Anchorage outdoor farmers markets call it quits as snow threatens

mdunham@adn.comOctober 9, 2012 

October 13 -- this coming Saturday -- is the traditional date for the first sticking snow to hit Anchorage. (Are your snow tires on yet?) It coincides with the closing of two popular Anchorage farmers markets.

Saturday will be the final day of the season for the South Anchorage Farmers Market at the Anchorage Subway Sports Center near O'Malley Road on the Old Seward Highway. At last report some summer produce was still available, thanks in part to the drizzly weather that has helped postponed a big frost, and plenty of root vegetables as well.

It's also the last Saturday for the Anchorage Farmer Market at Central Lutheran Church on 15th Ave. and Cordova Street where Sarah Bean says buyers will find plenty of unseasonably late goodies.

"We're awed by how perfectly this harvest season is finishing up," writes Bean. "The sensitive crops continue to come in unscathed by frost, while the crops that benefit from a light frost will have it by the end of this week. We'll have loads of frost-sweetened hearty greens by the pound, along with bulk Brussels sprouts, herbs, tomatoes, green tomatoes, Yukon Gold potatoes, etc."

As for prices, Bean says loose spuds will go for $2.49 a pound or at a discount in 5-, 10- and 20-pound bags. In addition to the Yukon Gold potatoes, varieties include Yellow Finn, German Butterball, Magic Myrna (pink skin with yellow eye-shadow), Cherry Red, Magic Molly purple, Huckleberry (red flesh), Pimpernel.

"Red French Fingerling will be offered at a special fall price since they are better eaten fresh than stored," Bean says. Get 'em loose for $1.99 a pound, or buy in bulk, again at a discount.

Other fall crops include carrots ($2.69 a pound loose or $12.75 for the 5-pound bag), beets (red and Chioggia), Brussels sprouts, broccoli, daikon (Japanese radish), green and red cabbage, Purple Top turnips and kohlrabi. Rutabaga lovers can rejoice since the crop, somewhat stymied during the chilly summer, has finally come on.

If your looking for greens, you'll find Toscano, Red Russian, Redbor and Winterbor kales, rainbow chard, collards, mustard greens, mache, rucola, baby arugula, greens mix, Catalogna dandelion, sorrel and assorted leaf lettuces. Herbs will range from lemon basil and parsley to chervil, thyme and sage.

What to do about finding local-grown produce after this weekend? Head to the Mall at Sears where the Center Market has moved indoors. Hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. today and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday. Organizers expect to keep it going throughout the winter.

PRESSURE CANNED SMOKED SALMON

I was among the unhappy Anchorage residents who lost power for the better part of a week as a result of the windstorms that struck the area in September. I was also among the reporters at the Daily News who were fielding calls from frantic residents with freezers full of thawing fish and meat. People were running extension cords from motor homes, frantically trying to locate home generators at local stores and, in the worst case, throwing out the thawed food.

Without refrigeration myself, I thought: Why are we panicking? In the old days we ate salmon and moose put up in jars and kept in the pantry all year round. I stripped and brined my salmon, located a pressure canner in my basement and ran to Carrs to buy pint canning jars. I also canned beef and pork roasts in peril and would have done the same with halibut or other fish had I had any.

I didn't lose one ounce of frozen food in the Great Power Outage or 2012.

Here, abridged from a University of Oregon pamphlet, are quick tips on how to use this old school -- and labor intensive -- way to make your perishable meats last all year without refrigeration.

1. Prepare the fish. Slicing the salmon into strips is the customary method. I remove all pinbones with mouse-nosed pliers and keep the back-bone/ribs/tail/fins parts as in tact as possible. One rule of thumb is to make the brine by adding enough salt to a pail of water to float a potato (a little too salty for me, but the less salt the more important it is to get it canned quickly), then add sugar (preferably brown sugar) and other ingredients to taste. Soak the fish, including the bones, for a few hours or a couple of days, again depending on how saturated with brine you want it.

2. Weigh the fish. You'll want to smoke the meat until it loses about 12.5 percent of its moisture. The easy way to determine this is to have one piece that weighs 8 ounces and cook it until it weighs 7 ounces. When your test piece hits the 7 ounce mark, the rest of the load will be ready to can.

3. Smoke the fish. This can take days in a smoke house or a few hours on a small "Little Chief" style smoker. Or half an hour on a charcoal grill, particularly the kettle style. Keep the coals as cool as possible. Use a lot of chips or small branches from willow, alder or birch in your yard. Put a layer of aluminum foil between the fish and the coals but make sure plenty of smoke can reach the meat.

4. Can the fish. Without refrigeration, it's important to get the smoked fish into jars fairly quickly. Most sources specify using pint jars, warning against quart jars because "safe processing recommendations haven't been determined." I don't know how true that is, but I don't recall anyone using anything but pints in my youth. U of O also says to use 16 or 22-quart size pressure canners, saying safe cooking times for smaller pans haven't been determined. I don't know about that, but I can testify that if you have several jars to cook, a bigger canner will save a huge amount of time. Pack the fish into the jars in vertical strips, leaving 1 inch of headroom between the fish and the lid. Wipe the rim of the jar before putting on the rings and (this is critical) NEW lids. Screw the rings down to a light finger-tightness. Don't crank them too snugly.

5. Cook the canned fish. Following the manufacturer's instructions, put the jars into the canner and fill with cool water just about to the rings of the jars. You can stack another layer of jars on top of the first if a rack is used. Clamp the lid in place and turn on the heat. Let steam blow through the air vent for about 10 minutes then close down the petcock or put the weight in place (depending on what kind of cooker you have) and adjust the heat to process at 10 or 11 pounds of pressure for 110 minutes, an hour and 50 minutes.

6. Remove the jars. When the time is up, turn off the heat and let the cooker cool slowly; I let mine go overnight. When the pressure is zero, remove the lid, take out the jars, tighten the rings and check for a good seal by tapping the lid and listening for a high, firm sound. A pop or clatter means the seal didn't set; put on a new lid and reprocess that jar.

7. Label the jars. Put the date on the lid and keep the jars in a cool, dark place, but don't let them freeze.

8. Clean the bones. Remember the backbone and fins you brined up earlier? When the strips are done smoking, toss them on the barbecue and let them smoke. Within 30 minutes, the flesh will be soft enough to pull off with your fingers. Some call this the tastiest part of the salmon, a nice snack while you work on canning the pieces that you'll be eating in March.

Daily News Arts and Entertainment editor Mike Dunham is filling in for regular Market Fresh reporter Steve Edwards this month. If you have suggestions for a future Market Fresh column or a really good recipe featuring Alaska-grown vegetables, seafood or game, please email mdunham@adn.com or sedwards@adn.com.

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