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6 Ways to Preserve Herbs

how to preserve herbs

How you choose to preserve herbs you grow depends mainly on how you intend to use them.

Here are the how to’s and in some cases, the why to’s:

1. Drying- simply hang the bunch of herbs upside down in a brown paper bag. The bag not only keeps the spiders away, it will catch any leaves that may fall off the stems.

2. Freezing as is- A first generation Italian-American woman I knew many years ago told me that the best way to preserve basil was to just wrap the leaves in plastic and freeze. We also like to do this with chives, rolling them in the plastic in the form of a log. Then, just slice off what you need.

3. Freezing in oil- If what you are preserving will be cooked in oil anyway, placing the herbs in an ice cube tray, filling it with oil, then freezing works great. When frozen, simply remove to a freezer container and you are ready to cook.

4. Freezing in water- This is done the same way as the previous method but with water instead. This is a wonderful way to freeze herbs suited especially well for soups, such as chopped parsley.

5. Steeping in vinegar- Vinegar is a natural preservative and a great way to add flavors to many dishes. Simply soak the herb in white vinegar, or red if the color does not matter, then strain. Our personal favorite herb to use in this way is chive blossoms, pictured above. No mistaking that pretty pink color and the chance to enjoy the light taste of chives all year around.

6. Soaking in alcohol- Probably the least common way to preserve, alcohol will also take on the flavor of herbs and what you are making is an herbal extract. We prefer to use vodka, as it has less flavor of its own than many other liquors.
The difference in homemade mint extract for example, shown above, and the store bought stuff is about the same as the difference in tomatoes. Really.
Make this the same way you would the vinegar and use as you would a flavored extract. Just know you won’t need as much as the flavor will be much truer to the herb.

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5 Wonderful Grains for Your Home Garden

Did you ever stop to wonder just how self-sufficient your garden could make you? Sure you can grow great veggies, even a good protein source through dry beans.

But what about grains?

you can grow that

Although technically these are not all grains, we are listing them because they are used that way:

1. Corn

Most often thought of as a vegetable, corn is actually a grain. You can grow field or dry corn the same as you would sweet, but allow it to dry thoroughly on the cob before harvesting the kernels to grind.

Be sure to take preventative measures if you are also growing sweet corn nearby, as their pollen is carried on the wind and there can be cross pollination.
This summer we will be showing you ways to help prevent this; but for the meantime, keep them as far apart as possible preferably with a structure between them.

One of the best varieties for making your own corn meal, according to Baker Creek seed catalog, is Cherokee White Eagle. Just be sure to choose a variety that is meant to use for this purpose, they are less sugary and will dry more easily.

Grind, store and use the way you would store bought cornmeal.

2. Quinoa

Technically a vegetable, quinoa is a relative of spinach that is fast gaining popularity in restaurants as well as home kitchens. Part of the reason, other than the delightful taste, is that quinoa carries a protein not normally found in a vegetable. Especially for vegetarians, this is a wonderful thing.

What you harvest here are the seeds as well, dry, store and use like you would rice. You can also grind the seeds to use like flour.

3. Flax

Often grown for its use as a fiber, the seeds of flax are actually wonderfully nutritious. They are a good source of omega-3′s and high in fiber. The milled seeds can be added to many baked goods.
We are so excited to try our hand at growing flax this year.

4. Amaranth

Often listed under herbs, and even considered sometimes as a flower, Amaranth is a beautiful tall edible whose flower seeds can be used as a grain.
In some varieties you can also eat the leaves as a vegetable, bonus! The most common variety grown for the edible seeds is Love Lies Bleeding.

5. Millet

One definition of grains is that they are grasses that produce small edible seeds. Millet fits this description well. Its seeds can be ground for flours or gruel, but it is often also used as bird seed.

We are going to try one of the most common varieties used in the US, a Proso type; specifically Proso White.

Again, we will have more specifics on this as we actually grow and harvest it.

decorative or edible corn

Dry or Field Corn

Generally speaking these crops grow quite tall, and the harvest you get for the space may not compare to vegetables you plant instead.
But if you have the room and want to be more independent, consider trying a grain crop.

We will let you know how we fare, what was worth it and maybe what was not over the course of the next year.

Hopefully it will all be rave reviews; but the idea of not being dependent on a store for our grains is already a win in our books!

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3 Ways to Deal with Green Tomatoes

The sorting.

The sorting.

At some point anyone who gardens where there will be frost must decide what they will do with the end of season green tomatoes.
There are basically 3 things you can choose:

1. Freeze them
You can simply slice, place on a cookie sheet and freeze. Once they are frozen, place in a container or plastic bag. By freezing them individually, they won’t all be stuck together.

