harvest

This past week, I attended the International Leadership Association’s (ILA) Leadership Education Academy (LEA). It was an amazing event, a cross between a conference and a work development program, created specifically for leadership educators. I met some creative, inspiring leadership professors, people who teach leadership skills to youth and young adults, and leadership professionals who teach within their organizations. The staff, all leadership professors, was fantastic, and the content of knowledge we learned is extremely helpful. You know… It was information that I will use, and use often in my career. I was so inspired and leadership focused… until I got home.

As you can imagine, in Indiana, the most important time of the harvesting season starts mid-July and runs throughSeptember, or even October… and even sometimes into November, if the weather holds out! I made sure that I had harvested everything available the day before I left for Denver.

I was gone for five days, and I was shocked at what needed to be done to get the garden caught up. As you can see, I had a boatload of green beans and peppers, as well as cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplant, and blackberries to harvest. Before taking that photo, I gave away two dozen peppers, a dozen tomatoes, and six cucumbers, and I cooked down enough blackberries to freeze two gallons of juice. I also set a few dozen tomatoes on my ripening table that you don’t see here. It never seems like so much is ready when I work on it, every day, but skip a week, and WOW!

Now, it’s time to decide what to do with it all. Wednesday, I will be teaching a certification class in YOUTH Mental Health First Aid, so I will be able to serve some of the peppers, cucumbers, and tomatoes with our lunch. I have a boatload of kale ready to be harvested, too, so I will also take some of it to the class. I have been pickling sweet yellow and banana peppers, lately, and I have enough for a year’s worth of my family’s use. I recently saw a recipe for sweet and hot peppers which I might try, though, and I will start canning my jalapeno peppers, since they started producing. The red Cayenne peppers will be dried and used by my son on all kinds of yummy (and spicy) foods.

The tomatoes that I grew from plants are ripening, nicely, but they are mostly table tomatoes. Since my family eats a lot of fresh tomatoes, we are using them up or giving them away to friends and family. My parents could eat fresh tomatoes, especially the german- or beefsteak-style tomatoes, at every meal, so yes, they get used up, quickly. I also like to make some of the extras into stewed tomatoes or salsas.

The tomatoes that I planted from seed are a week or so behind the other tomato plants, even though they were planted at least six weeks after the others. They are they types that I turn into pasta sauce, salsa, and soups. They have very little liquid and very few seeds, so they are easy to process and have lots of meaty flesh to use. The breeds I planted were a Roma-style called “Big Mama” and “Super Sauce.”

Super Sauce is, by far, my favorite saucing tomato, because it is huge (up to 2.5 pounds each) and tasty, which make less work for me. I have made tomato sauce that fits in one quart-sized jar with just two Super Sauce tomatoes! The ones in the garden are so big on some plants that the stems started bending over, because the plant couldn’t hold them up without help. As you can imagine, I have been outside tying the heavier stems up on the stakes I use to support the plants.

Well, I guess I need to stop gushing about this harvest, because I need to go can some green beans! I have a lot to do. Anyway.. I wish you Happy Harvesting and Preserving!

Advertisements

Pickle Your Red Cabbage

Red Cabbage

My mother, who emigrated from Germany, has always served some of the best tasting food in the world. One of my favorites is pickled red cabbage. There are several variations, but my favorite is a very simple brine-based type. I grow red cabbage for one reason and one reason only: to make this fabulous, beautiful dish.

Now, I have to tell you that I tried to adapt the recipe a few times in order to eliminate the sugar component, and it was disasterous! The fermenting of the cabbage requires the sugar, so don’t leave it out. Also, for all of you who lack patience: You must let your jars of red cabbage sit for around three months before it will be ready to eat. Otherwise, you will be eating cooked cabage and pure vinegar! Since I pick my cabbage in small batches, I use a small batch recipe.

2015 Garden 4

If you start canning now, you will have pickled red cabbage ready to serve or give in time for the holidays!!

2013 Garden 4

Pickled Red Cabbage

Step One: Wash, remove the core, then chop or shred one large head of red cabbage. I prefer a large chop, since I like to eat it with a fork as a side dish. Place it in a large bowl and mix in 1/8 cup of pickling or kosher salt. Rub the salt into the leaves of the cabbage. You will notice that the cabbage will start to release liquid. Cover the bowl with a towel and let it stand for about 24 hours.

