Millions of Peaches, Peaches for Me

What I wouldn’t give in the dead of winter for just a taste of summer. And what tastes more like summer than a ripe peach? But to eat a peach in December here in Southern Ontario, I’d have to head to the grocery store. The end result would be expensive, environmentally damaging, and less delicious. This is because the peaches would have been trucked in across all sorts of miles from WhoKnowsWhere.

In the height of summer, local peaches can be bought in bulk for cheap at our city’s weekly farmers’ market. There is such excess of these precious favourites that we couldn’t possibly eat all the bounty before it goes bad.

My main goal in all of this gardening has been to slowly acquire skills and knowledge towards (semi) self-sufficiency. Preserving food for the winter months is part of this, and dehydrating is a great way to save the best of summer for the less-productive winter months.

Eventually, I would like to construct a non-electric food dehydrator. But for now, since I don’t have the bounty to justify such a project, I am experimenting with oven-drying. Here’s the recipe I used from Foodland Ontario. It was an interesting project, but I didn’t feel great about the use of energy. And the oven heated up our already-roasting house. And the peaches, once dried, were pretty much welded to the cheesecloth. And I was underwhelmed with the result: some kind of ho-hum-flavoured peach-chip.

I will keep working at it and let you know when I find something that works!

 

Mum’s Leek, Potato & Bacon Soup

Mums know how to do it best, and mine (Irene) is no exception.
When leeks are in season, I make this soup using my mum’s recipe. Then Gabe and I eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner until it’s gone. We make two batches at once, each time planning to freeze leftovers for a rainy day, but we always eat it all before it makes it to the freezer.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1/2 pound smoked bacon, chopped
  • 3 large leeks, sliced
  • 3 large potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme
  • 1/2 cup light cream (optional… but preferable)
  • salt and pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

  • Cook bacon in a large saucepan until brown. Once finished, remove bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  • Add leeks and cook for 5-10 minutes until wilted and fragrant.
  • Add diced potatoes and combine well. Then add stock, salt, pepper and thyme.
  • Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Cover and simmer gently until potatoes are very tender (about 20 minutes).
  • (OPTIONAL): Puree 2/3 to give creamy consistency (I don’t bother with this step).
  • Add chopped bacon.
  • (OPTIONAL): Add cream and heat thoroughly (I do this for sure!) before serving.

Maple Pumpkin Granola (Gluten-Free)

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You can only carve so many Jack-O-Lanterns, and if you keep eating pumpkin pie all the time then it won’t be special come Thanksgiving. So what to do with all that extra pumpkin? How about you puree the flesh, freeze it into portion-sizes, and then take it out as needed to use for this recipe (which is my variation from the original Two Peas and Their Pod).  I tried it and it’s frigging delicious!

How to Harvest Black Walnuts (and why my tomatoes wilted)

Behold, the black walnut tree:

Our backyard is bordered with these trees. They are magical! Here’s why:

1. Magical Plant-Ruining Toxins! This explains why my tomatoes wilted. It turns out that the tree (especially its roots, nut hulls and flower buds) contain a chemical called juglone which can cause many plants (such as asparagus, cabbage, eggplant, peppers, potatoes, rhubarb and tomatoes) to stunt, turn yellow and wilt. Plants affected by its toxicity (usually within 50-80 feet of the tree, and especially under its drip line) will struggle to live and may even die. The symptoms are very often confused with fungal or bacterial wilt. Well, that explains A LOT. Apparently, even if you chop the trees down, the toxins remain in the soil for several years. If this problem affects you, there is a list of juglone-resistant vegetables at Wisconsin Horticulture.

2. Magical, Skin-Dyeing Properties! The flesh of the hull is a powerful dye, used historically to colour products like cotton and basket materials. It’s also caustic. If you’re going to handle these nuts, wear clothes you don’t care about and a pair of protective gloves. And make sure said pair of protective gloves does not have a tiny hole in the thumb, or else your hands will look like mine, to the left, for A LONG TIME. Nothing gets it out. My friends call it my “Haunted Thumb”.

