Suffer the Garden

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

kitchen sink

kitchen window

We’ve been having a time with the weather so far this summer. For several weeks, the weather was hotter here in western Pennsylvania than in Florida. Then two weeks ago, the rains began. Our property sits on a plateau above the Ohio River and often our weather is different from what is reported on the local news station twenty miles away in Pittsburgh. This past week, we received heavy rainfall that wasn’t even recorded in the totals around the region. The weatherman said today that we’re double the average amount of July rainfall already. We might be triple that where we live.

Tomatoes do not enjoy soggy weather. They do best in dry soil. Right now, some are rotting on the vine. My husband must be vigilant in picking them before they fall. Also, we’re getting lots and lots of bugs on all the plants. Short of spraying with pesticides, we’re a little flummoxed with how to handle this invasion on everything from the raspberries to potatoes.

Alas, we do not starve. We’re eating something fresh almost every night. This past weekend I made our favorite bread and butter pickle chips.DSC02683Some of our plants love this weather.DSC02687 DSC02688Any suggestions for the bug situation that is wholesome for all living things? Hope your garden is producing and you’re enjoying the bounty of summer. Remember to eat local while the getting is good – local farmers’ markets are thriving right now.

For all your gardening needs - available on Kindle for $2.99

For all your gardening needs – available on Kindle for $2.99

Spring Garden Update


Garden on April 27, 2013

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

As I sit on the balcony writing, my husband passes by on the tractor, pulling a wagon filled with the compost bin and some manure, and garden tools. He stops near the raspberry plants desperately climbing higher and higher to catch some of the sun that’s been playing hide and seek for the past month.tractor

Robert trims their tops as careful as a barber does with his clippers. He tenderly pulls dead branches and leaves back away from the base of a plant.

He planted these bushes last year with different varieties that will produce from spring to fall. Last year, we only had fruit from the late-season variety. How lovely it will be to have raspberries from May-October. I hope they produce enough for jam.

Raspberries are the heart for one of my best childhood memories. We had a raspberry patch in our side yard. Every summer morning, my mother and I went to the patch before breakfast. We’d pick enough for cereal. Raspberries atop Rice Crispies® evoke a feeling of warmth and safety. It also represented a time of peace between my mother and me.???????????????????????????????

My mother’s gone now, as are those raspberries. My daughter will be here when the first raspberries are ready this spring. We’ll continue the tradition, and I’ll stock up on the Rice Crispies® – although most likely I’ll  make granola instead.

The tomato plants wait patiently in trays in the den. The leaves are lush and large. As soon as possible, they’ll go in the ground. Robert started saving seeds from the best tomato varieties two years ago. This year, for the first time, all the plants came from our seeds. Let’s hope they produce as well as their ancestors.



In the garden, the peas, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage plants are growing every day. I can’t wait to shell my first pea pod of the season.

We’re still eating the produce from last year’s produce. This morning I made zucchini bread using shredded zucchini I froze last July. We had spaghetti this week using our canned sauce. Tonight I’m trying out a new recipe for quinoa burgers that uses shredded zucchini along with the quinoa, goat cheese, and eggs. I’ll share the recipe, if it turns out, in next week’s blog, along with some information on quinoa. I also froze cole slaw last summer. I used vinegar as the base sauce, but when I unfreeze it, I add a small amount of mayonnaise to hold it together. We had some a couple of weeks ago, and the flavors are outstanding, although the cabbage isn’t quite as crisp as fresh, but it was worth using up the extra cabbage this way. I also made tomato sauce from the tomatoes I froze in September when I just couldn’t face anymore canning. It makes an excellent sauce.

Last night, we picked a few of the asparagus peeking out from their bed of straw. This is the second year they’ve been in the ground and most recommend waiting until the third year to eat. But how could we resist these beauties? They melted in our mouths.???????????????????????????????

All these recipes and more are a part of From Seed to Table, which I plan to publish as an eBook in May.S2T-6

Here’s my recipe for making sauce from frozen whole tomatoes.

10 frozen whole tomatoes

2 cloves garlic

1 chopped onion

several chopped peppers – I use both sweet and hot peppers

fresh or dried herbs in any combination and to taste: basil, oregano, thyme, tarragon

salt and pepper

Remove tomatoes from freezer and put in refrigerator for 4-5 hours. Rinse under hot water for a few second until skins peel off easily. Let skinned tomatoes sit for an hour or until core can be cut out easily.

In the meantime, sauté onions, garlic, peppers (or anything else you’d like to add such as mushrooms, carrots, or olives) and herbs.

Chop tomatoes, even if they’re still partially frozen, throw pieces into pan with sautéed mix.Bring to boil then put on low for several hours, stirring occasionally. When sauce is reduced enough, it’s time to use sauce in your favorite Italian dish.

I always love to hear about your gardens or ideas for using produce throughout the year.

Nourishing Traditions – Learning from our Children

Capturing Our Traditions

Capturing Our Traditions

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

Nothing pleases me more than when my daughter introduces me to something new. On my last visit to her home, she showed me how to use YouTube. We found some entertaining videos on subjects close to both our hearts: the preparation of food. It gave me an idea, so today I purchased a tripod so I can set my video camera on the kitchen counter while I prepare food. The idea came to me as I watched a woman demonstrate the making and canning of marinara sauce. The recipe was fine, but the methods for sterilizing and preserving the sauce were not. In fact, she gave instructions that were unsafe.

We watched another woman demonstrate how to make sauerkraut.

“That’s a recipe right out of Nourishing Traditions,” my daughter said. She pulled the book from a shelve and showed me the book. “This is actually one of my favorite cookbooks.”

The subtitle of the book is “The cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats.”

When I returned home, I ordered a copy immediately, and it arrived last week. Written by Sally Fallon with Mary G. Enig, Ph.D., the book explores almost all areas of eating with exhaustive information on all food types. However, it’s so much more than that.

The book offers more information in its more than 600 pages – in a 10” x 7.5” package – than Betty Crocker could ever imagine. Acids, fats, vitamins, sugars, gluten, and dairy products receive a thorough examination.

It’s nice to have a reference book for information even though I might not reform my eating habits instantly. But I’m willing to give a few new ideas a try. For instance, this winter I developed a severe craving for sweets. I’ve kept sweets out of my life for many years, except on rare occasions. I know sugar is addictive, and I have a thing for chocolate and ice cream. I also have a slow metabolism so those additional “empty” calories go straight to my hips. I haven’t drunk pop since my teenage years, but suddenly I’m craving Vernors® ginger ale. Then I began eating frozen yogurt with strawberries on top every night. When I found myself sneaking a container of Cherry Garcia ice cream into the freezer two weeks ago, I knew I’d fallen prey to my addiction. I decided to see what my new cookbook might offer me as an alternative.

The “Desserts” chapter begins with an explanation of the sugars found in our diets. It offers tips for abating the craving, such as brushing your teeth right after your regular meal. The book suggests the sweetness of the toothpaste will keep the craving away. For me there’s something else. I don’t like to eat anything else after I’ve brushed my teeth. It’s a good helpful suggestion that benefits my health, waistline, and teeth. And so far it’s working. The book also gives some suggestions for natural sweeteners, such as maple syrup and rapadura or dehydrated cane sugar juice, which I’ll need to find someplace other than my local grocery store. I made zucchini bread this weekend using maple syrup for the sweetener as directed by their recipe. I used the lesser amount (a quarter cup), but next time I’ll increase it to ½ a cup. The bread is good, but it needs a little more sweetness. Next, I’m going to try their recipe for ginger ale using rapadura and real ginger. We shall see how that experiment works out.

I also made hummus this weekend using the recipe in Nourishing Traditions. I followed it exactly, except for the one tablespoon of “expeller-expressed flax oil.” Instead, I used olive oil expressed out of its bottle by me.

The cookbook offers recipe quizzes, “Know Your Ingredients,” on many pages. A list of ingredients is given and then the reader is asked to identify the food. The answers are given in the back of the book. Most of the recipes are common foods. It’s shocking to know what we’re eating when we buy prepared food from the store.

There are also anecdotes about food from different books and experts on some of the pages. Each time I read it, I’m amazed at the amount of information provided in such a friendly way.

When I cook, I usually look at several recipes before I start. With the hummus, I pulled out two other cookbooks, in addition to Nourishing Traditions, but I favored their recipe for its simplicity. I have a feeling I’ll be pulling this book out first when it’s time to mess up the kitchen.

Look for me on YouTube now that I have a tripod and a new inspiring cookbook. I’ll be the woman with sauce in her hair, flour on her shirt, raisins on the floor, and cookbooks scattered on the counter, all the while peering into the camera wondering how the darn thing works. And it’s all thanks to the daughter who is teaching me her own traditions.

Bon appétit!

tsWebEnter the Goodreads Giveaway from now until March 31 for a copy of my novel Tortoise Stew. Note I wrote “novel.” The book is fiction about Florida politics and developers gone wild; it’s not a cookbook!

To Everything There is a season

Resting in the winter garden

Resting in the winter garden

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.

Ecclesiastes 3:1

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

And so it is with gardening. The winter season of gardening is a time of planning, considering, and enjoying the bounty of the previous seasons.

Almost every night we’re eating something from the freezer or from a canning jar. But we also enjoy a few vegetables thriving in the cooler weather. Beets rest in the ground covered with leaves.

Beets in season

Beets in season

We may need to pull them all out before the first major cold snap, but we’re enjoying them several times a week now. They are still delicious, although they aren’t quite as sweet as the earlier warm weather harvest.

During the summer, a ground hog took a liking to the brussel sprouts. Finally in early October, my husband managed to capture the cabbage-loving rodent in a Havahart trap. Hopefully that ground hog is waiting to see his shadow on the banks of the Ohio River. With his departure, the brussel sprouts recovered and at least once a week they grace our plate, small, tender and full of flavor. We should be able to enjoy them with reasonable winter temperatures and some snow cover as insulation.

lovely brussel sprouts

lovely brussel sprouts

Stakes and strings are removed, and leaves cover the floor of our garden bed. Onion seeds are ordered. We discuss the poor showing of peppers and beans this past summer and consider the options for our location. We know the peas underperformed because of the addition of mushroom compost when they were just sprouting – too much, too soon. But we’re puzzled by the sweet peppers that never seem to get very big before rotting. Cayenne and jalapeno peppers thrive in our Pennsylvania garden for some reason. Our green, string, and lima beans also produced very little this year. Anyone else ever have these problems? How did you solve them?

Soon the process will begin all over again with modifications and adjustments learned from last year to fulfill “every purpose under the heaven.”

canned tomato sauce, frozen pesto, corn, and spinach, and fresh beets

canned tomato sauce, frozen pesto, corn, and spinach, and fresh beets


canning tomato sauce

freezing spinach


Fall Garden Update

Ghostly Garden

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

The garden looks as if it’s been decorated for Halloween, but that’s not the case. We’re receiving some early frosts here in western Pennsylvania, and the last two nights, my husband has gone out and covered the tomato plants, which are still producing.

green tomatoes in October after a frost

red tomatoes ready for sauce after the frost


The tomatoes aren’t coming in as fast as they once were so the 2012 canning season is officially over. However, last week I made a fresh batch of sauce with them. Last night my husband picked another batch so I probably can make some more in a day or so. I read somewhere about slicing the green tomatoes and rolling them in cornmeal and then freezing them. They’re ready to make fried green tomatoes. I’ll let you know if I decide to try that.

We still have potatoes and beets in the ground ready to eat whenever we want them. Tonight I plan on making scalloped potatoes – one of my favorite comfort winter foods.

beets ready to pull

I’m still not sure where summer went but the pantry and freezer are full of the products from our garden. We’re hoping this early cold weather will be gone in a few days – just enough to zap the stink bugs crowding around our doors and windows. As I wandered around the yard this afternoon, I was heartened to see that my flowers stood up to the cold.

cosmos and dahlias after the frost

second year mum

Remnants of summer remain as the leaves turn gold and orange on the distant hills.

bees still buzzing

How’s your garden doing?

Salsa Heat

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

Warning: This salsa is not for you mild salsa lovers. However, you can modify this recipe to fit your taste buds. This one won’t make you choke, but it might make your nose run and your eyes water – until you get used to the fiery heat.

I use salsa in the traditional way, but I also use it to make Spanish rice (I use brown rice) by cutting down on the water and adding a ½ cup to a cup of salsa. I also use it in soups. My husband loves it on his eggs, scrambled or over easy. It’s also good as a topping for baked potatoes or hash browns.

The amounts listed below made 12 pints (canned – that’s all the room I had in my two canners), 2 pints frozen, and 2 quarts which I put in the refrigerator for use first. I don’t recommend making a batch this large unless you find yourself as we did with an overabundance of ripened tomatoes. We grow our onions and garlic and use plenty of both. You can’t overdue either of these.

cilantro and garlic


40 tomatoes, approximately 10 lbs. (sizes ranged from small to huge – I counted them all)

5 medium onions, chopped

3 heads of garlic, minced (approximately 30 cloves)

1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

8 sweet peppers, chopped (any and all varieties – we used red, yellow, orange, and green)

20 hot peppers, chopped (to taste – we used 20 jalapenos and cayenne peppers)

½ olive oil

1 cup cider vinegar

¼ cup lime juice

¼ cup cumin

1/8 cup chili powder

3 tsp salt

We prepare the onions, garlic, peppers, and cilantro first and begin sauteing them in the olive oil on low heat while we prepare the tomatoes.


Blanch the tomatoes in boiling water for 30-40 seconds and remove to ice water for same amount of time. Peel off skin and core. Chop and squeeze juice and seeds into bowl. Place in colander and press. Put in pot with other vegetables. We have a production line going in the kitchen. I’m blanching the tomatoes while my husband skins, cores, removes bad spots, saves seeds for next year and then cuts tomatoes in quarters. I squeeze those tomatoes with my hands and coarsely chop into a colander.

Add the rest of the ingredients and allow sauce to simmer while preparing the jars and canner.

simmer for a thicker salsa

Canning tip: Always have surplus containers ready. It’s difficult to figure out exact amounts. I had to scramble at last minute with this because I thought the batch would only make 10-12 pints.

Refer to a good reference book on canning for the process of preparing jars or check out Ball’s helpful website.

Process for 15 minutes in hot water boiling bath. I add five minutes to adjust to our 1,000 feet plus altitude.

heat for winter

This is our third year of making salsa together this way, and we finally have a good system in place and the test is always in the tasting. This year’s salsa is our best yet. It has a good consistency and excellent flavor without sending us to the volunteer fire department around the corner.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with making salsa. I’m always impressed with the variety of recipes to try.

Kitchen Love

Seven jars of love

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

This past weekend we put up seven quarts of Italian sauce from our tomatoes, peppers, onion, garlic and basil. See my post “The Tomato – Luscious and Delicious for the process and recipe.

This is our third year for preserving the harvest from our garden. We’ve developed a rhythm for our time in the kitchen as we make sauce. My husband washes, peels and cuts up the tomatoes, peppers, and onions. I prepare the garlic and basil. I squeeze the juice and seeds out of the tomatoes after my husband does his thing with them. Sometimes the process gets slowed down because he pulls out seeds from the very best to use next year.


The whole process – from washing the tomatoes to pulling the jars of sauce out of the canner – probably takes four hours. It’s not a cost effective process if only dollars and cents are factored. But there’s other considerations. Nutritionally, the minerals and vitamins from the vegetables are outstanding. The taste alone justifies the time.

And then there’s the other and perhaps the most important part. Robert and I love working together in our kitchen handling the vegetables we’ve nurtured. We handle the tomatoes and other vegetables with loving care. I am lost in the texture of the tomato as I squeeze each one. The smell of garlic and onion sauteing in olive oil beats eau de cologne any day. For mere hours, we are suspended and lost in the garden of our creation. The love we pour into our concoctions cannot be calculated on any cost analysis.

As the sauce simmers and boils down, we begin taking the pulp and straining it into juice. Then it’s time for our Bloody Mary or Maria (with tequila) with juice from our garden. Last night we savored our first taste of the sauce on pasta (I wanted the flavors to meld so I let a meal-sized portion rest in the fridge for two days). We both agreed this year’s batch is definitely the best – until next year rolls around.

Ready for winter

How about you? Do you think preparing your own food (even if it’s not from your garden) is worth the effort?