Step Two: Put the cabbage into a colander. Rinse the cabbage with water, then let it drain. You want most of the liquid to be dried off, so you can either let it sit in the colander for an hour or two, or you can use paper towel to press out as much water as possible. When mostly dried, the cabbage is ready to be pickled.

Step Three: Pack the prepared cabbage into your canning jars. Depending upon the size of your cabbage, you will need 2-3 quart or 4-6 pint jars. I suggest using the size of jar which will best accommodate your family for one meal. At this point in life, that is the pint-sized jar for me. Prepare your jars, like you usually do, and while the jars are still hot, tightly pack them with the prepared cabbage. Add 1/4 t. mustard seeds to pint jars or 1/2 t. to quart jars. Make sure you leave at least an one of head space, and set aside while you make the pickling brine.

Step Four: To make a brine, you will cook some vinegar with some spices. Some of the spices will flavor the vinegar mixture, but you don’t want them to be in your jars, so you will put them in a piece of cheesecloth or spice ball which will be lowered into the brine while it cooks. Here is the recipe:

  • In a piece of cheesecloth combine the follow, then tie it with a piece of string:
    • 1 T. whole Cloves
    • 1 T. Peppercorns
    • 1T. whole Allspice
    • 1/4 t. Mace
    • 1 T. Celery Seeds
  • Cook 4 cups of white vinegar and and 1/2 c. brown sugar on medium-high heat until the sugar dissolves, completely. Add the spice-filled cheesecloth and bring the mixture back up to a boil. Boil for about 4 minutes, then turn off the heat. Remove the spice bag. What is left is your brine!

Step Five: Pour your brine into each jar, remove air bubbles by sliding a flat knife down the sides, and adjust the brine until your brine barely covers the cabbage and is one inch from the rim of the jar. Cover the jars with your lids and rings, and you are ready to can!

Step Six: This is important: DO NOT PRESSURE CAN! Pressure canning your cabbage could results in mushy, discolored cabbage which your family might disown you for. I suggest using a water bath method. It’s quick and easy. Just put your jars into the prepared canner of hot water, and add boiling water to ensure that each jar is covered by about three inches of water. Cover the pot. Turn the heat on high. When the water comes to a boil, start timing: 20 minutes for pints and 25 minutes for quarts.

Step Seven: Remove the jars from the canner. Put them on a towel-covered surface and let them cool without further touching them. As the jars cool, a vacuum will occur, and you will hear the lids ping and pop to indicate that they have properly sealed (It is like music to the ears of people who preserve their own food). When cool, place the jars in a cool, dry, somewhat dark place for a few months to let the cabbage ferment into a scrumptious, beautiful product. YUM! Happy Canning!

 

 

 

 

My Little Place of Pleasure

DSC_0065

LindyMal sent me an email, asking to see some of my garden, so I thought I would share a little of my little gardening world. Many people have different ideas about gardening. When I was a little girl, our family had a garden, because it helped us to eat good food and lower our grocery costs. I was the one who loved to work in the garden and preserve some of our food.

2015 Garden

Much of my adult life has been a challenge. Gardening offered me some relief. Not only is it good exercise, but it provides food as clean and organic as I choose. It helps me save money and have some control over the health of my family. I find gardening to be therapeutic, and it offers the opportunity to be creative (See the potato bags I tried?). My favorite benefit comes when I watch the kids and grandkids working and helping, getting excited when their seeds break through the ground, and spending time with me.

Harvest

I get to try to grow… and eat… food that I may not have ever tried. Sometimes it is an accident! For example, I planted what I thought was zucchini, this spring, but it grew into a beautiful, yellow crook-neck squash. I had to ask my FaceBook friends what on earth to do with crook-neck squash. It turns out that anything you do with zucchini, you can do with crook-neck. My first crook-neck adventure was to make a chocolate squash cake which was beautiful, moist, and delicious. Yummy!

DSC_0027

Another valuable characteritic of gardens is that it gives me the opportunity to share. I created one garden bed for my mom and four smaller ones for kids to grow their own items. Many people who are driving or bicycling past our house, often stop to ask about the garden. It’s always funny when I meet a stranger and say what neighborhood I live in, and they ask me if I live close to the crazy lady with the big garden. Yes, folks. That is me.

Like my garden, I am a work in progress. I spend time there, thinking, learning, and finding ways to better myself. Some days I work hard, and other days I am kind of lazy. Gardening has taught me much about patience and the joy found in delayed gratification. The only thing I don’t do there is sleep. I love my garden, and I hope that you get as much nutrition and pleasure from yours as I do from mine.

