Thursday, August 30, 2012

Canning Four Bean Salad

Okay I admit it.  Dilly beans are not our favorite side dish.  We eat them but not in massive quantities.  My son usually wrinkles his little nose up at them and says they stink and they taste bad.  So while my husband and I enjoy them, we only produce usually three to five pints a year.  More or less, one time of canning them.
So, I am always on the look out for a new good canning recipe for green beans as I get nervous keeping so much in my chest freezer.  God forbid, the power goes out for days on end and I'm left with rotting food and wasted money.
Recently we purchased a rather large box of green beans that were at an awesome price from Brad's Produce so this weekend we had our work cut out for us!
This morning, I just so happened to come along a recipe for Three Bean Salad at Doris and Jilly Cook that looked promising so this is how we'll be preserving a bit more of our green beans in a way that does not include dilly beans.  Now just a FYI, we only had green beans and then loads of mixed dried beans so I have used a mixture of green beans, black beans, red beans and pink beans.  It turned out very pretty!

Four Bean Salad (for canning)

6 c. total garden beans (yellow wax, green, Romano, or combination)
1 c. cooked chickpeas (I did not have the chickpeas so I substituted black beans
1 c. cooked kidney beans
1 large onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, pressed
1 t. black mustard seeds
4–6 sprigs fresh thyme
1 t. pickling salt, or 1 1/2 t. kosher salt
1 c. white vinegar (5 %)
1/2 c. fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. olive oil
1 1/2 c. water
1) Blanch your beans in boiling water for 3 minutes. Drain and cool. Set aside.
2) Combine all the non-vegetable ingredients except for the oil (vinegar, sugar, lemon juice, herbs, spices, etc.) in a large pot and bring to a simmer. Briefly remove from the heat and add the oil. After combined, stir in the vegetables and bring to a simmer. Turn off the heat and let cool; refrigerate for at least 12 hours. (This step is necessary to make sure that the vinegar actually penetrates the beans, making them safe for a water-bath canner.)
3) When the beans are almost done marinating, prepare your canning supplies. Clean and sterilize 4 pint jars. Prepare a boiling water bath and  heat the lids.
4) Bring the vegetable mixture to a boil. Fill the jars with the solids, then cover with the hot liquid, leaving a 1/2″ headspace. Cover with two-piece lids (remember, you can reuse the jars and rings, but use fresh lids every time) and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes. Refrigerate anything that doesn’t seal properly.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Fear & Uncertainty Escalates

This morning I brought in fresh Bing cherries to work that we purchased a week or so ago at our local commissary.  Anyone here on the East coast knows that cherries are no longer in season here.  Their time passed in June for us.   
As I snacked on these while I worked on reservations for passengers, processed schedule changes I was hit with the most intense uncertainty and fear right in between the eyes.  Two more full days before our challenge begins. 
This most recent grocery shopping we started with a list of about 5 items.  Deli meats; white chocolate; cheese sticks;  sugar; and zip lock bags.
An hour later we left with about $150 worth of filled reusable bags.  My husband and I both attritibuted it to simply that we were "stocking up" for the drought ahead.  We were buying the things that we know we will not be able to get starting September.
The thought of weaning ourselves off the grocery store is actually rather scary.  As of three days from now we will be able to shop at the grocery store but we will only be able to spend $30 every two weeks there.
Think about that.  That just about equals some laundry detergent, maybe some zip lock bags, and if we have a coupon maybe some toilet paper.
No bing cherrries.  No chocolate.  No candy.  No pretzels.
Wow.  It's hard to swallow that idea.  We can get the basics but none of our "comfort foods" that each one of us loves.
So at one point this morning I thought "My God, will we be able to do this?"  Is it possible?
The rational, logical side of me answered flippantly "Of course we will" as I popped one of those sweet, juicy cherries in my mouth, but the question remains.  Will we be able to do this and not feel as if we are seriously deprived?
Time will tell........

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Corn Cob Jelly

A few Saturdays ago we visited the Bel Air Farmers Market and I noticed one of the vendors sold "Corn Cob Jelly".
I can tell you my first thought was more or less disbelief that you could make jelly from a corn cob.  The idea kept gnawing at me though, so this weekend after a minature vacation in Williamsburg, Virginia we came home and I got to work.
I thoroughly love the idea of this recipe simply because I'm using something that I would have thrown away.  Now that I've made the recipe though and I've tasted it I'm thoroughly convinced that corn cob jelly will be made each summer.
My husband compared the flavor of the finished product to honey however I cannot really put my finger on what it exactly tastes like.
Honey? A bit.  Apples? Maybe.  Corn? No.  Most definitely not.
Try this for yourself and let me know what you think!

