Sunday, July 28, 2013

Refreshing, flavored waters

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Plain water is just that-plain.  So many people go to sodas or other sweetened drinks for refreshment.  There are other options!

Here are a few:
Lemonade or limeade-simply squeeze fresh lemon or lime juice into water.

For these infusions, place ingredients in a half gallon of water and allow to meld overnight.  Strain before drinking.
Lemongrass, mint and vanilla-1 large stalk of lemongrass, chopped and crushed, 1/4 cup fresh peppermint coarsely chopped, and 1/2 large vanilla bean or 1 teas vanilla extract.
Cardamom, orange and vanilla-1 large sliced orange, 1 tablespoon crushed cardamom pods, 1/2 large vanilla bean or 1 teas vanilla extract.
Blackberry, rose and vanilla-3/4 cup blackberries, 1/4 cup rose petals, 1/2 large vanilla bean.
Refreshing cucumber mint-1/2 cup chopped and crushed mint with half a sliced cucumber.

1/8-1/4 teaspoon of stevia can be added to any of the above for added sweetness with no sugar or carbs.  Too much stevia can impart a bitter taste; a little goes a long way!  Stevia is an herb high in antioxidants that is very easy to grow.  You can find them almost anywhere that herbal plants are sold.  Dry the leaves and use to sweeten anything.

I bought a book called "Stevia naturally sweet recipes for desserts, drinks and more!" by Rita DePuydt that has great ideas for using stevia to cut down or eliminate sugar and carbs in many sweetened foods and drinks.

Making your own vanilla is easy, too.  Just buy vanilla beans, slit them open and place 4 of them in 1 cup (8 ounces) of premium vodka and allow to infuse for 4-6 months.  If you want to speed up the process, shake weekly and it will be ready to use in 8 weeks.  As you use it, you can just re-top.  Very inexpensive way to have real vanilla.

I buy cardamom at Whole Foods in the bulk spices department.  You can also get on line at Amazon.  Cardamom is a great spice to add to hot tea, too.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Staple crops for the Midwest

Butternut squash
Saturday, July 27, 2013

I read recently in Mother Earth News a listing of staple crops good for the different areas of the country.  Here is what they recommended for the Midwest:
Cabbage-’Early Flat Dutch’, ‘Winningstadt’
Collards-’Green Glaze’, ‘Variegate’
Dry beans-‘Black Turtle’, ‘Kebrika’
Grain corn-‘Neal’s Paymaster’, ‘Reid’s Yellow Dent’
Kale-‘Red Russian’, ‘Vates’
Peanuts-‘Carwile’s VA’, ‘Schonce’s Deep Black’
Potatoes-‘Purple Viking’, ‘Red Pontiac’
Sweet potatoes-‘Covington’, ‘Jewel’
Wheat-‘Red Lammas’
Winter squash-‘Tahitian Melon’, ‘Waltham Butternut’

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Sites & resources for canning

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Canning is a great way to preserve your harvest.  You can also buy organic produce that is on sale from your local grocer or from your local farmers market.  When the produce is in peak season, it is the most healthful and the least expensive of the year.

When you can, you have to follow the recipe exactly to make sure it is safe to eat.  When canning acidic foods like fruit or tomatoes or anything using vinegar or sugar, you can likely use only a water bath.  All other canning requires a pressure canner to get to high enough temperatures to kill off the bacteria that cause botulism.

Here are some web pages and resources to use:
Mother Earth News “How to Can” app
National center for home food preservation
USDA’s Complete Guide to Home Canning
Home Canning 
“Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving” book
“The Complete Book of Small Batch Preserving” book

I bought a 1946 canning booklet from “Steamliner Pressure Cooker-Instructions for Cooking and Canning”  so I could learn how to use the old fashioned canning jars.  It was fun to read, complete with recipes!

If you want to use canning supplies that do not have BPA in them, check out my blog from December:

Thursday, July 18, 2013

What's happening in the mid July garden

Thursday, July 18, 2013

4th of July in the USA brings thoughts of Independence Day, fireworks, and ripe tomatoes!  True to tradition, our first ripe tomatoes came off the vine the week of the 4th of July.

In addition, we are now harvesting White Italian eggplants, Crockneck zucchini, cucumbers and fava beans.  The Cayenne, JalapeƱo, Pimento, and Ancho pepper plants are loaded.  The Pimento pepper is turning so it should be red in a few days.

The fava beans are putting on their second flush of beans.  They could be picked now and eaten as green beans, left on the vine to harvest as lima beans, or cut down to keep nitrogen in the soil to feed the veggies planted next to them for the rest of the summer.

Oregano in bloom
The first round of garlic has been harvested and is getting hardened in the shade outdoors for two weeks and the elephant garlic looks to be ready to harvest next week end.

Our basil has been slow to get started but is now off to the races.  I will harvest in a couple of weeks, cutting down to the first few sets of leaves.  It will regrow to give me at least one more good harvest before fall.

Oregano is in full bloom.  The bees love the purple flowers!  It could be cut and dried now, but I love the flowers and will wait until fall.

