Friday, September 28, 2012

When frost leaves you in a pickle..

  If frost is forecasted and you're stuck having to put the garden to bed earlier than expected, it's time to buckle down an maximize your harvest.

 If I have a few days warning, I start pulling tomatoes that have a decent blush on them to finish ripening on the counter. When tomatoes have a blush of color, it is called the breaker stage. Many of the "vine ripe" tomatoes at the store are actually harvested at this stage. Picking these gives the plants a chance to reroute their energy towards the younger fruit and the breaker tomatoes will still taste fine.

 I pick all of the really immature winter squash. When they are very small they can be used like a summer squash. They are very delicate at this stage, so a fast wash and into the fridge. I use these up in the next few days. Care must be taken that they don't get dinged up as they are so fragile, and damage will make them spoil more quickly. 

 I also pick all of the squash flowers over the next few days. I have 2 containers that I keep in the fridge. One that is a filling for stuffed squash blossoms and another that is the batter that I dip them into. This way I can quickly wash the blossoms, stuff and fry them. Then off to the freezer they go on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Once frozen, I transfer them into a freezer container. They'll keep for 6 months.

 Very immature melons are also picked. These fuzzy darlings I pickle. I've pickled quite a few of them this year already as the deer liked to play in the melon patch and obliterated many vines. When they are really young you don't need to peel them or do anything like that as the skins are tender. I make refrigerator pickles with them. The immature melons are very bland and not sweet, so they pick up the flavor of the pickling liquid very well. 

 If left to their own devices, my husband and daughter would eat pickles constantly. This year, they did. The entire middle shelf in my fridge is just pickles and I am constantly reloading the jars. Assorted veggies can be tossed into this like carrots cut into sticks, onions, radishes, peppers (needs at least 2 small slits so the liquid penetrates them), sugar snap peas (ends cut off.. also so liquid goes through), purslane stems, tiny green beans, kohlrabi.. pretty much anything.

 More than a few zucchini were the size of my arm this year. These huge ones I process rather fast as the longer they sit, the tougher the seeds inside become. If the seeds are tender, I make zucchini parmesan and freeze them. Thick round are sliced, put into seasoned flour, then dipped into egg, and coated in seasoned breadcrumbs. A quick fry in a little olive oil to make them golden, on to a rack to cool, then on to a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper in a single row and into the freezer. Once frozen, they get put into freezer containers. I do the same with eggplant. It's a fast dinner later. Just pull out how many you need, lay them in a dish, top with tomato sauce, parmesan, and mozzarella, then bake.

 Itty bitty green tomatoes are yet another thing I will pick. There's no hope for them to get of size, but they do have their uses! I've swapped these out in recipes that call for green tomatillos. I just made a green tomato relish (which is like a rather tasty sour salsa), the recipe I got from Farmgirl FareI left it chunky. (The flash is making it look rather pale too. This works out well for us as in my sauce making frenzy, I didn't jar up enough salsa. The recipe is super mild for our taste, so the next batches I will be using more jalapenos.)

 We have yet to try them, but I also put up 28 quarts of 4 different pickled green tomatoes. The recipes for them are from Garden Betty.

 For now fridge pickles remain the favorite. They are this simple to make.. (per quart)

  1.  load up a clean jar with spices and an assortment of veggies to your liking (skip leafy greens. Cut slits in any small whole veggies -like peppers, beans, snap peas,etc. Cut the veggies so they are easy to handle, but also so the pickling liquid can permeate it well.)
  2. in a saucepot heat up to boiling 1 cup water, 1 cup vinegar, 1 tablespoon pickling salt
  3. pour pickling liquid over veggies and close up the jar. Once cooled, store in the fridge for 2-3 weeks. (VERY helpful to write the date on them!)

  The favorite here is garlic dill. I just pop in 6 whole black pepper corns, 4 cloves of peeled halved garlic and dill seeds or fronds. My husband likes them a little spicy, so I add 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes to his. To go the sweet route.. you can add sugar to the saucepot.

 Ideally you want to use whole spices, or slightly crushed ones. If you use powdered ones it looks like sediment (see pickled 1/2 tomatoes above. I ran out of garlic heads!)

 DV doesn't much care for pickles, so his 1/2 gallon jar lasts him several months. We got as far as 4 weeks before they found the jar I hid in the back. 

 If you like it more sour.. use more vinegar. Roughly each quart jar you are looking to add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of spices. What kind is up to what you like. I suggest experimenting with different ones in jelly jars. Just make sure you tape the recipe to each jar (otherwise.. you'll have my mess!) 

 Best of luck to you all. I'm headed back to the kitchen!  

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Hunting Black Walnuts, Wild Apples, and Barbie's approval

  In the forests, the trees have a thick layer of duff. Duff is decaying plant matter. Essentially the forest self mulches every fall. Despite the drought, it offered a bounty for the wildlife and for those that know where to look. The forests just happen to be really close to good disc golfing areas.

 My husband and Buddy (my husband's clone across the street) have used "going out to get a look" as an excuse often. Amazing how their sight is dependent on how much disc golfing gear they bring with them. We "disc golf widows" tolerate it so long as they bring something back. 

 Buddy's interest in foraging has increased in direct relation to his carb crazed 4 year old daughter's (aka Pip) love of playing Barbies. 

 One of the boys' finds is a crisp, sweet and tart wild crabapple/ apple with pink flesh.
   It is a smaller apple that cooks down to make a wonderful applesauce that needs no sweetening. As it is small, and a shade of pink her Barbie approves, Pip will eat it. 

