Sep 10

Pear Maple Bourbon Butter

Gardening Jones takes this recipe to another level by using fresh homegrown pears and locally made syrup.

Here is the recipe from The All New Ball Book of Canning and Preserving:

1/2 cup bourbon

1/2 cup maple syrup

4 lbs. (2 kg) pears, peeled, cored, and coarsely chopped

The instructions are likewise simple: Bring  all ingredients to a boil in a 6 quart (6 L) enamel or stainless steal dutch oven; reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 35 minutes or until pears are soft, stirring often to prevent scorching. Remove from heat; cool slightly.

The directions go on to tell you to process the mix in batches until pureed, pouring into a separate bowl until you are done. I used our Ninja, any food processor will do. You then return it to a boil back in the dutch oven; reduce heat and simmer uncovered until it thickens, darkens, and holds its shape on a spoon. Stir often as needed.

Ladle into hot canning jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace, remove air bubbles, wipe rim, add the lids and bands and water-bath process for 10 minutes.

Yield: About 6 1/2 pint (250 ML) jars

Here's what actually happened. I had 5 pounds of pears ready to be used, so I added a wee bit more bourbon and syrup, real maple syrup BTW. I could see as I was cooking it down that I was not going to get 6 half pints.

So although maybe I was supposed to cook it down more, as it seems to me a 'butter' should be very thick, it was only at the level of a thick sauce; it hadn't changed color, but it would hold its shape on a spoon.

So I stopped there, happy with what I had. I barely got 4 half pint jars, I was scraping down both the pot and the Ninja to fill that last one.

It is seriously good. If you use a commercial maple syrup the maple flavor will probably be stronger. I really like how the real deal tastes with the fresh pears, so if you can get your hands on some I think it is worth it. I just used an inexpensive Kentucky bourbon though. How smooth it is doesn't come into play here IMHO.

These will be given out at Christmas time, so I use the pretty green lids & bands for that reason.

I'll add a little note: Use as a rub for pork, add to unflavored oatmeal, or use as a fat replacement when baking muffins.

Or maybe I should just attach a spoon. 😉

Find more Ball recipes here, or if you really like to make unusual foods, I highly recommend the book:

Here is a link to the green Ball canning rings and lids.

Please note I am an affiliate of Amazon, and if you do purchase an item using these links I will receive a commission. And thanks!

Recipe reprinted with permission. Recipes provided by The All New Ball Book of Canning and Preserving. Copyright (c) 2016,
Jarden Home Brands, marketer of Ball(r) and Kerr(r) fresh preserving
products.
Jarden Home Brands is a division of Jarden Corporation (NYSE: JAH).

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Jun 21

A Year in the Life

One year ago today my job lost me.

Gardening Jones shares some thoughts on losing a job, and bouncing back.

Fresh lettuce one year ago

 

I say it that way because at that time, I was considered by many to be the best at what I do in the area. Certainly I had been doing it much longer. :-)

There wasn't a particular reason for letting me go, it was more a matter of bruised egos and small town politics. But no need to go into that.

Less than 2 months later I was offered a similar, but better, job. The only hitch, it would be a new position that I needed to help create. No need to go into that either.

I'm not one to sit and lick my wounds, and expecting to be gainfully employed again in about 6 months (it actually took a year, thank you government regulations) I dove into many DIY projects I had been wanting to get done, some for years.

If we're Facebook friends you may have seen a lot of the pictures posted. Either way, here's a short video compilation I hope you enjoy.

There are two things I didn't do this past year of what I termed Endless Saturdays.

I didn't hardly play music and I didn't hardly write.

I posted a total of 26 blogs this past year, compared to the 3/week I had been writing  Most of those were either recipes from my other site I closed down, or selling soaps.

And although I learned to restring my fiddle, I haven't really played it. I missed a whole summer on the porch. ;'-(

It was only recently I realized why. Plain and simple, I was depressed. I felt like there was a hole me and I tried to ignore it by painting walls. Lots of walls.

You see, as a senior center executive director, at this facility for 13 years, my job was a home.

These seniors were there for me when my Mother died, and happy for me when my Grandson was born.

I know what was wrong now because I am coming back, into this new job that will allow me to give of myself, something I truly need to feel whole.

And guess what? Today I'm writing again, and tonight it will be fiddle, such as it might be, on the porch.

I will be blogging more, including some of the DIY's I have done, and new low-carb scrumptiousness recipes. There may be a few videos in the works, maybe even more music.

