Saturday, December 31, 2016

Black eyed peas for prosperity and luck in the New Year

Black eyed peas and collard greens

Saturday, December 31, 2016

It is a Southern tradition to have black-eyed peas to usher in the New Year. My grandmother was originally from the hills of Tennessee and moved to southeast Missouri as a young girl.  Everyone I know that grew up in southeast Missouri has 'em on New Year's Day.  

History of black-eyed peas
Black-eyed peas were first domesticated in West Africa and widely grown in Asia.  The "good luck" traditions of eating black-eyed peas for the New Year go as far back as Babylonian times (2500 years ago).  The tradition then was to have bottle gourd, leeks, black-eyed peas, beets, spinach, and dates as they were all symbols of good luck.

This Jewish tradition was brought to the southern US in the 1700’s.  Today, the good luck Southern meal includes peas for prosperity, mustard greens for money, and pork for moving forward.  Cornbread is also part of the meal, but just for its sweet goodness.

George Washington Carver encouraged the planting of black-eyed peas because they fertilized the soil, are nutritious and very affordable.  Black-eyes peas are chock full of nutrition.  They contain protein, calcium, vitamin A, folate, magnesium, iron, phosphorous, manganese, and lots of fiber.  black eyed peas nutritional info

Recipe for your good luck peas
To cook black-eyed peas, I add some ham and diced onion and simmer in chicken broth.  I simmer until tender.  You can add vinegar or some hot peppers for a different taste.  If using your own homegrown beans, here are tips for using dried beans Use dry beans instead of canned

Growing your own "peas"
Black-eyed peas are a subspecies of the cowpea and is also known by the name of goat pea.  They are not actually a pea at all, but a bean.  Black-eyed peas are a warm season crop that is not susceptible to pests or disease.  Beans should be planted after all danger of frost has passed and the soil is warm.  They are very drought tolerant so little watering is needed.  I start my beans indoors in April and set out around Memorial Day.

If using just for fertilizing the garden soil, legumes (peas and beans) should be cut before they start producing pods as the production of the seed pods use up a lot of the nitrogen fixed in the roots.  Even if growing to eat, leave the roots when removing the vines at the end of the season.  Those nodules you see on the roots are stored nitrogen.  To increase the nitrogen in the roots, an inoculant of rhizobial bacteria should be coated on the seed at planting.  You can mix a little syrup (1-10) with water to dampen the seed before dusting with the inoculant.  This will greatly increase your harvest.

A side benefit of growing black-eyed peas is that the flowers produce copious amounts of nectar for pollinators, like bees.  Be sure to not use any pesticides on your black-eyed peas as they will kill the bees, too.  Natural, organic pest strategies and how to make your own bug sprays

For fresh peas, you harvest the beans when the peas have just begun to swell in the pod and are 2-3" long.  After harvesting, simply shell the peas into a freezer bag (don’t forget to label with type and date).  By harvesting the fresh peas, it will encourage more pods to be formed, giving you a larger harvest.

For dried beans, wait until the pods have dried completely on the plant.  Pick the pods and shell.  I use a quart jar to store my dried beans until needed.  When ready to use, rinse the beans then boil on low until tender with 4 cups of water to 1 cup of beans.  The time needed will depend on the age of the dried bean.  The older the bean, typically the longer it takes.  You can also soak over night to reduce cooking time.

For more on growing beans, Legumes-peas for spring, beans for summer.  For more on growing collards, Collards and kale in your garden.  For preserving, Freezing the extras for winter

Try some good luck food for your New Year's!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

January 2016 Edible Garden Planner

Sunday, December 25, 2016

January is the time of dreaming and planning for your spring garden.  All the seed companies begin sending out their catalogs for seeds and plants this month.   It is an exciting time for browsing the magazines and making the garden plan for the upcoming year!

Grow what you love!
If you have ever wanted to plant an Italian or French kitchen garden, but weren’t sure if you had the space, you may be surprised.  You can grow the staples of an Italian kitchen garden in as little as 6’ x 6’ space.   Small space French kitchen garden
Here is also a list of what you can find in a Sicilian garden:  Heirloom Sicilian kitchen garden

To entice the little ones, an Italian garden can also be called a "Pizza or Spaghetti Garden"!  Pizza garden for the kids

It is common for Italians and French to have a small kitchen garden where they grow herbs, greens and vegetables year round.  It is amazing the amount of food you can grow in a very small space!  How to decide what to plant for small spaces?

