Is it spring yet?

I wish! It’s so deceiving because the sun is out and all I want to do is get into the gardens but it’s still too cold for planting. I know it’s just around the corner because the daffodils are beginning to pop up and are just about to bloom.  I planted about 300 daffodil bulbs in 2016 and then another 200 in 2017.  I sort of forgot all the places I planted so this will be a fun surprise.

So check this out!  I didn’t come up with this one my own.  Thank you, Pinterest!

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I know, right?!  I had to share.  The perfect solution and re-use for a pallet.  I trimmed off about a foot and a half off the top, painted it for fun, and then screwed it into the studs.  Viola!  I can’t even tell you how much space this saves.  If you’re like me, you have the Sahara Desert of garden tools that somehow expands further and further out.  No more trying to line up the holes on the tools with the nails on the wall, either.  You know what I’m talking about.  I think because I can just plop it into the pallet bin, it will remain tidy.

I still have the trimmed off piece and I think I’m going to paint it and use it on the workbench.  I’ll come back and let you know what I come up with.

Have a great day, y’all!


In the garden: Growing Loofah

I’ve had some people ask questions in a garden group about growing loofah and I promised I’d share my experience.  It seems like loofah should come from the ocean, right?  Well, it’s actually from the cucumber family and grows on a vine with a beautiful yellow flower.

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I was having trouble with the pollination of some gourds in my garden the previous year, so I pollinated these myself.  It’s a very long growing season so start as soon as your frost ends.  Since I am now in the Pacific Northwest, I think I’ll grow in my greenhouse for the heat.

Let the loofah dry on the vine until the outer membrane is brown.

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The ribs in the membrane have a string-like thread running along the length.  Pull the thread and remove the membrane.  Some of the seeds will begin to fall out so have a cloth spread out to catch them.

IMG_7433Whack the gourd into a bucket and catch all the seeds.  Yay!  More loofah seeds to plant and share with your friends.  Your friends are definitely going to want to plant when they see your amazing loofah.

IMG_7435Rinse the loofah well.

One of the most amazing things I’ve noticed is that this homegrown and unprocessed loofa doesn’t mildew like store bought.  I cut up with a good pair of scissors and place a piece in every bathroom shower.  Don’t forget to put a few in the kitchen to scrub pots and pans.  If you are a soap maker, pour soap to harden inside slices of loofa.  Search Pinterest for more uses of this wonderful garden sponge.

You will have plenty to last the year or two and enough to share with all your friends.

 


Surprising Results in Pumpkin Purée Blind Taste

Pumpkin in the house!
We had a blind taste of pumpkin purée this evening with very surprising results.

Pumpkins1) Grocery store Jack-o-Lantern pumpkin purée
2) Libby’s canned pumpkin purée – 100% pumpkin with no additives
3) Homegrown Sugar Pie pumpkin purée

All three purées were similarly prepared. I baked both the homegrown and grocery store pumpkins and then processed and used an immersion blender for a smooth consistency. I did not add anything to the purées so it was just 100% pumpkin. Pumpkin is not a sweet squash, but a great addition to recipes.

RESULTS

First Place: Jack-o-Lantern pumpkin was the sweetest of the three and our favorite.

Second Place: Sugar Pie pumpkin. It was a close second behind the Jack-o-Lantern. This pumpkin was grown last year, processed and frozen until yesterday. It was good, but not quite as sweet as the Jack-o-Lantern pumpkin.

Third Place: Libby’s canned pumpkin. Bleh! Not nearly as good as the fresh pumpkin. Tasted a little like the can.

We did not try this year’s fresh homegrown Sugar Pie as I had already processed and froze it all.

I was sure the canned pumpkin was going to be the one to beat.  Fresh pumpkin purée is easy to make and a favorite to use in recipes, but I was very surprised at the noticeable difference in taste. Easy to grow, but just as easy to use your Jack-o-Lantern after you’ve carved it for Halloween. We used a battery-powered candle inside the Jack-o-Lantern instead of a flamed candle. This keeps the pumpkin from “cooking” before I’m ready to process the whole thing. When carving your pumpkin, make sure you are thorough in removing the inside seeds and pulp and bake the next day because you don’t want fuzz to start to grow.

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Pumpkins 101: Seeds and Fresh Purée

Halloween is here and I am busy with pumpkins! Homegrown sugar pie pumpkins have been refrigerated since ripening on the vine. I also bought a few large pumpkins from the grocery store for pumpkin seeds and roasting pumpkin to use later in the season.

Sugar Pie Pumpkin from the garden.

Sugar Pie Pumpkin from the garden.

First up are the pumpkin seeds from the store-bought carving pumpkins.

