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 .
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
I’ve been really inspired by the Grow Food not Lawns movement. The past few years I’ve been transitioning my massive perennial borders and front flower beds into mixed gardens, integrating my existing plants with vegetables, herbs, flowers and fruit. This combination can be beautiful and practical. Rhubarb, zucchini and most vegetables are so attractive and look great among the flowers and shrubs. Lots of flowers are edible and pretty… Bee balm, calendula, violets, nasturtiums, roses and lavender, to name just a few. Strawberries and creeping thyme are great ground covers and borders. Currant and blueberry bushes are easy to grow, attractive when they come into flower and even prettier when they set berries. Columnar fruit trees are another great option. Cabbage and kale are great fill ins. Lancinato kale has a lot of visual interest but it gets eaten up by little green worms here so I grow the Green Scottish Curled instead. Herbs offer so much in the way of flowers and color..echinacea, catnip, lemon balm, variegated mints, borage..The list goes on and this post is getting long. As the season progresses, all the little plants filling my tables under lights crowding the sunny windowsills will hopefully be big and strong and make their way into the gardens. Ideas are percolating for artful/ edible combinations and integrations. I’m hoping this gardening season is productive and beautiful for all of us!
Today was my first snow-free day out in the gardens. I spent 6 hours in the front yard and got 4 of the 7 beds cleared. Out back is where the real work begins. I left leaves in the beds and the plants high last Fall so the birds could have the seeds. I have to laugh, I start the day running out the door to get at it and just a few hours later I’m wondering why I have so many gardens.
Poking around for signs of life, I was a little sad to see that even though the pond is dug down 3 feet, one of my fish didn’t make it through the winter. I put 12 little feeder goldfish into the pond when we dug it 8 years ago. No sign yet of any of the others. There’s lots of other things popping through though. It’s so exciting. I have a LOT of work ahead of me
Speechless, really…more snow last night. Resorting to last year’s garden pics