...if you have a backyard and a kitchen, this blog might be for you!

a chronicle of tips and recipes on everything from gardening to canning and baking your produce, even if you're planted in suburbia...in fact, especially if you are planted in suburbia.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

28 Pounds of Apples a Day...

...keeps a fleet of specialists away?

I don't know about that, but I know when it's apple "season" you can glean that much in about 30-minutes of hand-picking. I remember when I was a child, an apple tree sat in the backyard of an abandoned house next door to ours. This time of year, I'd climb that tree, and--sitting about 10 feet in the air--munch an after-school snack straight off the branch! Apple trees aren't so common in suburbia--they make such a mess of the ground when the "un-chosen" fall and rot; but finding a local orchard isn't particularly difficult, so I still manage to get my after-school snacks. And, I'm hardly in shape to be sitting 10 feet up in a tree these days anyway.

Garden helper came along for the picking, so when the biggest, best, juiciest apples were deep within a tree...

...or were even deeper, he was ready to dive in and claim them. His extreme efforts were in part due to his awareness that fresh-picked apple dishes are quite tasty! But, he was also ever mindful of the "pay scale" we'd negotiated. If we had a successful picking day, he'd earn a visit to the farm's corn maze.

This particular orchard has an educational corn maze on the grounds, so after we'd taken our bags of apples up to be weighed and purchased--and not a bad price at $0.75 per pound--we bought tickets for the corn maze and headed across the field to explore it.

A map detailed our options,
...and halfway through, we came to the tower.

This year more than any other, a corn maze strikes me as an indicator...either of folly or of hope. We either still have fields of bounty such that we can dedicate part of their growth to fun and games, or we are foolishly failing to commit needed stores to winter's pantry. I'm hoping for the former to remain our legacy for a few more generations at least!

In the end, garden helper not only found the central tower, but also led us to the most beautiful sight of all...the exit!

Next, we trekked back to the country store at the entrance, passing the bins of the many varieties of apples available this time of year. Such a sight makes a nice counter balance to all the gloom and doom we hear on the financial report of the morning news...as long as we still have food growing like this!

Much like the berry farm, the apple orchard has a country store that is fun to visit. Here, you can buy dried corn, wooden rockers, muffin mixes, and most interesting of all...

...products from the bee corner. Garden Helper paused to investigate the hive sample and the bee-keeper's suit on display. He was also quite proud to know almost every question on the bee chart.

We finished our visit by selecting a jar of honey apple butter and a gallon of cider and heading out to the car.

After all, a morning in the orchard means an afternoon in the kitchen! Soon, I'll share the "fruits" of our labors in the kitchen--everything from candied apples to fun apple print art projects; but for now, let's take a break. We can have a tall glass of iced cider on the back stoop and listen to the bees hum over the basil. Happy munching!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sabbath Rest

Not every chapel is big and brash. Not every chapel is easy to find. But often times, those hidden chapels have the greatest charm...

Charm because often their builders find certain words and commemorations important enough to set them in bronze and in stone.

Today's Sabbath Rest takes us to a little chapel in New Harmony, Indiana. Even though the chapel door was locked, the surrounding landscape still felt like holy ground.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Not Just for Decoration

or...actually using the pretty bottles of herb vinegar

Now that you have bottled herb vinegar, what can you do with it? Marinades and salad dressings come to mind quickly, but those vinegars have other uses as well. For instance, I used a little with chicken and roasted veggies the other day.

On the cutting board is a day's worth of garden fare ready for use...just the right amount for a roasted vegetable dish. I supplemented with some store-bought carrots (they don't grow well in my rocky soil) and freezer broccoli.

I chopped the veggies and tossed them in a mix of olive oil and the light herb vinegar before adding a layer of boneless chicken pieces. (If I were using beef tips, I'd probably have used the balsamic herb vinegar instead.) Then I sprinkled on a little salt and pepper, set the roaster on 250 degrees and closed the lid for the afternoon.

By late afternoon, the open kitchen window had blown that mouth-watering aroma through the whole house. Combined with the bread on the sideboard--a sourdough French--and a pitcher of spiced Chai tea, that roasted chicken and vegetables made a perfect early autumn meal ready for the serving after minimal effort on the cook's part.

(Have I mentioned how much I love my bread machine and slow cooker?)