This way you can thaw and have fried green tomatoes throughout the winter.

A Facebook friend of mine says you can actually prep them first, then individually freeze, making them ready to fry with no defrosting needed.

They're in there, trust me.

The wall of volunteer plants. There are many green tomatoes in there, trust me.

2. Can them.
Green tomato relish is a wonderful alternative to many other, commercially processed, condiments. You can also pickle green tomatoes, make mincemeat from them, or add to your sauerkraut.

All of these are a great way to free up a little freezer space and instead fill up the larder shelves.

Ripening on the vine.

Preparing to trim the plants before ripening fruit on the vine.

3. Let them ripen.
The most common way to ripen tomatoes indoors is to wrap them individually in newspaper or brown lunch bags, place in a dark spot, and keep an eye on them.

If you have a lot of tomatoes, this can be rather tedious. You really have to watch so that you get to them when they are ready.

A little easier is to place them loosely in an airy basket and put that in a dark spot. This makes it easier to see which ones are ready first.

We also tried George Washington Carver’s method of hanging them upside down to ripen on the vine. We learned the hard way to trim off the excess leaves first, or you will be soon sweeping them up. Again you want the tomatoes out of direct light, and preferably in a warm area.

We like this method the best. We just hung them in a spare room and ‘picked’ them as they ripened.

This year we have so many volunteer plants they set fruit late, that we will likely be doing some of each method… and counting our blessings along the way.

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How to Make Flavored Extracts

Earlier in the summer a friend of mine was telling me how she makes her own vanilla extract every year. It came up when I mentioned I was making Raspberry Infused Vodka.

Vanilla bean

Vanilla bean

“It started when I was given a kit. It was just a glass bottle with vanilla beans in it. It said to fill the bottle with vodka, and let it sit for three weeks. Then strain.”

Hmmm…
So I looked in our baking cabinet to see what extracts I had. Okay, so Rum won’t work.
But mint will, and raspberry definitely will. In fact, I still have some raspberries in the freezer.

I also picked some lemon balm to make a nice lemon extract.

Mint, raspberry and lemon.

Mint, raspberry and lemon.

Simply chop the herbs to get the oils out, add to a jar and add vodka.
For berries you can just wash and put them in the jar.
Let them sit in a dark place. After about 3 weeks, check to see how strong the flavor is; extracts should be pretty intense.

We found the berries flavored the fastest. The lemon is taking its time, so I’m going to add some lemon grass to the jar.

When you like the flavor, strain and store either in an amber jar or in a dark place.

Now I can’t wait until the almond tree starts producing.
Mmmm…. That should make some outstanding Irish Cream Liquor.

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13 Fruits & Vegetables That Don’t Need Refrigeration

Self-drying on a kitchen shelf.

Self-drying on a kitchen shelf.

A walk through your local grocer’s produce section can give you a good idea of how to hold your home grown goodies, with one exception.
First get past the produce they are trying to turn over. They do this by putting it on special, and placing it where you first walk in.
Once you have hurdled this gauntlet, take a look at what is not in cool holding:

1. Tomatoes, refrigerate only after they are sliced or if they are bruised.
2. Potatoes do not need to be kept cold.
3. Winter squashes have hard rinds that protect them for months.
4. Garlic. Did you ever see a garlic braid? Enough said.

Garlic and onions, happy together.

Garlic and onions, happy together.

5. Onions should be cured outside for a few days, then stored. We do actually refrigerate ours, even though we know they don’t need it. Since we pretty much use some every day, it’s actually handier and less messy to keep them in the fridge.
6. Melons will continue to ripen if not refrigerated, but otherwise they don’t need to be kept cold. Definitely refrigerate after slicing.
7. Apples give off a gas that can cause other fruits to ripen faster. Store them at room temperature, but not in close proximity to any other produce.
8. Avocados also do not need to be kept cold. We are so looking forward to trying this with our own homegrown!

Do we see avocados in our future?

Do we see avocados in our future?

9. Bananas are probably one fruit you are not growing, but then again, you just might be. Leave them out to ripen, the darker they get the better they are for you.
10. Hot peppers will dry beautifully when left out of refrigeration, and can be crushed to use as pepper flakes. For long term cold storage, just toss them in the freezer.
11. Sweet potatoes need to be carefully harvested and gently allowed to cure in fresh air. After that they are pretty darn strong and do not need cold holding.
12. Dry beans cure themselves in the garden. Simply shell, allow them to air out and then store in a jar. It doesn’t get much easier than that.
13. Tree fruit such as peaches, pears, apricots, nectarines and plums can be refrigerated, but really don’t need to be. In this case they will ripen more slowly if kept in the fridge.

