Sorry about not posting last week. I had some heart issues that required an EKG and was feeling out of sorts for a few days. I am back to normal now!
What a change in the weather, huh? From the extreme heat to cold and rainy…it seems to be the norm for us here in Montana. We spent last Thursday out in the rain finishing up the harvest for your baskets, and I have been unable to get out into the gardens ever since as it is so muddy. When the soil is wet it compacts when you walk, and when the plants are wet you don’t want to harvest because you run the risk of spreading disease like powdery and downy mildew. This is the perfect time to weed however, so getting down and muddy is on the menu for a few days.
On another note, the Farmer’s Almanac is saying that fall is 4 to 5 weeks early this year (I can see the leaves already turning and some are even on the ground), and that our winter is going to be another cold and wet one…worse than last year! There will be freezes in parts of the country that usually receive no freeze. So it is not too early to start preparing.
I don’t know how long the garden will produce and it is always a gamble here, but I have been making sauerkraut, fermenting beets, and drying herbs in preparation for the long winter season. I encourage you to think about using some of your CSA basket to put some food away, too. If you need more produce, you can order extra if I have it available. There are canning basket prices listed on my website. http://scentsofbalance.com/product-category/garden-produce/ You can make pesto from the herbs and freeze it in zip locks or ice cube trays. Make some pickles from the beets, cucs and zucchini, make salsa and tomato sauce with the peppers and tomatoes, eggplant can be made into ratatouille, and you can blanch and freeze any of the greens including the beet tops. I am including some ideas and recipes at the end of this newsletter for you to try.
Food prices are continuing to rise as a result of the challenging weather that the majority of farm lands have been experiencing this past year. I feel that we must be diligent in continuing to learn how to be more self sufficient as a community. One of the ways we can do this is by strengthening our food systems. Continue to support local growers here in Montana and the surrounding area so that they can stay in business. Source out local eggs, poultry, meat, fruit and veggies. If you need more information I can certainly give you some names of local producers. I am sure that Marlene Wilkin who is our egg goddess will continue to have eggs. Her production will increase as the summer ends as her new young chicks will begin laying. I also have a friend in Bridger who has an organic orchard. She will have apple and plums for sale. If you are wanting any to make sauces or jams, I will post her prices when she begins harvesting.
I am hoping the warmer weather sets in again and stays for awhile so that the cabbages, beans, melons and winter squashes grow big and strong and produce heavy crops. The lettuce that I planted last month is coming up and will be good for fall harvest. Radishes, braising greens, scallions and green snap beans will also be ready in a few weeks if the weather holds. The plantings of cauliflower and broccoli were eaten by those darn flea beetles…again! There are a few plants still struggling, but if we have an early freeze, there will not be enough time for them to head up. There are certain challenges when we farm organically…always the weather and then the bugs and soil diseases. And, everyear is different! I guess that is how we continue to learn.
This weeks basket should contain kale, beets, tomatoes, summer squash, cucumbers, eggplant, garlic, peppers and basil. I also have fresh dill seed heads if any of you want them to use in your pickles. You will have to let me know though, as I won’t harvest unless you order them.
Here are some of my favorite ways to preserve the garden harvests.
Foolproof Fruit Butter
Lower in sugar and much easier to make than preserves or jam, these tasty treats contain no butter. Their name simply refers to the smooth, creamy texture. Perhaps the best-known fruit butter in this country is apple butter, but you can also make peach butter, plum butter, apricot butter, pear butter, berry butter, and even tomato or pumpkin butter.
Makes about 4 pints
5 pounds fruit (use apples, peaches or whatever is abundant); use an extra pound or two if you’re using fruits with a high water content, such as berries
2 cups cider, fruit juice, or water
Sugar or honey (optional)
Spices (ground cinnamon, cloves, ginger)
Peel, core, and seed fruit, and cut into 1-inch hunks. Put the fruit and your liquid (cider, fruit juice, or water) into a large non-reactive pot, bring to a boil, and simmer (covered) for 20 minutes until the fruit is soft and mushy. Stir occasionally, and add a little water if the fruit begins to stick to the bottom, to prevent scorching.
