A Late September Madison Saturday in Photos

Today’s delicious finds at the Dane County Farmers’ Market: last round of sweet corn, white thai eggplants, purple carrots, bountiful hot & sweet peppers, green onions, leeks, beets (with greens!).

Pretty, pretty peppers.

Beautiful veggies, beautiful pit bull, beautiful weather. Everything I ever wanted.

Smile

And Kiss!

Our tomato plants are still full of goods. We’re hoping they ripen up quickly this week while it’s a little warmer!

Thyme’s still standing tall.

Our precious elephant ear is finally back on the mend.  And it’s lovely.

Zinnia Love

Zinnia Love Forever.

Relaxin’

And strikin’ poses.

Time for lunch.

Post by Amanda

Why I do it.

There are so many reasons why I can & preserve food.  The list is actually quite long.  But there is one reason that outdoes the rest.  And tonight, I felt it strongly and it gave me just the shot in the arm I needed to keep me going.

This weekend, Lanny and I bought 26 ears of corn at the farmers’ market that I shucked, blanched, cut, and froze while he was at work on Saturday.

We also bought 6 pounds of beans ($1.50/lb. at the end of season-wahoo!!) which we canned on Sunday–dilly beans for days & days!  I had some brine left over and room in the canner, so I threw in a couple of pints of super spicy aji peppers as well.

Like I’ve said, I have a long list of reasons why I’ve committed to doing this, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit that it’s tiring work.  After spending so many hours of my weekend in the kitchen, I came home after a long day of work tonight to a pile of pears that needed tending to ASAP and a bucket of tomatoes that need to be canned by tomorrow at the latest.

After devouring a delicious meal of garden kale, pinto beans, red potatoes, and fresh tomatoes (courtesy of my wonderful partner), Lanny and I dug deep for energy, and cooked down about 5 pounds of pears from our tree into pearsauce (like applesauce, but with pears).  As the smell filled the house, and we cranked away using my mom’s old food mill, I started to feel the feeling I chase in all my hours of canning: I felt my Grandma Swartzentruber nearby.

One of my grandma’s specialties was her most delicious applesauce which she made from good ol’ Ohio Yellow Transparent apples.  She canned and froze it– but everyone’s favorite was always the frozen version.  It’s impossible for me to eat applesauce without thinking of her, and comparing it to hers.  For as long as I live, one of my all time favorite meals will always be warm Grandma Noodles with a plop of frozen Grandma Applesauce on top.  Makes my stomach growl just thinking of it even after that hearty meal.

Tonight, after a long session of standing over the stove sampling and mmming and sampling and mmming, I grabbed a few of my Grandma’s old freezer containers that I selected out of her basement storage after she passed away, and spooned the pearsauce into them. As I went to secure the lid, I looked down to see “baked corn” in her handwriting  inscribed in sharpie on the upper right hand of the yellow plastic. My eyes swelled up, and I just lost it.  I stood there with my hands where hers had once been, and just howled.

Labelled: 83, Baked Corn, 95.

I miss her so, so much.  I hate that I didn’t learn the art of food preservation from her.  I will never get over my regret of that.  And it breaks my heart that she can’t see my house, our garden, my stores of food in the basement and the freezer.  Just rips me right up. But I also know that she’d be so proud of me for carrying on this labor-intensive practice.  And one thing is for sure– I will continue to spend hours upon hours every summer prepping food, washing jars & lids, burning my hands on my canner lid (will I never learn?), waiting, labeling, etc. for as long as I am physically able, and if I only feel her presence once every dozen times, it will always be worth it.  I love her.  I miss her.  I hope to be like her.

And that’s really why I do it.

Post by Amanda

Pear Hopes, Dreams, Failures

Other than the sliding of the keys across the table from previous owners to us, the happiest moment of closing on our house to me was when the previous owners told us that the beautiful flowering tree in the backyard was a pear tree.

Such a stunning tree.

I love pears.  LOVE them.

Oh, the plans I had for my juicy pears the moment I found out they were mine!  Thoughts of fresh pear juice dripping down my hands while chomping down on pear after pear, thoughts of freezing pear sauce and canning pear butter, thoughts of pear brandy, pears in my salads, pear tarts, pear cobbler, poached pears, pears with ice cream, pears in my oatmeal, pears and gorgonzola, ginger-pear this, pear-walnut that….my heart leaps & flips & breakdances at the thoughts.

The most adorable little pear babies started popping up all over that gorgeous tree of hope &  dreams.

But seriously, how cute are those?

And then this awful summer weather came.  And everything struggled to survive.  Nonetheless, the stalwart pear tree laughed in the face of the drought and produced an overwhelming abundance of pears.  Though Willa did her darndest to chase them out, the squirrels flocked to the tree, and who could blame them?  It was HOT and DRY and they need food too.  And anyway, we’re down with sharing the wealth and could never–even with all of my drool-inducing pear plans–use up all that fruit (especially the ones at the top of the tree, out of reach even to Lanny on the ladder with our telescoping fruit picker pole!). So we waited with bated breath for them to ripen.

Before we knew it, at least 100 pears had fallen to the ground and a city of bees came to feast.  I was so discouraged.  Got stung on the bottom of my foot.  Became even more discouraged.

Then I read that pears often ripen better off the tree than on.  So I bucked up and started picking.  And picking.  And picking.

First harvest.

I stuck them in the fridge in paper bags.  And waited.  And waited.  And they didn’t ripen.

We lost another 100 (at the VERY least) to the ground and the bees.  And then went for a second round of picking.  At this point, we decided that the weather had thrown off the pears a bit this year–possibly stunted their growth– and also accepted the fact that we’re learning.  And we’ll do better next year.