If you have only a 6’ x 6’ space, a kitchen garden could include the following:
Herbs (1 each)-thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano, and flat leaf parsley 
3 basil plants (for pesto and seasoning)  
2 tomatoes-1 small fruiting and 1 slicer type 
2 sweet pepper plants  
1 zucchini (look for “bush” types as they are more compact)  
1 eggplant 
8 red bunching onions 
8 garlic plants 
Arugula, spinach and lettuce scatter sowed  

If you also have room for pots on the patio, you could grow the zucchini, eggplant, and cucumber in pots  (only 1 plant in each pot) and add 3 bush or 6 pole bean plants in the garden bed.  Traditional bush beans would be lentils, Romano, Capitano, Cannellini, fava; pole beans-Roma, Helda, Supermarconi.  Personally, I would stick with the beans you eat whole as shelled beans you do not get as much food per plant, and less food per space in the garden.

If you have more room, you can add almonds (yes, they survive Midwest winters), beets, chard, fennel, chickpeas, figs (grows well in a pot), asparagus, cardoon, chicories, radicchio, endives, broccoli, cauliflower, or annual artichokes.

If you are just beginning a garden, do start small.  You want the garden to be fun and relaxing, not overwhelming.  Don't be afraid to begin.  The force of life is strong and really doesn't need much from us.  Buy a few plants in the early spring and just put them in the ground with a natural fertilizer and you will be amazed at how they just go to town all by themselves!

For more on steps on putting in a garden: Easy ways to make a new vegetable garden bed  

Saturday, December 24, 2016

If you have a large pot, you can can!

Tomato sauce in glass canning jars

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Canning is a great way to preserve your own 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.  All you need is a large pot and canning jars.

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

Many of the lids in today's canning jars contain BPA, a chemical that studies suggest act like estrogen in the body and babies and young children are especially susceptible to its effects.  In 2012, BPA was been removed from baby bottles banned by the FDA, but is still found in many products including conventionally canned foods.
In my quest to have toxin free canned goods, 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 I had bought at antique stores.  It was fun to read, complete with recipes!

Okay, I thought, could I do some canning?  My Granny canned during the summers I spent with her when I was little.  We were growing tomatoes in our little flower/veggie garden and my husband loves those big slice pickles on his burgers. 

My handy Ball canning book revealed that tomatoes, fruits, and pickles are high acid so they do not require a Pressure Canner; only a water bath was needed.  Makes it an inexpensive experiment.

I read that many canning lids also contain BPA.  So, what other options were there?  I found these beautiful glass lids in an antique store.  I also bought the jars with the wire closure.  All I needed now were the rubber seals and some directions!

Old fashioned canning jars, 1946 canning pamphlet, Weck's glass canning jar

I went on line and ordered a variety of seals, sticking with ones that were not made in China and were natural rubber.  I wasn’t able to find any that fit well with my cool, old fashioned jars.  I also learned that the glass lids needed very tall rings to seal properly to the modern Mason jars.  The modern rings you can get today were just too short to close properly.

Back to square 1!

Then, I ran across an advertisement for these beautiful glass jar with glass lid made in Germany-Weck’s (it is the second from the right in the pic).  Finally, a fully non-toxic jar!

Later I discovered a plastic lid that is also BPA free that can be used with modern jars made by Tattler, made in the USA since 1976.  They are a seamless replacement for the metal lids with today's canning jars.

The Weck’s work great.  Easy to use, easy to know that the seal is good, and beautiful to look at.  I highly recommend them.  You can also order plastic lids to store in the frig after opening.  Since I started using these glass jars, I have seen other European makers of all glass jars and lids available, like Terrina Ermetico and Bormioli Rocco.

All you really need when canning high acid foods is a tall stock pot with lid, tongs, a stainless steel spoon, a towel to put the hot jars on, a cutting board to stage the hot jars, and your canning jars.

Here is a link to my blog on how to make tomato sauce:  
Preserving the tomato harvest

And a link to how to make pickles:
Easy, homemade pickles

Happy canning!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Add garden herbs to your Christmas dinner

Garden herbs
Sunday, December 22, 2016

Add a fresh edge to your Christmas dinner by using herbs straight from your own garden.  Herbs can be harvested all the way through the entire winter in most years.  If you are growing vegetables in a greenhouse or are having a mild winter, you can also be harvesting cold hardy greens for salads or cooking. 

