Garden

Cucumbers Galore

A garden offers so many wonders.  Whether growing a patio tomato or the whole produce department, you know the feeling.... sitting down to eat the bounty from your plot of earth, big or small.  There is nothing like biting into something that you nurtured day after day to it's maturity.  Sharing the gardens riches with friends is another of the garden perks.  Pickles, preserves or baked goods made from what I've grown and nurtured are a true gift of love... to give and receive.  

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One vegetable that I adore growing is the good old cucumber. That good old cucumber gives us pickles, dill or sweet, whole or sliced and relish.  How about soups; gazpacho and chilled cucumber with yogurt, YUM!  How about some raita served with grilled unleavened bread?  I could eat that duo for every meal!  As kids I remember eating marinated cucumber and mayo sandwiches!  Last but not least, how about that ever popular, never a southern summer table without, bowl of sliced cucumbers with a bit of dill, a pinch of sugar and vinegar? 

  Because there are so many things a person can make with cucumbers, size doesn't really matter BUT if pickling is your intent, it can be tricky harvesting cucumbers.  Since the very best pickles are made from cuc's right off the vine you want to be able to pick enough of the same size all at one time.  Unless you have quite a few cucumber plants it's not likely you'll find the quantity needed in one picking.   When a few cucumbers are ready to be picked the others are still coming.  That is why I love this  DILL Pickle recipe from a previous blog post...all you need is enough cucumbers to fill one quart jar at a time. 

Alas, you invariably end up with some cucumbers that sit on the vine too long.  And, as those of you who've grown them before know, there is always that one hidden cuc you discover that has been growing for goodness knows how long.  Yikes!  A great option for those cucumbers is my Cinnamon Pickles from a previous post

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This ongoing struggle with my cucumber harvest has probably been the source of my love of them today.  I do not like to waste anything so no matter the size or shape; I had to create!  I'm loving a pantry full of edibles for my table, gifts of love for family and friends and what better then a homemade gift for a host/hostess.... straight from your kitchen!

Today, I'm talking relish!

This was my first attempt and I can't say enough about the ease and results.  One thing that did jump out at me was the color of the results...why wasn't my relish green?  I now know they add blue dye to relish, EEK...no need, just change your expectation...it is so worth the small effort.

I adapted this recipe from Genius Kitchen

Tangy Pickle Relish

makes 6-7 1/2 pint jars

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 lbs cucumbers , peeled and seeds removed
  • 2 -3 sweet onions
  • 1⁄4 cup pickling salt
  • 3 cups white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 5-6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons dill seeds
  • 2 teaspoons mustard seeds
  • 2 teaspoons celery seeds
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon turmeric
  • red pepper flakes to taste

DIRECTIONS

  1. Finely chop cucumbers and onions. I use a food processor and do smaller batches to be sure not too fine.  Place in a large bowl and sprinkle with salt, stir well. Let stand for 1 hour.
  2. Drain mixture in a colander, rinse under cold water and drain again, pressing out any excess moisture.
  3. In a large pot, bring vinegar, sugar, garlic, dill seed, mustard seed, celery seed, and pepper flakes to a boil.
  4. Add cucumber mixture, bring to a boil again, stirring frequently. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. 
  5. Remove from heat, add the turmeric and mix well.
  6. Pour into sterilized jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space. Seal with lids and rings. Process in boiling water bath in canner for 10 minutes.

 

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Winter Garden

Garlic in the Snow

Winter gardening, it's kind of an oxymoron isn't it?  Planting and harvesting fresh green vegi's in the winter months, really?  Now I'm convinced everyone should try it!  If I didn't have my prepared garden beds I'd have pots and beds on my patio and small containers of started seeds all over my kitchen window sill awaiting their place outside.   As much as my hubby and I eat lettuce and the like, I plant seeds a few at a time so I have an extended harvest, or in plain English....lettuce all the time!

Have you noticed the price of fresh foods lately?  It's crazy!  If you really pay attention to the quality of those fresh  foods it's even crazier!  In our house we eat a lot of fresh vegetables so anything I grow rather then buy really makes a difference to our bottom line.  Heck, just keeping me out of the store is worthwhile.  Farm life keeps me a bit secluded some weeks and the grocery store becomes an outing I look forward to (sad but true) and that is not the formula for walking out with only 1-2 items!  So, when I don't have to make that quick trip to the store for the perishable things we seem to always need most, it saves money and time.  Let's not forget the increased health benefits from the garden freshness too.  The vitamins are at their peak when picked. For me, knowing exactly how the food is grown and handled adds that much more satisfaction!
Arugula at 3 weeks
Tango Lettuce at 4 weeks
I'm going to make a huge leap and assume anyone reading this knows the basics of growing something.   If  you  think you don't know how to grow something I encourage you do get some dirt and try.  I am reminded of the many times in my life I avoided a challenge because I was convinced I couldn't do it.  Does anyone excel at anything until they've first made a few feeble attempts?  I didn't say until they got it right cause I don't believe that usually applies...my lettuce probably won't look like your lettuce  so where is the "right" in growing it?  Besides, as they say, we never know til we try, right?  Having a garden or just something growing from seed  is so easy and so rewarding and I think you'll find yourself successfully harvesting something on your very first try.  I cannot begin to tell you how cool it feels to pick those leaves and put them straight in your mouth!  Hints: keep it moist and give it sun...that's all you need to know. Whether from your window sill or your patio...it matters not.  To begin a winter gardening adventure all that is required of you is to pick something you'd like to grow.  Lettuce and arugula I've already mentioned., well how about spinach?  If space is an issue or you just want to start small;  lettuce, arugula and spinach are excellent choices.  A clay pot on your window sill would easily accommodate any of these choices.  If you have more space cabbage, fava beans, brussel sprouts just to name a few more.   Some of my very favorite resources for seeds are, Johnny's, Pinetree, and Territorial Seeds.  Each resource offers excellent quality seeds with a great variety of choices and customer service has been superb with each.  I find Pinetree offers smaller quantities on many of the items which better accommodates the home gardener.  So, pick that something that you want to grow, where your going to plant it and if it will be outdoors figure something to cover it when the temperatures are going to drop below freezing.   That's all it takes!



Onion that doubles as chive like herb
Some might say nothing is quite as pretty in a winter garden.  Although the winter garden always shows signs of harsh winter realities (or my forgetting to cover them up when temps drop below 30),  I say the color contrast from the browns and greens, sometimes capped with snow are really quite pretty.   There are certainly no bugs to contend with in a winter garden.  The leaves I see so many rake and pile by the road side...the best mulch ever.  If a small bed or pot is your choice the leaves crumble beautifully between your hands and are an excellent source of carbon for your soil too!
The winter garden is also stress free. Less yield for me gives me more flexibility for the when and how the food gets from the garden to our plates. In the prime growing months when the bounty is brimming I sometimes find getting out there to pick before things get over ripe haunts me.  Preparing that bounty before it goes to waste...I sometimes get stressed about that too.   Don't get me wrong, I love making preserves, canning tomatoes or just preparing that fabulous freshness from our garden. Let's face it, when those vines are spilling over and the branches weep from weight I often have plenty else to do.  So, winter gardening  reminds me how manageable it can be and when it is, I am more inclined to enjoy it.  It kind of re-exposes me to the  'root' of it all and I look forward to the bounty ahead.

I hope you will all find some seeds, whether you flip the pages of a catalogue or grab a pack as your standing in the check out of your favorite home improvement store, choose a vessel, and give it a try!  I promise it will brighten even the gloomiest of winter days.

Pickles!

I don't know about you but I love pickles.  Sweet, sour, spicy, chips, spears and those almost embarrassing whole ones...hey, I'm referring to the mere size...some so big we might wonder if one person could finish them..  Actually, I love anything "pickled" but today I am writing about the cucumber sort.  I have a recipe to share with you!  Pickles, pickled by the jar!  Yep, that's right...8-10 cucumbers, depending on the size and you can have yourself a jar of fabulous pickles waiting in your larder for the day your taste buds water for the garlicky, salt and vinegar cure of that firm crisp pickle!  You know the kind?  The kind addictions are made of.  Once the  the vinegar begins to manipulate the sides of your mouth there is no turning back.  Just one, are you kidding?

On our farm the garden is mostly about our own personal consumption and I'm learning how to deal with the various phases of the bounty.  Pickles are the reason I plant cucumbers.   The smaller (under 5" long)  cuc's are good for dill pickles. As long as the cucumbers aren't bitter (not enough constant water) and not too large (over 2" in diameter) they're always good for B&B's (bread & butters for those not familiar with pickle vernacular).  In my humble opinion FRESH picked is always key when it comes to pickles!  I don't believe I have ever met a pickle aficionado that wouldn't stick their nose up at soft pickles!

Now, listen up, a few successful canning's and an expert I am, NOT!  One of the reasons I am sharing this recipe; it is so darn easy.  I promise, if you try this recipe two things will happen.  1) You won't believe how easy it is.  2) You too will feel like an expert

I am the type with BIG ideas and not always enough time, or these days, energy to get er done. So, this recipe really appealed to me.  At the end of a long day working , destroying the kitchen with canning equipment spread from one end to the other doesn't appeal to me.  Another reason I like this recipe is the ease of dealing with your daily harvest.  In most home gardens the yield  is a few a day. So, collecting the quantity of pickles needed for most other recipes can be a pain.  Since the freshness of the pick contributes to the "

crisp

" of the bite, if you collect over time you'll have older cucumbers too. I believe the older ones have the potential to risk the crispness factor.  Now I know some of you are wondering about those pickles resting on the grocery shelf.  Don't think about!  I wouldn't even try it.  Just buy elsewhere.  There are plenty farmers and farmers markets around these days that freshness shouldn't be an issue. When the seasons not right, don't pickle. By the way, have you seen

straw bale gardening

?  Cucumbers are some kind of easy to grow.  

 When I found this recipe  I was stoked.  This is my third year using this recipe and I think I've finally perfected it.  I adapted it from a recipe I found in

Backhome

Magazine.

