September 30, 2008

The Real Show-Off

My husband often calls me a show-off if I do something like I did just now - go out to pick tomatoes and then end up weeding the asparagus, yanking up the last pepper plant, and pulling down all the bean teepees while I'm at it. I'm not showing off, I'm just relishing a rare moment of extreme energy! Well he should talk. He worked all day, made the 45 minute commute home, headed to the hardware store to buy concrete pavers and laid them in the back of the house to get ready for the generator to be delivered tomorrow. He finished that and helped me pick tomatoes and now he's out roto-tilling the new planting area that we're making out front. Now that's a show-off! I would never say that to him though - I'm too grateful for his energy and willingness to work so hard! Not to mention the fact that we are never done praising God for the recovery He gave DH from his heart attack last year - amazing grace for sure.

But as we were picking tomatoes, I came across the real show-off - this cherry tomato plant, still producing it's little brains out. I guess no one told it that today is September 30th!

Well, this is all then.

September 26, 2008

All Those Tomatoes

We've been blessed with a bumper crop of tomatoes and as I've written several times, one of my favorite ways of preserving them this year was to roast them and then pop them in a freezer bag and into the freezer. Here's one of the savory recipes I did for an appetizer spread on Thursday evening using some of these preserved beauties-Roasted Tomato Spread. It was served on homemade crostini - oh the goodness...

I mixed some balsamic vinegar, a couple cloves of garlic, some fresh basil, and a pinch of salt into a defrosted batch of the roasted tomatoes and voila! I didn't add any olive oil since these were roasted in olive oil. If you were doing this spread with a can of tomatoes instead, you would drain it and add some olive oil. The inspiration for this came from Susan Branch's book - Autumn. I made the crostini by simply slicing a loaf of Parmesan baguette, lightly coating it with olive oil on both sides and baking it at 425 until it was just browned - turn it over at some point to get both sides crusty. BTW, DH added olives to this spread and used it to top poached salmon.

As for the tomatoes that are still coming out of the garden, we had this wonderful salad that DH made for our dinner tonight with Uncle J and Aunt P. It's not from the Amy Goldman book in the background of the picture, but the book is so very pretty! The salad had our tomatoes, shallots, basil and parsley, plus chunks of feta cheese, all marinated in a great dressing. This is a very simple salad and adds a little needed flavor to late season tomatoes, which for us have lost a bit of their edge.

As we look out at our garden, we can still see more and more ripening tomatoes. Next week's weather will be in the 60's with 40's for lows so we really may be near the end. It's been a fine ride.

Well, this is all then.

September 24, 2008

The View from Here

September is such a beautiful time in Iowa. We spent Sunday afternoon driving and enjoying the views. I loved the way this nearby field looked with the bright green of the newly mown hay, and the brown of the bales and the drying field of soybeans behind it all. It's even prettier if you click on the picture to see it in a larger size.

This site was interesting to me. These are test rows of corn at the end of our road. They've been peeled back right on the stalk, so apparently the check for readiness has begun. They're waiting for the moisture level to be low enough and praying that a frost doesn't happen before the optimal level. We had our first measurable rain last night in quite a while and the forecast says we'll have another week of very warm weather, so maybe that means a good yield. I'm learning more every year, but this farming process is still a mysterious thing! Click on this picture too to see the details.

The view of this hyacinth bean vine just keeps getting prettier too. My plan is to gather the dried beans from these burgundy pods and give them away. If you want some to plant at your house next Spring, let me know and I'll get them to you.

And now back to the view from the garden. Last night we harvested 15 pounds of tomatoes and 2.5 pounds of green beans - amazing! Some of the beans went into this wonderful dish - Spicy Green Beans with Pork. We got the recipe from Amanda's yummy recipe blog. We've tried a number of her recipes and all were very good. Since I made another batch of applesauce yesterday, we had that with this spicy dish and what a great compliment. You know, Iowa tastes as good as it looks!

Well, this is all then.

September 21, 2008

Wrapping Up?

The vine growing out of the compost bin and my rose bushes out front are letting us know that the growing season is not over yet! I keep thinking that we're almost done with garden produce but it just keeps coming. I made apple butter on Friday and still have plenty of apples left to make another round of applesauce. Plus there are these hearty growers:

Green beans keep hanging on - literally! DH brought in quite a few a couple of days ago and there are still more growing.

