Archive | Garden RSS feed for this section

Pinned recipe: green tomato and apple chutney.

4 Oct
Pot of green tomatoes

The end of the tomato season.

The onset of cold weather brought the end of the tomatoes. Some had a blush of color—they’ll finish ripening off-vine—but most were decidedly hard and green. I was bummed. And I hated the idea of throwing them out. The only thing I knew to do with green tomatoes came from watching a movie, and breading and frying has never been my thing, so I went online to find a way to make use of the final harvest. Bingo: I found a recipe for green tomato and apple chutney on The Slow Cook and immediately pinned it. It was described as “powerfully good stuff,” how could I resist?

As recipes go, it’s pretty easy. Chop a few things, cook in a pot, add some flavorings, cook it some more, process in jars. And chopping green tomatoes is a breeze, they’re firm and don’t fall apart into wet mush. My favorites were the unripe black cherry tomatoes… they had beautiful emerald green insides, and only needed to be halved or quartered to get to the right size.

green cherry tomatoes

Unripe black cherry tomatoes taste like tiny tart apples with liquid centers.

I was a little nervous about knowing when it was done. I tend to want things to be precise: cook exactly X minutes, or let it reach a certain temp, that sort of thing. The directions here were to cook “until it holds a mounded shape when lifted in a spoon.” Errrrr… ok? I compulsively scooped it up every minute while internally debating what made a mound a mound. For posterity, and as a reference for others who want a visual, here is when I decided the chutney held a mounded shape:

spoonful of chutney

Is it mounded? I say yes.

And, that’s it. Process, and… PING!… you’re done. I halved the recipe and filled one pint jar (for eating now) and five half-pints (for storing/gifts). The chutney is supposed to get better over the next few weeks as the flavors incorporate, but what I sampled before canning was already pretty tasty. How perfect that the end of tomato season overlaps the beginning of apple season here in the Capital District. Don’t be sad when the end of summer leaves you with green tomatoes… make green tomato and apple chutney!

jars of chutney

Advertisements

Gramps & grapes.

22 Sep
Gramps

'Red' looking dapper.

This is my grandfather, known to friends and family as Gramps, or ‘Red’. He was born in Italy in 1901. At age 8 he boarded a boat in Palermo and sailed to Ellis Island, on the way to his final destination of Albany, NY. In Albany he met my grandmother and they had 2 daughters (the youngest would one day become my mom.) He and my grandmother lived next door to his brother and sister-in-law. And in the yard between their two houses, Concord grapes were planted.

The family mythology is that these grapes are from a parent plant that was smuggled traveled over on that boat from Italy. Except, Concord grapes are native to Northeast America. But allegedly the variety was introduced to Italy before Gramps emigrated, so I suppose it is possible. I’m certainly not going to be the one who calls shenanigans on a great story. Regardless of where the plants originated, the arbor inspired memories of home. And over the years family members used its bounty to make jelly, juice, and (probably questionable) wine.

grape arbor

This year I decided to get in on the action. Concord grapes typically ripen near the end of September, so I stopped at the house (now owned by my Aunt) a couple of days ago. Unfortunately I arrived about a week too late. The smell of fermentation was heavy in the air and it was pretty slick and squishy as I walked along, searching in vain for decent bunches. I gamely filled up my spaghetti pot anyway, determined to make at least one jar of jam. When I got home I patiently washed and sorted the overripe bunches, picking off any good grapes, salvaging as much as I could. I ended up with a bit over 2 lbs of usable fruit.

So, what did I make? A recipe from the 1953 book Old Time Pickling and Spicing Recipes for Spiced Concord Grape Butter. The ever-encouraging Stephen came over to help me through my first time making something that needed to set/gel. Our friend Alex also joined in to lend an arm (stir! stir!) and learn more about canning. From my tiny harvest we managed to fill 5 jelly jars and a wee sidecar.

Oooooh, it was tasty. Deep purple grapey goodness, with a hint of tang and spice to add depth. We tried it plain. Then we tried it on bread with peanut butter. Stephen talked about filling cakes and Alex suggested it would be good as a cheesecake topping. Funky cheese was mentioned, so we pulled out crackers and the Dorset from the Cheese Tour and spread the last leftover drops over that. The only thing I’d change would be to pick the dang grapes on time so I could have 5 times as much haul. Lesson learned: next year I’ll start checking earlier.

Gramps passed away long ago, but I’m grateful we still have this family legacy.  His birthday would have been one week from today. I’ll enjoy some delicious grape butter in his memory.

spiced grape butter

Spiced Concord grape butter = happy tastebuds

———————————————————————

Spiced Concord Grape Butter
from
Old Time Pickling and Spicing Recipes by Florence Brobeck 

3 lbs grapes
1/2 c cider vinegar
3 c sugar
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp salt

Press grapes out of skin and save skins and pulp. Cook pulp, covered in agate or enamel kettle [note: I used a non-reactive pot] until soft, about 10 minutes. Stir frequently with enamel or wooden spoon. Rub cooked pulp through sieve to remove seeds. Heat vinegar, sugar, spices, and salt together in kettle, add skins and sieved pulp. Cook over low heat, boiling gently for about 20 minutes, and stirring constantly though slowly. When juice thickens to jamlike consistency, pour into hot sterile glass jars, seal at once. [note: I processed for 10 minutes]

Makes 2 pints.