  • 12 large ears of corn
  • 2 quarts water
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 package powdered pectin
  • sugar
Boil corn; cut kernels from cobs and store.  Add 2 quarts of water into a large pot; add the corn cobs.
Place a small plate and teaspoon in your freezer.  You're going to need it in a bit.

Bring to a hard boil for at least 30 minutes.  Remove the cobs from the liquid, and then strain corn liquid through a fine colander.  I was mostly interested in removing the bigger chunks of corn however I left the tiny pieces in there.  
After all was said and done, I had about 3 cups of liquid after it boiled down. Return the liquid to the pot and stir in lemon juice and pectin.  Bring to a boil. Add one cup of sugar to match the measure of the liquid. Stir to dissolve sugar. Bring the pot to a rolling boil. Boil hard one minute, stirring constantly.  Now pull out the frozen spoon from the freezer.  Get a small amount on the spoon and place back in the freezer and wait a few moments.  After about five minutes (approximately) check the jelly on the spoon to see if the jelly firmed up.  If it hasn't I usually let it boil for a bit longer, and then as an emergency I will use one extra bit of pectin (I usually plan ahead and purchase several boxes when I know I will be making jellies or jams.  Just in case.  I have only been making jams or jellies for the past two or three years so I have yet to fully master this!)
Remove from heat. Ladle hot corn cob jelly into hot jars. Adjust lids and bands. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Makes 5 half-pints.

I will most definitely be making some more of this whenever we have a few corn cobs to spare!  I will possibly be selling some of my jams, jellies and salsas soon at the Aberdeen Farmers Market and I can imagine everyone will love this!

Why grow a garden?

Why should anyone grow a garden?
It's actually a good question.  I mean after all food is plentiful at the store right?
Plus, food seems so cheap, so inexpensive right?  Just stick to the middle aisles, maybe cut some coupons and you'll save a whole heck of a lot!
Why grow tomatoes?  Why raise chickens?  Why keep honey bees?

There are many out there around me who look at me and think I'm nuts.  I've lost it.  I have gone off the deep end and will never return.  Or when I do, my fingers will be stained green and I will be stuck with mud under my fingernails and around my toes.

Yet, I can list several reasons why one should plant even a modest garden.

  1. The biggest and best reason in my book.  Your food will never taste better.  Tomatoes that are tart, sweet, flavorful.  Tomatoes that are not just pretty to look at but with a flavor that explodes in your mouth.  I promise. You will get spoiled. When the winter winds are blowing and summer is a distant memory I long for a bite of a good juicy tomato from the garden. 
  2. Simple Economics. Even if you go with starter plants it will still be cheaper in the long run.  Think of it this way, buy a cherry tomato or a beefsteak tomato plant at your local Home Depot or Lowes when they go on sale.  It might be as much as $8 for a big plant. Come Mid July that tomato will be starting to get fully into producing and you will be picking off a tomato or two, or if you are lucky a bowlful of tomatoes every few days. On the other hand, let's go to the grocery store. The local Shoprite here has published that they have tomatoes on the vine with homegrown taste for $1.49 per pound.  I imagine if you were to buy a small bunch of these you would come up to a price of about $3.00 at least.  Now if you are like us, you'll probably buy those tomatoes several times a month.   Lets just say four times in one month is a good number.  We're going to buy three pounds of tomatoes four times during the summer (when tomatoes are at their cheapest by the way).   We just spent $12.  Now that Lowes Hybrid or Heirloom tomato plant is looking pretty good at $8.  After all you are going to get way more tomatoes than just twelve in one summer. 
  3. This one is for the parents out there.  You will get the distinct and complete pleasure of teaching your children how their food is grown.  Your children will learn to appreciate their food all the more when they help with the planting, weeding and harvesting.  Tomatoes, bell peppers and lettuce suddenly become exciting because they helped grow it.  My son, Nicholas who is about to enter first grade recently came excitedly into my bedroom at bedtime and announced that as soon as they have a "Show and Tell day" he wants to bring in a strawberry plant so he can show all the other kids how strawberries grow.  I find it rather depressing that he remarked that so many of his friends don't know how strawberries, tomatoes, lettuce or apples grow.  This was like watching one of Chef Jamie Olivers Food Revolution shows where the children had no clue what the fruits and vegetables were.
  4. Stress Relief.  Seriously.  Let me say that again.  Stress Relief.  I cannot tell you how good it feels to come home from a chaotic day and get changed out of my work clothes and then unwind in our backyard.  We have frequent visits by hummingbirds, Cardinals, Red breasted Robins, and even a few yellow Finches.  I'll take watching the squirrels and birds battling out over who gets rights to the bird feeder any day over most television shows.  It's that entertaining.  Add the extra bonus of working with plants, watching them thrive under your care and you have a very therapeutic experience.  
  5. Yet another reason to grow a garden.  Pride.  You can tend your plants throughout the summer and then feel pride as they start to produce.  I cannot tell you how excited I get when it's time to go outside to see how the plants are doing and what they are producing.  When I see a large gorgeous tomato, so bright red; a shiny purple eggplant ready to be picked; a bell pepper, crisp and sweet, ready for salsa. Well I must admit, I am filled with such a wonderful feeling.  I grew this.  I grew my own food.  I did not have to rely on a grocery store or big box store for this.  I did it.
Now with all this said, I'm in no way saying that if you are going to start a garden you must start with loads and loads of plants, fill every space in your back or front yard.  Instead, start small.  
I started with herbs, most of which I had no clue what to do with at the time.  

