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.

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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 .

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Lilacs & Lemon Verbena


Lilacs are blooming. This one opened today and is so  beautiful I couldn’t resist snipping a little and taking its picture. It smells just as good as the standard lilac.
Lemon Verbena doesn’t look like much but it makes up for that with its extraordinary fragrance.  It’s tangy, not sweet and very fresh and clean. When I had my shop, I used to go to Gilbertie’s Herbs wholesale greenhouses, to buy plants to sell in the store.  Mr. Gilbertie showed me a gigantic lemon verbena plant that he had in one of his greenhouses for many years. He rustled a few of the branches and the most wonderful lemony scent filled the air. Lemon Verbena is only hardy in zones 8-10 but is easy to winter over indoors in a sunny windowsill. It has a woody stem and with a little simple pruning, the plant can formed into a pretty tree shape. If it is repotted as needed into a larger pot, it will get huge! I saw this little verbena at the garden center and decided to give it a go. Maybe it will get as big as a miniature tree some day, like Mr. Gilbertie’s.   Fingers crossed.

Sweet Violet Simple Syrup

Violets are in full bloom throughout the garden so I made some sweet violet syrup.  A spoonful in a cup of herbal or darjeeling tea  is  delicious.  A splash in a glass of iced water adds a tinge of color, subtle flavor and a  bit of sweetness.  It can be added to fruit salads, lemonade, iced tea or cocktails.

I picked violets without the stems and washed them in cold water.  Then I loosely packed the flowers into a clean glass jar and covered them with boiling water.   Eight hours later, I strained the infused water and measured it . There was 3 cups.  I put the violets, infused water and 3 cups of sugar (same measurement as the infused water) into a non reactive pan and stirred it over low heat until all the sugar was dissolved.  I added the juice of 1 lemon.  (Lemon is optional. I like the taste  better with the lemon but it does change the color of the syrup,  giving it a pinkish hue instead of purple.)  I strained the violets out with a  fine mesh strainer and poured the syrup into a sterilized glass jar. Once it cooled down, it went into the fridge where it will be stored.

I should probably mention that violets that may have been exposed to pesticides, lawn fertilizers or sprays should never be used.   Also, I took some shortcuts from traditional methods. I infused the violets for 8 hours  and most recipes recommend  letting them sit for 24 hours.  I used  organic cane sugar  which isn’t pure white and  I didn’t remove the green parts  at the bases of the flowers,  probably compromising the color of the syrup.  Here’s a link for a recipe without the shortcuts  and with some more good ideas on how to use the syrup.

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Bluebirds & Lilacs


I saw a bluebird going into the house I put up! ..bluebird of happiness…  I embroidered one right in the middle of the quilt I made for the little baby coming our way. Speaking of which, I was hoping  lilacs would be nice to cut for the baby shower next week. It’s been in the 80’s here and dry so I’m not too sure that’s going to work out.
Viburnums and spurge are looking beautiful and the apple blossoms are opening. Giant bumblebees are everywhere. I am glad I decided not to get beehives this year. I have a good local population and I didn’t want to meddle with it.
I’ve been planting out cabbages, bok choi and some herbs. I still have a  a lot more planting to do.  I should have started the kale sooner. I’m glad I did extra tomatoes though. I broke 12 plants by dropping a light on a tray and last night my husband tripped in the dark onto another tray on the back porch.
My daughter will be home from her first year of college this weekend, just in time for Mother’s Day.
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Asparagus, Seedling & Geraniums


The days suddenly seem too short, there is so much to do. Most of the seedlings are brought outside during the day. The tomatoes are suffering a bit, too much too soon for them maybe. They’re sensitive at this age and it won’t be safe to set them in the garden until the end of the month. Cabbage, kale and bok choy stay out all day and night and will be planted out sooner. All the wintered- over geraniums are out too. They’re a bit leggy but once they get used to being outside, I’ll cut them back and repot them. If the temperatures dip too low, I’ll have to bring them in.
Picking up my seed potatoes, I couldn’t resist a gorgeous bundle of 2 year asparagus plants. Beware of impulse buys! I have an asparagus patch already, about a dozen plants.  They’re just starting to peek through.   I really didn’t need more but there’s nothing like fresh asparagus and they are perenniels.. Oh well. Asparagus beds have to be prepared properly. I used the space I had allocated for my potatoes. It was already prepared with good compost. I set the plants in and covered them with 6 wheelbarrows full of soil I have brewing beneath leaf piles in the back. I’ll continue to build up the bed on a weekly basis, adding more soil and amendments.. eggshells, compost, coffee grinds, etc. The process with potatoes is similar except I wont have to be as conscientious about keeping their plot as rich.
A couple dwarf apple trees and a tayberry bush arrived in the mail. Those will be planted out today. The trees are bare root so I set the roots in a bucket of water until I’m ready to go. Happy Spring!

Country to City

Yesterday I just about finished the spring cleaning on the back gardens.  This morning we visited my middle daughter.  Last  summer she got married and moved to a city.  Luckily, there’s some outdoor space and she and her new husband made it really inviting!  They refurbished an old patio set of mine.  She sewed up some fabric pillows and  he filled buckets from a home improvement store with pots of herbs.   We had brunch on their patio… vegetable frittata,  fresh fruit and croissants.  It was  a great visit.  I miss my daughter and wish that she didn’t live so far away (I exagerate; it’s less than 1 1/2 hours away)  but it’s good to see that she and her husband are making such a  nice life of their own.

Say it isn’t Snow


Once it finally gets warm and things start growing and blooming outside, it feels as if it will last forever. But it snowed yesterday and last night the temperatures dipped into the 20’s. The magnolia blooms, still not quite opened are turning brown at the edges. I suspect the cold will take its toll in other ways but out in the yard everything looks fine and luckily, the snow didn’t stick.

Daffodil Days & Seedlings

There’s lots of different types of daffodils blooming in my yard now.

The seeds planted back in March are doing well except for the Milkweed.  Not a single sprout in sight.  The growing seedlings get a boost of a tablespoon of fish emulsion  dissolved in a gallon of their water twice a week.   Kale, some herbs and cabbages are set out now, during the day.  The sprouted peas are planted in a potted trellis that held black eyed Susan vines last year.

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Meanwhile, tomatoes, peppers and tender annuals continue to grow in the basement under lights. Our last frost date is in just 5 1/2 weeks and by then, everything will be planted out in the garden

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April Showers


The rhubarb is unfurling and things are coming alive. The fritillaries I planted are looking good but seem to have had no effect on deterring moles. My front yard is a giant mole hotel. All the roses except the rugosas are ruined, the roots eaten to nubs.
It’s raining so I’ll be spending the day in the kitchen.   I have more seedlings to transplant, (they are taking over the house!),  and I want to catch up on some cooking. There’s chicken broth on the stove. We buy local, free range chickens and not a bit is wasted. Even the bones are used.. burnt in the fireplace and composted.
If I have time, I might work on some needlework later and make some berry crumble with the last of the blackberries and raspberries, in the freezer from last year’s crop.

Happy, productive days!

Daffodils, Garlic and Little Fish

The first daffodils opened today!  The garlic has poked through and is looking nice and sturdy.  Seed potatoes are coming in tomorrow.

I lost all the fish in the pond this winter. Talking to the girl at the pet store, I found out that many pond owners here lost their fish.  The winter was just too cold for too long.   I’ll be introducing a few fish at a time  into the pond for the next month.  These are feeder fish.  People buy them to feed other pets. They cost a dime each.  I feel sorry  for the fish that froze over the winter but living for 8 years in my pond was a better fate than what they may have met as turtle food.