Category Archives: Gardening

Fried Green Tomatoes: Conjuring Fannie Flagg

Tomatoes. At the beginning of the season, when they just start ripening and nothing tastes better than a fresh tomato right off the vine, we can’t get enough of them. Fast forward to October, when the vines are still full of green tomatoes refusing to turn red or yellow. What to do?

A friend dropped off a bag of green tomatoes recently. I asked the Pie Man if he wanted to bake a green tomato pie. He snorted. Really. And then he reminded me of the last time he baked one. It was, he said awful. Might be because Pie Man tries to decrease the sugar in most of his baked goods. That might work in other fruits, but apparently not with green tomatoes.

So…what to do with the tomatoes? Long ago, back in the day when we had a huge garden, I wrapped each green tomato in newspaper, as directed by my grandmother. Maybe I used the wrong newspaper, because it didn’t work. They all rotted. Not pretty.

This time I took the advice of my big brother. I lined them up on a windowsill where they’d get some sun. This is how they looked when they first arrived.photo(8)

 

 

 

 

 

And now….10 days later…one yellow tomato is ready to be eaten, a red one is almost there, and another yellow on the way!

image(1)

 

 

 

 

The rest of the tomatoes? If they don’t ripen soon, we’ll go the route of Ruth, Idgie and the rest of the regulars at the Whistle Stop Cafe in Fannie Flagg’s “Fried Green Tomatoes.”

What would you do with them?

 

Advertisements

Got peaches? Freeze ’em in OJ

Canning summer produce is great if you have the time. It also works well if you enjoy canning. I might have the time but patience is not one of my virtues…at least not when it comes to canning.

I remember the shelves of my parents’ cellar lined with jars and jars of beans, corn, pickles, tomatoes, ketchup, applesauce, pears and peaches. So pretty…and then I remember hours in the kitchen sweating and whining. I’m pretty sure my mom sent us all off to the pool so she could can in silence. And yet, somehow I acquired a canner early in my marriage but every time I looked at it, I shuddered and so it quickly found its way to the garage sale table.

Last week I saw the best peaches at Suter’s farm stand, and couldn’t pass them up. But canning was clearly not an option. So….what to do?image

After my parents bought a giant freezer, they shifted their energy to freezing. One of my favorite foods were my mom’s peaches frozen in orange juice concentrate. Problem was, I had no recipe and by the time I thought to ask her, it was past her bedtime. So….I resorted to the old “by guess and by gosh” method.

Here’s the deal:
Prepare whatever containers you prefer — I used both zip locked bags and glass containers.

Thaw frozen OJ concentrate quickly by soaking it in hot water while you prepare the peaches. Pour the OJ into a container, add a little water (I think I added about 1/2 c. to the large OJ concentrate.image (6)

Peel and cut the peaches into slices or chunks and place in a large bowl. I had about 12 large peaches (I said this was by guess).

Pour about half of the OJ over the peaches and stir well. There is no need for added sugar and the OJ’s citric acid keeps the peaches from turning brown.image (2)

Use a large spoon to scoop the peaches and some OJ into containers and freeze.image (10)

My favorite way to eat these is when they are only slightly thawed. Kind of like a slushee!

Farmer’s market the community hub

It was a pretty typical August Saturday morning in Bluffton, Ohio. The sun was shining and by 9:30 a.m., the local farmer’s market was bustling. As I waited for a vendor to wrap my sunflowers ($3 for 15 stems) in newspaper and twine, the woman next to me asked if the market was always this full of vendors and buyers.  She’d come to town to visit the local quilt store and just happened to see the market.

photo (10)How can you not love a good farmer’s market? It’s not just the food — which is the best around — but the camaraderie, seeing lots of friends, sharing ideas of what to do with unusual produce like the lemon cucumber I picked up today.

It’ll be a week of veggies again — and trying out some new recipes. And while the sunflowers make me smile every time I look at them, my best purchase of the day was an eggplant. Not just any eggplant — this one was just begging for a face. Not sure what this one will become but for now, it’s also making us laugh.

photo (12)So here’s what I picked up today. Brown eggs, cucumbers, squash, cabbage, swiss chard, lettuce, white carrots, red and green sweet peppers, muskmelon, and a loaf of the best hearty, whole wheat bread (saves me from having to bake immediately).

Any suggestions for what we should be cooking?photo (11)

Send me some recipes! I love trying new things.

 

 

 

 

 

One bad apple didn’t spoil this applesauce

As a kid, I had a love/hate relationship with this tree — or at least one of its predecessors. It’s a transparent apple tree, which stands in the exact same spot it stood when I was a child. If it’s the original, it’s ancient.