Herbs are easy and care free to grow and almost all of them are perennials.  That means you plant once and they come back year after year.  For more details on growing your own herbs, see my blog here  Start a kitchen herb garden!

Jazzing up the flavor for the main dish
You can easily make poultry seasoning for poultry or red meat from herbs in your own garden.  Poultry seasoning adds great flavor to, of course, chicken or turkey, but also veggies, fish, casseroles, pasta.

The first commercial poultry seasoning was invented by William G. Bell, a Boston cook, in 1867.  His included sage, marjoram, rosemary, oregano, pepper and ginger.

I like to make my poultry seasoning with dried sage, parsley, thyme, rosemary, and marjoram.  Some add nutmeg, pepper, ginger , onion powder and/or cloves.

Here is my poultry seasoning recipe:
3 Tbl sage
1 Tbl parsley
1 Tbl thyme
1 Tbl marjoram or oregano
1 Tbl rosemary
For lamb, rosemary is a favorite herb pairing.  For all other red meats, I use a combination of whatever I grew in the garden this past summer.  I cut and dry at the end of the season, then mix in a paper bag and store in airtight containers.  Make your own "Herbes de Provence"

“Herbes de Provence” contains herbs that are typical of the Provence region of southern France and are grown in French potagers (kitchen gardens).  I also include sage in my herbal seasoning mix.  These are herbs that were typically used in cooking by the French in this region:

Insure all spices are crumbled into tiny pieces so they will disperse evenly in your favorite prepared dish.  You can transfer the amount needed to a kitchen spice jar.  Keep the rest in a cool, dark location.For any spices, you want to keep them as fresh as possible.  They lose their flavor over time and quicker if exposed to heat/light.

Potager gravy
To make 2 cups of gravy, cook in a sauce pan, 1/2 cup of fresh chopped carrots, 1/2 cup of fresh chopped celery, 1 cup of chopped onions, 3 cloves of peeled and mashed garlic until browned.  Add 1 bay leaf, 3 cups of chicken or beef stock.  Simmer on low uncovered for an hour or so until reduced in about half.  Strain out all solids and combine 1 cup of stock with 1/4 cup of cream and 1/4 cup of flour, whisk until smooth.  Bring remaining stock to boil, add cream mixture, defatted meat pan drippings if desired, simmer until thickened.

Herbed mashed potato options
There are a few options for snazzing up your mashed potatoes.  For 5 pounds of potatoes, you can add 5 cloves of roasted garlic, 1 cup of sour cream, 8 ounces of cream cheese and enough buttermilk for consistency you prefer.  I like to add a half teaspoon or so of white pepper.

Or how about 5 pounds of small potatoes that are cooked until tender, then tossed with 1 cup of butter, 3/4 cup freshly, finely chopped parsley, marjoram, chives and/or thyme.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Garlic and herb roasted vegetables
This recipe works with any really firm vegetables you like.  Here is one variation.  Cut 4 sweet potatoes, 3 medium turnips into 1.5 inch cubes, and 2 large onions into 1.5 inch wedges.  In a gallon plastic bag, place 12 cloves crushed, peeled garlic, 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, 2 tablespoons fresh oregano or marjoram, 2 teaspoons salt, 6 tablespoons olive oil.  Mix thoroughly.  Add your cut veggies and squish them around until they are coated on all sides with the herb mixture.  Place on a cookie sheet in a single layer.  Roast in a 450F, preheated oven for 25-30 minutes until soft.

Potatoes, turnips and onions are all veggies that can be stored over winter if kept in the proper conditions.  Be sure to keep potatoes covered or in a dark place as when they turn green, they are toxic.  Sweet potatoes will keep for a month if kept in cool dry conditions and bagged with an apple to keep from sprouting.  Even if you only have a patio, you can grow potatoes  Onions-everything you need to know to grow 'em  All about turnips

Herbal salad dressing
You can keep it simple and flavor a good white wine vinegar with your favorite herb like tarragon for the salad.  Use a mild olive oil so that the flavor of the herb shines through.  Herbal vinegars are easy to make, but you need to make ahead.  Place the herbs in the vinegar and leave in a cool dark place for at least a week.  You can strain out the herbs before using after infused.

