Thursday, September 17, 2015

Head to 4M Vineyards—It’s Concord Time!

Oh, joy! The concord grapes are ready at 4M Vineyards! You can buy 3-lb. boxes, 20-lb. half bushels, and 40-lb. whole bushels of them at excellent prices through about the end of October. (The grape season usually starts in early to mid August and extends into October.)

Most people make jelly or juice from concords, but I like to make them into grape pies, tarts, and kuchens, and “pickled grapes” (which is really a spiced grape jam, akin to pickled peaches). The latter is a favorite of Dad’s.

Right now, I’m giving you links to 4M’s website and Facebook page—look at those for official info and updates on what’s currently available.

During grape harvest season, they’re open 7 days a week, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. When it gets to be late October and the grape crop is finishing, to make sure to call ahead to make sure they’re open: 573-265-3340.

Once there’s a hard frost, that’s the end of the grapes: 4M typically has them available for about a week after the frost, but then that’s it. So call ahead if it’s late October.

4M Vineyards and Farms is located at 20670 State Route KK, which is 4 miles east of St. James, Missouri. Where they’re at, Route KK, actually old Route 66, runs along the south side of I-44 like an outer road, and 4M and some of its vineyards are plainly visible from the interstate.

If you’re on I-44, get off at the Highway 68/St. James exit, go south, and turn left (east) at the first stoplight (James Blvd., which becomes Route KK). (Often, people actually park on the shoulder of the interstate and walk up the grassy slope and across Route KK, but that’s not recommended!)

This, by the way, is the Ozark Highlands/St. James/Rosati grape-growing region of Missouri, a distinct American Viticultural Area (appellation) designated by the U.S. government (TTB). For more about that, visit the St. James Winery on the north side of the interstate.

Okay: Of all the places to purchase grapes in Missouri, why am I telling you about 4M Vineyards?

Because they’re the real thing, they’re local, they’re friendly, and their products, though unpretentiously presented, are deserving of the highest praise. It’s been a family business since 1984. My blog has always been about things like that.

One look at 4M’s annual letter and price list says it all. (Seriously, click on the link, and you’ll find an informational, entertaining announcement about 4M Vineyards’ progress and offerings this year. You’ll especially enjoy the story of the grapevine-chomping deer, the air cannon . . . and the neighbors!)

I love 4M Vineyards, and I deeply admire Mike and Jody Rippelmeyer, who own it. There are incredibly good reasons why their vineyards are expanding, why their preserves and baked goods are so delicious, and why a visit to their market is so pleasant.

We always make an annual trip to 4M! It’s worth it. I need my nice big box of concords!

I process (deseed) grapes in 3-cup batches, put them in quart-size freezer zip bags, and freeze them—each is enough for a pie or a kuchen, or a pint or so of pickled grapes.

But at 4M, we can also start our Christmas shopping: They sell a glorious variety of homemade jellies, jams, and other preserves that you can’t purchase just anywhere. Think how much your impoverished friends who live in big cities will love these goodies!

I mean, seriously! Here is a PARTIAL list (partial, because I ran out of room on my notepad!):

  • Apple butter; amaretto apple butter
  • Blackberry jelly
  • Cantaloupe marmalade
  • Catawba grape jam and jelly
  • Concord grape jam, jelly, and juice
  • Corn cob jelly
  • Cucumber pickles (various kinds)
  • Elderberry jelly and jam
  • Green tomato chutney
  • Jalapeno jelly (several kinds)
  • Niagara grape jam and jelly
  • Pear jelly; pear honey
  • Pineapple jelly
  • Pumpkin butter; pumpkin pie jelly
  • Relishes of various kinds
  • Salsas of various kinds
  • Tomato jam and jelly
  • Wild plum jelly and jam
  • Wine jelly (this is incredibly delicious!)
  • Zucchini pickles (various kinds)

—Wowsa! Doesn’t that sound tempting? Their shelves and shelves of preserves make me feel proud, and I didn’t lift a finger. And yes, they have samples for you to try.

And they make these goodies themselves—this isn’t just shipped in from Pennsylvania or someplace.

They also sell homemade banana bread, zucchini bread, pumpkin bread, and apple chip bread. (Just typing this, my mouth is watering.)

And they also make and sell grape pie—which is my favorite kind of pie. Not many people in Missouri make grape pie, but it’s well worth the extra effort. It is not only exquisitely delicious, but also a joy to behold, being a glorious, deep, royal purple.

Local honey and low-priced, top-notch fresh fruits and vegetables round out the edible bounty.

There’s also a fun selection of antiques and collectables, with an emphasis on cooking supplies. (Christmas is coming; and you know you could always use another cookie sheet, baking pan, or casserole dish!)

And although they don’t make and sell wine themselves, they sell wine-making supplies, including a selection of yeasts and (of course) bulk grapes! You can buy grape plants, too.

