Monday, August 30, 2010

Cool as a cucumber

When the Groundhog, HOUDINI, ate my beans and peas early in the summer, he was also particularly fond of my cucumbers. I kept replanting my cucumbers and each time he'd get through the fences and eat my cucumber plants down to the ground. FINALLY, Houdini moved on to other's gardens (I suspect so anyway) and what my husband and I called the little cucumbers that could began to grow again. I was just sure that it was to late to get a yield from the plants but was quite happy to watch them grow and blossom and produce tiny cukes just the same.

MUCH to my surprise, last weekend I discovered under their great big leaves, TEN big cucumbers. Not only that, my sweet green pepper plants decided that they'd just grow like crazy and produce far more peppers than I've ever had.

Originally when I planted the cucumbers and green peppers I knew that we'd eat most of them fresh from the garden and share with friends. We've had some very yummy stuffed green peppers this summer. Even my "I don't like stuffed peppers" husband loved them so much that he'd take left overs in his lunch to work.

But I had also hoped that I would have enough peppers and cucumbers for preserving to use as relishes and such, so early on I searched for recipes to put use should I have a good crop. So last weekend when discovered a lot of peppers and cucumbers to be used now I got out my canning supplies again and made Sweet Cucumber Relish.
My friends, I don't know if relishes make your skirt fly up (to Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman, that expression always makes me giggle)...anyway, if relishes don't make your skirt fly up, then haven't tasted MY sweet cucumber relish. It makes the plain hotdog, sausage, burger or tuna salad go from ordinary to EXTRAORDINARY!
I just have to share this recipe with you. It is truly delicious! I'm not kidding at all!


10 cups finely chopped unpeeled pickling cucumbers
4 cups finely chopped red bell pepper
3 cups finely chopped green bell pepper
1 cup finely chopped celery
1 cup finely chopped peeled onion
1/2 cup pickling salt
3 1/2 cups white vinegar
2 1/3 cups granulated sugar
4 tablespoons mustard seeds
2 tablespoons celery seed

Put chopped vegetables in a large stainless steel or enamel-lined pot. Stir in the salt, cover and let stand at room temperature for 4 hours.

Put the vegetables in a large colander and drain. Rinse with cold water. Using your hands, squeeze out excess liquids.

Rinse out the pot you used for the vegtables. In the pot, combine the vinegar, sugar, mustard seeds and celery seeds. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the drained vegetables and stir to blend. Bring back to a full boil; reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes.

Fill prepared canning jars, leaving a 1/2-inch headspace. Fit lids on jars and screw bands down to fingertip tightness. Process in a boiling water bath canner with water at least 1 inch above the jars for 10 minutes. Turn off heat, remove the canner cover and wait 5 minutes before removing the jars.

Makes 12 half-pint jars.

I really hope you'll give this recipe a try if you have an abundance of cucumbers and sweet green peppers. You won't regret it.

I've also been putting up a lot of jars of different varieties of jams.

This summer I've made double batches of raspberry jam, and also strawberry as well as PEACH JAM. I used Anna Wright's Peach Jam recipe which she shared HERE on her SWEET & SASSY NOTES blog. It is WONDERFUL!! Not only is it wonderful on an English muffin (I just said Peach jam on an English Muffin because that is what I'm having right now as I post this post) but imagine peach on top of hot oatmeal, cool and creamy yogurt...or just about anything. I think my raspberry jam is among the best jams but Anna's Peach jam is just amazing!

Beans, beans and more beans!

"Beans! Beans! Enough to fill your jeans!" ARGH! If my husband sings that song, ONE MORE TIME!!! YIKES! But it is true, despite the beginning saga of the groundhog Houdini invading my garden, once he decided to move on to other gardens, my garden took off and even though he'd destroyed a large portion of my beans and peas, I ended up having plenty!
I always freeze fresh peas and beans and have several gallons frozen in the deep freezer of both peas and beans in the basement. However, I like to can a few jars of the beans too to have on hand to add to stews and such.
But one of my favorite added treats to put up for the winter is called DILLY BEANS. I discovered this recipe a couple of years ago on Debbie Olson's blog THINKING INKING.

Now my photo does not look nearly as inviting or as wonderful as these dilled bean pickles actually taste so I encourage you to click on Debbie's name and it will link you to her beautifully photographed post about Dilly beans as well as link you to the recipe. Let me just say that if you are a fan of dill pickles you will be amazed and VERY pleasantly surprised how good Dilled Pickled Beans are! They are crisp and snap like a dill pickles and have the pickling agents in the brin (to include garlic which I love) and...well...if you are wondering what else to do with your garden beans, give these a try. The beauty of this recipe is that you make them by jar. So if you are a bit timid, try putting up just a jar or two. Next year, I will guarantee you'll put up more! They are wonderful served on a relish or vegetable tray at parties and at Thanksgiving and Christmas, New Years or any party or celebration.

So there are my bean freezing, canning and pickling adventures this month.

