After surviving another heat spell (okay, okay, it was only one day…haha), the weather turned almost fall-like. Not only has it been a joy to be outside lately, but the tomatoes in the garden seem to be okay with the temperature change as well. At least, our most recent harvests said so, as evidenced by the picture above! It looks a little like fall, right? This represents about half a week’s-worth of tomatoes. Let’s see…here we have the yellow-orange Sunpeach Hybrids (some of which might be Yellow Gooseberries, but we’re not sure), red and green streaked Chocolate Sprinkles, little red Baby Boomers, a number of Yellow Pears , at least one almost-ready Rutgers Hybrid, and a few medium-sized purplish Gypsy tomatoes. And no, you’re not imagining things if you think you see peppers – there are a almost-ripe mini orange bell peppers, as well as a handful of green (and one red) chilies. It’s a veritable rainbow of goodness!
As you can see, we’ve had the best success this year with small tomatoes. We’re sure that if we had gotten the plants on the ground sooner that we’d have had a good harvest of larger tomatoes by now. As it stands, most of the larger tomatoes that are growing are still quite green. But we certainly don’t mind the smaller ones, as they are incredibly versatile.
This past weekend, we roasted the larger tomatoes (which included a few others that had split and were being stored in the fridge), and made a delicious sauce. We then split a ton of the smaller ones and dehydrated them.
This grouping of dried tomatoes represents five trays-worth of split cherry tomatoes! It’s rather incredible that that many tomatoes are little more than a small pile right now, but they sure are. If all these tomatoes weren’t already varying degrees of sweet, now they are super intense! Sweet and super tomato-y. They’re wonderful in salads or thrown on top of hot pasta drizzled in olive oil and sprinkled with parmesan cheese. And as long as we keep them cool and dry, they should last for several weeks. Well…if we don’t eat them all first!
Judging on how things look outside, we should be in for some pole bean harvesting soon. And hopefully we’ll have more tomatoes to come!
Over the past few weeks, warmish temperatures and a steady dose of rain have helped our beans — bush beans, pole beans, and string beans — proliferate like mad! The beans have been growing far faster than we could ever eat them, and this past weekend, we found ourselves with a definite surplus.
We also made our first harvest of shelling beans!
These turned out to be Tiger Eye beans (a bush variety) and Fort Portal Jade (a pole variety).
While there are more Fort Portal beans to come, it looks like the Tiger Eye plants have had their say. As with beans, they might be done, or they might re-blossom later in the summer.
But, back to the busload of string beans. A much as we’ve been enjoying them simply steamed with dinner, we decided to do something a little different this past weekend, and make them into a light and delicious salad. We regularly make a Three-Bean Salad, but we wanted something a little different, so we turned to our trust Betty Crocker recipe book and found a little inspiration in the form of a “Tangy Vegetable Salad.” But we didn’t have everything on hand for that particular recipe, so we improvised. Here’s our version, which we’ll call “Simple Vegetable Salad (That’s Mostly String Beans).”
approximately 1/2 cup (or so) each of chopped onion, carrots, peppers, and squash (we used a red pepper and summer squash, but any varieties could work)
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup oil
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1. Gather all vegetables together; gather together ingredients for dressing.
2. Boil a little water (about 1/2 cup or so) in a large saucepan, and dump in the vegetables. Cook in boiling water for five minutes.
3. After five minutes, drain the vegetable and rinse with cool water. Set aside.
4. Place dressing ingredients into a small screw-top jar and shake vigorously to combine.
5. Place drained vegetables in a large bowl and pour over dressing. Stir gently, cover bowl, then place bowl in the fridge to chill for at least 4 hours before serving.
5. While salad is chilling, stir occasionally until ready to serve. When serving, use a slotted spoon.
This is an excellent summer salad – light, filling, and refreshing. And it’s super quick to make! (Who wants to turn on the oven in 100 degree heat, anyway?!) One thing to note is that you could also used white wine or red wine vinegar for the dressing. And really, you could use just about any combination of vegetables. The original recipe called for cauliflower and the addition of sliced olives at the end. But our results turned out to be simply delicious. And that’s what’s important. 🙂
If there’s one thing that we’ve wanted to do ever since starting strawberries, it’s make a strawberry pie. Okay, so maybe it’s not the most groundbreaking goal, but it’s a goal nonetheless. And as trite as it might sound, it really comes down to the true goal: get enough strawberries to make a pie. Well, this year, the strawberries haven’t disappointed.