Now that I am fully back to myself, I have a whole summer to enjoy sharing it.

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May 03

2 Americans’ Ireland Experience

 

 

Gardening Jones shares some of the sights and sounds she and himself enjoyed while in Ireland.

Guinness... Every last one of them.

It was 10 years ago that himself and meself boarded a plane and flew across the pond to Ireland.

Unlike most tourists, or so they told us, we were not there to discover our family history. We are both of Irish descent though. Himself‘s mother was 100% American-Irish, and while mine was also, my Dad has some Irish blood in him as well. That pushes me over the halfway mark.

Sure we wanted to see the country, but mostly we wanted to experience it. The music. The brogues. Chowder made fresh from the day’s catch.

We also wanted to learn more of the history of the country, which much of the music is based on. So we drove not to the tourist areas so much as the smaller towns and back roads. We went to small museums and local music festivals.

We heard renowned artists like Mick Lavelle and Olcan Masterson in their own elements, in their wee hometowns you might say. Pubs with wooden floors and only a smattering of the locals, people of all generations, there to enjoy the evening.

One thing we hadn’t expected was the language barrier himself would face.

 

You see, when I was a child, my Great Grandmother from Ireland was still alive. To this day I can remember her talking different, I was enthralled by her speech. They tell me that I would talk with the same brogue she had whenever I was around her. Since she lived close by, that was fairly often. And from what I understand, the adults found it delightfully funny to hear.

I still tend to be something of a language chameleon, picking up accents unless I am careful not to, and easily understanding just about any person who speaks differently than me.

This has come in handy over the years. First when I worked with individuals with varying mental and physical challenges, and later on with older people from other countries. Rarely has there been anyone I could not understand.

But that was not the case for himself.

“Tell me when they are speaking English?” he would ask.

“They are speaking English.”

 

What made it even more interesting for us, was the way they looked at him. I may as well have been wallpaper, but everyone looked at him wherever we went. It was as if he was seen as standing out, and I wasn’t. A taxi driver told me “Until you started talking, I would have sworn you were a local.”

But it wasn’t until our last night, sitting in the airport’s pub, they we really found out what they were thinking.

Returning to our table with drinks for us, I told him how there was a gentlemen at the bar trying to guess where all the travelers were from. When he spoke to me he said

“Which county then?” 

“No, America.” says I.

“Well, you could have fooled me” says he.

 

“I wonder where he will think I am from?” responded himself to me as I conveyed what had taken place.

Now let me repeat that my husband is half Irish descent, the rest is ¼ German, and ¼ Italian.  He has ‘shoulders like an ox’ as they say in The Quiet Man, and a thick head of hair. Throughout Ireland, where they looked at him as if he didn’t belong, he wore jeans with a navy blue blazer that only accented his shoulders, and polo shirts.

So when it was time for another round, he went up to the bar.

“What part of Italy are you from?” asked the gentleman.

Actually,” himself responded, “I’m half Irish, and one quarter each German and Italian.”

“Well then,” the gentleman said, “Clearly, Italy won.”

Side Note: When we returned from the trip, I told this story during a slideshow presentation at a senior center comprised mostly of participants that were first generation American-Italians.

They broke into applause.

Please enjoy this video we made of our trip. :-)

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Mar 05

5 Tips for Choosing Veggie Seedlings

So your garden plans are ready, now it's just a matter of time until the local farm and garden nursery stocks their veggie seedlings. And one plant is pretty much like the next, right?

seedlings

Not really.

So before you walk into the arms of that gardening high we all feel, make a few notes as to what to look for:

1. Rethink buying cucumber plants.

And squash and melons for that matter. The few weeks you save by purchasing plants will likely be off-set by transplant shock. Consider buying seeds instead, and direct sowing them after your last spring frost. Many seeds last for years, so you save money as well. Better still, you get to choose the varieties you like.

The exception here is if you are battling squash vine borers, and planting later than usual outside.

Similarly, some plants just prefer to be direct seeded. Examples include lettuce, carrots, beets, corn, okra, peas and kohlrabi.

2. Size matters, but not how you may think.

You don't necessarily want the biggest plants, you want the best. A tomato plant that is flowering, or worse, has baby tomatoes, is too mature for the garden. If you must buy it, pinch off the flowers and fruit. Let it get a good-root hold first. You'll get more fruit in the long run. Likewise peppers. A bud or two is fine, but avoid the ones that are blooming. Here are some more tips on tomatoes.

