Categories
Kitchen Garden

Pasta Dinner

Late season Roma tomatoes and basil

Walking to the garden I searched a row of Roma tomatoes for ripe ones for dinner. There were a few so I picked them.

Nearby I had planted basil and picked some as it was beginning to go to flower.

I carried the produce in my t-shirt and made my way to the kitchen where I added garlic and onions from the garden for a simple pasta sauce.

With noodles made from semolina flour, and steamed green beans, it made dinner. We were the better for it.

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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.

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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

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

Tomatoes 2019

Tomato Plant

This year has been an amazing year for garden tomatoes.

21 varieties with a total of 47 plantings produced beyond expectations and our household’s ability to use them. There are so many I took two crates to the orchard for folks to can, freeze, eat and share. I took flats of them to meet ups and shared them with neighbors and friends via Facebook.

Here are some tomato notes for fans.

Deer

As we reach peak tomato season neighbors complain about deer. This comment from a friend in our township is typical,

How do you keep the deer away. They graze on ours. They take a bite, decide they don’t like it and drop it on the ground. Then onto the next tomato. Bite, pick, yuk, drop, and repeat until no tomatoes are left.

My symbiotic relationship with deer includes a custom designed deer fence using common materials. I install a 4-foot chicken wire enclosure mounted on posts so the top of the wire is 5 feet from the ground. I plant the rows 36 inches apart — close enough for me to get in, and close enough together to discourage deer from jumping five feet high to get in. I leave enough space so I can move between the fence and the tomatoes. This is my second or third year of using the method and it works keeping the deer from ripe tomatoes, leaving more for humans.

Pre-season

There are so many varieties of tomatoes! I listed seeds planted in this earlier post. The selection process was intended to produce plenty in three categories: cherry, slicers and canning tomatoes. I had plenty of seedlings from the greenhouse, allowing selection of the best starts. If three trays of 120 blocks seemed like a lot at the time, it produced what was needed for the beds.

Canning tomatoes for work colleagues.

Plot preparation

For the second year I dug 3-foot trenches for tomato planting instead of digging and breaking up entire plots. I conditioned the soil with composted chicken manure and finished with a sprinkling of diatomaceous earth. The latter was intended to retard progress of tomato-loving insects.

Moisture

When there wasn’t rain, I watered with a garden hose daily, mostly in the morning. Half a dozen plantings on the north side of the plot developed blossom end rot. I suspect the problem was a mineral deficiency in the soil rather than inconsistent moisture. I had enough grass clippings to mulch the tomatoes to prevent weeds and retain excess moisture.

Stars of the show

Tomatoes with the best results and great flavor included,

Cherries: Clementine, Grape, Matt’s Wild, Jasper, Taxi and White Cherry. The sweetest were White Cherry, Jasper and Matt’s Wild.

Canning: Granadero produced many perfectly shaped, flavorful plum tomatoes. Amish Paste was also a strong performer. Speckled Roma was the most flavorful in this category. Other varieties of small, round tomatoes filled out the crop for canning needs.

Slicers: German Pink and Martha Washington produced the best large slicers. Black Krim was unique with its dark color and tasty flesh. The Abe Lincoln plants produced consistent small round tomatoes which I used to dice for tacos and for canning.

Homemade Tomato Sauce

Uses

Eating and cooking fresh: What else is there to say but tomatoes on or in everything!

Sauce: With so many tomatoes in the house they had to be culled every couple of days for bad spots. These were trimmed and cut into large chunks to simmer until the flesh was soft and skin loosened. Next I put the whole lot into a funnel strainer and drained out tomato water. The garden produced a lot of this by-product so after canning 24 quarts of tomato water to use mostly in soups and for cooking rice, I discarded the rest. Once the water drained out, I used the wooden mallet to press out tomato sauce which I froze in one quart zip top bags to use later for pasta sauce and chili.

Diced tomatoes: I canned enough pint and quart jars of diced tomatoes to get us through the next year. I rotate stock so oldest ones are used first and still have a couple of jars from 2016 and 2017 to use first. Diced tomatoes include the skin for its nutrients.

Whole tomatoes: This year I took the skin off small round and plum tomatoes and canned them whole. There are about 24 quarts and 24 pints to last a year or more.

