Categories
Kitchen Garden

Tomato Season

Tomatoes placed at the end of the driveway for neighbors.

The great tomato give-away begins!

Despite best intentions the garden produced an over-abundance of tomatoes. I posted this image on our neighborhood Facebook page with a description of where to find them. Within a couple of hours most of them were picked up by neighbors.

The food rescue non-profit in the county seat has been invited to pick up more this week. We’re not yet to the point of throwing them at passing vehicles, although check back in a couple of weeks for an update.

This year I will can whole Roma tomatoes because they have more flesh and less moisture. Matching processing to kitchen use has become increasingly important. A quart of drained, canned tomatoes is a good base for pasta sauce, a typical use. Knowing what I need and want in the pantry also contributes to the excess production.

Tomatoes are a money crop for a home gardener. When they begin to ripen it feels like the work that went into the garden is paying off. The first garden I planted in 1983 had a single variety of tomato plants. This year I planted about 20 varieties. The flavor of a fresh, home-grown tomato is something that truly defines a Midwestern summer. We have fresh tomatoes and use them in cooking for every August meal.

It is important to share the bounty. In previous years I canned or froze everything I produced. No longer. Part of the pandemic personality I’m working to develop is that of gardener. By sharing the bounty broadly, it reinforces who I am.

That’s all for this brief post. I’m getting hungry after a 10-hour fast and tomatoes await on the counter.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

First Slicer

First slicing tomato from the garden

Behold the first slicing tomato from the garden. We are pretty excited.

I cut back the number of tomato plants this year yet it looks like there will be a bountiful crop. I cut back because only so many canned tomatoes are required in a kitchen garden each year. Going into tomato season I have enough left from last year for another year.

Sure. There are other vegetables. Tomatoes make the garden.

Thursday the local food rescue organization Table to Table made their first pickup from our garden. Friends and neighbors can take only so much produce like kale, collards and cucumbers. I needed an outlet for garden extras so they would not become compost.

The mission of Table to Table is to “keep wholesome, edible food from going to waste by collecting it from donors and distributing to those in need through agencies that serve the hungry, homeless and at-risk populations.” They recently began working with local gardeners to collect produce in a program named Fresh Food Connect.

Table to Table garden recovery coordinator Zach Vig rescuing produce from my garden.

“The concept of Fresh Food Connect (FFC) is simple,” Zach Vig, Table to Table garden recovery coordinator wrote in an email. “Home gardeners oftentimes grow more food than their family can eat. FFC aims to reduce the amount of produce wasted in this way. By utilizing a user-friendly app, gardeners can let us know in real-time where the extra produce is, so we can send out volunteer couriers to rescue it. This food will then be distributed on our normal food rescue routes to those in the community who need it.”

This is a positive development for gardeners and an additional piece of the local food network. I look forward to my next donation.

Categories
Kitchen Garden Writing

Garden Potato Time

Potatoes

When potatoes are in season we eat them, otherwise not so much.

This year I grew two varieties in four containers. I’ll get more with the fall share for which I bartered at the farm. When they run out we’re done with potatoes for the year.

We boil the first new potatoes and make hash browned with those nicked while digging them. We’ll bake some of the larger ones. We’ll make French fried potatoes, something we do only once a year. I grew leeks so there will be a batch of leek and potato soup. The small ones get halved and go into soup. Already I made the first batch of potato salad and there will be more before we are done. The key is to grow enough to make it through our recipe book at least once. There might be some potatoes left for Thanksgiving. There might not.

Potatoes are just another vegetable in a kitchen garden. It is important to grow a wide range of vegetables for the flavor, seasonality, and to use in traditional recipes. If anything, cooking is about tradition once basic dietary needs are met.

These spuds look pretty when fresh from the ground and washed up. It is a moment of brilliance in an otherwise regular day.

Categories
Writing

Still Life with Weeds

Still life with yard weeds

Mother died eleven months ago and the time since then has been life-changing. It is partly because she is gone, partly because of the coronavirus pandemic and our resulting retirement, and partly because of a reckoning with my physical health.

A lot has happened and I don’t know where my life is heading.

Not only do changes center around us personally. American politics, the murder of George Floyd, the heat wave in Siberia, and a global human restlessness driven by complex factors set a backdrop in which anything we do beyond basic survival seems futile.

We must continue to take one step after the last one even if our destination is uncertain. We can’t give up.

