January - Forging Ahead, Looking Back

As we head into another new year, we often take time to look ahead to new adventures while remembering the past year's challenges. This past year was one of many culinary creations for me, as I dealt with bumper crops of cabbage, cucumbers, zucchini and summer squash, as well as many other vegetables and fruits. Being a good New Englander, I could not let the excess produce go to waste, so I turned to many days of canning, freezing, pickling and fermenting. I used old recipes and found new ones, delighting in the taste sensations I found. Right now, that is a distant memory, but my cellar is filled with many jars and my freezer is packed, as well. On to a new challenge - making mustards.

It's hard to believe that I have never made mustards from scratch. I knew how - I just never seemed to get around to it. But this year, I set some seeds to soak on New Year's eve, planning to bridge the gap between 2014 and 2015 by making my first batch of a full-bodied mustard. One of my favorite stops in France a few years ago was a visit to the Maille Mustard store. They had many kinds, as well as a jar you could fill with the flavored mustard of your choice and then bring back to re-fill when it was empty.

Mustard is very easy to grow. In fact, it is a little too easy. I grew it for the first time about 3 years ago, and it gre rapidly, forming beautiful yellow flowers by June. I had hoped to use some of the greens as a tangy addition to salads, but it grew so quickly I never got to try them. The young leaves are pungent - the older ones way too spicy and not tender enough. Anyways, they grew well, and I harvested the seeds at the end of the season. As for getting them out of the seed pods, let's just say they are still sitting in my barn, wrapped in an old fitted sheet, still waiting for me to thrash them. Apparently, I did not get all the seeds, as the next year I was rewarded with yet another crop, which this time I remembered to harvest some leaves at the right stage for salads.

Mustards are in the Brassica family, cousin to cabbages, broccolis and the like. They are an excellent source of selenium, a good source of magnesium, and also contain omega-3 fatty acids. Mustard has been used for thousands of years, and many ancient physicians, including Hippocrates,  used them for various ailments. It is believed that the Romans were the first ones to make a paste of the seeds. Today, the mustard seed and oil are used for muscle aches and pain, arthritis, and some respiratory ailments. Tne seeds must be crushed and mixed with water (like horesradish) to release the enzyme which is responsible for the pungency.

To make mustard paste, the seeds must be soaked, usually in vinegar, but sometimes wines, beers, or other liquids can be used. They should soak for at least two days, to absorb the liquid. Once soaked, they are placed in a food processor and ground into a creamy paste. A blender, unfortunately, does not do an adequate job, as it crushes the seeds too quickly. You can add herbs, honey, garlic and other flavorings to your taste after the initial trip through the food processor. A great resource is The Mustard Book by JanRoberts-Dominguez, which has lots of info on the history of mustard as well as lots of great recipes.

The mustard I made I found on-line, It called for stout and cider vinegar as the liquids, and contained tarragon, which was appropriate for a 2014 mustard, since artemisia is the herb of the year for 2014. I need to let the mustard set for a couple of weeks, but it tasted fairly good. It should be somewhat pungent, since it was made with both yellow and brown seeds. The brown seeds are strong and give the mustard a bolder flavor.

So, I look forward to another year of preserving the flavors of the garden, both herbs and fruits and vegetables, and creating more opportunities to have fun in the kitchen. I hope the New Year brings you closer to the Earth and more attuned to its rhythms, and fashioning your own culinary magic!

Karen