The last store bought tomato for the summer.

The last store bought tomato for the summer.

A refrigerator is not only a cool environment, it is also a moist one. Carrots and celery love that, but it may cause other foods to go bad sooner.
Wherever you are holding food fresh, keep an eye on it. You wouldn’t want all that hard work to go to waste.

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Growing Things- Bowls

gourd bowls

there are so many ways to finish a bowl

Other than the obvious difference between a vase and a bowl, there are two others when crafting one from a gourd:
1. You are probably going to want the inside to be much cleaner, and
2. You can go wild decorating the bowl

Prepare your gourd as you did the vase, but make the cut much lower to get a larger opening.

Now if this is just for your own use, and you are going to put a plant in the bowl, the inside does not have to be immaculate.
Otherwise you will need to really get the inner walls clean of any debris left when the flesh dried out.

You can do this by hand with sand paper, but it is much faster if you have some power involved.
This picture shows a small electric sander, and two sanding balls that fit inside an electric drill.

gourd sanders

the right tools for the job

However you go about it, be sure to do it outside and wear a mask to prevent inhaling the dust.
Of course, when working with power tools, always wear protective eye covering too.

What you do next really depends on how you plan to use the bowl.
I always waterproof mine no matter what- I wouldn’t want someone to put a plant into the bowl and have the design run down the side when they watered it.
As added protection, I varnish the inside as well.

If you plan on using the bowl as a serving dish, there is a food grade varnish available called “Salad Bowl Finish” just follow the manufacturer’s directions to apply.

food safe gourd bowl

clean & with salad bowl finish

Decorate the bowl however you like, and seal your work as well.

gourd food bowl

Thanksgiving 'roll bowl'

So you can do this as easy as just cutting the bowl, maybe putting in a few drainage holes, and planting a plant- or you could go as intense as these pieces.

These are the gourd books I used, again ranging from simple to artsy.

gourd crafting books

the basic techniques

gourd art books

going wild

The main thing is to be careful and just enjoy yourself.

Growing gourds
Drying gourds

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You’re Not the Boss of Me

tomatoes and peppers for salsa

too many tomatoes, not enough time

The last thing a veggie garden should be is stressful.

That being said, having a large garden designed to grow enough food to be preserved, can become just that.
Especially if you’re new to gardening.

Some veggies aren’t going to wait until you are ready- until the housework is done or the kids are taken care of, or until you get some vacation time or the grass is mowed…

When a whole bunch of tomatoes are ripe there’s nothing much you can do about it-
or is there?

I was picking a lot of ripe romas late Sunday evening, too late to start a batch of salsa, simmer it long enough and have it canned- since I had to be up early for work the next day.

That’s when I thought of the title for this post,
and decided to share some tricks you can use to deal with your harvest- on your own terms.

tomatoes chopped for salsa

do part of the job now

Tomatoes- freeze ‘em.
I don’t peel mine anyway, so I just cut into chunks, toss them into a bag and freeze.
This way, I can make marinara or salsa when I’m good and ready.
I’ll also have cut tomatoes on hand to add to chili come fall.
You can do the same with cherry tomatoes- cut them in half and freeze for chili or soups.

Peppers- Hot and Sweet can easily be frozen, too. No blanching needed.
I chop mine and freeze them, again ready for salsa making when the time is right.
Say, like a nice wintery day in November.

Peppers-hot for making hot sauce- place them in a jar in the fridge and cover with vinegar.
This is great especially if you are only getting a few peppers at a time, you can wait to make the sauce when you are ready.

Cucumbers- Similarly, you can cut them up and place in a jar with a pickling brine in it. You can even just keep them this way or can them up when you have time. Likewise beans, though you’ll most likely want to add some other flavors before pickling.

Onions- it’s important to get them out of the ground when they are ready, but after that there’s no rush.
Leave them to dry on a screen for a few weeks, then store in the fridge.
If you’re chopping onions anyway, chop extra; bag and freeze.

Cabbage- get it out of the garden, too; overripe cabbage can split.
It stores well, so no bother after that.

Carrots- can stay in the ground until it freezes, no rush.

Potatoes-also ok in the ground, but they can become hard to find (like onions).
Just pick and take them inside, you’ll be surprised how long they last.

If you do have a lot, lucky you!
When baking or making mashed taters, double the recipe and freeze half; keep them frozen until you run out of fresh.
It’s a great way to finish out the winter.