Last week, my running partner and I discovered that the tree was full of apples but no one was picking them. We got permission from the owners to pick the apples, so carefully picked our way through the grass which was littered with rotten fruit. Which brings us to the hate part of my relationship with this tree — rotten apples draw bees. Not a summer went by that one of those bees failed to embed its little stinger in one of my feet.
IMG_0142[1]As for the love part…well, my mom made the best applesauce with those apples. They tend toward worminess but she spent hours cutting them up, cooking them, mashing and straining them through the ancient Foley Food Mill before canning or freezing the resulting sauce.

Fast forward to 2013  — the apples still tend toward worminess but we each managed to pick enough to make us both happy.
IMG_0140[1]For a few days, my husband and I avoided the apples, thinking maybe the applesauce fairy would deal with them. But…as luck would have it, a few days later, we lost power so with nothing better to do, we lugged the apples to my mom’s home, where she cheerfully helped us prepare the apples — in exchange for keeping some for herself.
IMG_0148[1]While cooking them, I forgot to add sugar until the sauce had already cooled. Which just proves that sugar is highly overrated — it didn’t even need sweetening!

Since we’d sold our canning equipment long ago — after remembering exactly what we hated about helping our parents can tons of produce every summer — we froze the sauce. A few whirls through the Cuisinart and it was ready for the containers.
IMG_0151[1]

Farm to table: Cucumber yogurt salad on ours

Farm to table” is one of those buzzwords that is a bit irritating in that those who live in farming communities or small towns where large gardens are the norm, have been eating “farm to table” or garden to table for generations past. But in the sense that it has suggests a growing movement that promotes sustainability even in urban areas, it’s a good thing.

My brothers and I grew up in the same small town where I live today. Our parents had a huge garden which helped to feed the seven of us year round. Our basement (dusty cellar is a better description) had shelves lined with canned vegetables and fruit, jellies, ketchup (the real stuff), and later, a large chest freezer filled with more vegetables and fruits.

When we weren’t swimming or playing, we were snapping beans, shelling peas, husking corn, and peeling apples. This was not always done with a smile, but some resignation. Looking back, those chores taught us to be hard workers. Today all five — even the two in Tucson — have some sort of garden.

Because of time constraints, my edible garden consists mostly of lettuce, cucumbers, squash, tomatoes and herbs. Instead, I lean heavily on the local farmer’s market, as well as several farm stands, to eat “farm to table.”  Yesterday’s stop at the farmer’s market produced this take:

IMG_0136[1]Sweet corn, yellow and green sweet peppers, seedless cucumbers, zucchini and yellow squash of several varieties, white carrots, tiny red potatoes, green beans and brown eggs.

This will hold us for at least a few days until my own cukes and tomatoes are ready or I have to hit up the farm stand.

Yesterday, while figuring out what I wanted for lunch, the cucumbers produced a memory of a favorite salad. In the 70s, my mom began making her own yogurt, which became the basis of a dressing for cucumber salad. IMG_0146[1]

It’s still a favorite, and the fresh dill in my herb garden adds the perfect touch. I vary this, depending on what kind of vinegar is handy. Yesterday it was rice vinegar. Slice the cukes very thin — best done with a Bluffton (Ohio) Slaw Cutter, but a knife or food processor also works. This is a small recipe — perfect for one or two, but you can double or triple as necessary.

Cucumber Salad
1 long seedless cucumber, sliced thin
1/3 c. plain yogurt
1 tbsp. (or more) rice vinegar
1/3 tsp. lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped fresh dill to taste

Whisk together the yogurt, vinegar, and dill and pour over the sliced cucumbers. Mix, then add salt and pepper to taste. If you can wait, refrigerate for an hour. It’s also really good a day later — if there is any left over.

Variations: Add chopped sweet peppers (any color) or onions.

Centerpiece for an herb garden: Clay pots paired with glossy paint and VOILA!

You know that feeling you get when you look at the perfect pictures of perfect gardens and landscaping in magazines? Kind of that “oh, I wish my yard could look like that….” But unless you’re a professional landscaper or are willing to spend oodles of money to hire someone to turn your yard into something out of Better Homes and Gardens or Martha Stewart Living, you’re left to your own devices.

And that isn’t always a bad thing. You’ll end up with something much more beautiful and satisfying — if only because you’ve done it yourself. At least, that’s what I tell myself at the beginning of every summer when we begin reworking the gardens and trying to create something different.

My herb garden hasn’t varied much since we first designed this one after moving in 22 years ago — at least in size and shape. Herbs have come and gone, new ones have replaced old ones.

Last year for my birthday, my daughter surprised me with a birdbath that she’d designed from various sized clay pots. It’s amazing what one can do with plain old pots and some bright glossy paint. The birdbath has a place of honor smack in the middle of the herb garden.

