Categories
Kitchen Garden

Gleaning in Mid-October

Five gallon bucket of mostly peppers: Guajillo, jalapeno, Serrano and sweet bell.

Some parts of Iowa had a frost warning last night but not here in Big Grove. At 3 a.m. ambient temperatures were in the 60s and all was well with the gardening world.

That is, except for little green worms devouring kale and collards as they do at the end of season.

Kale plant with little green worms.

Despite the kale infestation there was plenty of chard for the kitchen as I gleaned the garden Friday morning. The season is bound to be over soon, even if exceptionally warm temperatures due to climate change extended it.

Chard, Guajillo chilies, eggplant, bell peppers and tomatillos drying on the counter.

There were a few tomatoes, mostly small versions of Granadero which produced well this season. The tomato patch is ready to be deconstructed, the fencing rolled up and stored for winter. The question is when I’ll feel like doing it.

Jalapeno and Serrano peppers drying, along with other garden items on the counter.

Partly because of the long season there are many peppers: Guajillo, jalapeno and Ace bell peppers grew better this year than ever. I’ll prepare Guajillo chilies with garlic and apple cider vinegar as a condiment for storage in the refrigerator. The jalapenos are a bit of a surprise as they didn’t produce much earlier in the season. They are big ones, so that increases the possibilities for cooking. My jalapeno needs have already been filled so I’ll have to get creative.

At the end of Friday I picked some basil for pizza making. Basil went into the sauce and whole leaves on top in a pseudo-Midwestern version of pizza Margherita. Fresh mozzarella would have been better, but we make do with what we have. If I try this again, I will wait to apply the basil topping until about a minute before cooking is finished. The pizza was eminently edible. This from a man who at a younger age would eat leftover pizza from a box left overnight in the living room.

Midwestern-style Pizza Margherita.

There is at least one more pass through the garden to get Brussels sprouts and maybe some more chard. The herbs under row cover could use another picking. There are plenty of pepper flowers but it seems unlikely they will make it to fruit. It’s been a good garden season and even the gleaning was bountiful. As fall turns to winter, I’m ready.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Fall is in the Air

Ash and Maple trees starting to turn, Oct. 7, 2021.

It may be a while before the first hard frost. Peppers, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, and greens continue to grow in the garden. I want one more picking of Red Delicious apples before letting the rest go to wildlife. Fall is in the air and hopefully rain will come with it. It remains exceedingly dry.

Wednesday I mulched the garlic patch so planting this year for next is finished. I won’t start onions and shallots until late December in channel trays under a grow lamp. As I look to 2022, this year has been a great one for our garden.

For now, accept it that fall is coming and with it a an eventual end of the growing season. We live on the edge between abundance and scarcity. Hopefully we’ll have enough food between the pantry and commercial shopping to last until spring. One never knows in a time of climate change.

Categories
Home Life

Soup Night

Fallen apple, September 2021.

I brought a generous pound of potatoes and two pints of canned vegetable broth from downstairs. There was an almost forgotten patch of leeks in the garden so I made leek and potato soup for dinner. With some sliced apples from our tree, spread with peanut butter, it made a meal.

It has taken some work to get the soup right. While sauteing the leeks and diced onion, seasoned with salt, in some of the vegetable broth I peeled and cut the potatoes into a half-inch dice. I added them to the leek-onion mixture with enough broth to just cover them. The Dutch oven simmered on low heat until the potatoes were soft.

Next I added a tablespoon of arrowroot powder mixed with water, then a cup of oat milk, and then two cups of frozen corn. It simmered a half hour. I added sliced chives from the garden and it was ready to serve. We don’t blend the soup to get a smooth texture, although one could. The key is reducing additions of cooking liquid so the soup thickens. Arrowroot helped.

I finished reading Poet Warrior: A Memoir by Joy Harjo this morning. Harjo is poet laureate of the United States. It was moving in a way other memoirs have not been. It had me thinking about my own life and how it differed and was similar to hers. Now that I’ve tended to my mother’s death bed, reading her story about her mother’s death resonated. I had not previously known of her connection to the University of Iowa Writers Workshop. Maybe what she learned there makes it easy to relate to the narrative. Highly recommend.

Our vehicle is in the shop getting a wheel bearing changed. The mechanics work was made difficult by rust formed on the chassis and undercarriage during our 20 years of ownership. They can do this work, but parts are becoming less available. “It’s not a long-term keeper,” my mechanic said of the vehicle. This is the second or third conversation we’ve had about the rust. Now I’m asking the question, “what kind of vehicle does a septuagenarian need to make it until he can no longer drive?” No answers yet, but thoughts.

