Tuesday, September 13, 2016

All Hail the Kale

Kale "Richmonds"
Kale "Red Russian"
Kale "Redbor"
Kale "Songbird"
Kale "Glamour"
Kale "Dinosaur"
Kale "Crane Red"
OK, now that you've seen all the beautiful kale carried by Annie's Annuals and Perennials, how about some thoughts about this vegetable and what it can do for you!

There's no doubt Kale can be super nutritional and a benefit for your little body.  I admit, for me, it's a hard sell.  I have to make myself eat Kale, turnip greens, collards and the like.  They remind me of eating something meant for cows - like hay.  Those that were raised on these beneficial greens have a love that holds no boundaries.  Southern cooking would not be complete without a side of greens.  Southern family restaurants don't even ask if you want any, it's expected.

But I'm going for a different take on Kale.  I'm going for the decorative benefits in your flower gardens.  

Kale comes in a multitude of different shapes, sizes and colors.  They aren't invasive nor do they get out of hand and become ugly.  They simply sit there waiting to be picked or admired.  There's also the benefit that they're still beautiful in the fall when other plants are winding down.

Plant sets aren't all that expensive because most of the plant venders still consider them a vegetable.  Once they realize people are using them for landscaping, I expect the price to raise.  We are seeing it with some of the more decorative Kales shown above.  You can still buy traditional Kale in a six-pack set and put those little babies in between other plants and all for less than you'd pay for traditional annuals.  

They can also be raised from seed - an even cheaper option.

If you like the taste of raw or cooked Kale, it can be pinched all season and will come back looking great.  Kale often takes on a stronger or peppery taste in the fall after a light frost making it the perfect time to pick all of it and cook and/or freeze.  

For those of you that haven't ventured into the new decorative Kale world, check out nurseries this coming spring.  It's the plant that just keeps on giving.    

And for those that need that shot of cooked or salad greens, Kale offers a never ending supply of nutrients, texture and color. 

They are easily transplanted from the garden in late fall into pots or near decorative displays.    

In pots, flower beds or vegetable gardens, they are surprisingly beautiful especially in the fall.  


Thursday, September 8, 2016

Freezing and Canning


Freezing and canning in a world of fast food and fancy restaurants. 

I’ve been “putting up” food for about fifty years.  It’s something I enjoy. 
My mother and prior generations did it because it was necessity in the winter.  Plus, with a huge garden and fruit trees and bushes we wouldn’t eat it all so “waste not want not” was to preserve.

Prior to having freezers, women used water bath canners and pressure cookers.  And some foods were pickled or dried. 

I joked the other day:  I had made two pints of plum conserve and it had only cost me $400 in electric and gas usage.  An exaggeration for sure but no one preserves food as a means to save much money.  Perhaps if you have a large family, everyone helps and you raise large quantities of food – then maybe.

Young families are starting to acknowledge the benefits of vegetable gardening and preserving their own food.  Organic foods, knowing what is in the foods and flavor are important to them.  In the process, they are realizing they need to preserve the abundance. 

The different groups preparing for end times are stocking up their food banks with preserved food.  Some are using military ration kits for long term storage but those that want good taste are putting up their own.  In the assumption there will be no power grid, they can rather than freeze.

Most community food banks don’t accept home prepared foods as a safety issue.  Some will accept fresh fruits and vegetables – call and ask if you’re interesting in donating.

My go to book on preserving food is the “Ball Blue Book of Preserving” and it’s worth its weight in gold.   (See the additional article “Preservation Highway” 09-20-2012)

I buy most of my canning supplies locally because they have what I want at reasonable prices. Lehman’s non electric catalog is where I go for things I can’t find locally.

I have some old cookbooks and family recipes. Old cookbooks, like the 1963 Farm Journal “Freezing & Canning Cookbook” are gems.  The deal with prior generations is they canned EVERYTHING in a zillion different ways.  They did this so winter meals wouldn’t become boring and as a way to use every single edible thing from their gardens. 

As a side note:  They also preserved all kinds meat according to if they hunted and/or raised and butchered their own animals.

If you’ve never tasted home canned produce, you may not realize it retains much of the original fresh taste; far exceeding commercially produced foods. One thing I like about home canned foods is how quick it is to make a meal because the long prep time has already been completed.

Plum Conserve

5 cups         Chopped & Pitted Plums (do not peel)
3 cups         Sugar
2 large        Oranges – Zested and chopped orange pulp (seeds removed)
1 cup          Raisins (optional)
(Note:  If you leave out raisins, add 1 cup more of plums)

Combine all ingredients in a large heavy saucepot except pecans.  Bring slowly to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves.  Cook rapidly (uncovered) almost to gelling point (220 on your thermometer.)  As mixture thickens, stir frequently to prevent sticking. Ladle hot conserve into hot jars, leaving ¼ inch headspace.  Remove air bubbles.  Adjust two piece caps.  Process 15 minutes in a boiling water canner.  Makes 4 half pints.