Returning from the garden

What? It is the end of August? ALREADY? Where have I been? That is easy to answer. This month I've spent nearly the entire month either tending my vegetable garden or in the kitchen canning vegetable, relishes and jams. My larder is full of the bounty from my little garden. I will most definitely get back to blogging about stamping and cardmaking as well as sewing, but this month I've spent in the garden.

I should state clearly that I do not have many years under my belt as a gardener. Actually, this is only my 7th year tending a vegetable garden. It has grown from a 6' by 6' square spot in the back corner of the yard to now 8' X 30' plot. It is definitely not a large garden by anyone's standards but it is large enough for me to have plenty of vegetables and to grow a nice variety.

I will start out with my tomatoes since I had a bountiful year of tomatoes. I had Grape Tomatoes which I were more plentiful than I could handle. For the good big slicing tomatoes to eat on burgers, BLTs, and out of hand like an apple (does anyone else like to eat tomatoes that way?) I had Big Boy tomatoes.
This is just a basketful I picked one day at the beginning of their rippening and knew that I was in need of starting the canning process since there was going to be a lot more to come...and there were!
I always put up quart jars of plain tomatoes for the winter to use in chili, soups, stews and just to have as a side dish of warm tomatoes with basil and parmesian cheese sprinkled on top. Yum! These are a few jars just taken out of the canning pot.
I found a recipe online for a delicious tomato-sweet basil sauce that was reputed to be excellent to make when you have an over abundance of tomatoes to be used. The recipe lives up to its reputation because I've already used a jar or two in lasagna and with pasta dishes. It is a flavorful sauce that has a few secret ingredients that give it a wonderfully unique flavor, such as the addition of a bit of cinnamon, nutmeg and lemon peel.
I also put up some of my Grandma Inman's chili sauce recipe which she lovingly called "SNAP." I love the flavor of this chili sauce and my photo doesn't even begin to do this wonderful sauce justice. It has a subtle spice to it by adding ALLSPICE and a couple of her "secret" ingredients to this recipe. I always save a couple of jars of SNAP to give to my 83 year old mother, because it was her mother's recipe and I think it brings back some happy memories of my Grandma's wonderful cooking. One of my favorite ways to use this chili sauce is putting it in ground meat for sloppy joes or meat loaf recipes. DEEEEEEEEEEEEELISH!

I still may put up jars of salsa. I really prefer my salsa fresh from the garden but I know in the middle of winter I'll be hankering for some home grown salsa and since I still have a lot of tomatoes and green peppers and herbs to use I'll most likely make salsa to save for later.

So there is my tomato saga. Next, onto beans.


Sunday, August 1, 2010

Garden fresh

Good Sunday morning and Happy August 1st! I cannot believe it is already August. This summer is flying by too quickly. After returning from taking our Newfoundland dogs for an early morning walk in the forest before the day got too hot, we decided that since we were up and outside we'd do a little weeding and checking of the garden. Gabe and Paige (my two adult Newfies) went inside the house to nap after their walk in the woods. Noah, my puppy, stayed with me in the garden to "help" with the weeding.
In just a few minutes I picked plenty of vegetables for tonight's supper.

If you have followed my blog, you'll remember our little "friend" in the photo below. This is the groundhog, who we affectionately named HOUDINI who nearly destroyed my garden. Three times I replanted and resecured the garden fences and three times (an many times in between) Houdini came and feasted on my tender young vegetable plants.

Houdini destroyed ALL of my broccoli and califlower plants. Sigh...we will not get any this summer from my little garden. However, for as much as he loved my peas and beans I managed to have a couple of rows to survive.

My husband and I have such a hard time picking enough peas for a meal because we enjoy standing in the garden and eating them like candy fresh out of the pods. I think peas are such sweet vegetables that come in their own bright green packaging.

So I WILL be getting a few peas this summer. Probably only enough for meal to meal but (sadly) not enough to freeze for the winter.

My carrots are doing well but they will not be ready to pull for another month or so.

In previous years I've never had a great deal of luck with growing green peppers but this year I have a bumper crop of green peppers. They are just this weekend getting ready to pick. In fact we ate our first one last night and oooohhh how good!

More peppers on the vine not quite ready but soon will be.

Mr. Houdini again (above). I planted cucumbers THREE TIMES!! ALL three times Houdini ate down to the ground the cucumber plants as they tried to grow.
I gave up on the cucumbers, but by God's grace and a lot of sunshine and good weather (and Houdini finally leaving them alone) my cucumbers are growing again. I'll not have enough for pickles or even many at all since they are just now starting to blossom, but I just had to take a picture of the cucumbers that my husband and I have named "the little cucumbers that could." They are getting a lot of yellow blossoms on them and hopefully I'll at least get a few cucumbers to eat before winter sets in.

Tomatoes I have! There are hundreds of beef steak tomatoes as well as grape (cherry) tomatoes. The plants are so loaded with fruit that the cages collapsed so this morning my husband is resecuring my tomato plants for me, while trying not to break the vines.

I really do enjoy my little garden. This year was quite frustrating loosing so many vegetables to "Houdini". It appears that Houdini has left and moved on now. Praise be! Now I can enjoy my garden produce in peace.

Until next time....