Sunday, September 27, 2015

October Garden Planner


Sunday, September 27, 2015

The October garden is very productive.  The summer vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, basil and cucumbers continue to produce at a reduced pace.  The cool season crops like lettuce, carrots, radishes, peas, cabbage, beets, broccoli and cauliflower are coming into maturity throughout October and into November.

Basil will turn black when it gets close to 35 degrees.  I pull all the leaves when it is forecasted to get close to freezing or any chance of frost.  You can chop basil, put in an ice cube tray and cover with water to then use any time your recipe calls for fresh basil.  It stores best when frozen in water.  I also dry some to add to my "Herbes de Provence" seasoning mix.  Make your own "Herbes de Provence"  You can also make into pesto and place in freezer bags with just enough for a meal.  Gives a whole new meaning to “fast food.”  Pesto is great over pasta, fish, or as a condiment on sandwiches.  Basil basics-harvesting, preserving, growing basil...

Other herbs will do just fine through frosts like parsley, rosemary, thyme, chives, savory, and sage.  It takes good snow cover to stop these herbs.  Many winters you can harvest these herbs the entire season for cooking.

I will wait until it gets down to 32 degrees before I strip off the eggplant, peppers and tomatoes.  You can freeze or dry these veggies.  Tomatoes are a high acid fruit so you can also easily can sauce from them without using a pressure canner, a stockpot is all that is needed.   Preserving the tomato harvest  Be sure to follow any canning recipes exactly so your canned goods don’t spoil.

Make sure you pull the tomatoes from the vine before the vine dies.  Wondering what to do with the green tomatoes?  You have a couple of options.  You can make fried green tomatoes-yum!  Just use some fish fry seasoning; we like Andy’s Cajun Seasoning.  A late fall tradition-fried green tomatoes!  You can also wrap green tomatoes in newspaper and store in a cool, dark location and many will ripen.  Check about weekly to cull any that spoil.  They won’t taste as good as fresh off the vine, but are better than store bought.

October is garlic planting month for the Zone 6 garden!  Plant in the waning cycle of the moon.  Garlic loves loose, well-fertilized soil.  Loosen the soil down to about 6 inches, mix in a couple of inches of compost, and plant your garlic cloves about 2-3” deep.  Time to plant garlic! With growing tips......  Garlic leaves are one of the first greens you will see in spring.

Now is also a great time to divide any perennials you have, whether they be herbs, edibles or ornamentals.  This will give them all fall and winter to put down strong roots.  Perennial greens (like chard, sorrel, cultivated dandelions, salad burnet) are always the first up in the spring.

It is still not too late in early October to transplant fall crops like cold hardy types of lettuce, cabbage, chard, pak choi, broccoli, kale, parsley or perennial herbs.  Some Meijer, Lowes, and Home Depot have 6 and 9 packs ready to plant if you didn’t start your own from seed.

Portable greenhouse, great for growing salad greens all winter
To extend the season, you can order a mini greenhouse to cover your pots or a part of the garden you have planted your cold hardy greens you want to harvest all winter.  You can also purchase row covers that cover plants and provides protection from frosts, but not hard freezes.  Preparing the garden for frost

Winter hardy kale, spinach, Austrian peas, carrots and winter onions don’t need to be covered and can be harvested all winter (as long as the ground isn’t too frozen) and into spring.  I grew Austrian peas last winter and they provided greens all winter long.  They have very pretty flowers, too.

I’ll put our portable, plastic mini greenhouse over the greens in my Earthboxes sometime this month.  One watchout with green houses-they get very, very hot in sunny weather so be sure to open them to allow circulation in fall and early winter.  They will need to be closed up when winter really sets in December sometime. 

Saturday, September 26, 2015

What's Happening in the Late September Garden

Holy basil, tomatoes, zinnias and marigolds

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The plants that like this kind of weather are tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, Egyptian walking onions, cucumbers, the Mediterranean herbs like basil, rosemary, sage, oregano, chives, savory, dill, tarragon parsley and thyme and all types of greens.  

