Foliage, Garlic Festival & Ferments

The weekly, local  Farmer’s Markets are coming to an end.  My Dad and I went to his town’s market and I was excited to see that almost everyone there was selling organic produce .   I got some squash, giant apples and tomatillos . I never tried tomatillos before.  The lady selling them said they are very easy to grow and make a good jam or green salsa. They’re also nice just as a bit of tang in a salad.  I fermented mine with some of  the last pickings from the garden.. red peppers, green tomatoes and garlic.  I  fermented some carrots with grated ginger too.

The local Garlic Festival  was held this past weekend. I try not to miss it because I buy  my planting garlic from the same farmer there every year. Besides ordinary cloves there is every garlic thing you can imagine…garlic ice cream, pickles, breads, kimchis, oils, vinegars, cheese, relishes, spreads and jellies.  They also have vendors selling their crafts, honey, maple syrup, soap and produce.  Did I mention lots of food trucks ?  Our Garlic Festival started out with about 15 tables and a few curious people poking around.  Now it’s huge, attracts more than 10,000 visitors and even has an official Garlic Queen.

Family & Fall Cleaning

My college girl was home this weekend. I made a big pot of chicken and dumplings on Sunday and we ended up having a nice family dinner. My sister joined us and my other daughter came with her baby and husband.  Everybody stopped along the way at Farmer’s markets and Fall festivals and brought donuts, apple cider and pumpkin cakes, adding to the feast.

The weather had been continuously dry and hot.  The hibiscus went onto a second bloom.  Overnight, rain came and a cold snap with it.  Now, the leaves are suddenly turning  and daytime temperatures have dropped 30 degrees.  The outside plants have been brought in, cut back and repotted and Fall cleaning  has begun.  I guess that’s sort of a nesting instinct… getting things clean and snug and organized for the long, cold stretch ahead.    Curtains, walls, floors, pillows  and windows washed.  Area rugs dragged outside and damp mopped with soap and water,front and back, spot cleaned and dried in the sun.  Winter blankets pulled out of storage,  washed and dried on the clothesline.  Summer clothes put away.  All the cleaning agents I use are natural..vinegar infused with orange peels, borax, essential oils, homemade soap.  Soon my little old farmhouse will be sweet and sparkling.

Peach Butter, Sauerkraut & “Pumpkin” Bread

I had a fun day at my friend’s house. She brought home cabbage,kale, purple cabbage and lots of squash from her sister’s organic farm. We spent the morning making fermented sauerkraut with the kale and cabbages. While we were chopping and salting, we had her oven filled with baking squash..Delicatas, Hubbards and Butternuts. Once the squash were cooked and cooled we skinned and seeded them and mashed the pulp. With that, we made lots of “pumpkin” bread. She added cranberries and nuts to some of the loaves. Once baked and cooled, most of the loaves went into the freezer along with the mashed squash that was left over.
My own squash crop was dismal but I did have a volunteer vine that grew from the compost I added to the asparagus bed. I let it go and it turned out to be acorn squash that yielded a few nice little gifts.
I harvested a delicious basket of peaches from the tree my daughter gave me for Mother’s Day. After eating our fill, I made a couple of jars of peach butter from what was left. I cooked about 12 smallish peaches, pitted but not peeled, on top of the stove with a little bit of water until they were soft. Then I put the mixture through the food mill. I ended up with 3 cups of pulp and juice. I added 1 1/2 cups of sugar (2 to 1 ratio), cinnamon,allspice and ginger to the pulp and simmered it slowly and gently on top of the stove until it was thick, stirring it so it wouldn’t burn. Then I poured it into hot, sterilized jars, sealed them up and processed them in a hot water bath for 15 minutes. It came out delicious!  I think  it will be really good on fresh, warm buttermilk biscuits .

Blueberry Cordial & Water Hyacinths


It’s been weeks since we’ve had rain. Temperatures have been in the 90’s for a while now. Berries shriveled on the canes, the gardens are brown and crispy. I’ve had to be careful about watering, we have a well. I’m trying to save the newly planted fruit trees, bushes and some vegetables I’d yet to harvest. That may not even be possible.