The 2019 garden was an unmitigated success in the tomato category. It is a feature of late summer in our household.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

2019 Gardening Season

Sundog Farm under clouds

I want to write a nice summary of this year’s garden including successes, failures and lessons learned.

Instead of crafting something usable, I visited two of the farms where I work.

Knowledge lives within us more than in written words. Life doesn’t always proceed in a linear manner despite predictable changes in season.

Yesterday was about dealing with the abundance of Red Delicious apples ripening on the tree. I plan to give excess — about 350 pounds — to my friend Carmen for the winter share in her CSA.

At the orchard we did a taste test: the apples were too starchy. Then to Sundog Farm where we discussed how much for each share and a process for delivery once they ripen. I think we are set.

Over the years I’ve been able to develop a network of master gardeners, farmers and growers to provide feedback on what happens in our garden. I am a better gardener because of this work. I’ve come a long way since getting started with the process in 2013.

Two things added a unique layer to summer gardening: my spouse’s five-week trip to her sister’s home in July, and the 26-day interim between Mother’s death Aug. 15 and her funeral Monday. Both were unexpected and made a unique mental frame for what was already a weird gardening season.

While Carmen and I walked about her farm she showed off her lettuce patch in a high tunnel, and the abundance of tomatoes a crew was harvesting. We had a conversation about diversification. This year was a big tomato year for both of us, although that’s not been the case for everyone. We planted many varieties of tomatoes and while she has members to take the excess, my canning, freezing and eating has physical limits which will soon be reached.

I moved the cherry tomatoes to their own patch this year and it’s a better idea. They are all good, but my favorites were Jasper, Matt’s Wild Cherry and white cherry. I planted two rows of four plants and next year I will only plant one row to make it easier to harvest.

Among my trials this year were okra (easy to grow and a little goes a long way in our kitchen), Guajillo chilies (if they ripen well I’ll get a crop for making pepper sauce for tacos), Poblano chilies (did not produce much), red beans (I mistook pole beans for bush beans so they had trouble), and planting beets in flats before transplanting them to the ground (produced much better beets than sown seeds). I planted two types of broccoli in succession, but the second variety (Imperial) didn’t produce.

We had basil, parsley and cilantro in abundance. Basil goes into tomato dishes and parsley and cilantro are for eating fresh. Fresh cilantro is an important addition to tacos. I made a good amount of basil pesto and froze it. Even with lots of uses for basil, I let the second raft of plants go to seed because there was too much.

If there was a single most important lesson in gardening this year, it was to better tune what I grow to our cuisine. I’m not exactly sure what that means but Carmen and I discussed and agreed that is important for a gardener. As our family cuisine makes a transition, this will gain relevance when planning next year’s garden.

So that’s the story of the 2019 garden, which isn’t done.

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Kitchen Garden

Tomatoes on Everything!

Slicers, plum, paste, cherry and grape tomatoes.

The 2019 tomato harvest has begun.

We have fresh tomatoes with every meal, for snacks, and with everything.

We aren’t sick of them yet and work to preserve some of them is imminent. There’s a lot going on in the kitchen garden this August.

Sweet corn is in. Our local farm has had a spotty year, yet we’ve been able to freeze enough two-cup bags to make it until next year. Last night for dinner we had corn on the cob with sliced tomatoes — a classic summer combination.

First up in tomato preservation is to make a dozen pints of diced. This, combined with a backlog from previous years is enough to run the kitchen. I’ll also make as much tomato sauce as I can. Last year I froze it and that worked well. The freezer is filling up already so I may have to can some of it this year. Last year I froze small tomatoes whole and used them during the year to make sauce. I may try canning them whole to supplement the diced.

Yesterday I picked about two bushels of the first apples. A lot more wait on the trees. Our early apple is sweet and makes a great base for apple cider vinegar. I make a couple of gallons each year and the jars to do so are empty and just need cleaning. Our cupboard remains full of apple butter and apple sauce, so maybe a few jars of each is all I’ll make this year. They are good for out of hand eating as well. I’ll need to find a home for some of them or leave them to wildlife.