Homemade version of Hidden Valley Ranch is easy to make.  Just mix equal amounts of buttermilk, mayonnaise, and sour cream (half cup each).  Then add parsley, dill, garlic, onion (half teas), salt (quarter teas), and pepper (eighth teas) to taste.  If the mayonnaise is too overpowering, I substitute yogurt. 

This is the perfect time for fresh spinach salads.  Spinach and other greens are in season and loving this cool weather.  Fall and winter greens  

Artisanal butter
If you are making an herbal butter to serve, you would want more like 2 tablespoons of herbs to 1/2 cup of butter.  Add the herb that complements the dish you are serving.  

You can either serve in a dish, roll it into a log using plastic wrap, or form into a shape.  If you use a form, simply press the butter firmly into the form, then place the form in a shallow dish of hot water.  The butter should slide out easily after a little warming.

Mint inspired beverages and desserts
Mint is also still green and growing in our garden.  Mint is wonderful to add to teas, lemonades, hot chocolate or adult beverages, even to salads.  You can also incorporate into desserts.  Chop fresh mint and add to sorbet or ice cream.  You can incorporate in a food processor and refreeze until ready to serve. 

Don't forget to check out your freezer for possibilities.  This year I am planning on incorporating frozen tomatoes into my Sicilian grandpa's spaghetti sauce and a tomato bisque, my frozen eggplant for eggplant parmesan, carrots and herbs in beef bourguignon, and frozen and fresh greens in a breakfast frittata.  Possibilities are endless for using herbs right from your garden and freezer to add fresh taste to any dish you make for the holidays!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Children's edible garden

How about a pizza garden?
Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A proven way to get the young ones interested in eating their veggies is for them to grow them!  Have them grow the veggies for one of their favorite foods like pizza.  Engage them in choosing their favorite pizza ingredients and grow a garden with those in them. 

It is amazing how many children will swear they don’t like a vegetable until it is in their backyard!  Have them help you plant the seeds, monitor the seedlings, water, and harvest.  You will likely catch them picking green tomatoes to sample because they are so excited about eating what they have helped grow.

You can even throw a few other healthy ingredients in the mix as everything tastes better when you grow it yourself, like spinach, sprouting broccoli and peas.

So, what are some ideas for pizza ingredients?  
*Tomatoes-any you can’t eat, you can easily freeze for winter pizzas Compact tomatoes for small spaces and pots
*Basil, oregano, chives, garlic for seasoning  Start a kitchen herb garden!
*Onions-you can grow Egyptian walking onions in a pot and they are perennials to boot  Egyptian walking onions
*Spinach, kale, arugula, sprouting broccoli and peas for spring and fall pizza toppings (also easy to freeze for later)  Growing fabulous lettuce and greens
*Green peppers, eggplant, zucchini for summer pizzas (maybe some hot peppers for the adults) 

All of these are easy to grow in a small space and the basic ingredients in an Italian garden.  

For those that are real adventuresome, you can get mushroom kits to grow mushrooms indoors.

If you are just starting your garden adventure, try these tips.  Easy kitchen garden

You can tell them stories of where the heirloom they are planting came from.  Share the history of Victory Gardens in past war efforts.  How we can actually grow our own food just in yards across the U.S. if we wanted or needed to.

Little ones bring such wonder and joy in the garden.  They will check out every bee and butterfly, every worm and centipede.  And will want to taste everything they helped to plant and water!  It is a wonderful learning experience for the child to see where food comes actually from and helps the adult re-see the world through a child's eyes.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Use dry beans instead of canned

Sunday, December 11, 2016

You can easily use dried beans in place of canned beans.  It takes a little longer to prepare them, but using dried beans saves space and money.

The older the bean, the harder they are to rehydrate.  You can order them on-line (Amazon has them), buy them from your local co-op, or some grocery stores (like Whole Foods) have bulk bins with many varieties of beans available.

For a crockpot of chili, I use a half pound or 3/4 cup each of 3 different types of beans.  We use kidney beans, pinto beans, black turtle beans, chili beans, great northern beans, the fun speckled beans, or any other that sparks our interest; there are many to choose from!

I usually soak the beans overnight.  This allows them to sprout, taking them from a seed to a plant with more nutrients.  In the morning, I rinse them well and put them on the stove.  Continue to cook them until they are just slightly crunchy.  Rinse well, then they are ready for the crockpot! 

