Archive for the ‘fruit’ Category

A is for Apricot Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

I’d posted earlier that our mystery tree was an apricot afterall. This is the first year it has both bloomed and borne fruit. The Hub and The Son had stepped out one morning before us girls had awoken and found that many had swan-songed their way to the ground. The boys gathered them up and were eager to present their find.

I could almost watch their orangening sugars release – I knew we had to do something quick to maximize the quick harvest. I took the ripest ones, split them, threw out the seeds and dumped them in my, not yet christened, chinois (french colander). This is a great tool for all fruits that you want to to maintain the highest amount of pulp from but not the sometimes fibrous skins and seeds. You can also use a food processor or a good blender – these won’t take the skins off as nicely.

It just feels good turning the basic pestel round and round as it smashes the fruit through the colander leaving behind the fuzzy, bitter skins. I tried to peel a couple of the little fruits myself – what a mess. What comes out is a lovely, smooth puree.

This puree can them be made into jams, jellies, syrups, etc. What path did I take? Baby food. One of my focuses with our garden this year was to plant baby-food friendly items like squash and edible pumpkins (some varieties are only for looks and aren’t at all palatable) so I was elated that we were also privy to this unexpected bounty. The best/easiest way I know to store baby food is by using an ice cube tray – way quicker and less fussier than canning.

I ladled the yolk-hued goo into each tray pocket, tapped it on the counter a couple times to release air bubbles and then stuck it in the freezer for a couple hours. Once frozen I put the whole lot into a heavy-duty freezer bag and labeled with the month and year.

Now, in about 3 months, when my youngest daughter is ready to try some solid foods, I can offer her this sweet-tart treat, already individually portioned and needing only a brief heat-up. These should keep 6 months in a deep freeze (we have a smaller, chest-style one – awesome for this type of thing), 3 months in a fridge freezer. Can’t wait to use this same system with my pumpkins and squash!

Drip, drip boom Friday, July 23rd, 2010

With the frequent rain, I’ve yet to really miss having an outdoor faucet or house. The little supplemental watering I’ve done is with rain barrel and watering can. Glad I got the barrels. They’ve developed a scum, but that’s ok. We’ve kept mosquito dunks in them to keep mosquito larvae at bay and most recently The Hub dumped in some extra minnows . . . larvae feeders and emulsion all in one?

I have a 1/2 dozen Rouge vif d-Etampes pumpkins on the vine – these are one of my volunteers. I did end up with vine borers again but I did my best to catch them somewhat early and cut them out of the vine they were in without cutting completely through it. Then I covered a good portion of the affect vine with dirt and watered it in. Hopefully this will allow the vine to sustain the pumpkins until they get big enough to eat. I plan on making them into baby food and maybe some succotash when the beans gets growing.

Our mystery tree – Is it a plum or apricot? — has been identified and apricot it is. The Hub and The Boy were out early one morning to find that the little fuzz green fruits had ripened to yellow gold and fallen to the ground. About 3 medium mixing bowls full of apricots – we ate some as is and when they started getting even more ripe a couple days later I started making baby food out of them – post to come!

What a pear! Friday, October 2nd, 2009
Anjou pear

Anjou pear

This pear came from my mom’s tree. It is a variety of Anjou. She picked this type because it fruits later in the season, than say a Bartlett. The window for picking is a only a couple week. They quickly turn from green to a limey yellow color. When green they still have a sweet taste but an exceptional crunch. When yellow the sweetness intensifies and they become quite juicy but still pretty resilient.  They will get gritty if you don’t pick them right away when they’ve turned yellow. You are better off picking green ones as they will continue to ripen off the tree. To hasten ripening store the fruit in a fridge until ready to eat.

Pear trees require cross-pollination, in rare occasions they have been known to self-pollinate but the harvest tends to be smaller in number. So, plant a pair of pear trees. Semi-dwarf trees should provide a harvest in 3-4 years. Full-size trees could take up to 8. Semi-dwarf will be easier to manage in both the process and amount of harvest. Prune trees annually to make picking easier. This can be done in late winter.