Today's sign off: happy savories!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sabbath Rest...when Dying Isn't Dying after All

Just when is deadwood deadwood? Oh, I don't mean the town in South Dakota, I mean deadwood by definition, as in something unwanted and unneeded, the discard pile in the gardening game. Sometimes debris is easy to identify, and sometimes it is created for the greater good of the plant. I talked about this idea in the literal sense on a gardening post. Today, J.R. Miller reflects on the spiritual side on this topic for us:

My Father is the gardener. (John 15:1)

"John Vincent, a Methodist Episcopal bishop...and a leader of the Sunday school movement in America, once told of being in a large greenhouse where clusters of luscious grapes were hanging on each side. The owner of he greenhouse told him, 'When the new gardener came here, he said he would not work with the vines unless he could cut them completely down to the stalk. I allowed him to do so, and we had no grapes for two years, but this is now the result.'

"There is rich symbolism in this account of the pruning process when applied to the Christian life. Pruning seems to be destroying the vine, and the gardener appears to be cutting everything away. Yet he sees the future and knows that the final result will be the enrichment of the life of the cine, and a greater abundance of fruit. There are many blessings we will never receive until we are ready to pay the price..."

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Beyond the Borders (or Farm Life Outside Your Own Yard)

It's that time of year--when I start the morning's garden work in a long-sleeved chambray gardening shirt only to chuck it in short order--when the sun breaks above the neighbor's rooftop to shine on me. This is the time when garden work is slowing down. As plants die away, you don't replant. The lettuce and radishes of fall don't require quite as much care and the weeds aren't as much of a problem. In fact, the biggest job is keeping up with feeding those remaining plants on a regular basis so they stay fruitful. I like to use Miracle Gro powder and my watering can. I "spot" fertilize every couple of weeks this way. I've tried the canister of food that attaches to the hose but still prefer the watering can method.

Even with the fertilizing, I'm often finished with my garden work in short order, and the basketful of produce is manageable. No more daily canning. So what to do with the extra time? Well, it's raspberry season, so I take a "field trip" to the local berry patch to pick some raspberries.

Our berry farm is only a 10-minute drive from our house because we're in one of the peripheral suburbs of Indy, but I know there are others--as well as orchards and you-pick vegetable farms--scattered around the city's circumference. A few are even hidden within the city proper.

The one we use has various berries available for picking all season long--from strawberries in the early summer through black raspberries and blueberries right up to now--raspberry season, which will continue until the first frost.

A hot-morning haze blanketed the farm when we arrived. We got there a little before opening time, so we sat rocking on the front porch and enjoying the aroma of the misty farm air until picking time came.

The raspberry patch was a bit of a hike but was well worth it when we got there. The bushes were drooping with the weight of the many ripe berries.

Garden Helper came along today as he's studying plants in science--specifically fruit and seeds and their role in plant reproduction. He helped pick the berries with me as we rambled down the rows. He doesn't complain too much about the work here at the berry patch, and you're about to see why...

The berry box weighs in right at the fudge and ice cream counter! Usually, if he has done a decent job of picking, he gets a scoop of ice cream and receives a sample of the fudge. To date, he's sampled almost every type of fudge they make! In the heat of the summer, nothing caps off a hot hour in the berry patch like a dish of hand-dipped ice cream!

A step back from the counter reveals some of the other wares available at this berry farm. Besides country crafts, a refrigerator/freezer unit offers out-of-season berries as well as many other options--from rhubarb to root beer--for purchase. This is where I get my gooseberries whenever I'm making my husband's favorite gooseberry pie.
They also offer mixes for various muffins and cobblers and just this summer, added canning supplies along with easy mixes for salsa and pickles.

The sun is well up and has burned off the haze by the time we leave the berry patch. If there's such a place anywhere near you, I'd highly recommend making a visit! Not only is the hand-picking a rewarding experience, you get to take home the fruits of your labors.

And while we're still in the jelly-making frame of mind, we'll use these berries to make one of my family's favorite recipes. I'll share it on the next blog post.

Today's sign off: happy picking!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Dual-Purpose Work in the Kitchen

...with Cherry Wine Jelly and Bottled Herb Vinegars

Remember those herb vinegars we put to steep a few weeks ago? Well, they are finished steeping. All that is left to do now is to strain off the herbs over cheesecloth (or if you're not too finicky about the cloudiness factor, over a small-holed colander) and pour the vinegar into a bottle for storage.

My personal preference is to use recycled wine bottles for my herb vinegars--corks and all. For some, an easy way to have a wine bottle available for vinegars is to drink a glass now and then during a reading rest--Grandma's crystal and a fine old Victorian novel in the quiet of the evening. Who can beat that for home-grown elegance? But not everyone is a wine-drinking, Victorian-novel reader. In that case, making wine jelly is a nice way to secure an empty bottle. My recipe for wine jelly is an adaptation of a recipe for Chablis jelly.

