Tomatoes are one of those wonderful, easy-to-grow vegetables that taste so much better homegrown than anything you can buy in a store. No self respecting gardener or even garden-dabbler would let a summer go by with a tomato plant or two. Or, like I did in my not very large backyard one year, twenty, which was a bit ridiculous. They were mostly free tomato seedlings from the Orillia Community Garden that I just didn’t have the heart to compost, so into the soil they went. I didn’t know exactly what type of tomatoes they were, but there’s no such thing as a bad tomato, right? Well, they weren’t bad tomatoes, but they were little, teeny tiny yellow pear tomatoes and I had millions of them by the end of the summer. There are really only so many things you can do with tiny yellow tomatoes. Let’s just say I’ve never grown a yellow pear tomato since…
Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, back to pruning. One lesson I learned that summer, besides you gotta know when to say no with the free seedlings already, is that pruning is your friend, especially when it comes to tomatoes. An unpruned tomato plant is a giant, scraggly, bushy behemoth that looks very impressive but doesn’t produce very many tomatoes. And it’s scary. One day you’re noticing your tomato plant has really grown over the last week, the next day you’re thinking you haven’t seen your cat in quite some time. And it’s hard enough to find Mittens again, you really don’t want to go back in there to try to harvest whatever veggies there might be.
The basics of tomato pruning are as follows:
1) The tomato should ideally have 1 central stalk, but you can get away with 2 or 3
2) Suckers suck
Suckers are parts of you plant that will eventually take over your plant. They are not extensions of your plant, like the branches of a tree, but rather the evil clone twins of your plant that want to suffocate your plant out of existence. Your job is to get rid of them, not once, but constantly as they crop up during the summer. It seems like a big commitment, but it’s really so much better than trying to wade through a crazy overgrown plant later on.
How to recognize a sucker is completely impossible to explain with words. Luckily, we have created a video that will make it easy and fun! Maybe fun is a stretch, but once you get a few plants under your belt you will be sucker-crusher extraordinaire and totally unstoppable.
Last week I fulfilled a year-long dream…kit out an old splintery table to use for rinsing vegetables! Not a very impressive aspiration you say? Well, I keep my expectations of myself very mediocre, and trust me, I enjoy my life much more than those silly overachievers out there.
In reality, this has been needed to be done for the last year, as we really had no surface on which to clean and prep the vegetables out at the market garden. This means that last season, we were sort of holding them up in the air and squirting them with the hose. This method resulted in giant mud puddles in the spray area, and not terribly clean vegetables. There had to be a better way! Now there is. Last week the lovely people who find things for me dropped off an old, beaten up table, mostly made of plywood and very weathered – it was beautiful. I then proceeded to alter it to make it suitable for our purpose, as I will illustrate below in a series of photos.
First, we see the unadulterated table:
Next, I cut a hole in it using my handy-dandy skill saw:
I then flipped the table over, and used a staple gun to attach chicken wire to the underside, creating a spray-through area to rinse the veggies. This took a bit of stretching, so Monique helped, but I also made her take the photos so you can’t see her contribution to the effort:
And here’s me doing my best shmaltzy Price-Is-Right model impression with our brand new, wonderful table!
After taking the last photo, Monique suggested an extra bit of 2×2 under the screen to prevent it from sagging. This was a brilliant bit of advice, and further illustration of why it’s important to have a sciencey-smart type person working with you if you are not so mechanically minded yourself.
So now when you notice our veggies looking particularly bright and shiny this season, you will know how it all happened.
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
This week’s CSA basket includes kale. There are so many ways to prepare kale but one of our favourite ways to enjoy it is to make delicious and healthy kale chips!
All you need are:
- 1 bunch Simcoe Organics kale
- Olive oil to drizzle
- Kohser or sea salt to taste
1. Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Line a non insulated cookie sheet with parchment paper.
3. With a knife or kitchen shears carefully remove the leaves from the thick stems and tear into bite size pieces. Wash and thoroughly dry kale with a salad spinner. Drizzle kale with olive oil and sprinkle with seasoning salt.
4.Bake until the edges brown but are not burnt, 10 to 15 minutes.
I am very pleased to announce that we harvested the first third of our garlic yesterday! The bulbs look good – all of fair size, with large cloves, I’m definitely satisfied with our first year’s crop. Right now, they are lying in the sun on the clean straw, curing. We had a wee bit of fresh garlic available last week at the market, but the garlic from here on out will all be cured, making it suitable for storage.
Garlic is one of those foods that is so ubiquitous, most people don’t even think about where it comes from. Well, I can tell you where the vast majority of it comes from, at least in Ontario, most supermarket garlic comes from China. Now, I have nothing against China, in fact, my 6 year old son and I have already planned a fantasy bicycle trip there. But we have all the available resources to grow our own darn garlic, right here in old On-tar-eye-o. Garlic grows very well here, I plant mine in the fall, throw a thick layer of mulch over top and I barely have to think about it until harvest time. After it cures, it can be stored for up to a year, if you don’t eat it all first. It takes up very little space, and can be grown amongst vegetables (even flowers!), where it acts as a pest deterrent to unwanted crawlies. So folks, let’s let China manage the production of panda bears and green tea, and grow our own garlic ourselves!