At least the water hyacinths are cheerful.  Once it gets cold, I’ll snap off a few plants and overwinter them in a basin of water in the basement.   They multiply quickly in the spring and the roots make good breeding habitat for the goldfish.
I squeaked out one last jar of fermented dilly beans. These things are delicious. Next year I’m expanding my bean plot.
I have black currants steeping in vodka for a few weeks now. Soon it will be ready to finish off and bottle for Christmas cordial. I came across a recipe for blueberry cordial in an old herbal almanac and decided to try it with some frozen blueberries. Cordials are easy to make. It’s basically a matter of crushing the fruit and totally immersing it in alcohol. I used gin for the blueberries. Keep it sealed in a dark, cool place and shake the mixture daily. In a few weeks strain it, discard the fruit and add a simple syrup (water and sugar) to the strained alcohol, to taste. At this point, bottle it up, seal in sterilized glass and set it away for a couple months. Once it’s opened, it should be kept in the refrigerator. Of course, if at any point mold shows up, (very unlikely) everything should be discarded.

Prolific Peppers & Bee Stings


I spied a particularly fat and juicy blackberry in the patch yesterday. As I reached over to pick it, a bee swooped in and stung me right in the armpit. Ouch! A paste of baking soda and water works like magic to take the pain away. Luckily, it was just a honey bee that stung me. I saw this ominous looking creature in there today and backed off. Does anyone know what this is?
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This summer has been so dry here. The gardens are looking very stressed and haggard. The cucumber patch finally succumbed to powdery mildew so I cleared it out and discovered a metropolis of moles. Ugh… my nemesis. They’ve infiltrated the blueberry bushes too.
Calendulas are still plugging away. I add the dried petals to the soap I make.. they retain their color and shape beautifully. The rest of the heads, I steep in jojoba, olive or grapeseed oil. After a month or so, I strain the oil and use it as a base for skin cream.
The heirloom Napolitan peppers I had so much trouble getting to sprout earlier,ended up being good little producers. 15 plants yielded over 100 peppers. I’ve had my fill of them so I’m seeding, coring and slicing these and whatever else comes in and popping them into the freezer to use over the winter. The seeds I’ll save for next year.
It’s cool out today. I have chicken soup bubbling on the stove and oatmeal cookies baking in the oven. My kitchen smells so good. I’m going to pack it all up and bring it to my daughter.
I hope all of you are having a wonderful day! Thanks for stopping by:)

Blackberries, Dilly Beans and Babies


I stayed with my daughter for a few days, helping with her new baby.    I’d forgotten how exhausting being on call around the clock with a newborn can be.  It was good to be a mommy again, fixing  healthy meals for my daughter and pampering her a little.   Keeping her company at 3 am in a cozy nursery while she fed the baby  was special and kind of emotional.  Lots of memories from when she was little and  hopes and dreams for our new little girl.

I came home to bring my youngest back to college.  She’s all settled in and I’m catching up here.

The last of the beans, cucumbers and red peppers are picked. I made a couple more batches of pickles and dilly beans. Everything that was left, I fermented together and added garlic, onions and fennel seeds. Since my tomato crop is so sad this year, I won’t be pulling out my food mill any time soon. Any extra tomatoes I have this year, I’m just coring and freezing whole…..I learned this from my blogger friend from New Gardener Blues last year.   It’s a good tip… so quick and easy.

The blackberry crop is wonderful. I made a batch of jam and have lots of blackberries in the freezer with still more to pick on the bushes. The second flush of raspberries looks good too.
The mornings are cold and the very first leaves are starting to turn. There’s still lots of cabbage and kale in the garden. The pears are knobby but I’ll put them to good use and I might even get a few peaches.
It’s good cleaning weather. Now that everyone is gone again, I’m starting the fall cleaning and organizing. That includes tackling the attic. There’s lots of good coats and things to donate up there, before the weather gets really cold.

