Monday, August 30, 2010

Preserving the Garden is in Full Swing

It has been a very productive week. Gardening has several fun stages and this is definitely one of them - putting up the harvest!
beets sparkling in the sun
I finished putting up beets by pickling them - 8 beautiful quarts!  We ate fresh beets all late spring and summer and they were utterly delicious. I tried Bulls Blood Beets from Seed Savers Exchange and they were remarkably sweet.  These beets are French in origin and have the darkest deep magenta leaves. I used the leaves for salad and steamed the baby beet tops in the sping when they were young and tender. For a bit of trivia, the juice from these beets is used to make the only red food coloring allowed by Swedish law. Many people say they aren't beet lovers but I don't understand that at all especially if one eats beets fresh from the garden - steamed with a little real butter and salt & pepper.  I will definitely get the same kind of beets next year since we both enjoyed them so much.
Endamame (soybeans) fresh from the garden
Also, I froze the Endamame (soybeans) and what a crop! This is the first harvest and with what is left maturing on the plants, we will have at least a couple more harvests.  This first harvest produced 9 quarts which I froze. They are great for a snack with just a little salt. You put them in boiling water for about 5 minutes, then shell and add salt. I hear that this is "bar food" in Japan like peanuts are used in the US.  I know they are served in Asian restaurants in California as appetizers. This will be another treat in the dead of winter.

I harvested enough cucumbers for 4 jars of dill pickles.  There are still lots of blossoms on the plants so hopefully I'll get more jars. I didn't realize that I had ordered 'pickling' cucumbers from Seed Savers Exchange but it was lucky since no market or food stand seems to have carried them this year. These plants originated in Russia and were brought over by immigrants, they are simply called 'Bushy Cucumbers'.  I'm not sure why because they sprawl just like all cucumbers and aren't bushy at all. Oh well. At least I'll get a few more jars as they ripen to just the perfect size.  Now I'm on the search for dill - I didn't plant enough and used what I had for the first pickles. Next year I'll make sure to plant both eating cukes and pickling cukes along with plenty of dill. You can eat pickling cucumbers fresh, but I don't like the taste as well.
Grape leaf pickles look the
same as the other pickles I made
 but I won't know if there is a taste
difference for six weeks!
We were at dinner with Connie and Gary B at the local winery when we had the discussion about grape leaves pickles and how the grape leaf makes the pickles more crisp. So on our way out of the winery we picked a few leaves from the vines and voila - with Connie's recipe, I have my first jar of Grape Leaves Pickles. I can't wait to try them - in 6 weeks. Here is Connie's intriguing recipe  for Grape Leaves Pickles:
4    oz white vinegar (5% acidity)
2-3 garlic cloves, cut in half
1    tsp alum
1    T pickling salt
2    heads fresh dill
fresh cucumbers to fill a quart jar
sliced onions, optional
grape leaves, optional

Place all the above ingredients in a sterilized quart jar; add hard boiling water to top it off and seal with hot lid and ring.  Place in boiling water in canner and process for 30 minutes.  DO NOT EAT FOR 6 WEEKS

We then went to one of Connie & Gary's farm fields to pick apples from an old apple tree.  Gary and Mark picked a couple bags of apples in no time and I am thrilled that I now have a source for apples. That will be my next big project - freeze a bunch of fresh apples just off the tree.

I finished the week with the last lug of peaches, luscious, delicious peaches.  I used the recipes that sister Bonnie sent with an adjustment for "no sugar" pectin - which simply means less sugar by almost half. She found the recipes in the local newspaper and tried them with 2 thumbs up so she forwarded the recipes to me.  Thanks Bonnie! BTW, I love to share recipes so if you have a favorite please do send to me. Here they are, Peach Ginger Preserves and Peach Raspberry Jam. Both are fabulous pairings.


4 1/2 C diced peeled peaches
2       T fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 T shredded fresh ginger (a zester works great)
1/2    tsp butter (to prevent foaming)
1        pack pectin (no sugar style; Ball or Sure Jell)
3        sugar (this is 2 1/2 cups LESS sugar than the regular recipe)

Place diced peaches, lemon juice, ginger, butter and pectin in a large pot. Over high heat, bring to a strong boil. Add sugar quickly, and stirring frequently, bring to a rolling boil. Stir for 1 minute while it is boiling. Check for signs of jelling.  If the mixture runs off your metal spoon like water, more boiling is needed. If it runs off like teardrop drips, go 30 seconds to a minute longer.
Pack in clean sterilized pint jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space. 
Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
Remove from canner, let stand until cool to room temperature.
The lids should 'pop' and once they do, it is safe to store.  Otherwise, if a jar doesn't pop, put it in the refrigerator and use right away.
YIELD: 6 half pint jars


3    C ripe diced peeled peaches
1    C crushed red raspberries (fresh or frozen OK)
1    T fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp butter (to prevent foaming) 
1    box Ball or Sure Jell no sugar needed pectin
3    C sugar

Combine prepared fruit, lemon juice, butter & pectin in a large saucepan. Bring to a rolling boil. Stir in sugar quickly and bring back to rolling boil while stirring constantly.Stir for 1 minute while it is boiling. Check for signs of jelling. If the mixture runs off your metal spoon like water, more boiling is needed. If it runs off like teardrop drips, go 30 seconds to a minute longer.
Pack in clean sterilized pint jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space.
Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
Remove from canner, let stand until cool to room temperature.
The lids should 'pop' and once they do, it is safe to store. Otherwise, if a jar doesn't pop, put it in the refrigerator and use quickly.
YIELD: 6 half pint jars

The lovely finished jam

I'm harvesting potatoes for storage in the root cellar.The sweet potatoes and the rest of the winter squash will be the next big harvests but they are not quite ready yet.

We are refreshing the raised bed tanks and I've used one to plant fall green crops - lettuce, arugula, spinach and Swiss chard.

the layers on the pie dough
There are still tomatoes on the vine along with blossoms so we'll be enjoying them for awhile longer. I had leftover pie dough in the fridge so decided to make savory tomato galette (peasant pie) for supper.

I rolled out the dough, then put a few thin pats of butter on the bottom, next layered thinly sliced onion from the garden, then torn Swiss chard from the garden, next fresh mozzarella cheese, then our fresh picked tomatoes sliced, along with some grape and cherry tomatoes, and finally topped with torn purple basil from the garden & a drizzle of olive oil over the filling. I brushed the dough with egg wash & a sprinkle of fresh black pepper; then baked for 40 minutes @ preheated 350 degree oven and it was a "Do It Again" recipe according to Mark, the official taste tester in the house!
folding the pie dough into a galette
I tend to cook by inspiration vs actual recipes when cooking. The galette is one of those inspiration dishes based on what is available in the refrigerator, pantry and garden. It is such a fun and creative way to cook.  As I've told you before, I've learned to write down the successes or they will never be repeated again!

galette ready for the oven

finished galette - Delicious!!

The garden and harvesting has been great fun including the work. Though I'm looking forward to fall so we can clean up the garden and yard and prepare the garden for next spring. After that, it will be a change of pace and I'll be able to create lots of delicious meals from the fruits (& veggies) of my labor! I'll share recipes this winter. I'm sure I'll spend time planning the layout of the garden for next year and checking out the seed catalogues.  I'll also have time to think about other creative endeavors for the winter. You'll be in the know - as soon as I know what they are!

These are the new onion sets growing on the top of
the "winter onion" which gets planted for next
years onion crop. This is what we planted this week.
Butternut and acorn squash
I'm moving all the winter onions and garlic to a raised bed tank from the ground beds so they can grow unmolested by weeds and other aggressive growing things. Mark planted the sets from the winter onions (see picture above) and have nearly 1/2 raised bed tank planted with onions (250) & another 1/4 tank is planted with garlic. We use so much of these veggies that we decided we needed more for next year. Mark helped me in the garden with some early cleanup and planting.  He added Miracle-Grow soil to the empty tanks and then rototilled - now it is rich growing soil. Next year I'll have compost and old manure to add but it's not ready yet this year.  While Mark was taking care of the projects above, I gathered the dry beans to shell and also harvested several winter squash which is ripe.  I didn't want the squash to become so huge that it wouldn't be practical to keep or to eat. I have it drying in the house, getting it ready for the root cellar.