Tomatoes are still trying to ripen. Aren't these plants a pitiful sight?!

And parsley, and basil - we had no idea that they would just keep on going and going.

At some point a girl has to put her canning and freezing supplies away for the season doesn't she??? But as I've said before, I can't let it go to waste. It's all a gift and we remain grateful!

Well, this is all then - or is it?

September 19, 2008

Better Butter

Yesterday's adventure was pear butter. It tasted amazing on this hot roll! I've never made it before, but as I said in the Willem's Pear post, I had about 20 more pounds of pears to use. We'll still make apple butter, however, the lure of pear butter was too much to resist. The recipe that I used was from the good old Ball Blue Book of Canning and it called for flavorings of nutmeg, orange zest, and orange juice to be added along with the sugar. Can you just smell it?! It really filled the house. A side note - the plastic lid next to this jar of pear butter is a new discovery for me this year. "Ball" makes these in the regular and wide mouth sizes and they work great once you've opened a jar - saves having to juggle the ring and lid every time it's re-opened.

The process for butters is pretty much the same as making applesauce, but you then cook it down to a thick state. BTW, it took about 2 hours for the pear mixture to cook down to the right consistency, so it takes some patience. I ended up with more pear pulp than what the recipe was designed for, so I just adjusted the amount of sugar and flavorings and I had a bigger batch that way. It's great to have extra. Some of this will go to Uncle J and Aunt P of course and maybe a few Christmas gifts as well. As you can see in the picture, I canned some in these adorable Christmas jars as well as the plaid ones. I'm an absolute push-over when it comes to cute canning lids and jars.

My remaining pears will go on an appetizer table that I'm doing for our women's gathering at church next week. I have a number of the choicest pears in the frig so they won't ripen all the way just yet, and I'll be making this orange dip for them. It's from Susan Branch's book, Autumn. Under "Favorite Places" on the right side of my blog, I have a link to her site where she lists all her books and they are so charming. I might have a "few" on my shelf!

Orange Dip For Pears
2 Tbs. lemon juice
1/3 C. sour cream
1/3 C mayonnaise
3 Tbs. orange juice concentrate
zest and juice of one orange
1 tsp. ground ginger
Drizzle pears with lemon juice.
Reserve a little zest to garnish dip and whisk all other ingredients together . Serve fruit and dip chilled.

Well, this is all then.

September 17, 2008

ABC's of Applesauce

Is this appealing to you? This is so easy to do. I encourage you to get some apples from a local source like your farmer's market, or go pick some at a u-pick farm, or go to your neighbor's yard when it's dark - just kidding - unless your neighbor is a really sound sleeper and doesn't have a dog - no just kidding really - but you could always ask your neighbor nicely and maybe barter for some finished applesauce! Do try to make sure that whatever your source, the apples haven't been sprayed with pesticides.

A. I started with 15 pounds of Early Blaze apples - thanks to uncle and auntie again!
Note to self - get some better looking bowls. This "circus" bowl was purchased as a server for my daughter's 12th birthday party and only then was it cute! Also, note to hubby - I could sure use a second stock pot :)

B. Quarter the apples, remove the stem, nip off the flower end, plus any other spots that make you squeamish. You really, really don't need to peel or core them. The peel holds vitamins and helps give the natural rosy color, and leaving in the core saves tons of time. I did not add sugar since we prefer it that way. If you're not such a purist, then look for a recipe for amounts to add.

C. Cook them with just enough water on the bottom of the pot to keep them from sticking - maybe a 1/4 cup - you'll have to judge based on the size of your pot. I also added two whole cinnamon sticks since DH likes the applesauce flavored that way. Then I cover the pot so that the ones on the top start steaming since it takes a while before it's cooked down evenly. I used a low heat setting on my gas stove. You have to check the pot often to make sure you aren't scorching the apples, and be extremely cautious when stirring as this stuff tends to erupt occasionally. I did two batches with this amount of apples and each one took about an hour to cook down, but there are so many variables that there is no prediction about how long yours would take.

