Saturday, September 23, 2017

Harvest Season - Part 5 - Pickled Beets

I wish I could have harvested my own beets this year! I planted them a couple of times & all I grew were some very small leaves - most likely they were shaded too much by the peas. Adjustments will be made to next year's planting plan.

This year's beets turned out very well - tried some this morning as I can never wait to see how the flavours all blend together!

* 10 pounds beets (I had a few left over as they didn't fit in the pot, so I would say I used about 8 to 8 1/2 pounds)
* 2 cups reserved cooking liquid from the beets
* 3 cups pickling vinegar
* 5 cups apple cider vinegar
* 3 Tbsp salt
* 2 cinnamon sticks, 1 black cardamom pod, 1 tsp all spice berries, 1 tsp whole cloves
* 2 tsp black peppercorns
* 2 tsp dry mustard
* 1 cup sugar

Cook the beets - whole - til just tender. Some recipes call for 30 minutes, some for 1 hour. It depends
on how tender-soft or firm you like your beets. I cook mine for 30 minutes. It also depends on how large your beets are. I picked a bag of beets that were relatively uniform in size for easier cooking.

Make sure to reserve some of that liquid! Adds extra flavour to your brine! (I wash the beets before boiling them to ensure there is no dirt on them). Strain the beets & then let them cool so you can peel them. This year, the peels came off easily - I used a paper towel to assist & help keep my hands from becoming too stained.

Chop the beets, fill your jars & add the hot brine. I hot water bathed the jars for only 5 minutes as I cut the beets smaller than I've done previously & they were also tender so I didn't want to over-cook them & have mushy beets.

I ended up with 10 (500 ml) jars that sealed up nicely. There are 4 of these large beets left in the fridge & I think I might try a batch of pickled beets using rice vinegar! Someone suggested it & I'm always up for trying something new! I don't think my beets ever taste the same from year to year - which is fine. After eating that many pickles over the year, it's nice for a change with the new season's produce.

Happy Autumn!!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Fall Blooms

~ marigolds & sweet alyssum ~
 Sometimes you just need to sit & relax in the gardens after harvesting the fruits & veggies of your labour & just enjoy the remaining flowers.

I'm glad to see some flowers bounced back after such a hot & dry summer.
~ sunflowers ~

~ Autumn Sedum ~

~ calendula edging the veggie bed ~

~ lavender rebloomed ~

~ marigolds ~

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Harvest Season - Part 4 - Oven Roasted Tomatoes

I love a home-grown tomato. And this year, I'm finally growing my own in quantities more than I thought.
I have large sandwich worthy tomatoes.

I have cherry sized tomatoes that are just like candy when picked fresh & eaten still warm from the sun.

I usually end up with a harvest once a week of ripe, ready-to-eat tomatoes that we can't eat all in one meal.

So, I thought I would try oven roasted tomatoes with fresh herbs & garlic.

I cut up all the ripe tomatoes, added a sprinkle of kosher salt, chopped up whatever fresh herbs I have growing right now: rosemary, oregano, marjoram, thyme, winter savory, basil, chives & shiso. Added in some chopped garlic & a very good drizzle of avocado oil.

I then roasted it in a rather low temperature oven (about 200 to 250 degrees Celcius) for an hour or 2. I could have roasted it higher & for longer, but this was my first time trying this, so I wanted to be able to play around with adjustments.

Of course, by the time things were done, it was very late in the day so I don't have photos of the end product. But it all fit into a jam jar & is sitting in the fridge waiting to be used with eggs or in salsas or salads or on pasta.

I will play around with the flavours, temperature & length of time I roast the tomatoes as I continue to harvest. Of course, I will take time to enjoy a great tomato sandwich or sliced tomatoes drizzled with a grand dark balsamic vinegar. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

Harvest Season - Part 3 - Pickled Runner Beans

As you might recall, I didn't get the runner bean seeds in the ground until almost the end of June.
And they were really slow to sprout & get growing. I thought for sure we'd not be eating beans until the end of September... but I've been harvesting small amounts for about a week now, so I'm pleasantly surprised.

The bean tower is quite large - the insects and hummingbirds enjoy all the blooms, but I think I may have planted a few too many seeds thinking that not all of them would germinate & sprout. I think they all grew...

