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

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

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.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Spring Freeze

Tomato and pepper seedlings under a grow light, April 20, 2021.

I didn’t take any chances with a potential freeze last night. I set up a space heater in the portable greenhouse and took trays of tomato and pepper seedlings indoors to put them under a grow light. It doesn’t look like ambient temperatures made it down to freezing.

Better safe than sorry. Story of my life.

Categories
Living in Society

Forgotten Seeds

2020 Tomato harvest.

It’s time to plant peppers and tomatoes in channel trays.

Saturday morning I took three drawers from the seed sorter and reviewed what I had. There were 25 packets of tomato seeds long past their sell-by date. They went to compost and the envelopes to the shredder. The end result is 22 varieties to plant plus tomatillos. I forgot to order Roma tomatoes.

I went on the Johnny’s web site and ordered a packet of Granadero. The shipping cost would be more than the seeds so I added a cabbage seed packet. Usually plenty of cabbage is available from the farm, so I don’t grow my own. This year, because of the coronavirus pandemic-shortened work season, I did not take the fall share and a couple of cabbage heads in the ice box serve a useful fall and winter culinary purpose.

Peppers will be two varieties of bell peppers and five hot. I’m getting better at growing peppers and tomatoes.

The ground was too wet to work yesterday so I’m hoping it dries enough today and tomorrow. That means I’d better decide where things go.

Potatoes will be in containers again and we’re six days from Good Friday planting. Main questions are whether to move the containers, and what medium in which to grow them.

Placement of onions, shallots and leeks has not been determined. I grew and ordered enough starts to produce double the crop of the 2020 garden. I need more row space for easier tillage this year.

Large greens — kale, collards, mustard, chard — are planned together this year in a special plot. The seedlings are well along and these will be the first transplants just as soon as the ground is ready.

There will be another plot split between broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower, and radicchio, lettuce, spinach, pak choi, and other small greens. I’ve been walking the garden daily, although a final plan is not finished.

Another day in the life of a gardener. Here’s hoping the rain relents for a few days.

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.

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

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.