...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.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sabbath Rest: Another Lesson from Lettuce

Long ago in kitchens and in kitchen gardens, secrets were shared that have long since been lost to those of us who have the luxury of casual gardening and exotic cooking. Long ago, life depended on wisdom and skill in the growing and cooking places; now, not so much. But if we search to find the nuggets of wisdom they all knew, might we not be more inclined than they--or at least just as much--to see the broader life analogy in the tending of creation? After all, our thoughts are less honed toward survival, less dulled by these presumptive and routine features of "living from the land."

Here is just one case in point. We have heard that we are "a letter from Christ...written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts" (2 Cor. 3). Furthermore we hear that our light shines so brightly that mankind "may see our good deeds and praise our Father in heaven." (Matt. 5:16) These words can have their own routine and presumptive qualities for the Christian, but they come alive when taken outdoors. In the garden we can observe the companion planting of trust and humility that makes the rare flowering of excellence seen in these verses a thing genuinely possible.

Look at the fragile lettuce plant: so quick and easy to grown, yet so susceptible to pests and heat. This time of year, lettuce "bolts" quickly. It bolts when heat triggers it to grow tall and to flower too quickly, making it inedible. All its own efforts go toward creating the seed of a new generation--as it perceives no great future for itself. But a good farmer of old knew he might get more edible leaves from that plant, so he took a harsh step. He dug up that lettuce plant, gave it an hour sitting in the shade, and then replanted it in the waning heat of late afternoon. He knew the lettuce would be forced to adjust to new soil before it could continue growing and would remain tender and sweet through that time.

If I am wise, I will see how I am like that lettuce plant. The heat sets in, and I look around to see others of my kind "going to seed" and turning bitter. But a few of "my generation" still exude a tender greenness in their lives. These are the ones who have submitted to the shock of being transplanted--not as seedlings, but as mature plants. These are the ones who know their current beauty came at a temporary cost to themselves, but was nevertheless solely due to the wise and masterful hands of a gardener who cared enough to fully extend their value.

May we all feel so well-tended!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Cleaning Up

"...they made me the keeper of the vineyards, but mine own vineyard have I not kept."
Song of Solomon 1:6

Restoring a neglected garden is serious work. Just look at my face! This past week, I've been involved in community service projects around my fine city, along with a couple hundred others. I've been doing plenty of outdoor work--weeding to the point that my hands looked like claws and I could no longer make a fist--but none of that benefited my own garden. Today was the first day back home, and my faithful garden was still there, but looking rather dry and scruffy. I'd give it a few shots of water here and there through the week, but that was about it.
This is how it looked a couple of weeks ago. I hoped to get back to that. So...what is involved in bringing back a vegetable garden to high production levels? My day included the following:

  • Harvest what's ready to be harvested--for me, that meant some broccoli, lettuce, carrots, Brussels sprouts and a lone cucumber.

  • Give it a good soaking--laying the hose in the dirt and letting it slowly soak the ground, periodically moving it to a new patch of ground. The roots will grow deeper and the leaves won't scorch in the heat if you use this method of watering in the hot season.

  • Weed and prune like an artist--in other words, don't get so involved you don't know when to quit.

  • Spray for both bugs and fungus. (Make sure this one happens after you harvest for the day.)

  • Take the prunings and apply them to the compost heap--and wet it down if it's gone dry. Make sure you don't accidentally get a stray weed complete with roots in there, or you'll have a healthy crop of weeds in your compost bin.

There now--that's much better!

Happy tidying!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sabbath Rest: the Lily and the Quaker

Today's excerpt is from that quaint Quaker author, Hannah Whitall Smith, whose classic book, The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life, offers such a beautiful study of grace and growth as exemplified by the lily. Some texts are like sitting down in a classroom. Hers are more like a sweet conversation over tea on the back porch that hovers over the very lilies she looks to as she reflects on her simple walk of faith...

To grow in grace is opposed to all self-dependence, all legalism of every kind...It is to be so sure of our divine Gardener, and of His skill and wisdom, that it will never cross our minds to question his plan of cultivation. It is to grow as lilies grow--without a care and without anxiety; to grow by an inner power that cannot help but grow, to grow because He who has planted us has planted a growing thing, and has made us to grow.

[Lilies] don't stretch or strain, or make any sort of effort to grow; they aren't even conscious they that they are growing. They grow by a power contained within, together with the nourishment and care provided by gardener.

