I put so much work into my garden and enjoy every little harvest of cucumbers, bush beans, tomatoes and other vegetables and herbs.

I decided that this year I would find ways to extend the harvest past the warm summer months to enjoy in the rest of the year.

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Baby musk mellon

One way of extending harvest, of course, is to continue planting cool season vegetables in the fall. Lettuce and spinach are easy and can be sown from seed. Last year I had excellent success with collards, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. In fact, I harvested collards until I cleaned out the garden for April planting!

This year I plan to add a cold frame to extend the salad greens season even longer and to move more herbs indoors where a little snip here and there can liven up a dish.

Another way to extend the harvest is to preserve.

Frankly, my memories of preserved foods are not particularly positive–mushy strawberries and over-cooked green beans. But preserving foods doesn’t have to be uninspired. In fact, there are many new books that are valuable references and idea-starters.

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Ridiculously easy wine jelly on homemade bread

I recently picked up a copy of Linda J. Amendt’s book Blue Ribbon Preserves. Amendt has an interesting hook. Beyond the expected canning basics, lists of equipment and ingredients, she addresses the competitive aspect of canning in her chapter “The World of Fair Competitions.”

Does it seem to you that people will compete over anything?

Anyway, it’s truly a fascinating book that gives some insight into what is expected if you plan to win the preserving competitions at your local or state fairs. She even explains the whole judging system.

Did you know there are two judging systems—the American and the Danish? In the American system, there is only one first place winner, one second place winner, etc. Everyone’s entry is judged against the other entries. In the Danish system, on the other hand, entries are judged on a point system that compares the entry against an “ideal.” (I’m not sure where the “ideal” is from.) In this way, there can be any number of first place, second place or third place entries, depending on the points. And the points look very much like my son’s high school grading system: 90 to 100 is first place, 80 – 89 is second place, etc.

I made my bread and butter pickles from my overabundance of cucumbers using her recipe. It was so good and the pickles so crisp and flavorful that I decided to try another of her innovative recipes using one of my favorite fruits—RED WINE!

Amendt said that this recipe had garnered her the first place Alltrista Premium Food Preservation Award for soft spreads. I share it here because it is so very ridiculously easy and the result amazingly good. I used a 2004 J. Lohr cabernet sauvignon (about $12.00/bottle at my local wine shop). She says you can use any full-bodied wine, red or white. You can even use a champagne or sparkling wine to make a champagne jelly.

Wine Jelly

Makes about 7 half-pint jars

4 cups wine (a little more than one bottle) 6 cups sugar 2 (3 ounce) pouches liquid pectin

1. In an 8-quart stainless steel pan, over medium heat, gently heat the wine until slightly warm. Stir in the sugar. Heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar is completely dissolved and the wine comes to just below simmering. (Tiny bubbles will form on the bottom of the pan.) Do not allow the wine to boil or the jelly may develop an unpleasant, tannic flavor. Remove the pan from the heat.

2. Thoroughly stir in the entire contents of both pectin pouches until completely dissolved. Quickly skim off any foam.

3. Immediately ladle the hot jelly into hot jars, leaving 1/4 –inch headspace. Wipe the jar rims and threads with a clean, damp cloth. Cover with hot lids and apply screw rings. Process half-pint jars at a 200 degree F water bath for 10 minutes, pint jars for 15 minutes.

Note: Please consult a basic canning book for instructions on proper cleaning and preparation of jars and lids.

Do you have clever ways you keep your garden and its rewards going into the cold weather months? If you do, I would love to hear about them!

–Robin (Bumblebee)

P.S. Today was one of those days with little trials and tribulations. As I was walking outside and reflecting on why I had let the little things put me into such a funky bad mood, the phrase “Into every life a little rain must fall” came to mind. But then I remembered, OH, WE HAVE HAD NO RAIN FOR ABOUT A MONTH!

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