This year I decided to look for a new pumpkin seed recipe; I searched through a lot of recipes. My family likes traditional roasted seeds so kicking it up with sweet or spicy isn’t an option. A few recipes call for boiling the seeds before roasting and this process seems to help with a nice, even salty flavor. Apparently, boiling also helps with digestion. The seeds were delicious, crunchy and gone before the night’s end.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Fresh pumpkin seeds
Salt
Olive Oil

1. Carve your pumpkin, saving the seeds in one bowl and pulp in another bowl. Place the seeds in a colander and rinse well under water to remove all the remaining pulp.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

2. Add seeds to a pot of salted water and bring to a boil. (For every 1 cup of seeds use 4 quarts of water and 3 Tablespoons of salt.) Reduce heat and simmer for approximately 10 minutes.

3. Drain the seeds and coat with 1 Tablespoon olive oil.  Spread seeds on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Lightly sprinkle salt over seeds. Roast seeds at 325 degrees until golden brown. Do not over bake and watch the seeds carefully so they do not burn.

Note from Whole Foods Market: “For spicy pumpkin seeds, mix 1/2 teaspoon each garlic salt, cumin, coriander and cardamom with seeds and oil before roasting. For sweet pumpkin seeds, mix 1 teaspoon each ground cinnamon, cloves and ginger and 1 1/2 tablespoons dark brown sugar with seeds and oil before roasting.”

Sugar Pie pumpkins are the preferred pumpkin for baking and I started growing my own last year. I freeze the pumpkin purée, but I’d like to try to pressure can it some day.

Fresh Pumpkin Purée
Roasted Pumpkins

Roasted Pumpkins

1. Break off the stem from the pumpkin. Slice each pumpkin in half from top to bottom with a sharp knife. Scoop out the seeds and stringy pulp into two separate bowls. Seeds will be saved for next year’s crop and pulp will go in the compost bin.

2. Place the pumpkins with cut side down on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 350° until soft, about an hour or more, depending on the size.

3. When pumpkins have cooled, scoop out all the flesh and place into a colander. Skins go into the composter. Let the flesh drain in the colander for an hour or two.

4. I like to put all of the purée into my Vitamix for a minute or two to get a really smooth texture.

5. Scoop pulp into a freezer bag or seal-a-meal. Label and freeze. Since recipes usually call for a 16-oz can, I like to freeze in two-cup increments.

Use the purée throughout the year, adding to soups, baked goods and smoothies. I have a wonderful pumpkin soup recipe that I’ll post later.

Golden Pumpkin Puree

Golden Pumpkin Puree

After the Halloween festivities have died down, grab your Jack-O-Lanterns and process in your pressure cooker as follows:

Jack-O-Lantern Purée

pressure cooker

Pressure Cooker, not to be confused with a pressure canner.

1. Cut up Jack-O-Lanterns into 4 to 5 inch chunks and place in your pressure cooker with one cup of water. Cook on High Pressure for 10 minutes. Release pressure, remove pumpkin and separate pulp from skin. We usually have a few pumpkins so it takes a few batches to cook it all. Process purée from nos. 3-5 above.

Happy Halloween!


Preserving Sweet Corn

Last week was a week of corn.  I froze corn – I canned corn kernels – I canned corn relish – I dehydrated corn. Five ears for $1.00 is a decent price for corn around here, so I filled my bag. Forty ears of corn for $8.00 produced 4 quarts of frozen corn kernels, 8 pints of pressure canned corn kernels, 6 pints of water bath canned corn relish and 1 pint of dehydrated corn. What a cost savings! I think next year I’ll put up more corn relish for family and friends because visitors are threatening to walk off with a jar or two.

By the way, here’s an awesome Pinterest tip: Cut corn from the cob by placing the ear of corn in the center of a bundt pan and run a knife down the cob. The kernels collect in the bundt pan. Works like a charm.

Want to bump up a hamburger or hotdog? This is the relish.

Corn Relish  Water Bath

5 to 6 pint canning jars

8 cups corn kernels (abt. 8-9 ears corn)Cornc
3 cups water
3 cups celery, chopped (6 ribs)
1 1/2 cups sweet red peppers, chopped (2 med.)
1 1/2 cups green peppers, chopped (2 med.)
1 cup onion, chopped
2 1/2 cups vinegar
1 3/4 cups sugar
4 tsp. dry mustard
2 tsp. pickling salt
2 tsp. celery seeds
1 tsp. ground turmeric
3 Tbs. cornstarch
3 Tbs. water

1. Get your water bath canner going with hot water and add your canning jars. Start another small saucepan with hot water for the seals. Remove husks from corn. Scrub to remove the silks and rinse. Cut kernels from cobs.

