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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

How to Hold Tomatoes Until You're Ready to Can Them

     It's the end of July.  The tomatoes in the garden are just starting to ripen.  I will eventually process a bunch of them to make sauce, but at this point there aren't enough to fill the canner.  Here is what to do:
    First of all, pick the tomatoes before they are fully ripe.  Do this because it seems that critters like mice, chipmunks, possum and birds like to race us to the nice red ones.  They're not so keen on the not so ripe ones, so if you have a problem with partially eaten tomatoes, pick them orange and set them on the kitchen window sill to ripen to full red.  You can also do this the years when blossom end rot is getting to the red ones.  If that is a problem for you, pick them as soon as they start to show color.  They won't get any bigger at that point anyways, but will ripen without rotting at the blossom end as long as they're off the vine.
     As the tomatoes get nice and red put them in a gallon size plastic bag, left open, and set them in the refrigerator.  The bag is left open so that condensation from room temperature tomatoes (or sunny window sill temperature tomatoes) does not form on them while they are in the bag.  Once they're cold, you can close up the bag, for all but about an inch.  Let it breathe.
     When there are enough to take a day off from other chores to process them, take them out of the fridge and go to it.
     I have found tomatoes will keep just fine for about two weeks this way.  I've done this for many years and it's always worked out just fine.
     A word about those critters that like to take one bite out of a nice tomato and then move on to the next one.  I somewhat solved this problem one year by taking the big beautiful tomato with one bite out of it and setting it on the ground right next to the tomato vine.  An offering!  Believe it or not, the critter actually came back nightly until it finished off the fruit.  Then I set another one in the same spot.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

How To Fry Rice

     I like to read the prefaces to cookbooks.  Many times cooking tips are included in the preface which are not included in the body of the cookbook.  Many years ago I found a way to fry rice that proves easy and effective and is much different from the usual method you will find on the Internet or in most cookbooks.  Unfortunately, I can't find the book where I read this.  It's probably up in the attic.  I'm not going to go dig for it.  However, this is how I fry rice and how I have fried rice for more than thirty years:

     You will need a heavy saucepan big enough to hold the quantity of cooked rice you end up with and a spoon or fork to stir it with.

     Put about 2 tablespoons of cooking oil in the pan. 
     Add 1 Cup of uncooked rice.
     Turn up the heat to medium and start frying the uncooked rice, stirring frequently, until it is golden brown. 
     At this point you may add some chopped chives, chopped onion, minced garlic or chopped vegetables such as peas and carrots.  Let the onions and garlic brown as well. 
      Add 2 cups of water (A rule of thumb is to use twice as much liquid as you have uncooked rice but this may vary a bit depending on what kind of rice you're using.)
      Bring the water to a boil then turn the heat way down, cover with a tight lid and let it cook until all the water is absorbed.  If you like, you may crack an egg into the rice, stir quickly, and let the ambient heat cook the egg.  Salt to taste.  Fluff the cooked fried rice and voila!  You have fried rice that is toasty tasting, golden brown and stays separated instead of the pasty, partially burnt mush that comes from trying to fry cooked rice.  It's a much better method. 
     You may double this recipe if you wish.  Use any kind of rice you have.  The overall cooking time will depend on the rice you use.


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Planting Potatoes and How to Get Rid of Warts

     Yesterday I pulled mile high weeds from the eastside of the garden. I have two sections. One section is for plants that like limey soil (Westside). The other is for plants that like acidic soil (Eastside). I don’t know what potatoes like but this was the only space I had left. On the other hand, they are right next to the Jerusalem artichokes which are also a root vegetable, so maybe they’ll be happy.
     I planted red potatoes that I got from Aldi’s - a grocery store. They had bags of 10 seed potatoes for $.79. Pretty good deal. Some years back I bought some of Aldi’s Ever-bearing Red Raspberry plants. They are doing great. They also like acidic soil. I mulch them with bags of wood pellets that have gotten moisture in them and can’t be used in the stove. Sawdust makes a soil acidic.
     It was hotter than blue blazes outside yesterday and with all the rain we’ve been getting the weeds are about four or five feet high. There is a lot of golden rod and ox eye daisies. I pulled and pulled and cleared an area out. Then dug and dug and got a patch about 7’ x 7’ cleared and put in 10 hills of potatoes. About 18” apart. Once they sprout, I’ll mulch them with straw to keep the spud itself from turning green.
In years past I had planted potatoes but always had a problem with Japanese Beetles eating the leaves. Curiously, I haven’t seen any Japanese Beetles in our yard for about three years now. I don’t know where they’ve gone or why they’re not around. I don’t know if this is a good thing or not. I haven’t seen many mud dauber wasps either. We used to have lots of them around.
     I figured it might be a good time to try growing potatoes again on account of the lack of Japanese Beetles. Also, we’re planning on having a rabbit hunt here come fall and small game season and I think freshly dug red potatoes would taste good with rabbit roasted on the grill!

     There is a folk cure for warts that I have used and find that for the most part it works. If you have a wart you must rub it with a potato that’s been cut in half under the light of the full moon, then bury the potato under a drip of a water spigot. If the potato sprouts, your wart will remain. If the potato doesn’t sprout, the wart will go away.
     Here’s my theory: On the bag of the seed potatoes as well as on the Internet under How To Grow Potatoes, it is suggested that only seed potatoes be planted. It says that regular grocery store potatoes may not grow on account of stuff that is put on them to keep the potato from sprouting. I figure it’s this stuff that kills warts. So if the potato doesn’t sprout, it’s been sprinkled with this stuff. If it does sprout, it hasn’t.  Only use a grocery store potato that hasn't sprouted on your warts.
     I don’t know what the full moon has to do with any of this, except that it sounds good.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Behold! The Extremely Tasty Dandelion Blossom!