This is the best time of year to be in Missouri, and while you’re driving around enjoying the crisp air and scenery, stop at 4M and get some concords, while they last!

4M Vineyards and Farms
21000 State Route KK
St. James, MO 65559

  • Farm stand is typically open Aug. 7 to Nov. 1
  • Opening depends on ripening; closing depends on how long the crop holds.
  • Call ahead in early August or late October, to ensure they are open.
  • Open daily, 7 days a week, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Millet: “Often Called Birdseed in the U.S.”

It started with Aunt Carole giving me a bag of millet seed: “What do you do with this stuff?” She’d bought a bunch of it somewhere and hadn’t found anything decent to make with it. I suppose you can cook it simply, as a grain, like rice or quinoa or buckwheat kasha. It was flattering that she would think I had a clue about its usage.

It’s taken me a while to act on this uncommon gift. Millet. Millet.

It’s like tiny yellow balls.

Here in America, it’s a primary ingredient in birdseed mixes—in fact, of the inexpensive birdseed mixes. What birds eat it, exactly? Most simply flick it out of the feeder onto the ground. Mourning doves, with their muscular crops, can digest the stuff, I believe.

As I’ve told you (see sidebar “About Me”), I’ve been teaching myself Indian cooking. One of my references has been India Cookbook, by Pushpesh Pant (London: Phaidon Press, 2010). It’s thorough, well-organized, and provides a good introduction to the different regional cuisines.

In the glossary of that book, millet is defined as “an alternative to rice. The seeds can be used whole or ground and have a slightly nutty taste. Hulled millet is also often called birdseed in the US.” . . . Called birdseed? No, Mr. Pant, it is birdseed!

Why don’t more people here cook millet as a side dish, a grain? I know there are people interested in it because it’s gluten-free. But as a side dish, I guess it must be hard to beat rice and other more popular grains. So millet, I thought, might be better as a flour. And, being interested in flatbreads recently, I consulted my book.

There are some recipes in the “Breads” section of the India Cookbook that use millet flour. I decided to try the simplest one first.

And it is simple, indeed! Bajare ki Roti (Millet Bread) is not something I’ll try again. It is, essentially, millet flour plus water and a pinch of salt, mixed to a “semi-hard dough,” and allowed to sit for half an hour. Then (more or less) you make it into “flattened rounds” with your hands, then cook on a hot griddle or tawa on both sides . . . well, maybe I wasn’t doing it right, but it sure didn’t “puff up,” and instead of getting “crisp,” it just got hard. Like you might expect, actually.

And buttering it didn’t really help much.

For a breakfast, it was pretty grim. I’d gotten up early to grind the millet seeds into flour in my spice grinder, straining it through a wire sieve to make sure it was smooth. I’d followed the instructions pretty carefully, and the results were flat, hard disks that might have been used as hubcaps, if they were not brittle.

Sue and I gnawed on them for a bit, sipping coffee, then Sue got up and found a cup of yogurt. I kept chewing on the one I’d taken, just for the point of it. The flavor was indeed kind of nutty. Yeah . . . nutty, gritty, dense, hard, dry, bland. We agreed they might be welcome if you were, say, going on a long sea voyage, in the eighteenth century.

We didn’t throw them away, however. Because I had another plan!

I redeemed them, and also my labor in making millet flour in the first place: Another recipe in Mr. Pant’s book is “Bajari-Methi na Tepla,” or “Shallow-fried Fenugreek and Millet Bread.” This flatbread recipe uses many more ingredients, including whole wheat flour, and it definitely showed more promise. And apart from my time, what did I have to lose?

These teplas use equal parts whole wheat flour and millet flour. I made “millet flour” by pulverizing, then running through a sieve, the “Millet Bread” I’d made previously (yes, it was that dry, even with the oil it was fried in).

Additional ingredients include coriander powder, cumin, turmeric, chili powder, ginger, brown sugar, salt, and fenugreek (methi) leaves (although it’s harder to find fresh methi leaves, you can buy them dried at an international store, and they keep for a while if you seal them up really well).

The dough is moistened with yogurt (it calls for “soured natural yogurt,” but I used plain yogurt). (You can see why my bread-baking often doesn’t “turn out,” since I often don’t follow recipes very closely . . .)

And guess what! These were great! They even puffed up a little—how exciting! The methi/fenugreek leaves give it a distinctive butterscotch-like flavor. They’re really delicious alone! I had one of the first teplas out of the pan and noshed on it while I fried the rest. I had to restrain myself from having any more!

And that is the story of the millet. Aunt Carole, this is a great recipe! If you are wanting a recipe for millet (flour), here you go.

Fried Fenugreek and Millet Flatbread
Based on Pushpesh Pant, India Cookbook, p. 622.