An Eggplant Gift from Janet

Janet's eggplant and tomato

I just wanted to share the beautiful gift I received from my friend, Janet, today. During a conversation, last week, I mentioned that Japanese beetles were nipping off the flowers on my eggplant, so the flowers were falling to the ground instead of producing fruit. Janet suggested that I apply a soap wash to the plants to deter the hungry little buggers, and it seems to have worked. Today, Janet paid me a visit and brought me a little gift: her first eggplant of the year and a tomato called a Granny Smith which grows to a beautiful shade of green. Thank you for your generosity, Janet!

first eggplant

You can see the damage caused by the Japanese beetles on the leaves of this plant. Since spraying the plant with the soap wash and sprinkling some cayenne papper on the ground around the plant, the insects have fled, and I now have my first eggplant fruit on the stalk! Since I want to avoid using insecticides, I am happy that the soap wash worked!

Ketchup and Fries Plant!

DSC_0045

I wanted to share this plant with you. I wanted to try this and will keep you posted on its progress. This is a ketchup and fries plant. It was created by grafting a potato plant on the bottom and a tomato plant on the top. Supposedly (can you hear my skepticism?)… the potatoes are supposed to grow down into the pot and the tomatoes will grow above ground. I am skeptical, because when I grow potatoes, I have to continually pile straw or compost up the stem as they grow up, since potatoes grown on the stems, not the roots. This will be interesting to see for sure… More later!

Oregano the Beautiful

oregano

Oregano is a tasty, versatile herb used in many types of cooking. I grow and use the Greek style of oregano, which provides that wonderful smell associated with pizza and the flavors of many Italian, Greek, and French recipes. I like to use it both fresh and dried, but I find that my two plants produce much more than I could possibly use fresh, so I dry a lot of it and freeze a little of it.

Oregano Young Oregano Old

Oregano is an easy-to-grow perennial plant in Indiana. It can be grown from seed, propagated from a cutting, dug up and split into smaller plants, or left to reseed itself. I have found that the best flavor comes from plants which are one to two years old. Once the plant is about four or five years old, it probably should be replaced, because it starts to get woody and lose its flavor. The above left photo is a two-year old plant, and the one on the right is four years old. As you can see, the older the plant gets, the more it spreads. Although oregano is a member of the mint family, it is not as invasive as mint.

Oregano Tools

I usually cut my first harvest of oregano around June 1st, and this year was no exception. I find that using great tools to harvest makes it easier. As you can see, I use a KitchenAid brand harvesting shear. I like that it has a notched area in the blade which assists me with easily cutting things like oregano or asparagus, saving a great deal of time and energy.

Harvest oregano before the plant produces flowers. A plant’s main reason for living is to reproduce, and like humans, once offspring (seeds via flowers) are growing, the plant transfers much of its energy to creating the future baby (seeds). This significantly reduces the amount of herbal oils which are created in the plant, and that relates to less flavor and aroma. I also find that harvesting oregano in early afternoon is best in Spring and early morning is best in Summer allowing for the best flavor.

The first year I grew oregano, I cut the entire stem off, and the plant did not grow back until the next Spring… That was my mistake! I later learned that the best way to harvest oregano is to cut each stem just above at least one set of leaves, leaving part of each stem. That leaves the plant with enough energy-producing leaves to continue to grow. Now, I get multiple harvests from each plant, each season. In 2016, for example, my plants gave me six… YES 6… huge harvests of oregano. I had so much that I gave away 2/3 of what I grew, since I could not use that much herb in three years.

Oregano After

I left about four inches on each stem, during this harvest. As you can see, my beautiful plant is no longer very beautiful. Don’t worry, though, Within a week, it will be visibly growing, again, and the plant will look fantastic in the garden. This harvest was a really large one: I froze some, tied a few bundles and hung them to dry, dried some in the food dehydrator, and left a few stems in the refrigerator to use fresh. Since I make my own pasta and pizza sauces, salsas, and relishes, as well as combine my own dried Italian seasoning mix, I will be using much of my oregano later in the season. You will see it again!

Kale Kale Kale

Kale Harvest

I love kale. It is beautiful. It is easy to grow. It is nutritious. I like to eat it in salads, add it to fruit and veggie smoothies, and dry it into kale chips. A cup of kale has 2.9 grams of protein and no cholesterol. A cup of kale exceeds the daily required amount of vitamins A, K, and C that the human body needs, each day. It is filled with fiber, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids.

