Monday, December 31, 2012

Pickling with Sherrie

This past summer (yes, it has taken a while to get to this post...) I spent a fabulous couple of days pickling with my friend Sherrie.

In truth, it was supposed to be a one day project, but circumstances and our exuberance made it into two. I rarely get to spend a whole day with Sherrie, and since we are both experienced canners, 45 pounds of carrots and 75 of cucumbers seemed like a manageable task.

I went over to Sherrie's after work to prep the cucumbers since they would have to be salted overnight to wick away the excess moisture. We were making bread and butter pickles, lemongrass ginger pickles, and dills, so we sorted out the smaller ones for dills and then sliced the others into wedges. We also prepped the dills by placing them, a sprig of dill, a clove of garlic and a chile pepper into a jar and covering them with a dish towel.

The next morning we rinsed the wedges and started making brines. For some reason my calculations were way off and we needed to make a few trips to the store for supplies - a good lesson (that I seem to relearn with at least one project a year!) to plan for your pickling session ahead of time.

Check and recheck your calculations. Nothing is more irritating than having to stop midway through a project for a run to the store. Also, there are stores where you can buy things in bulk which helps cut costs IF you plan accordingly ahead of time...Anyway, back to the brines. One of the great things about canning with Sherrie is she has a double camp stove setup outside, so the amount of stove space is effectively doubled. This meant that we could make brines on one stove and process pickles on another. Brilliant!

The second day also involved peeling 45 pounds of carrots and cutting them into sticks. In all reality this proved a bit much in addition to creating three varieties of brine and processing cucumbers, and really should have been a separate project for another day of canning. But, since we were in the midst of it we soldiered on. Sherrie's daughter Ila even lent a hand for a bit.

One thing that made the peeling go faster was having an ergonomic peeler that was actually sharp! If you are still working the cheapy metal one from the grocery store go out and get yourself one that actually works! You will thank me, I promise!

Now, months later I am getting calls from friends and loved ones who have already cracked open and are enjoying their holiday gifts! And, as the year comes to a close, I am starting to think about next year's canning adventures.

Garlic and other new friends

Last fall I planted garlic, shallots, leeks and a couple onions.

I had planted garlic and leeks before to limited success. But, this summer I harvested a good amount of beautiful garlic and shallots. What a boon!

You buy a few bulbs in the fall, plunk them in the ground, ward off the frenetic squirrels for a few weeks and then wait till late spring or early summer to harvest.

Awesome. It was almost too easy.

So, this year (2012) I plan to go bigger with my allium (onion family) fall planting. In July I started leeks from seed. In late October and early November planted the leek starts in the troughs. I set aside about a foot on the side of the trough for the leeks and then created a barrier to the sections with bricks.

The reason for this is that leeks need to have soil added to them so that a larger part of their stems remain white. In order to do this I am starting the leeks in soil that is lower than the rest of the trough's soil. I am using bricks to create a barrier between the area I am planting the leeks and where I am planting other stuff. That way I can start them off lower than the other items and then add soil to create larger white areas in the leek stems. This is definitely an experiment since this is the second time I've ever attempted leeks.

I also planted several types of garlic and shallots. I am excited to see which ones we prefer next summer!

And, in between it all I inter-planted lettuce, pak choy and arugula in one trough and beets in a section of the other. My hope is that they will be done long before the garlic, shallots and leeks really get going and need more room. But, as I said this is a working experiment.

Today as wrap up this blog entry that I mostly wrote earlier this fall, the lettuce and pak choy seem to be coming along best. Both troughs are covered with a shade cloth to help protect their contents and soil from the rain, and lately frost.

Now comes the tough part. Waiting.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Eggplants! Ack, eggplants.

This year I planted four eggplants. Miraculously all four produced fruit. A ton of it.

This left us with an unusual situation. What to do with the leftover fruit once we were eggplanted out.

After baba ghanoush, eggplant Parmesan and Thai curry with eggplant in quick succession we were ready to take a break.

Unfortunately that was when all four plants were in full production mode. I immediately consulted my pickling books, but no recipes jumped out at me. Then it occurred to me, could we freeze it?

It turns out you can, and the process is fairly quick and easy.

Slice the eggplant to the desired thickness.

Blanch it by placing it in boiling water. The goal is to get it slightly translucent, but not too cooked or mushy. I think mine were in the water about 30 seconds.

Take them out of the boiling water and submerge them in ice water. I put them on a rack to let them dry for about a half hour and then bagged them in one meal portions.

Some for Thai curry and the rest for eggplant Parmesan.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Chutney, chutney, chutney

I love Sundays at home. Today I did not get out of my pajamas, but I did get into making chutney. And jam.

I had about five pounds of green tomatoes clogging the fridge which were on my hit list. Also, I had several pounds of Romas which I aimed to make jam with.

Mark recently checked out America's Test Kitchen's DIY cookbook from the library the other day and I wanted to test out some it's recipes.

So, I made one recipe each of their green tomato chutney and tomato jam. Both recipes were easy to follow and can be used right away or canned.

I also decided to use up some spare apples and rhubarb from the garden to make another chutney. This one came from the Ball canning book. Initially I cut the sugar back by a cup and decided to use the 1 cup of extra apples - but, Mark and I found it way too sweet.

I added another half cup of dried cranberries which Mark informed me were sweet and not so tart. Then I added a quarter cup of apple cider and a half tablespoon of crushed pepper flakes.That cut the sweetness, but it was adding a second quarter cup of apple cider vinegar that clinched it.

I am excited about the result of all four recipes which I think will taste great as an accompaniment for grilled meat, on sandwiches and served with crackers and cheese.

Yield: 32 jars

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Channeling my inner Portlandia

Last Friday I went to get beets and beans to pickle on Saturday with my friend Sarah.

But, once again I could not resist the allure of the 10 pound bag of baby cucumbers. At home I also had two Tomboncino squash and about five pounds of green tomatoes from a friend's garden.

The result? 36 jars of pickles: 14 pints of dilled green tomatoes, 8 quarts of baby dills, 5 pints of curried squash spears, and 9 half pints of cornichons.

Here are some snapshots of the day's work:

Squash spears and cubes salted for several hours to wick away extra liquid before being canned.


Beautifully hued brine for curried squash pickles.

I just could not let these beauties go to waste. Who knows, this might become a recipe favorite for years to come?

Some of Friday's haul.

Saturday I introduced Sarah to my version of canning mania by setting out to can 40 pounds of tomatoes, 15 pounds of green beans, and 25 pounds of beets.

Fortunately our friend Kate also joined us for a little while, almost single handedly peeling all of the beets.


Kate taking a break from beets to blanch some tomatoes. (Sorry Kate, I know this is not a great photo, but it is the only one I have!)

Sarah taking a turn at peeling the beets after many pounds of tomatoes.

Every year I forget what a labor of love each of these items are to can. Each has several preparation steps to complete before putting anything into a jar, let alone the water bath!

The tomatoes must be peeled (and deseeded if that is your preference), the beets cooked and then peeled, and the green bean's ends removed. The beans also have the challenge that they float in the jars unless you really cram them in - the process of which is a bit of an art form that I have to re-learn each year I can them.

Altogether we had about 80 pounds of food to can which took about 8 hours to complete. The result? About 18 quarts of canned tomatoes, 24 quarts of pickled beets, and 10-12 quarts of Zydeco dilly beans.

Here are some more photos from the mayhem, er, day's work:

Blanched tomatoes awaiting peeling.

Peeled tomatoes with lemon juice and salt await hot water which is added to the jars. Before the tops are placed on the jars the air bubbles must be removed and the rims of the jars swiped to remove anything that would compromise making a seal.

We used two pots, one on Sarah's stove indoors and one on a crab pot burner outside. What an adventure!

 Some of the finished product.

At the end of the process Sarah said to me something along the lines of "Well, that was fun. AND, a lot of hard work! I am not sure if I would do it again."

That made me think.

I tend to can large amounts at a time with the thought that it makes sense once you have everything out. In addition, I can put away enough food in 3-5 days a year for most of our holiday gifts plus a good amount for us to pull from for the rest of the year.

But, that is not for everyone.

When I think about it, my main reason for canning with friends is to spend time with them and to have fun. So, next time I might just start of small and do one recipe. That way, everyone has fun, and hopefully so much so that they get the canning bug too - well, at least once a year so we can make it an annual thing!

When on my own? Time, energy and having enough jars can be the limit.

As I have started saying to friends, "If you hold still long enough around me, I am liable to pickle you. Can it, Portland!"

Monday, September 24, 2012

Holy tomato Batman!

Last night I harvested the the bigun' from the garden.

This is the Gold Medal variety
that I mentioned in this post
earlier this spring.

While it does not measure up
size wise to some of the
veggies at the Harrogate
Flower Show, and it was not
the 3 4 pounds I predicted in
the last post, it is still one
heck of a tomato!

I had another Gold Medal (and Black Krim and Cocolate Cherry) today for lunch and it tastes great too! For that reason, along with the fact that it regularly grows beautiful, large fruit and does well with cooler night time temperatures, I think it is a keeper.

Gold medal indeed.

I also harvested two Tromboncino squash last night. While you can eat them like any summer squash when they are smaller, I like to reserve these guys for pickling.

Last year we make some refrigerator pickles with one and then canned the rest spicy Italian and curry flavored.

I think that we will have to do curry again this year and then if we get another few later this month we will also make some Italian.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Late summer bounty

Well, it's September and tonight I harvested a late summer bounty of eggplants, eggplants, and more eggplants.

Oh, and a modest pile of lovely yellow beans, a ton of basil (third batch of the summer!), and a handful of cherry tomatoes. The latter did not make it inside - god, how I LOVE those!

I got the egg plants on a lark at the beginning of the summer hoping we would have a warmer summer than the last two. The descriptions spoke of the white, lavender and purple hues of the fruits. I know from past experience that Portland, Oregon is not the best spot to grow egg plants, but I thought I would probably just get one or two Asian eggplants.

Boy was I wrong! This summer has been warm and dry - perfect for growing many summer vegetables.

Here's a preview of what else is to come soon:

Our tomatoes seem to be a little later coming in than most other folks this year, but all indications are that September's, and possibly October's, bounty will include a variety of lovely tomatoes.

Here is my prize tomato that found a perch on the one of the top tiers of the tomato cage. It is a whopper, and surely will weigh in at 3-4 pounds. The variety is called gold medal. Indeed.

I also took a chance this year and planted a melon called Minnesota midget. I know, melons don't typically do well in our climate.

But, I thought I would take a chance on this one anyhow. The caption in the seed catalog said something about this variety being the only one that regularly bore fruit in the author's northern Montana garden. Sold!

Despite having to replant the little bugger three times due to voracious slugs last spring, it looks like we might have three to try out this fall.

Last weekend I ripped out the cursed zucchini, patty pan and yellow crook neck from the west side raised bed.

Good riddance! One delicious four inch zucchini and one two inch patty pan was the yield this year.

Oh and a horrible rash on my arm that is thankfully almost healed almost two months later. 

Lest you think I am completely inept at growing squash here is a picture of my fabulous tromboncino squash. It is going gang busters in the same bed as the others mentions above.

I also have a butternut and another winter variety that seem to be coming along nicely too.

Last weekend, I also harvested potatoes that I had willy nilly stuck in the ground on the west side of the house. We had a small harvest of potatoes (about 10), but I only planted two so I feel like that was a modest win.

Next year I think that I will clear out my compost bin and try growing some there. Another experiment!

In place of the squash and potatoes I planted two types of kale and chard to over winter. 

Here are some scenes of what is going on elsewhere in the garden right now:

A view of the troughs on the driveway. At the moment they contain: a tomatillo, two tomatoes, two winter squash, four eggplants, french beans (see above), golden beans, basil, carrots, dill, and the Minnesota midget.

