The Alchemical Kitchen: Summer groovin’

By Rebecca Brenner

Culinary projects for your garden and farmers’ market bounty. Eating locally, keeping costs down, preserving what you grow & buy.
by Rebecca Brenner
I’m beginning to get into my summer groove. Tuesdays I work at Copper Moose Farm near Park City and leave with my share of CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) produce. Wednesdays I cover up with SPF 30 and head to the farmers’ market at the Canyons. Saturdays I meet friends for brunch and wander through downtown Salt Lake’s Pioneer Park. Sundays I peek around Park Silly for delightful treats to get me through until Tuesday when it all begins again.

I love my summer groove. I get to be a part of growing and processing my own food. I’m able to meet and know the growers and artisans who prepare the other foods I enjoy so much. I soak in a bit of sun and breathe fresh air with each shopping experience. I’m inspired by local artists and musicians, who remind me that shopping can be a creative and joyful endeavor. And each week, as my relationships with growers turn into friendships, I am nourished, not only by the food in my community, but by the people, too.

My summer groove feels full, as if the season and I just might burst. And burst we will—the season will peak and slowly shift back into fall. But this doesn’t take away any of my joy. In fact, it seems to heighten the sensual experience of summer.

My friends seem to feel it, too. They often come to pot lucks with heirloom tomato soup and overflowing baby greens salads—all made with local produce. It has become intellectual and savvy to know that the arugula was picked on Monday, the tomatoes on Wednesday; that they are best with local cheese, and that fresh eggs can be picked up early Monday mornings at the farm.

Many people think of “putting up” food as an exclusively autumnal activity. Not so. Each week I put a bit aside and begin to preserve—dandelion wine, edible flower and greens pesto, chive bloom vinegar, dried herbs and raspberries frozen and made into jam.

Food preservation techniques such as pickling, culturing, and canning have been around for centuries and throughout every culture, but abandoned in recent decades for the charms of “convenience” foods. Now, the emerging DIY culture (of which The Alchemical Kitchen is an integral part) is reviving these endangered skills—just in time to take advantage of the fruits (and vegies) of the local producer’s labors.

Local summer produce can be dried, dehydrated, pickled, fermented, canned, frozen, and cultured. And it’s easy and fun. Come December, you won’t regret having sun-dried your tomatoes in August. Peaches that start to go bad in July can be sliced, frozen and turned into cobbler in January. Extra arugula and spinach, made into pesto and frozen, will add a nutritious punch to roasted vegetables in February. Extra cabbage and carrots, when cultured into kimchee or saurkraut in September, will make a healthy condiment throughout each winter meal.

The health benefits of eating locally grown and home-preserved foods go beyond eating organic. Local produce picked and preserved at its prime has more nutrients than grocery store produce. Pickling and culturing vegetables creates digestive enzymes, natural health-promoting acids and immune boosting probiotics. Studies show the health benefits of good bacteria for digestive and immune health. Our over-processed Ameri­can diet is almost completely lacking in these naturally occurring bacteria and enzymes. Large food producers process them out, replace them with a synthetic version and market the product as “nutritionally enhanced.” But why buy pricey, synthetic, over-processed foods with added probiotics when you can create your own at home from natural, organic, local sources for a fraction of the cost?

Helping to harvest the veggies at the farm, I can see clearly that localism and home preservation are also environmentally friendly practices. I’m buying more produce throughout the summer—supporting small and in many cases environmentally conscious farming. And with glass jars full of colorful vegetables and sauces lining my cupboards, I’m purchasing less grocery store produce, meaning less chemical preservatives and fuel for shipping.

I hope you’re joyfully moving into your own summer groove. I also hope you will shop more locally, gather a community of friends and neighbors into your kitchen, and enjoy the tastes of our region throughout each season.

And when we see one another at the farmers’ market this month, arms full of extra produce for preserving, we’ll smile conspiratorially and think of all the good meals to come, even after this season of bounty passes.