     Once you have tried this recipe you will never again run off to the hardware store for a bag of Scott’s Dandelion killer. You will also realize how short the dandelion season actually is. It only lasts about three weeks with a short spell come September with its cool rains.
     When I lived up north, north of Pennsylvania in upstate New York, the Italian ladies would gather dandelion leaves, sauté them with olive oil and garlic, then marinate them in a blend of seasonings and vinegar. They’d pack them in a jar in the refrigerator and serve them as garnishes.
     I moved south(ward) to Pennsylvania and found that the people around here gather the same leaves, douse them with hot vinegar and bacon dressing, or throw them into a ham soup and eat them that way.
However, and I got this out of a Native American Cookbook I picked up at the Rez many years ago, the blossom itself can also be eaten. Who would think?
     I tried this recipe when my kids were very young and not into vegetables. At a point, as kids are growing up, they become suspicious of anything green or orange when it comes to eating. This suspicion is common among children. Supposedly, it helps them learn what is safe and what isn’t.  Until they see other people (like parents) eating orange and green things a great many times and not keeling over, they stay away from vegetables.
     However, the night I served dandelion blossom, breaded and fried - they gobbled them up! No questions asked. No suspicious glances in our direction wondering if we were going to fall off our chairs writhing in pain. They just ate them. And asked for more. Whoa! I thought. Are we evolved from cows? Rabbits? Dandelion greens and blossoms are loaded with vitamins and supposedly (and I did look this up many years ago) you can eat a LOT of blossom and not get sick. You can’t overload. We figure about a dozen to a serving. So here goes:

     Fried Dandelion Blossom

-Gather dandelion flower heads preferably away from the road.

-Set out two bowls - one with one egg and one tablespoon of water added, mixed in.

-Set out another bowl with anything for breading: flour with salt and pepper, Italian style bread crumbs and some flour, flour, bread crumbs - doesn’t matter. Whatever you have.

-Rinse the colander full of blossom in water. Not because they are necessarily dirty, but I found that the water helps them steam soft within the breading. Otherwise they have a fuzzy texture to the tongue which I don’t find pleasant.

-Dip the flattened out blossom in the egg.

-Flatten out the blossom and dip it into the breading mixture.

-Fry in oil, olive oil, butter and oil - whatever - till golden brown on the blossom side then flip and let it fry some on the stem side.

-That’s it!

     Sometimes I add chopped chives or spring onion, both of which come up around the same time as do the blossoms blossom.
     I have to admit, I get a kick out of Scott’s Lawn Care ads that show up on TV and in newspaper flyers and show a suburban homeowner so distressed over all those damn dandelions on the lawn. So Scott’s says “Use this and it will kill them all!” Right. For all I know they could be sprinkling the lawn with flour because dandelion blossoms only bloom for about three weeks in the spring when the weather is cool and rainy. Sprinkle your lawn with The Dandelion Killer and sure, they'll disappear - they’ll be gone in a couple of weeks anyway.  To everything there is a season.

     But I will tell you this for a brass fact, once you start frying up the blossom you’ll be sorry to see them go. They’re blooming now! Go get ’em!

PS - I'll lay a dime to dollar that a bunch of Scott's Lawn Care ads show up on this page and will tell you to contact them if you have a dandelion problem.  Go ahead - contact them - and give them this recipe.  Maybe next year they'll be telling us how to grow dandelions.

PPS - Because the dandelion season is so short it is possible to bread them and freeze them for later.  Just lay them out on a paper towel on a cookie sheet and set them in the freezer.  Once frozen, dump them into a freezer bag.  They taste just as good as fresh when fried and actually make for easy cooking this way.  I wonder when we'll see them at the grocery store done up like this. 

Monday, April 2, 2012

An Experiment in Growing Garlic

     Every year that I have planted tomatoes I’ve made spaghetti sauce and either canned or frozen it. Over the years, as I became a better gardener, more and more homegrown elements such as onions, chives, green peppers, oregano, basil, and parsley were added to the sauce. Last summer as I pealed, chopped, grinded and minced, I realized that the only element that was store bought (other than the olive oil) was the garlic! This year I am going to try to grow garlic.
     Ideally garlic should be planted in the fall or at least very early spring. I planted the garlic cloves last November.
     Find a nice sunny spot in your garden that is not too damp. Garlic likes dry weather and soil. To grow garlic dig up a strip of garden about a foot deep. Get some garlic from the grocery store and break it apart into cloves. Plant each clove about 1” to 2” deep under the surface, pointy side up. Set the cloves about 4” apart with rows about 18” apart. I think mine are a foot apart but it’s too late now to move them. Mulch with straw. Then let it go.
I mulched mine in the fall with straw from the chicken coop.  It had chicken droppings in it.   The garlic sprouts were about 4” high this February because of our mild winter. It got really cold some nights but that didn’t seem to hurt the sprouts.
     Now the weather is warming up so I have cleaned off the garlic bed and fertilized it with liquid manure. Garlic likes a slightly acidic soil so for the summer mulch I used wood pellets. We have a pellet stove and every now and then we open a bag and find that moisture has gotten into the pellets and they can’t be used in the stove. I use these pellets to mulch areas of the yard and garden that like acid soil.  For instance, the red raspberry bedd likes an acidic soil, so that is mulched with wood pellets.
     So there you have it! The garlic is now taking off. It’s about a foot high and fertilized and mulched. As it grows you're supposed to clip off the flower stem that may emerge.  This aids in adding strength to the root, the bulb, which is the part you eat.  I’ll see how it goes and keep you posted.

Friday, March 16, 2012