D. Once the apples are all soft, you put the mixture through a hand crank sieve like this one - or there are other contraptions that work too. I know some who like to use the attachments on their KitchenAid mixers. The next to the smallest size disk is the one I use on my sieve, since I don't want the seeds to be able to get through. If I see that the seeds and skins are starting to build up too much while I'm sieving, I'll tap it out into the sink and then keep going. Also, since this isn't being processed for canning, I let it cool down just a little before I start this step to avoid getting spattered and burned.

E. Last step is to simply ladle the sauce into containers, label, and freeze. You may want to cool it a little bit more before you put the lid on. I ended up with slightly over 8 pints. Applesauce is such a comforting thing to eat all winter long. It compliments just about any kind of meal too. How about an applesauce cake for the first snow? Now you want to make some don't you?!

Well, this is all then.

September 16, 2008

Willem's Pear

We have an artist friend who lives in Maine named Jonathan Eiten. You can see more of his amazing still life oil paintings by following this link. He's from Iowa and started studying art while he lived here. Their youngest son, Willem (the W is pronounced as a V) was totally crazy about pears when he was really little and this painting became unofficially known as "Willem's Pear" when family and friends talked about it. Willem would have quite a reaction whenever he went into his Dad's studio while this painting was underway! Now, every time I think of pears I think of Willem. I miss you little man, and your dandy big brother too, and your Mom and Dad of course!

I was thinking about pears a lot yesterday since it was canning day for the load of pears that Uncle J and Aunt P dropped off on Sunday night. Their pear and apple trees have had an unbelievable run this year, as have most fruit trees around this area. This first batch was canned with unsweetened apple juice, a cinnamon stick, and a couple of whole cloves. I like to buy canned fruit that's done in juice only, so we'll see if our home efforts will work out. It was tedious I have to admit, but we think it will be worth the effort.

Here's the dilemma with pear canning - you can "hot pack" them as is suggested by many, or you can "cold pack" them. Hot packing means that you heat them before you put them in the jars, which causes them to shrink down before they're packed in - therefore, they look better after the processing is done. But, they will also be overcooked for our taste. Cold packing produces a better texture for us but you get this floating business in the processed jars. They certainly look like they'll be tasty, but that floating business bugs me, though I do have to admit that after they sat overnight the floating effect had improved.

These are rustic, organic pears and therefore quite variable in size and shape. It can be a little tricky to know how many you need for the number of jars you want to can. The 8 pints that we did took about 12 pounds of pears and I'd say we have about 2o more pounds about to be ripe enough to use. The next round? Hmmm...pear butter? Or spiced pears that are made with a vinegar/sugar/spice mixture? I don't know yet. What do you think Willem?

Well, this is all then.

September 10, 2008

Autumn Color

A second blooming of our roses and the amazing color of the hyacinth bean vine flowers made such a gorgeous arrangement that it was hard to believe it was autumn and not mid-summer when I brought them in this morning. What a pleasure! This little vase is from our trip to the Botanical Center and it's got a screw-on top with a grid which makes for nice arrangements. Some places call it a "frog vase".

These pears and apples are from Uncle J's garden and are such beautiful colors of autumn. We were trying to imagine how many pounds of produce must have come from his garden and fruit trees - impossible to even guess!! And they give away so much, so generously, that it's that much more amazing.

Then we have the traditional colors of autumn to enjoy too. These funny gourds are not anything we can identify, and the vine they grew on died prematurely, but I let them cure in the garden for a long time and they're now so rustic and interesting that I had to bring them in. There is one lone white pumpkin in there too. I wonder if they're supposed to be speckled or if ours are victims of our weird weather this year?

The color of the last of the tomatoes is so interesting. We tend to bring them in now when the first hint of red color shows up. We're rolling the dice this time of year since we've already come pretty close to frost. These will ripen nicely on the counter but of course won't be quite as amazing as the ones at the height of summer, but we're not complaining!

And then we have the more humble but still wonderful color of the just-blanched green bean, cooling in ice water and ready to hit the freezer. We probably have one more picking of beans, the sweet potatoes, parsley, and as many tomatoes as make it to frost, and that's it! We'll see if any of our fall crops make a showing. It will be a bonus after this most blessed of gardening seasons for us!

Well, this is all then.

September 9, 2008

Roadside Dining

MMMMMM...cantaloupe finely harvested! My Uncle J says that the variety we have is called "Roadside" and it does make for fine dining. Our first one pictured here was 9.625 pounds!! This past weekend, we had a family reunion that stretched out over 4 days for us and we made good use of this cantaloupe and it's smaller brother.

