It's hard to drive across the Oklahoma prairie and pass a long-deserted homestead without imagining what life must have been like for the families who settled there. The sheer magnitude of what was referred to as “putting food by” was a daunting task. In those days there were no superstores or foods to order online. You or your neighbors had to grow and produce enough to sustain the family for the winter months.
No wonder some of those pictures of the time showed a much thinner population. We didn't worry about childhood obesity then. Everyone in the family worked in the field to help harvest the crops. A large family was a plus. Imagine canning green beans and stirring homemade relish without a proper stove in summer or September heat. It's hard to imagine trying to can enough to get through a winter.
A little help
These days, canning, putting foods by and preserving foods for future use has come a long way. Foods can be frozen, dehydrated, shrink-wrapped and stored on shelves. Even pickling has gotten easier with a clever little kit created by Pepper Creek Farms in Lawton. It's the kind of thing that makes a fun gift for the pickling challenged. It's also a quick pick for folks who want to perk up their relish tray.
Pepper Creek Farms was started by Susan and Marshall Weissman in Guthrie in 1989 with just a few products: Pepper jellies, red pepper and carrot relish, peppercorn dressing, salsa and hot sauce. When Craig Weissman bought the company, he moved the operation to Lawton, where they produce an impressive range of products today. After 24 years, Pepper Creek Farms continues to expand its product line.
My all-time favorite Pepper Creek Farms product is their Red Pepper and Carrot Relish. Of course, the stuff is great as a condiment for barbecue as well as bean soups and other meats. I found the relish works well to incorporate into finely shredded cabbage with a splash of olive oil and vinegar for a super quick slaw. My favorite thing to do with the relish is to combine it with quick-cooked lake fish for a fish taco or tostada.
The hardest part is catching the fish, but you can use store-bought catfish and even red snapper. It is amazing what that relish and a little lime juice can do for making a fish taco or tostada. You can have it with or without beans or lettuce. I love it just as a topper for a tortilla chip as an appetizer.
Who doesn't want some chips on their Oklahoma table? Any flavor of flour or corn tortilla can be used. I used an Oklahoma-shaped cookie cutter to make appetizer-sized Okie chips. In a 300-degree oven, it takes about 10 minutes per side to prepare the chips. It's a great way to have your own Made in Oklahoma product.
Pepper Creek Farms products can be purchased from its website, peppercreekfarms.com or in gift stores and travel stops around the state. In Oklahoma City and Edmond, you'll find the relish at Gourmet Gallery. Their salsa and dip mixes make a perfect snack for your next tailgate.
Toss a half jar of the relish with a pound of cooked shrimp and a little fresh lime juice for a yummy appetizer.
Stop by the State Fair of Oklahoma and check out all the beautiful ways Oklahoma cooks are preserving the harvest and putting food by. Don't miss the Made in Oklahoma section, where you can sample many of the foods and talk with other producers we mention throughout the year.
Easy Fish Tostada
You'll relish this quick fish tostada filling made with Pepper Creek Farms Red Pepper and Carrot Relish. You can use any cooked fresh-caught lake fish, shrimp or red snapper. Bass and crappie have perfect flaky texture. Catfish is good, but it doesn't flake as well when cooked. Use any chip or pre-made shells with the filling for tacos or tostadas. No cheese needed.
4 to 6 ounces cooked fillet of fish or shrimp per person
1 teaspoon oil per serving
1 large tostada, 2 taco shells per person or 4 to 6 chips as base
1 jar of Pepper Creek Farms Red Pepper and Carrot Relish
2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lime juice per 4 to 6 ounces fish or shrimp
Salt to taste
• Preheat oven 300 degrees.
• Make cutouts or wedges from soft corn tortillas.
• Lay cutouts on baking sheet and place on middle rack in oven for 10 minutes. Turn chips over to crisp on the other side. Watch carefully, they should be crisp but not brown.
• Preformed taco or tostada shells should be heated according to manufacturer's directions.
• Heat oil in skillet over medium heat.
• Lightly dust fish fillets with flour.
• Place fish in heated oil and cook about 2 minutes per side until fish is opaque. Shrimp should be precooked or peeled and boiled just until cooked through and opaque or white.
• Remove cooked fish to paper towel.
• Transfer drained fish or shrimp to bowl and sprinkle with lime juice using a fork to tear or flake fish into small chunks. Shrimp can be cut in chunks.
• Combine with relish stirring mixture to thoroughly coat and distribute throughout.
• Prepare additional veggies and heat to reduce liquid in black beans or rinse and drain if using.
• To assemble, place beans (if using) on first, followed by filling then additional veggies as garnish.
Cooking notes: Fish can be poached in vegetable broth for a healthier version.