Typically, we would be preserving lots of veggies for year round eating at this time of the year.   We had wonderful rain all summer.  Surprisingly, this did not bode well for the garden.  The fruiting veggies like peppers, squash, tomatoes, eggplant just did not do well in our garden this summer.  We had more disease and pest pressure than normal.  We usually have very little problems with pests.  Not so this year!  I have been using DE and Dipel powders (both all natural) regularly for the beetles and caterpillars on the broccoli, tomatillos, amaranth, and chard.

For the plants that survived and thrived, it would be a great idea to save their seeds for replanting in your garden next year.  These are the really hardy ones.  This is how farmers over thousands of years have done seed saving.  Save the seed from the plant that has the characteristics you want and are adapted specifically to your garden.


Italian Red Pear tomatoes in varying stages of ripeness
My hubby shared that one of the causes of low fruit output could be the rain washing away their flower's  pollen.  I think he is right!  The fruiting veggies need to be pollinated for a fruit to form.  Our tomatoes did reasonable, just not as good as last year.  I did have one tomato that did great this year!  It was one that I saved the seed from one I bought from Whole Foods because it looked so cool.  Not only was this plant prolific, it was also meaty and tasty!  In doing a search for a giant heirloom pear shaped tomato there are several it could be-Italian Red Pear, Riveria, Franchi Giant Pear or Cuor di Bue oxheart tomato.   It looks closest to the Italian Red Pear tomato.  Whatever it is, I have saved the seed from this plant for next year's garden!

Red October is doing quite well, too.  It is a great storage tomato.  You can have ripe tomatoes until December from the fruits you pick before frost.

Italian Red Pear on the vine
I had given a tomato plant from a set I had bought to a friend for her deck garden.  The plant itself is huge and providing tons of tomatoes being grown in a large pot.  It came in a pack for Cherokee Purple.  It was not a Cherokee Purple!  It is a medium sized chocolate tomato with metallic green stripes.  It tastes great, too.  When I searched on line for what it could be, it looks like it is a Pink Berkeley Tie Dye tomato.  Don't let the name fool ya!  This tomato is not a bit pink.  It is a deep burgundy color with dark green stripes.  I saved seed from it to grow next year.

Italian Red Pear on the fine
I have been putting about a quart of tomatoes away a week.  Sometimes more.  I just slice them and put them in freezer bags.  When it cools down outside, I will look at the frozen tomatoes I have left from last year and cook those into sauce.  You really want to clean out the freezer each year.  The veggies will still be edible, but some will loose flavor.


The squash and peppers really struggled.  Mainly from disease.  I replanted the zucchini 3 times before I had one that survived.  We just started getting fruits from it in the last couple of weeks.  I lost peppers for the first time to disease.  They would turn yellow, shrivel up and then die.  The peppers that weren't affected would really perk up any time we had a week or two without rain and develop many fruits.  There weren't many weeks, though, that we did not have rain......

I have been able to freeze about a pint of sliced peppers every other week or so.  Early in the season, the Pimento was producing well so I was able to freeze a quart of this pepper.  I chop these peppers up as I use them in this salad we love.  We got the recipe from the Pasta House restaurant.  Here is a link to this dressing and others you can make from what you grow in your garden Homemade salad dressing recipes with garden herbs
I had planted a few seeds from sweet banana peppers I bought at the store.  There are two that I am saving seeds for next year's garden.  One was an orange banana pepper.  It was the only plant that actually made a sweet banana pepper plant.  The other is one that produced lots of miniature baby bell peppers.  It is covered right now with more baby sweets.  Pepper plants go until a freeze.  You can bring them in for the winter as they are perennials.

I tried growing from seed the small hot pepper plant that is ages old, Chiltepin.  It took 3 tries, but I now have several plants that are growing.  I have them in a pot and will bring them in to overwinter.  I like putting small hot peppers in my seasoned salt and wanted to grow my own.  They are covered with the tiny hot tots!