2. In a large stainless-steel heavy pot, combine 8 cups of corn kernels and 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered for 4 to 5 minutes or until corn is nearly tender. Drain.

3. In the same pot, combine corn, celery, sweet peppers, and onion. Stir in vinegar, sugar, mustard, pickling salt, celery seeds, and turmeric. Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4. In a small bowl, whisk together cornstarch and 3 tablespoons water. Add to corn mixture. Over medium heat, stir until mixture is slightly thickened and bubbly. Stir for 2 minutes more.

5. Remove hot jars. Ladle hot relish into canning jars, leaving a 1/2-inch headspace. Wipe jar rims; adjust lids, finger-tight.

6. Process filled jars in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes (start timing when water returns to boiling). Remove jars from canner and cool on a dish towel.

Corn Kernels  Frozen

1. Remove husks from corn. Scrub to remove silks and rinse.

2. Blanch the corn cobs in boiling water for about 2 minutes. Remove the corn and plunge into an ice bath to stop the cooking process.

3. When cooled, cut kernels from cob.

Shucked corn ready for processing.

Shucked corn ready for processing.

4. Place corn kernels in freezer bags or Seal-A-Meal (corn will freeze in a solid chunk). If you want loose corn kernels, then spread out on a baking sheet and freeze. After frozen, remove from baking sheet, Seal-A-Meal in bags and label.

Raw Pack Corn Kernels  Pressure Canned

6-8 pint canning jars

1. Start a large pot of water to boil. Add pint jars to pot to get hot.

2. Remove husks from corn. Scrub with a stiff brush to remove silks and rinse.

3. Cut kernels from cob. Scrape the cob to get the inner part of the kernels for a creamed corn.

4. Remove pint jars from hot water. Add cut kernels. Pour boiling water over the corn, leaving 1 inch headspace. Add seals and rings.

5. Follow your pressure canner instructions for processing. My canning instructions recommend processing the corn-filled pint jars for 55 minutes at 10 lbs. of pressure.

Corn Kernels  Dehydrated

1. Start a large pot of water to boil.

2. Remove husks from corn. Scrub to remove silks and rinse.

3. Blanch the corn cobs in boiling water for about 2 minutes. Remove the corn and plunge into an ice bath to stop the cooking process.

4. When cooled, cut kernels from cob.

5. Spread corn kernels on a sheet in your dehydrator. Follow your dehydrator’s instruction manual for dehydrating vegetables. I have an Excalibur Dehydrator so I set on vegetable setting, 125° for 6-10 hours. Corn should be brittle.

6. Vacuum pack in a mason jar with your Seal-A-Meal.

Creamed-Style Corn   Pressure Canned

See the Ball recipe for creamed-styled corn at: http://www.freshpreserving.com/recipes/cream-style-corn

 


Let’s Salsa!

There are just some things you have to know if you live in California. Making a decent salsa is one. Whether it’s a chunky tomato salsa, green salsa, or mango salsa, I don’t think it matters.  It’s all good!  Today I’m sharing our favorite chunky red tomato salsa recipe.

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As you can see, I used a variety of garden heirlooms for this batch. Use whatever you have on hand.

Salsa Daunis

10 Roma tomatoes, chopped*
6 tomatillos, steamed, peeled and chopped
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
5 chili peppers, seeded and chopped**
15 sprigs of cilantro, chopped
Juice of one lime
salt, to taste
1 can tomato paste

Combine all ingredients in bowl. Remove about 2-3 cups from bowl and pulse in blender until pureed. Add mixture back to bowl. This adds a nice smooth texture; not too chunky and not too watery. You may want to add a bit more salt to taste. Refrigerate and stir before serving.

Makes about 1/2 gallon.

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A big bowl of salsa.

* Roma tomatoes are a firm paste tomato and make a nice salsa. However, If you are using a variety of tomatoes, such as heirlooms, you may want to add more or less to the blender to get a preferred consistency.
** Depending on heat desired, use a variety of chilies (jalapenos, serranos, yellows), with or without seeds.


Basil and Perfectly Delicious Pesto

Basil is one of my favorite herbs. The smell alone sends me into a zen-like state. Did you know that you can grow basil from cuttings? You will want to pinch back your basil to keep it bushy, so why not use that pinch and start a new plant? I used to pinch it back at just the tops when it began to flower. However, a few years ago I learned from a hydroponics farmer that for a fuller plant, you actually want to pinch the stems lower, just above the node. So when you pinch it back you have a nice little cutting to root and grow into another beautiful basil plant. I don’t know about you, but the more basil, the better!

