Summer has arrived like that guest for whom we’ve been anxiously awaiting at the proverbial window of seasonal change. Enter the frenzied cycle of fecundity and sweaty industry. Leaves bud, swell, unfurl, and burst into shady, green canopies, so thick and tight it seems squirrels must be surreptitiously using them as trampolines.
With the door of summer flung open, everything seems possible. And yet, like an existential joke, the gifts of summer are stamped with their own expiration date. Turnaround is tight. You can practically hear the clock ticking on sun-ripened tomatoes, whole meadows of alpine wildflowers, and gathering outdoors with friends, deliciously jacketless after dark.
Researchers have studied why certain periods of time fly by and others unfold to a slower rhythm. Apparently, when we’re seeing new sights or learning new skills—our neural networks scrambling out into uncharted territory—time appears to slow.
So, if you are not able to travel to eye-opening, distant lands this summer, there is still hope to slow the galloping horse of time. Ready? Make your own backyard barbecue condiments. Because it’s all a little new and exciting to wait, breath-holdingly, for the mayonnaise to solidify. Or to wonder with swear words marqueeing through your mind if the lids on your pickle jars will seal. Maybe you can’t go to Thailand, but you can make your own ketchup.
And then, with all your extra-perceived time, invite some new friends over for a backyard barbecue, jackets piled in a heap of seasonal uselessness, and your repertoire of homemade condiments singing the song of summer itself.
If you would like to stash a little summer in your pantry, make ketchup. In the (slightly neurotic) hierarchy of tomato consumption, the very first of the season’s tomatoes must be eaten fresh; consider salting and biting into one like an apple. The next harvest to roll off the vine is chopped and cooked into an urgent frenzy of salsa and roasted tomato sauce, jars and jars of it, stored for winter. And finally, when you think you may have achieved the existential satiety of tomato eating, make ketchup, which is the culinary manifestation of having enough tomatoes, a rare, luxurious and blessed state.
Notes on ketchup making: Paste, roma, and plum tomatoes work best for ketchup because of their firm meat; save the heirlooms for eating fresh.
Makes: 3-4 cups
Time: one hour
Store: in fridge for two weeks; freezer for six months;
canned for one year
2 pounds chopped tomatoes (preferably romas, paste,
1/4 cup minced onions
1 minced garlic clove
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp brown sugar, honey or maple syrup (optional)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 TSP each: salt, fennel, pepper, cumin, paprika, chili powder (or some combo of)
Directions: (safe to can)
Heat olive oil in large, heavy-bottomed pan over low heat and add minced onion. Stir and cook for five minutes. Add garlic and cook for one more minute.
Add chopped tomatoes and all spices and cover, stirring occasionally for fifteen minutes.
Blend with an immersion blender or upright blender until smooth. Return to pot.
Add vinegar and sweetener, simmer over low heat for another thirty minutes, until ketchup thickens. Adjust salt, pepper, and spices to taste.
Long before you could buy mustard in a snappy array of metropolitan flavors, 4th-century Romans were glazing spit-roasted boars with the gritty paste. The bible advises that even faith the size of a mustard seed (approximately 2mm diameter) is enough to perform wondrous tasks (specifically, moving mountains). This globetrotting seed is found on every continent except Antarctica and belongs to the same plant family that gives us radishes, broccoli, kale, turnips, and cabbage.
Mustard seeds are naturally peppery little things, and methods of preparation can accentuate or mellow that heat. Making mustard requires tools no more complicated than a jar and spoon (and perhaps a blender), and creative add-ins are unlimited: beer, apple cider, honey, tarragon. Because of mustard seeds’ natural antibacterial properties, it’s okay if you don’t have an entire boar to coat at once, no refrigeration needed.
Notes on mustard making: This, being the easiest condiment to make, can be a gateway to DIY extreme culinary sport. Mustard seeds can be found at most natural food stores. The spiciness of prepared mustard will mellow over time.
Makes: 1 1/2 cups
Time: fifteen minutes
Store: in fridge for six to twelve months
1/2 cup mix of brown and yellow whole mustard seeds
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1 minced garlic clove
2 teaspoons salt
1 tbsp honey or maple syrup (optional)
Directions: (safe to can)
Place mustard seeds in a jar or bowl and cover with water three inches higher than seeds. Cover jar and let sit at room temperature for twelve hours – longer and the seeds will start to sprout.
