Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category

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Our pepper plants have produced a lot of chili peppers this year, and they just keep coming!  Having spent many years in the southwest, we love chili peppers and jalapenos.  At first  my husband just sliced them as they were harvested and put them in a jar of Bragg’s vinegar with a tablespoon of salt.  We would eat them as they came in.  Well, that was before our secondary refrigerator got full of chili peppers.  We canned some, but aren’t fond of the softer texture that comes from cooking them.  Canning is also considerable trouble and is only worthwhile if you have a lot of peppers at one time.  We have already made all the chili powder we can use.

We stumbled upon a perfect solution.  As the peppers are harvested, sometimes only a few at a time, I slice them (seeds and all) and dehydrate them.  As with most of our dehydrated food, I store them in canning jars with a desiccant and vacuum seal them.  Often we will have a partial jar dried that we add to until it is full.

We have experimented with the dehydrated peppers and found that when covered with undiluted vinegar and a tablespoon of salt per pint, they rehydrate well and taste as good as fresh ones.  By dehydrating them and storing them until needed, my refrigerator is free for other things, and I don’t have to can them.  Dehydrated peppers also take up less storage space. We are eating a lot of peppers and add them as a condiment to many dishes–eggs, salads, on top of meat, chili, potatoes, etc.

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Harvesting greens in the snow

One good way for preppers to insure they have enough food for a year or more is to plant a winter garden.  It will reduce your reliance on your stored food resulting in your preps lasting longer when TSHTF.  Your diet will be higher in vitamins throughout the winter when fresh food may be hard to get.

We also discovered that in addition to having food to eat in the winter, many things thrived into the spring and summer.  Using the bed covers, we were able to plant seedlings of warm weather crops like tomatoes a month or more earlier than normal.

Last winter was our first winter garden, and it far exceeded our expectations.  We picked fresh salad and cooking greens weekly, enough to last all week.  There was a period of about 3 or 4 weeks around New Years when things were growing slow and we didn’t harvest much. We started with five 8′ X 4′ covered beds.  We ended up covering 4 or 5 more.

Earlier this year my husband created a winter garden website with many pictures and specific lists, equipment, and instructions.  If you are interested in extending your growing season, now is the time to get your winter garden ready.

My husband and I were guests on Donna Miller’s radio podcast on “Preparedness Radio Network” to discuss our winter garden.

 

Tomato and Bread Salad

We like this recipe–in addition to tasting wonderful, it uses up a lot of tomatoes coming out of the garden and our homemade bread that may be getting stale.  This dish is also versatile and can be adapted to a variety of ingredients and herbs.  As a basic recipe, I use “Grilled Bread and Tomato Salad” found on Epicurious.com.

We really like the grilled bread.  The original recipe calls for day-old Italian bread.  I use thick slices of the 100% whole wheat bread that I bake from freshly-ground wheat from our storage. The original recipe also includes instructions to seed and grill the tomatoes.  I choose not to do that.  I prefer fresh, uncooked tomatoes instead of cooked.  There is plenty of bread to absorb the tomato juice, and I agree with Cook’s Illustrated magazine, September and October 2011, p. 16:

Keep the taste in tomatoes

If excess moisture isn’t an issue, ignore any instructions to remove the seeds and “jelly” from tomatoes.  The guts are where the flavor is; in fact, they contain three times the amount of flavor-enhancing glutamic acid as the flesh.

Grilled Bread

Instead of spreading the bread with melted butter and garlic prior to grilling, you may prefer olive oil and garlic.  I also use 5 or 6 cloves of garlic instead of the recommended 2 and include garlic in the vinaigrette.  Yes, we love garlic and grow it in the garden.

The basil and tarragon are good in the salad, but you may use Italian parsley, chives, or any other fresh herb that you have available.  I use more onion than the 1/4 cup in the original recipe, but you may use scallions or shallots if you want a milder flavor.  I sometimes add cut up fresh mozzarella or goat cheese just before serving.

This is the version of Bread and Tomato Salad that I typically make.

