Saturday, July 30, 2011

Basic Dill Pickles

This morning my garden decided it was time to start Canning Season (unfortunately it didn't ask me - I was planning to clean the house!) I found 20 good-sized cucumbers (the first of the season), so it was definitely time to make the year's first batch of pickles. Coincidentally, this was also the day we used up the last jar of last year's pickles, so that worked out nicely!

My kids are huge pickle lovers, and they are particularly fond of my homemade pickles. Only through strict rationing does one summer's harvest last through the whole year! Thankfully, these are very easy to make:

Dill Pickles (very similar in flavor to Vlasic Dill Stackers)
(makes about 7 quarts)
10 cups water
2 cups white vinegar
Mix these together in a large pot and bring to a boil.

Into each quart canning jar, place:
2 cloves garlic
2 heads dill
Cucumbers to fill jar (this recipe works for slices or spears equally well)

Pour vinegar water over cucumbers in each jar, leaving ½ inch headspace. Process 7-10 minutes in a boiling water canner.

(If you have the space, these are good uncooked. Simply store them in the refrigerator until cured. They stay nice and crispy, and have a more cucumber-y flavor)

For pints, use 2 cups water, 6 Tbsp vinegar, and 1 ½ Tbsp salt

Since we all know our gardens don't produce by the canner load, sometimes you end up with half a jar of cucumbers, or one jar extra. Instead of wasting that half jar, or boiling a whole canner of water for just one jar, you can prepare the amount you do have (combine dill, garlic, cucumbers, and brine in the jar - just make sure you have enough brine to cover your cukes) and put them in the fridge until you get more. You can even half-fill your jars, store them, and fill them up later.

This post is part of the Homestead Barn Hop at New Life on a Homestead

Friday, July 29, 2011

Sowing Seeds the Easy Way

I have to give credit for this idea to my Grandma Ada, via my dad. Whenever the topic of planting spinach came up (which, oddly, it did every so often . . .) he would tell me, "Ma always used to just let her spinach go to seed when it got hot out, and then the next spring she'd have the earliest spinach of anybody we knew!"

So last year I tried it. When the spinach plants started bolting in June (that means it starts to get tall and send up a seed stalk, which generally happens when the temperatures start to climb) I didn't pull them up like I normally would (the leaves get bitter, so they're not good to eat anymore) but instead let them do their thing (I did thin them out to about one plant every four feet or so - they'll easily seed an area that large).

They got up to about two feet tall (a few were almost three feet tall) and soon I saw little green balls along the stems:

Later, these little balls turned brown - these were the seeds. I "helped" the spinach a little by pulling off some of the seeds and scattering them around between the plants.

Well, not only did I have the earliest spinach this spring; I also had a second harvest last fall! Bonus!
Spinach is pretty cold-hardy, so even here in Wisconsin, uncovered, I had spinach to eat after the first snowfall (I'm hoping to experiment with cold frames and row covers this fall, which should keep the spinach growing longer into the winter, as well as help it get going earlier in the spring).

I should also note that you will have a LOT of extra plants to thin out - which is a good thing, since you can eat all of those thinnings as "baby greens" before the main harvest is ready, extending your harvest even longer (this just gets better and better!)

I also tried it with my lettuce last year - I didn't get a fall harvest, but I did get more lettuce than I knew what to do with this spring! Bolted lettuce looks different than bolted spinach:

It gets about four feet tall, with tiny yellow dandelion-ish flowers all over the top. The flowers eventually turn white (like dandelion fluff), at which point you can harvest them and store them for next year, or just let them plant themselves (or both! I did a little of each last year. Lettuce seeds are pretty time-consuming to harvest, so I took a few from each plant and left the rest).

Of course, as a general rule you should rotate your garden every year so that you don't wear out a certain garden bed (planting the same type of vegetable in the same spot every year depletes the soil, and also lets plant diseases proliferate). My way of dealing with this is to let the "volunteers" grow in the spring, but then don't let those plants seed out that summer.

Obviously then I won't get any self-seeded plants the next year, so I also put a few lettuce or spinach plants in another bed, and let those new plants go to seed that summer. That way I can have "volunteers" for next year, but still rotate the plants through my garden. As an added bonus, this also extends the harvest, since the second planting usually doesn't bolt quite as early as the first.