Yesterday I found a zucchini under a large leaf. It was gigantic. I brought it to the kitchen and it maxed out the scale, somewhere about 2.5 kilograms. Normally such summer squash goes in the compost bin. This year I posted a photo of it on social media and it attracted a lot of attention, including suggestions on what to do with it. There was no shortage of ideas.

I grilled three slices for lunch, made soup using a suggestion from someone living in Italy, and shredded the rest to freeze for later. Sometimes one has to deal with the zucchini we are dealt.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Weeds in the House

Wildflowers, July 11, 2020

I like my lawn. It is a great source of mulch for the garden, although it seems like there is never enough.

What is there transitions throughout the growing season. We are currently in clover and around the edges native plants come up like the ones in the photograph.

These are weeds, but they look nice on the counter.

When basil comes in I make pasta sauce of last year’s canned tomatoes, onions, garlic and basil. I’m trying to use up the old tomatoes to make room for new. Pasta sauce varies from preparation to preparation. Near as I remember, this is what I did yesterday.

Summer Pasta Sauce

Drain six pints of canned, diced tomatoes in a funnel. Once thoroughly drained, put them in a slow-cooker, reserving the liquid for another dish. Whizz them with a stick blender until somewhat smooth yet with a few chunks of tomato.

Ribbon all the basil you have (about a cup and a half of chiffonade). Put the basil in the slow cooker and incorporate with the tomatoes.

Dice two cups of onions and mince three or four large cloves of garlic.

Heat two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a frying pan. Once shimmering add the onions and stir gently until they begin to turn translucent. Salt to taste. Next add the garlic and cook until the aroma of garlic rises from the pan. After a couple more minutes transfer the mixture into the slow cooker and incorporate.

Turn the cooker on high heat and let it go throughout the morning. Around lunch time stir and turn the heat down to medium. Once it’s dinner time, cook pasta noodles, put the drained noodles in a mixing bowl and ladle a couple of generous servings of pasta sauce on top and mix gently with tongs. It’s ready to serve topped with Parmesan cheese, pepper and maybe thinly sliced green onions.

We served the pasta with steamed green beans picked that morning and simple cucumber salad. We’re in the cucumber season so we eat them constantly. There’s no room for more pickles in the ice box or pantry.

New potatoes are in so I tried a new recipe for potato salad. I cut it back to make less for two people, so it could be doubled or tripled for a dish for potluck. In the time of the coronavirus, there won’t be any potlucks soon.

Summer Potato Salad

Boil a pound of peeled, cubed new potatoes. Don’t boil them to mush. Hard cook an egg and put both in the ice box overnight.

Dice the potatoes into a bowl. Grate the egg into the same bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste, a quarter cup prepared mayonnaise, a tablespoon Dijon mustard, and a generous tablespoon of chopped sweet pickles. Stir gently with a spatula until incorporated. Put the mixture in a refrigerator dish, level it out, and sprinkle paprika on top for decoration. Leave it refrigerated a couple of hours before serving if you can resist eating it at once.

Potato salad has many variations and this is most like what Mother made for us when we were graders.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Garden Tour July 2020

Some photos from the garden taken Friday, July 10.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

New Potatoes

New Potatoes

The idea of new potatoes is to harvest them two weeks after the flowers are finished. This is what they look like with thin skins and creamy potato goodness inside.

I boiled a pound for dinner and served with butter, salt and pepper. Keeping it simple with condiment flexibility is a characteristic of our kitchen garden. Diners can take cooked vegetables and finish them how they will.

When I worked at the home, farm and auto supply store I bought seed potatoes as soon as they came in. Planting is within a radius of Good Friday, although not necessarily on the day. I planted early this year. A few years back rodents ate our potatoes in the ground so I moved them to a container. Container growing is working, likely helped by the two stray cats who hang out in our garden.

Our main sources of potatoes are from our garden and a bartered fall share of the community supported agriculture project. When there are potatoes we eat them and seldom buy outside spuds. We follow the season.

The soil in the containers needs recycling for next year. There are too many roots and not enough nutrients. This year the containers were more than half empty when I planted. As the vines grew I added more soil and compost until the container was full. The result was potatoes grew in layers and there were more of them in each container.

The photograph represents the yield from one container, about five pounds. There are four containers this year so they will last until the fall share begins in September. Together they should keep us in potatoes until Thanksgiving after which we’ll wait for more next year.