Mix together the following:
1 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. millet flour
1 t. ground coriander
1 t. ground cumin
1/4 t. turmeric
1 t. chili powder (to taste; depends on how hot your chili powder is!)
1 t. ground fresh ginger
2 T. brown sugar
pinch of salt
4 T. dried fenugreek leaves (find these at an International grocery)
2 T. vegetable oil (plus more for shallow-frying)
1 c. plain yogurt (or more, to make semi-soft dough)

Dough should be semi-soft, light, rather sticky.

Knead the dough briefly on a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into 12 equal portions and roll into balls, flattening them with your hands (hence the name tepla, apparently), and roll with a rolling pin into rounds 4–5 inches in diameter. Keep rolling them out as you fry them.

Heat a little oil in a heavy-based skillet over medium-high heat (as for pancakes). Add a tepla and shallow-fry about 2 minutes until dark patches form on side facing pan. Turn over and cook another minute or two, until dark patches form on the second side. Repeat with remaining dough balls until finished. Serve hot.

I would recommend having these for breakfast, perhaps with some plain yogurt, or yogurt and chopped tomatoes. Or chutney, if you’re into it. I think they’d be a yummy platform for simple soft-cooked eggs, too.

They are great as a snack, too!

Here is an informative cooking video for making a very similar recipe: “Methi Thepla or Dhebra, by Bhavna”. Bhavna points out that her family really enjoys these methi thepla as a snack while they’re traveling. What a great idea!

Though teplas are slightly sweet, I think they are definitely more in the “savory” category.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Audubon’s Paper Menageries: Birds and Quadrupeds

Places to go! Things to do!

If you love art, and you love nature, here’s something you don’t want to miss: An exhibition, at the State Historical Society of Missouri, of several of John James Audubon’s famous, hand-colored engravings and lithographs depicting American birds and mammals.

The State Historical Society (SHS) owns lots of wonderful art pertaining to Missouri the state, and Missouri the territory (that is, the western U.S.). I’ve told you about their collection of Charles W. Schwartz’s artwork before.

They also possess several of the engravings and lithographs that constitute Audubon’s incredible, huge books Birds of America (printed between 1827 and 1838), and The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America (printed 1845–1848). (Viviparous quadrupeds means “live-bearing four-footed creatures,” that is, the mammals.) (Such as the opossum!)

If you don’t know who Audubon was, or if you want to learn more about him, click here.

Sue and I were pleased to attend the “Curator’s Walk-Through” of the exhibit, led by Dr. Joan Stack, curator of art collections, on August 29. Her presentations are always first-rate, exemplifying the best of the cultural opportunities that college-town life offers.

Her talk, like the exhibit itself, started with Audubon’s image of the eastern bluebird, which is the official bird of Missouri. She pointed out something I have always sensed, but never fully understood, about Audubon’s bird images: Many times, birds are shown offering food to each other, and these poses have a famous artistic predecessor.

For example, in the case of the eastern bluebird, a female is offering a caterpillar to her fledgling.

Stack pointed out that this image recalls Michelangelo’s famous Creation of Adam fresco painting in the Sistine Chapel. One wonders if Audubon had this image in mind as he created his art. . . . Or if Michelangelo had contemplated birds feeding their young as he composed his fresco.

Anyway, those are the kinds of connections that a good lecture inspires, and I love it. During the talk, there were many more interesting, and compelling observations.

Details were pointed out.

History was discussed.

And technical matters were explained.

We’ve all seen Audubon’s prints reproduced in books, but it’s not common to get to see some of the actual prints themselves. Take this opportunity to stand in front of these enormous (life-size, in many cases), incredibly detailed artworks. Plus some major artworks by George Caleb Bingham and Thomas Hart Benton.

Did I mention it’s free to go there and enjoy all this great art?

(Of course, if you’re inclined to do so, however, memberships to the State Historical Society of Missouri are only $30 and include all sorts of perks, including the highly respected quarterly Missouri Historical Review as well as the Missouri Times, not to mention the good feeling you have for supporting the SHS and its vast collections of genealogical resources, photos, city and county histories, manuscripts, and newspapers.)

The Audubon exhibit runs until November 28.

The State Historical Society Gallery in Columbia is located on the University of Missouri campus, on the ground floor of Ellis Library, Hitt Street at Lowry Mall. Detailed directions and parking suggestions are available here.

By the way, the State Historical Society of Missouri is planning a major expansion, and relocation, in the coming few years. This move is long overdue for an organization that has enriched Missouri for more than a century, and it will include a larger gallery for its many valuable paintings, illustrations, maps, and other graphic treasures.

. . . Including artwork of opossums.

Note: Except for two images of opossums, and the photo of Dr. Stack, all the pictures in this post were recklessly, unconscionably photographed from my copy of a modern-printed, downsized reproduction of Audubon’s Birds of America. These are only lame representations of some of the same plates that are on display in the exhibit. The artwork you’ll see at the SHS looks much, much better!!!