The second harvest piled up on the table.

The pears are now hanging out outside of the fridge in paper bags accompanied by some apples and bananas to help speed up their ripening.  I’m worried we won’t get many to ripen properly, but there’s nothing I can do right now but incessantly read advice online and wait.

I really want that pear butter to happen.

As we wait and hope, does anyone have any helpful pear tips for us–for this year or the years to come?

Post by Amanda

Fed by Our Garden

A few of the lovely things we’ve been eating from our garden:

Chard

Arugula & Lettuces

Sunstart Tomato

Jalapenos &
Cherokee Chocolate, Sunstart, & Clear Pink Early Tomatoes

Carolina Gold, Cherokee Chocolate, & Clear Pink Early Tomatoes
Mint & Basil

As you can see, the past few weeks have been delicious.

Post by Amanda

Jalapeños en Escabeche

So!  With all of the lovely house things happening, I have yet to do one of my most beloved summer activities: canning.  Putting up the harvest for the winter months has become so dear to me.  I come from a long line of food preservers; however, I sadly learned precious little about food preservation from my Mennonite grandmothers.  My sadness over that missed opportunity kept me from canning for a while until I decided to just teach myself a few years back.  I’m still a newbie who gets scared and stressed about the whole process, but it has come to mean so much to me that I’m determined to stick with it, learn from my mistakes, and power through.  The connection I feel to my ancestors, the farm, and food when I’m canning is a feeling that is otherwise hard to come by in my modern American life, and I refuse to give that up just because canning takes time and is much less convenient than buying commercially canned goods.

Since our jalapeño plant was bursting with gorgeous dark green peppers, I decided to try my hand at a favorite Mexican condiment: Jalapeños en Escabeche.  A staple on the Mexican table, these pickled Jalepeños are usually joined by onions, carrots, garlic, and herbs in the jar.  Sometimes cauliflower.  And I LOVE cauliflower.  So after some recipe research, we settled on a game plan, harvested what we could from our garden, and made a quick trip to the farmers’ market for the rest.

Pretty, pretty plant!

Here’s the basics (slightly adapted from here):

Jalapeños en Escabeche 

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb jalapeño peppers (we got 15.9 oz from the garden!  success!)
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 medium white onions, thickly chopped
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and thickly sliced diagonally
  • florets from half a cauliflower
  • 1.5 heads garlic, cloves separated and peeled
  • 5 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp pickling salt
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 4 springs fresh oregano
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 Tbsp sugar

From our garden: jalapeños and herbs
From the Farmers’ Market: garlic, onions, carrots
From the grocery: vinegar, olive oil, pickling salt, sugar, bay leaves, cauliflower

Steps:

1 Wash peppers, leaving the stems intact. Cut an X into each pepper so the brine will penetrate and do its pickling magic.

I realize now that these X’s are usually cut in the tips of the peppers, but oh well…

2 Heat oil in a large pot. Add the peppers, onions, carrots, cauliflower, and garlic. Heat over medium for 10 minutes, occasionally turning.

3 Add the vinegar, salt, sugar, and herbs and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes.  Peppers need to be fully cooked for safety in this recipe.  They’re cooked when they are a dull, olive color like below.

4 Pack veggies into 5 pint-sized sterilized jars. Top with the brine, leaving a 1/2 inch headspace, and seal. Process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.

Filling jars.

The aroma is invigorating.

Lanny always does the honors of making sure all the air bubbles are released before we put the lids on.

Sitting in a quiet corner of the counter to cool for 24 hours.

I’m a little less than excited about how mushy this recipe appears to be as I love a good toothy escabeche, but we’ll see how it goes.  There was about a half a pint extra which we sampled instead of canning.  It’s obviously not pickled yet, but Oh My Is it Delicious.  I also sampled a raw jalapeño when we were picking them this morning and WOWZA are these peppers ever spicy.  Jalapeños can vary greatly in spiciness levels, but usually tend to be a bit on the milder side.  Well with the crazy heat we’ve had this year, these suckers are HOT.  My lips are still tingling.

I’ll be sure to report back when we break open a jar of these this winter after coming in from shoveling piles of snow off the driveway!

Post by Amanda

Gardening on the Urban Frontier

As previously mentioned, a major item on the must-have list was a large enough yard that received adequate sunlight and could handle a significant amount of vegetables.  I passed on many a fine house because the yard was either too small or too shaded.

Our cluster of potted herbs

Due to the timeframe, we weren’t able to get earlier growing veggies into the ground in time, so we kept the selection small, or so we intended, i.e. the Tomatoes and more Tomatoes post.  We ended up planting Tomatoes, Peppers, Kale, Swiss Chard, Cilantro, Onions, Chives, Oregano, Thyme, Rosemary, Spearmint, Lettuce, Spinach, Arugula, and Raspberry Bushes.

Newly planted Raspberry bushes

While this did exceed our “keeping it small our first year” gardening strategy, nature had its own way of regulating my potential harvest.  Six weeks of no rain and frequently hitting near and over 100 degree temperatures took care of the spinach, onions, and all but one chive plant, as well as severely thinning out the lettuce, sections of newly planted grass, and many flowers.

Amanda watering some thirsty Tomato plants

Doing our best to not be distressed by the actions of Mother Nature, we’ve been selectively watering our plants to carry them through the dry spell.  Most of them are hanging on remarkably well considering the harsh conditions, but I just keeping thinking about how if we didn’t live in the 21st century in the U.S. with access to water and respite from this heat, we’d all be dead along with the plants.

Post by Lanny