I list this recipe without all the little necessary canning instructions assuming you will either know what to do or have someone help you through the first time.   

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

More Recipes!

For those gardeners who don't care two hoots and a haller about recipes, move on and we'll get back together at a later date.  In my searches for interesting recipes to preserve foods this fall, I'll dig through some of the really old books I found when cleaning out my dad's home.  My mom, like other women, would keep those advertising pamphlets, newspaper clippings and handwritten notes on scrapes of most anything IF it had a good recipe.  One pamphlet was called "Yacht Club Manual of Salads" printed in 1914 by the Yacht Club Food Product company of Chicago IL.  


This manual was seriously into making any and everything left over into something.  

Some of the more interesting concoctions - all using Yacht Club Salad Dressing - are:

Prune Salad  (a salad and a regulator all in one)
Baked Bean Salad  (seriously with baked beans)
A variety of Aspics (once so popular and now never seen.)
Sweetbread Salad (umm, no thanks)

Moving on to sandwiches:
The ever popular baked bean sandwich (do they never stop)
Bread and Butter sandwich (who needs a recipe for this?)
I know this was popular in this era but:  Lettuce sandwich.
And a peanut butter sandwich which starts with grinding your own peanuts.  

Two pages of garnishes:
Nasturtiums - they are lovely and I've used them.
Watercress - they used this in everything and now we seldom see.

And because store-bought catsup was also something new, two pages of how to use catsup.  
  Consider that this company was only in business for about twenty years.  It was on the front of packaged food.  No wonder my little pamphlet has survived - it was a new exciting thing in it's day.

Now who's up for some prune salad?

Monday, September 5, 2016

To Feed or Not To Feed


Add caption
Early in March, birds' natural food supply is at its lowest point of the year. Insect populations are still low, and the few remaining wild fruits, berries, seeds and nuts are either hidden or undesirable. Unpredictable weather doesn't make life any easier. Sunny, warm, spring-like days can turn into cold, damp conditions that challenge birds' survival skills. And to make matters worse, this is all happening as some birds prepare for nesting season.
These challenges provide you with the best opportunities of the year to help your birds.
Offer lots of high-energy foods, such as peanuts and suet. Loaded with fat and protein, these are beneficial substitutes for the scarce insects many birds would eat if they could find them.

Male and Female Rose Breasted Grosbecks
In the summer, it's pretty much a matter of feed them if you want to watch them up close.  Otherwise, they find their own food and are busy raising family.

When it gets cold enough there are no longer insects, it's time to seriously consider feeding birds.  

Birds are loyal, in a fashion, to the hand that feeds them.  They learn quickly where there's a good reliable food source.  They're also fickle if you put food out and then forget to replenish it for a few days.  Think of how you wouldn't stick around and wait out several days with no food if it meant starving on a cold winter night.  You'd be off looking for a new diner quickly.
Northern Cardinal eating during a snow storm

Every person who feeds birds has their special just right food and method.  Most have learned this over trial and error.  My grape jelly has never attracted anything but insects but others have entire flocks of Oreoles at their jelly.

Some folks spend a small fortune for specialized foods.  Others throw out bread crumbs or peanuts.  

Here's a few common sense suggestions for feeding birds:


Position your feeders where you can easily keep them filled all winter.  If you have to walk on a mile of ice and six feet of snow, chances are you won't keep them filled. 

Keep your feed in totally sealable plastic tubs.  Insects and rodents will find any little hole in the storage unit and ruin the food.
Goldfinch eating straight from the sunflowers

Put your feeders where you'll be able to watch them during the day.  It's one of the major reasons for feeding birds.

Start the cold weather feeding by totally cleaning out the feeders.  Use a putty knife to scrape them clean then wash with a mild bleach solution, rinse and let dry.  

Make sure your feeders are water proof.  Nothing spoils food faster than getting wet.
House Finch enjoying his treats.

If squirrels raid your feeders more than you want, position another cracked corn feeder away from the bird feeders.  It won't solve the entire problem but it does give them a place they enjoy more.  Cracked corn is also a favorite of several larger birds.

An all around favorite bird food is sunflower seeds.  Get them hulled unless you want to have a huge pile of solid hulls under your feeder.    My birds don't like the cracked sunflower seeds and they go to waste plus make a big mess.

Niger seeds are a favorite of some birds but they are expensive and seldom attract a bigger variety of birds to my feeders.
Bluejay with seed

The pre-mixed bird seed seems to have loads of seeds my birds don't eat.  They scatter them around and they sprout; making a mess.  A waste of good money.

