September 29, 2022

Garden Notes: September 2022

Another month has flown by!

Rainfall

  • 4th: 1"
  • 5th: *1.3+"
  • 7th: 0.05"
  • 10th: 1.65"
  • 11th: 2" 
  • 30th: 0.35" (Ian)
  • Total (so far): 6.35+ inches
* The plus (+) is because it started raining on the 4th, but the next morning I found the rain gauge down on the ground. The 1.3 inches happened after that, but I have no idea how much we got overnight.

Temperature

  • nighttime range: 47-74°F (8-23°C)
  • daytime range: 67-91°F (19-33°C)
Planting
  • winter wheat
  • Daikons
  • Carrots
    • Cosmic Purple
    • Purple Dragon
  • Turnips
    • Purple Top
    • Tokinashi
  • Kale
    • Siberian
    • Tronchuda
  • Lettuce, Jericho
  • Collards
  • Beets, Ruby Queen
  • Broccoli, Waltham 29
  • Chinese cabbage
  • Salsify
  • Garlic
  • Multiplier onions
  • Parsnips, Harris Model
  • Cabbage, Nero Di Toscana
  • Mizuna
  • Mustard, Japanese Giant Red

I think that's the most ambitious fall garden I've ever planted, but it seems prudent in these times to do so. It's in later than the regional planting guides suggest because I was tied up in the kitchen for all of August. But the soil is still warm for germination, and we hopefully have time before first frost. 

How long a fall garden lasts will depend on what kind of winter we have. Winter here can go either way: mild or cold. Last winter was cold, so most of my fall garden died off. If we have a mild winter, I'll be able to harvest greens and root crops all winter long. 

Picking and Eating

We got our first picking of green beans earlier in the month.

Cornfield pole beans

Late, I know, but the plan was to plant them when the corn was about six inches tall. Then the corn didn't germinate well. After two unsuccessful plantings of corn, I finally planted a few pole bean seeds under the porch trellis. We won't get a lot, but fresh steamed green beans with a little butter and salt is a real treat.

Also harvesting by the handful . . .

Late summer okra, tomatoes, and peppers, both bell and sweet banana type.

Herbs: rosemary, thyme, and oregano

September salad: cherry tomatoes, daikon leaves, turnip thinnings,
hard boiled egg, and farmers cheese with my ricotta/kefir dressing.

Of fruit, 

Late figs, which is unusual for September. They were slow to ripen but sweet.

Fall picking of red raspberries (with more on the canes).

This is the first time I got an autumn crop of red raspberries. I added them to the spring raspberries in the freezer for jelly, but only after juicing some and trying the juice in popsicles.

Raspberry-banana popsicle. A really good flavor combination.

Sadly, I missed most of the muscadines.

Foraged, wild muscadines

I knew when they first started ripening, and then we had that heavy deluge. The next time I checked on them most of them had been knocked off the vines and there was nothing left but hundreds of empty skins all over the ground. Disappointing, because production isn't consistent from year to year. The few I got were put into the freezer for a mixed fruit jelly in the future.

First Japanese persimmon

We have about two dozen persimmons on the persimmon tree. A first! This was the first to ripen. It was mild and sweet. I'm not sure what to do with all of them. Anyone have some recipes?

The first of the winter squash are ready to harvest.

Sweet potato squash. The dimpled one is odd, isn't it? I'm not
sure how well it will keep, so it's a candidate for preserving.

Dan's first cushaw.

This year Dan decided to do some gardening. He's usually busy with projects, but the projects are getting smaller as we get things accomplished, so he picked a spot and planted sunflowers, corn, and cushaw winter squash. I've already mentioned that the corn was a fail, but the sunflowers and cushaw did well, and that's the first one. To celebrate his success, it became a "pumpkin" pie!

I don't usually top pie with whipped cream, but since
this was a special pie it deserved a special topping!

It was really good. And actually, few folks would have known it wasn't actual pumpkin by the texture and taste.

That cushaw yielded 8 pints of puree, of which one pint was used to make the pie. The remaining six pints were dehydrated to make powder.