It begins with this,IMG_0489[1]

topped with this,IMG_0488[1]

and then….voila!IMG_0485[1]

What tennis golf and spring have in common

Yep. Spring is here. Skeptics will argue the point that this can’t be true because of the weather — snow flurries one day, 60 degrees and sunny the next, tornado watches another day, and so much rain that even the ducks are complaining.

And yes, all that is true. But really, aren’t those all just signs of spring…at least in Ohio?

But here’s the thing: I work at a university and there is one sure sign of spring that overrides all others. The tennis golfers are out in full force. That resounding THWACK of the ball being smacked across the campus green, followed by cheers of “FORE! clearly suggests one thing: spring has sprung. That and the fact that you might want to wear protective headgear.

There are, of course, other sure signs….

Flowering pear tree

Flowering pear tree

Hellebores

Hellebores

Miniature daffodils

Miniature daffodils

Hyacinths

Hyacinths

Parsley survived the winter!

Parsley survived the winter!

Early morning sun glinting on the National Quarry

Early morning sun glinting on the National Quarry

Peach-center daffodils

Peach-center daffodils

Lovage

Lovage

Finding beauty in an dreary week of February

January and I don’t get along. Let’s just say I’m SO glad when February arrives because at least there is Valentine’s Day to celebrate and then you’re halfway through the month!

But okay. Enough is enough. It’s time for February to morph into March. It’s the time of year when we’re ready for something…anything…that suggests a possibility that spring isn’t so far away. Let’s just say the last few weeks in our part of Ohio have been — for the most part — dreary, cold and wet, with a few beautifully sunny days to whet our appetites for better weather.
A stroll through the back yard revealed some highlights…my favorite was the parsley that survived the winter underneath the snow. And then there were these beauties:

The green tips of spring flowers poking their heads up through the ground.

The green tips of spring flowers poking their heads up through the ground.

Forsythia buds -- time to cut a few to bring inside to force for early yellow color!

Forsythia buds — time to cut a few to bring inside to force for early yellow color!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the midst of searching for spring, it occurred to  me that I should be able to find some beauty in the ordinary, so I began looking for unusual plants, grasses and pretty berries. The local florists will never have to worry about me horning in on their business. But channeling my late mother-in–law, who could make the most straggly stems appear beautiful, here’s what I came up with. Not bad, eh?IMG_0391[1]

You say toe-may-toe, I say toe-mah-toe

Really GOOD tomatoes in the middle of winter in the middle of Ohio is a rarity. I know this because I live in the middle of Ohio, but I also assume this is probably true in many parts of the country…unless one has access to a greenhouse like my brother in Virginia.

But right now I have a much-prized stash of REAL homegrown tomatoes — straight from the garden of another brother in Arizona. He was here for a visit this week and along with his running shoes and long underwear, he packed a bag filled with tomatoes. Ripe, red tomatoes.

Even he is a bit surprised by this crop. Usually, his tomatoes die out when the Arizona sun has all but fried them. This year, though, he left them there and a few months later began to notice flowers on the plants. Then there were green tomatoes — a slew of them. Just before their most recent frost, he and his grandson picked 1 1/2 buckets of the tomatoes. He set them — about 64 — on top of a file cabinet where they’d catch the sun through a nearby window. They quickly turned red.

And so…the tomatoes flew along with him to Ohio, where we are now happily eating them.

0125130826 0125130827 0125130902

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My brother, Phil, AKA tomato producer, and me

My brother, Phil, AKA tomato producer, and me

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The annual experiment: Harvesting, drying and freezing herbs

When one lives in a farming community, fall brings with it the frequent rumble of tractors and trailers passing by as they haul their harvest to the local grain elevator. It was that rumble and the threat of an imminent freeze that reminded me that it was high time to harvest my herb garden.Early this summer, as the herbs began to grow…

There is no exact science to harvesting, then drying or freezing herbs. To quote Janet Killborn Phillips, “There are no gardening mistakes,
only experiments.”
Every year, it’s a new experiment: which herbs to dry and which to freeze. Truthfully, the decision usually rests on time and patience  — neither of which I possess in great quantities.
There is also no routine to my process….otherwise, the herbs would freeze in the ground before I got around to begin cutting. I’m sure there is some expert herbalist out there who will argue this point but too bad for him or her. I was raised by a biologist who saw everything as an experiment. Maybe it would work. Maybe not. But it the end, it’s all a learning experience.
To give you an idea of how this ended up, here are some photos. Oh, and one more thing….baby food jars make excellent containers for dried herbs.
Mint waiting to be dried in the microwave
Lovage heading to the freezer

Oregano waiting to be dried in the microwave

Dried oregano and thyme to be crushed and placed in glass jars