What’s Hanging from your Rafters?

hanging-herbs.jpg

As a kid, anything edible held my attention. Sukkahs, charged with dappled light and dedicated to the harvest, seemed to combine all of my interests into one sacred space. I’ll never forget the excitement I felt, standing alone in the autumn-smelling sukkah, under a ceiling hung with fresh, growing foods; and I’ll never forget my disappointment, year after year, at the sight of apples, squash and blue corn wizening and rotting on their strings.

Now that I’m a full grown canner, it occurs to me that the sukkah, with it’s commandments for good air circulation, more shade than light, and it’s tradition of hanging edibles, is a perfect place to preserve for the cold months. After all, turning sukkot decorations into food is already a tradition—Etrogs make it into wine or brandy after the celebration’s over.

Below, you can find some tips and recipes for celebrating God’s gift of food and shelter through the year.

Preserve your Herbs

If you live in a relatively dry climate, Sukkot comes at the perfect time to dry herbs. Bunches of marjoram, oregano, tarragon, rosemary, sage, dill, coriander, lavender, hyssop, yarrow or mint (among others) are available at your local farmers market, garden or roadside, and can be strung up in small bunches in dark parts of the sukkah to start drying. Herbs take a couple of weeks to dry, so if you take your sukkah down immediately after the holiday, you’ll want to move your bunches to a dry dark place inside the permanent house. Of course, in order to be kosher, a sukkah has to let the rain in, so if you’ll have high humidity or precipitation during sukkot in your area, I wouldn’t try this one.

Some dried-herb enthusiasts suggest suspending your herbs in a brown paper bag around each bunch. Light discolors herbs, to the brown bag does double duty absorbing moisture and keeping out the sun. If you’re a proponent of the brown-bag-method, take some markers and paper cut-outs to those bags and they can still add to the atmosphere.

Once your herbs are dried out, you can remove the leaves and store them for use all year. I make my friends save up baby-food jars and I recycle them as herb-storage containers. Dried herbs make fabulous gifts, too, either for culinary use or in satchels for the odiferous quality they bring to a sock drawer. Finally, another little-used method for preserving herbs is in jellies. Mint jelly is famous as an accompaniment of lamb, and I adore a good hot-pepper jelly on cream cheese. This recipe for sage and cider jelly, from my canning hero Catherine Plagemann, is particularly autumnal.

Sage Jelly with Cider

From Fine Preserving

Make an infusion of 4 T dried or 8 T chopped fresh sage leaves and one cup of boiling water, simmered together for about ten minutes, uncovered. Strain through a cloth strainer for about ½ cup sage infusion.

Add to this:
3 ½ cups granulated sugar (I sometimes reduce the sugar in her recipes)
1 cup fresh cider
¼ cup lemon juice

As it comes to a boil, add:
½ bottle Certo (extra points for anyone who can come up with a non-Kraft product to substitute for liquid pectin)

Stir well again as it comes to a boil and boil for about one minute. Pour immediately into clean jelly glasses (five ounce canning jars), process and serve with roast meats or cheeses.

Eat your Veggies
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Squash have thicker skin than your average lavender plant, and even edible ones come in an astounding array of colors and shapes. They’ll work better as utility-decorations for those of us raising our sukkahs in temperate climates.

Pick some aesthetically and culinarily pleasing winter squash varieties to decorate your sukkah this year. Kabocha – also known as ambercup – squash are a vivid orange, and delicata’s got festive stripes. Not only delicious fresh baked, sautéed and in soups, winter squash is easily preserved either ready to heat or in butter form.

To preserve winter squash, cut it open to remove seeds and stringy fiber. You can bake the seeds, spread out on a baking sheet and salted, in the oven at 425 for an hour and enjoy them like popcorn. To freeze squash, you must cook it first (freezing raw squash ruins it). Boil pieces of squash in as little water as possible until soft, or, alternately, steam in a pressure cooker. You can also bake a large squash whole, with the seeds, in your oven. This will take a couple hours, and then you’ll have to cut it open, remove the seeds and mash it. You’ll have a wonderful base for recipes like Leah’s delicata soup, or squash pie, or one of my favorite Sephardic treats, frittatas de calabeza. You’ll want to package and freeze the squash immediately after it’s prepared, working in small batches to as not to overwhelm your freezer with hot squash that it has to cool down.

If you’ll be drying in your sukkah, the American pioneer’s method for preserving winter squash makes a wonderful decoration. Pioneers liked to dry their pumpkins by slicing the squash into rings, removing pith and seeds and peeling each ring. The rings should be thin, so use a sharp knife and a smaller squash. Hang these orange, yellow and gold rings out of the direct sunshine until dry. Imagine a series of pumpkin circles lighting up your sukkah, destined to reconstitute in winter soups. These methods come courtesy of the Encyclopedia of Country Living, a fabulous resource for all things planted, tended, harvested and preserved.

If you’ll be keening for some of that October sweetness later in the year, try this squash butter recipe from Smitten Kitchen.com to spread on bread or eat with yogurt for a little autumn on those winter mornings:

Squash Butter

Adapted from AllRecipes

Approx. 3 1/2 cups of pureed winter squash
3/4 cup apple juice or cider
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/3 cups brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Juice of half a lemon

Combine pumpkin, apple juice, spices, and sugar in a large saucepan; stir well. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer for 30 minutes or until thickened. Stir frequently. Adjust spices to taste. Stir in lemon juice, or more to taste.

Once cool, pumpkin butter can be kept in an airtight container in the fridge for months.

To preserve:
Spoon hot pumpkin mixture into hot jars, filling to within 1/4 inch from top. Remove air bubbles; wipe jar rims. Cover at once with metal lids, and screw on bands. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Not only will these methods make your decorations serve dual functions (a help for small budgets in rough times), they’ll also reduce the amount of space in your house dedicated to storing boxes of tinsel. Write in with your own ideas for how to make your Sukkot bounty last all year.

Photo taken by Jennie at Straight from the Farm.

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2 Responses to “What’s Hanging from your Rafters?”

  1. Jennie Says:

    Regarding the first photo on your post of the herbs drying on the line: PLEASE GIVE PROPER CREDIT. That is my photo and I would ask you to please request permission in the future to use any photos from my blog. For this photo, please either provide a caption “Photo taken by Jennie at http://www.straightfromthefarm.net” and linking to the original post (http://straightfromthefarm.wor.....esh-herbs/) or remove the photo from this post.

  2. Nina Says:

    Apologies Jennie, we do have a link to the post in here, but I’ve amended the lack of a link right on the picture. Thanks for your post.

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