Last week we lamented a bit on how much critters, like slugs and squirrels, like strawberries too. (And we swear we saw a shrew in the strawberry patch the other day, too.) Last week, we were also dealing with a bout of grim, wet weather. So far this week, not only have we had clear skies, but it’s been sunny and hot. Like record-breaking H.O.T., which stinks for the humans, but is great for the strawberries. In fact, it’s possible we might have too many strawberries…
Anyway, back to the pie. The recipe for the pie we had in mind came from our trusty Better Homes and Garden cookbook: Berry Glacé Pie. It sounds fancy, but it’s super simple, requires no cooking save for a baked pie shell, and as it turns out, totally delicious. (As much as we’ve wanted to make a strawberry pie, the worry remained that a baked pie would result in mushy, nearly non-existent berries, which is pretty unappetizing. Because this is a chilled pie, the berries stay nice and firm, softening up only slightly over time.)
Berry Glacé Pie
1 baked pie shell (homemade, store-bought, your choice)
8 cups fresh strawberries (the smaller, the better)
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
(Yes, 4 ingredients; that’s it!)
Prepare you pie shell in whatever manner is necessary.
For strawberries, remove stems and leaves. Cut any large strawberries in half lengthwise and set aside in a bowl.
(Note: since all our strawberries have to be vetted for anything that might have burrowed their way inside [yuck], we cut all our strawberries in half. The prettier version of the pie, as listed below, contains whole strawberries that are neatly arranged with their pointy ends up. We just layered our berries as they seemed to best fit.)
For the glaze, in a blender container or food processor bowl combine 1 cup of the strawberries and 2/3 water. Cover and blend or process until smooth. Add enough additional water to the mixture to equal 1 1/2 cups. In a medium saucepan combine sugar and cornstarch; stir in blended berry mixture. Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture is thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir 2 minutes more. (Optional: stir in a few drops red food coloring.) Cool for 10 minutes without stirring.
Spread about 1/4 cup of the glaze over bottom and sides of pie crust. Arrange half of the remaining strawberries, stem ends down, in pastry.
Carefully spoon half of the remaining glaze over berries, making sure all berries are covered. Arrange remaining berries over first layer. Spoon remaining glaze over berries, covering each. Chill for 1 to 2 hours. (After 2 hours, filling may begin to water out). Garnish with whipped cream.
The most surprising thing about this pie, and maybe it shouldn’t be surprising at all, is how refreshingly bright it tastes. Because our berries are a little tart and the glaze is very sweet, the pie is perfectly balanced, neither too sweet nor too tart. It’s also kept pretty well over several days, despite the recipe’ s warning that the glaze might become watery. Ours hasn’t, though it has congealed, darkened, and become a little cloudy. It’s probably best, indeed, that the pie is eaten sooner rather than later, but as much as we could probably eat a single pie in a day, we probably shouldn’t. Probably.
Presently, the strawberry crop is slowing down a little, though new growth is appearing, as are new flowers. Right now, we’ve got enough berries for another pie, but maybe we should aim to make jam or something. We’ll see.
Meanwhile in the garden, things are doing okay. It’s looking like the majority of tomato seedling are starting to really take root. Can’t say the same about the peppers, sadly. Looks like another slim year there. But the cucumber, beans, and squash are all taking off, as are some of the radishes. Peas are another story. (Maybe we’ll get to that lament week.) And we’ve got greens for days. Delicious!
Despite the fact that we got the garden started later than usual this year, the strawberries are right on time! June is strawberry month round these parts, and we were heartily rewarded this past week with a host of ripened and ripening berries.
So far, we’re on track for our largest harvest yet, and that just from looking at all the berries to be that are still outside. In the past, not only was our strawberry spread not as large, but it always seemed as though the birds and squirrel got to them before we ever did. This year, the rainy weather has kept most of the critters at bay. Plus, we’re picking the berries just before they get to their sweetest points, and then we’re ripening them indoors. The results aren’t perfect – the berries remain a little tart – but we’d rather get a sizeable harvest than a totally perfect harvest.
Unfortunately, the rainy weather has has its downside for the berries in the form of slugs. Ick. There’s nothing more disappointing than seeing what looks like a perfect berry only to turn it around and find it either half-eaten or worse, with a slug still in residence. Bad berries with slugs get tossed; bad berries without them get squished back into the soil in the hope for more berries in the years to come. Interestingly, bugs in general haven’t seemed to bother the berries. It’s really only the slugs that have been a problem. Because of them, all berries get thoroughly washed and checked before any eating happens. Biting into a bad berry…well…that’d be no fun.