Cardinal basil-aren't the burgundy flowers gorgeous!
If you want to maximize your pepper harvest, pick them as soon as they get to full size versus letting them fully ripen to red, yellow, or orange on the plant.  This stimulates the plant to produce more.  If you let them ripen on the plant, the taste will be sweeter.  I compromise and take them off just when they start to turn.  They complete ripening on the counter in a few days.

My uncle gave me some hot pepper seeds from Guyana pepper plant.  I tried sprouting these 3 separate times, but none came up.  Guess they were just too old to still be viable.

The cucumber vines did well.  They are now about done.  Up until two weeks ago, I was getting about one cucumber per vine.  I had planted 4 vines so that was a perfect amount of cukes for us.

The pole green beans did well, too.  The bush beans did not.  I am still getting beans from the pole bean vines.  I planted purple and green Romano types.  The beans and flowers were very pretty.  The green Romano were stringless and the purple Romano type had a small string that was easy to remove before freezing.  I will definitely keep these (Romano and the purple Blauhilde) in my garden next year.  Will also interplant with Scarlett Runner beans, too, for their beautiful flowers.

Sprouting lettuce seed in Earthbox
I am still fertilizing monthly.  I use Espoma as it is all natural, organic.  This year I have also been doing a foliar spray with minerals once a month.  I add compost monthly as well.  Compost increases organic matter and supercharges the microbes in the soil.  The microbes help your plants roots to take up the nutrients they need.

The garlic and onions did well this year.  The Egyptian walking onions did great!  I hardened the garlic on our covered deck.  I put it in apple cider vinegar with peppers for keeping in the fridge.  We use garlic year round for cooking and on our garlic cheese bread.  Yum!
I had a bumper crop of basil this year.  The other herbs did well, too.  We have garlic and garden chives, rosemary, tarragon, bay, sage, parsley, mint, and stevia.  The mint, stevia, tarragon and sage did exceptionally well.  I keep peppermint in a pot so it doesn't take over the garden.  I have stevia in a container to bring in over the winter.  The parsley has really perked up over the last couple of weeks.  The dill went to seed early.

I had also reseeded the Earthbox last week end and there are little lettuce and spinach growing.  We will cover the Earthboxes with a small portable green house later this fall so we can have salads throughout the winter.

Sprouting spinach seed in self watering container
Make sure you save the seeds from your best and longest producers to plant in your garden next spring.  I also save seeds from organic produce I get from the store that is really good.  Last week end when we were at the grocery store, there were these beautiful burgundy and dark green striped tomatoes.  I bought the biggest, prettiest one they had.  We enjoyed the tomato and saved the seeds.    Next year, we'll be able to have them in our own garden!

This fall, we will have arugula, mustard greens, lettuce, chard, blood veined sorrel, garden sorrel, French and Italian dandelion, spinach, lettuce, purslane, corn salad, chives, parsley, arugula, and sprouting broccoli for salads.  Peppers and tomatoes will produce until the first freeze.  The Egyptian onions will produce all through winter.  The herbs will be available for harvesting until the snow covers them up.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Make your own teas!

Thyme

Sunday, September 20, 2015

You can make your own teas from common herbs from your garden or spice up store bought teas.  A few common herbs used you may have growing in your garden for your own home grown tea-bergamot, chamomile, lavender, lemon balm, lemon verbena, lemongrass, mint, rosemary, sage, stevia for sweetening, thyme.

Bergamot, or bee balm, has a scent reminiscent of Italian bergamot orange.  You can dry or use fresh, steeped for 10 minutes by itself or add to store bought black tea to give it the same type of flavor as Earl Gray tea.  Bergamot was used as a tea substitute in the colonies after the Boston Team Party in 1773.  Its flowers are also a great bee attractor.  They are in the mint family so treat accordingly in the garden.  A pot may be the best option.

