Canning, pickling, preserving, drying…these tried and true methods of ‘putting up’ the harvest have recently come back into vogue. You can’t swing a turnip without hitting someone holding a pickling seminar or dehydrating workshop. This is a good thing. Our dependence on grocery store produce is both contributing to global warming and dulling our taste buds. Have you tried a tomato in February? I figure I could just draw a tomato on a piece of cardboard and stick that in my sandwich instead, it would save me money and taste the same. Also, and this is maybe most important, we are killing the magic embodied by seasonal foods. Have you ever looked forward to the taste of Grandma’s Christmas shortbread? Or Auntie Lorraine’s rumballs? Would you feel the same sense of anticipation if you munched on gingerbread year round? Of course not. That’s why when I see shrink-wrapped corn on the cob in April on the supermarket shelves, I want to cry. Why desecrate the sacred act of crunching into August’s first harvest of corn, butter dripping down your fingers and heaven dancing across your tongue?
Alright, you may say, but what about when it’s not August? It’s freezing, snowing, ain’t-nothin’-growing WINTERTIME here 8 months of the year? What then? Well, aside from ODing on the aforementioned rumballs, winter is the time to crack open a jar of summertime preserves, or stomp down into the root cellar to pull out carrots and rutabagas that are as crisp as the day they were picked. I heard a fantastic saying yesterday “An aching back in autumn, and a full stomach in winter”. Well, I’ve got the aching back from the never-ending potato harvest, we may as well spend some time putting up all this food for a deep-winter reward.
So today I’m hiding from the rain (and my harvesting duties for tomorrow’s market!) and putting up some preserves. I’ve been up to my ears in tomatoes lately, ever since I harvested about 90lbs from my canning tomato plants. I’ve done everything from roasted vegetable marinara to hot pepper salsa, with quarts and quarts of plain old crushed tomatoes in between.
Today, I’m making grape jelly for the first time. My lovely neighbour, Leslie, gave me about 7 lbs of Concord grapes yesterday, so there was really only one thing to do with them, other than wrestle them away from my kids, who have a much higher tolerance for tart than I do. I generally try to stick to preserving things that will actually translate into a meal over the winter, there’s really only so much chutney and fruit butter one can eat. However, the grapes were looking at me with sad little grape faces, just begging to be turned into a high-sugar treat that my husband and kids will go gaga over, and who can say no to a grape with a cute purple pout? Well, the end result was delicious, even for a bit of a snob like me, and it will be great to open a jar in January, and be reminded of the aromatic experience of driving back form Leslie’s house with 12 quarts of grapes perfuming my hot, summertime car.
I heard from one of our CSA members that she was a bit overwhelmed by the bounty of the garden lately (not a bad problem to have!), and her comment was what prompted me to write this post. I’m not going to give out any preserving instructions here, there are so many fantastic books and other resources out there, plus this new-fangled thing called the “internet” that will teach you basically everything you need to know instantly. I am, however, going to recommend some books and give you a fantabulous recipe for salsa that I’ve been experimenting with. All of the vegetable ingredients will be available at the market this week, most notably the tomatoes. Since many of our tomatoes have developed cracks with the uneven moisture levels of this season, they are cheap, cheap, cheap. Not so pretty to look at, but perfect for canning or freezing. Ask for “seconds”, this goes for any farmers’ market wherever you are reading this in the world.
Is preserving food difficult, dangerous, not worth the bother? No, no and certainly not. At the very least, sit in an armchair and lob baggies of vegetables into your freezer. You can do that! Or if you want to get a bit more involved, check out these books:
Put ‘em Up!: A Comprehensive Home Preserving Guide for the Creative Cook, from Drying and Freezing to Canning and Pickling by Sherri Brooks Vinton – This is a trendy recipe book with recipes that are a bit more gourmet than the relishes and pickles you remember Grandma making.
The Joy of Pickling: 250 Flavor-Packed Flavor-Packed Recipes for Vegetables and More from Garden or Market by Linda Ziedrich – I LOVE this book, it covers absolutely every possible pickle, from garlic dills to sauerkraut to pickled eggs. I have learned so much from this book, I feel really grateful to have stumbled across it.
The Joy of Keeping a Root Cellar: Canning, Freezing, Drying, Smoking and Preserving the Harvest by Jennifer Megyesi – Hmm, bit of a theme developing here. This book is unrelated to the one above, but also fantastic. It gives a very comprehensive look at the best ways to put up each kind of food. I can tell you from experience, just because you can dehydrate kale, doesn’t mean you should. You definitely don’t need a root cellar to get a lot out of this book.
Okay, here’s the recipe I promised. It doesn’t have the syrupy, unpleasantly-viscous quality that many recipes for salsa seem to produce. You can make it as hot as you like by scaling up the hot peppers. The recipe will make about 8 cups, so you’ll need around 4 quart jars, but feel free cut make more or less, just halve or double it as you see fit. As for me – the blog post is over, the jelly is happily sitting on my countertop, but the rain is pounding down more relentlessly than ever! I’ll have to get my wellies and tromp out there soon. Was it really me begging for rain back in July?