I am trying a new experiment this year and filling the space between the troughs and my neighbor's house with a winter planting. Thus far this section has brussel sprouts, broccoli and kale. I also have a patch of broccoli by the front door and one of brussel sprouts in the back west corner in the back patio.

I figure, why not? At the very least they will provide some winter color interest, and hopefully some yummy veg in the rainy winter months.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Watering while you are away

I am off to point Reyes, CA to visit my parents and siblings this weekend!

It has been a whirlwind of activity leading to this point - family in town, canning projects, work, etc.

But, one of the most important tasks to me in prepping for going away is to make sure that my plants are ready for a few days of neglect. I also try to make sure that it is easy for who ever needs to water in my stead while I am gone.

I think I hit on a winning combination this time. I deeply soaked the front bed and the troughs on the driveway this morning. Then I set it up so that all Mark has to do to water the raised bed and two troughs is to turn the spigot on Monday night when he gets home and then remember to turn it off an hour or so later. The three soaker hoses cost about $30 and I think are well worth that for the ease of care and peace of mind!

I also watered all the pots and then moved them close together in hopes that they can't possibly be missed when Mark waters Monday night. Included in the potted category are the new seedlings (kale, chard, and leeks) for this fall-winter garden.

We shall see how well it worked when I arrive home on Friday!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Zucchini woes

I have a confession. If it grows like a weed, it probably won't do so for me.

Case in point: zucchini.

While everyone else's are starting to bear fruit, mine is struggling along at about a foot tall.

Did I amend the soil with a lot of compost you say? Yes.

Nitrogen-based? Yessiree.

Select a prime sunny spot? Check.

Water it regularly. Yep.

Give it ample space to settle in and get comfortable? Absolutely.

But, here we are in mid July and I am contemplating ripping it out. Why?

Because dedicating about three square feet to a under achiever is highly unsatisfying. Almost sacrilege in our garden - with a total of 81 square feet to work with, if you don't play, you don't stay.

In reading up on suggestions for zucchini not growing well, adding a fish emulsion was suggested. But consulting with a local nursery woman convinced me to stay away from nitrogen-based fertilizers as they might promote leaf growth and not fruit production. So, I added a layer of Bumper Crop (amazing stuff with all sorts of feed the soil amendments) to the bed and watered it in.

My online research also suggested planting new seeds near the weak plants. The idea being that if the newer plant is more robust than its predesser, then I can keep it and put the kibosh on the unsuccessful one.

Since we have a good month an a half (or more) of summer weather ahead of us and the seed packet assures me that it take just over 50 days to grow my zucchini plant I threw in some more seeds too.

Now comes the hard part. Waiting.

Just in case you think I am squash-hopeless I have several times delivered on a variety of other winter and summer squash. Zucchini just seems to be the bane of my summer gardening existence. And, every time we have to buy one at $2.99/lb (or more) my failure to successfully grow a weed rears its ugly head.

Stay tuned. I may be the weirdo begging you for your zucchini bounty. I may go down as that selfless, community-minded person who took the weight of what to do with extra zucchini off the minds of my fellow gardeners.

Or, with this taunting I could end up (finally) with a banner plant.

Just for the record here are my other Squash plants in this summer's garden.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Cherry bonanza!

We kicked off the canning season this past weekend by making cherry rhubarb jam (recipe).

We chose this recipe because it is a low-sugar one, and because the cherry rhubarb combo seemed a little off the beaten path as opposed to the usual rhubarb combo a.k.a. Strawberry. (A special thank you to Jessica for the rhubarb.)

The most labor intensive part was pitting close to five pounds of fruit, but we had some good tunes on, and Mark was making some green chile and pork stew so I had some good company.

As if that weren't enough, I also decided to make a cherry clafoutis for dessert and Mark made a spinach pie. So, tonight we will eat like kings - a cup of stew followed by a piece of spinach pie and to cap it off a slice of clafoutis.

A good day indeed.