For a short time, kale was one of the most popular foods on the market and in the garden. It is one of many plants in the cabbage family: Others include cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and brussel sprouts among others. If you want to try a fantastic dish which includes these foods, there is a great new kale and brussel sprout salad that you can currently get from Cracker Barrel. The kale and brussel sprouts are shredded and mixed with cranberries and a sweet dressing… yum!

Above, you can see two varieties which grow quite well in the Indiana garden: Lacinto kale and Scots Curly kale.

Lacinto Kale

Lacinto Kale is often called dinosaur kale or flat-leaf kale. It is a long, somewhat flat leaf which looks like the bumps and scales we often imagine on dinosaur skin, hence the name, Dinosaur kale. It is denser than other types of kale and makes wonderful chips which are closer to the consistency of thin potato chips than Scots kale.

Curly Kale

Scots kale, also known as Curly kale, is a beautiful leaf of pure goodness. I think Curly kale makes a gorgeous addition to any salad or sandwich. It’s curls hold salad dressing well, and it adds texture to a lettuce salad.

Kale Stem

I have had many people tell me that they do not like kale’s bitter taste. There are two things which eliminate bitterness in kale. Do you see that thick stem which runs the length of the kale plant? It is the bitter taste that you experience. Take that stem out: Don’t eat it! The second thing you should know about kale is that the colder it is, the sweeter it will taste. As a matter-of-fact, kale loves frost, so it is best planted in very early spring and in the autumn. When I clean kale, I clean it with very cold water, and sometimes even drop it into ice water for a few minutes before serving it.

Adding kale to your diet means adding nutrition and some variety to your diet. I am making kale chips, today… I will be posting photos! I hope you consider growing it in your garden. You can start seeds or buy plants. Seeds grow well and will surprise you.

The Story Inn Garden

Story Inn 5

Out in the middle of nowhere along old State Road 135 in Nashville, Indiana… if you don’t blink your eyes for more than a second… you will find the tiny town of Story, a lovingly restored town of maybe a dozen buildings. The main building, the old general store, has been converted into a fantastic restaurant with bed-and-breakfast style accommodations in its four upper rooms. most of the rest of the buildings in town are also restored in the B&B style. This is one of my favorite places on earth for one reason: the garden at the Story Inn is one of the most wonderful working kitchen gardens I have ever been in.

The trip to the Story Inn is one of the most inconvenient, anguishing road trips I have been on. It doesn’t help that it already takes me two hours to drive from Tipton County to the turn-off on State Road 46. It’s the rest of the trip that causes me anxiety. I turn south onto 135 and drive for what seems like… well… forever… before I finally get to Story. It is a jaunt, but it isn’t really that bad. My anxiety sets in when I drive for so long that I start thinking that I may have blinked and passed the town right up! I have been making the trip, each year, since 2008, and I have had that same feeling, each and every time. If you like good food and love great gardens, though, it is well worth the trip.

Story Inn 7

The Story Inn has one of the best kitchen gardens that I have been in. The owners grow some vegetables, salad greens, and herbs which can be used in the kitchen, and they built a fantastic outdoor stone oven and grill which, if the weather is good, you just might be able to talk the chef into using to grill your scrumptious steaks and seafood. Better yet, they have outdoor seating in the garden, and occasional live entertainment from the back porch. Imagine my joy at being able to eat one of the best meals prepared in the state of Indiana in my favorite kitchen garden listening to live music on a warm summer night.

Story Inn 1

There are a lot of interesting stories about the Story Inn, as well. One of them is about a ghost called, The Blue Lady, which frequents one of the upper rooms at the Story Inn. Paranormal investigators have investigated, and some say there is ample evidence that she is more than a figment of the imagination. I always laugh when I hear the waiters talk about how the ghost sightings quadrupled after the management started leaving complimentary bottles of wine in the guest rooms. Could this be the case of a wine-loving ghost? Could it be that the wine makes people see things that may not be there? Whatever the case, Guests who have visited the Story Inn say that The Blue Lady has been nothing but welcoming and accommodating when they have seen her. I am happy to say that I have not seen her in the garden during any of my visits!

Yes, my friends, the long trip to the boondocks, through a state park and around a national forest, on the old road which used to be the dirt path to Kentucky during the days of pioneers, to a town, which all but died and was resurrected by self-proclaimed hippies and is inhabited by ghosts, which you might miss if you blink on the way there, is one of the best, most worthwhile, ventures to make in Indiana. If you love great food or just a great garden, you will love the Story Inn. Just sayin’