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!)

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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…

Joys and Tribulations of Canning

The Labour Day weekend bring the first thoughts of fall and with it the harvest. It seems appropriate to find ways to preserve the harvest and so Mum and I set about our second round of canning projects.

This weekend it was jalapeño-mint jelly and sweet and sour garlic jelly. The mint came from our local Amish produce stand but apart from that everything else came from the bounty of our land.

Ahem, right, what I mean to say is that we had a lot of garlic that somehow (well, I think I know how, actually. I think I harvested it too late) didn’t have it’s outer white papery skin. While this doesn’t present a problem for eating it, it doesn’t make it ideal for storage and so begs to be consumed all at once. While garlic pie and garlic stew and your standard vampire-repellant all seem like great ideas, we settled on a sweet and sour garlic jelly.

One if the best parts about canning is creating the roiling concoction of vinegar, sugar and spices that present both the promise of deliciousness and the risk of danger. In the case of the garlic jelly the recipe called for 50 cloves of garlic to be boiled with 3 cups of while wine vinegar and then left to sit for about a day. If you’ve ever wondered what a medieval doctor’s place of business might have smelled like my guess is that.

Apart from the overwhelming odor permeating the small cottage, everything else went as planned. Hey, we’re practically becoming pros at this! The boiling water bath, the sterilizing the jars, the careful ladeling of the boiling sugar syrup. Check, check and check.

Except for the actual jelly part. So far both jellies are still kinda just liquid in the jars. They look nice. They taste good. But they’re not jelly. They’re barely sauce.

It apparently can take 2 weeks for your jelly to set and I’m hoping this will solve our problem. If not it’ll be back to the drawing board for our jellies to try to re-set them.

Either that or… Garlic juice anyone?

Saints Preserve Us

Sometimes I get all excited about an idea and I have to do it right away. That’s kind if how I got this year when thinking about doing some canning and preserving.

Luckily my Mum is patient, knowledgable and has been dealing with me for 30-ahem-mumble-mumble years and knows what to do when I say “let’s make preserves this weekend, ok, great! Fun! I’m ready, let’s go!”

Last year we make roughly a ton of green tomato chutney courtesy of the tomatoes that never ripened in my front yard. It was delicious and fun to make.

When I say fun, I should probably admit that Mum did most of the heavy lifting in terms of the let’s-make-sure-everyone-we-give-this-to-doesn’t-die-of-botulism side of things. I specialize in the enthusiasm, chopping, and stirring departments.

With our overwhelming garden successes this year it was hard to pick the best candidate for preserving. Sorry, what I meant to say there was that the only thing we had remotely enough of to do anything with was jalapeño peppers.

There is only so much salsa a person can make and so with our pile of jalapenos (under 1 lb.) we decided against filling them with cream cheese and wrapping them in bacon which is what we did last year and made some jalapeño jelly.

And after a hot hour in the kitchen over boiling pots of liquid on the hottest weekend in the last few we have 5 spectacular jars of a sweet and spicy concoction. The jars have a lovely light green colour with flecks of darker green suspended throughout.

And it’s all the more sweet because not only did we can it ourselves but we grew the peppers too.

If anyone had a bumper jalapeño crop I’ll make another batch 🙂

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