All our toiling and spinning to make ourselves beautiful spiritual garments...will accomplish nothing. No spiritual garment of our own making can ever equal the beautiful dress with which God clothes the plants that grow in the soil of His grace.

I am not trying to belittle the importance of growth, but to make you understand that the only effective way to grow is God's way. See that you are planted in grace and then let God cultivate you in His own way only by His own means. Open yourself to the sunshine of His presence, and to the rain and the dew of heaven. Leaves, flowers and fruit must surely come in their season; for the Lord is a skillful Gardener, and His harvest never fails.
But make certain that your life contains no barriers against God's sun and rain. The thinnest covering over a plant may serve to shield it from both, so that the plant withers even in the best soil. Just so, the slightest barrier between your soul and Christ may cause you to dwindle and fade, like a plant kept in a cellar or under a basket. Keep your life clear of every such barrier. Open up your whole being to receive every influence the Lord may bring to bear upon you. Bask in the sunshine of His love. Drink the waters of His goodness. Like a sunflower, keep your face turned toward Him.

Happy growing!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Garden Pilgrimage: State Parks and Perennials

All work and no play...as the saying goes...

This time of year in the garden, so much potential for work jumps readily to mind that play-time seems unwise until either the brain or the hands or both fry under the incessant load...

...and you grow careless, doing things like inadvertently spraying organic bug spray for the home where you meant to spray insecticidal soap for the garden, killing a number of leaves but hopefully no actual plants. Oops...

It's a sign--time to take a few days to enjoy life apart from the work it involves.


Renew the mind and body.

So...I'll water.

I'll harvest what needs to be harvested...and give away what won't quickly and easily freeze.

Just for a day or two.


In that spirit, I'll share a few pics from a recent trip to a wonderful state park in my area. Mostly known for it's beautiful fall colors, Brown County State Park is nevertheless a beautiful place to visit in the summer as well...

With friends and their mom and grandma, we went to the nature center to get the criteria for earning our state park pin.

With acres and acres of park to beautify, it's little wonder that perennials play a large part in any formal garden work in this place.

But the bees and the butterflies don't mind which plants are available...so long as they are indeed available.

The trail itself, opened other delights. No formal gardens here, but no less the beauty offered.

...as the sun pierced through the tree tops to grace the gentle wildflower carpet below.

...where even poison ivy could appear lovely in its proper place.

back to the trail head and the center to log in with the naturalist and get our reward pin.

All this loveliness makes me think we might just take the time away from the work to earn pins at more of these state parks...even when we don't "need" the break.

Happy hiking!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

What My Garden Trash Has Taught Me: Humility

It is mid-summer, and the Brussels sprouts are surviving the heat just fine. This is my first year to grow them, so I could attribute their faring so well to my own historic garden know-how...or not. The more one studies, the more one knows, right? On the other hand, the more one knows, the more likely one is to sit in the dregs of a heady cup of pride. But if one is diligent enough to continue studying, one realizes that "knowing" comes with much contradiction, keeping pride in its cage.

For instance, if I want these lovely little sprouts to continue on into the fall, I must help them weather the days of extreme heat. One school of thought says use the lower leaves as they die away and you break them off to serve as a mulch to keep the soil cooler around the plant. Sounds reasonable. On the other hand, ground clutter--even the wood timbers that surround my little garden--invite slugs and snails, which can devastate your garden plants.

Incidentally, if you have a slug problem, here is a great article for dealing with it:

So the old adage proves true: the more you learn, the less you realize you know. Common-sense certainty is replaced by gracious uncertainty, as Oswald Chambers puts it--albeit not about gardening, but the beauty of the tenet certainly shows up there!

The end result: trust and hope fill the void left by pride's exit. May we all have gardens offer such beneficial produce!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Calling All Canners: Making Hamburger Dills

Last summer, almost exactly a year ago, I posted step-by-step instructions for canning traditional dill pickles. My goal last year was mostly instructional, advising the newbie canner that the job is not that daunting. You can revisit that post here if you're a newbie and your enamel canner is shiny new:


But this year, I'm sharing a simpler recipe for dill pickles, one specifically flavored for garnishing that traditional summer favorite: the grilled burger. This recipe is written more for the cook whose canner has a film of lime that needs scrubbing away from time to time.