Chamomile is used in potpourri for its scent, in supplements, tonics and teas for its calming properties, in facial steams/hand soaks to soften and whiten skin.  Use the flowers fresh or dried for tea.

Lavender
Lavender leaves or flowers can lend a floral note to teas.  Lavender tea is used to sooth nerves, headaches, and dizziness.  Its use as a potpourri is legendary.  It is also great to put in closets to not only provide great scent, but also protect clothes from moths.  It is also used as an antiseptic tonic for acne or to speed facial cell renewal.

Mint comes in many flavors-grapefruit, pear, pineapple, lemon, lime, and orange.  There is even a chocolate mint!  Mint will take over a garden if left to its own devices.  Either put a ring around it at least 3” deep to keep it from spreading underground, cull runners frequently or put in a pot.  Mint loses much of its flavor when dried so fresh is your best bet.  Bees love mint flowers!

Other herbs that impart a citrus note are pineapple sage, lemon balm, lemon verbena, and lemon grass.  Pineapple sage is used for depression and anxiety, to aid digestion, and is antiseptic and antifungal.  Lemon balm tea is commonly used for cold relief and to relieve tension and depression.  Fresh leaves have the best flavor.  Lemon verbena is also used for cold relief, upset stomach, and is mildly sedative.  It is a wonderful addition to potpourri and is grown as an annual.  Lemon grass is a tropical plant which any part of the stem can be used as a tea.  It is considered revitalizing and antiseptic.

I have not found a rosemary that survives the winter here in our Zone 6, but I keep trying.  There are 2 that should be hardy in my zone-ARP (down to Zone 5) and Barbeque (down to Zone 6).  I just love the scent of this herb and as an addition for cooking.  Rosemary is thought to aid in digestion and joint pain.  Use fresh or dried.
Stevia in a pot

Thyme is thought to be beneficial for hangovers, digestion, coughs and colds, along with being one of the staple culinary herbs.  Teas can be made with fresh or dried leaves.  English wild thyme is the strongest for medicinal qualities, but any can be used.  Thyme also comes in lemon, lime, and orange as well.

Stevia is a recent arrival to the US herb scene, but has come on strong in popularity.  It is a super sweet, super antioxidant, with zero carbs, and zero calories.  Stevia is native to tropical regions; it is well suited to container growing.  The trick with stevia is a little goes a long way.  Add too much and it goes from sweet tasting to bitter.


If you want real tea, you can grow tea plants in pots.  They are easy to grow.  Otherwise, there are great herbal options!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Use herbs for signature desserts and grown up beverages


Lavender ice cubes
Saturday, September 19, 2015

Herbs are not only great as seasoning, but also for teas, beverages and desserts.  

You can freeze different herbs or edible flowers in ice cubes for flavor, fun or decoration.  You can take herbs, put in sugar or salt, and grind.  Ta-da fragrant, decorative glass rim treatment.  Using herbs, flowers and fruit for flavored sugars and salts

You can make fruit or herb syrups when in season for year round use in drinks, ice cream toppings, drizzled in cakes, as a base for jellies, ice cream or sorbet, or fun drinks.  Syrups are easy to make.  Simmer the herb with just enough water to cover for 30 minutes, strain, and add 1 cup of sugar for every cup of herb liquid.

Liqueur infused sorbet and topping
You can also make a fruit herb liquor by combining the fruit or rind of 10 large pieces of fruit, two cups of sugar, 2 liters of vodka, and 1 cup of herbs.  Herbs that complement fruit flavors are mint or any herb with fruit/citrus flavors.  Allow the mixture to sit in a tightly covered jar at room temperature for 5 weeks, shaking every couple of days.  Strain out the solids and pour the remaining flavored liquid into sterile jars.