Pickling


I’ve gotten over 20 pounds of cucumbers and they’re still coming so it’s pickle time. Last year I cultured all my vegetables using sea salt and whey. This year, I’m doing a little experimenting. I brined the whole cucumbers in a sea salt solution for 3 days and then transferred them to the refrigerator. They’re nice and crunchy. The spears I also brined in a sea salt solution and I added a starter culture… Caldwell’s. For the relish and beans, I used the starter culture as well. Everything came out crisp and flavorful. The crispiness is due to the sea salt. The starter culture supposedly increases the nutritional value and the strains of beneficial bacteria.
I prefer cultured vegetables to canned because of the nutritional benefits. They offer a lot more in the way of vitamins and minerals and increasing healthy gut microbes. A lot has been written on that subject by Dr. Mercola  and Sally Fallon. I recently read the book, ‘Brain Maker’ by David Perlmutter, MD. He’s a neurologist and also a big proponent for implementing cultured foods in the diet. It was a good read and had some interesting cultured food recipes that I’ll be trying soon.

Red Currant Jam & Cucumbers

I should have made pickles today, I have loads of cucumbers. But… there was a beautiful bag of frozen red currants in the freezer that’s been calling my name. This is the first year my red currant bush fruited. It only yielded about 4 cups, not even enough to make a pie with. Still, I wanted to make something special with the berries.
I remembered making grape jelly with my Grandmother. We had an arbor in the back yard that was loaded with dark purple, thick skinned grapes. They were so delicious. Jelly day started early, picking and preparing the grapes and sterilizing our jars and lids. The kitchen steamed up and smelled all sugary, like candy. In a few hours we had rows of glistening purple jars lining the counters. That gave me the idea of making a jar of jelly.

I  found a beautiful page on the Internet :  David Lebovitz, living the sweet life in Paris , that gave  simple and perfect  instructions.

I gently cooked the currants until they were soft, then put them through a food mill.   Weighing the juice on a postal scale, I came up with 6 ounces.  The ratio between fruit and  sugar for jelly is 1 to 1 so I knew I needed 6 ounces of organic cane sugar, which I also weighed out.

I brought the juice to a boil and skimmed off the scum that came to the top and stirred in  the sugar.  Everything was then brought to a boil  for 5 minutes.  It was at the perfect jelly stage!  Everything took less than an hour.

When my daughter came home, I made us a snack.  Homemade, buttered sourdough toast with red currant jelly and a cucumber smoothie, lol.  I don’t want to waste these cucumbers!  A combination of cucumber, frozen pineapple, frozen blueberries, a squirt of lemon juice and a spoonful of honey made a  really good and refreshing drink.

Hibiscus, Harvest & Sourdough

All the hibiscus are blooming. A few  raspberries and green beans are still trickling in. The cucumbers are taking over with a vengeance. Once again, my squash succumbed to mildew and I wish I had planted more potatoes.

The sourdough starter I made last week was ready to use Monday and I baked its first loaf of bread yesterday. I stuck with the recipe from, My Sister’s Kitchen. It never does me wrong.

Sourdough & Detergent

I neglected my sourdough starter for too long and it died. I started a new batch today and I’ll be able to start using it next week. I made it the old fashioned way, following Sally Fallon’s instructions in ” Nourishing Traditions”. I ground 2 cups of rye into flour and added 2 cups of cold water. The mixture stays covered with a clean cloth and will be kept on the kitchen counter. For the next 6 days I’ll transfer the starter into a clean bowl and add a cup of rye flour and a cup of water.  It will get bubbly. Then it will settle down a bit and be ready for me to use for bread and baked goods. After that, I’ll keep it refrigerated and fed with rye flour and water . Hopefully, it will last for years, unless I abandon it again.

Two or three times a year, I make laundry detergent.  One batch makes 5 gallons.   I was getting low  so I made that too.  It took about 20 minutes and it has to stand for 24 hours.  Tomorrow I’ll fill up my milk cartons and be set for a while.

Garden Update

The days are busy picking blueberries, drying herbs, weeding and filling the house with giant bouquets of Bee Balm and Annabelle Hydrangeas. I made a big batch of sauerkraut and we have fresh garden salads every night.  The last of the garlic has been harvested and I’m keeping watch on the tiny beans, cucumbers, peppers  and squash that have set. They’ll be ready for picking soon.

