Beautiful grapes!

20110823-093400.jpgWhat is so alluring, elegant and beautiful about grapes? Is it their appearance on undulating hillsides? Is it the promise of wonderful wine to come? It is their association with romantic locales like Italy, France, California and … Lodi?

All I know is that the grapes are looking gorgeous on the vines at this time of year–plump, rich in colour and full of promise.

I devoured the current special edition of Edible Finger Lakes all about wine a few weeks ago and loved the insight into grape-growing, wine-making and the incredible history of these traditions in our area. Pick it up while it’s still in stock.

Speaking of wine and grapes, welcome the new kids on the block, literally, Eremita Winery–our neighbours in Lodi! They’ve been hard at work over the last many months renovating the old church next to my family home on Main Street in Lodi and finally today they are officially open for business! I’ll be stopping in for a tasting next weekend for sure.

Last Day at the Cottage

20110807-114342.jpgAll good things must come to an end and alas, today is the last day of my summer vacation here in Lodi.

It’s been a funny summer weather-wise with weeks of drought followed by some grey rainy days with a wicked heat wave thrown in for good measure. Enough perfect hot, hazy lake days to make my summer just right, however.

Another funny thing about this summer is the fact that we never did get our vegetable garden in. We weren’t in Lodi for the May long weekend and kind of lost our chance to get the plants in at the right time. Instead we concentrated on filling in the perennial garden which is looking better than ever. Lillies and coreopsis will not make for good canning, however so unless we pick up veg at the market we’ll have no fall canning projects.

Though I’m sad to leave today I can rejoice in the fact that I’ll be back in 2 short weeks, then again a few weeks later and a few weeks after that. More Lodi in my future–yay!

First Seed Packet of 2011

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Behold–the first seed packet of 2011. All the potential of delicious, mouth-watering cherry tomatoes in tiny little seeds encased in paper.

Now, seeing as it snowed in Ottawa today I don’t think I’ll be planting these little beauties anytime soon.

But gardening season is right around the corner and this little packet is a reminder of the work ahead. Breaking ground, prepping soil, planting, tending & then reaping the rewards (hopefully!)

So Much Snow!

It’s hard to believe with the ground covered in snow that gardening is even an option. Underneath the feet of snow are our hardy (hopefully!) perrenials, herbs and rhubarb resting peacefully until the snow melts & the sun beats down harder.


We’re all hibernating for a little bit longer but we will have to start plotting out our garden plots soon enough. Spring dreams, here we come!

Holiday Presents

What a great holiday season! Like many I’m enjoying some time off work, spending time with friends and family and, of course, indulging in delicious food & drink.

Every holiday season comes with the joy of giving and receiving lovely gifts and I’ve been lucky as always with lots of great stuff.

What did I spy under the tree this year but a big, round, oddly-wrapped package which revealed itself to be a gigantic boiling water canner. That’s right, I now have my very own canning equipment, or at least a vital component thereof.

Whoah. This is serious.

Now I have been using my grandma’s canning equipment and I don’t want to dis my grandma’s boiling water canner. Once we swept out the cobwebs it worked perfectly. Sure it had some sedimentary residue, some rust and was a bit tippy, but it worked great, really.

This excellent and thoughtful gift from my parents paired with the comprehensive Ball handbook of canning and preserving will surely signal the beginning of a whole new era in my canning career.

Expect some pretty awesome preserves out of the Covert camp next year. This poor workman will surely not be able to blame her tools (Ak! Will have to come up with another scapegoat for jellies that won’t jell and other problems. Any ideas?)

Gifts from the Garden

I’m no Martha Stewart but I do enjoy making things & creating unique gifts.

I’ve been giving the jalapeño jelly that Mum and I made this summer as hostess gifts at holiday parties recently and it tends to go over pretty well. There is something so satisfying about saying “here’s something we made from stuff we grew ourselves.”

I’d seen this other idea in this kind of hippy-dippy homesteading book that I’ve been collecting and alternately buying into wholeheartedly and discrediting as being a handbook for crackpots. This one is a simple idea which has a lot of visual appeal–store you dried herbs in antique glass jars.

Wait, I just realized that this isn’t one of those stories where everything goes awry & we have to improvise because of unforeseen circumstances. Crazy!

I found some lovely antique jars at an estate sale–4 for $1. I later found the rubber rings to seal the jars at a local kitchen store and they even fit. I dried the herbs in my closet for a month or so and when I needed to produce a little hostess gift I pulled the dried herbs off thier stems, collected them into the jars, decorated with raffia & adorable fabric tags acquired from a craft sale and done!

Of course I am glossing over the fact that I left this project to the last minute & so was stuffing sage leaves into jars at like 10:30 at night while packing for a business trip & baking for the cookie exchange or some similar nonsense.

I love the appeal of giving something homemade–it might be a bit kooky or be not quite perfect but there’s great satisfaction in proudly proffering something made by hand, with care and personal creativity.

