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Hodgepodge is described in many dictionaries using words like hash, conglomeration, olio, muddle, gallimaufry, and crazy quilt, all of which could confuse many beyond imagination. The remaining descriptions of medley, mélange, and miscellany might fit today’s column.

I’ve recently received responses and recipes from readers that defy categorization. So here’s a hodgepodge of tasty ideas.

Let’s begin by harvesting September tomatoes with culinary suggestions from Mike Repas, who should be writing his own cookbook. He likes cutting locally-grown tomatoes into wedges or slices, adding a bit of salt and pepper and a “dash” of granulated garlic. If he limits the salt, a bit of pecorino cheese and shredded fresh basil are added to enjoy it even more.

If using in-season tomatoes for salads, he suggests cutting them into wedges or slices, placing them in a colander or strainer placed over a bowl and allowing to drain for at least 30 minutes, saving the juices while the drained tomatoes become firmer in salads. He also enjoys using a bit of garlic which blends well with the tomatoes, especially with out-of-season tomatoes.

As for saving the juice, Repas adds that it becomes a natural flavor enhancer when added to sauces and works well if you want to “thin” tomato paste. The juice can be bottled in tight-fitting glass jars and kept in the refrigerator, or frozen to use during another season. When putting out-of-season tomatoes in a bowl, drain and discard any juice, then add a couple of tablespoons of the “fresh” juice. That works like “magic” to taste like you just picked them, Repas says.

Here is another Repas recipe to make and enjoy anytime of the year from “Nothing But the Best,” a collection of favorites from the University of Alabama Family.

Cocktail fantastics

1 pound box or bag of good quality oyster crackers

1 cup corn oil

7-ounce package of dry ranch dressing mix

½ teaspoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon dried dill or dill weed

1 tablespoon lemon pepper

Paprika

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients, except paprika; mix and toss until well coated. Transfer to an airtight oversize container. Every 10-15 minutes shake the contents. You’ll find that it takes a good while for the dry ingredients to absorb the oil. Just before your “final shake”, sprinkle with paprika. Let it rest a while, “ then dig in and enjoy. This will keep for 2 to 3 days, but probably won’t last for more than a few hours.”

When reader Bonnie Kott travels, instead of buying trinkets, she buys local cookbooks. That’s where she found this rhubarb recipe she has made many times. Submitted by Mildred Jerke for the Zion Lutheran Church Centennial cookbook in Mitchell, SD., Kott’s grandchildren love it. When it is made for adults, vodka can be added.

Rhubarb slush

8 cups chopped rhubarb

8 cups water

3 cups sugar

½ cup lemon juice, fresh or bottled

6-ounce package strawberry JELL-O

2 cups vodka, optional

Cook chopped rhubarb, water and sugar until very mushy, about 15-20 minutes. Put through a strainer to separate pulp from the juice. To the juice, add lemon juice and JELL-O, and optional vodka. Stir well and freeze.

Note: If you’d like to make a sauce instead, add another 6 ounce package of strawberry JELL-O to the pulp. To serve as a beverage, remove frozen rhubarb juice from the freezer and scoop into glasses until half full and fill with 7-Up or Sprite. Stir and enjoy.

A friend recently asked if I knew of any exceptional soups made with the harvests of September gardens and I smiled, remembering one clipped from a 2001 food magazine showcasing Pittsburgh’s Ukrainian community. Being among the Best-of-the-Best during the 20th annual ethnic festival is a classic Ukrainian stew that seems to vary from cook to cook. It can be made with or without meat or fish and served hot or cold, but is always made with beets and garnished with sour cream.

Borscht garden soup

3 cups boiling water

¾ to 1 ounce dried mushrooms

1 cup chopped onion

2 teaspoons cooking oil

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2 medium (about 12 ounces) beets, peeled and chopped, about 2 cups

1 medium carrot, chopped

1 stalk celery, chopped, about ½ cup

14-ounce can beef broth

1 medium onion, peeled and left whole

2 bay leaves

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 teaspoon lemon juice

½ teaspoon pepper

¼ teaspoon salt

1 cup chopped cabbage

½ cup dairy sour cream

Pour boiling water over dried mushrooms; let stand for 20 minutes. Drain mushrooms in a strainer, reserving liquid. Leave mushrooms in strainer and rinse well under running water. Drain mushrooms; cut up any large pieces. Line strainer with 100-percent-cotton cheesecloth. Pour reserved mushroom liquid through cheese-cloth-lined strainer to remove any grit. Measure mushroom liquid; add enough water to equal 3 cups; set aside.

In large saucepan, cook chopped onion in hot oil for 4 minutes. Add beets, carrot, and celery; cook 5 minutes more stirring occasionally. Carefully add mushroom liquid, beef broth, whole onion, bay leaves, tomato paste, lemon juice, pepper, and salt. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Cover; simmer for 20 minutes more. Remove and discard the whole onion and bay leaves. Stir in cabbage; cover and simmer 20 minutes more. Stir in mushrooms; heat through. Serve with sour cream.

Makes 8 side-dish servings

Continuing with even more vegetables to harvest, Repas shared a zucchini recipe he describes being “delicious” that his friend, Barb Daane, from the town of Vienna north of DeForest, once made for a work-related gathering.

Zucchini cobbler

8 cups seeded, peeled, chopped zucchini, about 3 pounds

2/3 cup lemon juice

1 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

In a large saucepan over medium-low heat, cook and stir zucchini and lemon juice for 20 minutes or until zucchini is tender. Add sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg and cook an additional minute or two. Remove from heat and set aside.

Crust:

4 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups granulated sugar

1 ½ cups cold butter, cubed

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For crust, combine flour and sugar in a bowl; cut in butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir ½ cup of crust mixture into zucchini mixture. Press half of remaining crust mixture into a greased 15x10x1-inch baking pan. Spread zucchini over crust; crumble remaining crust mixture over zucchini. Sprinkle with ground cinnamon.

Bake at 375 degrees for 40-45 minutes or until golden and bubbly.

Note: Repas has, instead, used three 8x8-inch pans.

Contact the Cooks’ Exchange in care of the Wisconsin State Journal, P.O. Box 8058, Madison, WI, 53708 or by email at greenbush4@aol.com.

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