If you feel inclined to start growing something you can simply start with a potted basil or tomato plant on a balcony or roof top if your limited on space or if you don't even have that a sunny window will do the trick.  

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Bountiful harvests, battling viruses, and farmers market finds

I feel like it's been forever since I've written and yet it was only earlier last week that I wrote!  So much has happened since the last time I wrote so, this is one of those moments when I take a huge sigh and try to figure out where to begin.
In Alice's Adventures in Wonderland the King said to the White Rabbit "Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop".
Good Advice.
So first, our garden has stepped up production as of lately and we're eating from it non stop.  My parents recently visited and we made eggplant parmesan from eggplants out back which was thoroughly enjoyed by all. 
We're easily getting medium to large sized bowlfuls of tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplants and squash every week now.  Coupled with the amount we get from our weekly CSA share at Brad's Produce, and well, it's a lot of food.

The tomatoes have been turned into sauces, diced tomatoes, salsas, dried tomatoes, and fireballs.  The corn has been frozen each week, both as cut corn and corn on the cob.
Fireballs! YUM!
The peaches, watermelons, and cantaloupes are eaten up by my son as an afternoon snack with Edward and I getting a small bowl to bring to work to snack on as well.  We're an equal opportunity family here.  That means when we have too much cantaloupe and watermelon we have to all equally share in the consumption of it.
Now, while we've had our successes so far this year.  We also, sadly enough, lost yet another plant.
Our lemon cucumber is now gone, lost to Mosaic Virus.
The other cucumbers look like they are not far behind as they too have caught the virus.  Either we passed it to them when harvesting cucumbers or the beetles did, at this point it matters little to me how it was passed because the damage is done. 
Once again, we've come up against something we never knew about.  That is something that is just amazing and frustrating to me about gardening and growing like we do.  Each year we encounter a new pest, a new disease, a new virus that takes down one of our plants.  There is so much to learn so I can imagine how a new gardener, planting a lone tomato plant or a cucumber plant might feel daunted when they don't succeed.  The learning curve can be steep.  I started in my early twenties with basic herbs in containers, most of the time on balconies, grown for use every so often in cooking.  In fact many times I grew the herb and I did not even know how to use the herb in cooking.  I just thought it smelled good, made me feel good and that was that. 

I think back to the very beginning, when we first moved into this house and how much we have learned in just a few short years.  
We've worked with lousy soil conditions, flooding problems, stink bugs, hornworms, aphids, cabbageworms, slugs, cercospora, black cutworms, cucumber beetles and Cucumber Mosaic virus and yet there is still more to tackle.  More challenges to face.

A few lessons I've learned this season. 

Our first okra flower of the season
  1. Plant the okra earlier.  Yes it does fine when direct sowed but when the garlic hogs the raised bed til almost July the okra barely gets any time to do it's thing and plant more okra.  Four plants per bed is not enough.  We should really think about planting onions as companions in these beds as they get lots of sun there.  Next year plant the okra in the flats we've saved (my idea. Little pots or plastic cups get expensive after a while) in early June.  That way it's ready to go in the ground by July. 
  2.  If we see cucumber beetles first and foremost, pick them off the plant, stomp them until they are fully and completely DEAD.  No NOT SHOW MERCY. Do NOT just wave them away and expect them to stay away.  They won't.  Then spray plants with water and dust with diatomaceous earth.  Also, recently I learned from a representative from the University of Maryland Agriculture department that lime sprinkled on the plants does the trick as well as the spotted cucumber beetles don't like the taste. 
  3. Always, always empty the soil from the large pots we use for tomatoes at the end of the growing season.  Otherwise the tomato plants barely produce.  Refill with new, more fertile soil mixed heavily with vermicompost.
  4. Forget trying to put almost anything in the front yard soil.  Everything dies or almost everything does.  The marigolds we planted have actually SHRUNK before our eyes until they have browned up and died.  The tomatoes that started accidentally from seed from our compost have actually survived but barely.  Same goes for whatever squash type of plant that made it out there. I've told Edward that I have tested this soil and it's mid range on the acidic to alkaline levels, it's low in potash, low in nitrogen, and very low in organic material.  It would take us at least another two years of working on this soil out front to get it up to the point where we would be able to grow plants out there and actually see them produce more than a tomato or two.  The only plants that seem to be somewhat happy are the flat leaf parsley and the yarrow.  Most of the others are making it but barely. Even the raspberry bushes and the blackberry bushes are dying.  They produced some foliage, grew a bit but now they have almost completely died off. One at a time. My next door neighbor has tried repeatedly to get grass to grow in her front yard with no success as well.  The battles of the front are not worth it at this point as we only have one full growing season left before we move either due to retirement from the military or a permanent change of station within the military.  Either way our time is almost done at this house.  I hope that the next occupants are gardeners as well as they will have nice fertile soil to work with.