The recipe comes from the Ball Blue Book, 100th Anniversary Edition. It first calls for 4 pounds of 4-inch cucumbers to be washed and sliced. Then combine the following in a saucepan: 6 tablespoons of canning salt, 4 1/2 C water and 4 C vinegar. Bring this mixture to a boil. As the boil is building, pack the cucumbers into hot jars with 1/4 inch headspace. To each jar add 2 heads of dill, 1/2 tsp mustard seed and 2 peppercorns.

Ladle the hot vinegar water over the cucumbers, still leaving the 1/4 inch headspace. Remove the air bubbles, and adjust the lids and rings. Process 15 minutes in the boiling water canner.

Now for the canning tips...

1) If you need a handy guide for gauging the 1/4 to 1" headspace requirements in various recipes, I have this graphic in my canning book that is quite helpful:

2) If you grew burpless cucumbers instead of "pickling" cucumbers, expect your cucumbers to be limp and mushy as pickles. Better to use them for relish or fresh salads. Crispy pickles start with the "right" cucumbers.

3) Don't neglect removing air bubbles and cleaning the jar rims before applying the two-piece caps. These steps insure bacteria-free food and a good vacuum seal.

4) Finally, if you have trouble estimating 4 pounds worth of your garden's cucumbers and don't own anything but a bathroom scale, then try this trick a local farmer taught me: fill a pint box--those little green fibreboard ones that often hold berries for purchase--with cucumbers and you'll have close to a pound per box.

If you've been reading along for a while, you know my dill this year is prolific! Besides the pickles, I also made a sour cream cucumber onion salad with some of that dill and am getting ready to try a new Greek recipe with a little more of it. But recipes alone don't have to be the only use for my dill. I decided to bring a few of the larger flowerheads to grace the kitchen window. Now that the smells of summer no longer blow in through open windows--it's too hot for that--I have these dill flowers (along with a yellow cone flower for color) to bring that garden fragrance back into my kitchen once again.

As always, happy canning!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sabbath Rest and Waiting

I want to make dill pickles. It is large in my mind. And my dill is tall and frothy in the morning dew.

But my cucumbers are only just flowering. Timing.

Not so much of a problem when things stand alone.

But when they must work together...

What do we do with those days when waiting for one vital element seems to promise a complete loss of all the potential we perceive in the present moment?

For instance, I look at my lone zucchini plant, and I shake my head over it.

A zucchini requires a male flower, a female flower, and a bee to cross pollinate if there is to be any hope of fruit on the vine. This one zucchini rarely has all three showing up at the same time. I tried prying open a female flower to pollinate "early" from the sole robust male flower. I watched for success. But the fruit struggled to grow even as long as my ring finger before shrivelling and yellowing. I had to accept that my taste for zucchini would have to be satisfied by another gardener's labors, and took my empty basket to the farmer's market.

So comes yet another life lesson from the garden. Trust in the face of squashed (pardon the pun) hopes. Do I get preoccupied with great visions of zucchini now, or do I agree to wait and learn what the bigger picture is teaching me?

"Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the soil." James 5:7

Maybe it is time to turn my eyes in another direction, focus on a different outcome, where it is possible.
Maybe it is a day for accepting help and embracing that good things are still out there--even if I must plop a different jar into the canner. If not dill pickles, then corn relish. If not my zucchini, at least my homemade zucchini bread.
And maybe, if there is nothing to put in the canner or the oven at all--no insurance that next winter I'll find a jar of summer on the shelf to pop open and savor its aroma;
well then, I'll just thrust my hand into the bean patch where I know of a rogue basil from last year's seed that is battling to hold its ground and keep its head up in the sunlight.
Maybe I'll break off a few of its leaves, hold them up to my face and breathe deeply, and then carry them in my pocket for a while.
One way or another--I'll find something beautiful, something to inspire gratitude...
At least for today.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Country Pizza, City Pizza

No, I didn't fall into a mole hole in the garden, never to be found again. I've just been incredibly busy "putting up" food from the garden. Today, though, I'm resting a bit and reflecting on a fun cookbook I bought last summer at a garage sale. It's called Desperation Dinners, and is specifically designed for those nights when the kids are hungry and Mom is haggardly staring into the refrigerator, wondering what in there she has the strength to cook.

Not every day allows the kitchen diva to chop and dice mounds of veggies for canning--or maybe especially when she's so employed--a desperation dinner is in order.