You can add many herbs to flavor wine-angelica leaves, bergamot leaves and flowers, borage leaves and flowers, clary sage leaves, lemon balm leaves, lemon verbena leaves, all kinds of mint leaves, rosemary leaves, salad burnet leaves, sweet woodruff leaves.

Mint julep,
made famous as the drink of choice at the Kentucky Derby
Mint julep is a well known drink with the mint herb used, along with lemon juice, sugar, club soda, sugar, and whiskey with a mint garnish.

Other famous herbal drinks include May wine, Benedictine wine tonic and Chartreuse.

German May wine is a sweet white wine traditionally flavored with a small amount of sweet woodruff, 3 grams worth.  

Benedictine wine tonic is a top secret blend of 27 plants and herbs, made at the Benedictine monks Buckfast Abbey in Devon, England.  It contains coriander, thyme, tea, orange peel, juniper, saffron, and honey for sweetening. The original recipe originated in France around 1510 and is still top secret today.  It was lost for centuries until old manuscripts were found that contained the recipe.  The recipe is kept at 3 different locations around the world, just to be on the safe side.  

Chartreuse is also a secret French liqueur developed by monks back in 1740.  It is said to be wine with 130 herbs, flowers and other secret ingredients.  The monks were expelled from France, the rights to the Chartreuse name and distillery were bought by a company, but they could not recreate the elixir.  The assests were bought cheaply and given to the monks, who were allowed to return.  Only 2 monks know and make the recipe at one time to preserve the secret.

Try adding your own special blend of herbs and spices to different syrups, liquors and wines to produce your secret, signature drinks, toppings, dressings and desserts!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Heirloom Sicilian kitchen garden

My mom and cousin in Termini, Sicily

Saturday, September 12, 2015

I became interested in what would be grown in an heirloom Sicilian garden after my mom, cousin and sister’s trip to Sicily this summer.  My grandpa immigrated as a child from Termini, Sicily.  He loved cooking with his mom in the kitchen and kept the Sicilian cooking traditions alive in the family.  Although we are no longer blessed with him in person, we have many memories and recipes we keep alive.

Sicily is a unique blend of many cultures having been conquered by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Vandals, Ostrogoths, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, French, Spanish, and finally unified with Italy in 1860 and was given the status of an autonomous region of Italy in 1946.

Greek influences include olives, broad beans, and pistachios.  From the Arabs came apricots, citrus, sweet melons, pine nuts, aromatic herbs like saffron, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, raisins, and sugar.  They also introduced tuna fishing.  The Spanish introduced New World natives like chocolate, corn, tomatoes, and peppers.  Being an island, fresh fish is a intricate part of the food, particularly anchovies and sardines.

Even with the diverse background of many cultures having made Sicily home through the ages, Sicilian cuisine preparation is simple with just a few ingredients, letting the flavors of each shine through.  Fresh vegetables are used prominently.

An organic Italian kitchen garden is called l’orto biologico.  For the heirloom varieties, I did a lot of searching on the internet and Sicilian cookbooks.  It was hard to find!  

As with all Italian gardens, Mediterranean herbs play a big role.  Thyme, Salina and Pantelleria capers, rosemary, oregano, marjoram, basil, wild fennel, garlic, sage, bay, geranium, lemon verbena, lavender, parsley (Gigante D’Italia, Castalogno) and mint, particularly spearmint, have featured prominently in Sicilian gardens for centuries.  Ispica sesame seeds are also a local heirloom.