Basil Cutting wm

This basil top fell off the plant on the way home from the nursery. See the little roots forming?

Here’s some tips if you can’t use all your basil at once:

  • Freeze your fresh basil and you’ll have basil all winter.  Use the frozen basil in your soups. Add with some strawberries to infuse an otherwise boring glass of water. Add frozen basil to smoothies.
  • Make a batch of pesto and freeze the extra pesto in ice cube trays.

Speaking of pesto, here’s the pesto recipe we use at our house. Use homegrown basil and parsley for the freshest taste.

Pesto wm

Pesto

2 cups fresh basil leaves, firmly packed
1/2 cup fresh parsley, firmly packed
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup pine nuts
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/3 cup olive oil or enough for desired texture

Place all ingredients except oil in food processor. Pulse until finely chopped. With processor running, pour oil into mixture. Store in airtight container in refrigerator.

We use pesto a lot.

  • Spread on sourdough baguette slices and put under the broiler until just bubbly.
  • Spread onto pizza dough with chicken and sliced mozzarella slices for a delicious chicken pesto pizza.
  • Add to a pot of hot pasta for a light and delicious quick dinner.

Puttin’ up poms – Pomegranate Jelly

This was a good year for our little pomegranate tree.

It was also a good year for the birds that discovered the little pomegranate tree.

Thankfully I was able to steal away from the birds enough pomegranates for a few batches of jelly.

I usually use  a simple recipe from a lovely book called, The Glass Pantryby Georgeanne Brennan. This book would make a wonderful gift for any friend who enjoys canning; the photographs are gorgeous. However, this year I tried a new recipe that seemed to set a little better. Here’s the recipe with a few of my modifications.IMG_4299

Pomegranate Jelly
4 cups of pomegranate juice
1 package of dry fruit pectin
1/3 cup bottled lemon juice
5 cups of sugar

1. Cut pomegranates in half. Squeeze each half in your juicer. Place juice in large jar and save mash in a large bowl. I like to use a food press to get every drop of juice. Hang a jelly bag over a bowl. Strain all the juice through the jelly bag. Let the strained juice sit overnight in the refrigerator. Toss the mash in your composter.

2.  The next morning, you will notice a separation of juice and dregs. I don’t use the dregs in my jelly. Start your water bath canner heating up your water. I have to use bottled or spring water because our tap water is very hard. The hard water will give my canning jars a terrible white film. Start warming up another small saucepan of water for the lids.

2. Pour 4 cups of juice into a stainless steel, heavy-bottomed pot. Add the pectin and lemon juice and stir for several minutes to dissolve the pectin thoroughly. Place pot over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.

3. Add the sugar and continue to stir constantly until the mixture is a rolling boil. Boil for 2 minutes, then begin to test for jell point. Alternatively, use a candy thermometer. Jelly is done when it reaches 220°.

4. Remove from heat. Ladle or pour hot jelly into prepared hot jelly jars to 1/2 inch from the top. Wipe the rims of the jars clean with damp cloth. Cover with lids and then the rings, finger tight.

5. Process in water bath canner for 10 minutes. Remove and enjoy the pop of the jar lids. Label, remove rings and store jars in a cool, dark place.

Pomegranate jelly in the cupboard makes me very happy.


Zucchini Relish

Just getting around to sharing the zucchini relish recipe we use. It’s a wonderful recipe and tastes like pickle relish so we use it on hamburgers, hotdogs, etc.  In fact, now we don’t buy pickle relish from the grocery store.

Zucchini Relish

4 to 4 1/2 lb. zucchini squash
2 medium onions
1 sweet red pepper
2 tablespoons salt
2 cups sugar
1 cup vinegar
1 cup water
2 teaspoons celery seed
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 teaspoon mustard seed
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Cut up vegetables and grind in food chopper using course blade.  Add salt; cover and refrigerate overnight.  Rinse well in cold water and drain well.

In 4 to 5 quart kettle, combine vegetable mixture and remaining ingredients; bring to a boil.  Cover and boil gently for 10 minutes, stirring often.  Ladle hot mixture into hot, clean pint jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space.  Prepare lids according to manufacturer’s directions.  Wipe jar rim.  Adjust lid.  Process jars in boiling water bath for 15 minutes.  Start timing when water returns to a boil.

Yield: 4 to 5 pints


Boysens Are Here

Mmmm boysenberries.

Today’s yummy bowl of goodness with a few ripe blueberries thrown in for good measure.

An heirloom bush? Started from a vine from my mother, who received a vine from my great-grandmother.

The boysenberry loves my garden and I .love. the boysenberry.