I haven’t had to take any measures against bugs yet. There’s just been the normal wear and tear that goes with gardening organically. A few holes in the cabbage don’t bother me.  Everything is doing really well except……my tomatoes are dismal. The plants are sparse and spindly. I tried a new variety this year, Granny Cantrell. Last year I grew Ace..also an heirloom variety and I had gorgeous plants and was swamped with tomatoes. I’m not sure what the problem is.  Maybe its just not my year for tomatoes.

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Backyard Fruit & Balloon Flowers

I like having a little fruit orchard in my back yard. I get fresh, organic fruit all summer and lots in the freezer for later. It doesn’t take much space . Berries are easy to grow and come back every year on their own. I’m not sure how hardy and easy he dwarf fruit trees will prove to be but so far, so good. “The Old Fashioned Fruit Garden” by JoAnn Gardner was a big inspiration for me to get started. The book has a lot of nice anecdotes.  It’s instructional but not overwhelming and contains lots of recipes and preserving techniques along with fruit growing and harvesting methods.

Marie’s Balloon Flower is blooming now. I love the way the blossoms are so puffy before they open.

I think I planted some of the garlic too deep. It never sent up scapes and the leaves dropped and started to dry. The bulbs look okay so I’ll spread them out on a rack on the porch to dry.

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I made Julia Child’s “Queen of Sheba” cake this weekend. She is my favorite chef. Her recipes are always accurate and easy to follow. I love her positive, happy attitude. This cake is almost flourless. Ground almonds replace some of the flour and it’s delicious.

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Summer Day

Lazy was a 4 letter word, according to my Grandmother..one of the worst. When I was taught how to do something, my Mother would say, “do it right or not at all…do it again.” When I’d finally get it right she’d say,”now do it faster.”

Those lessons have a way of sticking with me. I don’t want to be a slacker but on the other hand, there are some days when getting lots of  things done quickly and efficiently just doesn’t happen.

Yesterday, I was picking currants and the frogs were making a racket.  I ended up visiting with them for a long time. I started weeding but there were so many bumblebees I couldn’t resist trying to take beautiful pictures of them like the ones I see on Derrick J. Knight’s blog. (his photos are fabulous, I’ll spare you mine). Then I had the urge to try to pet the bumblebees.. I read on Mary Tang’s blog that people actually do that.   The bees kept buzzing away from me but I’ll try again another time.

Back in the house, I started cleaning but got distracted looking around my house thinking about redecorating and changes I want to make. That led to a rummage through my material.

Time got away from me so for dinner, I just made a salad. Kale, greens raw peas and pods from the garden with tomato, chopped onions and feta cheese. I thinned out plain yogurt with pickle juice and added some minced garlic which made a surprisingly good salad dressing.

After dinner, I had some laughs with my cousins and read for a while.

Definitely not a productive day but a good one, nonetheless.

Strawberry Sauce & Lacecap Hydrangeas

The strawberries are almost done. My daughters came over and we had strawberry sundaes. I added sugar to whole, fresh strawberries and cooked them down over medium low heat until the mixture became thick and syrupy. After it cooled, we spooned it over strawberry ice cream and topped it off with freshly whipped cream. My pregnant daughter added bananas and chocolate sauce to hers.

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My 2 year old red currant bush has set out some nice berries that I’ve been harvesting and freezing. It will probably yield only a few cups of berries in total this year.  They will taste good  combined with raspberries in a crisp or crumble.
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I like blue lace cap hydrangeas. They send out runners, like the Annabelle hydrangea. In early Spring, the runners can be easily dug up with the roots and soon you have a whole new bush. A few years ago, I started with 2 bushes and now I have 6. I planted some of them in with the blueberries and lavender. I had read that all the blue flowering plants camouflage the blueberries from the birds. I’m not sure it has proven to be very effective but it’s a pretty combination.

Flora had her bath. Since she spends most of her days roaming around with me in the gardens, she’ll look dirty in no time. I figured I’d take a picture of her while she’s nice and clean. image Have a good weekend everyone!

Strawberries and Calendula

This has been a good season for strawberries. We ate a lot of them and then froze another 8 quarts. There’s an easy way to freeze strawberries so the berries stay separated instead of sticking together in one big lump. Wash the berries, take their leaves off and pat them dry. Spread them out on a cookie sheet so they aren’t touching each other and set them in the freezer. Once frozen, transfer the strawberries into containers or freezer bags and then back into the freezer until you want to use them.