Pour the mushy fruit into a large slow cooker. If possible set the cooker in a sheltered outdoor area so the heat and evaporating water won’t be indoors making an already hot day harder to bear. Cook, uncovered (turn a sieve upside down as a lid if insects are a concern), on medium or low for 10 to 12 hours, stirring occasionally, or until the butter is as thick as you like it. It will get brown and rich. You can’t overcook fruit butter, and in the slow cooker, you can’t scorch it as you can on the stove. If you don’t have a slow cooker, use the thickest-bottomed pot you have on your stove’s very lowest setting and be vigilant about stirring, especially as the butter starts to thicken up. There’s no set time for stovetop cooking; you just need to cook the fruit until it reaches your desired consistency.
When the butter is as thick as you want it, taste it to see if you need to add sugar or honey. I rarely add sweetener, but if you prefer sweet butters, add up to about 2 cups of sugar or 1 cup of honey. This is also the time to add spices if you like. Apples go well with 2 tablespoons of ground cinnamon and a ¼ teaspoon of ground cloves; peaches go well with cinnamon and ground ginger. Stir until the spices are completely dissolved or blended.
Ladle the butter into hot, sterilized jars, and process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath to seal them.
Sweet Squash Pickles
Pickles are almost synonymous with cucumbers in supermarkets, but you can pickle just about any veggie, and even some fruits, with delicious results. Zucchinis make great pickles, and goodness knows we can all use more ideas for using up an overly generous squash patch.
Makes about 3 pints
2 pounds zucchinis or other tender summer squash (I especially like the Italian heirloom Costata Romanesco, which has lengthwise ridges that make for pretty slices)
1 pound onions
¼ cup non-iodized salt
2 cups cider vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon ground tumeric
1 Tablespoon mustard seed
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
Slice small squash into ¼-inch rounds. Or quarter larger squash lengthwise, peel, seed, and slice the long strips into ¼-inch slices; it’s OK to use those extra-large squash that grew too big to eat. Peel and core the onions. If using small onions, halve or quarter them, and if using medium to large onions, cut into rings ¼ inch thick. Layer the squash and onions in a stainless steel or ceramic bowl, sprinkling each layer with salt. Add remaining salt and just cover with cold water. Put a plate on top to weight down the veggies and let them soak for 2 hours (this pulls some moisture out of the veggies for crisper pickles). Rinse and drain.
After your squash have soaked, prepare your pickling brine. In a large non-reactive pot (glass, stainless steel, enamelware), combine the remaining ingredients (vinegar through cloves). Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add drained veggies. Cover and let sit for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Bring to a boil, and boil for 5 minutes. Then, pack into sterilized jars and process in a boiling-water bath for 10 minutes. (Follow the canning instructions the jar manufacturer has provided).
Zippy Zucchini Dills
Similar to the previous recipe, these spicy zucchini pickles can stand in for ordinary dill pickles, and they taste especially good on burgers!
Makes about 3 pints
3 pounds zucchinis or other tender summer squash
¼ cup non-iodized salt
2 cups cider vinegar
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 Tablespoon mustard seed
6 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced thin
3 fresh dill heads (flowers or seeds), plus 3 big sprigs fresh dill weed, or ¼ cup dry dill seed
Slice, soak, and drain the zucchini the same way you would for sweet pickles, allowing it to soak with the salt in some water for 2 hours.
Combine all remaining ingredients. If you’re using the ¼ cup dry dill seed, add that as well, but if you’re using fresh dill, exclude that until the very end. Follow the same process you’d use for sweet squash pickles. When filling the sterilized jars, put one fresh dill head and one fresh sprig of dill weed into each jar before adding the hot pickles.
Create Some Herbal Infusions
If I’m really industrious, I may harvest some of my frost-tender herbs such as basil, chives, tarragon, lemon balm, pineapple sage and lemon verbena to freeze in ice cube trays for winter use.
Feeling even more industrious? Fresh herbs can be used to make herbal-infused vodkas and herb-flavored sugars that you can hand out over the holidays, or just enjoy yourself in a hot toddy or your weekend baking.