Preserving

Most of the winter squash will go into the pantry for feeding us, chickens, and goats. Sometimes, I freeze pints of puree. Occasionally, I can chunks. This year I'm learning about making fruit and vegetable powders (like tomatoes and pear sauce), so I wanted to try winter squash powder. I made it the same way I made the dried pear sauce: cooked it, pureed it, spread it onto parchment paper, dried until crisp in my dehydrator, and then powdered it in my blender

Powdered mixture of cushaw and sweet potato squash.

Drying time was much quicker than for the pear sauce, because winter squash don't contain the sugar pears do. I think the powder will be lovely for making pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin bread, etc. Next, I want to add pumpkin pie spices to the puree before dehydrating and make pumpkin spice powder. Sounds like that would make good Christmas gifts, doesn't it?

Extra cherry tomatoes (those we don't eat) have been going into the freezer. Then Nancy, from Little Homestead in Boise, made a comment on my "Experiments in Ketchup Making" post and mentioned preserving cherry tomatoes in olive oil. I thought that was a great idea! Something new to try! I remembered that Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning has a chapter on preserving in oil, where I found a recipe on page 98.

Cherry tomatoes, multiplier onions, rosemary, thyme, and oregano.

It calls for cherry tomatoes, small onions or shallots, and fresh herbs. These are layered in scalded pint jars leaving 1.5 inches headspace. Course salt is sprinkled over the tomatoes, and a tablespoon or two of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice is added (I used my pear vinegar). Then the jar is filled with extra virgin olive oil and stored in a cool place (50-59°F / 10-15°C).

Cherry tomatoes preserved in olive oil.

It's ready to eat in two or three months and keeps for up to a year. 

I made two pints to see how it turns out. This promises to be great addition to our winter green salads. The bonus is that the olive oil is flavored too, and so good for cooking or salad dressing.

Parting Shot

Buckwheat cover crop in the lower garden for soil building.

I think that covers it for September. Are you still with me? Good, because now it's your turn. What's happening in your September garden?

September 26, 2022

Preparedness Month Project

About two years ago, we upgraded our pantry (some of the photos below are from that post). We added insulation to the walls, installed energy efficient windows, and I rearranged the shelves in what I hoped was a good set-up. But, you know how it is; living with an idea sometimes isn't as good as it seemed. So, I spent some time this month (September is Preparedness Month, after all!) figuring out how to improve the pantry.  

My original set-up: one corner

This corner was the first problem. I thought I could work with L-shaped shelving, but it was more hassle than it was worth. The opposite corner was okay, so I left that side as is.

Original set-up, opposite corner

I cleared off the problem shelves, gave them a dusting, and set them up like library aisles. Then I used another shelving unit to add another shelf on top.

New shelf arrangement

The other side of the room was the same but a foot shorter because the pantry door isn't centered in the room. I have a five foot wall on one side of the door and a four foot wall on the other.

Original set-up on the other side of the room.

Original set-up, the other corner on that side.

If I rearranged the ell to make an aisle between the shelf units, there wouldn't be enough room to use the grain grinder on that side of the island. What to do? After a lot of thinking and measuring, my solution was to move the island cabinet to the four-foot wall instead of the table. That made enough room to turn the shelf, plus I can still get to the grinder. 

New arrangement. (The lean is due to the camera lens!)

However, I liked having the island for the Berkey water filter. And the countertop was handy to set down an armload of jars before shelving them.

Original set-up

So, I found something that takes up less space. 

New arrangement.

The Berkey is still easily accessible and I have a small surface for setting things down. Plus, I can get around the island to get to everything, and the cart shelves are perfect for things I use often, like my fermentation and cheese making accoutrements.

I think this room arrangement makes better use of available floor space. And it helps with another problem too, i.e. a place for empty canning jars. I've tried various ideas for jar storage, but none seem to work very well. With this arrangement, there's room between the wall shelves and the cabinet for boxes of jars. Empty boxes can go on top of the shelf units.