I'm sure I'll add more items to my list to remember but for now that is it.

Now onto that Vermicompost tea vs Miracle Gro treatment for the two tomato plants.
Miracle Gro tomatoes

Vermicompost/Worm Tea

I've been watching them closely and while the tomato treated with worm tea has produced a lot more tomatoes the leaves are shrunken and look unhealthy.  Meanwhile the Miracle Gro tomato's leaves have become a healthy green color, the plant has filled out and I noticed last night it is FINALLY flowering. 
Maybe finally we'll see what type of plant this one is!  It has YET to produce a single tomato. 
So in this case, I have to say that Miracle Gro fertilizer won. 
Now, I do have to add one bit to that though.  For the worm tea we applied this only twice.  The Miracle Gro tomato got twice the applications of that so this experiment is not exactly even. 
Still though, in the end I can suggest to go out and buy yourself some miracle gro, add it to your tomatoes.  And then use your worm tea as back up.

One last bit today.  The September challenge is coming up.  You know the eating locally and only spending $30 every other week at the local grocery store?
Edward and I have been discussing this one a lot.  How are we going to make this work? Will we succeed?  Are we disciplined enough to do this?  Can we actually do it and not feel like we're totally deprived? 
This past weekend we visited the farmers market at Bel Air to get a better idea of what we would be buying and who we would be buying from come the 1st of September. 
We arrived at around 9:00 am on Saturday morning.  Luckily enough we had a front go through the night before which left us with nice Autumn like temperatures, yet the sun was shining brightly.  The perfect crisp morning to browse, taste samples and maybe make a few friends. 
The farmers market at Bel Air is not overly large but has a nice enough array of different vendors so we should be able to find anything and everything we might need while keeping our grocery store stops down to a minimum. 
Among the many vendors there we found Kilby Cream which is the processor for Brooms Bloom's milk.  As luck would have it we discovered that we will save .70 on each 1/2 gallon of milk we buy by buying directly from them.  Right now we spend $3.70 on a half gallon of whole milk for my son.  That'll reduce the price down to $3.00 instead. 
Another interesting vendor I came across was KCC Natural Farms.  Right now we get our eggs from our CSA at Brads Produce so we don't need fresh chicken eggs but I could not help but buy some of their fresh quail eggs. 
Quails Eggs
The cost is a bit much at $5.00 but it was something I've never tried before so, I picked up a dozen. These are so tiny, so cute and the taste is amazing.  They are most definitely sweeter than chicken eggs and the yolk is more buttery, almost creamy. 
Will I buy more later?  Most likely not but I don't regret buying them. 

Poached chicken egg on a bed of fresh tomatoes and basil topped with a savory smoked mozzarella cheese sauce.  All served on Sauerkraut Rye bought at The Breadery at the Bel Air Farmers Market
I noticed Brad's Produce was there, and had my parents not been there visiting, I probably would have bought a box of their seconds tomatoes to be thriftily turned into yet more diced tomatoes later. 
In case you never knew, most farms will sell "seconds" of much of their produce.  This is produce that is not as fresh, slightly bruised, damaged or what not.  It usually is sold in larger boxes at a big discount.  If your intent is to make sauce, salsa or just diced, then this is the cheapest way to go if your garden is not producing quite enough.  
Just remember to ask your farmer if he or she offers this!  You never know if your local farmer is offering any specials or deals, all you have to do is ask.
Check out Local and you may be able to find local farmers in your area that are willing to work with you.  You never know until you ask!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Just a tad bit of canning going on

This weekend we have a lot that will be going on in our kitchen!

Now, I have to say, while I thoroughly enjoy shows like Masterchef, I am no where near as talented as the home chefs on that show. 

