GARDENING BY DEFAULT – TOMATOES, PEPPERS, AND PRAYING MANTIS

June 8, 2013 - Raccoon Township, PA

June 8, 2013 – Raccoon Township, PA

I’ve written several tons about my husband’s gardening abilities and prowess. But this year, we’ve had to readjust because of the major transition in our lives. We’re still one foot in Pittsburgh and heart and soul in the Smoky Mountains. He knew this year’s gardening would be non-existent, but still he refused to give up completely.

Before he left our cabin in early July, he threw two pepper plants and two tomato plants in the ground where he hopes to build terraced beds next year. He bought the plants at Lowe’s, unlike in past years when he started all plants from his own seeds. Yet, he persisted. When I came back to the cabin in August, the plants had survived and banana peppers and one tomato hung on the vine ready for me to eat.

August 2015 - Neglected Peppers

August 2015 – Neglected Peppers

I left the mountains and came back to Pittsburgh for a few weeks. We returned to the cabin last week. To our surprise, our neglected, but not forgotten plants thrived in our absence. My husband feels certain the soil and the sun will provide us with a two-season garden in the years to come.

Garden Bounty

Here’s another little treasure from our trip to the mountains. We picked up a hitchhiker and he clung to our windshield until we drove to the river where he finally flew off. Hopefully, not to get his head eaten by his female partner as some rare species of praying mantis are wont to do. Autumn is mating season so perhaps he decided to get away from that dreaded fate.

praying mantis

Tomorrow Robert undergoes surgery for his GERD, which we hope will help alleviate many of the symptoms he’s suffered through the past two years. It’s been tough for him, and we would appreciate prayers and positive thoughts for his recovery back to his old self. the leaves

Where Did Summer Go?

Potato Leaf Tomato

Potato Leaf Tomato

I haven’t forgotten you, Living Lightly blog. In fact, I think of you often, and then something comes along to interrupt so I don’t end up writing the post. I’m sorry.

Now that I’ve apologized, it’s time to move on–right into autumn. Now that I think about it, I know exactly where summer went. It went into enjoying the heat and preserving all the vegetables Robert carried from his overflowing garden to my waiting kitchen. Our freezers (we have three of various sizes) are filled, and I know that I have to spend an hour one day organizing so I can find food during the winter.

The tomato crop this year was the best one since we moved to our home here in western Pennsylvania. In fact, my own personal gardener tells me it’s the best year he’s ever had in more than forty years of gardening.

We canned more than forty quarts of Italian sauce and salsa. There are untold numbers of whole tomatoes frozen, waiting for me to make fresh sauce when the winter winds blow. Then when I said I’d done as much as I could with canning and freezing, we started giving away. We put a box out one Sunday afternoon in front of our house with the sign “Free tomatoes.” Within an hour, it was empty. We refilled it. I looked out at one point and a man was taking the whole box. I opened the front door, and yelled, “Do you want more?”

He smiled and ran to my door where I gave him an additional box. A few weeks ago when I was out trimming flowers, a man pulled into the drive and asked what kind of tomatoes did we grow. I answered that my husband grew a variety of types. He said, “They were the huge ones.” Potato leaf, that’s what they were, and they were huge and red and absolutely delicious.

Writing this post makes me long for those tomato sandwiches of summer.

So tell me, how did your tomatoes grow this year?

From Seed to Table S2T-5

Pasta Sauce from Frozen 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, fennel, 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.???????????????????????????????

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#Gardening and #Raspberries

We’re getting a steady influx of vegetables these days, but nothing much to preserve yet. There are a few tomatoes ripening on the kitchen windowsill.firsttomatoes Last night I grilled zucchini and green peppers. Cucumbers are trickling in, but not enough to turn into pickles and relish. Usually this waiting period occurs in late June, but here in western Pennsylvania, we’re about three later with everything.

raspberriesI did manage to pick more than a quart of raspberries this past week and made my very first batch of jam. Two cups of raspberries made two 1/2 pints of jam. I bought six quarts of blueberries from a local farmer this past week and froze four of the quarts. One quart I used to make three 1/2 pints of jam. Raspberries and blueberries generally follow the same recipe so I made the jam all at the same time.blueberries

I searched the Internet for recipes with low or no sugar added. My husband and I prefer the tartness of fruit without the added sweeteners. I finally settled on Ball’s recipe using their pectin calculator.