 Yeah, you heard me. Barbie approved. Thankfully, Pip's Barbie is easily duped.
 Some crazy lady may have told this youngster that fairies come out at night and look through the garden for flowers and leaves. (Barbie Fairytopia = fairies are cool. If You've not experience Fairytopia, consider yourself blessed.) Fairies are in Pip's garden. Flowers that they like get turned into dresses, put in their hair, and used in their houses. That when she finds a flower or a leaf she likes, she takes it and gives the plant a little magic so it can grow more. The magic can even be tasted as it makes things a little sweeter.

 That one tale has spinned off into a lot more. She also thinks the wild fruit is coming from the fairy forest.The little pink fleshed apple is proof of fairy magic as no apple she's ever seen before was pink inside.

 It gets worse. The kid is going to hate me when she grows up and figures it out. For now she thinks she has magic apples because the fairies are proud she's potty trained and didn't have any accidents at nursery school. 

 Bad Anne. Bad. (Although is it really any worse than Santa or the Easter bunny? At least my fairies pimp produce.)

 Meanwhile.. black walnuts are dropping. I had gotten some from DV's stash and added them to zucchini bread and apple crisp. My husband loves them. So he's gathering them everyday on his way home from work. He stops off at the big farm and gets what he can.

 Hulling them is difficult when they are green. Some run over them with their cars. If you find ones that have dark spots where the husk is soft.. get ready for maggots. There is a fly that lays it's eggs on the husk. The maggots eat the husk, but do not get past the shell of the nut. Totally disgusting if you have to hull a bunch that has this pest.

 Gloves, dark towels, and crappy dark clothes are needed when dealing with these suckers. They stain the bejeebus out of whatever they touch. Good thick rubber gloves required! Go for those flimsy latex ones and you'll find out it takes weeks for it to all come off your hands. Even scrubbing your hands like crazy.. wiping them dry is a death sentence for any light colored towels you have. My husband has managed to ruin every single one of my light colored towels. (No surprise they used it as hair dye long ago!)

 Once hulled, we toss them into a big plastic bucket with water and use a drill with a paddle attachment to finish cleaning them up. You want to get as much of the fleshy bits off as you can.

 We toss ours into a milk crate and the next day they are out in the sun to dry. The drying process is otherwise known as "how to make squirrels really fricken happy." They will steal you blind if you don't keep an eye on the walnuts. Ours are set out for just one day and then placed into onion bags. We hang the bags so they can continue to cure for a few weeks.

 If you're lucky to have black walnuts around and want to give them a try, this is a good link for more information.

  We'll get some sleep at some point. Hopefully. Until then, the sound of power tools can be heard eminating from our basement at 2am.         

Monday, September 24, 2012

Harvesting- a ton of fun

  The garden this year was a ton of fun. Hard work made even more challenging with the drought, but we still managed to grow a lot. We also managed to forage a lot of wonderful things. We managed to harvest over 2,000 pounds.

 With a forecast of frost (which they then said would be a freeze), we scrambled on Friday and Saturday to pick as much as we could of the warm season crops. Every bowl, bin, bucket, bag, tote, and pot was filled. In desperation, folded laundry was dumped to use those baskets and total panic... a dozen pillowcases repurposed. (Lemme tell ya... I was really irked when it didn't really frost!! It was more of a glancing blow. Just enough to barely tinge a few super sensitive plants, but not enough to stop them.) 

 All surface areas are claimed save a 2 foot section in the kitchen where I prepare meals and do my canning.

 Even the couch was not safe from the overflow. I'm amazed we got any zucchini and squash as the squash vine borers blew out the stems of everything except the butternuts. Squash bugs, and cucumber beetles in particular, were covering all the plants.

 We still got some squash, melons, and cucumbers. Enough to share with neighbors, make pickles, and feed my almost featherless diva poultry (bad roosters!)

 Due to the drought, we had to drag water in 5 gallon buckets to irrigate the plants every other day. The water source is a spring fed pond, so we had to perch on a stone to fill the buckets and then haul them all the way to the garden. I'd grab handfuls of Japanese beetles on the return trip to the pond to feed the fish. Feeding the fish was the fun part.

  The water from the pond is like a mild fertilizer due to the nitrates from the fish. With a late start, it meant many of the plants went into happy fun over obnoxious primarily foliar growth. Yellow pear tomatoes get overwhelming when exposed to this. They grew up and over the tomato cages, back down to the ground (where they set more roots), and did their best Kudzu impersonation. Rows vanished. The deer snacked away and barely made a dent. The chickens got 3 pounds everyday.. and I set out bowls for the chipmunks on the patio. One day, DV picked from just 1 yellow pear plant and had enough to make 8 quarts of venison chili. 

 He's now requested a limit on the yellow pears for next year's planting. lol I'll do a few less, but I like making sauce out of them.

 Today I'm trying to reclaim surface space. Tomatoes are roasting to make sauce, the second batch of applebutter is cooking away, some chili peppers are in the dehydrator, and I'm waiting to hear the pings of the just pickled green tomatoes.

Part of an average day's harvest once the gardens got going.

Just out of the waterbath canner. Spicy garlic & dill pickled green tomatoes.

  We yanked these pepper plants and hung them in the basement (ran out of time picking.) It'll buy me a little more time to process the other ripe veggies that can't wait. The same can be done to tomatoes and the fruit will get a little more time to ripen on the vine.

 Suggestions of good canning recipes would be very appreciated. Especially for hot peppers (of which I have 100 pounds), green tomatoes, and apples!