3. How green is it?

Are the leaves beginning to yellow? Are the stems weak and spindly? If it doesn't look healthy, put it back. The exception is for end-of-season plants that might otherwise be tossed, but those are usually ornamental and hugely discounted or free. When it comes to planting your veggie garden you want the healthiest plants you can find.

These symptoms can have quite a number of cause, including bad bugs or plant stress. Avoid them if possible.

4. Look under the hood.

Are there roots hanging out from the bottom of the cells? Wee ones aren't too bad, but if you see long roots know that the plant has already outgrown its container. This means it is more likely you will cause damage to the roots when transplanting. This isn't usually severe, though it can be; why chance it?

5. Consider the source.

Some plants are treated with Neonicotinoids in an effort to keep them bug-free as they are shipped from the nursery to the store. This insecticide also affects good bugs like bees, and can remain in your garden for years. If the plants aren't labeled, ask. Smaller nurseries can ask their sources, big box stores should know. Or you can just buy organic seedlings and not stress it. The last thing you need is to start harming your pollinators.

Bookmark this or make a note before you head out to buy plants. Something happens to us gardeners when we are around plants, and often all sense seems to take a leave of absence.

Yeah, we've been there.

Learn more:
3 Tips for Transplanting Tomatoes

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Mar 04

Easy Version of Indian Tomato Lentil or Surati Dal

Color Me Delicious.

Color Me Delicious.

Unless I specifically seek out ingredients for a recipe, and even then only if I actually find them, can I follow a recipe verbatim.
So yeah, that pretty much never happens.

This is an example of that, based on a wonderful dish from the city of Surati, in the Gujarati State of India located on the Western coast called Gujarati Surati Dal. Dal refers to lentils basically. Here's the original recipe.

You can use whatever lentils you have on hand. Because we eat lentils a lot, we have brown, pink, and yellow, as well as split peas and mung beans. What can I say. 😉 Here's a link to some of the differences between them.

I went with the pink, aka Lal Masoor Dal or Lentejas Rojas en Espanol. Note the turmeric turned them yellow anyway.

Feel free to improvise, I did.

Ingredients

1 cup dal of choice
2-3 cups water, depending on the lentils
1 cup salsa, homemade if possible
2 tsp. chopped green chili, canned
1/4 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. Garam Masala
1/4 tsp. curry powder
2 Tbs. chopped almonds
1/2 Tbs. almond butter (because it was almost empty)
1 cup frozen chopped spinach
S and P if desired

I used my pressure cooker and just timed it for 18 minutes. You can precook the lentils and add the remaining ingredients, or just throw it all in a skillet and let simmer. Your call.

We used our medium salsa, and the results was a very mild taste. Add heat as desired in the form of a hotter salsa, sriracha sauce, chili powder, etc.

Can be used as a vegetarian main dish or add meat if desired. Also makes a great side or even a dip if cooked until thick.

Serve with a fresh squeeze of lemon juice. Garnish with chopped nuts, a fresh chili pepper, and/or lemon wedge.
In the picture is an Indian Puppodum, a cracker if you will.

I wish now I had picked up some mango chutney to go along with it when I was at the market; I've run out of that as well.

Oh well, next trip.
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Feb 25

4 Ways to Get Tomatoes Sooner

It probably dates back to the Victory Gardens, or even before, that suburban gardeners have unspoken competitions as to who would get that first ripe tomato.

For us country dwellers, it is more a matter of feeding the need to taste a sun ripened tomato again ASAP that drives us to find ways to make that a reality.

Here are a few things you can do to make it happen in your garden.

1. Starting Seeds Indoors

It is really easy to start your own seeds, and there is a lot of help online to make your efforts more successful. Usually you start 6-8 weeks before your last spring frost date, by starting sooner you can get results earlier. Keep in mind that with most tomato varieties you will need to use at least one additional method to protect those seedlings.
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2. Season Extenders
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These can range from a simple inverted liter soda bottle to more elaborate cold frames, row covers, and even greenhouses. What you choose depends on your budget mostly, but also on how much you want to extend the season. Wall O' Waters are relatively inexpensive and a very effective tool, plus they last for years. You can use clear plastic garbage bags or commercial plastic, just be sure it doesn't touch the plants.

Clear plastic can also be used to warm up your soil sooner, a good idea if you are trying your hand at planting out earlier, most tomatoes need warm enough soil to thrive.
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3. Patio Varieties
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If size doesn't matter to you, consider trying patio tomatoes. Larger than cherry types but smaller than full size tomatoes, these container friendly varieties can be brought indoors if frost threatens. Time them accordingly, but you should be able to get at least a few weeks on the season. If a Wall O' Water fits your container, even better.