We don't eat all the beans we harvest (even with the help of the dog), so what do you do with all those beans? I'm loath to freeze them as I've discovered freezer-burnt beans several years later after forgetting they were there!

Pickled beans seemed like a better alternative.

* 2 pounds fresh beans (trim the tops & bottoms to fit into your jars)
   * 3 cups water
   * 3 cups pickling vinegar
   * 1/4 cup salt
   * 1-2 Tbsp sugar
   * 4 cloves garlic - smashed & chopped fine
   * 2 tsp mustard seeds
   * 1 tsp peppercorns plus a few allspice berries & a couple bay leaves

Bring your hot water bath to a boil & keep simmering while you fill your jars. Since I haven't made pickled beans before I decided to put some fresh dill in 3 of the jars & some cayenne pepper into the other 3 for a bit more of a spicy kick.

Once the brine had boiled for about 10 minutes & the jars were filled with raw beans & a few extra peppercorns, I poured the brine into a large glass measuring cup - leaving the chopped up garlic in the pot. I then scooped the garlic into the jars, along with a few of the mustard seeds.

The jars were filled up with the hot brine, the lids put on finger tight & then put into the hot water bath for about 8 minutes. I have them cooling on the counter & will wait a couple of weeks before opening one to see what the flavour & consistency of the beans are. It will be a rather long 2 weeks but I'll mark it on the calendar so I don't forget & so I can also let you know how it worked out.

I'll probably be harvesting a whole lot more beans over those 2 weeks, so I might be making up some more jars of pickled beans...

Here's my little helper - Chili... she kept jumping on the counter to see what's going on, so I hauled the kitchen chair over for viewing from a much more safe place.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Harvest Season - Part 2b - Fermented Apple Soda

 This is very similar to the crab apple kvass I made a few weeks ago, with a twist on a few more herbs from the garden.

I used up the apples that had those blemishes on the skin - some of the bruising did go down into the flesh a wee bit, but it will not affect the taste of the end product at all, as it will all break down into a fermented pulp.

I gathered fragrant rose petals, a few sprigs of lemon balm, some flowers & leaves off my anise hyssop, flowers from my salvias & calendulas & some fresh reblooming lavender flowers.

The apples I coarse chopped & all this went into a large glass jar with some chopped ginger & fresh ground cinnamon & cardamom (left-over from my spiced coffee I was making). I poured about 1 cup of local honey over the top & filled up the jar with cool water.

This will be stirred 2 or 3 times a day for about a week, depending on how the flavouring starts to mature and how quickly it starts to ferment. I have a cloth over the top of the jar - not a tight lid, as I want air to mix and mingle with the brew.

It smells divine already!!
I'm looking forward to the Autumn Equinox next week when this brew should be ready for pouring over ice & enjoying...

PS - this is what the crab apple kvass turned out to look like once I strained out all the pulp. I did add a handful of blackberries to the brew.

This was a stunning brew & something great to share with friends in the garden...

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Harvest Season - Part 2a - Dried Apples

I haven't yet invested in a food dehydrator but the oven works well enough for small batches of things.

What to do with apples that won't store long fresh? Dried apples!

 I used my mandolin to slice them a consistent thickness & it takes very little time to slice up only 4 apples. I did not peel or core the apples - did not seem very necessary. They were then soaked in lemon water for about a half hour, dried off & put onto parchment lined cookie sheets to go into an oven that was warmed to 200 degrees Celcius.

I sprinkled some cinnamon on top, but that's purely optional.

They went in for an hour - you can prop the door of the oven open a bit with a wooden spoon to allow moisture to escape as you want to evenly dry the apple slices. Flip the slices over & dry for another hour. If you want crisper slices, leave in for a further hour or if it was super-late in the day, turn the oven off, close the door with slices still inside & package them up in the morning.

I was only able to do about 4 large apples at a time, so this would be a long process if wanting to any sort of amount. If you have a quiet evening planned at home, it is something super-easy to do! I put each batch into a large ziplock bag & store in a dark cupboard. They should keep this way for several months.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Harvest Season - Part 2 - Apples

I still haven't figured out what variety of apples we are growing,
but I'm learning new things about fruit trees every year. I figure I'll eventually figure out what they are, but that's not a top priority right now as we are just enjoying being able to grow some very tasty, crunchy, sweet-tart apples with very little effort.

