Making Sofrito

sofrito ingredients

Dear Erin, 

The nights are getting cool here in Kansas but we are having warm Indian Summer days.  Arlo helped me pick all the peppers yesterday, when he wasn’t whacking weeds with a big stick, following paths into the field, or climbing on the big red gate at the edge of the garden.  We picked a lug-sized box of red, green, and yellow peppers, loaded it into the wagon and he pulled it to the garage.  Variety names often catch my interest when I’m choosing what to plant in the spring and Big Bertha certainly has lived up to her name!!   

Big Bertha

One way to preserve the pepper bounty is to make sofrito which can then be stored in the freezer for winter use.  I made sofrito for the first time last season after hearing about it from Willie.  I took it one step further and made multiple batches for the freezer whenever I had excess produce.  Not only is this a great way to preserve onions, tomatoes and peppers but it is a fantastic way to preserve the fresh taste of cilantro.  I freeze the finished sofrito in assorted sizes and I love having it to add summer freshness to winter soups, stews, braises, and salsas.  I’ve also made this mixture using other herbs instead of the cilantro  like italian parsley, cutting celery, chives, and basil.  Here’s what you need to make one batch of sofrito:

SOFRITO (pepper, garlic, and herb sauce)

  • 1-2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 cups coarsely chopped onions
  • 5 cups coarsely chopped sweet peppers (include hot peppers to your liking)
  • 8-10 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 cups coarsely chopped tomatoes
  • 1 bunch cilantro leaves (or herb of choice)
  • salt & pepper to taste

In a large, heavy dutch oven saute the onions in the olive oil for several minutes over medium heat until they soften.  Add the peppers and continue to cook for about 5 minutes, then add the garlic, oregano, herbs and continue cooking for about 2 minutes more.  Add the tomatoes and continue cooking for another 5 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  You don’t want to overcook the vegies but they should be soft.  Remove the pan from the heat and let the mixture cool.  When it has cooled transfer the mixture to a food processor in batches with the fresh cilantro and pulse until desired consistency; I like mine chopped fine but not pureed; you can leave it chunky if you like.  Use immediately or transfer to containers and store in the freezer until needed.  This makes about 5 cups.

the finished product ready for the freezer

 Love, Mom


Dear Mama,

It’s raining in New York. A lot. Now, I personally love rain, but I am not immune to the strong desire to crawl back into bed on a dreary, rainy day rather than go on with my real life. Not to mention my house is a mess because I haven’t cleaned at all since Willie arrived (or left) from our lovely visit over the weekend. And I’m sick. Pretty much, everything is a hot mess.

So I couldn’t think of a better time for comfort food. Namely, Dad’s whole wheat pancakes. So when I got home from work last night, I took the dog out (briefly) and then went inside and mixed up a single serving batch of pancakes. I plopped a pad of butter on top and poured some real (yes, REAL – no Aunt Jemima here, I swear) maple syrup on top. I ate it in bed (also with the dog) while it rained outside. I planned on not telling anyone about this experience, but instead – it seems like the food did it’s perfect job of comforting me. And I couldn’t not share that.

Whole Wheat Pancakes

3 oz whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
2 tsp honey
1 egg
5 oz milk
2 oz melted butter

1. In a small bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and salt to combine.
2. In another bowl, whisk the hone, eggs, milk, and butter to combine.
3. Combine the wet and dry ingredients, mixing just to combine.
4. Ladle the batter onto a hot griddle, wait until it evenly bubbles, and then flip. Cook until the other side is brown. Serve warm!