Heirloom fruits:  
Apples-Cipudda, Cirino, and Cola
Apricot-Scillato
Bitter Orange
Wild black cherry (Prunus cerasus)
Fig trees (can get hardy figs that can withstand our Midwest winters)
Grapes-Pantelleria Zibibbo
Lemons-Messina Interdonato and Verdello
Mandarin-Ciaculli late-winter
Melons-Alcamo Purceddu and Paceco Cartucciaro
Orange-Ribera Vanilla
Peaches-Bivona, late-harvest Leonforte, and Etna Tabacchiera
White plum-Monreale
Prickly pear
Ragusa Carrubo fruit 
Strawberries-Maletto, Sciacca, and Ribera strawberries
My Sicilian grandpa cooking for a family holiday

Sicilians are big on collecting wild greens which you can also grow in your garden.  These include arugula, aspargus, calamint, plantain, chickweed, Good King Henry, borage, wild mustards (mazzareddi, cavolicelli di vigna, senapa), purslane, dandelions, salad burnet, bitter cress (sparacelli amari), sorrel, shepherds purce, wild chicory, chard (salachi), mallow and wood sorrel (agriduci), and amaranth. 

The nuts that are popular in Sicily include Noto almonds (you can get Midwest hardy almond trees) and Bronte pistachios (there are varieties hardy down to Zone 4).

Veggies typically grown in a Sicilian kitchen garden:
Artichokes and Cardoons-Violetta (hardy to Zone 6 per Territorial Seed Co.) and Monfi Spiny
Arugula
Asparagus
Broad beans-Sweet Lorane, Windsor, Modica Cottoia, Leonforte
Green Beans-Romano, Roma (bush and pole) like Burro d’Ingegnoli, Garrafal Oro, Trionfo Violetta
Shelling beans-Borletto, Cannelloni types, Polizzi Badda, Scicli Cosaruciaru 
Broccoli- Broccoli di Rape (cime di rape), Haloan Green Sprouting, Calabrese, De Coco, Purple Sprouting, Purple broccoli
Carrots-parsnips used to be the standard
Cauliflower-Sicilian violet
Celery
Chard-Argentocta, White stem
Chicories-Radicchio, Endive, Red Treviso, Grumolo, including dandelions
Eggplant-Violetta Lunga, Rosa Bianca, White Italian, Listada de Gandia.  A Sicilian favorite is Tunisian eggplant with its thin skin.
Fennel-Romy, Bronze
Garlic-Nubia Red, Chet’s Italian, White Italian, Early Red Italian, Italian Late
Greens-Broccoli di rape, Rosolini (similar to collard greens), endives
Kale-Lucinato (grown in Tuscany for centuries)
Kohlrabi-Aci trunzu
Lentils-Ustica and Villalba
Lettuce-Romaine, Butterhead, Lolla Rossa, Lollo Biondo, Lolla Rossa, Resisto
Olive-Minuta (not hardy for Midwest winters)
Onions-Cippolini, Italian Red Torpedo, Breme Red, Cipudda Portannisa, Giarratana (large, sweet onion).  Sicily is in a short day onion area.
Peppers-Spicy varieties like Cayenne, De Arbol, Rosso di Sicilia a Mazzetti, and Piccante Calabrese (cherry type).  Sweet varieties like Marconi Giallo, Rosso Dolce Appendere, Corno di Toro (shaped like a bull horn)
Spinach-many varieties, Italian Summer
Squash-Zuchetta or Zucchino Rampicante, Trombocino, Zucchini
Tomatoes-First tomatoes to reach Sicily were yellow and round.  This is where the nickname pomodori (“golden apples”) comes from.  Sicilian Saucer,  Ciliegino cherry tomato, Inciardi (oxheart type) Licatese medium size, Pachino, Bilici Valley Siccagno.  Prinicipe Borghese and Belmonte are favorites in Sicily from the Italian mainland.
Wheat-Timilia durum

For seasoning, you can try Trapani sea salt or a sheep's cheese.  Sheep are much better suited to the island than cows.  A commonly used cheese in Sicily that is not hard to find in the US is pecorino.  Slow Food Ark of Taste Sicilian cheese include Piacentino, Ragusano, Modicana, Madonic Provola, Belice Vastedda, Maiorchino, Nebrodi Provola, Ricotta Moscia, or Sicilian Canestrato.