You may recall that I'm also trying to raise some of my own onion sets from seed this year, as well as save my own seed. Here's a picture of the onion flowers in the main garden (I left one about every four feet in the row, and left the rest to make big bulbs for harvest this year):
(If I can keep the stray three-year-olds away, I'd like to plant some of these in the flower garden - I think they're pretty!)

Here are the onions that grew from the seeds I planted this spring:

I left my hand in the picture for size reference - obviously these aren't bulbed out enough for harvest this year, but they should have a great head start next spring, and hopefully get really big for harvest next year!

(By the way, if you want to learn more about saving and using your own seeds, I highly recommend the book Seed Sowing and Saving by Carole Turner. This is great resource with specific information for many different varieties of vegetable, herb, and flower seeds.)

This entry was kindly voted a FEATURED POST (!!!) on Simple Lives Thursday (thanks, everyone!)
and was also added to the Best of 2011 Tuesday Garden Party.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Hidden Danger of Herb Gardening

I wanted to warn you, so that you can make an informed decision before starting your own herb garden. They have many benefits - many herbs are easy to grow; they are usually fairly pest-free; they are generally quite prolific, and you can easily grow a year's worth in a very small plot. But beware! When you go out to weed your herbs, never go out on an empty stomach. You will get very, very hungry!

I made this mistake this morning. I went out early to beat the heat of the day, before I had breakfast. The herbs were looking a little crowded, so I decided to do a little quick weeding. Big mistake! As I weeded the oregano, all I could think was "Mmmmm . . . pizza!" and when I moved on to the sage: "Mmmmm . . . SAUSAGE pizza!" and at the dill, it was: "Pickles!" And don't even get me started on the parsley (I think parsley is my own personal catnip - I sometimes wonder if I could plant a bed big enough to lie down and roll around in, like a cat. Perhaps Heaven will be planted in lawns of parsley instead of grass . . . but I digress . . .)

And, sadly, when I came in, all I had to eat were some shockingly bland buttermilk oatmeal blueberry pancakes with violet jelly. Of course, normally I would consider this a wonderfully tasty breakfast - but there was not an herb in the whole meal, and after the olfactorally overabundance of the herb garden this morning, those usually splendid pancakes just seemed plain old bland.

So, consider yourself warned!

This post is part of the Tuesday Garden Party at An Oregon Cottage.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Simple Whole Wheat Sourdough Tortillas

I made a batch of these tonight, and I have to say, I LOVE these tortillas! They only have three ingredients, they roll out easily, they taste good, and they stay soft and flexible even after you store them in the fridge. They're great for enchiladas,  fish tacos, breakfast burritos and of course wraps! Plus they're much more healthy than anything you could buy in the store.
Whole Wheat Sourdough Tortillas
(This recipe actually uses my favorite sourdough bread dough - you can make tortillas out of almost any bread recipe!)
2 cups sourdough starter
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp sea salt
(I've found that my starter is wet enough that you don't have to add any water - if you find these hard to roll out, you may want to add some water next time)
I knead this in my Kitchen Aid stand mixer for 10 minutes, then divide in to 12 balls (more or less depending on the size you want your tortillas) and roll out with my Pampered Chef dough roller until they're very thin and about the size I want. Make sure your surface is floured VERY well - this dough can get sticky! Also make sure you roll out from the center, and never roll back and forth; the dough will roll back with the tool and stick to itself and you'll have a big glob of dough wrapped around your roller and you'll have to start that piece all over and it's really, really frustrating (yes, I know this from experience!)
Then carefully (these rip very easily) place this on an ungreased preheated skillet (I actually use my cast iron griddle). Cook until browned (I usually get some bubbles, but these go away after the tortillas cool). Flip and cook the other side (again, be careful not to rip it! I have an extra-wide spatula I use for this), then place on a plate under a damp cloth. If you're not using them all right away, let them cool and then store them in a gallon-size ziploc baggie with the damp cloth in the bag - this helps keep them soft. These also freeze very well.