I used Ball’s RealFruit Low or No-Sugar Needed Pectin. Basically for two cups of berries, the recipe calls for 1/3 cup unsweetened fruit juice or water. I used apple juice. 1 1/2 TBSP pectin, and 3 tsp bottled lemon juice. Two cups of berries equals two 1/2 pints.

First I carefully washed and picked through the berries. Then I put them in a shallow, rectangular dish and mashed them with my bean masher.RaspberryMash I could have mixed the raspberries and blueberries into one jam, but since this was our first raspberry crop, we wanted those in their own jam.

From there, I put them into a large container and added the other ingredients. I also added 1/4 tsp butter to each pot to alleviate foaming. All the while, the 1/2 pint jars were boiling in the canner, and the lids and bands were simmering in a pot.

blueberryboilI brought each pot of berries to a boil and let them boil hard for one minute. The mixture must be stirred constantly to avoid sticking. Then I removed them from the heat and ladled into hot, sterilized jars. Processing time is ten minutes for altitudes under 1,000 feet. Since we’re at 1,100, I always add five minutes to the processing time when I’m canning.

I had a bit too much of the blueberry mixture, so I put that in a glass container and stuck in the refrigerator, where it will last approximately three weeks. The blueberry jam tastes wonderful and it set up perfectly. I look forward to opening one of the jars of raspberries very soon.jars

What’s growing in your garden these days?

Click on cover for Amazon page

Click on cover for Amazon page

Bread & Sauce

photoSunday afternoon fun. I raided the freezer and found a bag of shredded zucchini and a bag of fresh-frozen tomatoes.

Baking bread and cooking sauce smells soon permeated the airwaves of our house.

Eating it wasn’t so bad either. photo (2)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recipes from From Seed to Table:

Walnut Date Zucchini Bread

4 eggs

3 cups flour

½ cup maple syrup

2 cups buttermilk (use regular milk and add 1 tsp vinegar)

¾ cup chopped walnuts

¾ cup chopped dates

¼ cup melted butter

3 cups shredded zucchini, drained

1 tsp vanilla

2 tsp baking soda

¾ tsp baking powder

cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice to your taste

1 tsp salt

Mix together all ingredients until blended. Place in two greased loaf pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes or until brown on top and toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Pasta Sauce from Frozen 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, fennel, 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.

photo (1)

What’s cooking at your house these days?

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From Seed to Table is now available in paperback for $5.39.

January Gardening?

catalogs galore

catalogs galore

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

The seed catalogs appear in the mailbox daily now. Today we ordered seeds for broccoli, brussel sprouts, radishes (both red and the long white variety), lettuce, Swiss chard, parsley, basil, and flowers. However, the catalogs came a little late for onions. After consultation with Llewellyn’s 2013 Moon Sign Book, my husband determined the best time to start the seeds was in the waning days of 2012.

So while we were in Florida over Christmas, my husband began sprouting onion seeds. He buys the cheapest and thinnest paper towels and places a layer of seeds on one sheet. Then he piles sheet upon sheet until the top of the plastic container is full. He dampens the towels with water and keeps the container in a warm place. He treated his package as if it was a pet, carrying it inside wherever we visited and adding water as necessary to keep the towels damp.

the sprouts after ten days in damp paper towels

the sprouts after ten days in damp paper towels

This year he sprouted seven varieties of onions – both short and long day types – of yellow, white, and red.

By the time we arrived back in Pennsylvania, the seeds had sprouted in their paper towel womb. The thin paper towel helps those tiny little sprouts from sticking to the layers.

A week ago, he put the seedlings into four-pack containers filled with regular potting soil with a very small quantity of organic and rock fertilizers. He uses a five-gallon bucket for soil (two-thirds filled) and throws in a handful of the fertilizers. Once the packs are filled with dirt, he pokes holes in each section with a pencil.

pencil poking

pencil poking

Then he “pokes” the onion seedlings into the soil.

poking onion sprouts

poking onion sprouts

Now the seedlings are growing happily under grow lights in cupboards in our family room. Unfortunately, we don’t have a heated greenhouse, but we’ve found a way to manage.

minutes in soil

minutes in soil

a week later after living in a cupboard under grow lights (set on a timer)

a week later after living in a cupboard under grow lights (set on a timer)

Now we await the shipment of the rest of the seeds. Some seeds, such as tomatoes, peppers, and butternut squash, he’s kept from last year’s crop. But he’ll still get some new seeds, even though each year I tell him more than twenty healthy tomato plants are way too much for two people unless I set up a roadside stand.