The future of transportation is electrification, especially for passenger vehicles and light trucks. If I planned to keep a vehicle for a few years, then trade it, I would have no issue going electric now. We didn’t win the lottery last night and can afford to buy just one car to last. Electrification of automobiles is in transition presently, so as technology develops, who knows if what goes on the market today will be eclipsed by newer technology tomorrow? Well we do know. It will be eclipsed because there will be issues. I’ve worked with Original Equipment Manufacturers enough to know this.

I’m leaning toward a new Toyota Prius which operates with excellent fuel economy and has been on the market long enough to have bugs worked out of it. It is the right size for the two of us and I’ve ridden in them with friends on many occasions. We have a dealer in the county seat that posted a starting price of $28,814. Pricing is negotiable and dependent on specifications. I’d rather just keep the car we have but if repair parts are unavailable and the undercarriage rusts through, our hand is forced.

Once the wheel bearing is replaced we should be good to go for a while. A while may be all we have.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Apple Time in Iowa

Jonafree apples at Wilson’s Orchard and Farm, Sept. 17, 2021.

Large commercial farms in Iowa don’t grow apples the way they did. Iowa is mostly a corn, soybeans, oats and hay state when it comes to field crops. People don’t often grow apple trees at home either. Apples remain the most significant Iowa fruit crop and there are plenty around if you know where to look.

My backyard apple orchard has five trees. This year two varieties produced, Red Delicious and Earliblaze. Besides eating them fresh, I made apple cider vinegar and applesauce from Earliblaze, which were ready first and are done. I just started the Red Delicious harvest and made apple butter, and apple sauce from them so far. Preserving apples will get us through next year when the harvest is expected to be light. This year we have all the apple nutrition we can use with our own apples. Food in a kitchen garden is about more than nutrition.

To get more variety I went to a local orchard where trees are loaded with fall crop apples. Many varieties are ripe and ready to pick now. It was easy picking as the crowds had not hit them the way they will once autumn arrives Sept. 22.

“The full docket for apples this week includes Crimson Crisp, Jonathon, McIntosh, Cortland, Jonafree, Golden Supreme, Honey Gold, Honeycrisp, Song of September, Blondee, Burgundy, Bonner, Sansa, Cortland, Gala, and Ginger Gold,” according to the weekly marketing email from Wilson’s Orchard and Farm. In addition to apples, the farm began growing pumpkins and flowers which add to the scenic experience. In addition to picking apples I got in my daily exercise walking up and down the hills.

My goal was to come home with six or eight Crimson Crisp apples plus a few other varieties. (I planted a Crimson Crisp apple tree in the back yard and it hasn’t begun to fruit). I came home with a bag full of half a dozen varieties, plus some Honeycrisp for home storage. The flavors are distinctive in each, worth savoring.

People do it all the time yet I don’t know how they eat apples produced in other states and trucked into local grocery stores. Nutritionally they may meet requirements, but OMG! With all the locally grown apples and their diverse, often marvelous qualities why would you? As we eat through the ones I brought home we share and discuss each one. It is an experience of Iowa’s apple season and part of our local culture. At least it can be.

Apple time signals the beginning of autumn and the end of the growing season. It will be a rush to get everything done before snow flies. The main work of food production moves from the vegetable garden to the kitchen as bushels of apples become available. Apple time in Iowa connects us to the cycles of the season. Although the seasons have changed due to planetary warming and the greenhouse effect, we enjoy what persists during apple time.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

My Cookbook

My handwritten cookbook.

During one of our vacations in Stratford, Ontario I bought this bound blank book for reasons then unknown. Eventually, beginning in 2000, I wrote down recipes in it and today the pages are more than half filled.

They are the kind of recipes that are more than improvisational knife and spoon work with me standing in the kitchen, checking the refrigerator and pantry, and whipping up a couple of things for supper.

I return to the cookbook regularly.

First pick of the Red Delicious apples, Sept. 12, 2021.

It is apple time in Iowa and someone asked for apple butter. The first pick of Red Delicious apples will go toward that. I have older jars stored on the shelf but when I gift apple butter, I want it to be this year’s batch.

In 2010 I entered my recipe for apple butter in the cookbook. Back then I made something out of every apple harvested. It was a lot of apple butter, apple sauce and dried apples. There are still a couple old jars hanging around. (They need to be pitched).

Today I give away apples I won’t use. One year I gave 350 pounds to a community supported agriculture project for their members. Another I donated to the food bank. I also offer them to neighbors if interested. The idea is to bring enough into the house to make sure the apple products will last for two years until the next big harvest is expected. I’m done with overshooting that goal, except for apple cider vinegar which keeps a long time.

I have hundreds of printed cookbooks and likely a recipe for every growing, crawling, running, flying, slithering, and swimming thing in the ecosphere. I keep my faves nearby: Rick Bayless, Mario Batali, Julia Child, Irma Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker. I always return to the red-covered bound book I wrote myself for the good things in our life.