But enough talk about slugs. The point is, we have strawberries, and they are delicious! We hope to have strawberries spread into the garden bed that sits right on the side of the house. Because the more strawberries we grow, the better our chances are of getting good harvests. After all, it’s not like the slugs or birds or squirrel can eat ALL the berries, right?
Well that’s an odd title for a post here, now isn’t it? But it isn’t if you consider that today, 3/14, is Pi Day! Y’know…Pi? As in 3.14 etc. etc.? High School math class, and such? For whatever reason, perhaps because there’s a dearth of Springtime holidays, people started celebrating “Pi Day” some years ago. And because people are people, it was easily transformed into “Pie Day” for some. Be it fruit pies, or custard pies, or pizza pies, every March 14th is all about the pies!
Why are we talking about pies? A few reasons.
It is Pie Day.
We don’t have much of an update on the seeds. We have a number of seedlings now, and they’re doing very well. We’ll catch up with them next week.
We really don’t want to talk about all the ice/sleet/slush that’s outside. (Thanks, Winter Storm Stella.)
As great as just about any pie is, we decided to celebrate this Pie Day with pumpkin pie…Long Pie Pumpkin pie, that is. At the end of last season, we had a number of Long Pie Pumpkins left in the garden — these plants were incredibly prolific! We rescued a whole batch of them, and slowly, over the winter, we used them to make pies, breads, and even pumpkin soup (which was as little sweet but very good). After New Year’s, we were left with four of the smallest ones, and most of them were still ripening. We had read that these squashes could be kept indoors for many months after harvesting. We almost didn’t believe it; but sure enough, by the time March rolled around, three of the four Long Pies were bright orange. We decided that Pie Day would be the perfect time to use them. (The fourth squash remains very green and doesn’t show any signs of becoming orange, so we’re not sure what’s going on there. It might be a dud. It might be a different type of squash entirely!)
Over the weekend, we roasted and prepped the Long Pies. It took a good hour in a 350 degree oven to complete the roasting process. After that, all the squash bits were pureed in the blender – we were careful to make sure none of the skin got in as it turns extremely tough when cooked. Then we strained out any stringy bits.
After that, making the pie was the easy part. We ended up with a little more than 2 cups of puree — plenty for the pie. Mix with that eggs; sweetened condensed milk; ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon,; and then pour it all into a frozen pie crust (or a homemade single crust, if you’re not lazy like us 🙂 ). Bake for 15 minutes at 425 degrees, and then lower the oven temp to 325 degrees and cook for another 45 minutes to an hour, until the center of the pie has just set. Cool, cut, and serve with whipped cream.
This time around, we made enough filling for two moderately-filled pies. (Which sounded better than one overly-overstuffed pie. Bonus: there’s plenty of pie to go around!)
Though it hasn’t been a banner year for us with the garden, there’s still plenty to keep us occupied. And rather than preserving, say, a million pounds of tomatoes like we did last year, we’re eating most of what we take in soon after it’s picked. Well, for the most part, that is. There’s still the matter of our basket full of the biggest zucchini in the universe. (Okay, not really, but still…) But! Guess what we found growing the other day:
Yup, that’s a baby White Scallop or “pattypan” squash! It’s been hiding all by its lonesome among the huge (and now dying) zucchini plants. So far this is the only non-zucchini of the year, and we’re keeping a close eye on it. Hopefully it’ll mature easily. Not too sure what we’d do with just this one squash, but we sure are glad to see it growing!
Back in the kitchen, we’ve been making all sorts of things, from the typical, like zucchini bread:
To the new (to us),a light and lovely Three-Bean Salad with a Dijon vinaigrette, here made with some of our string beans and Rattlesnake beans (both lightly blanched), and though you wouldn’t know it, a handful of our Pinto beans. (Canned pinto beans and garbanzo beans complete the mix.)
Moving on from baking and salads, we’ve also done some quick pickling of our radishes and cucumbers. (It’s been far too hot here lately to stand in the stove for hours to do actual canning, so quick pickling in the way to go! And the food still keeps well for 4-6 weeks in the fridge.)
The radishes were done easily with just white vinegar, sugar, and salt.
Then, it was onto the cucumbers. Our cucumber crop has been moderate this year — the extremely warmth (we’re on, what, our fourth or fifth heatwave of the summer!) likely both helps a little and hinders a lot. We have gotten a few nice-sized pickling cucumbers (Homemade Pickles), but the new variety we tried this year, Alibi, have all come in short and spherical. And unlike last year, we haven’t gotten in a single Crystal Apple. But a cucumber is a cucumber, and cucumber are perfect for pickles! We started out with dill pickles first, following a recipe we found online.