You probably don’t need a garlic recipe, but I’m going to give you one anyways. Don’t let the name fool you! Green Goddess Dressing is not some hippie glop, but was actually created in 1923 by the chef at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, in honour of a theatre production of the same name. It’s everything a summer salad dressing should be: bright with lemon, lots of fresh herbs, with the zip of that newly harvested garlic. And don’t be afraid on anchovy paste! If you like Caesar salad, then you like anchovies. They aren’t at all fishy in this recipe, just give it a certain je ne c’est qua that will have you reaching for seconds.
Green Goddess Salad Dressing
• 3/4 cup mayonnaise
• 1/2 cup plain yoghurt
• 1 clove garlic
• 2 chopped green onions
• 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
• ¼ cup chopped parsley
• 1 tablespoon anchovy paste
• 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1/8 teaspoon cracked black peppercorns
To prepare, just whirr the whole deal up in a blender. Easy!
Well folks, our first market day went off without a hitch. Tons of folks from Lagoon City came out to enjoy the festivities. We had a rockin’ band, bouncy castles, face painters, and lots of great vendors. It was a blast.
And we actually had vegetables for sale! After our crazy dry spring, I was seriously concerned we’d have a big ol’ table of nothing on the opening day. However, our veggies were finally meeting my expectations, and loveliest of all the garlic scapes were ready! What’s a garlic scape? Apparently, even Microsoft doesn’t know, because it’s giving me the squiggly red underline as I type this.
Garlic scapes are garlic’s futile attempt to reproduce by seed. Each June, little curly shoots holding all the seeds the garlic plants wish to put forward come sprouting out of the top of our garlic. And what do we award this attempt to further their delicious race? We snap the scapes off, of course, to promote proper bulb development. And then we eat them.
They are absolutely delicious! I just polished off a plate of fresh pasta with cilantro pesto and sautéed garlic scapes, so I’m an expert on their excellence right about now. They have a texture somewhere between a green bean and an asparagus stalk, with a beautiful mild garlic flavour when cooked.
The season for garlic scapes is really short, they were ready last week and will be pretty much over by this weekend. If you’re itching to try them, but are not sure how to prepare them, you’re in luck, my friend. I’m including in this post an amazing recipe for garlic scape quiche that I developed last week. MAKE THIS RECIPE! Your mouth will never forgive you if you don’t.
GARLIC SCAPE QUICHE
Pie Crust (makes 2, save the other for another use)
1 cup unbleached flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
½ tsp salt
1 cup solid fat (butter, coconut oil, shortening, lard)
1 tsp vinegar
1 ½ cups grated Jarlsberg (or try gruyere or gouda)
1 cup heavy cream
¾ tsp salt
8 garlic scapes, cut into 2 cm pieces
1/3 cup chopped onion
Dash of cayenne or black pepper
Butter or olive oil
To make the pie crust:
Combine the flours and salt in a medium mixing bowl. Add the solid fat, cutting it in with 2 knives or a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Sprinkle on the vinegar. Sprinkle on 4 tbsp cold water, and gently combine with a fork until the mixture forms a ball. If you need more water, add it 1 tbsp at a time. Do not overwork the dough, the key to a flaky piecrust is touching the dough as little as possible. Let the dough rest for 15 minutes. Cut the dough in half, roll one half out and place in a pie plate, crimping the edges. Prick all over with a fork, place a sheet of foil on top of the crust, and then fill the bottom of the crust with either pie weights or dry beans. Bake for 10 minutes in a 375 degree oven, remove the foil and weights, and then bake for 3 minutes more. Set aside.
For the filling:
Sautee the onion and garlic scapes in the oil or butter until tender. In a medium bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Add the cream, salt and pepper, and the sautéed scapes and onions.
Place 2/3 of the shredded cheese in the bottom of the pie crust. Pour the egg mixture on top. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on the surface. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 – 40 minutes, or until the filling is firm. Let sit for 10 minutes after removing from the oven. Can be enjoyed either hot or cold.
Mm, let’s use those fresh green onions from our first CSA basket in a yummy holistic salada recipe!
Mixed-greens salads contain large amounts of vitamins A and C, as well as calcium, iron and a variety of trace minerals. A 1-cup serving of salad greens provide 70% of the daily recommended intake for vitamin A and 20% of the Daily Recommended Intake for vitamin C! In fact, mixed greens are really great for your immune system, and the Vitamin A keeps your skin and eyes healthy!
This recipe is so easy, just mix and toss. And eat!
1 cup Simcoe Organics Mixed greens
½ cup thinly sliced radishes
½ cup diced sweet potato
½ cup Cooked edamame beans
½ cup Grated carrots
¼ cup Roasted sesame seeds as a topper!
Sesame Miso Dressing
3 tablespoons White miso
3 tablespoons Brown rice vinegar
A pinch Stevia
2 teaspoons Spicy toasted sesame oil
1/3 cup Fresh orange juice
1/4 cup plain Sesame oil
1 tablespoon Simcoe Organics green onions, minced