Ingredients

1/2 cup (one stick) butter

5-6 cloves garlic, minced (for garlic butter to put on bread)

5-6 slices crusty home-baked  bread

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar

3 to 4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or minced (add to vinaigrette)

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

6 -7 ripe tomatoes, diced in large pieces (may include equivalent amount of cherry tomatoes, halved)

1/2 to 1 cup onions, diced

1/3 to 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped

1/4 cup fresh tarragon, chopped

1/2 teaspoon salt (or salt to taste)

Fresh ground black pepper

1 cup cubed fresh mozzarella cheese,  or crumbled feta, or goat cheese (optional)

Tomatoes, Onions, and Herbs

Directions
  1. Preheat grill to hot with lid closed and oil grill racks.
  2. Melt butter with garlic in microwave until hot.  Brush mixture on both sides of the sliced bread.
  3. Place bread on the hot grill, close lid, and grill until well-marked.  Turn over and grill other side.  Depending on the moisture content of bread and heat, this will take 1 to 2 minutes per side.  Watch closely.
  4. Cut bread into 3/4″ cubes
  5. Use wire whip to stir vinegar and garlic while drizzle in the olive oil to help emulsify it.
  6. In a large bowl mix together tomatoes, onions, and herbs. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Add bread cubes and cheese and fold in.
  8. Serve at room temperature.

We store lentils and looked for a recipe to use them other than just lentil soup.  An article in Cooks Illustrated magazine inspired me in addition to an Emeril Lagasse recipe from the Food Network.  I still have a lot of produce from the garden, so this was a great recipe for us.  A week after I made it the first time, I made it again to take as my contribution to a potluck dinner with several friends.  It was a big hit and the hostess requested to keep the leftovers.

As typical for my recipes, much of what I include are estimates, not exact measurements.  I also freely substitute based on what I have on hand.  It is important that you use green or brown lentils.  Yellow or red lentils become very mushy and aren’t good for this recipe.  Use French lentils, if you have them.

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Ingredients
  • 1 cup brown or green lentils, picked over and rinsed
  • 4 cups chicken broth (water may be substituted for part or all of the broth)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1-2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, finely chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 5-6 cloves minced garlic ( or mashed cloves)
  • 1-2 jalapeno or green chili peppers, finely diced (I leave the seeds in because we like the heat.)
  • 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped (I have also added fresh basil and thyme)
  • 1/2 cup kalamata olives, coarsely chopped (I have used green stuffed olives)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • French Vinaigrette, recipe follows
  • 1-2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 4 ounces crumbled feta or goat cheese
Directions

After rinsing lentils, place in a bowl with 1 teaspoon salt and 4 cups warm water (about 110 degrees).  Soak for 1 hour.  Drain well.

In a large saucepan, combine the lentils, bay leaves, thyme, carrot, celery, bell pepper, onion, and garlic. Cover with chicken stock (or water) by 1-inch, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until just tender yet still firm, 15 to 20 minutes. Cook until vegetables are soft. (You can also leave the vegetables out and add to the lentils after cooking if you prefer them raw and crisp.)  Drain and discard the bay leaves and thyme. Place the lentil mixture in a large bowl and set aside to cool. Add the olives, chili peppers, and mint to the lentils and vegetables with some of the vinaigrette. Top with tomatoes and feta cheese and adjust seasoning, if necessary.

Serve with crusty bread.

Vinaigrette

1/3 cup red or white wine vinegar (I have also used rice vinegar.)

1 tablespoon minced shallot or onion

2-3 teaspoonsDijon mustard (optional)

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2/3 to 1 cup extra virgin olive oil (vegetable oil may be substituted.)

Whisk together the vinegar, shallot, mustard, salt and pepper. Then beat in the oil by droplets, whisking constantly. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Use at once or cover and refrigerate, whisking or shaking again before use.

I just spent two weeks working in the salesroom of my parents’ orchard.  It is the prime time for freestone peaches, so we were VERY busy.  Last Saturday was the busiest day they have ever had–about 350 people.  The good thing is the beautiful fruit I brought home with me!  White and yellow peaches, nectarines, apples, and seedless grapes.  I brought enough peaches home to freeze some.