Paper Bag Herbs

An essential part of any veg garden is herbs & in our second year of gardening ours was relatively successful. I say relatively because we had some great bounty and some skinny & skimpy little ones.

Basil & coriander? Not so much this year. Now basil & coriander are kind of important to a great summer garden. I mean you can make neither a caprese salad nor delicious fresh salsa with a conspicuous lack of basil or coriander. Succulent summer tomatoes sit neglected with none if these tasty herbs to dress them up and take them out.

Our lack of these essential herbs was so conspicuous this year that I ended up yanking out the spindly, wilted, crinkle-edged basil & coriander plants by midsummer. Salsa and salads were dressed by herbs from the market or even-gasp-the grocery store.

That being said we had an overabundance of marjoram. I’m sorry, let me rephrase that–you know Audrey, the mutant plant from Little Shop of Horrors? Picture that, but a little more fragrant and that’s what we’re talking about here.

We overwintered the marjoram as well as thyme, sage & tarragon. All of these did pretty well & this year we also added rosemary & lavender. All of these herbs did well.

None of these goes great with tomatoes.

However these herbs are great in lots of other recipes which is why our herb harvest is now drying, upside-down, housed in paper bags in my closet. If I had another dark, cool place like a basement or a pantry they’d be drying there, but no. Now every time I reach for a sweater I have to push some the makeshift drying rack (a wire hanger) out of the way.

Oh, and my clothes smell kinda earthly & aromatic. That’s not weird, right?

Spring a Leek

The last crop from our garden was harvested, cleaned & cooked last week into a delicious late-harvest meal. Mum & Dad pulled out our crop of leeks, a hardy fall vegetable, and Mum made a lovely chicken dish in a flavorful leek-based sauce.

As you can see in the photo below our leeks featured a nice crisp white stem with tall, leafy green tops.

You may be saying to yourselves, “Leeks? They must be confused. Clearly these Coverts are not just novice gardeners but also completely delusional. Those green onions in the photo below look quite delicious.”

Sigh.

No, sadly our leeks just didn’t grow that big. The leeks in the market right now are fat, practically bulging, practically waving their size & healthiness in our faces. Our leeks tasted fine, as leeky as you like, but were just small. Tiny. Mini-leeks.

This is likely caused by a couple if different things: 1) our soil is thick with clay and I think this means the veg have a harder time pushing through the soil to come to their normal size. This has happened to us with other under-ground-growing types of veg (onions the most obvious example). 2) I think we were supposed to thin out the little leeklings when they were very wee. We didn’t do that, it seemed kind of inhumane to sacrifice every second plant. That and we might have forgotten.

Oh, and did I mention we have no idea what we’re doing? Yeah, that might have something to do with it too.

America’s Test Kitchen

That’s what Dad said during our last canning jaunt. “How’s it going in America’s Test Kitchen?”

I think the question was rhetorical, but I took it as a compliment nonetheless. Why yes, we are as competent and meticulous as the fine chefs behind one of cooking’s best respected publications .

The truth is that there is quite a lot of science-y type stuff at work when canning & preserving. There are chemical reactions, there’s the sterilizing of instruments, there is precise timing.

With multiple pots on the boil at any time, one sterilizing the jars, lids & tongs (as you can see in this picture) the other filled with a roiling concoction of sugar, vinegar and pureed good stuff from the garden, a person can tend to feel like a mad scientist. Either that or one of Macbeth’s witches.

So what did the long Thanksgiving weekend bring? A trip to the only grocery store open on holiday Monday ( thank you Rideau St. Metro!), more chopping of the (hopefully) final crop of jalapeños and 12 gorgeous little jars of our now-famous jalapeño jelly.

Ooh! And here’s an idea: take some cream cheese and a few spoonfuls of the jelly, mush it together and eat it on crackers! Yum. (because on holiday Monday after our big Thanksgiving meal even more food was required).

Seriously, you all are getting some of this so you’ll need the recipe ideas.

The Ball Blue Book

Last year I received an excellent book called The Big Book of Preserving the Harvest and it’s been a great resource on these canning adventures. I researched some basics of canning & found some good recipes too.

But our friend and neighbour Carolyn suggested that the best canning resource ever is the Ball Blue Book. Carolyn should know because she is one of the most prolific and formidable canners out there. Her black cap jam? Mmmmmmm…. And don’t get me started on the chutneys!

What do the Ball people know? Well, they have been at it 100 years, for one thing. They also make all the jars and equipment for canning so they know of which they speak.

The Ball Blue Book is no longer blue, incidentally. Their updated modern look is all lime green and black, looking both sleek and traditional somehow. Way to re-brand for a new audience, Ball!

What arrived in the mail last week but my very own copy courtesy of canning pro Carolyn. It is an excellent resource with clear instructions, good illustrations and troubleshooting tips. Hopefully between Carolyn and Ball we’ll get our act together and figure out why our jellies are more like sauces.

Mum found her old copy of the Ball Blue Book and so we’ll have to do some comparisons. My gut tells me previous editions may not have included recipes for guava and mango preserves…

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