Blight Bites Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

Tomatoes have succumb to late blight in large numbers. The culprit: cold and wet. Leaves and stems are covered with blackish spots. Leaves shrivel and fruit either molds on the vine or gets riddled with grey, inedible, corky spots. Early blight – a common tomato ailment usually affect the bottom most leaves initially which can be removed and many times the fruit goes unharmed. Early blight is due to using the same spot for growing tomatoes too many years in a row and because of poor cleanup in between seasons. This late blight will also stay in the ground so it’s best to find a new spot next year. Both blights come from a fungus in the dirt – the dirt gets splashed up the plant during rain or overhead sprinkling. Mulching can also hasten splash-up. Fungus has really loved this cooler, consistently-wet summer. I’m just glad The Hub decided to yank all but 1 tomato plant because of slugs – another lover of cool and wet. Now our unharmed tomatoes wait patiently in the sun to warm their skins to rosy, red, orange and yellow.

Preserving the bounty Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

Today The Hub will start the preservation ritual. Mostly tomatoes but we do a bit with other stuff too.

Tomatoes: Cook down or stew tomatoes til desired consistency

  • Chunky sauce: Cut chunks, cook off some water – any extra tomatoes are good for this
  • Smooth sauce: Do as above, strain through colander to get rid of seeds or peels – any extra tomatoes are good for this
  • Paste: Follow step for smooth sauce, then put back over low heat, stirring frequently until thick – this can take several hours. Use Roma or plum tomatoes to speed up process (they have less water than others.
  • For sweeter, low acid tomatoes like yellow, pink, orange, etc. Or, just to be safe, add 1 T. per pint or 2 T. per quart of lemon juice. Vinegar may be used but it could change taste. This brings the acid level up to safe levels so botulism does not set in.
  • After your tomatoes are cooked down to desired consistency, take clean mason jars, rings and seals. Put all in a large clean colander and pour boiling water over all. Canning tongs and silicon tongues makes handling these much easier. Pour water out of jars and set on a towel on your counter close to your pot of tomatoes.
  • Using a  funnel and ladle, spoon the mixture to within an inch or so to the top of the jar. Take a clean dish towel and wipe the rim of the jar. Place on a sterile lid and then ring. Screw on only til you feel tension – do NOT tighten.
  • In a stockpot of boiling water with an elevator (a small cooling rack can work for this, just to keep the bottom of the jars off the base of the stockpot – they will burst otherwise). Place in jars – the water should just cover the top of them and the jars should not touch – do not crowd them. If you need more water you should have a backup of boiling water in a teapot just in case. Or if there is too much, ladle it off. Let the jars sit in the stockpot for 15 min. Then, using a canning tongs (it fits around the rim of the jar to pull them out) carefully place them back on the towel – do not bump them again.
  • Within the hour you should hear popping noises of the jars sealing themselves. If any don’t seal, place them in the fridge after cool and use them within a week.
  • Reasons a jar doesn’t seal: the ring was too tight, the rim of the jar was dirty, they didn’t sit in the stockpot long enough, there was too much or too little sauce put in them.
  • Extra: Tomatoes do not need any extra accompaniments to be canned – there acid content is high enough to inhibit any bacterial growth. Once sealed the jars can sit for more than a year. During the initial stewing process, you may add any spices or other veggies you like (do this after the straining process if you want the tomato parts smooth though). Hot peppers, onions, salt, lime and garlic for salsa or basil, salt, pepper, garlic and onions for pasta sauce. Whatever you like. Except for making salsa, I like to keep my tomatoes plain so I can add whatever I like when I want to use them. Many times it’s just a dollop of homemade pesto to make a wonderful pasta accompaniment.
Tomato Tomato Friday, September 11th, 2009
Juicy heirloom tomato