This post is part of Fight Back Friday at Food Renegade.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Easy, Healthy Homemade Barbecue Sauce

Grilling season is definitely upon us, so I thought I'd share one of my favorite recipes:

Barbecue Sauce
½ cup honey
¾ cup tomato paste (6 oz can)
¾ cup vinegar (apple cider vinegar works well - I like Bragg's)
3 Tbsp molasses
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp onion powder, garlic powder, and pepper
Mix all together and heat to boiling. Refrigerate overnight to let flavors mingle.
(I just mix it all together and throw it in the crock pot over my shredded beef or pork roast! No fuss, no mess!)

This recipe is very sweet - like Kraft Original Recipe Barbecue Sauce - which my kids and I like. Originally, it called for 1 tsp liquid smoke (which made it more like KC Masterpiece) but since I don't know what's in that, and the kids didn't really like it anyway, I leave it out. But if you prefer it that way, feel free to add it in!
This post is part of Real Food Wednesday.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Cubed Oven Potato "Fries"

We don't make french fries often (mostly because it's a pain! I hate cleaning up after deep frying!) but when I get a hankering for potatoey goodness, I love to make these (we usually have them at least twice a week!) They're so simple, so tasty, and no questionable ingredients. Definitely a winner in our house!

Note: this recipe makes enough for two adults and five hungry kids who LOVE these; if you have fewer people in your house, you might want to make a half batch.

Cubed Oven Potatoes
2 pounds potatoes, washed and cut into cubes
1/4 cup melted butter or olive oil
1 tsp salt
You can do this two ways: put all three ingredients in a bowl with a cover and shake it up, so the potatoes are well coated, then spread them out on the cookie sheet, or just spread the potatoes on the cookie sheet, drizzle with olive oil or melted butter, and sprinkle with salt. The first method gets better coverage, but the second is faster and makes one less greasy dish to wash!
Bake at 400 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour (until the tops are brown and crispy).

(I like them plain, but my kids like to smother them in homemade ketchup.)

This post is part of Fight Back Friday at Food Renegade.

Garden Accounting - June

This is my sixth year at this house, which means my vegetable garden is pretty well established (although it seems to grow every year!) and the perennial fruit plantings are starting to bear (I just got my first mulberries this year!) so I thought I would take a record of how much I spent on the garden, and how much produce I got out of it - basically, is the garden paying for itself (I KNOW it's worth it - if nothing else, just because I know where my food is coming from, and what's in it!) I tried to do this honestly, which means taking the prices from what I would otherwise buy, not the high-end fresh organic it really deserves to be compared to.  If I would buy organic, I compared it with organic; if I would just buy the cheap stuff, I used that price.

So, here's how the garden did for June:

First the bad news: I spent $183.06 on seeds, started plants, hog panels (those cost me over $80 right there), red mulch film, and other supplies.

Now the good news:
I saved $154.23, just in the month of June. This was mostly greens and herbs - can't wait to see how much I save the rest of the summer, when the tomatoes, cukes, carrots, etc. start rolling in!

In case you were wondering, here's what I actually harvested:
3 pounds of rhubarb
1 1/2 pounds of spinach
5 1/2 pounds of lettuce
2 green onions
3 oz dried oregano; 16 oz fresh
10 teabags worth of chamomile
16 oz fresh chives
4 pints fresh strawberries (almost half of these were wild - I am so thankful for little girls who love to pick them!) :)

Like I said, I've never done this before, so it was nice to see these results. It made me feel much better when I was out weeding this morning!
(For the continuation of this series, click here.)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Safe and Easy Homemade Bug Bite Relief

We have had a very wet spring up here in northern Wisconsin, which means we have a lot of mosquitoes. Which means if you spend any time outdoors in the late evening or early morning, you get mosquito bites. LOTS of mosquito bites (my poor 5 year old has six of them between her elbow and her wrist). Thankfully, this simple homemade remedy works like a charm:

Homemade Bug Bite Relief
About a tablespoon or so of baking soda (aluminum free, of course)
Maybe a teaspoon of water (shoot for a consistency that's spreadable - not too thin - but still sticks to your skin)
Mix them together to desired consistency and put it on the bug bite. Works for bee stings, too!

We've actually been keeping this in a babyfood jar next to the sink so it's ready whenever we need it - I don't think it will spoil, and you can't really make it in small enough quantities for just a bite or two, so this works great for us. 

This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday.