bare bones rarebit:
1 1/4 c. milk
1 bay leaf
2 T butter
2T flour
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/2 t mustard
Worcestershire sauce
2 slices bread (you may have enough sauce for more than two, depending on the size of the bread)

Put the bay leaf in the milk with a few grinds of pepper and heat to boiling then shut off and let them get to know one another. In the mean time, melt the butter in another pot and add the flour to form a roux. Let it cook for a couple of minutes. Then add the milk in three installments, stirring well to keep things from getting lumpy. Cook the resulting sauce for another two minutes before removing from the heat. Add the cheese and stir vigorously to melt it. Then stir in your mustard and add a bit of Worcestershire sauce as well if you like.
Heat the broiler and toast the tops of your bread under it before spreading a thick layer of cheesy sauce on them. Set them under the broiler, but not too close, and let the sauce get hot and brown.
Keep out of reach of babies, or else make a helping for any babies present.

Hands off my rarebit!

And while I am on the topic of food that Kaya loves, I have to also make special mention of a wonderful recipe I found at one of my favorite blogs, From the Bartolini Kitchens. It’s for polpettine (diminutive meatballs), a new staple in my kitchen. We had them the other night, and Kaya was jumping up and down in his seat for more (even Baki, the world’s pickiest eater, tucked in happily). What’s so interesting to me about this is that the blog is dedicated to sharing family recipes, many of them tied to wonderful memories and stories. Wouldn’t it be nice if one day Kaya learned to make polpettine so that he could bring back his memories of eating them under the garlic braids in the garden kitchen.

Spinach from top to bottom

Our summers are relentlessly hot and dry, so I adore spring. We still have enough rain not to do much watering at all, and the temperature is mild enough for all the plants to be quite relaxed and cheery. It’s the season that makes me feel like gardener of the year because everything just won’t stop growing. (Then it all grinds to a halt in the dead of summer and I feel like plant kryptonite.)
After some good showers last week, there was a growth spurt in the garden and the spinach in particular seemed to have ballooned. Thus, I ended up with a bucket of spinach.
The leaves I cooked in the water left on the leaves after washing, in a big pot. I squeezed the water out and made them into balls because my mother taught me that you can never go amiss by having cooked spinach at hand.

That left the bottoms. This is a part of the plant that Turkish cuisine treats quite lovingly. It is part of the great category of dishes known as olive oil dishes. I am always hesitant to wander into this territory, as I have a very capable cook as a mother in law, and an unreservedly critical audience in my husband, but with the help of both of them and a good friend, I was able to brave it.
So for anyone out there with spinach to consume, here’s something you can do with all those tail ends once you’ve dispensed with the leafy bits.

Wash them well because all the dirt hangs out in these regions:

Then comes a crucial step. You’ve got to dry them really well. You can put them in a salad spinner or shake them out, or even towel dry them, but get the water off those ends! My mother in law even recommended squeezing them out.

Put a goodly amount of olive oil in a pot or pan with a lid (no less than 3 T, I’d say) and in it, gently cook a chopped onion until it is soft but not browned. (I happened to have pulled up a carrot, so I added that too.)

Add the spinach ends and stir. Cover it to let it steam a bit in its own moisture, but keep lifting the lid to give it a stir once in a while. Stems are sturdy things, so it will take about ten minutes for them to cook properly.

My friend Meltem gave me this sterling piece of advice:
“The spinach should glisten with the olive oil.”
This, I think, illustrates perfectly how dry everything ought to be kept, and also that it won’t do to be stingy with the oil. (Which can also be added after cooking, and some would say it must be.)

My husband’s (curtly delivered) advice, “lemon juice,” is equally instructive: squeeze a bit of lemon over the top before serving, for a sparkly flavor.

The result is a lovely, simple dish that tastes like the very essence of the vegetable, which, I suppose, it is.


A cola bottle that only a mother could love

Whenever I hang out with my mother, she makes me feel as if I am the funniest person in the world because she laughs like crazy at all of my jokes. (I learned long ago not to expect this type of response from anyone else in the world.) When I was little, I asked her who the best artist in the whole world was, and she told me I was. Little megalomaniac that I was, I believed her.
My mom is a fount of unreserved enthusiasm for my every pursuit. She is the one that people are talking about when they say only a mother could love something/someone. So it came as no surprise that my mom flipped over my oil bottles.

Yes, it’s our old friend the cola bottles. This is my solution to the drippy bottle of oil problem. I buy oil in big 5 litre cans, and they are unwieldy to say the least, so I decant them into cola bottles and then poke a hole into the cap. I use a screw for this, or a hot skewer, depending on how I feel about fumes that day. The cola bottles are nice and squishy, so it is really easy to just squirt oil into a pan and there is no dripping — they just suck back in when you let go of them. Perfect oil dispensers. Now, I won’t be upset if you are not as excited about this as my mom was, you understand. Here’s a blurry look at that hole:

One of the best things about my mom, though, is that I can talk to her about anything. When I say anything, I mean I can call her to tell her about a fried egg that I just ate. That is one of the things that makes people really special, I think — the things that you can share with them. I miss my dad every time I read a book and I wish I could just sit and talk to him about it. And of course, the boys are so remarkable, I wish I could share them with him, too. I think that it is what is so lonely-making after someone dies — you have to try and hold up both ends of the conversation by yourself.
Still, it is best not to let people turn into flawless saints once they are gone. So, on the topic of cola bottles again, let me state for the record that my father taught Baki to say “Coca Cola.” I was adamant that Baki not have any sugar for as long as possible, and was able to fend off both sides of the family for exactly two years, and my father was quite open about how joyless he found the whole enterprise. It didn’t do much good in the long run, I have to say — Baki is an absolute maniac for sugar (then again, so am I). Anyway, shortly after he turned two, we were at the dinner table at my parents’ house in Istanbul and my father turned to Baki and pointed to his glass of cola and said to him, “this is Coca Cola. Can you say that? Coca. Cola.” I can’t remember if he gave Baki some or not, but he did it just to get me riled. I recall that he was very pleased with himself, and I was massively put out. It makes me smile to think of it now, though.

Three steps to dinner

Here’s the recipe for the easiest way to cook fish that I know.*
You need:

1) Some fish
2) Some herbs (optional- I used fennel tops)
3) Salt

Step 1:

A thin layer of salt in the pan.

Step 2:

Add fish (with herbs in their bellies if you’re using them)

Step 3:

A thin layer of salt to blanket the fish. (coarse salt is easier to remove after, but fine salt works too)
Bake at 350 F for 20 minutes.

Scrape off the salt and serve.
Part of a balanced dinner.


* Recipe adapted from the very excellent Pauper’s Cookbook by Jocasta Innes.