My new raised beds!

20 Sep

two raised beds

This past weekend I harvested the remaining tomatoes and cleared out my containers, which was a bit sad. When I left for Sunday’s swap there were saw noises coming from the garage, and I came home to two cedar plank raised beds built by a certain handy (and handsome) man replacing the stretch previously occupied by containers! Time to start composting again and dream up next year’s garden. I’m thinking less tomatoes, no peppers, same amount beans and way more greens. What do you plant in your backyard?

Things to do with rhubarb: take one.

13 Sep

Remember the surprise rhubarb? Here’s what I did with the first bunch I picked.

Soon after discovering my tart friend I twisted off some of the outer stalks for experimentation.

stalks of freshly picked rhubarb

I guess I need a bigger container.

Our kitchen wasn’t even completely unpacked at this point, so I kept my first foray very simple: rhubarb syrup.

Step one: Chop ‘em up and put them on to boil with water and sugar for about 15 minutes. If I recall correctly I used equal parts water and sugar, but I don’t remember how much in total, and I didn’t measure how much rhubarb I had. I guess it turned out to be a very unscientific experiment, my high school chemistry teacher would not be impressed by my (lack of) quantitative rigor.

Rhubarb boiling in equal parts sugar and water.

Rhubarb boiling in (approximately) equal parts sugar and water.

Step two: Cool slightly and strain. I used a strainer basket lined with cheesecloth and then squeezed out every last bit of liquid. The squeezing part is why you need to let your syrup cool. If you’re not planning on manhandling a heated sack of vegetable pulp, you can strain right away.

Stewed rhubarb strained and squeezed through cheesecloth.

Freshly squeezed.

Step three: Pour into clean containers.

bottles of rhubarb syrup cooling on a window sill

Cooling off on the window sill.

This should be kept refrigerated. I’m not sure how long it will keep; I finished using it quickly. I used rhubarb syrup to top off ginger ale and plain seltzer for refreshers. I mixed it into various vodka, gin and rum concoctions. I even added some to prosecco for a rosy toast. There may be food applications for rhubarb syrup, but I never got that far… drinkin’ use only.

Rainy day harvest: first peppers of the season!

8 Sep
rainy day harvest

A spot of red on a gloomy day: my first picking of Jimmy Nardello peppers!

Rain, rain, rain. The nice thing about rain is I don’t have to worry about my container garden’s pots drying out. The not nice thing is my poor cherry tomatoes are splitting like crazy! I managed to find one lone yellow pear under leafy shelter with its skin intact. Right after I took this photo I ate it. To the victor the spoils! Sorry, Mr. Beard, none for you. In other news: peppers finally turned red! I’ve been staring at green Jimmy Nardellos for ages and ages, and just when I was giving up all hope: BOOM, red.

They match my rainboots.

First harvest of the season.

1 Sep

My garden is coming in late this year, but I expected it. I waited too long to set up plants because of the move, so here I am in the last days of summer and I’m JUST starting to be able to pick things. Hopefully the loads of green veg still on the plants will have a chance to ripen before the weather turns too cold.

However, a pleasant surprise: I had sent my dad some seed packets from the Hudson Valley Seed Library and he gave me some of his extra seedlings. I thought all of the tomato plants were green zebras. Some of the tomatoes started coming in kind of small and droopy-looking. Maybe the containers were too small, I thought, or perhaps the soil didn’t have enough nutrients? Either way I assumed it was a result of my shoddy gardening. Then one of the droopy little guys turned bright yellow overnight! It turns out 4 of the 7 tomato plants are actually yellow pear cherry! I’m excited by the unexpected diversity.

handful of heirloom tomatoes

First harvest of the season! Green zebra, yellow pear cherry and black cherry tomatoes.

Getting packages in the mail.

7 Jul

Last week an unexpected brown paper package arrived. Inside was this little fella, sent by my aunt and uncle to warm our home.

garden gnome with bird

How can I resist that cheerful face? Our garden is incredibly overgrown at the moment so I found him a wee spot in a corner of the yard, tucked away on a mossy patch. I told him to be on guard and please keep those pesky beetles away from my rosebush but so far it hasn’t helped.

garden gnome

Surprise rhubarb!

1 Jun
hidden rhubarb

In the game of homeownership surprise rhubarb is way better than surprise asbestos.

M’s mom was on the deck scoping out our plants and said, “Hey! You’ve got rhubarb!”

Me: “I do?!”

Surprise! Turns out there are two big plants tucked along the side of the deck, hidden behind lilies and rhododendron. I’m not sure why it was planted there, it’s a bit of a shady spot, and getting to it requires walking through other plants. I’d like to try to make something with it, though, so I’ll just step gingerly. The kitchen isn’t completely settled yet, so it’s probably best to stay simple. Maybe rhubarb liqueur, or a rhubarb syrup? Now, where did I unpack the heavy-bottomed pot?…