What a lovely fall it’s been so far! Just enough rainy weather to bring voluptuous cumulus clouds whose edges glimmer with light at dawn and sunset, but not enough rain yet to knock off the leaves too soon. Driving through neighborhood shortcuts to miss the rush-hour traffic as I go to a class downtown twice a week, I’ve been keeping track of autumn’s progress. Beautiful deciduous trees suffuse the afternoon with waves of brightening crimson, wine and golden. Much gratitude to landscapers who thought about fall color 15 or 20 years ago. I especially love going down a street with black walnut and plum trees when a brisk wind stirs and loosens the leaves and they drift down, shining in the slanting sunlight.
We haven’t had any frost yet, and my two enormous but not very produtive tomato vines are still a straggling green mountain in the front yeard. I was late enough planting them, and the summer was so cool, that I only got about 11 ripe fruits, but a multitude of green ones are still on the plant with no hope of enough time to ripen up. I’ll harvest them right away and make a batch of spicy fragrant green tomato mincemeat for the holidays.
My dad and I are the main lovers of mince pie, but we especially enjoy it when baked into little tarts. (Use any piecrust recipe, pinch off small balls of dough and press them into little canoe shapes, then fill with a spoonful of the mince and bake until golden brown – about 12-15 minutes at 375 degrees.) I make it the weekend after Thanksgiving when he and I are hanging around at my house so we can appreciate the rich smell of it cooking all afternoon.
My recipe appeared in Renee Shepherd’s More Recipes from a Kitchen Garden, and I give it to you here. Put it up in pint jars with a pretty label, it makes a nice gift for friends you are sure don’t get nervous about other people’s canning.
Benjamin’s Green Tomato Mincemeat
(wonderful for pie, tart or cookie fillings, or served on crisp whole wheat crackers with cream cheese)
7 cups finely chopped very green tomatoes
7 cups finely chopped tart firm green apples
1 whole lemon, finely chopped, including rind
3 cups raisins
3 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
3 tablespoons light molasses
1 ½ cups apple cider vinegar
½ cup brandy
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
¾ teaspoon ground allspice
¾ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 ½ teaspoons salt
¾ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ cup butter
Mix together all ingredients except butter in a deep, heavy-bottomed kettle. Bring to a boil and immediately turn down heat so mixture will bubble gently. Cook uncovered over medium to low heat, stirring regularly to prevent sticking for 3 hours or until mixture is thick and liquid is absorbed. (Watch and lower heat if mixture is spattering.) After about an hour and a half, begin to taste often. If liquid seems to be evaporating too quickly, add additional vinegar or brandy, depending on taste. If mixture seems too tart, add more sugar. Once mincemeat is cooked down to desired thickness, mix in butter a little bit at a time until well combined. Can or freeze, or store in the refrigerator for up to a month. Makes 3 quarts of rich aromatic spicy-brown mincemeat, enough for 6 small pies.
Another present still hanging on the plants in my front yard is cayenne vinegar. My brother in lwy loves to cook Chinese food, so I’ll make him an easy garden gift by picking skinny, red-ripe cayenne peppers, poking several of them into an attractive vinegar bottle, either recycled or bought from a fancy kitchen shop, and filling up the bottle with sherry vinegar. He’ll use it for sweet and sour sauces.
You can also make a good spicy salad condiment by cutting open the peppers, filling a glass jar and covering the peppers and a few cloves of garlic with red wine vinegar, letting it steep, then straining the liquid off after 2 or 3 weeks and bottling with a pepper in the jar. But probably the peppers will have frozen by then, so I won’t have a fresh one left. This would have been a fun project to do in the summer, but since I didn’t do it then, I can still bottle those peppers right away and have a gourmet goodie for a fellow chef under the tree.