I do best following a recipe, tweeking it a bit, maybe adding a flavor or two and staying with that.  I know what flavors go well together and I know what flavors don't.
Ask me on any given day what ingredients are used in, oh I don't know, a flan, and I'll remark that I love flan but wait, let me look up the ingredient list and directions first.

With that all said, I'm going to post the following recipes and provide the links so that I may give full credit to the cook who created the recipe. This way I can kill the proverbial two birds with one stone.  You can see what I'm doing with natures bounty and I can go back two to three years from now and figure out which recipes I really loved and which ones not so much. 

Makes 4 half-pints

  • 3 cups peeled and chopped tomatoes, about 1 1/2 pounds
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon finely minced lemon zest
  • 2 teaspoons finely minced garlic
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 box MCP pectin
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil (we used a mixture of traditional sweet basil and Thai basil)

Place tomatoes, vinegar, lemon juice, lemon zest, garlic, shallots, red chili flakes and salt in a 6- to 8-quart, heavy-bottom sauce pot. Add the pectin and stir in.
Place over high heat and bring to a FULL ROLLING BOIL (a boil you can’t stir down), stirring constantly to prevent scorching. (If mixture starts to scorch, turn down heat a bit.) Stir in the sugar and, as soon as the full rolling boil takes place again, start timing and cook jam for 6 minutes.
Then remove from heat, stir in basil and fill jars as above. Process jars in boiling water bath for 15 minutes (with this method jam will keep for up to 1 year stored at room temperature), or cool and refrigerate jam for up to 3 months.
Copyright 2009 by Kathy Casey.

I can say this, this is absolutely delicious! Sweet, savory with a tad bite of spice from the chili flakes at the end.  I can imagine it going great with a cracker smeared with a tad bit of chevre or if you are like Edward and you do not like chevre, a nice slice of feta would do the trick too.  I like this much, much better than hot pepper jelly!

Makes 4-5 half-pints
1/2 cup slivered almonds
12 ounces Granny Smith apples (about 2 large)
4 pounds peaches, peeled, pitted and diced
11/2 cups granulated sugar
3 tablespoons strained fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons fresh lemon thyme leaves (or 1 teaspoon regular thyme)
1. Sterilize jars by boiling for 10 minutes in a large canning pot; leave them in the pot to stay hot. Put a small plate in the freezer. Put the flat lids in a heatproof bowl.
2. Toast almonds in a small skillet over medium-high heat, stirring constantly until fragrant and light brown, about 3 minutes. Remove to a plate and set aside.
3. Quarter and core the apples, reserving the cores and seeds. Tie apple trimmings in cheesecloth (or a jelly bag, if you have one).
4. Put the peaches and sugar in a wide, 6- to 8-quart preserving pan or other wide, shallow pan. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, and continue to cook until the juices just cover the peaches, about 5 minutes. Pour into a colander set over a large bowl. Stir peaches gently to drain off juice. Return juice to pan, along with the apples and the trimmings. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until syrup is thick and reduced, about 15 minutes.
5. Return peaches and any accumulated juices to pan. Add lemon juice, almonds
and lemon thyme. Bring back to simmer and cook, stirring frequently, about 15 minutes, until peaches are very tender and a small dab of jam spooned onto the chilled plate and returned to the freezer for a minute becomes somewhat firm. (It will not gel.) Remove from heat. Discard apples and trimmings, and stir gently to distribute fruit in the liquid.

6. Ladle hot jam into the jars, leaving 1/4-inch space at the top. Wipe jar rims. Put a flat lid and ring on each jar, and tighten until snug. Return the jars to the canning pot, making sure water covers jars by at least 1 inch. Bring to a boil and boil for 5 minutes. Remove from pot and let sit untouched for 12 hours. (After 1 hour, check to see if the jars have sealed. If the center of the lid can be pushed down, it hasn't sealed. Store any unsealed jars in the refrigerator.) Label and store, preferably in a cool, dark place.
-- Adapted from Liana Krissoff, "Canning for a New Generation" (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $24.95, 304 pages)

This jam is such a unusual variety of flavors that I would not even imagine they would come together they way they do.  As I tasted it this evening while waiting to see if it would set, I told Edward that this jam reminds me of cold, wet, Autumn days.  This jam will be so delicious just served on toast, a bit of butter, a cup of hot tea on the side.  The perfect comfort food when summer is long gone and winter is fast approaching.  
Just a note however, I did have to add one box of pectin to this as it just did not want to set at all.  I like my jams and jellies not quite completely firm, just a tad bit runny and it wasn't until I added the extra pectin that it started setting.  