In addition to a set-up that I'll hopefully be happier with, this exercise gave me an opportunity to check dates and seals on canned and vacuum packed dry goods, dust jars, rotate, and reorganize. When I'm busy canning for a string of days, I tend to just pop the new jars into any empty space on the shelves just to get them out of the way. I like it better when everything has its designated space: fruits, veggies, soups, meats, jams and jellies, pickles, etc. 

How about you? Do you have particular challenges with your food storage? How have you tried to solve them? How do you manage empty jars? How do you keep things organized? What's worked? What hasn't? I'm open to ideas!

September 22, 2022

Experiments in Ketchup Making

Chevon and grilled onion sandwich with oven fried potatoes, and homemade ketchup.

We don't eat a lot of ketchup. In fact, I'm the only one who eats it and that's just once a week on my grilled Sunday hamburger. But with all our extra cherry tomatoes, I wanted to give ketchup making a try. I'm calling this an experiment because there is still a little tweaking I want to do. I'm putting all my notes here, so I'll remember what I did, what I want to do differently, and why.

The recipe I used was based on a video by Living Traditions Homestead. What intrigued me was that she used whole tomatoes. She cored them, chopped them, and cooked them with with the other ingredients before running them through her Vitamix blender. What could be easier than that?

I had questions though, because I'd need to use frozen cherry tomatoes instead of large fresh ones. It seems like freezing them toughens the skins, plus, cherry tomatoes are seedier than regular size tomatoes. Would it work as well? I was willing to give it a try and see what I got.

The ingredients in the following recipe are based on the recipe in the video, but adjusted for the amount of tomatoes that I had (fresh plus thawed).

Ketchup

8½ lb  defrosted cherry tomatoes, drained 
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup vinegar (I used my pear vinegar)
3/4 cup sugar (originally 2/3 cup but increased after taste tasting)
1½ tbsp canning salt 
3 cloves chopped garlic
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp celery seed
1/2 tsp mustard seed

I simmered it all together for several hours and then allowed it to cool. Then I blended batches of it in my new blender.

First batch before blending.

The skins blended quickly but the teeny tiny seeds took some time. The process might have been quick with regular tomatoes and regular tomato seeds, but the miniature seeds were more of a challenge (and I was impatient).

After blending. Smaller batches did a much better job on the seeds.

We sampled it that night for dinner with French fries. Our cherry tomatoes are more acidic than our slicing tomatoes, so one thing we agreed on was that it needed more sweetener (notated in my recipe above). Dan didn't mind the remaining seeds, but I didn't like them. So, before I canned the ketchup I removed the seeds with a fine sieve and spatula.

A lot of people make their ketchup this way. I found it quicker
 and less messy than using my hand juicer (especially clean up).

To can: hot back jars leaving 1/4" 1/2" headspace (I had too many failed seals with 1/4" and had to re-do those). Water bath process for 15 minutes for both pints and half-pints. My yield was 6 pints.

Noteworthy

About a week later, I put a picking of cherry tomatoes into the dehydrator for making tomato powder.

Dried cherry tomatoes.

Tomato powder. Do you see any seeds?

The dried seeds powdered right along with the skins and pulp. Hmm. Did cooking the whole tomatoes soften the seeds so that they didn't blend well? Or did drying them make them brittle enough to powder well? That lead to another experiment. What would happen to the seeds if I blended raw cherry tomatoes?
 
Fresh cherry tomatoes in the blender

After blending. Looks thick and creamy, doesn't it?

The real test was looking for seeds!

If any little seed fragments are there, I can live with it! Plus!!!
It's about thick enough to be sauce; just needs a little seasoning.

I'm guessing that the raw and dried seeds were firm enough to be pulverized in the blender, but the cooked down tomato seeds were too soft and slippery for some of them. Based on several videos that I watched, I don't think that's strictly true of larger tomatoes with larger seeds, but it seems to be true of the tiny, seedy, Matt's Wild Cherry Tomatoes.

Umm, so, why have I been spending hours and hours every summer juicing tomatoes, and days and days cooking down the juice to make sauce? NO MORE! This is completely changing the way I will make my pizza sauce next year! And all because I wasn't satisfied with the way my ketchup turned out.