There are still many squash of both types that are maturing and some still growing so it should be a good sized harvest for the winter.  We love squash so that is lovely. I'd sure welcome your favorite winter squash recipes.  Matt G already sent a wonderful recipe for baked butternut squash which is now in our repertoire. Thank you Matt.
My happy kitchen guy
Here is my 'kitchen guy' which was a gift from family a few years ago. He's been with me quite awhile. He's my mortar and pestle and always has a smile for me in the kitchen.  Just thought I'd share a picture of this hardworking guy.

another pic of soybeans that I can't delete for some reason! but they are pretty, aren't they?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Happenings on the Ranch

The guineas and pheasants are growing and healthy.  We opened the guinea shack a few weeks ago so they could free range and three guineas and most of the pheasants went native so they haven't been coming back to the guinea shack at night.  We see & hear them in the tall grass around the garden so we are encouraged that most have survived so far.  We have a dozen young guineas and three pheasants that continue to stay close to the barn and the guineas come home to roost every night and the pheasants come in for water. They are fun to watch as they eat bugs and the seed heads of the various grasses which is what they are doing in the picture.

We had been letting the youngsters free range in the morning and then putting them in the guinea shack with a screen door at mid-day at which time we let the Dots out of their pen.  We discovered that the Dots are very aggressive with the small birds and they killed a baby pheasant early on so we didn't let them out at the same time.  Now that the young birds are larger we let all the birds out at the same time and they seem to be coexisting nicely. The guineas seem to be working the lawn and yard for their meals. The Dots are great at getting rid of the grasshoppers & crickets directly around the house. However the Dots scratching is wrecking havoc with my flower beds around the house especially directly next to the foundation but I am forgiving since they are doing their job.  I'll have to rethink my flower beds next year so we can coexist more peacefully. I'm considering putting chicken wire down and cutting holes for the individual plants then covering with mulch. hummmm. Wonder if that would work? The guineas don't scratch like chickens so they don't make a mess. None of the birds are disturbing my vegetable garden just the flowerbeds.

The country life provides opportunities to commune with nature such as finding and watching this black swallowtail butterfly staying cool in the rosebush. She is utterly beautiful, don't you think?
We have so many lovely butterflies here -
they really get you to stop and and
"smell the roses", (so to speak).
luscious peeled peaches ready for jam & pie
I put up Colorado peaches last week -2 lugs which produced 15 jars of jam, three pies and several quarts for this winter. I just bought another lug so I will be putting up more peaches this week. I'm going to try my sister Bonnie's recipes for Peach Ginger  & Peach Raspberry jam and I'll include the recipes in my next blog. I think peach  is our absolute favorite pie...or maybe its tied with raspberry rhubarb...or blueberry - - -maybe we don't actually have a favorite!  Peach jam is definitely our favorite of all I've put up so far including cherry, mulberry, apricot, strawberry, and peach.  Well, maybe mulberry is another favorite...

To keep up with the harvest, I am doing small batch canning/freezing.  It allows me to keep up and not be totally frazzled by trying to do a huge harvest at one time. I'm learning. That said, I'm managing the ongoing tomato crop by doing small batches of marinara sauce and freezing whole tomatoes. I'm also experimenting with ketchup recipes so hopefully I will find one or create one that meets our palate test.
sunny flowers

The morning glory arbor entrance to the garden

Sunday, August 15, 2010

It Happened --- The Dots Are Lay'n

A real egg plant! grown by my friend Sandy
We got our FIRST EGG on Saturday and three more today!  The egg production has begun - and I'm thrilled and a little overwhelmed thinking how many eggs we will have if they keep laying - which... they... will. OMG! We'll have to figure that out soon. The eggs are coming from the DOTS not the egg plant in the picture; but doesn't it look like eggs?  I love it and will try to grow it next year.