Garlic should be sending up scapes pretty soon. I always direct sow squash, beans and cucumbers seeds into the garden. I think they are heartier than transplants and they are doing great. My heirloom peppers are pitiful, doomed from the start.

Calendulas are blooming. Another favorite of mine! For now, I’m adding the petals to salads, smoothies and into whatever I put through the juicer. They have a mild taste and contain antioxidant carotenoids..lutein, zeaxanthin and lycopene. Later in the season, I’ll use the flowers to make skin products.  Calendula is known as the ‘Queen of Cosmetic Herbs’ and for  its healing properties. Tomorrow, my dog Flora is due for a bath. In the past she’s had skin issues. To keep things sweet, I’ll infuse a few flowers in some water and add that to her bath.

Cockatoos and the First Snow of the Season

Stopped at a red light , I noticed a giant cockatoo in the car next to me, perched on the driver’s shoulder. It reminded me of this great post from Railway Parade, House and Garden.  Hope it’s okay I reblogged it

Railway Parade House and Garden

What a difference  a few weeks can make. In late March, we had record-breaking heat and now an early snowfall!

The heavens in Australia are rarely silent: bird-song is everywhere and it pays to watch and listen for the subtle differences as they can usually portent a change in the weather. For instance the call of the Currawong of signifies approaching rain; the laugh of Kookaburras or the whip of Bell-birds in the morning signifies the day will be still and hot, or when the Kookaburra laughs during a thunderstorm it means it will soon clear.

Cockatoo and Quercus Palustris Cockatoo and Quercus Palustris (image courtesy Fairfax media)

Cockatoos are an amazingly noisy, inquisitive, highly intelligent (captive birds are easily trained to talk), long-lived bird. They are abundant whether you are in the country-side, the bush or the city.

Because Cockatoos are so intelligent, they actually suffer from a very human condition – boredom – and this can lead them to become destructive; Cockatoos have been known to…

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Garden Update

The gardens are doing pretty well.  Peonies are just starting to bloom.  All the vegetables are up and growing but not as energetically as they normally do  this time of year because it’s still so hot and dry.  I lost most of my roses  from a combination of  the tough winter and voles.   Even the tough old bushes, William Baffin and Lake Champlain had to be cut back severely and are shadows of what they have been in the past. Roses are challenging in the best of times here for an organic gardener.  I miss them but most likely I wont replace them.  Foxgloves took their role as star of the show this year…things always have  a way of working out.  happy days

Good Friends & Lily Bugs

Saturday, I was picking bugs off the lillies.  I don’t know what these red bugs are but they will decimate a lilly patch in no time.  Then, they move on to asparagus fronds.  I’m loving all the time in the garden, (even the bug picking) and thankful for it because things around here have been very stressful. When things get tough, I go into seclusion but my good  old friend of 20 years caught wind of what was going on and was having none of it. She showed up unexpectedly and dragged me away on a surprise “field trip”.  We went out to breakfast and then went tag saling.  It was a fun day.  It was good to get out. it was fun to look at a lot of “junk” and mentally transform it into something fun or pretty or useful.  It was great spending the day with a wonderful friend. I found a vintage serving bowl in perfect condition and  a beat up, wooden sewing box table. The cost was $7 for both and a metal plant stand was thrown in for free. The sewing box  table is cheap wood and not worth doing a lot of hand painting on.  I decopauged it instead and  replaced the handle with a glass dresser knob.  This was a quick, fun project and will  be a good thing to keep my threads and needles in.

Flowers & Bugs

We call plants that self sow and sprout up on their own, Volunteers. All the Foxgloves in my yard are Volunteers and I never have the heart to pull any of them. They are highly poisonous but so very beautiful!

Climbing Hydrangea is blooming. It’s great in shady places, grows quickly and anchors itself to fencing. New plants are started easily with cuttings. It can be a bit aggressive.