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Being at the orchard and answering a lot of fruit questions for customers made me think that I should post some of the information here.

1.  Why aren’t all the peaches ripe enough to eat right away?

Peaches are very perishable, particularly when ripe.  We grade out ripe peaches and sell them for almost 50% off because they tend to bruise and have skin breaks.  When you buy firm peaches that are not quite ripe, unless you plan on using them all at once to preserve, keep them refrigerated while they are still unripe and remove 2 or 3 at a time to ripen.  They will last a lot longer than if you let them all get ripe and soft and then try to keep them.  When you are choosing peaches for purchase, do not push your thumb into the peach–it will leave a big bruise just the size of your thumb.  Also, please resist the temptation to pick up a peach and stick it to your nose (and lips) to smell it.  Inevitably, customers who do this put the peach back for someone else to buy.  It is really rude and unsanitary.

2.  Can I freeze peaches?

Absolutely.  Remove the skin (makes great jelly), cut into slices, spray with a little lemon juice to prevent them turning brown and put into a freezer bag laid out flat in the freezer.  I have also cut them up with sweetener and frozen them in a plastic container for making ice cream or using as an ice cream topping.  There is no reason ever to throw away one or more peaches because you can’t use them fast enough.  Thin sliced peaches can also be dehydrated.

3.  Nectarines are just for eating…right?

Wrong.  Nectarines are great in a tart or used liked peaches in cobblers.

4.  I need a lot of peaches for (canning, freezing, etc.)  What is the best deal I can get?

If you are going to use the peaches within a couple of days, peeling and cutting them up, I suggest you check to see if your local grower sells #2 quality.  They may not be real pretty, but you can save a lot even if you have to cut out a hail mark or bruise.  If they do not sell #2’s, it may be an indication that they are not grading their peaches, and you are paying full price for less than #1 quality.

5.  What variety tastes the best?

Dad grows about 30 varieties of peaches.  Even he can’t tell the difference between most of them in a blind taste test.  Most of the customers who buy from the orchard choose their peaches (and other fruit) by size and color.  Peach varieties with redder skins sell much quicker than varieties that have more yellow, even though the flavor is the same.  People will also pay double for large peaches which we grade out to put into small, expensive boxes.  Right now a variety called Glow Haven is available that has nice color and a large size–it is funny to watch people gravitate towards those boxes like they are calling the customer’s name.  Actually smaller fruit like peaches and apples may keep longer and taste better.

6.  Can I grow peaches from a pit?

No.  Peach trees, like apple trees, are grafted by adding a cutting of the variety of fruit you want onto a root stock.  It isn’t difficult to do yourself or can be bought at many nurseries.  Peach trees are good for the home garden.  They have fewer disease and pest problems than apples.  Prune them when young to open into a four-pronged trunk that spreads out wide.  This allows the sun to penetrate the tree and ripen and color the peaches evenly.  Don’t be afraid to thin the young fruit so you will get decent size.  My dad usually thins his to no more than two peaches per limb.

My parents have been growing and selling fruit for 50 years.  My father is 82 and grew up on an orchard.  They only sell fruit that grows on trees, bushes, and vines–cherries, grapes, blackberries, blueberries, peaches, pears, apples, etc.  They never heard the term “permaculture”, but that is all they grow.  Hmm, they have also never heard of “prepping” but have always been ready “just in case.”

I will post some information later about apples.

Last fall we planted a 3 ft by 4 ft area in one of our raised beds with two varieties of garlic, Susanville (long-storing) and Shantung.  This was our first effort at growing garlic, and our parents never grew it in their gardens.  We had no idea what to expect.  Wow.  We were pleasantly surprised.

We love cooking with garlic and will try several methods of preserving it:  :  a hanging mesh bag in the basement, whole heads stored in the refrigerator, peeled cloves crushed and frozen, peeled cloves refrigerated in vinegar, peeled cloves refrigerated in 190 proof grain alcohol.  We ended up with over 150 heads.