Peach Pie

fresh peach pie hot from the oven

Dear Erin and Willie:  Your recent post reminded me of two stories, one about pie and one about concord grapes.  The pie story goes like this:  when Matt and Jason were little, we lived in an old farmhouse in Illinois; our landlady lived just across the driveway from us.  She called one day to say that she had baked a strawberry-rhubarb pie and she wanted to give us a slice of warm pie so I sent Matt over to get it.  Meanwhile, Jason stood in the kitchen, just out of sight behind the large BEN HUR freezer that stood next to the kitchen door, waiting for Matt to return; when Matt came in the door, Jason jumped out and scared him.  The warm pie slice still attached to the paper plate flew into the air and landed on the floor pie side down. We all stared at it briefly and there was undoubtedly much shouting, but I had just scrubbed the floor so I scooped up the pie and we ate it anyway.  That was one delicious piece of pie I will never forget!  The second story involves the BEN HUR and concord grapes.  I bought the used BEN HUR upright freezer from Aunt Sue.  It was humongous and it had a silver chariot pulled by many horses across the front.  Over the years, the freezer gained some notoriety among friends who helped us a move it from place to place when we relocated and it certainly was a reliable freezer.  When I first purchased the BEN HUR from Aunt Sue (for $25 and a blond, curly wig), she also gave me some boxes of frozen stuff  still  in the freezer that she thought we might be able to eat up.  There were about a dozen boxes of the largest blueberries I had ever seen so I promptly decided to make some blueberry muffins.  Turns out those large blueberries were actually concord grapes which did not make such good muffins what with the seeds and all…  Aunt Sue told me that she loved to eat the grapes while they were still frozen for a snack.  But back to pie, I made this peach pie for a friend’s birthday a few weeks ago.  I just followed the recipe from my old Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook; I made the pie crust with lard which I have not done in years.  Need I say more?  It was go-licious!!  Love, Mom

Concord Grape Pie

Dear Mama,

I spend a substantial part of my life being homesick. I miss Kansas – and mainly, I miss you and the rest of the family. However, there is one time of year where I have a hard time being homesick – and that’s fall here in the Hudson Valley.

Don’t get me wrong, living in New York didn’t convert me into a fall lover. I’ve always loved this season, but it’s even easier to love here. The trees are incredible, and everywhere I go are farm stands and orchards selling dozens of  varieties of apples and pears (plus cider and the much anticipated cider doughnut). But most of all, fall in New York introduced me to my one true love: Concord grapes.

Never, until my first fall in New York, had I tasted the sweet, sweet nectar that is the Concord grape. I buy them by the bucket, and spend weeks devouring them (and rarely sharing). Then, a few years ago, a friend introduced me to a novel concept – the Concord grape pie.

Yes, I said it – the same beautiful, flavorful, wonderful grapes inside a flaky, buttery crust. I ask you – what could be better? Nothing! Ok, so I’ve officially gone from storytelling to gushing, but I don’t care. This is one good pie. And coming from a pie connoisseur (which you taught me to be), that’s saying something.

Concord Grape Pie

Pie Dough:

  • 1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons cold butter, cubed
  • 4 tablespoons ice cold water, or more as needed
  1. In a medium bowl, combine the flour and salt. Add the butter and toss to coat it in flour.
  2. Rub the butter into the flour until the butter is shingled into the flour, and is the size of a pea on average.
  3. Add the water and mix until it forms a shaggy mass. Form the dough into a disc, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and let it rest, refrigerated, until completely chilled
  4. Roll the dough out into a circle about 1/4 inch thick, and fold the dough into quarters. Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and rest until chilled (you can repeat this step once more, if desired).
  5. Roll out the dough into a circle about 1/4 inch thick, and gently transfer to a pie pan. Remove excess dough, and crimp the edges as desired. Chill the pie crust until ready to use.

Concord Grape Pie Filling:

  • 4 1/2 cups concord grapes
  • 1 cup sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • egg wash, as needed
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 tablespoons warm water
  1. Stem the grapes, wash them, and drain well. Squeeze the grapes to remove the skins. Place the pulp in a medium pot and reserve the skins in a seperate large bowl.
  2. Bring the pulp to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer until the mixture breaks down, about 5 minutes.
  3. Pour the hot pulp into a sieve over the bowl with the reserved skins. Strain to remove the seeds, pushing the pulp through to ensure you get it all.
  4. Let the hot pulp rest on the skins. Meanwhile, combine the sugar, salt, and flour together in a small bowl. Stir the mixture into the grape mixture. Add the lemon juice and butter and stir until the mixture is completely combined.
  5. Pour the filling into the prepared pie crust. Brush the edges of the crust lightly with egg wash, and bake in a 400 degree oven until the crust begins to brown, about 15 minutes.
  6. Lower the temperature to 350 and continue to bake until the crust is golden and the filling is bubbly, about 25-30 minutes more.
  7. In a small bowl, combine the honey and warm water. Brush this mixture over the edges of the crust while the pie is still warm. Let the pie cool before serving.

stewed tomatoes with okra


fruits of summer


Dear Erin and Willie:  Today is the first day of autumn but it feels like summer here in Kansas.  It’s in the 90’s with a hot, dry wind.  Tomatoes are still ripening including romas, Aunt Ruby’s German Green, and Brandywine.  The okra is over 6 feet tall and we may soon need a ladder to pick it.  Our favorite way to eat okra in the summer is to saute some onion, garlic, and a few strips of chopped bacon together in a skillet.  Then add a couple quarts of fresh chopped tomatoes, a quart of chopped okra, salt, pepper, and simmer about 30 minutes until the okra is cooked through.   The fresh tomatoes are so savory and the okra thickens the juices; it makes a great side dish or eat it with cornbread to make a meal.  We only need about 3  plants to provide us with enough okra to eat fresh but we have 8 plants and they continue to produce in hot, dry weather so I need to find some more okra recipes.   I blanch/freeze some for use in winter soups and jambalaya and I also froze some stewed tomatoes with okra.  I make this like I described above except that I leave out the bacon which I can add when I defrost it.  It will be a good soup base too.  I wonder how well okra would ship…?? Love, Mom                                                               


Peach Marmalade

fresh peaches and peach marmalade

Dear Willie and Erin, 

     While many good and delicious things grow in Kansas,  I cannot always find good fresh peaches.  Local orchards have peaches some years but it is a difficult crop to grow in Kansas so there is no guarantee that local peaches will be available.  Often the peaches in the store are flavorless or mushy.   Recently we were able to buy some peaches that had been hand selected by a peach specialist, i.e., by someone who is very particular about peaches.  The result was the most delicious, ripe, juicy, and flavorful peach.  Not only did we enjoy peaches out of hand but there was peach shortcake, peach pie, peach salsa, peaches on ice cream, peach chutney, and peach marmalade.  Though I have made peach jam in the past, this year I tried a recipe for peach marmalade.  It was easy to make and involved no pectin as the fruit mixture jelled on its own.  I did seal my marmalade in jars but you could make a batch and store the jars in the frig…it probably won’t last long anyway.  I had to seal mine to keep from eating it right out of the jar; it is awesome on Wheatfield’s sourdough toast as you can imagine!!  I made some with and without the maraschino cherries; they provide a some flavor and a pretty color but both versions tasted great.
  • 2 quarts peeled, chopped peaches (about 10 very large peaches)
  • 2 medium oranges finely chopped, peel and all
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 5 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped maraschino cherries (optional)

Combine all ingredients except cherries in a heavy dutch oven and bring slowly to a boil, stirring occasionally until sugar dissolves.  Continue to cook fairly rapidly until thick, about 20 minutes, stirring as needed to keep from sticking.   Stir in chopped cherries and pour into jars.  Process jars 15 mins in boiling water bath.  If you do not seal jars, store in refrigerator.

Chopping Garlic

fresh is best

Dear Erin and Willie:  As you probably know by now, we are garlic loving people.  We’ve made the pilgrimage to Gilroy.  One of my favorite kitchen chores is chopping, slicing, crushing or mincing garlic.   Whatever stage of cooking I’m in, no matter how hectic, when it’s time to chop garlic, relaxation sets in.  I’m one of those people who thinks you can never really overdo garlic in a recipe even though the smell and taste lingers long after the meal (that’s the charm of garlic, right?!).  My love affair with garlic  intensified when we began growing our own garlic many years ago because before that, I had never tasted really fresh garlic.  We grew elephant garlic for a number of years and it was my garlic choice because the cloves were so large and easy to peel but it isn’t actually garlic and I began to miss that pure garlic essence.  Often what we grew in our garden was smaller than the typical store-bought bulb and I hated peeling those tiny cloves.  I tried numerous kitchen gadgets to help peel and mince and they did a pretty good job of pulverizing the cloves.  Eventually we found several varieties of garlic that do well in our garden and grow a little larger (italian late, western rose, purple italian easy peel); they also store well and we are generally still using our own garden grown garlic through the winter and spring until the next crop is ready.  Garlic is planted in the fall so we are just now getting ready to plant next year’s crop.  Once in the ground with a layer of mulch over it, you can forget about it until it comes up the following spring.  Garlic is ready to harvest here in Kansas around the 4th of July.  Perhaps nurturing it from fall planted clove through harvest the following season has made me more patient when it comes to processing garlic because I have given up most of my garlic gadgets and prefer to mince or slice with a cutting board and a good knife.  I love lightly crushing the clove to remove the skin and enjoy the first burst of fragrance.  It is quite satisfying to peel a pile of cloves to have at your disposal.  If you need lots of peeled cloves for tomato sauce or pesto, sharing the activity with another is a companionable chore.  Whether you peel alone or in the company of others, take a deep breath, relax and enjoy this satisfying kitchen chore.