September/October 2011
By Sherri Brooks Vinton
Corn adds color and flavor to this party favorite. Scoop up this home-canned corn salsa with tortilla chips or roll it up, burrito-style, with rice, beans and cheese for a quick meal.
12 ears corn, shucked
3 cups distilled white vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cumin, ground
1 tablespoon salt
5 pounds tomatoes, diced
1 to 2 jalapeƱo peppers, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 large onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1. Bring a large nonreactive stockpot of water to a boil. Add corn and boil for 5 minutes. Drain.
2. When corn is cool enough to handle, stand cobs on end and slice to cut off kernels, being careful not to cut into cobs.  Empty and wipe out stockpot.
3. Combine vinegar, sugar, cumin and salt in the stockpot, and bring to a boil. Add tomatoes, jalapeƱos, bell pepper, onion, garlic and corn kernels, and return to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes to allow flavors to blend. Stir in cilantro and return to a boil. Remove from heat.
Use the boiling-water method. Ladle into clean, hot half-pint or pint canning jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. Release trapped air by stirring contents with a plastic knife or wooden chopstick. Wipe rims clean; center lids on jars and screw on jar bands. Process in canner for 15 minutes. Turn off heat, remove canner lid and let jars rest in water for 5 minutes. Remove jars and set aside for 24 hours. Check seals, then store in a cool, dark place for up to 1 year. Makes about 8 pints. 

I followed this recipe almost exactly and it seemed pretty tart and sweet to me.  I'm waiting anxiously to try this in a month or two to see if the tartness dies down somewhat.  It is a very pretty salsa though and I can imagine chicken cooked with this salsa will be pretty tasty.  That's if the tartness/tangyness lessens.

I did learn one lesson today.  Never would've guessed this one.   I usually let the tomatoes drain a bit before heating them up so I always have extra tomato juice when canning tomatoes. In the past I've saved the juice and frozen it.  This ends up taking up a lot of space in the freezer!
Today inspiration struck and I thought "what if I simply cook the tomato juice down a bit and see if I can thicken it a bit?".
Next thing you know, an hour later, I taste it and lo and behold, I have tomato soup.  Think Campbells but a bit more flavorful as I had thrown in a piece of celery here, a bit of corn there, some stray basil leaves, a tad bit of onion.  
So what did I do? I canned it.  My first soup! I canned my first soup! How cool is that!?


  • 4 cups cantaloupe peeled and chopped
  • 4 cups peaches peeled and chopped
  • 6 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
Combine cantaloupe and peaches in a Dutch oven. Cook over medium heat stirring constantly for 15 minutes. Add sugar and lemon juice stirring well then bring to boil stirring constantly. Reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes. Add lemon rind and cook 3 additional minutes stirring constantly. Remove from heat then skim off foam. Pour hot jam into hot sterilized jars filling to 1/4" from top. Remove air bubbles then wipe jar rims. Cover at once with metal lids and screw on bands then process in boiling water bath 5 minutes.

Where the Peach, thyme and toasted almond jam reminds me of Autumn this jam is quintessentially summer.  With every spoonful, a reminder of the flavors of summer are present.  The tart and tangy peaches, the muted cantaloupe sweetness.  It just tastes of Sun, warm days and summertime.  

Just a side note, I had what I thought was a time saving idea and used my crock pot to slowly cook down the peaches and cantaloupe.  Only issue with this is the sugar in the peaches and cantaloupe caramelized some and turned it from the bright orange and peach color to a brownish color.  While it still tastes wonderful, the color is a disappointment.  
Left to right:
Peach & Cantaloupe Jam, Peach Thyme & almond jam, tomato soup up front, hot pepper jelly behind. Corn Tomato Salsa, Tomato basil jam, Lacto Fermented spicy lemon cucumbers.

TIP!  This really has nothing to do with canning but I felt I had to add this.  If you ever buy true cultured buttermilk to make Creme Fraiche remember, you can also use this buttermilk to make fresh buttermilk cheese.  This stuff is delicious and would rival grocery store cheese!
Here's the recipe:
1 quart whole milk
1 1/2 cup buttermilk
1 to 2 teaspoons sea salt

Heat up the milk, the buttermilk and the sea salt until around 180 to 210 degrees.  Make sure to GENTLY heat this as you do not want the milk to scald on the bottom of the pan.
I stir it in the beginning to make sure the buttermilk and salt is fully incorporated and then I leave it alone.
This is the best advice I can give when making buttermilk cheese.  Really, leave it alone.  Do not stir it.  Just turn it on, make sure it's not getting too hot too quick and then walk away and go fold laundry or something else.
Come back shortly thereafter and VOILA! Your curds and whey will now have seperated.  Turn off heat and allow it to cool a bit.  Around 10 minutes or so. 
Now slowly empty pot of whey and curds into the cheesecloth that you have placed into the colander. 
At this point I just let the whey drip out for about 10 minutes.  After this freely dripped for a while, I gathered up the cheese cloth and tightened the top a bit and began to exert some pressure on the curds.
This accomplishes two things.  You drain more whey out and you force the curds to form together.