First, you want to wash your cucumbers well and snip the vine end, just a snip.  I'm told if left on the cucumber it can create a bacteria in the jar that would ruin the whole batch.  I'm not going to guide you through the basics of preparing the canning jars cause it is pretty basic stuff.  You want to sterilize each jar and the lids.  Any questions check out

Ball

site.

Using pint or quart size jars ( better for gifting) :

Place in the bottom of the jar

1 clove of garlic

1 healthy sprig of dill

1 dried hot pepper or a shake or 2 of hot pepper flakes (optional)

Next stuff each jar with as many cucumbers as possible.  I sometimes use a wooden spoon end to manuever the cuc's to make room.  They somehow snuggle up in the space.  Leave 1/2" headroom from the top of the jar.  If you'd prefer not to leave them whole the spears also work great in this recipe.

Add:

1-1.5 Tablespoon of non-iodized salt

1/2 cup white vinegar

Fill the rest of the jar w/ boiling water, again making sure to leave the 1/2" headroom.

Last but far from least place a fresh grape leaf on top of the jar before you seal it.  I know most of you won't have access to such a thing.  The old timers say it is the final step to assuring crispness.  Maybe a neighbor has some  grapes?  If they have grape vines, they have leaves a plenty.  Maybe it's the very thing needed to bring neighbor to neighbor?

Process in a water bath for 20 minutes.

Make sure the jars seal.

In 6-8 weeks your pickles will be ready for the tasting.  Don't dilute the experience with crackers or anything else for that matter.  You will not stop at eating one and you'll be running about the house bragging on your yummy treat.  No, me, I didn't do that.....

What comes at the end of a Blog?  Unresolved photo placement!

Flavor!

I wonder if I'd have taken the same 'journey through food' had I not become a farmer.   My passion for great food and cooking was established early on in my life.  My journey would help me understand that  FLAVOR begins with the seeds, the genetics, the roots, the dirt and the hands of a farmer.  I would learn that FLAVOR was determined at the beginning of our food origins.

I considered FLAVOR successes  the result of experience and creativity in the preparation...all attached to a finished product, say a fine cheese from a family that had been mastering the art for generations.  I didn't realize what you begin with, the raw ingredients, could have such an impact on the final result. I thought, and why wouldn't I, that any bright green pepper without blemishes would provide the absolute complexity of any other green pepper anywhere, right?

SlowFood, founded in Italy in 1986 and soon after taking root throughout the US, helped me realize that the integrity of our food was in jeopardy.  I became reacquainted with the most basic "ingredients" in my food experiences. I became educated to "organics" and familiar with "local" economies and the benefits of eating local.  Farmers Markets were popping up everywhere.  My thirst for fresh, local, healthy, juicy, FLAVOR full options became obvious.    About the same time I saw the emergence of terms like "heritage" breeds and "heirloom" varieties...FLAVORS surpassed for bigger, prettier, faster growing, and disease resistant options.  All these sheep, pigs, cows, and chickens with distinct flavors and natural lean qualities that couldn't keep up with the demands of the factory farm operations, too small, too slow growing, and not domesticated enough....all being replaced.  As for our fruits and vegi's that were a little too fragile, or not pretty enough...also being replaced.   As for our intimate food experiences, who had the time anymore? 

Before now the naive belief that getting food to us faster, making it last longer, have a better shelf life, more of it and cheaper prices had been the perceived solution in our growing society. We were paying a huge price to achieve our goals. FLAVOR was gradually being sacrificed, but how were we to know?


My move to the farm brought the venue for my continued adventure down FLAVOR lane. With fresh vegi's from my garden and other farmers it became more and more apparent, the FLAVOR differences were so obvious.  I believe my first mind blowing experience was the almighty tomato.  Who doesn't know the difference between a garden fresh, ripened by the sun, hopefully heirloom tomato and a store bought, well traveled, refrigerated alternative?  As I walked from my own garden with a spear of asparagus, watching the water flow from the freshly cut end, I realized I felt almost robbed.   My ONLY experience with asparagus had been on my plate or in the grocery store with the ends dry and looking like the corrugated threads of cardboard.  Walking toward my house that tender spear didn't have a chance, YUM!  Even if you could bite into that pale green flesh at a grocery you wouldn't because tender, as we've known it, happened only after cooking.  I bought carrots at the farmers market so sweet I'd swear I'd eaten a decadent dessert and lettuce varieties of all kinds, spicy, sweet, crisp and curled, dark green, light and even red.  WOW!  I was like a child learning the nuances of the very food I'd been so passionately consuming. Everything grabbed my senses. It wasn't until I realized FLAVOR was a choice not a given that I began to really pay attention.  
So, whats the most important take away from my journey...we must engage in where our food comes from.  I know we are all going through a food revolution of sorts. Those at the most basic end of the spectrum might be questioning buying from the big box stores, while others like me can barely shop in a grocery store at all.  As I said I am lucky to have healthful, FLAVORFUL, fresh options mostly outside my door.  My hope is at the very least you are all awakened by some morsel of food that makes your mouth water and your tongue dance too.  I am more and more convinced we each have to find our way back to REAL SLOW WHOLE  Food. 
To be continued.......