This spring, after pollination, there were a lot of wee apples developing. I thinned them heavily. I could have removed a few more, but the tree didn't need stalking this year to keep from tipping over.

We've been watching for apples to drop off the tree to help tell us when they are ready to pick, since we don't know if they are an early apple or late apple... One key we use is when they start to take on this lovely red colour. I was also checking the apples for flavour & to see when the seeds had turned brown in the core.

Apple Harvest Day just so happened on the day I was stung in the hand by a wasp while at work. So I was picking apples with an ice pack wrapped around my hand.

I ended up with a total harvest this season of about 25 pounds of apples. I didn't weigh the largest apple, but you can see, that it's a meal-sized piece of fruit!!

I'm not sure what is causing this brown bruising on the outside of the
apples, but the ones with this were removed from the rest of the harvest & I'm using them first. The bruising does not go very far into the flesh, but it's rather unsightly. Research time this winter!

The rest of the apples are rest in the garage in a single layer & I'll probably be using them up over the next couple of weeks in baking and cooking recipes.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Harvest Season - Part 1 - The Pumpkins

The volunteer pumpkin plant produced 2 very nice looking pumpkins this year.
~ August 31 ~
Amazing how seeds composted over-winter & then buried under stones & sand will still germinate & find a way.

Well, the plant was covered in powdery mildew & looking extremely done for. It was finally time to remove the plant, make space & harvest the pumpkins.
~ September 9 ~

I will let them sit out for a few days to cure a bit & then I'll put them in a cool, dry, dark place for a while. I want to have them outside my front door for the Thanksgiving season & hopefully into the Halloween season, but I do want to cook up at least one of them for pies & bread & cookies. I'll save some of the seeds for next season too as this was a great plant to just 'let go'.

Maybe next year I'll plant them in a place where they can go a bit more wild & I won't have to fight with the leaves or vines to get into my veggie bed. I've got a few places in mind that can handle that...

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Fruit Kvass

I planted a crab apple (Dolgo) this spring and this is our first harvest. I’ve harvested about 100 pounds of crab apples from a generous gardener & those fruit were made into: crab apple wine and crab apple jelly. I still have about 40 pounds of crab apples in my freezer in zip lock bags that I will cook up & juice in the winter to drink or make into more jelly.

With this small fresh harvest (only about 15 or 18 fruit) I decided to try a fermented beverage called Kvass. The traditional Russian recipe uses beets and rye bread (or whey) and is salted. Another gardener suggested using crab apples in a twist on the kvass recipe.

Crab Apple Kvass:

* fill a 2 litre jar ¼ to 1/3 full of chopped crab apple
* slice a small knuckle of ginger
* juice of 1 lime – toss in the rinds too
* petals of 1 fresh, fragrant rose
* ~1/3 cup honey (less if too sweet)

* fill jar to within 1 inch of the top & lightly screw on lid – will want to burp the jar daily as it starts to ferment.

* leave on counter 4 to 6 days – depends on temperature and how quickly the mix starts to ferment.

* shake or stir 2 to 3 times a day, watch for bubbles which indicate that it is starting to ferment and break down the fruit. Taste frequently to monitor how sweet/tart the product is becoming.

* strain out the fruit & compost. Pour the juice into bottles with flip tops & put in the fridge. If you want it to be bubbly, put out on the counter for a couple of hours to warm up & bubble a few hours before you drink. Can add to kombucha or sparkling water.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Bread & Butter Pickles

I wasn’t going to make pickles this year as I have so many left from last year’s first attempt (successful), but when I saw the cucumbers I just had to pick up a bag & try something new.

