Chorizo-stuffed Poblano Peppers

I remember a time when I thought that a farmers’ market was the local feed mill, railroad shipping point or dairy. My grandfathers were both farmers. Grandpa Hopp milked eight to ten cows, called them all by name and stored the day’s milk in cans immersed in cold well water until the milkman arrived with his truck to pick up the milk and deliver butter and cheese to grandma and grandpa.

Grandpa Rang was older and retired from farming, but grandpa milked a couple of cows and babied the team of horses he loved. Grandma and Grandpa (and we grandkids) drank the milk and Grandma churned the cream into butter. Occasionally she sold some eggs to the feed mill in Hayward where my mother also sold extra eggs. Before I was born, Grandpa Rang raised potatoes, of which he was very proud. He and Grandma still planted a big garden which produced enough potatoes to fill a few bags for storage in the enormous root cellar that could hold enough potatoes to fill a train car.

Growing up near a small city where most families had gardens, I never saw anything like the farmers’ markets one finds today in cities throughout the United States. I saw my first farmers’ market on a September morning in Bad Reichenhall, Germany, where I was a student on a fellowship in Germany. It was not called a Bauernmarkt (farmers market) but simply der Markt (the market). Like our farmers’ markets today, local vendors sold food, flowers and some handicrafts.

After I moved to Münster, which is a much larger city than Bad Reichenhall, I was quickly introduced to a market that was the primary source of fresh food and flowers for many residents in that city of over 180,000 people. You could buy fish, fowl, meats, breads, pastries, cheese and a wide variety of household necessities ranging from hot pads and tablecloths to vases, coffee cups and tableware made by local artisans. Here are two photos that we took at the market when we visited Münster in 2014.

At the Münster market
At the Münster market
Sausages at the Münster market
Sausages at the Münster market

My new student acquaintances taught me how to bargain with salespeople to stretch my limited budget as they did. One technique I still use was to arrive near the end of the market day when vendors were willing to cut prices on their inventories. One of my favorite memories from that year was of a rather stout farm woman in a gray dress who was negotiating with a thin old man in a dark suit. She was selling eggs. As I walked by, he exclaimed to her, “Sie sehen wie Taubeneier aus!” (They look like pigeon eggs!) The two were smiling, so I think it was a familiar routine for both buyer and seller.

I still look for bargains at our local farmers’ markets. Not long ago I found some small poblano peppers. They were about four and a half inches long, so I got four of them for a dollar. I planned to make chile rellanos with them, but they were really too small for that, so decided to stuff them with a mixture of chorizo and rice. The result was a delicious main course for Jerri and me. If you enjoy Mexican dishes, you should try this recipe soon.

INGREDIENTS:

4 small poblano peppers, four to five inches long
1 tsp. vegetable oil
1/2 lb. bulk chorizo sausage
1/2 cup cooked rice
3 T diced onion
5 T taco sauce, divided
1/4 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
3/4 tsp. ground cumin
2 T cold water

PROCEDURE:

Start by cooking some rice, if necessary. To make about a cup of cooked rice, put a half cup of uncooked rice into a one quart saucepan, add a half teaspoon of salt and a cup of water. Bring the pan to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer covered until most of the water is absorbed, about fifteen minutes. Turn off the heat and leave the rice in the covered pan for five minutes before serving.

Peel the peppers while the rice is cooking. It’s not difficult. Preheat the oven broiler to 450º and rinse the peppers. When the broiler is hot, place the peppers on a baking sheet and set them under the broiler for about four minutes. Turn the peppers and broil them for another four minutes. The skin of the peppers should have begun to blister. Put the peppers in a paper bag and let the peppers cool for a few minutes in the closed bag.

Reduce the oven temperature to 350º.

While the peppers are cooling, make the stuffing. Heat the vegetable oil in a small skillet and cook the meat slowly over low heat, breaking it into small pieces. Clean and dice about three tablespoons of onion and shred the cheese while the meat is cooking.

Peel the transparent outer skin from the peppers and cut them lengthwise halfway through. Remove the seeds and pulp from the peppers and butterfly them with the stems on.

When the meat is a uniform gray, remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the rice, onion, cheese, cumin and three tablespoons of taco sauce.

Lightly grease a glass baking dish and put the butterflied peppers into the pan. Stuff each pepper with a generous portion of the meat mixture. Top each one with a teaspoon or two of taco sauce and pour a couple tablespoons of water around the peppers. Cover the pan loosely with aluminum foil and bake the peppers for about fifteen minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and allow the peppers to cool for a few minutes before serving.

Serve with the extra rice, bread and salad for a light dinner.