The first egg which HAD to be memorialized

We had to taste the eggs so we had the four little poulet eggs for supper tonight and they ARE better tasting than store eggs, by far.
The four poulet eggs compared to regular eggs

The Dots clucking sounds have markedly changed and they sound like hens these days. The Dots free range and eat lots of greens and bugs which makes their eggs high in omega-3s which is very healthy.  It's amazing that the end of March when the chicks arrived at the Post Office, they were tiny little 2 day old fluffy chicks and now they are laying eggs.

It has finally cooled here after a couple weeks of hot and humid weather.  The cicadas have been singing for weeks now and they are for me the sound of summer. I associate that sound with childhood in South Dakota and it always brings up the memory of staying with my Grandparents in a little town for my week alone with them. There were five kids so a week alone with Grandy and Grandma was heaven.  We got a picture of one of the singers - check him out.

The morning glory vines have come into their full glory over the arbor and the garden bench. It's a delight to see them glowing in the morning sun. Well worth the wait.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Summers Bounty

After all the toil and worry about weather, rain, ripening, bugs, etc., it's time to harvest --this is what it's all about.  We picked the first of our butternut squash and it is simply delicious.  We have quite a harvest of squash both butternut and acorn so once the vines start dying back we'll pick the squash and let it season (harden) for a couple weeks. We'll then store in our root cellar. 

I baked this squash with a filling of grape tomatoes cut in half, diced garlic, salt and pepper and olive oil. It was divine.

Here I am picking corn! Friends graciously allowed us to pick sweet corn in their field. We got enough for 45 quarts plus 3 bags of 4 full ears each.  I haven't frozen whole ears before so I hope they are good. In the past I've heard that the cob gets soft which is unappetizing but we'll see. I like the idea of eating corn on the cob in the winter. This corn will taste delicious in January when the snow is blowing. I froze the corn and with Mark's help with picking and processing, we got all this accomplished in a morning.
I remember my family freezing corn when I was a kid. It was a big day with all of us helping. Daddy and the kids would go to the field to pick the sweet corn and then we'd all shuck the corn from the back of the pickup and bring it into the house where Mom was ready for it. I always loved to cut the corn off the cob...and occasionally taste the delicious sweet blanched corn chuncks that come off the cuttings.  She set up an assembly line and we had the corn processed in no time.

We have delectable potatoes coming on and we've already tasted them both steamed and in potato salad.  What a treat.  We'll be storing the potatoes in the cellar too.

Green beans are being harvested for fresh eating and freezing. 

Tomatoes are wonderfully ripe (finally!) and I'm making salsa, marinara sauce and freezing some whole and I'm trying homemade ketchup. You can see our lovely harvest of the variety of tomatoes we have in the garden in the basket on the left. Wine bottle there for perspective.

Homemade marinara sauce cooking

Looks similar but it's ketchup in the making


cherry & grape tomatoes - YUM

Our granddaughter, Kelsey, came to spend a few days with us before leaving for study abroad in Thailand. She helped me put up the tomatoes so as you can see she diced a LOT of tomatoes. I loved having her here and it was fun working in the kitchen together. We have such a good time talking and listening to music. She brings me current with what the young are listening to and thinking about so I find her so interesting.
Our lovely fascinating granddaughter, Kelsey
Back to the garden: The endaname (soybeans) are ripening so they will be frozen soon. I'm making pickled beets and will make some dill pickles too. I planted three types of dry beans for soups this winter which is a staple at our house. LOVE soup! Dry beans are harvested once the vines dry and they have to be 'seasoned' or dried for a couple weeks in a dry place.  I'm excited about the variety of beans that we'll have for our soup this winter.

I've planted swiss chard and lettuce - hope it cools off so they consider coming up for a second fresh greens harvest.