Happy cooking!

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Pepper Time

Variety of garden peppers.

As we turn toward autumn tomatoes are finishing and peppers are coming on strong. I put up a lot of tomato product and am well-prepared to make it until next August. There is always a question of what to do with peppers. This year there are some new ideas.

Pickled jalapenos and hot sauce are traditional. I’ll also grind up what remains of hot peppers and mix it with salt and apple cider vinegar to use in lieu of fresh peppers in cooking. This worked last year so a repeat is in order.

Hot sauce and pickled jalapeno peppers.

I am backlogged with dehydrated hot peppers so no more this year. The main use is to grind for red pepper flakes. I have plenty on hand. I will re-hydrate the old ones next spring and use them to deter pests in the garden.

I grew Guajillo chili plants. The yield wasn’t what I hoped but will roast what there is, skin and coarsely chop them, and mix with apple cider vinegar, salt and garlic to use in Mexican-style cooking. I buy a commercially prepared version of this, so the idea has been in the works for a while.

Bell peppers will be cleaned, sliced in half and frozen in zip top bags. I don’t need many of these as there are some remaining from last year. The main use for bell peppers is for an afternoon snack. At two per day I could make it well into September with fresh ones for out of hand eating and cooking.

Arrival of pepper time also means the end of the garden is near. It’s hard to believe we’re already at that point in the growing cycle.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Gemelli Summer Pasta

Summer pasta made with yellow and orange tomatoes.

I could eat fresh from the garden pasta dishes all summer and hopefully will. At the same time, summer is turning toward fall so we’d best enjoy them while we can.

There have been crates and crates of garden tomatoes this season. I sorted a crate of yellow and orange, cut ripe ones into a dutch oven, and turned on the heat. My process for making tomato sauce is easy.

Cook the cut tomato pieces on the stove top until the skins begin to loosen. Depending on the variety I add a little liquid to the pan so they don’t burn. Carefully put the tomatoes into a perforated funnel to drain. Mine is an old-style farm funnel with a wooden masher. Once they drain, save the liquid if there is an immediate use for it, otherwise discard. (A kitchen can only use so much of it). Finally, process the drained tomatoes with the wooden masher, pushing the pulp through the funnel. This thickens the sauce without cooking it to death on the stove, making a fresher-tasting pasta sauce.

When the day began all I knew was to use some tomatoes for a meal. I found a bag of Gemelli dried pasta in the storage rack and decided that would be dinner.

There are countless variations to making pasta. In addition to pasta noodles prepared according to instructions on the bag, I used orange and yellow tomatoes, onion, garlic, basil and eggplant. Garnishes were cherry tomatoes and fresh parsley. Parmesan cheese is optional, which if left out makes this a vegan dish.

Here is my current process.

In a large skillet sautee onions and diced eggplant in extra virgin olive oil. When the onions begin to turn translucent, add two cloves of minced garlic. Salt and pepper to taste. Stir constantly until everything is cooked.

Add the fresh tomato sauce and incorporate. Add a generous amount of fresh or dried basil and re-season. There is variation in the moisture level of tomato sauce made this way. Cook it to the desired thickness.

When the pasta is done, reserve a third cup of pasta water and drain it. Add the noodles to the sauce along with the pasta water. Mix gently until the pasta is thoroughly coated. Add halved cherry tomatoes and freshly chopped parsley and toss until the tomatoes warm.

Serve with a vegetable side dish like steamed green beans, broccoli or cauliflower.

This was my dinner. I hope readers are also enjoying fresh from the garden pasta this summer!

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Trouble with Tomatillos

Tomatillo harvest on Aug. 4, 2021

This year four tomatillo plants are producing an abundance of the fruit. Due to a paucity of recipes so many are not a good fit for our kitchen garden.

Mainly I used tomatillos in salsa to provide texture and their green color. I also slice or dice them to add to stir fry. Because there are so many, I will freeze what I can’t use fresh and see how that works in the coming months. In years past, the plants did not produce so many fruits. Next year I’ll reduce the number of plants.

I asked for recipe ideas on social media and the responses were honest yet not viable.

A common pairing is with the meat of hogs or chickens. As a vegetarian household, that’s not an option.

Another idea is to mix them with avocados and other ingredients for guacamole. This one winds me up because I’m in the camp of people who believe the rise in popularity of avocados also drives deforestation. How bad is the rapidly expanded avocado business?

The short answer is that avocado farming is causing deforestation, destroying ecosystems, funding drug cartels, and contributing to climate change. In Michoacán, Mexico, the biggest avocado producing region in the world, farmers are illegally razing pine forests in order to plant lucrative avocado trees. The native pine trees make up an irreplaceable habitat to indigenous species, including the iconic monarch butterfly.

