Bzzzz July 9th, 2007

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!

Posted In: Canning and Preserving

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Bzzzz June 25th, 2007

I don’t believe that most people who meet me think first of a farm girl. So I’m particularly delighted to report on my latest farm girl activities–just to prove it IS so.

I started this weekend by starting my second batch of cheese. My first batch was neufchatel, strictly following the book’s recipe. This time I made the same recipe, but omitting the cream, making a lighter version of the cheese. Both are–if I say so myself–fabulous.

Benjamin and I have eaten all of the first batch ourselves. I mixed it with garlic and herbs from the garden and we have eaten it on crackers as snacks. The second batch will be used for an absolutely sinful Italian Creme cake in lieu of the cream cheese in the frosting. (I might even post the recipe–one of my favorites.)

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Home made neufchatel cheese

Who knew cheese making could be so easy?!? So far, at least, it seems to consist largely of having the right ingredients (starter, good milk or cream and various other things such as rennet), a REALLY clean kitchen and utensils (not a problem, as my mother-in-law has a favorite “out, out damn spot” joke about me) and waiting around, at which I happen to excel.

I bought the ingredients for creme fraiche today. I am also ordering more supplies from the New England Cheese Making Supply Company to make mozzarella and ricotta.

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Embarrassment of riches–farm girl style

Next, I was faced with an embarrassment of riches–a whole bunch of cucumbers. I considered (briefly) giving some away, since our little family of three couldn’t possibly eat them all since there are even more on the way. So I pulled out my latest book purchases from Barnes and Noble and found a new bread and butter pickle recipe. (I plan to post a review of book soon.)

I have made bread and butter pickles a couple of times before. The first time, I was in my twenties and was living in an un-air conditioned house in Norfolk, Virginia. I was DYING with the heat in the kitchen from the huge canning kettle and the gas stove. When I had finished, I had about 20 jars of pickles that I had originally planned to give as gifts and share.

Hah! After all the work of planting, growing and pickling, I DID NOT SHARE A SINGLE JAR. I ate them all myself!

Well, this time wasn’t so bad.

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Cucumbers and onions in pickling brine

I had the advantage of air conditioning and a mandolin grater this time that made the preparations so much more convenient and comfortable. In the end, I had about 10 jars of pickles. Will I share? Maybe. Just just a little. Even with a handy dandy Japanese mandolin grater and air conditioning, it’s still a lot of work!

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Bread and butter pickles

Finally, just to top off my farm girl report…

I was watering in the garden yesterday and what did I find? MY FIRST TOMATO OF THE SEASON!!!!

I have been a very avid fan of heirloom tomatoes. But this year I planted a couple of varieties of hybrid tomatoes, including Better Boy and Early Girl. And waddaya know? The Early Girl produced the first tomato.

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First tomato of the season, 2007

She’s not really all that impressive. Harry tried to put her in the salad last night and I objected STRENUOUSLY. Really, it would have gotten lost. I will eat her tomorrow from my hand with only a little salt for dressing.

Ciao!

Posted In: Canning and Preserving, Cheese Making, Gardening

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