Drain water from seeds and add all remaining ingredients. Blend with an immersion blender or stand-up blender until the mustard is at preferred consistency.
Perhaps it’s the light garlic notes, the tangy hints of lemon or the way whisking oil, egg yolk, and water into an emulsion right before your eyes confers upon you the status: kitchen chemist. You may have previously thought mayo was something to slide discreetly between bread and a slice of cheese, rather than the inspiration and vehicle for consumption of entire vegetable kingdoms.
It seems every standard condiment now comes in a snazzy array of party flavors. And right now, there is a Midwestern homemaker in the mayo aisle squinting suspiciously at the jars swirled crimsonly with chipotle chiles or flecked with pesto. This homemade mayo stands alone as dip for raw veggies, salad dressing, and topping for steamed vegetables. And yet, mixing it with curry powder, mashed avocados or a spoonful of red chile sauce elevates mayonnaise to a gourmet dip.
Notes on making mayonnaise: If you use olive oil as suggested, your mayo will be a light yellow, rather than white. If your mayo doesn’t gel at first, try 1) cracking a new egg yolk into a bowl and adding, very slowly, the “un-gelled” mix into it, or 2) blend all contents in blender.
Makes: 1 cup
Time: ten minutes
Store: in fridge for two weeks
1 large egg yolk (save the egg white to use later in
baking – and if there was ever a time to use local, or
ganic, fresh eggs, this would be it).
1 – 2 tbsp lemon juice
1 small garlic clove, minced fine, or 1 TSP garlic
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon water
1 teaspoon salt
Whisk together the egg yolk and 1 TSP water in a mixing bowl.
Use a spoon to drip a few drops of olive oil into the egg yolk and whisk vigorously. Add a few more drops and whisk again. Do this until you’ve used about 1/4 cup of the olive oil and you have a thick, yellow, emulsified sauce in the mixing bowl.
Pour larger volumes of olive oil in, still whisking, until olive oil is gone.
Whisk in lemon juice, salt, and garlic. Adjust lemon and salt to your tastes. The fresh garlic will mellow over a few days.
Try adding in 1 TBSP of pesto, pureed chipotle chiles, pureed sundried tomatoes, curry powder, half an avocado, minced fresh parsley.
“Pickles,” mused my son, crunching a sour, green spear at age 5, “aren’t like food you grow. They come from another food.” It could have been an answer from Jeopardy: The Kindergarten Round. “I’ll take food preservation for $100, Mama.” I could see him flipping through his mental files, perhaps conjuring up the warm September night when cucumbers, garlic, and dill seeds marched through the pickling assembly line of our kitchen.
It is worth noting that pickling was originally what people did to avoid scurvy and stay alive. The original kosher dill, peddled via pushcart in early 20th century New York City, was soured by the fermentation process that occurs naturally when cucumbers are immersed in salt water, known as lacto-fermentation (This is neither scary nor difficult, and produces the most tasty and nutritious pickles). Later, the more stable medium, vinegar, also a product of fermentation, became widely available, altering the counters of Jewish delis forever.
Notes on making pickles: The most important part of pickles is crunch; a soggy pickle is a wasted cucumber. To enhance crunch: Use the freshest cucumbers possible and store in the refrigerator until pickle-making day. Soaking cukes in an ice water bath for thirty minutes prior to pickling can firm up cucumbers. Cut off the blossom end (where the fruit emerged from flower – opposite of stem) of the cucumber because it has enzymes which cause softening.
Makes: 4 pints
Time: thirty minutes to an hour
Store: in fridge for six months, canned for one year. If
you’re not going to can the pickles, you can increase the
water by 1/2 – 1 cup and decrease the vinegar by an equal
amount, for less sourness.
2 pounds (4-6 small) cucumbers
2 cups vinegar (white distilled or apple cider, or a
2 cups water
2 tbsp salt
2 tbsp dill seeds
Optional, per jar: a few peeled garlic cloves, dried
rosemary, fresh flowering dill heads or leaves, chiles,
mustard seeds, coriander seeds, grape leaves.
Directions: (safe to can)
Wash cucumbers thoroughly in cold water. Slice lengthwise into spears, or cut across into “coins.”
Combine water, vinegar, and salt in a pot and heat until boiling.
Pack cucumbers, garlic, and herbs into jars.
Ladle brine into jars so that cucumbers are fully submerged with 1/2-inch headspace.