In addition to boiling potatoes, I’ll roast some with other root vegetables and onions when they are available. We make potato salad, escalloped potatoes, leek and potato soup, parsley potatoes, mashed potatoes, and add them to vegetable soup.

The harvest of new potatoes is another marker in the gardening season. Such markers help us keep our sanity in the chaotic world of the coronavirus.

Categories
Kitchen Garden Writing

Early Summer

Celery Harvest

When the electrical power went off I located my portable charger and plugged in my phone. The WiFi was dead yet access to the internet is crucial in an emergency.

A neighbor asked if our power was out via text message. I responded, “Yes, do you need cucumbers?” I walked a bag of freshly picked cukes over to the back door of their house where they were preparing the grill for a cook out.

The rural electric cooperative website reported more than 1,600 homes without power. The plotting of outages on their map was based on reports from customers so I phoned in our report. The operator was patient and helpful. All the information she had was on the website except that crews were working on the problem.

Our association has a Facebook page which was more active than normal. The loss of electricity didn’t have any apparent effect on social media. No new information there, just neighbors asking what up?

The duration of the outage was about 90 minutes. Just as power came on the doorbell rang. One of the well volunteers came down from the well house to report the water pressure was going down and soon they would have to turn on the back up generator. He smiled when I told him the electricity was back on. I made a post on our Facebook page pointing out the well volunteers were monitoring the situation.

In a rural subdivision we rely upon each other for information. Mobile phone technology makes our lives better. Glad I adapted back in 2012.

These summer days are gorgeous. Temperatures are rising to about 90 degrees each day with clear, calm skies. Humidity has been high so I get my outdoors work done early after sunrise and spend most of the day indoors. There is plenty of work.

I harvested the rest of the celery yesterday. Most of the harvest gets chopped into bits and frozen for use in soups and stir fries. The flavor of home grown celery is hard to believe, better than any celery grown for commercial sales. Fresh celery lasts a shorter time than store bought. That’s okay. It is worth the 120 day growing season for the flavor.

I sorted and brought the last of the 2019 onions to the kitchen. They need using up. In the meanwhile the portable greenhouse shelves are filled with this year’s crop, drying so they can be trimmed and stored.

Drying Onions
Categories
Kitchen Garden

Garlic Harvest 2020

Heads of curing garlic, July 2020.

Planted last October, on July 2 it took about an hour to harvest the crop of 50 head of garlic. It was the biggest garlic harvest we’ve had in our home garden.

The variety comes from my friends Susan and Carmen who in succession, over 25 years, have been growing and selecting seed from the annual crop to produce it. Garlic doesn’t take much more effort than proper planting, weeding, harvesting and curing. The genetics and culture of producing it are everything though.

Garlic Patch in Late April 2020

If everything goes well, I plan to keep the best third of the garlic heads to use for seeding next year’s crop. By doing so I’ll continue the process started so long ago on that nearby farm.

Just so you know, our household doesn’t have any problems with vampires.

Categories
Kitchen Garden Writing

Garlic Time 2020

Head of garlic straight out of the ground.

The garlic is ready. Yesterday I dug a head from the plot and the cloves are mature. As this image shows, each clove is pulling away from the stem and when I cut into it, the hydrated precursor to the paper had formed around each clove.

I’ll dig up the 50 plants today or over the weekend, rack them in the garage, and cure them until it’s time to remove the stalk.

It’s a nine-month process from planting cloves in October until the July harvest. Done right, the time commitment is worth it.

Garlic is a basic part of our cooking: I can’t imagine being without it. I also can’t recall the last time I had to get some other than at the farms where I work. If the quality is good this year, I’ll save a third of the heads for planting this fall.

In addition to garlic, the zucchini, cucumbers, celery, and onions are ready. Tomatoes are forming but it will be a while before they are mature and ripen. By the calendar it’s time to dig new potatoes from one of the four containers. The garden is turning to peak production whether I’m ready or not.

As it does my attention turns to writing for Blog for Iowa the next four weeks. I will cross post here the following day, although it is more political writing than I usually do. There is a lot to say about that part of society these days and I’m glad for the platform.

The forecast is hot and humid the next ten days… Iowa summer. July will be a mad rush to get everything done as we remain is semi-isolation because of the coronavirus pandemic. There should be less distractions than in the before time. I’ll miss the company.