These were all relatively the same size & shape & someone mentioned bread & butter pickles. Last year’s were garlic-dill pickles in spears, so this new recipe idea sounded like a great August challenge.
I actually have about 3 or 4 books that have great ideas for preserving food & so I spent a happy evening digging through them & coming up with my own recipe.
* gather all your materials & have them ready in a clean kitchen. This is usually what I do the night before I begin to make something (see first photo). It usually takes a while to clean the kitchen…
* Early the next day, wash the pickles in cold water. I then cut the ends off & cut them into relatively even sized rounds with my crinkle cutter. The recipes said to cut them ¼” thick, but we wanted thick, chunky, crispy pickles, so I cut them between ½” & ¾” thick.
* put into large bowls & sprinkle ~ 1/3 to ½ cup of pickling salt (or kosher salt) over & mix it in. This will draw out water & assist in keeping/making for a crunchy pickle. The bowls should ideally be covered with a tea towel & a bag of ice put on top & then put back in the fridge for 2 to 4 hours to allow this to happen. You want to keep your pickles cold.
* I also wanted to put sweet banana peppers & sweet onion into the jars, so I sliced these up & salted them into a separate bowl & put back in the fridge.
* Prepare your work space: large pot for hot water bath. Large pot for brine. Clean jars lined up (I did small batches of 6 at a time as I know 6 jars fit in my hot water bath pot). Funnel, jar lifter, tea towels, measuring cups.
* once the marinating time is up, turn on your hot water bath pot – this takes a while to heat up to a slow boil/simmer – you want HOT water.
* time to make the BRINE:
            *note#1 – I’ve adjusted the original recipe to suit our tastes & to accommodate the amount of pickles (10 lb) – always make more brine than you think you need as you will always run out (I always run out).
            * 16 cups liquid – 9 cups of pickling vinegar & 7 cups of water
            * 4 Tbsp salt
            * 4 Tbsp mustard seed
            * 3 tsp celery seed
            * 3 tsp turmeric
            * 2 Tbsp all spice berries
            * 2 Tbsp juniper berries
            * 3 cups sugar – this was a bit touchy as I didn’t want too sweet, but it started off as a very tangy, acid brine that certainly cleared your sinuses – so 3 cups sugar were just about right.
            *note#2 – if you don’t want the seeds & berries in your pickle jars, you might want to strain the brine before actually using or put the seeds/berries into a small bag that you can remove once your brine is boiling & tastes ready (I usually low boil the brine for about 10 minutes so that all the flavours are infused).
Preparing your Jars:
* I wash the jars & lids in hot water & leave ready on my clean counter. I don’t put the jars into a warm oven, I don’t put the rings/lids into warm water on the stove. I used to do that, but don’t think it’s really necessary these days now that the material of the rubber on the lids is different than it used to be 10 or 30 years ago. As long as everything is clean, it will be fine. Besides – I’m packing the jars with very cold product & don’t want to accidently burn myself on hot jars. It’s a bit more of a slow-down process, allows you to enjoy the moment of packing your jars & not worrying about getting things into the hot water bath immediately & rushing the experience.
* again – I am deviating from the original recipes by adding smashed garlic, dill seed & leaf & a slice of lemon to the jars. I enjoy dilly pickles & we love garlic, so it just seemed to be the thing to do. I put the garlic, dill seed heads & lemon in the bottom of the jars. The dill leaf went on top of the packed jar.
Preparing your Pickle Material:
* Now we need to rinse off the salted cucumbers (& sweet pepper & onion). I dump the bowl into a colander & rinse it under cold water. The colander goes back over top the bowl & I then pack 6 jars with the cucumber slices (pack tightly) & a mix of the peppers/onion (about a good heaping Tbsp of the peppers/onions). Once the 6 jars are packed, the bowls of cucumbers go back into the fridge to remain cold.
* Add your brine to the jars. I use a 2-cup glass measuring cup to scoop the hot brine out of the pot & pour into the jars. A funnel is helpful.
* I then wipe the rims of the jars with a towel & screw on the lids finger-tight.
* I gently put the 6 jars into the hot water bath with the jar lifter & as soon as the jars are in the hot water I start my timer. I’ve seen so many different times for keeping the pickles in the hot water bath & the heard so many failure stories that I’ve come to the conclusion that most times are too long. In one of my Preserving books, there is an actual note that says to start your timer as soon as all the jars are in the water in order to not over-cook the pickles!! So, that’s what I do. If the water has cooled down during the packing process (I don’t keep it on high – just a medium temp so as to not cause the jars to bounce too much & possibly break), my timer is for 10 minutes total in the hot water. If the water is still very hot & just off the boil, I keep them in for only 7 minutes.