I had cut the cabbage last month down to the first four leaves.  It has resprouted about four baby cabbages on each of their stems.   I will let them grow a little bigger before cutting and steaming them.

Lettuce gone to seed
I fertilized all the pots again as well as the basil to keep it growing.

The lettuce had gone to seed.  When you see the white fuzzies, they are ready to save.  I just pull the seed heads, break apart, put in a ziplock freezer bag, label with type and date, and store in the refrigerator.  I also re-seeded our Earth boxes with some of the seeds.  I had a few small volunteer lettuce plants elsewhere in the garden that I transplanted to the Earth boxes as well.  The lettuce seeds I planted last month have sprouted, but aren’t quit ready to transplant.

The extended forecast is calling for 90’s and no rain for the next 10 days.  Will start watering the beds this week and the pots will likely need to be watered about every other day.

Summer garden is in full swing!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Mosquito repellant plants & natural trap

Sunday, July 14, 2013

There are many herbs that work just as well as chemicals to repel mosquitoes.  Here are a few powerhouses:
Rose scented monarda-contains geranoil an ingredient used in some commercial natural repellants
Lime basil-great for cooking and repelling the pesky blood suckers
Catnip has been found to be more effective than DEET in studies
Holy basil-you can use seeds floated in water to kill mosquito larvae
Thyme-repels as well or better than DEET
Herbs also do well in pots so you can put them right where you need them!

Natural mosquito trap:
Use a quart jar.
Mash 1 cup fruit and allow to ferment in the sun 1-2 days.
Mix fermented fruit, 3 teas sugar, 1/2 teaspoon boric acid, and 2 drops jasmine essential oil in the quart jar with a lid punched with several 1/16” holes in lid.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

How to preserve cabbage

Sunday, July 7, 2013

We had a bumper crop of cabbage this year in pots.  The ones in the ground didn’t form a head, but the potted ones were beauties!.  Now, what to do with 8 heads of cabbage?  Well, you can freeze, can or ferment it.  I have only gone the freeze or ferment route.

Freezing is incredibly easy.  Just remove the head, cutting at the base.  Wash thoroughly and slice into manageable pieces.  Drop pieces into a pot of boiling water, let cook for 2-3 minutes (called blanche), then drop into icy or very cold water.  You drop them into cold water to stop the cabbage from continue to cook.  Place in a freezer bag, label with contents and date, and put in the freezer.

Fermenting is a little more involved, but is a simple process.  You don’t have to have a crock to make kraut.  You can use a wide mouth quart jar and place a small jar on top of it.  Or you can use a glass bowl that you put a plate in with a can or other weight on top of it.

To make kraut, save a couple of outer leaves and set aside, slice the head of cabbage in half and remove the core/stem.  Then, slice up the head into small ribbons.  To accelerate the process, squeeze the cabbage to get the juices flowing.  Salt is optional.  If using salt, add 3 tablespoons per 5 pounds of cabbage.  

Place the salted, shredded cabbage into a glass container, squish it down, cover with the saved leaves and add a weight.  Press down occasionally during the first 24 hours.  If the brine does not rise above the plate (or jar) level by the next day, add salt water (1 tbl salt per cup of water) to insure all the cabbage is submerged.

The more salt you use, the longer it will take in fermenting and the more acidic it will be.

Leave to ferment for a few days.  Taste to see if it is how you like it.  The longer you leave it, the tangier it becomes.  If kept in a cool area during winter, kraut can keep for weeks or months.  If making kraut in summer, put in quart jars in the frig after ripening they way you like it.

You can add any other vegetables you like (beets, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, mustard, kale, Chinese cabbage) or flavorings (onions, garlic, dill seeds, celery seeds, juniper berries, wine, seaweed).  

Kraut has tons of the good bacteria that your digestive system loves, lactobacilli. 

If you decide you want to can your cabbage, follow a recipe!  Cabbage on its own is not acidic enough to keep microbes from growing in it.  If using pickling techniques, this moves cabbage into a high enough acid range that a water bath is sufficient for preserving safely.  If you want to can plain cabbage, a pressure canner is required.  

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Quick tips for maximizing basil harvests

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Basil is easy to grow and a few tips will give you lots of basil to put up for the winter.

Basil loves sunlight, 6-8 hours a day.  Basil loves nitrogen, which stimulates all leafy growth.  Water every other week with kelp fertilizer.

You should pinch back to get the plant to bush out.  Pinch above a leaf node.  The basil will grow new branches on each side.  Keep pinching as they grow until you have a full plant.  Once the plant starts to flower, the stems will become woody.  Pinching represses flowering.

About half way through the summer, cut basil back to the bottom 4 leaves.  They will regrow to give you a second harvest.

It is also not too late to plant basil right now either.

For preserving, the best bets are to blanche or make into pesto.  Basil looses its flavor when dried.  Blanching is dropping the herb into boiling water for about a minute, then dunking into ice water (or very cold water), dry on paper towels, then place on a cookie sheet in the freezer.  When frozen, put into freezer bags.