When there's loads of snow and ice, make sure they can get through it to the food.   I've found my feeders totally frozen with wet snow that took a lot of chipping with a screwdriver to expose the seeds.

Birds like a place, close to the feeders, where they can escape or hide easily.  Mine is a tangle of honeysuckle on an arbor and an evergreen bush.  

My birds like homemade suet better than packaged.   One I use:

In the microwave, melt lard, and peanut butter. Add whatever I have at the time: oats, nuts, seeds, dried or fresh fruit, & corn meal. Line sandwich shaped refrigerator containers with plastic wrap, pour in the mix and refrigerate. I make several and keep in the freezer in plastic bags. Unwrap, put in your suet feeder and hang where the dogs can’t reach. 

Yes, birds have been surviving for as long as the earth has been formed.  In spite of this fact, I still like to do my little part, in my little yard, to make their lives a little fuller and to make my enjoyment of them a little nicer on cold winter days.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

September and Your Iris

A little reminder about "Iris Chores" for autumn.  

To avoid over wintering insects and diseases that can cause rot and reduce the occurrence of leaf spots and borers, remove and destroy any iris garden debris (spent iris bloom stalks and brown foliage.)

Be gentle in pulling brown foliage and stalks that you don't dislodge the rhizome.

Use clean (soaked in a light bleach solution) clippers so you don't transfer fungus or other disease to another plant.  Dip in the solution between cuttings.  

Trimming the green foliage back to 6 inches above the rhizome makes the garden more tidy and reduces fungus that may be on the leaves.  This isn't a "necessity" but rather a choice.

It's about the end of transplanting or adding new iris for the season.  They will find it difficult to set down roots before winter.  This will make them susceptible to heaving out of the ground during freeze/thaw.

I don't mulch my iris because I don't rake in the fall.  BUT:  if you have lots of leaves and they form a wet mass over the iris rhizomes, it may promote rot.  Adding a straw or pine needle mulch seems to help with the freeze/thaw issue and not hold the additional moisture.  Remove iris mulch promptly in early spring when new foliage appears.     


Saturday, September 3, 2016

Dump Vegetable Soup

This week I canned vegetable soup.  It was the best vegetable soup I have ever tasted and that's saying a lot.  My tomatoes are exceptionally tasty this year.  Is it the weather, the varieties or Mother Nature?  It's nothing I did and the varieties are ones I've raised before.  Whatever the reason, I know they are perfect for soups.
Large cooking pot on the left - water bath canner on the right

I use a very large pot for cooking ingredients for canning.  It's made for canning with a thick bottom, fits the big burner on the stove and cleans relatively easy.  Since I usually make my vegetable soup with whatever is available, I seldom measure anything.  I've done it so many times, I know how much seasoning to add to the level of foods in this pot.

One key to flavorful vegetable soup is to use fresh ingredients.  I had my own tomatoes and green bell peppers.  I purchased the rest from a farmer's market.

The amount of liquid in this recipe will depend on how many tomatoes you use and how long you cook the mixture.  If it cooks down too much, add water or meat broth.

Since I started with some chopped smoked ham, this recipe had to be processed in a pressure cooker to get the safety factor in place.  If you don't use meat or meat broth, you can process in the water bath (40 minutes.)

I'm not going to use exact amounts because you will use what you have but I'll try to describe how it looks in the pot and why.  Experienced cooks will understand.

First I sprayed the pan with PAM cooking spray.  I always do this in hopes of not having anything burn and stick to the sides - making clean up easier.

I started with about 1/4 cup of olive oil, heated but not smoking.

I added two cups of chopped smoked ham cubes.  Immediately added 6 medium onions, chopped in medium sized cubes.

All vegetables are in medium sized pieces because I don't want them to go to mush and loose their individual look (and taste.)

Add 6 medium carrots, chopped.  I use quite a lot because it sweetens.  6 stalks of celery including the leaves; chopped.  2 bell peppers, cored - seeded and chopped.  Let this mixture fry enough to smell the flavors but not to actually cook through or brown.

While these are cooking, prepare the next ingredients.  Peel and chop ten medium potatoes.  I use Idaho because they hold their shape.  Snap a pound of green beans into thirds.  Cook corn on the cob and cut off, including scraping for the milk.  I also chopped a hand full of Chinese cabbage - it adds a slight peppery taste.  Add these to the pot.

Peel and core tomatoes, adding to the soup.  Use as many as you wish.  I used enough to double the other vegetables.  Add 2 cups of water or meat broth to get it started.  Stir, bring to a boil and stir to keep from sticking and then simmer.