Ethical Unicorn, Sept. 23, 2018.

Young people look at me askance when I say I won’t eat avocados because of deforestation resulting from their popularity. Nonetheless, I’m pretty firm in that view and have been weathered by askance looks over the course of many years. No guacamole or avocado toast for me.

The reality is there is already too much to do in the kitchen with hundreds of tomatoes lined up for processing. I put the tomatillos from the photo on a baking sheet and stuck them in the chest freezer to get them out of the way. When frozen, I’ll put them in a zip top bag until I’m ready to use some. There are many dozens of them remaining on the vines to be used fresh or given away.

We have two Mexican restaurants in the area and they have taken excess jalapeno peppers before. We’ll see what I harvest and maybe stop by one of them to present tomatillos as a gift. At least they won’t go to waste.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

August is for Apples

EarliBlaze apples ripening on Aug. 3, 2021.

It took about an hour to harvest tomatoes. While working in the vines I heard an apple drop from one of the EarliBlaze trees every couple of minutes. Each time I picked an apple and tasted it they weren’t quite ripe. When I cut them open to view the seeds, they were not the characteristic dark brown yet.

It won’t be long. The ground is littered with what will be a meal for deer that roam our subdivision.

EarliBlaze apple seeds on Aug. 3, 2021.

Tomatoes and apples are big crops, which along with celery, garlic and onions, are money crops that will last until next year’s harvest. It is important to get these crops right. With apples, it is about waiting until they are ripe, picking them all at once, then processing them as quickly as possible.

August is for apples. The early varieties like EarliBlaze are used mostly for apple cider vinegar, fresh eating, an apple dessert or two, and if we need it, apple butter or apple sauce. They have plenty of sugar to ferment into home made apple cider vinegar. In August the Red Delicious variety continues to grow and won’t get full-sized and ripe until early October. It is important to know when to pick them and to provide the best possible growing conditions. I have never sprayed them and the Japanese Beetles have found other leaves to eat this year.

Summer stir fry.

We had stir fry for dinner last night and summer stir fry, based on what’s available from the garden, is one of the best tasting meals we eat all year. We have it once or twice a week.

Even though my work at the orchard was delayed until the end of the month, I can fill any apple gaps with what ripens there. In the next couple of years the new trees I planted will fill those gaps. Going forward, my work days are filled with canning, freezing and drying produce. It will be non-stop work from now until frost. The payoff is a freezer and pantry full of food to use until the process begins again next year.

It is the best definition of sustainability. Besides, what else is there to do in a kitchen garden?

Categories
Kitchen Garden

August is for Tomatoes

Tomatoes on Aug. 1, 2021.

When a gardener plants more than a hundred tomato seedlings they expect to harvest tomatoes in August. Expectations met!

“I made weak coffee Sunday morning,” I posted on Twitter. “I hate weak coffee. I got distracted while measuring grounds into the French press. Distracted by the tomatoes taking over the kitchen. TOMATOES ARE TAKING OVER THE KITCHEN!”

No freak out here. I drank my coffee, cleaned and sorted the tomatoes, and have a home for yesterday’s surplus. I inspected the garden and there should be another crop today. An abundance of tomatoes is a good thing.

Growing enough Roma-style tomatoes to start canning whole ones is the challenge. I planted three varieties, Speckled Roman, Granadero and Amish Paste. Each has good flavor, and if there are enough, I’ll put one variety per jar. Canned whole Roma tomatoes are the mainstay of our pantry.

I used to can tomato sauce, tomato juice, and diced tomatoes. After the current stock is depleted, it will be whole tomatoes only. Canned whole tomatoes provide the best flexibility. It is an example of less being more. I open a jar of canned wholes and can make almost any tomato dish with it. I don’t think I’m going back to the old way.

A couple of 4-6 ounce tomato varieties are in this year’s mix. Their main contribution is flavor. Seeding and chopping them for salsa produces a very nice texture. I made a quart jar of salsa with the abundance. I used to freeze or can salsa and am moving away from that practice. Fresh is better. I’m growing Guajillo chilies to make a winter-time salsa to use on tacos, enchiladas and the like. I’ll add a bit of home made apple cider vinegar to preserve it in the refrigerator.

August is a busy month in the kitchen for a gardener. Not only are there tomatoes, but crates of onions, garlic curing in racks, and potatoes nicked during harvest needing to be used. Pears will be ripe soon. I check the EarliBlaze apple trees daily to see if they are ripe–they are getting close. Once they come in, the first bushels will go to apple cider vinegar making. Harvesting, storage and processing takes up most of August. It’s part of a commitment to growing one’s own food.

This morning I made strong coffee, the way I like it. I’m already fortified for another day in the kitchen garden. It’s life, as good as it gets.