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4. Grow Oregon Spring or Legend Tomatoes

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These varieties were developed by Oregon State University through normal plant breeding to be exceptionally cold tolerant. They can be planted outside as much as a month before the last spring frost. Barring a very hard frost, they can take the cold with out additional protection. They produce a nice tomato too.

So here's our plan:

We have started seeds indoors for Oregon Spring and 2 types of Patio Tomatoes. We will use clear plastic to get our bed ready for the Oregon Spring, and will be transplanting the Patio Tomatoes in the greenhouse. If we didn't have that, we would use Wall O' Waters.

We expect to get tomatoes more than a month sooner than we usually do.

One year we actually had some in mid-June, where late July to early August is the norm.

Can we get them even earlier than that?

We'll keep you posted.

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Feb 21

Garden Planning – 5 Resources

Gardening Jones looks at a few good sites for gardening info, besides her own of course.

Even though I have been gardening for 30 years, and blogging about for over 7, I still turn to others to learn more. Like any good pursuit, the quest for getting better and more successful at it never ends.

There are a few sites that I value BAE 😉 that I would like to share with y'all.

1. Mike the Gardener's site, pictured above, is a wealth of real info from real people. His podcasts and videos on YouTube are a great way to learn more than you would even think to ask. He gardens and keeps chickens himself, and with his family, in New Jersey.

2. Johnny's Select Seeds' website, as well as their seed catalog itself, offer great info in print. A copy of their seed starting calculator sits prominently on my bulletin board year end and year out. Their catalog is one I keep every year as a great resource to questions I get asked. I never answer a question without double checking my information.

3. Again with seed starting, Mother Earth News will send you an email reminding you what you can start indoors or plant outside based on your area. If you don't want to be on another email list, you could get a general idea of what seeds to get ready based on your region here. Not as specific though as an email or as the Johnny's seed starting calculator.

4. For in-depth vegetable gardening information, check out Cornell University. They really are a good source for double checking the information you were given by someone else.

5. And for something a little different, print out these free coloring books from Botanical Interests. Whether you use them to teach kids the right colors of plants, or to simply reduce your stress level while waiting on spring, they are a good resource to use and share. Go to the bottom left on the home page and click on Botanical Interests Coloring Book.

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Feb 07

Garden Planning – 7 Tips for Stocking the Larder Shelves

Himself and I are about as different as any two married people can be.

Gardening Jones looks at planning a garden with storing the harvest in mind.

A sure sign of Spring - the onion drawer is almost empty.

He's coffee, I'm tea. He's salty, I'm sweet. If it is a choice between going left and going right, we won't go the same way.

For years after we got married we would buy two different brands of toothpaste.

You get the idea. And so it is with the gardens. He thinks the priority should be fresh eating, I lean more towards stocking the shelves for the winter.

So our harvest ends up being a compromise of both; something we have gotten very good at these last 40 years.

Here are some of ours (my) thoughts on planning a garden for stocking up:

  1. Check out this book review on Preserving Food Without Canning or Freezing. There are so many ways to safely hold your harvest that you may not know of.
  2. Consider growing plants for Lacti Fermenting. These are the real probiotics you hear about. Pickles, kimchi, and sauerkraut are the best known examples, but you can preserve many veggies this way. We're adding napa cabbage , for his stir frys and my kimchi.
  3. Plan your garden according to what you expect to use. This planning chart from Johnny's Seeds is a wonderful way to figure it out. Of course, hands on experience is the best way to learn. We know for example that one baby watermelon plant is enough for us, but it takes a full tower of dry beans to meet our needs.
  4. Although there is nothing like a veggie freshly picked to eat, there are ways to hold your produce that comes quite close. Did you know you can store carrots fresh in sand? Read about that here. Besides carrots, we also store onions, potatoes, winter squashes, cabbages and other coles, without preserving. If you have the room to grow corn, perhaps with your squash and beans, consider trying Stowell's Evergreen. It can be hung upside down and picked as needed for months after harvesting.
  5. Short on holding space for your veggies? With no basement and no garage, we got creative. This spare corner can hold a lot.
  6. Wherever possible, grow up. Many vegetables can be grown vertically, or at least have a variety in their arsenal that can. Consider growing Tromboncino zucchini instead of the more typical bush varieties. Bonus: It's squash vine borer resistant.
  7. Read the seed descriptions carefully, both online and in catalogs. Look for terms such as 'prolific' and 'abundant', also 'stores well' and 'good keeper'. If you intend to do succession planting, look for 'early', 'late' or 'fall' and 'short season'. All of these terms indicate that you can get more bang for your gardening buck.