Add 2 cups sugar,  Kosher salt and ground pepper to taste.  I know some folks don't want any of this but the sugar brings out the tomato's own sweetness and the salt is necessary for a flavorful soup.  Unless you want to change the flavor of this soup, don't substitute or delete the seasonings.

This soup should only cook to get the potatoes fully cooked but not mushy.  Once that's done, it's time to put into hot sterilized jars, seal and process in a pressure cooker for 40 minutes at 10 pounds pressure.

If you raise herbs, consider adding parsley, rosemary, thyme or any of others that you love.  Fresh basil looses some it's flavor in the canning process although I usually throw some in anyway.  Garlic, chives and leeks can go strong or do nothing.  I tend to leave those out of preserved products.

This recipe is a "dump" recipe so use whatever you have at the moment.  Any kind of beans and peas are good and add lots of nutrition and color.   If you don't eat meat products, the beans are an excellent way to get some of the protein you need.

Hot peppers may be added but consider that the entire batch will be flavored to that extent.  Same goes for hot spice seasonings (cayenne, pepper sauce, chili) and cilantro.

A quart jar will give two large servings of soup.  If your soup is thick, add liquid at the time of re-heating and it will go farther.  The liquid can be water, V8 juice or meat broth.  Some experts recommend always cooking canned food (when re-heating) to boiling and for an additional fifteen minutes to eliminate the chance of food poisoning.  I've never had food poisoning from my canned food but that's not to say it isn't good advice.

With any dump soup, it's always fun because every batch will have a different taste and consistency.  The ingredients will vary as will the results of different varieties of vegetables.  This is a good thing.  No chance of getting bored with anything.  

Have fun canning vegetable soup - it will be a winter time blessing.
   

Friday, September 2, 2016

Ripe Tomato Chutney

Chutney from Pinterest
Unless you have an open mind about foods or were raised on a farm fifty  or more years ago, you may find it difficult to put sweets with meats.  Back when . . . all farm families served sweets and sours with meals.  It enhanced the meal with a variety of flavors and it used every single thing from the gardens in enough ways as to not get boring.  Plus, using sugar and/or vinegar helped with the preservation processes.

Chutney and a variety of vegetable combos called things like:  relishes, conserve, honey, butter, salsa, spread and piccalilli are all good stuff.  Most were served in a small glass bowl to be passed at the table.  They're really good on meat.  Most were not mixed into other dishes.  

Here's a good chutney for using tomatoes:


Ripe Tomato Chutney

1 pound     -      Ripe tomatoes - skin and core
8 ounces    -     Onions - skin
4 ounces    -     Sour applies - peel and core
1 pound     -     Raisins
4 ounces    -     Light brown sugar, packed
1/4 ounce   -    Salt
1/4 ounce   -    Ground ginger
Pinch         -     Cayenne pepper
1/2 pint      -     Vinegar

Chop tomatoes, onions, apples and raisins.  Spray heavy cooking pan with PAM.  Add all ingredients and boil to a rather lumpy mash.  Stir to keep from sticking.  This will take one hour or more.  Ladle into hot sterilized jars, cap and process for 15 minutes.  Makes 1 1/2 pound.

From "The Farmhouse Kitchen"  by Mary Norwak.

Good General Information

Chutney is typically a sweet/sour combo with lumps.  It almost always has raisins or sultanas and ginger.  It always has sugar and vinegar.  Although there are many fruit chutney recipes, ones with ripe or green tomatoes are many.  

The combination of fruits and vegetables in old recipes are often those things ripening at the same time.   In this recipe, it's tomatoes and apples.  

Many recipes for preserving contain spices.  Today it's used to flavor.  Originally it was used as a way to disguise bad tasting mostly spoiled food.  You know our ancestors were the top of the health gene line because they survived the Middle Ages without death due to food poisoning.

Food preservation by water bath or pressure cooker canning hasn't been around that long.  The first canning methods simply put hot food in the clean hot jars, capped and hoped for the best.  Jellies and similar sweet products had a layer of melted wax on top.  Some meats had layers of fat poured over them in a crock.  Some pickled items would keep for months in crocks. 

The reason for root cellars was the temperature was cool all year and was used to keep unpreserved food from spoiling especially apples, pears, potatoes and some other root vegetables.  For those things that wouldn't keep, you ate or you preserved.  Jars of preserved foods were also kept in cool dark places to prolong the shelf life and keep the color.  Preserved food in glass jars may look beautiful sitting on your kitchen shelves but the heat will cause it to loose it's looks and nutritional value much faster.  


Great example of an early root cellar.
If your old house has similar shelves in the basement,
you can pretty much  be assured it was
once stocked like this cellar.