Flower pesto
1 cup packed nasturtium leaves
1 cup pansies
3 to 5 cloves of local garlic
1 1/2 cups organic olive oil
1 cup walnuts
1. In a food processor or blender add all ingredients and process until smooth. Use on pastas, fish, or roasted veggies.
2. For later use, store the pesto by freezing it in ice cube trays overnight and then transfer to a freezer bag.

Spinach/basil/arugula pesto
1 hardy bunch of local basil, spinach or arugula
1/2 cup high-quality Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 cup of olive oil
2- 5 cloves local garlic (more or less de­pending on your love—or lack thereof)
1.    Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend completely.
2.    Use fresh or pour into ice cube trays and allow to freeze completely.
3.    Once frozen, transfer to a freezer bag.
4.    Use on pizzas, pastas, or baked veggies—you can always toast some pine nuts or almonds to add to the dish.

Chive blossom and garlic vinegar
4 cups white wine vinegar
2 cups fresh chive blossoms
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
1.    Pour the vinegar into a large glass jar. Add the chive blossoms, then cap and let sit in a cool, dark place for two weeks.
2.    Strain the mixture and discard the chive blossoms. Pour the vinegar into a quart jar or fun vintage glass container. Cap and store in cool, dark pantry for up to six months. Add to olive oil for salad dressings.

Dandelion wine
I found this recipe in an old book my mom bought for me from a discount rack book store—”The Complete Illustrated Herbal” by David Hoffman. We love it!
4 pts. cold water
2 cups dandelion flowers
1 tablespoon ginger root
peel of one organic orange, finely chopped
peel of 1 organic lemon, finely chopped
1½ pound Demerara sugar
juice of one organic lemon
1 teaspoon of wine yeast
1.    Bring water to boil and leave to cool.
2.    Separate the dandelion flowers from their bitter stalks and calyces and put them in a large bowl. Pour water over the flowers and leave for a day, stirring occasionally.
3.    Add the flowers and water to a large pan and add the ginger, lemon and orange rinds, then boil for 30 minutes.
4.    Strain the liquid, pour it back into the bowl.
5.    Mix in the sugar and the lemon juice and allow to cool.
6.    Cream the wine yeast with some of the liquid and add to the mixture in the bowl.
7.    Cover the bowl with a cloth and leave the mixture to ferment in a warm place for two days.
8.    Pour the liquid into a class jug with an airlock—available at home-brew suppliers.
9.    Leave the mixture in the jug until all the fermentation has ceased and gas bubbles no longer form. Then close the jug tightly for about two months.
10.    Siphon the clear liquid into clean, dry bottles and seal. Keep the wine for six months before drinking.

Raspberry jam
This recipe is from “So Easy to Preserve” by the Cooperative Extension of The University of Georgia. I always substitute local, home grown, and organic for conventional ingredients.
2 quarts crushed raspberries
6 cups sugar
1.    Sterilize canning jars.
2.    Combine berries and sugar; bring slowly to boiling, stirring occasionally until sugar dissolves.
3.    Cook rapidly until thick, about 40 minutes.
4.    As mixture thickens, stir frequently to prevent sticking.
5.    Pour hot jam into hot jars, leaving ¼-inch headspace. Wipe jar rims and adjust lids.
6.    Process in a boiling water bath for five minutes.
* Note: The processing time is for those living at sea level to 1,000 feet. Add one minute to the processing time for each additional 1,000 feet. I live at 7,000, so I process for 11 minutes.

Freezing Raspberries
This technique will keep your berries from drying in one large chunk: Wash raspberries, drain and spread onto a cookie sheet. Freeze overnight. Then transfer to freezer bags. Use throughout the winter in desserts, baked goods and smoothies!

Rebecca is a nutritionist and owner of Park City Holistic Health. For more healthy DIY recipes visit her at and

This article was originally published on June 29, 2009.