I froze enough kale for the year early in the season. What I harvest the rest of the year will be to give away or eat fresh. There is enough vegetable broth for the year, frozen jars of pesto, frozen okra, frozen celery, grated and frozen zucchini,  and the hot peppers are beginning to come in. It’s been a good year so far.

The garden didn’t produce green beans. The plants look healthy and there have been flowers. Almost no beans have been produced.

The variety of red beans planted needs to climb and I thought they were bush beans. There are bean pods forming, so there will be some harvest. Next year they need a fence to climb on, if I plant them again. I planted beans mostly to fix nitrogen in the soil.

It seems like there can never be enough beets. I started some in trays and those fared much better than the ones sown in the ground. Will do more of that next year. For now I have one jar of pickled beets to last the year.

The tomato and apple harvest signal the garden’s impending end. There’s a lot of work to be done, but we enjoy the taste of fresh tomatoes as much as anything we grow.

Categories
Home Life

September Slides into Plain Life

September Tomatoes

What happened in September?

We are in peak apple season at the orchard where I’ve been working more hours compared to August. Time at the home farm and auto supply store continues to be predictable work and a regular paycheck. I’m working more volunteer hours in politics as the general election is just six weeks away. The garden is finishing with some plots ready to be cleared.

September was a month of plain living.

People don’t often use the phrase “plain living.” Most don’t want to be plain. I embrace it. I don’t know why I’m walking this blue-green sphere, but I am, and want to get along as I get by. Maybe that’s enough of a goal. It makes a life.

On Wednesday I read Anthony Bourdain’s “Appetites: A Cookbook” from cover to cover. I needed to get away. Many of his anecdotes have been out there, although there is always something new to learn. While meat is not on my bucket list of culinary adventures, there are a dozen Bourdain recipes I’ll try and hopefully adapt to our kitchen.

I’m usually on my own for Thursday dinner and had Bourdain in mind as I prepared a burger. It began after work at the home, farm and auto supply store with a trip to the warehouse club. I selected S. Rosen’s Plain Mary Ann hamburger buns. This bun is not a wonder of nutritional value. Like me, it’s plain. The warehouse club sells them in bags of 16 for a couple of bucks, which means I froze most of them to use later. Bourdain said bun selection is very important. This made in Chicago and trucked to Coralville bun fit the bill.

Our burgers are commercial veggie patties and like the bun, plain and utilitarian. They fill in for “burger” in the iconography of consumer life. I cooked the patty, and prepared the bun with Dijon mustard on the bottom, ketchup on the top, thinly sliced onion from the CSA and a thinly sliced tomato from the garden. As the burger warmed, I put a piece of Swiss cheese on top to melt. The goal in ingredient selection is to make the burger so it can be eaten without a bib. Served with a side of corn chips and salsa and apple cider it made a meal. It reminded me of childhood.

September was also the month I harvested my best crop of tomatoes, ever. There were enough to free me from any single preparation so I have several variations of tomato sauce in the ice box and freezer. Enough to last most of the next year. A few remain on the kitchen counter but they won’t last long. I have salsa with the abundant crop of Jalapeno peppers in mind.

One could do a lot worse than to live a plain life with plain folk. That of itself can be extraordinary. Especially with a burger for dinner.

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Home Life

Taking a Deep Dive

Gala Apples

It’s raining as I type on the keyboard. Rain is to relent and I hope it does because one of the farmers for whom I work is getting married today.

In our small family there are not many celebrations. I’m not sure what to do at a wedding, although I’ll figure it out by 3:30 p.m. today.

Jacque is steering me in the right direction. We bought a gift on line and had it sent to the bride’s home. She is making a card. She suggested I refrain from going directly from the orchard in my work clothes as I had planned to do. I looked through the closet to find something to wear and there was my blue shirt and a pair of slacks. I have a pair of dress shoes left over from when I worked in the Chicago loop. I need to pick a tie. My navy blue blazer still fits. Special things for a special day. I’ll change in the employee rest room at the orchard then head down to the county seat for the ceremony. Civilization at work.

It’s still raining.

Since my first retirement nine years ago I’ve kept track of significant activities.

I keep a balance sheet, a list of books I’ve read recently, and record every event, meeting and significant encounter with people outside immediate family who are part of my world.