Now here's where the real fun begins!
You can add whatever spices you feel like adding! My most recent batch was Lemon Pepper using a plain old lemon pepper sea salt mixturre and the other one I flavored with garlic salt.
The possibilities are truly endless! 
Recently Edward and I made enchiladas and I used the garlic flavored cheese as part of the filling.  Oh my was it delicious!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Tough Decisions

This weekend I decided to bite the bullet and tear out our lovely, beautiful lone tomatillo plant. 
If you remember right I posted earlier that I made the rookie mistake of only planting one tomatillo plant. 
You know, the old saying, it takes two to tango? Well that applies here.
Tomatillo plants are self infertile which means they need two plants to produce fruit. 
Since I only planted one plant the tomatillo was going to do nothing else in my garden but draw bees (good thing), take up room (bad thing) and bring shade to my pepper plants (also bad thing). 
So, it's gone. 

In it's place I planted some Cumin seeds that I hope will come up soon.  Edward and I love cooking with Cumin so I'm keeping my fingers crossed.  This will be a new spice for me to grow.
I also have one other spice that I will be trying soon but a blog will be following shortly on that to cover that one.

So onto the state of the garden. 
First we had a few new discoveries.  We actually have now a total of four winter squash. Not three.  Two of the vines have just shown us their parentage.  We have two Crookneck Winter squash which are part of the cucurbita moschata family. 
This is what the finished product will look like. Not my photo by the way!

We never actually ordered seeds for this type! At least I should say, we never officially "bought" the seeds.  We obviously obtained them from our CSA at Brad's Produce when we received a Crookneck Winter squash in one of our weekly shares last Autumn.  Just like many of our tomatoes, they obviously were thrown into our worm bin where they sat until just as of this Spring.
Black Futsu
Note to self and other vermicomposters/composters out there.  When throwing out your remains of kitchen scraps, make sure to take out the seeds if at all possible.  Otherwise you have what we have this year.  A garden full of wannabe stow aways, eagerly looking to hitch a place in your garden. 
Now, that all said, I still have one Black Futsu squash, one (possible) Marina di Chioggia, one Delicata, and a Partidge in a pear tree.  (just kidding about the Partridge and Pear tree.)

Now I might sound as if I am complaining about all of this, but actually I'm not that unhappy with it.  It just means we will have a more varied selection of squashes to pick from come Autumn and Winter. 
On top of that, it just means I will be perfecting my culinary skills with winter squash in general.

I always love a challenge!

This past weekend we came back from camping in Ocean City, Maryland and quickly got to work on some of the more neglected parts of the garden.  Namely the lettuce bed which is closest to the house.
Earlier this Spring we had Chinese mustard greens that flowered and seeded in there.  The greens in there were growing like crazy but they were also eaten badly by slugs and cabbage worms.  I have tried a few times to throw down diatomaceous earth but it seemed as if Nature was conspiring against me because the very next day or two it would be washed off by the rain.  So, we gave up and decided to harvest all the greens, taking care to throw out the ones eaten by slugs.  We have found that the leaves of our lettuce and other greens that have been devoured by slugs to be incredibly bitter so we never eat those ones. 
What was left was sauteed with some garlic, swiss chard also from the garden, some dandelion and long leaved plantain all in a little rendered goose fat that I still had in the freezer from last years Christmas dinner.  It was a wonderful addition to my husbands birthday dinner of Chicken Kiev and a hearty Winter Squash (blue hubbard from last year) and shitake mushroom risotto. 

In the newly tilled up bed we decided to plant the Bolero and Napoli carrots, the Mammoth Salsify and I threw some Romaine and spring onion seeds that I had sitting around since 2010. 
Behind that bed on the fence I've been throwing many of my sugar snap pea and snow pea seeds into the long rectangular pot. 
I'll be happy if I get a few peas that we can snack on while we check our garden in the evening after Edward and I come home from work. 
If we get more, well that's even better. I'll use those in my stir fry with the Ichiban Eggplant, Zucchini and Onions. 
My son giving the catnip a much needed haircut.
It's always great to get  kids outside to help!  