12 medium tomatoes, chopped (about 3 lbs)
3 medium onions, chopped
2 bell peppers, seeded and chopped
2 or more jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped
9 cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ cups tomato sauce
1 ½ cups red wine vinegar (or white wine vinegar, cider vinegar, etc.)
¾ cup cilantro, chopped
6 tsp honey or cane sugar
1 ½ tsp pickling or kosher salt
Combine all ingredients in a stainless steel or enamel saucepan. Bring to a boil then lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 35 minutes, or when the desired thickness is reached. Stir often, and check the finished result for salt and adjust of necessary.
Fill sterilized jars to ½ inch of rim. Process in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes.
Well, it’s time to check on the rest of our vegetables! With our cooler nights, we’ve been feeling like harvest is in full swing. It’s hard to believe summer is almost over. We’re already planting our first patches of green manure to enrich our soil in the sleepy time of winter. However, that does not mean the garden is empty! No indeed…
Oh wow. People of Lagoon City, have we got tomatoes. Giant ,golden, yellow tomatoes. Single-sandwich-serving tomatoes. Cherry tomatoes for snacking. Crazy, convoluted, heritage tomatoes. Think eggs benedict with a thick slice of dark burgundy tomato. Think crispy baguette rubbed with garlic and olive oil and topped with diced tomato and basil. Think a marinara sauce that just screams summer freshness. Yummm!
And we have so many, were practically giving them away! (I know I sound like a used car salesman, but I’m not kidding.) So come out to the market and talk tomatoes with us. I’ll give you the recipes for any of the above, and I’m sure your own imagination will also go wild.
You know when it’s so hot you can’t do anything but lie on the couch, sticky magazine in one hand, iced tea in the other, with an upright fan blowing full blast two inches from your face? Well faced with the same conditions, most green leafy vegetables won’t do a darn thing either. Not so with one of the sleeper hits of the summer – New Zealand Spinach. It simply thrives in the heat. While not actually related to the traditional spinach we all know and love, it cooks up just the same, in fact it holds its texture a bit better. It’s been very popular this year and we’re very glad we took a chance on this unconventional plant.
Many people have been asking me about radishes. Yes, radishes are in no way greens, but we put them on salad so they can hang out in this category. And they’re just about ready for fall. Kelly will check for them this week, but if they’re not big enough they will be for sure by next Saturday.
The green onions, or scallions, as the slightly snooty call them, are continuing along their merry way. They have been a fairly underrated hero this year – there really hasn’t been a bad time for scallions since May. 5 gold stars for you, green onions.
And of course, the Swiss chard and kale are both still growing strong. I often get asked what to do with these two greens. They can be used anywhere you would use cooked spinach – spanakopita, lasagna, pizza, and many other foods that end with “a”. We should all eat far more of these two! They are both high in fibre, packed with micronutrients that will turn you into a superhero.
I must now bid you adieu. I’ve been canning tomatoes all afternoon, now it’s time to batten down the hatches in the garden before another awesome Ontario thunderstorm rolls in. We’ve extended the Saturday markets through to Thanksgiving, so see you there!
Well, summer is in full swing now, in fact we’ve swung so far that the nights are getting cooler and it feels like fall is around the corner. Hard to believe. However, we can still squeeze the last few drops out of summer, and squeeze we shall.
I thought I’d give a little overview of our lovely veggies, now that they getting consistent moisture (thank-you rain dancers!) and are really starting to produce. Our last few CSA baskets have been literally overflowing, requiring an engineering degree and a steady hand simply to keep all that goodness in there. Huzzah! So here’s the lowdown on all our little plant babies.
The carrots have finally sized up! It’s a miracle! Really, it is, seeing as a skunk or some other mysterious burrowing animal had a vigilante mission to rid the world of our carrots earlier this year. Every time the tiny little fronds popped up, Mr Skunk came along to wreak havoc. But somehow, they pulled through. We’re actually harvesting mid-sized carrots and we should continue to have them right up the end of the season.
We are harvesting potatoes for the third straight week now. The Onaways are lovely, well sized, and I think we’ll dig the majority of them today. Some of our other varieties had to battle the drought, but are at least still kicking. We planted so very many potatoes that we can’t really have an unsatisfactory harvest. Aaack! I can’t believe I would tempt the harvest gods in that way! Knock on wood one thousand times!
Our parsnips look very parsnippy right now. Not too much to report, seeing as we won’t harvest the majority of them till spring. We’ll throw a thick layer of mulch down and they will sleep cozy until then.
As far as onions go, I only wish I had planted twice as many! Most of them have really pulled along, for that matter so have the leeks and scallions. It’s so difficult to believe, even after doing it for years, that the wee little onion seedlings, much tinier than a blade of grass, could ever amount to anything. But of course, they grow up to become an indispensable vegetable. Life’s little miracles never cease to amaze me.