As Beverly Mills puts it in this book's intro:

"Cookbooks did little more than taunt me with picture-perfect food beyond the reach of my new reality. [Six months pregnant "waddling around the kitchen with an eighteen-month-old wrapped around one leg.] A box of macaroni and cheese just made me feel guilty. After all, my own stay-at-home mother never would have dreamed of feeding me elbow macaroni in orange pools of goo...I came to believe that food means love, and love tastes good. Much of me yearned for my own children to have this, too. Wasn't there a middle ground between an hour-long stint as a stove slave and electrocuted hot dogs? I vowed to find it."

The resulting cookbook is full of wonderful 20-minute meals that nevertheless taste "crafted" by a kitchen guru. In the spirit of her book, I'm sharing my own gardening mom's take on the "quick-fix" dinner.

See above the humble frozen pizza. The kind of thing the kids would eat all day every day. The kind of thing that makes Mom cringe every time she rips off the plastic wrap and stoops to retrieve the frozen pepperoni that invariably scatter themselves around her feet like a flower girl's petals.

Recently, I made my peace with the less-than-DiJourno-gourmet pizza by doctoring one from the garden. The beauty of plain frozen pizza is that it allows so much creative license. This time, I happened to have fresh Vidalia onions, sweet basil, garlic and some of last summer's ground red pepper handy. I added these to the grown-ups' side of the pizza and left one corner bare, as per Garden Helper's simple tastes. This paired with the Tupperware bowl of perpetual garden salad (still going strong despite the heat that is setting in) made one of those 20-minute desperation meals a snap. So may this idea be an inspiration to you. Look around. You might be equipped to "doctor" something cheap and humble, elevating it to something delightful with your garden fresh fare. And, you'll save yourself some time in the bargain!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

One More Round of Berries

No one grieves over the end of strawberry season, and do you know why? Because blueberry season follows so closely on its tail!

I don't know how it is where you live, but here in Central Indiana at my berry farm of choice, this time of year you can pick your own berries for $1.65 a pound, making the batch of berries shown above cost in the neighborhood of $10.

And, getting them fresh from the farmer's market or berry farm is almost as convenient as buying them at the grocery store, because blueberries are some of the easiest berries to clean and freeze. Blueberries can be frozen from fresh by arranging them on a cookie sheet and putting it in the freezer. When the berries are frozen, transfer them to a freezer bag for longer-term storage. Blueberries also keep well in the refrigerator, though, so if you're planning to eat them within 10 days, don't even bother with freezing them.

Like a few ideas for ways to use those fresh, sweet, juicy berries--besides eating them almost as fast as you pick them? This list comes from a handout offered free of charge at the checkout of my local berry farm. Enjoy!

*Sprinkle in a tossed green or spinach salad

*Create a blueberry vinaigrette salad dressing

*Serve in melon halves

*Alternate layers of blueberries with vanilla pudding to make a parfait

*Serve in a bowl of fresh whipped cream

*Drop in sparkling water for a refreshing alternative to soft drinks

*Make blueberry nut bread

*Stuff French toast with blueberries

*Serve with cottage cheese

*Make blueberry tarts

Happy purple fingers, everyone!

Friday, July 1, 2011

On the Joys of Plant Personification...

Besides all the good it is for the environment and for the health of your family...besides all the mystic wonder and meditation-fodder you can find in its evolving seasons, the garden should be a place to have fun! My new blog-friend, Reality Jane, helps me remember that important garden postulate!

I have named all my garden plants :

Cherry Tomato: Chico

Regular Tomato: Big Red

Pepper Plants: Pepper, Patty, and Paul Bell
(FYI...My cucumber plant , Clyde, had his creepy little vines around Patty Bell this morning.)

Banana Pepper: Spicy Joe Johnson

Carrots: I just call them all baby sprouts...hehe

Cucumber : Clyde the Vine
(Look at my garden!!!! Can you believe....??? My cucumber plant, Cucumber Clyde the Vine , is trying to be somewhat aggressive and is causing some havoc in the raised bed...I have been trying to persuade him to wander toward the wood pile....He is a gangster, for sure.)

Watermelon: Melony Sweet

I know I'm weird......I..pretty much....... have no life.

May your garden always be such a fun place, Jane! You absolutely make me interested in the saga of your plants' ongoing lives.