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?

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.

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?

Onions Making Me Cry

Usually onions make a person cry when that person is chopping them in prep for a delicious meal like a flavorful pasta sauce or a hearty chili.

Well when it comes to these onions I’m crying before I’ve even picked up a knife because they just won’t grow. Or I should say they just didn’t grow. Or I should say they grew, but not past the size of shallots. Sigh. Let the tears begin.

As you can see from the photo we planted a lovely array of white and red onions this year and their colour was great, their stalks were green and straight and their bulbs never grew past the size of a quarter. Yes, that is a quarter in the photo to show scale. I repeat, sigh.

I don’t know what went wrong. We chopped off the scapes when we were supposed to, we weeded, we watered, we loved them and spoke kindly to them.

The puzzling other thing is that our other underground crops like garlic and potatoes did well, so it’s not like we can’t grow things underground.

Last year our onions had a similar fate. Stunted. Relegated to faux-shallot status with none of the complex and alluring flavor of that delicious little gem, and all of the densely-packed bitterness you’d imagine of an onion never able to live up to it’s true potential.

Any advice from onion experts out there?

Now pardon me while I… Sniff… Reach for a… Sniff… Tissue…

Braiding Garlic

Last fall we planted garlic for the first time. We stopped in at the Agway in Ithaca for a non-garlic related errand and upon entering were greeted with bins of garlic cloves for planting.

I thought to myself Ooh! Garlic! We should plant garlic! How cool would it be to plant garlic, then it’ll grow and then we’ll have garlic. That we planted ourselves! Actually, I probably said that out loud too.

(It should be noted that this is my approach to about everything in the garden, maybe with the exception of kale. I think my attitude towards kale was more like Ooh! Maybe the evil rabbit/woodchuck/deer will eat the kale instead of veggies that I really like!)

So we planted the little garlic cloves that you plant (which look remarkably similar to the ones you eat) in the fall of last year and then we waited. A long time. Which is tough for those of us with short attention spans.

We finally dug it up about 2 weeks ago and were quit happy with the results. I mean, the looked like garlic. A bit small maybe, but definitely garlicky.

And the began the process of curing them so they’ll last longer– this transforms them into the garlic with the dry, papery, white skins that you’re familiar with. I just lay them out on a laundry drying rack for 2 weeks on the screened-in porch and it worked well. Except for the more waiting part which didn’t go well with the aforementioned no attention span part.

But… Yesterday I realized that the requisite 2 week curing period was up and it was time to make the requisite garlic braid which will look all folksy and sweet and be a great way to store the garlic throughout the year. I had read about how to braid garlic but I thought to myself I know how to braid hair… How different could this be? Um, so the answer to that is, um, pretty different. But I proceeded pretending that the dry garlic stems was hair that I was French braiding and the result was… Well, a bit lopsided and kooky looking, but serviceable for my first-ever garlic braid.

For the record, hair is easier.

Salt potatoes!

We in eastern Ontario are used to poutine being our favourite regional potato dish, but down here in the Finger Lakes there’s a tradition in potatoes that gives poutine a run for it’s
money in taste, calories and sodium content.

What could be simpler and more delicious that taking adorable new potatoes and boiling them in water with a crapload of salt in it? Nothing, I tell you, and it’s one of the surest signs of summer too.

It’s apparently a product of local salt miners getting creative/resourceful around the lunch hour. For a great article with more factual accuracies than you’re likely to get on this blog check out the latest issue of Edible Finger Lakes.

Many folks around here grew up eating this delicacy and in the last 2 weeks I’ve been here I can attest to their pervasiveness. I think I’ve had them at least 4 times, including an incredibly butter-drenched serving at the Lodi Library Fundraising chicken BBQ. My arteries are not pleased with me at all.

And folks, here’s a wee tip: it IS possible to have too much of a good thing (trust me. “put in a ton of salt and then just when you think you’ve put in too much, keep going” were the words that led to inedibly salty potatoes. So tragic; so, so salty).

Here’s the ratio discovered by making careful notes from consuming the last bag of salt potatoes: 5 pounds potatoes, boiled in 4 quarts of water with 1 cup of salt for 20 minutes.


Holy cukes!

Mum and Dad visited Ottawa this week and brought with them news of the garden: tomato troubles (possibly due to black walnut proximity), kale concerns (consumed by rabbits, but no one really cares about kale anyway), and beautiful beans (Dad said our beans were the best he’s ever eaten!). They also brought a big bag of cukes from the garden, another of the success stories. I love cukes which is why I planted them. But did I need to plant 18 seedlings? Hmm… let me think… uh, NO! In my defense, I bought what I thought would be pickling cukes in an ambitious plot to pickle. A couple of things went wrong with that plot: 1) not sure the flats I picked up are actually picklers as the tag in the flats didn’t specify when I looked closely at it 2) cuke harvest coincided with the heat wave making the notion of standing over giant vats of boiling water worthy of admission to mental health facility. Nonetheless I’ve been enjoying these cukes (every day) and look forward to seeing the rest of the harvest when I head down to Lodi next week.

Garden Pic #3

Adding veggies to the perennial garden

Adding veggies to the perennial garden

So last year we attacked the Japanese lantern patch behind the house with great vigour. We attacked it over and over again. And still the Japanese lanterns returned. We started to plant new perennials in the patch to try and put a final end to the lanterns. The lanterns will never die, which is the one thing I’ve learned, but they are starting to die down a little bit.

In this shot you’ll see that we’re starting to plant some of our veggies in the perennial area as well. This is all part of a grand experiment (isn’t that what all of gardening is all about?) Are you even supposed to put perennials and veggies together? Are you even supposed to put plants over a crazy weed patch? We’re definitely not supposed to plant much of anything in the shadow and root system of a black walnut tree. Oh well. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how things work this year and try and make sensible notes for next year.

Garden Pic #2

Garden Materials

Garden Materials

Gardening is messy work requiring lots of tools and reference materials and things that can get lost, misplaced or stepped on! Here you can see the basic materials laid out in anticipation of being applied in gardeny kinds of ways. The Countryside Produce farm stand on Munson Road between Lodi and Interlaken really came through for us and you can see the flats of peppers among other things here.

Garden Pic #1

This year we decided to triple our garden adventures and what does that mean? Why triple the work, of course! I think I’m *just* starting to recover now.

We had a lot of great successes but instead of going into great descriptive detail about them I’m going to post a series of photos of our recent gardening odyssey.

First up: the trip up to the Countryside Produce Amish Market for our seedlings.

Plants in the trunk on thier way to thier new life in our garden in Lodi

Plants in the trunk on their way to their new life in our garden in Lodi

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