Elderberry Jelly

My mother did not make elderberry jelly because she said that elderberries were poisonous. In spite of this, I enjoyed elderberry jelly sandwiches occasionally when I was a boy. My friends ate them and did not die in agony, so I figured that whatever their mothers did to the elderberries must have turned them into something that tasted good and would not kill me.

My mother and I were both right. From the reference collection in the local library, I learned that elderberry plants and the berries themselves do contain poison, though in small concentrations. However, I also learned that cooking elderberries destroys the traces of poison found in the raw fruit. And today, people claim that elderberries are good for you, since they contain antioxidants and are high in vitamin C. I am not suggesting that elderberry jelly is a health food, but it may be a little better for you than grape jelly.

Making elderberry jelly is easier than you might think. Although elderberries are tiny, they are actually quite easy to harvest. Elderberry bushes produce clusters of white flowers that turn into clusters of dark blue or purple berries about three-sixteenths of an inch in diameter. To make elderberry jelly, you pick a bucketful of clusters, wash the clusters and strip the berries from the stems into a saucepan.

The most difficult challenge is to find a good patch of elderberry bushes loaded with fruit. Elderberries grow wild in most of the United States east of the Rocky Mountains, but my experience is that many of the best patches are closely watched by local jelly makers. You have to be quick to get your share. You need about three pounds of elderberry clusters.

Sal and Joe are selling produce from Roosterhaven at our local farmers market this year. The beautiful buckets of elderberries in their booth first caught my eye. We bought enough to go with some leftover juice frozen from last summer’s batch of jelly to make six jars of this hauntingly delicious addition to breakfast toast. That’s the lazy man’s way to do it, but the jelly tastes just as good.

Here is how to make it.

INGREDIENTS:

3 cups elderberry juice
1/4 cup cold water
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 box Sure-Jell fruit pectin
1/2 tsp. butter
4 1/2 cups sugar
Paraffin

PROCEDURE:

Rinse the clusters of berries in cold water and strip the ripe berries into a three or four quart saucepan. Add about a quarter cup of water to the berries, cover the pan and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and crush the berries with a potato masher. Simmer the crushed berries for about fifteen minutes, stirring often.

Line a colander with several layers of dampened cheesecloth or a cotton tea towel and strain the juice from the berries. You will need three cups of juice. You can gently squeeze the pulp to extract more juice. If you don’t have quite enough juice, return the pulp to the pan, add a few tablespoons of water and bring the mixture back to a boil. Stir and simmer the pulp for a minutes or two, then strain the pulp a second time.

You can store the prepared juice in a quart jar in the refrigerator. When you are ready to make your jelly, start by measuring the sugar into a bowl and washing and sterilizing seven one cup jelly jars. Set the bowl of sugar aside.

Sterilize the jars by setting them upside down in a baking pan, adding about an inch of water and bringing the pan to a boil. Turn off the heat after two or three minutes and let the jars sit upside down until the jelly is nearly at the first boil. Place the jars upside down on a rack to drip dry.

Put a block of paraffin into a small saucepan over low heat to melt while you make the jelly.

Making the jelly if very simple. Put three cups of juice, the Sure-Jell, and a quarter cup of lemon juice into a four quart saucepan or Dutch oven. Bring the pan to a full boil over high heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Skim any foam that appears with a metal spoon as the juice comes to a boil.

When the juice reaches a full rolling boil (a boil that cannot be stirred down) stir in the sugar. Keep stirring while you bring the pan back to to another full rolling boil. Boil for one minute, stirring constantly.

Remove the pan from the heat. Skim off any more foam and turn the jars upright on a sheet of wax paper. Ladle the jelly into the jars, leaving a half inch at the top. Seal the jars with a thin layer of paraffin. Let the jelly cool completely and seal with a second thin layer of paraffin.

Cover the jars with lids, plastic wrap or fabric to keep out dust and store the jelly in a cool place away from direct sunlight.

NOTES: Many years ago we acquired a gravy ladle that looks like a soup spoon with a bent handle. It is the perfect tool for skimming foam from jams and jellies. If you can’t find one like it, use a soup spoon.

If you are nervous about eating jelly made from berries that are poisonous until they are cooked, think about all the foods we enjoy that share this distinction. Kidney beans are a good example. If they are not well cooked, the toxin they contain will make you sick. I prefer chili without beans, but like millions of Americans, I also appreciate a good chili con carne made with kidney beans.

A note about Roosterhaven. You will find the farm on Facebook. On their page, you’ll find photos of some good-looking roosters that may have inspired the name. Incidentally, besides elderberries, Sal and Joe grow some wonderful okra. We use it to make Toni’s Fried Okra.