Our tomato production is picking up with around 3 pounds harvested weekly now.  One of these days I have to get myself a kitchen scale and weigh them when I pick them.  For now though I'm content with just throwing them on the kitchen counter, snapping a photo and throwing it onto Facebook.  The rest of the tomatoes that haven't produced anything as of yet are very heavy with green tomatoes of varying sizes.  I have a feeling we are about to be drowning in tomatoes so I'm thinking that canning a jar of Fireballs might be a good idea soon.
You can see on the upper left, we've already used a bag to help support the Winter Crookneck Squash.  It has to be around 4 pounds already! Very heavy and dense!

The Black Beauty Eggplants are fully getting into the swing of summer and are all heavily laden with beautiful black, shiny Eggplants.  I would guess they are about a week away from being picked.
Our cucumbers (remember we ended with three varieties this year. Dragons Egg, Lemon Cucumber and National Pickling) are producing just enough to snack on.  Unfortunately I might not be getting a whole lot more of these too because it has just became apparent today that my cucumbers (possibly just the Lemon Cucumber) has Mosaic Virus.  This can be transmitted by Spotted cucumber beetles which I know I have as I have been killing them left and right this year. It can also be passed along or transmitted by aphids which I haven't seen as much of.
I can only hope the cucumber beetles do not pass the virus onto my other winter squashes as once a plant has this there isn't much you can do.  As of now it's incurable.

I'll be making Traditional Fermented Pickles out of the Lemon Cucumbers in my fruit and vegetable drawer.
I usually make sauerkraut and Kimchi in the traditional way but I have had not had as much success with cucumbers. 
Here is the link to the recipe I'll be using for this.
I'm going to add a bit of Lemon Pepper to this as well as I want to see what happens, flavor wise.
I have decided that once we use up our Dragons Egg seeds we will never grow THAT variety again. I don't like how bitter some of the cucumbers get and they are mostly seeds and very little flesh.

I'm still watching our two experiment tomatoes.  If you recall from a previous post, I am trying something different with two of my tomato plants.
Miracle Gro Tomato(white pot)
Vermicompost/Worm Tea Tomato
We have two rather sickly and ailing plants that I have decided to give a bit of extra special treatment.
One is getting worm tea which is the liquid in the bottom bin in our makeshift vermicompost bin.  The other is getting regular doses of Miracle Gro. I applied both of the fertilizers about a week ago so it's hard to tell if there is that much of a difference.  I'll post new photos next week to follow the progress.

A bit of sad news  We lost our cream of saskatchewan watermelon.  The military housing crew that comes by and maintains the lawns chopped it down accidentally with their weed eaters.  It was just starting to flower too.

Our Okra is growing along and should be producing within the next two to three weeks however as I've been watching them grow I remember last year we thought we should have planted more.  We were only getting a few at a time last year which is fine when adding to a dish or drying or freezing them but does no good for a main dish.  I've promised our neighbor she can have a few handfuls of them in return for the handful of Jalapenos she gave me recently.

I have yet to see if we will get anything out of our Jerusalem Artichokes.  Like some of the other plants this year, this one is new to me. (Like I said before, I like a challenge)
We did plant it a tad bit late in the season but they are growing massively it seems every day.
They should end up looking like this come Autumn.  

And this is what they look like now
Little Red Russian Kale seedlings surrounding these. 

Well onto the last bit.  After all the name of this blog is TOUGH DECISIONS.
Edward and I have been talking a bit and we want to set ourselves a challenge. (there's that word again!)
We want to see if we can abstain from shopping at the grocery store/commissary or Walmart for one whole month.  30 Days.
It's not a new idea really.  It's been tried before. We tried it ourselves last year somewhat.  We just never actually made rules like we are now hence the reason it never stuck!  This type of challenge has been written about before too.  
We know from talking to Bowman's Butcher Shop in Churchville that come hunting season Venison becomes super cheap and hunting season does start in September.
We also know, come September our garden will be pushing out massive quantities of food.  We will have our CSA share from Brad's Produces which includes farm fresh eggs and locally baked bread.
So here are our rules for ourselves.

  1. It has to come from our yard
  2. If not from our yard, then the dairy, butcher shop, farm, orchard or the Bel Air Farmers Market.  There is also a new Amish Farmers Market  in Aberdeen, MD we can visit on Friday afternoons.  
  3. We are allowed to spend however much we want at those locations.  
  4. We are allowed only $30 every other week at the local grocery store.
  5. This challenge starts September 1st.
This is not because we are going out on an all out attack on oil consumption and it is not because we want to only support local business, however both of those are good reasons in our opinion to take on something like this.
Instead we want to see what happens to our eating habits when we can only consume fresh local foods, right near us.  
We will be able to have ice cream, and cheese, fresh butter and honey.  Fresh meats, gourmet sausages.  Eggs and Bacon.  All sorts of goodies but no seriously processed junk that we always tend to buy at the grocery store.  
So September 1st.  It starts.  

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