So this summer he'll have his fresh snow peas and salad greens, and next winter I'll have squash.

And of course, we both get tomatoes.

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Feb 02

Garden Planning – 18 Tomatoes Making the Cut

Seeds from tomatoes can remain viable for 10 years or more, so it's easy enough to develop a collection of varieties.
Especially if you also save your own.

Gardening Jones shares which tomato varieties made the cut for 2017.

When I tell you, and this isn't bragging, that I have 43 packets of seeds that were given to me, saved, or purchased... well if you know me or have been reading here for a while, you won't be surprised. It's even worse when the oldest are only from 4 years ago.

It does present a problem though, as we don't own a farm and there has to be a cutoff.

So we narrowed it down to those listed below, a note as to whether they are heirloom (inc. open pollinated) or F1 hybrid, determinate or indeterminate, with a link where you can find seeds, and an explanation as needed.

Not that we need to be tempted into trying more varieties, but which have you chosen for this year?

Variety HL or F1 Habit Notes
Roma* HL Dt Great sauce type.
San Marzano* HL Dt One of our favorite sauce types.
German Johnson* HL Ind Our all-time favorite red/pink brandywine variety.
Pompeii F1 Ind Another delicious sauce type with good disease resistance.
Tiren F1 Ind Very early sauce type fruits.
Sungold* F1 Dt We saved our seeds from this hybrid and it will be fun to see what happens.
Jersey Devils* HL Ind This is one of those varieties we originally got from a friend.
Pineapple* HL Ind Have had these seeds for 2 years it's about time.
Kellogg's Breakfast* HL Ind Heard so many good things about this one.
Goliath F1 Ind What can I say- it sounds perfect.
Big Rainbow* HL Ind Caught me eye sometimes it is just that simple.
Cherokee Purple* HL Ind Tried these once before with little success- but everyone else raves so we'll give it another go.
AAS Chef's Choice Yellow F1 Ind Can't wait to try this latest AAS winner.
AAS Chef's Choice Green F1 Ind We trialed these last year and loved how they add great color variety.
Oregon Spring* HL Dt Can take our cold Pa. springs better than any other.
Pink Oxheart* HL Ind We just love the heart shape.
Cream Sausage* HL Dt Our only white variety this year.
BHN-589* F1 Dt We grew this last year and it did very well in the wee greenhouse.

*We were very happy to see these varieties were also recommended by Craig LeHoullier in his wonderful book Epic Tomatoes.
More about All-America Select Winners

NOTE: We are not financially affiliated with any of these seed companies. We do freely trial seeds for All-America Selections.
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Jan 30

Garden Planning – Using Visuals

Gardening Jones shares how she plans out the gardens each year.

Gardeners know the winter months are made more bearable by planning for the upcoming gardening seasons.

We like to use visuals to get a feel for what we will plant. It also is a great way to remember for the following year, in case some crop rotation is needed.

Usually we start out with a spreadsheet. Years ago we used to draw the gardens by hand, but since we often make changes even at planting time, we found planning on the computer easier.

This is an Excel spreadsheet, but any one would do. You could also use a word document.

To set up your spreadsheet:

1. Draw the basic garden design using borders and/or fill colors over the cells.
2. Type in any perennials.
3. Add in any perennials you will be planting this year.
4. If you plan to use this program for multiple years, copy your basic diagram and save to another sheet.
5. Rename your sheets accordingly.
6. Add in your annuals.
7. Notate any succession planting you intend to do.
8. You can also add in your transplanting and seed sowing dates.

Pretty basic stuff really. As the weather gets warmer and we have seedlings about ready, we write in the specific varieties that had not be noted yet. We like to print out the sheet when we begin to plant, to make sure we plant the specific variety we are supposed to.

Sometimes we will add in anything unusual, like a new bug infestation. Bllck.

We keep our printed sheets in a binder. It is fun to see how the gardens have changed over time. 2017 will be the 21st. garden at this house.

Of course, like everything else nowadays, there are aps for this. Here are a few to consider.

My Dad is in his 90's, and although very tech savvy, he still uses a pencil and graph paper.
After 30 years of growing, spreadsheet is about as modern as I care to get. :-)

More on succession planting.
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