If you don't soak them overnight, do not despair, you can still use them for the day's football chili.  Rinse the dried beans, put in a large pot, cover with water, and boil gently until just slightly crunchy.  Rinse, if you desire, and they are ready to add to your favorite chili recipe.

Cook them up in the crock, just like you would canned beans.  It is a lot cheaper (about 70% less), you avoid BPA from cans (Eden does has BPA free canned beans), and you get to rinse them multiple times which decreases tummy gas.  Rinsing does remove some nutrition so if you aren't sensitive to gas, use them without the final rinse.

There are so many cool kinds of beans and they are super easy to grow.  Try some in your garden next summer.  Legumes-peas for spring, beans for summer

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Fall and winter greens

Potted parsley January, 2016, garden
Sunday, December 4, 2016

Fall and winter offer a second chance to grow all the greens and roots we enjoyed in the spring.  Greens and roots taste even better in the fall as the plant concentrates the sugars for protection against the cold temperatures making them even sweeter.  You also don’t have to worry about watering or pests in the fall and winter garden.

The cold loving veggies that I have grown include kale, collards, spinach, sprouting broccoli, sorrel, chard, tatsoi, celery, cultivated dandelions, corn salad,  parsley, radishes, beets, arugula, onions, mustard greens, Austrian peas and carrots.  Austrian peas are super cold hardy and their greens can be used all winter long for salad greens. 

The trick to harvesting all winter is to have your veggies to full size by mid-October.  With the shorter days of late fall and winter, your plants will not grow much after mid-October through mid-February.  Covering can help the plants increase their growth even during the shorter days. 

There are even winter hardy lettuces.  Lettuce varieties that have performed well into winter for us here in Zone 6: North Pole butterhead, Rouge d’Hiver romaine (pretty red and green), Winter Density romaine, Winterwunder loose leaf (pale green), Marvel of the Four Seasons butterhead (green with cranberry tips).  I will also plant Prizeleaf, green and red Royal Oak leaf, Red Salad Bowl, and Ashley mix loose leaf varieties as all of these came back as volunteers in the spring.

Overwintering chard in January, 2016, garden
To protect against freezing temperatures, use a tunnel or portable greenhouse.  I have had lettuces and greens survive all the way into spring this way.  Extend the season with protection for plants

If you left any greens to go to seed, you will likely have babies growing throughout the garden right now.  Don’t ignore them.  You can use cloches to keep them growing for salad picking through the cold weather.  For fall and winter picking, I just take the outer leaves I need for the salads I am making at that time.  

If you don’t have any greens in your garden this winter, there are always winter farmers markets to buy fresh produce and support your local farmer.  Check local for a listing of farmers markets, many are year round now.

You can scatter sow seeds now of cold hardy crops now like lettuce, spinach and kale and they will be primed for the longer days.  It is surprising to see the little greens popping their heads out in February.  The force of life is amazing.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Make your own wings sauce

Fall potted pepper and zinnias
Saturday, December 3, 2016

Last week end, I rescued the last of our peppers before our first freeze.  I take all peppers off the plants I am going to let go and the ones that I am bringing indoors for the winter.

I grow my peppers in pots.  I have tried them both in the ground and pots.  They just seem to do better in pots.  The other advantage is that I can easily overwinter the best performers in the garage so they get a jump start on production next spring.  Peppers are for every taste and garden

I had plenty of cayennes and jalapeƱos in the freezer.  What else to do with my spicy friends?  I decided to make hot sauce!  I took the cayennes, splice them in two and placed them in organic apple cider vinegar.  After a couple of months, I go ahead and put the pickled peppers in a food processor so it becomes a hot ‘sauce” ready to use in cooking.  Make your own hot sauce!

A while back when I went to make hot wings with sweet potato fries, I was out of store bought hot sauce so decided to give my homemade hot sauce a whirl.  I mixed up a 1/2 cup of the pureed pickled hot peppers, 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 stick of butter, and a couple tablespoons of bacon grease.  I grilled the wings and then covered them in sauce.  Yum!  This has become our wing go-to recipe. 

One other tip I have learned doing this for a while, if you want a thicker sauce to have more stick to the wings (and ratcheting up the heat), whisk a little corn starch (about a tablespoon) mixed with cold water into the sauce.  Once it comes to a boil, it thickens.  I used to use wings.  Now I use boneless chicken thighs.  All the same great taste, just not nearly as messy!