Types in italic are listed in Slow Food Ark of Taste and/or Presidio for being rare and heirloom to Sicily.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Salad burnet-a great herbal salad addition


Monday, September 7, 2015


Salad burnet in flower
Salad burnet has a cucumber, granny smith apple, cilantro type flavor.  It is great in salads, on vegetables, in herb butters, casseroles, soaps, and on fish.  It has a bright, fresh flavor.  Makes me think of spring with every bite.

Salad burnet is a hardy herb that comes back year after year.  This past mild winter in our Zone 6 garden, it remained green for the entire winter.  If it does die back, it is one of the first the sprout in the spring.  It grows well in pots or the garden bed.
Its leaves are feathery.  They look so light and airy.  I like them in the garden for their ornamental value as well as a salad herb.

I use it in salads frequently and as a substitute for cilantro for salsa in the summer.   Cilantro is an annual and bolts when the hot temps set in.  Salad burnet is a great substitute.
In the health arena, an infusion can relieve hemorrhoids or diarrhea while the fresh leaves are a great source of vitamin C and aid digestion.  For more information, http://www.fs.fed.us/database/


Salad burnet can reseed itself easily.  It requires no special growing conditions.  It does prefer limy soil, but our pH is neutral and they do great.  It even does well in light shade.  To keep the leaves the most tender, remove the flower heads.

Salad burnet on left front in spring
Salad burnet is native to Europe, northwest Africa and southwest Asia.  It was brought over by the Pilgrims to New England and has naturalized over most of the U.S.



Sunday, September 6, 2015

Preserving the tomato harvest


Sunday, September 6, 2015
It is peak tomato season!  There are so many recipes that fresh tomatoes can be used in-salsa, salads, bruschetta, cucumber/tomato/onion salad, on burgers, on sandwiches, on pasta, the list goes on.
So, what to do when you are eating tomatoes at every meal and still have them coming?  It is time to preserve them!

I freeze, dry and can my excess tomatoes.  

Be sure to put the date and description on each freezer bag and quart jar.  You may think you will remember the date they were frozen, but to be on the safe side write the type and date you bagged them.  Use the oldest first and all within a year.
Tomatoes sliced and in quart freezer bag

During peak season for any produce, you can get the lowest prices at your neighborhood farm or farmers market.  In many cases you can get a huge discount for any bruised or blemished tomatoes.  These are great to use for preserving, just be sure to remove any soft spots.

Right now, I prefer to freeze them because it is so hot that I don’t want to turn on any heat generators inside the house.  For cherry type tomatoes, I just half them and throw them in a quart freezer bag and put in the freezer.  For larger tomatoes, I slice then put them in freezer bags.  They thaw much quicker this way.  They will have a fresh taste when thawed and used for salsa, sauces, or chili.  

When it cools, I start drying and canning.  I take all the tomatoes still left from last year and can those.  I use this year's for freshly frozen and dried.

I just love “sun dried” tomatoes right out of my own dehydrator.  You can dry them in the oven too if your oven temp goes down low enough. 150-200 degrees F is recommended and the lower the temp, the redder the dried tomato.  The higher temps will cause the dried fruit to darken.  It will take 6-10 hours for the tomato to dry.  You want to make sure they are completely dry or they will mold in the jar.  You store your dried tomatoes in a quart jar to use until next year.  
Chocolate and black tomatoes oven dried

Only a water bath is needed for canning tomatoes because they are acidic.  Make sure you follow a sauce recipe exactly as it is critical for keeping to the right acid level.  I use Weck's canning jars.  They are all glass so no worries about what is in the lining of the lids.  And they are a really pretty shape.  They are made in Germany.  I haven't found any all glass canning jars made in the USA, unless you get the antiques.  