How about you? Are you sprouting seeds, looking at catalogs, waiting for the nurseries to open with plants, or anticipating the local farmer’s market in your area? Whatever you do, locally grown food is always the best choice.

last year's crop we're enjoying this winter

last year’s crop we’re enjoying this winter

Note: We recycle the magazines when we’re done with them each year. We also reuse all the four- and six-pack containers as well as the trays.

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

Recipes:

canning tomato sauce

freezing spinach

pesto

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

Ingredients

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.

peppers

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.

Garden Art

peppers as art

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

Vegetables are works of art as well as sustenance. Last year, we had an abundance of cayenne peppers so I decided they would become a decoration in the kitchen. I strung them up and hung them in front of a cupboard with some of my favorites dishes. When I need a little zest while cooking, I pull off one of the dried beauties and my artful creation becomes a part of our dinner.

decorating and cooking with cayenne

We had some small pumpkins crop up earlier in the summer – we’re not sure where they came from, but they’re too small to eat. In contrast, while we were on vacation some of our yellow squash turned into yellow bats. I turned both into a centerpiece.

garden centerpieces

My husband doesn’t like to be outdone in the decorating department. Since he does grow all the vegetables, I guess he needs an outlet for his artistic abilities. It’s just not the way I would do it.

vegetable decorating by Robert

Grilled Pizza

Pizza ingredients

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

This recipe is one I’ve been perfecting over the past several years, and best made with the freshest of tomatoes from the garden. Pizza is personal. I’m giving you the way I make it, but you may find other toppings you like better.

Just like with pie, it all starts with the crust. You can buy pizza dough, but this recipe is pretty basic and easy to make.

rising dough

Pizza dough

1 pkg. dry yeast

1 cup warm water

1 tsp brown sugar

1 tsp salt

2 ½ cups flour (all unbleached white or use half white and half whole wheat)

Olive oil

Beat yeast, sugar, and water until well blended. Let rest for a few minutes. Add salt and flour and mix until dough forms. Knead on floured board until smooth (3-5 minutes). Place in a warm bowl coated with olive oil. Cover with damp towel and leave in a warm spot. Allow to rise until dough doubles (approximately an hour). Punch down dough and roll into oblong roll on floured board. (I usually cut dough in half and place one portion in a zip-lock and freeze). Cut into 10-12 (full dough recipe) or 5-6 pieces and roll into a ball.

ready to roll

Roll out each piece into a thin circle and place on cookie coated with olive oil. Grill @400 degrees Fahrenheit on side with oil for two minutes or until a crust forms on the one side.

The trickiest part of the whole process is making sure the crusts don’t burn on the grill. You know your grill best. I’ve learned to do this by trial and error and mostly by hovering near the grill and watching.

After one side is grilled, make sure cookie sheet is still coated with olive oil and place crusts back on the cookie sheet with grilled side up. You are now ready to put the ingredients on top of the grilled side.

Pizza toppings

(For 6 pizzas – double if using full recipe of dough)

3-4 medium tomatoes, thinly sliced

2-3 cloves of garlic, minced

½ cup fresh basil, chopped

8 oz. feta cheese, crumbled

1 sweet or hot banana pepper, seeded and thinly sliced

8 oz. mozzarella cheese

Parmesan, salt, and pepper to taste

Place sliced tomatoes on the grilled side of crust. Sprinkle minced garlic evenly on top of tomatoes to taste. Salt and pepper the tomatoes to taste. Sprinkle basil and feta. Put on peppers. Finish with the mozzarella cheese. You’re now ready to put back on the hot grill.

preparing

You must be very careful at this point so you don’t burn the bottom of the crusts. Again, I’ve had to learn from practice. For my gas grill (which is very old), this method works the best. I put the pizzas on the hot grill and shut the cover leaving burners on high. After 2-3 minutes (without opening the lid), I turn off the grill and let the pizzas sit while the grill cools down. After 20 minutes, the cheese is melted and the crusts are not burned. Sometimes I take the pizzas on the cookie sheet and place under the broiler for one minute to ensure a bubbly cheesy top.

Enjoy!

yummy

I’d love to hear about your experiences with grilling pizza. It’s been fun to taste and test this recipe over the years. It’s one my daughter asks for whenever she visits so hopefully when she’s here in October, we’ll still have some tomatoes.

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.

Preparation

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?