Juicy heirloom tomato

Tomatoes have been one of the most consistent crops for us, minus slugs. Any problems we have are usually caused by us: waiting to long to stake, watering incorrectly, not clearing out debris. There are pretty simple fixes, but trying to stake an overgrown tomato is like trying to wrangle a brittle octopus into 8-legged footie pajamas. Tomatoes have typical ailments: blossom end rot (inconsistent watering), blight (not rotating crops after several years or not cleaning up leftover garden debris), bloom drop (too high temps), lack of blooms (soil nutrients unbalanced). We always plant more than we need but there are too many awesome varieties to have only planted a couple plants.

Cherries and grape tomatoes are sweet and fun for little kids – their overabundance leads to lots of harvest. They are great simply off-plant, shish-kebabbed, split in salads or roasted with olive oil and salt and pepper.

Roma or paste are solid, palm-sized, and less watery. They are great cooking tomatoes for canning sauces or salsas, they also make a quick mild base to fresh pico de gallo.

Slicers are the round, typical tomato that comes to mind. They are generally mild-flavored. The are also good for sauce though the higher moisture content means a longer cook time. They are the quintessential burger topper and many overly-bland varieties make it to the grocer shelves. We usually have one or two plants to make canned sauces.

Beefsteak, heirloom, etc. are generally the ultimate sandwich tomatoes. In a caprese salad they can be dressed with olive oil, salt and pepper and layered between fresh mozzarella and basil, just this side of heaven. Heavy, meaty, sweet and tangy. These are the stars of flavor in the tomato world. Because of their heft and water content they are less apt to show up in stores and are a delicacy to find at farmers’ markets. They come in myriad of colors and shapes. Some lumpy and pushing a couple pounds, others are pearly-rose, black, yellow or even green when ripe. These need heavy staking.

Quick-sauteed tomatoes, garlic, onion, olive oil, basil, salt and pepper over shell pasta with parmesan

Quick-sauteed tomatoes, garlic, onion, olive oil, basil, salt and pepper over shell pasta with parmesan

The start of the end Friday, September 11th, 2009

The Hub has started ‘wringing out’ the garden. A lot of our stuff has succumbed to slugs. Anything grazing the ground from pumpkin to tomato has been feast for the slimy buggers. Usually noted on a couple squash or hostas the sucking buggers can really do some damage. Their prevalence only made stronger by the wet, cool summer we’ve had. The Hub ripped out a few tomato plants leaving the good fruit to sit and ripen on a table in the sun. A couple pumpkins are ready to grace the front steps to welcome fall. A couple pie pumpkins, I can almost taste. Peppers have been picked. Strawberries have started to rest. Though it’s been 80 in the afternoons, the cooler evenings and mornings whisper of what will come soon enough. Carrots, cabbage-family and apples may stay as they sweeten with a light, gulp, frost. It’s a good idea to roll your gourd-family produce just to check you don’t have a hollow pumpkin from the slugs. I really like this time of year to jot down what hasn’t worked. It actually gives me hope more than anything. Lets just hope my memory stays strong enough to recall my mistakes when planning next year’s gardens. I’m hoping for: more raised beds, more weed barriers, new soaker hoses, and again more space.

Economics Monday, May 11th, 2009

Give adequate space in a garden – cramming into a limited space just means a huge jungle to fight come July. Start small if you are a novice and grow from there.

Water in early morning, long, and less often to reap the most benefit.

Have garden close to water source, less hauling so your more apt to take care of it.

Only ever plant what you and your family will eat.

Plant items for canning to use later: tomatoes, apples, salsa, beets

If you don’t can, then plant freezable items: corn, peas, beans, pureed squash/pumpkin and berries

Before harvesting think of a good dark, cool place that will be suitable to store items with a longer shelf life like: squash, onions and garlic

Puree and freeze herbs in ice cube trays – once frozen, transfer to freezer bags.

Team up with other gardens for produce trading later