All you need to can tomato sauce is a large pot, canning jars, a metal funnel, and tongs.  A pressure cooker is not needed for acidic foods like tomatoes.  Always follow the recipe as written to insure food safety.  For more on canning, see  Easy, low tox canning of summer's bounty

I throw the entire tomato (without the stem) into the food processor.  Most recipes say to remove the peel and seeds because they can impart a bitter taste.  I have not had any bitterness in my sauces and there are lots of nutrition in the seeds and peels so I make use of the entire fruit.  This is a good time to save the seeds from the best, biggest, tastiest tomatoes for your garden next year.
Sauce in Weck canning jars

Here is the recipe from Ball’s “Complete Book of Home Preserving” for tomato paste:
9 cups of pureed tomatoes, 1½ cups of chopped sweet bell peppers, 2 bay leaves, 1 teas salt, 1 clove of garlic.  I'll also toss in some of my dried mixed herbs for flavor.  About a tablespoon or two per batch.

I put it all into a large pot and let simmer until it is the consistency and taste I like, about 2.5 hours.  Remove the bay leaves and garlic.  Boil the jars, lids, and seals as the sauce is close to done.

Add 3 teas of lemon juice to each hot pint jar, fill with the hot tomato sauce to within ½ inch of the top, and seal the lid, following the instructions for the type of jar you are using.  Place all the filled jars in a large pot, insuring they are fully covered with water.  Bring to a boil and process for 45 minutes.  Remove from canner.  Let cool.  Test the seal after the jar is completely cool.  It should not lift off.  That’s it!  

I will can any frozen tomatoes I have left over from last season as I start brining in the harvest for this year.  I canned 12 quarts of frozen tomatoes yesterday and this gave me 1 gallon (4 liters) of sauce.  I use the half liter Weck's tulip jars which is almost the exact size of a pint jar.

Other high acid foods you can using a water bath are jams, jellies, condiments, salsas, pickles, and relishes.  Consult with a canning book for more tips and always be sure to follow the recipe exactly to ensure they safely keep.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Egyptian walking onions


Springtime garden with walking onions in pot on right and in the garden on the left with bulbets forming

Saturday, September 5, 2015


Egyptian walking onions in pot on the patio
Egyptian walking onions are a hardy perennial onion that can be harvested year round.  They grow well in a pot or in the garden bed.

I got my walking onion from a bed and breakfast in Manhattan, Kansas.  She had hers growing in a pot.  This is in Zone 5!  They are very winter hardy.  

You can harvest from them year round.  In the winter, they will be soft on the outside, but the inner bulb is still firm and perfectly edible.  

Once or twice in the summer, each stalk will put on a set of bulbets on the top of the stalk.  They look like Medusa to me with all their curly tops!  These tops are where their name comes from.  The stalks will curl toward the ground so that the bulblets can take root and propogate.  They appear to “walk” across the landscape.  

I cut the tops off when the bulblets are ready and turn a reddish brown. You can plant the whole bulbet set 2" deep and will have a bunch of onions growing in no time.  They are tough.  I send them through the mail with no ill effects.  I always have plenty to give away. 

Don't get concerned after the onions put on their bulbets when some of the stalks turn brown.  The plant will regenerate with new stalks quickly.

Brown stalks after bulbets are harvested

For the onions that you do not harvest, they will also divide underground.  They propagate both above and below ground!

The bulb grows to about the size of a leek.  It has the taste of a white onion.  The bulb can be used in cooking and the stalk as you would fresh chives.  To get the larger bulbs, the onions need to be thinned out so that the bulbs can grow large.  If crowded, they will stay small.  This works great for the gardener.  Just strategically harvest  when you need an onion for cooking or salads!
Small, freshly pulled onion
Bulblet almost ready for planting
When pulled small, they can be used as you would green onions.  

The bulblets are edible as well.The larger bulbs can be used in cooking as you would a typical bulbing onion.

Egyptian onions do not store well.  They will keep in the crisper for a few days.
Onions in general are fertilizer hogs and like moisture.  Be sure to give them plenty of fertilizer each spring and if growing in pots, a monthly feeding.  We also feed our coffee grounds to the onions and lettuce.  Coffee grounds are rich in nitrogen.