Making jelly with either wine or juice is very simple and requires a minimum of ingredients. I used the following:

3 1/2 C of black cherry wine

1/2 C lemon juice

1 pkg powdered pectin

4 1/2 C sugar

That and the jars for canning are all you need to make the jelly! You begin by combining the liquid and the pectin in a large sauce pot. Stir frequently as you bring that mixture to a boil; then when it's boiling, add the sugar quickly. Stir until the sugar is dissolved as the mix comes to a rolling boil. At first, when the sugar dissolves the jelly will look like a thin syrup--as shown in the opening photo; but when it begins to boil, it will froth up a rich foam. When the foam rises, begin to stir constantly and set your timer. Allow it to boil hard for exactly one minute.

After boiling is complete, take the jelly from the heat and, if necessary, skim off remaining foam. Ladle the hot jelly into hot half-pint jars with 1/4 inch of head space allowance. For a reminder on how to prep your supplies for the canner, see the earlier post:


The jelly processes in the water-bath canner for 10 minutes, and you are finished. As simple as that! Really, the hardest part of the day's work was getting the original labels off the wine bottles.

Today's bread on the side board: honey granola, a mildly sweet but hearty bread, good for sampling the new jelly. Now, with my chamomile tea from my china-cabinet cup and my hot bread mounding with sweet spread, I'll pick up that next chapter of Bronte and pretend it's high tea...

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Garden Pilgrimage: Tennessee Mountain Garden

My friend, Abigail, keeps her garden in the mountains of Tennessee. Her garden is much larger than my suburban one is, and her pantry starts the winter much fuller as well!

This is a picture of her potato stacks. Early in the season as her potato plants begin to grow, she adds mulch and soil and another layer of "tire" for the plants to grow through.

Her homeschooling children help her with the garden, beginning with the prep work of the spring season--

--and continuing through sandbox play, bean-side in the heart of the summer season!

And when the days come for shelling the beans...it's still a family venture for them. I must confess, I envy the ability to take a family's sense of purpose, sense of mission and bring it to such a basic realization of personal relevance to the family as a whole--and for the very food on the table. Magical!

By the season's end, the pantry is a whimsical mix of canned produce and homeschool supplies...a snowy winter in the ready.

Our September garden pilgrimage has taken us to visit a season in Abigail's garden--all the way from prep stage to pantry. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did--seeing the beauty of spring through autumn in a mountain garden!

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Garden as Chef

One of my favorite things about cooking this time of year is the choosing of my ingredients--making a trek to the garden to find them as opposed to stepping into the pantry. In the pantry, you know what you'll find, but in the garden it's a surprise from day to day. This makes the garden something of a co-chef when the time comes to plan a dinner recipe. Today in the blog, I thought I'd include one such dinner as a sample from my own table.

Under my cat's fastidious supervision from his window seat, (Who am I kidding? He's only there to watch for birds and chipmunks.) I go seeking ingredients for a meat and veggie saute. Currently, I find a handful of tender green beans, a modest crop of zucchini, a good run on onions and a plethora of peppers. I also had a few squash given to me from a friend's garden that are varieties I didn't grow this year.

I began with a skillet full of boneless chicken tenders in olive oil with some minced garlic and onions and salt and pepper to taste. As these sauteed, I washed and sliced the rest of the veggies.

The cat was still in the window, confirming my suspicions he had other motives for being there besides just watching me work.

When the chicken had browned I tossed the veggies into the pan, and as they softened on a simmer I went back to the garden for seasoning. I chose lemon balm leaves, pepper basil, chives and a few squash blossoms. (Did you know you can eat them? Just make sure you don't bring a honey bee into your kitchen. It might be hiding in one of them.)

So far, we have chicken, three varieties of squash, bell peppers, baby green beans, onion, garlic, and herbs in the pan. To this, I added three whole cayenne peppers and some Caribbean Jerk Sauce (the one thing that did come from the pantry.)

No bread on the sideboard for today. No time for baking. But we did have a nice big salad. Lettuce is just coming back into season in the garden, so the leaves are quite tender. Cherry tomatoes are still producing, sweet and red; and I may have used the very last of this year's cucumbers in this one. A little shredded Parmesan and a light Italian dressing (made with the vinegars flavored earlier this summer) and the salad is complete.

So there it is: dinner as per the recommendations of the garden itself! On any given day, a completely different combination might have found its way into the skillet, and it would have been equally delightful. Sometimes it's fun to allow yourself the freedom to design a dinner from whatever offers itself to you. Sometimes, it's better than you might have come up with yourself!

Today's sign-off: happy creating!