It looks like I have crop failure with the heirloom cauliflower and broccoli. I have big beautiful leaves and no heads.  SeedSavers Exchange told me that since I planted them directly into the ground rather than from seedlings, it is likely that the weather didn't cooperate (too hot) when they were germinating. Bummer - I have nearly 2 tanks with these veggies and garden real estate is precious. I plan to give them a couple more weeks to see if there is anything happening and then if not, the leaves will go to the compost pile.  It will make room for some fall crops.

The Dots LOVE the lawnmower.  When I mow I have lots of company -- all 17 DOTS are around me and the mower chasing the bugs that I unearth while mowing.  When I  mowed a couple days ago, I stopped for lunch and when I went back outside to continue mowing and started the lawn mower, the Dots came running from under their shade tree to mow with me. That's another reason I love to mow, I get to commune with and watch my chickens.
Finally, this is the view we had last evening - beautiful storm clouds. The sky here is a marvel, always changing color and clouds.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Teaspoon Peeps

Baby quail sitting on teaspoon!
We got home from Indiana where we delivered our young friends, Sasha, Nina and Jake to their grandparents, and discovered we had a new feathered baby.  The first baby quail hatched and it is soooo tiny - as you can see it fits in a teaspoon!The little guy can really make a racket when he peeps but we've made a little 'nest' that he can climb under like Mommy's wings and then we just hear content quiet peeps.

Our trip to Indiana was great.  It was a beautiful drive through Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois and Indiana.  The corn was fantastic throughout all those states - and with all the rain, the states are all green and lush. The kids travelled very well and thanks to Mom we had the help of a portable DVD player when boredom set in and the noise volume got too high. They were so excited to see Grandma Ann and Grandpa Jim who live in a charming cottage on the edge of a park. It is a perfect kid environment with great bike paths and a community pool and water slide a block away. We miss the kids but look forward to next summer with them. Here are a few of the beautiful flowers surrounding Grandma Ann and Grandpa Jim's cottage.
Blackeyed Susan's along the creek bank; above left is Tardiva Hydrangea

Celebrating 10 with Watermelon Ice Cream Cake

It's a big deal to turn 10 and Sasha did that on July 30th.  We had an early birthday party for her before leaving for Indiana which will be her 2nd birthday party. Having three birthday parties in one year should happen at least once in a lifetime. We made a 'watermelon' ice cream 'cake' for her birthday. It's easy and fun to make with kids. Here's how:
Start with 2 bowls that nest into each other and put slightly softened vanilla ice cream around the bottom bowl to form the rind. The smaller bowl will make the form that the watermelon fruit will set in.Then put the bowl in the freezer to harden.

Next, slightly soften raspberry sherbet which will be the watermelon fruit and add chocolate chips for the watermelon seeds.  Sasha LOVES white chocolate so she asked that we use white chocolate chips - like seedless watermelon that has white seeds! We added a few chocolate chips here so you'd get the idea.

Once the vanilla is hardened, remove from freezer. Place hot water in the top bowl for just a few seconds, enough to barely melt the bowl from the ice cream & once you feel the top bowl move, remove it carefully so you don't spill hot water on the vanilla.  Once the bowl is removed, fill the hole from the small bowl with raspberry sherbet and chocolate seeds.

The green skin of the watermelon is made from whipped cream colored with green food coloring.  Here is Sasha whipping the cream. The cream should be well chilled.

Remove the frozen vanilla and raspberry layers from the freezer. Have hot water in the sink so you can gently unmold the layers from the bowl by setting the bowl into the hot water for just a few moments.  Once you feel or see that the ice cream has separated from the bowl, place a platter over the top and invert the frozen layers onto the platter.  Once that is done, 'frost' the ice cream layers with the whipped cream. Return to the freezer to harden off.

Here is a finished slice of the watermelon birthday cake.  It is a fun project to do with kids and they love the finished results.  Try it sometime.
It's a tough job licking the beaters, but someone has to do it!  Jake and Nina were great helpers.

Sasha, the birthday girl with her gifts!

Happy Birthday to you, Happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Sasha, happy birthday to you.