Then we moved on to trying to make bread and butter quick pickles. After a good bit of searching for a good recipe, we landed here: Easy Bread and Butter Pickles. The results were perfect, and the pickles are d-e-l-i-c-i-o-u-s!
As of right now, the search for zucchini recipes is our number one priority. One can only eat so much zucchini bread and Zucchini Parmesan and zucchini fritters, after all. An article in one of our local papers pointed us to the idea of using zucchini in quiche (don’t know why we didn’t think of that before — and we love quiche!), which led to the discovery of Zucchini Clafoutis. While this idea is new to us, clafoutis (kla-foo-tee) is anything but. And it’s actually known as a baked desert, usually made with cherries, apricots, plums, and the like. Turns out that it’s somewhat like a quiche, it contains eggs and milk and bakes up all puffy-like, but there’s no crust and it’s a little less rich. After coming across dozens of zucchini clafoutis recipes, here’s what we settled on, based mostly on what we had available in the kitchen and garden. It makes for an excellent vegetarian entree. (Though you could certainly add in meat. Bacon or ham sound like they’d do quite well.)
(Makes 4 servings)
1 half of a foot-long zucchini, peeled and cut into small cubes (about 2 cups, and peeled because the skins on our tend to be a little on the tough side)
1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
8 cherry tomatoes, sliced
A couple dozen leaves of fresh basil
1/4 cup shredded white cheddar cheese
1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/3 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup lowfat half-and-half
1 tablespoon butter
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Spray a little cooking spray on the bottom and sides of an 8×8 or 9×9 baking dish
In a large saute pan, melt butter over medium-high heat, add onion and saute for 4-5 minutes, until translucent
Add in the cubed zucchini and saute with onions for 6-8 minutes, until cooked through and browned
Once done, place mixture in the prepared baking dish
Layer the tomatoes, basil, and cheese over the zucchini and onions
In a separate bowl, beat eggs together, then completely mix in the flour and the red pepper flakes
Slowly whisk milk into egg and flour mixture until fully combined and add salt and pepper to taste
Pour batter over the vegetables in the baking dish
Cook for 45 minutes until set — top should be golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean
Things remain steady in the garden. It’s been a slow week generally; watching the plants grow is akin to watching paint dry! But everything is doing relatively well. We continue to shoo away bunnies when we see them, put down our grass clippings, and try to make sure everything is watered well enough. And weeding continues — that is a never-ending task, for sure. Last week was very, very warm with temperatures soaring well into the 90s. Many plants got a little wilty, as such, but we didn’t lose anything to the heat. If anything, a number of the plants seemed to really enjoy the warm weather.
As for harvests, small ones of lettuces and basil continue. A number of our shelling bean plants are finally producing, and we’ve even got a teensy-weensy watermelon starting to grow! The one things that’s going like gangbusters is the squash. The plants are getting really large to the point of falling over as we discovered one had yesterday. (Thankfully, the root was still in tact, but a number of the stems had broken.) Over the weekend, we picked these two beasts!
We took pictures of these guys still on the plants in our last post, and even then we knew they were going to be monsters. Indeed, each weighs a good several pounds and will provide for us many meals to come! From half of one, we’ve already made zucchini parmesan. Then from the other half, we made some delicious zucchini fritters! We wish we had remembered to take a picture of the final product, but we were too busy eating them to bother. 🙂 Still, here’s our recipe for them. And if you want to picture them, imagine little pancakes peppered with shredded zucchini — that’s pretty much what they look like!
(Makes four 3-inch fritters)
1 cup of shredded zucchini
1/4 of an onion, shredded
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 cup of flour
1/3 cup shredded parmesan or swiss cheese (any hard cheese will do)
1 egg, beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 ground pepper
oil for the frying pan
1. Shred zucchini and onion together and dump the mixture into a colander. Using towels or paper towels, press out as much liquid as possible. (You want the zucchini and onion as dry as can be.)
2. In a bowl, mix together the zucchini, onion, garlic, flour, cheese, egg, salt, and pepper. The mixture should resemble a thick batter and stick to a spoon. (If it’s too thin, add in more flour.)
3. Heat a couple tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan over medium heat.
4. Once the pan is warm, drop in the zucchini mixture by large spoonfuls. Flatten out each fritter once it’s in the pan.
5. Cook for 3-5 minutes per side, or until golden brown. Remove fritter to a drying rack or plate with paper towels to cool. (The final fritters should be slightly crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. They shouldn’t be runny or overly fried.)
6. Serve alone or with your favorite sauce. (Spaghetti sauce or horseradish ranch dressing are two of our favorites!)