* As soon as you put your first 6 in the water bath, prepare the next set of jars.
* When your timer goes off, carefully remove the jars from the water bath & place on a cleared counter on top of a towel. I’ve always put my hot jars on a towel – protects the counter, protects the jars from sliding just in case of leaky juice or water drops. Leave the jars for 24 hours in order to settle, seal & cool down fully.

Ideally you want to let the pickles sit for 4 weeks to fully mature all that awesome flavour you just put into them, but I couldn’t wait – I had to test to see if they were crunchy & sweet-tangy the very next morning.

Label the jars & store in your pantry or cupboard. Makes sure to set aside some for gifts in the holiday season so you don’t run out too soon.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Buzz-buzz Honey Bee...

 How can you not love a busy bee on a sunny day in the middle of a flower? 

I enjoy watching them run around and around the sweetly scented flowers in the late summer garden. I feel like I'm helping them get ready for the winter season ahead. 

And then you stumble across something totally cool - a wasp eating an aphid! I watched this guy for some minutes & wished that it would eat more than it did, as you can see I have a wee bit of an aphid problem. So, while I do not want wasp nests on my house or hiding in the bushes, I do not mind them passing by for a feast.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Empty Spots

~ August 7 ~
Well, it's been almost a month since I've removed the sugar peas & cleaned up this patch of veggie bed.

I had planted red onion & leek transplants at the end of May and they really didn't grow very much in the months that followed.

I have the feeling the peas cast too much of a shadow in what was already a slightly shaded garden space. I also didn't take into account that peas don't necessarily grow vertical in a narrow path. They meander out & over each other & create rather deep shade within a certain distance out from where they are planted.

Next year, the peas will be on the opposite garden bed where they cannot shade any vegetables and I might be growing lettuces and greens in this section of bed for the summer... I'll do more research into what can handle slightly more shade than what I thought would be here.

For now, I've got this space set aside for a fall crop of New Zealand spinach and I'll see what the onions & leeks do over the next few months...

Friday, September 1, 2017


~ early August ~
I still have no idea what variety of apple we are growing, but I'm pleased with the tree this year. After a wonderful bloom this spring, I made sure to thin the set fruit in mid-June in order to help the tree & ensure a more healthy harvest.

The apples are quite large.
~ mid-August ~

The apples are slowly starting to show some colour in the middle of the month & I can see that there is new growth on the tree after I pruned the tree after thinning the fruit.

I'm going to be doing a lot of reading this winter in order to learn more about how to care for & keep my apple tree healthy and small in size.

~ mid-August ~
Now at the end of the month, I've done a quick check on the fruit and I can see that there are some that don't look quite right - they have what look like bruises on them & I have the feeling that there are bugs (worms) inside that are worming & eating their way around the fruit...

I had that problem last year & should really figure out what I should be doing with the tree other than keeping it watered. I've never really had to deal with buggy fruit before & will hopefully find an organic way of resolving this.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Lilacs in Summer??

We picked up a Miss Kim lilac standard earlier this summer to replace the rhodo that was in the back yard by the veggie bed. It had just finished blooming at the nursery, but we knew it to be pink and fragrant. Well, just a couple weeks ago, she decided to rebloom for us! What a treat... Now I need to do some research to find out if this is a usual thing for this variety to do (how cool would that be?!) or it is just related to being transplanted & babied to help it through the hot, dry summer...

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Late Season Runner Beans

~ early August ~
 My Scarlett runner beans did not get planted until very late this season. June 22nd to be exact. And they took for-ever to sprout!

I wasn't even sure they would twine up the bamboo stakes I put in the garden, but slowly they have decided to climb up.

~ mid-August ~
I had planted pole beans along that back panel that were supposed to grow up along with the sugar peas & when the peas were done, the pole beans were supposed to take over... well, those didn't sprout, so I feel like I've missed out on a huge bounty of beans this year.

~ August 24 ~
Now at the end of the month, the Scarlett runners are full of flowers & I can see wee beans starting to form...

I might get that bounty of beans in a few weeks!

I've nipped the tops of the plants as they have reached the top of the pyramid of bamboo & were starting to fall back down & I didn't want a huge mess to deal with when trying to find those tender beans.

The bees are loving the bean flowers & it is good to see a future meal or 2 still developing in the garden.