Yes, Virginia, there is a cucumber. During the drought, our cucumber vines were growing all over the place, but no fruit! When they are on the vine, we call them fruit for some reason, which brings me to any issue I could really only gripe about on this blog. People are always going on about how tomatoes are really a fruit, but we call them a vegetable. Something about the fact that they contain seeds. Last year, my son’s Grade 1 teacher taught him that anything with seeds is really a fruit. Which would mean that beans, peas, zuchinni, eggplants, squash, cucumbers, peppers and countless others are also fruits. You see where I’m going with this? I feel this is food bigotry. Why must we continuously classify and force our plant friends into society’s molds? I, for one, will let my cucumbers grow outside of the box. Which is what they’re doing right now, we’re getting tons of cukes and I couldn’t be happier.
There are straightneck summer squash, along with pattipans, and let me answer this question right up front – what do you do with them? Cook them like zuchinni. They taste exactly the same. Why don’t we just grow zuchinni instead? I have no idea.
And happy, happy day, we have some pumpkin and other winter squash that have set fruit and are sizing up! I was having a sick-to-my-stomach moment not long ago at the thought of not having any pumpkins for fall. What self-respecting gardener can’t produce a pumpkin? None, I tell you, but while I was considering Hari-Kari as my only course of action Mother Nature stepped in to help me both save face and my pumpkin crop. So now we have to wait and see how big they will get before frost comes.
Wait a second… this blog post is getting a little long winded. I don’t want to push the parameters of the public’s interest in our veggies, as earth shattering as they are. So, I think I’ll make this a two part post, and you’ll simply have to wait on the edge of you seat to learn about the brassicas et al. So…
TO BE CONTINUED…
This past Saturday at our Farmers’ Market, we hosted Bob Graham, a professional storyteller. He was gracious enough to share this story with us..
The Three Sisters
“According to Iroquois legend, corn, beans and squash are three inseparable sisters who only grow and thrive together. This tradition of interplanting corn, beans and squash in the same mounds, widespread among Native American forming societies, is a sophisticated system that provided long-term soil fertility and healthy diet to generations.
Corn, beans and squash were among the first important crops domesticated by ancient Mesoamerican societies. Corn was the primary crop, proving more calories or energy per acre than any other. According to Three Sisters legends, corn must grow in a community with other crops rather than on its own – it needs the beneficial company and aide of its companions.
The Iroquois believe corn, beans and squash are precious gifts from the Great Spirit, each watched over by one of three sister’s spirits, called the De-o-ha-ko, or Our Sustainers. This planting season is marked by ceremonies to honour them, and a festival commemorates the first harvest of green corn on the cob. By retelling the stores and performing annual rituals, Native Americans passed down the knowledge of growing, using and preserving the Three Sisters through generations.
Corn provides a natural pole for bean vines to climb. Beans fix nitrogen on their roots, improving the overall fertility of the plot with nitrogen for the following year’s corn. Bean vines also help stabilize corn plants, making them less vulnerable to blowing over in the wind. Shallow-rooted squash vines become living mulch, shading emerging weeds and preventing soil moisture from evaporating, thereby improving the overall crop chances of survival in dry years. Spindly squash plants also help discourage predators from approaching the corn and beans. The large amount of crop residue from this planting combination can be incorporated back into the soil at the end of the season, to build up the organic matter and improve its structure.
Corn, beans and squash also complement each other nutritionally. Corn provides carbohydrates, the dried beans are rich in protein, balancing the lack of necessary amino acids found in corn. Finally, squash yields both vitamins from the fruit and healthful, delicious oil from the seeds.
Native Americans kept this system in practice for centuries without the modern conceptual vocabulary we use today, i.e. soil nitrogen, vitamins, etc.. They often look for signs in their environment that indicate the right soil temperature and weather for planting corn, i.e. when the Canada geese return or the dogwood leaves reach the size of a squirrel’s ear.
I gleaned this information from an article by Alice Formiga, American organic gardener.
Wan Naa kee”
“I am a great believer in not only looking to our past for guidance but listening to those that came before us for understanding. I have been told that the telling of stories is really the oldest profession. A very interesting such story is the following and it captures just how advanced our people of the first nations are and were. I hope you will take the time to reach out for these stories and pass them on by storytelling to the ones you love.”
- Bob Graham
Bob returns to Simcoe Organics Farmer’s Market on Saturday August 25 at 10am to share stories with adults and kids!
Simcoe Organics Farmer’s Market | 87 Laguna Parkway, Lagoon City, ON | 9am to Noon | Every Saturday until Labour Day
Due to the rain last week, we will be holding the draw this Saturday July 14. Many great prizes in store, not to mention our ever growing market.
87 Laguna Parkway, Lagoon City, ON
9am to Noon
Sharing some of our favourite photos from our Official Market Ring-in on June 30 with you!
This Saturday, we are looking forward to officially ringing in the market!
We are honoured to have the following speakers:
- Bruce Stanton, MP – Simcoe North
- Garfield Dunlop, MPP – Simcoe North
- Bill Duffy, Mayor – Ramara Township
- Bill Kahler, Councillor, Ward 5 – Ramara Township
Live music performance by solo jazz guitarist, Steve Colilo.
Visit our facepainter/balloon artist in the Kids’ Corner!
9am to Noon
87 Laguna Parkway, Lagoon City, ON