Early on there was a purpose to this, although I’m not sure now what it was. Three full binders later, I’m ready to give up tracking things so closely. My last full report was in December 2017 as my Social Security pension began. My second retirement seems opportunity enough to let go of details and focus on main tasks at hand. Things like weddings, funerals, birthdays, housekeeping and the like. I expect I’ll get better at it.

September begins the turn toward winter. The garden is in late summer production so there are tomatoes, celery, cucumbers, winter squash, green beans, eggplant and peppers coming in, requiring processing. Fruit is also coming in from the orchards with pears, apples and peaches lined up on the counter waiting to eat. Cooking has taken a fresh flavor with local food dominating most menus. Cucumber salad is happening daily and we’re not tired of it… yet.

2018 is proving to be a year of transition. So aren’t they all?

I’ve been planning garlic planting in late September and haven’t decided whether to use the cloves I grew as seed or to get more from the farm. I picked a place for them and once the cucumbers are done I’ll prep the soil. I think I know the answer. At some point we have to live on our own — I’ll use the cloves I grew this year, hoping they multiply and eventually become self-sustaining. I’m confident they will.

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Home Life Milestones

Remembering Donald Kaul in High Summer

Sweet Corn from a Roadside Stand

Sunday was a day to hang out on memory lane.

Sweet corn, tomatoes, cucumbers and Donald Kaul.

I bought sweet corn from a roadside stand and we had it for dinner with tomatoes and cucumbers from the garden, and thin slices of cheddar cheese from Vermont.

At some point after our return to Iowa in 1993, I decided to outsource corn growing. It takes up too much space and what space could be devoted to it produced a small crop. It was a good decision.

I cooked and froze the remainder of three dozen ears in two-cup portions in zip top bags.

We revisited stories of our lives during and after dinner.

How our cat would lick the cobs cleaned of corn kernels.

How putting up corn had been a long tradition — a family project.

How simple and good this year’s corn tasted compared to the past.

The trick to eating sweet corn is knowing how much to eat without getting a belly ache. The first ear was buttered, then sprinkled with lemon pepper seasoning and a little salt. Three ears is a usual portion. I ate four and went light on the salt. There were no ill effects.

Tomatoes

The arrival of sweet corn and tomatoes is the arrival of high summer. A short window — a couple of weeks max — when summer is good and we get a chance to be human again.

That’s something we need in this turbulent world.

In Iowa we also have the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa, more commonly known as RAGBRAI, which began yesterday. Donald Kaul and John Karras were two Des Moines Register reporters behind the annual event. It was expected this year, and Kaul died of prostate cancer Sunday morning.

“On January 11, 2018, Kaul, an agnostic, revealed that the cancer in his prostrate has spread to his skeleton and that he will no longer take treatments,” wrote Des Moines Register columnist Kyle Munson. “He was in the end stages of his battle with cancer and didn’t expect to live beyond the year.”

The end came at 11:50 a.m., according to a local radio station.

The narrative of this year’s RAGBRAI seems already written, and it doesn’t include Kaul. There is time for some show of recognition on the seven-day tour. We’ll see what happens.

For me RAGBRAI was about the summer of 1973 when it started. An artist I met in Davenport invited me to her family’s home near the Catholic orphanage to meet her parents. Her brother was out in the garage when I met him too. He was talking about riding his bicycle across the state with the Des Moines Register. Over the Coffee, Kaul’s column, was popular in this household.

Today people prepare for months for the long endurance test the annual ride has become. Specialized, lightweight bicycles, meal plans, and training. Not in 1973 when the sequence of events was 1. figure out how to get to the Missouri River with the bike; 2. tighten up the hub axle nuts; and 3. air up the tires. I can’t recall, but I don’t believe he even had a derailleur gear on his bike. It was pretty simple then and proved to be enduring.

Kaul’s death on the beginning day of the 46th RAGBRAI is likely coincidence. In any case, he is memorable for his writing more than his promotion of bicycle riding.

In high summer, after our dinner of sweet corn and tomatoes, my wife and I discussed our interactions with Donald Kaul. She got his autograph in a bookstore in Iowa City, and I corresponded with him when he was a Washington, D.C. correspondent for the Register. He was a constant part of our Iowa lives. That will still be true now he succumbed to cancer.