We cut him open and took a big bowl of cantaloupe to one family meal, cut open another one straight from the garden after my dear cousins had toured through what's left of our backyard plot - and we ate that one straight off the cutting board! Then I sent home cantaloupe with my mom, who was here for the reunion. She also took home a box of our tomatoes and a few fresh green beans, so she had a good taste of Iowa to go! It's always hard to tell her goodbye, but it felt good to send a little of us along with her.

What fun we had with cousins, aunts, and uncles as we talked about gardening, shared our food, shared our favorite varieties of vegetables, shared our solutions to common garden pests, and shared our plans for future gardens! My cousin's 12-year-old granddaughter was just as thrilled as anyone when we poked around in our garden to see what was still growing and it was so nice to think that her parents have already instilled a love of gardening in her. Plus, we were fortunate enough to visit the large farmer's market in Des Moines over the weekend, as well as visiting the Botanical Center where Amy Goldman was presenting a forum on heirloom tomatoes. We bought her gorgeous, gorgeous book "The Heirloom Tomato". All of these things rolled together in my mind to make me optimistic about the way that more and more people are getting knowledgeable about the quality and origin of their food. I think the tide is turning, or more in keeping with the title of this post - we're turning the corner!

Well, this is all then.

September 4, 2008

That Fall Feeling

OH - the temperatures have plummeted here and it feels like fall! It's my very favorite time of year, leading to Halloween and Thanksgiving. Though I do love a good blizzard - and then there's Christmas - and of course Easter - and the first spring bulb plants coming up - so maybe I actually have lots of favorites! But that first nip in the air just invigorates me and I'm in full holiday mode from that point on. I try not to drag my family into too many of my enthusiastic schemes this time of year, but I do have to ask for a little help at times. Last night I enlisted DH to help me get the front porch converted to a fall theme. My mom is coming this weekend for a cousin reunion on her side of the family, so that gave me the needed time line to make the changes to the porch area. We planted a couple of mums and a new ornamental grass went in the big pot with one of the mums. I saw that idea at a local garden center and I loved it. Then we placed all the pumpkins and gourds around the porch, tied some of our dry corn stalks on the front columns and voila - it's fall!

Our pumpkin vines were at the back of our property and as I've blogged before, the deer helped themselves to quite a few of the seedling vines. But we did end up with a good number anyway so I'm pretty satisfied. I'm missing all the tiny pumpkins we had last year, but I did get just a few of the white pumpkins that I wanted to try out. Another casualty of deer greed were the flattish, dark orange, Cinderella pumpkins I was anxious to see. They're called Cinderella pumpkins because they resemble the pumpkin that became her coach in the story-very cute I think! Lord willing we'll try again next year. But, we recently discovered a surprise back in the long grass - a yellow squash vine that was a volunteer produced from the dead vines we tossed back there last fall. (Long grass is what people around here call the area on your property that you don't mow - I don't know if that's a real term or not but it strikes me as kind of funny that it has a specific name!) That hidden vine provided us with the knobby looking gourds since that's what yellow squash eventually become if they aren't picked.

Then we have another volunteer vine growing right up and over the compost bin! We'll see if it develops any fruit before the first frost. I think it's probably come to the party a little too late. We'll have to get it out of there eventually because vines are not a good thing for your compost bin since some vine pests can survive over the winter, but it looks pretty for now!

Well, this is all then.

September 2, 2008

My Apologies... the bean plants that is.

So sorry I called you sluggish in my last post, because what a difference a couple of days makes! They're coming on strong and the weather is cooling so we'll see what effect that has. They're very sweet and yummy and we're thankful.

This was dinner tonight - we used to call it Hobo Dinner in Girl Scouts. Is that PC anymore?? It can be any combination of meat and veggies you like. This lovely pile includes sweet Italian chicken sausage (organic-from Target's Archer Farms line), onion, potato, green pepper (the last two!), and tomato. All drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with Mrs. Dash Seasoning. I wrapped the whole business in parchment paper first and then wrapped it in foil since I'm a little squeamish about having aluminum next to our food. The picture is before cooking by the way. DH cooked it over indirect heat on the BBQ grill until it was all tender and aromatic. Ahhhh...

Well, this is all then.