I saw this big, glittery bug hanging by its feet from a spiderweb. Its wings were beating frantically. Without even thinking, I plucked it out of the web. The hind legs and one antennae were all stuck together. I didn’t want to leave it like that so I untangled it and got the stickiness off with my fingernail. It took a long time and I was afraid that I was hurting the poor thing. When I was finally done, the bug climbed a lily, checked himself over and then flew away. Does anyone know what kind of bug this is?

Ironically, while I was trying to help this bug I noticed a tic on my leg and mercilessly crushed it. image

Strawberry Moon


Today’s full moon is called ‘Strawberry Moon’ by the Native Americans. Right on cue, the strawberries have started to ripen. I am wondering how this season will pan out with all the erratic weather. The temperature dropped more than 30 degrees, it’s barely made it into the 50’s the last few days. Cold temperatures have come with heavy rains and flood warnings.
The peach tree I planted in early May is looking distressed. Leaves are turning yellow and dropping. I’m hesitant to dose it with anything. Transplant shock, extreme temperatures and water fluctuations are most likely the cause. I took a superstitious route instead and planted Hyssop around it.
The blueberry bushes are chock full, Clematis is just opening and the Irises are winding down.
The rainy days have been good for catching up on indoor work. I finally cornered my college girl into going through her clothes and weeding them out. No easy task! Her older sisters send everything they don’t want her way so we waded through a LOT of things and donated more than we ended up keeping.
My oldest daughter is 7 months along with her pregnancy already and she is doing great! The baby is now the size of a coconut and weighs over 4 pounds. I have a tiny room upstairs I’d like to make into a nursery for when baby comes to visit. I’d planned to use the crib I had from when my girls were little but my daughter wants me to buy a new one with current safety standards. Hmmm… I understand her wanting everything ‘just right’. This is her first baby and she’s the first born herself…very much a type A personality, she’s a lawyer. I think the crib may just be the beginning, lol.

Rain!


There’s been no rain for weeks, temperatures have been in the 80’s, the soil dusty and as dry as a bone. Finally, last night thunder storms rolled in. Relief! I’ve been working 8 hours a day, 5 days a week getting seeds planted and annuals set out. I’m almost done. It’s wet, hot and humid out today and the Mosquitos are swarming so I’m booking off and having my friend over. She’s a gardener by trade and needs a break too. Both of us are feeling (and looking) a little crooked and scraggly. We’re going to make stepping stones, drink tea and have eggplant and oatmeal cookies for lunch.

Cabbages, Bridal Wreaths & Lilacs


My Grandmother set a lot of store by her plants. Cabbage was a big favorite of hers and she grew a lot of it. She made all kinds of delicious things with her cabbage and used it medicinally as well for stomach problems, spring tonics, growing pains and skin conditions.
Bridal Wreath bush (Vanhoutt spirea) was another plant she kept. She grew them from cuttings. When my Mother got her own home, Grandma planted a Bridal bush in the yard right away because she said it would help to keep my Mom’s marriage sweet. She planted a Rose of Sharon too, saying it brought the protection of a Mother’s love. A Lilac tree had to be just outside the back door of every home. I don’t know why. Could be, my Grandmother just liked Lilacs. She never cut them unless a big rain was on its way. Then she would gather as many as she could before they’d ‘rust’ and be ruined on the tree.

PeachTree, Peony & Rhubarb


Borders are starting to fill in and flowering shrubs add nice bursts of color.  Lilacs are already fading with the unseasonably hot temperatures but the humidity enhances their fragrance and it just fills the air! A tree peony planted 3 years ago bloomed for the first time ever. The rhubarb got away from me and sent up its feathery seed stalks. It’s more tender and less stringy if eaten before that happens. I love the look of rhubarb but the taste, not so much. Last year I made a lot of crumbles, cakes and breads with it and wasn’t really crazy about any of them. I even tried making rhubarb pickles but they turned into a soggy mess. Maybe a rhubarb chutney would be good.
My daughters brought me a semi-dwarf peach tree, a gooseberry bush and some raspberry plants for Mother’s Day. A big hole had to be dug for the peach tree… twice the depth and width of the pot it came in. It took over an hour to dig because of all the rocks.  I backfilled the hole with soil, compost, leaf mold and added a good handful of dry dog food to the mix as well.
My little dog Flora trails around at my side all day long. I feel lucky to have such sweet company.