3. Magical, Edible Nuts Inside! Walnut trees produce nuts inside green, spherical hulls that you’ll likely recognize if you’re North American. With some work, they’re edible but be warned: the taste may surprise you. Amy Crowell of Edible Austin writes: “It tastes nothing like the common English walnut; it’s much more aromatic and tastes like an expensive perfume… author Samuel Thayer once likened it to really good paint”. Black walnuts are not snacking food; rather, a delicacy that you can add to treats such as home-made ice cream and cookies.

Most folks leave these things to the squirrels. But, as you can see by my thumb, I decided to harvest some of my own to make my ruined tomatoes worthwhile. Here’s how it went:

  • Collect the nuts that have fallen from the tree when they are soft enough that you can press in the skin with your thumb and leave a dent. They should be greenish-yellowy and will likely have black spots. (I am wearing the helmet because I am scared a walnut will fall on my head. I am a Registered Nurse and live in constant, unreasonable fear of life-altering brain injury).
  • Getting the nuts out of the hull was an ordeal… until I found a true Gardening for Chumps solution:  run over them with your car. (But beware of rogue nuts that fly out from under the tire!). Simply pluck the nut out once the hull is crushed. You may notice some tiny Hull Fly larvae in the flesh. They are a bit gross but don’t affect the actual nutmeat so don’t worry about them.
  • Pour the walnuts into a big bucket or a laundry sink, cover with water and stir them around with a stick so that the walnuts rub against each- this will remove more of the hull remnants. You won’t get it all off, but it will make your job less messy later.
  • Lay the nuts out to dry in a warm place for a day (in the sun, if possible), somewhere where you don’t mind a possible stain.
  • Hang the dried walnuts in an onion sack for 2 weeks to cure.
  • (And this is the hard part): crack open the nuts to get the nutmeat out. This video provides an informative review of black walnut harvesting, with a great explanation of this step starting at 5:10. I like this video, plus there is something warm and jolly about the host- he’s kind of like a Young Santa:
  • Once you’ve removed the nutmeat, do a quick visual inspection to make sure there are no remaining shell pieces hiding in there, just waiting to ruin your cavities if accidentally added to your banana loaf.

DO’s and DON’Ts:

DO: Wear protective gloves and old clothes when handling hulls.

DON’T: Work with hulls/wet walnuts over surfaces you’re precious about.

DO: Compost leftover hulls. Surprisingly, a three-year study quashed the popular belief that, because of the juglone, hulls shouldn’t be composted. It turns out that well-decomposed hulls are the “black gold” of compost, with alkaline pH. After 6 months, the harmful chemical breaks down- but I wouldn’t try this if your compost isn’t well maintained.

DON’T: Pour the leftover water from nut-washing onto your lawn. It kills the worms below.

DO: Wear protective gloves. It bears repeating. 

DON’T: Leave your walnuts out where squirrels can get at them. Little devils.

DO: Store in the freezer: walnuts, both in and out of shells, can be kept this way for up to 2 years. (This is particularly handy, as most walnut trees only produce nuts in abundance every other year).

DON’T: Expect your black walnuts to taste like your usual snacking-walnut. Remember: expensive paint.

Happy harvesting!

Surprise Tomatillo Soup

(The surprise is that it’s actually good).

I’ll be honest: I was a bit disappointed with the tomatillo at first. It was like getting a Christmas gift from Aunt Hettie back when I was a kid. It arrived, wrapped enticingly in glittery paper and tied with a big bow that promised all sorts of wonders within, and then you opened it to discover… socks and underwear.

That’s kind of what tomatillos are like. They come to you in a special little gift bag, but when you open it, you find this under-ripe looking tomatoey thing that you can’t even enjoy raw. Even when cooked, its uses are limited. Most people use them for salsa, but I just don’t need that much dip for my tortilla chips. So I decided to try and make a soup. And you know what? Gabe thinks it’s even better than my carrot, turnip and potato soup. I used a slow cooker, but this recipe could easily be adapted to stovetop saucepan cooking. Here’s how it goes:

Ingredients

  • 1 cup shredded chicken meat (cooked- great use for leftovers)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1.5 pounds tomatillos, pureed
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 can black beans, rinsed
  • corn cut from 2 cobs (great use for leftover cooked but uneaten corn)
  • 1/4 cup uncooked rice
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste)
  • 1/4 teaspoon chille flakes (or to taste)
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika (or to taste)
  • cumin, to taste
  • salt, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • a dollop sour cream or goats’ cheese per serving (optional)
  • Directions:
  1. Saute onions and garlic in oil until tender.
  2. Place the sauteed onions and garlic, tomatillos, broth, chicken, corn, black beans and spices to the slow cooker and heat for several hours (I did mine for 6 hours total).  
  3. Depending on the specific instructions for the rice you’re using, add rice approximately 30 minutes before estimated finish time. At this point, you can also sample the soup and add more of the listed spices to taste.
  4. When ready to serve, ladle into bowls. Put a dollop of sour cream/goats’ cheese on top of each portion, let it melt a bit and then sprinkle generously with cilantro.

Carrot, Turnip & Potato Soup

Growing up, I had always kind of thought that soup was for old people. It was never really cool. At summer camp, they would always roll out a huge vat of soup-with-a-skin-on-top for kids to have as a side to their tasty grilled cheese sandwiches. Nobody touched it. Ever.

The soup is delicious but it’s not much to look at, so here are some fresh-cut flowers instead

Well, this summer I’m bringing soup back. Not just because old people are actually awesome, but also because I’ve found that soups are a freaking delicious and healthy way to use my garden bounty. Take this recipe, for example: almost every single ingredient was fresh from the garden, it was easy to make, we froze the extra in portion-sized containers, and- most importantly- it was so tasty. I’m talking licking-the-bowl-after tasty. Why don’t you try it for yourself and see? Be part of the Soup Appreciation Movement!

You will need:

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 5 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cups diced carrots
  • 1 1/2 cups diced turnips (or more carrots, if you don’t have or can’t stand turnips)
  • 3 cups diced potatoes
  • 1 teaspoon of equal parts basil, thyme and rosemary from the garden (or 1 tsp italian seasoning if you’re too lazy to go collect them!)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • cumin, to taste
  • salt and pepper, to taste
And here’s what you do:
  • Saute onions & garlic in butter until tender.
  • Add chicken broth, carrots, turnips, potatoes, herbs and bay leaf.
  • Simmer until vegetables are very tender (about 30 minutes or longer, if you want more flavour).
  • Discard bay leaf.
  • Season with salt, pepper and cumin to taste.

This soup is especially tasty when served with homemade Farmhouse Crackers- the recipe is very beautifully provided for you at Feather and Anchor.

 The soup is a variation of a recipe posted by Leigh561 at GroupRecipes.

Life-Altering Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

If you’re like me, you have more cherry tomatoes than you know what to do with right now. The squirrels chew them all if I get lazy and leave them on the plant for too long, so what to do with them? I’ll tell you what. Prepare for your whole world to change.

These are delicious straight out of the oven and make your house smell like heaven. They can be eaten as a snack (I brought out a plate for guests recently and they were woofed up with many a compliment) or added into soups, salads, pasta, antipasto, bruschetta, or whatever else you can think of. I brought Gabe some at work, still hot from the oven, and it made me feel like Santa Of The Workplace.

Roasted Cherry Tomato Recipe

  • Cherry tomatoes (several)
  • Olive oil (about 2 tablespoons)
  • Balsamic vinegar (a big splash or 2)
  • Fresh garlic (a few cloves, minced)
  • Course salt and fresh ground pepper (to taste)
  • Fresh rosemary (a few sprigs, minced)
  1. Preheat oven to 350F; line a cookie sheet with tinfoil.
  2. Wash and de-stem cherry tomatoes. Cut in half and place in large mixing bowl.
  3. Add the other ingredients and toss.
  4. Place the tomatoes, cut-side-up, on the cookie sheet.
  5. Place cookie sheet on the middle tray in oven, rotating the tray every one in a while, for about 60-75 minutes or until most of the liquid is gone.

ENJOYING YOUR CHERRY TOMATOES THROUGH THE WINTER: The best thing is that these little beauties can be saved to cheer you up in the dark dregs of January. When they’re done and cooled, place the whole tray into the freezer. Later, you can pluck each tomato off, collect them in a freezer bag, and throw them in your freezer-  this lets you take out little handfuls through the year as needed.