Corn- gets bad if left on the stalk too long; if you’re boiling some to eat, blanche a few of the extra and freeze while you’re at it.
That’s right, frozen corn on the cob- how’s that for an off season treat!

Zucchini- every gardener’s mistake. You’re on your own here.
My best suggestion is to plant less and eat them small.

Even better, plant an heirloom- the flavor is outstanding.

cut tomatoes for freezing

salsa on hold

People will ask me where I find the time, with a family and a full time job plus all my maniac hobbies, to have such a huge garden and preserve food.

I just smile and say- ‘Oh, I have a few tricks.’

What have you got up your sleave?

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Some Like It Cool

potato flower

potato flower

We’re in the processing of building a cold storage unit, and I’ll be posting about that when it’s done.
In the meantime, here’s some info on storing vegetables that can help you when you are planning your garden, especially if you decide to use a root cellar or other cold holding.

Keep in mind that typical root cellars provide a moist, cold environment.
Some veggies are better kept dry- as noted.

Store at 32 degrees F
Beets
Cabbage
Carrots
Celery
Kohlrabi
Rutabagas

Store at 32-38 degrees F
Garlic, keep dry
Onions, after curing outside, keep dry

homegrown spaghetti squash

eating fresh mid-winter

Store at 40-45 degrees F
Potatoes, keep dry

Store at 50-55 degrees F
Winter squash, keep dry

All other veggies must be eaten fresh, canned, frozen or dehydrated.
Check out the Grow It section for more info on storing other veggies.

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Feckin’ Fruit

One of the many ways to preserve fruit, and probably the easiest, is by using alcohol.

Now I want to say up front that I was just going to simply buy some Seagram’s whiskey for this project; but Mandolin thought an Irish whiskey, which we prefer, was much better.

When he suggested Jameson, I responded “that would be sacrilege” and he quickly agreed (remind me to tell you the story of the incorrectly poured Guinness in Ireland…)

Anyway, he then smiled and said (giggling) “use the Feckin’ Whiskey”.

I think perhaps he just likes to say the words, I’m not sure… there was something about that giggle.

In this country “feckin” is not an obscene word, just a bit of a reference to one. We did hear it here and there in Ireland though, usually followed by some ‘sniggering’ and an apology to me (those Irish boys are still gentlemen).

After samplin’ a few of the choices, and having a fine time posting on Facebook, I decided that although the Feckin’ Whiskey is a bit harsh for drinking, it is probably the best one ‘imho’ for fruitn’.

Though I admit ‘imho’ was a bit subject at that point.

boozy fruit how to

gather your ingredients

So here’s how:
get fruit
get alcohol
get sugar
get a glass food grade jar with lid

boozy fruit how to

like a pub full of people on a Friday night

I used:
3 pears (cut out any overripe pieces)
3 peaches
2 apples
raspberries I had frozen last spring
sugar as needed
Less than 1/5th. Feckin Whiskey

I threw in a 1/4 cup of apple juice that was sitting in the fridge and would otherwise have been wasted. That’s optional, unless you have a 1/4 cup of apple juice that is sitting in the fridge and will otherwise be wasted.

You can use whatever combination of fruit and alcohol (80 proof or better) you have or like. There are no rules here.
I also made a simple vodka and strawberry jar first as a test (it passed with flying colors).

boozy fruit how to

happy berries

Clean your fruit, cut as needed into bite sizes (no need to peel). Layer in jar, adding enough sugar to cover the fruit as you go. You don’t want it too sweet.
Add alcohol.
Release any air bubbles by sliding a metal knife or small spatula up against the inside of the jar.
Cover loosely. Some of the fruit will expand, and there will be some fermentation-both of which will cause air bubbles (I had this more with the fruit/whiskey combo that the smaller strawberry/vodka test).
Continue to release air bubbles and add more alcohol if needed until no more bubbles appear.

Now, the hard part: Let sit for 3 months.

boozy fruit how to

90 days from now: Par-tee

When done, you can eat or bake the fruit, delicious over ice cream or pancakes.

The alcohol makes a delightful cordial and gets better the longer it sits.
Or so I hear.

To my Irish FB friends: thanks for being so understanding, and not ‘sniggering’ too much the night I was taste-testing.
Also my apology if the word “feckin” offends anyone.
It really is an Irish whickey imported from County…er, now I forget which one.
Guess I’ll have to get another bottle to see.

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Fruit For Grown-Ups

patience

...pays off in the case of homemade brandy

Homemade brandy is simple to make and a wonderful gift to give (not to mention enjoying yourself.)

My personal favorite is Pear-Raspberry, but my friends like Blueberry the best. Experiment!

You will need a plastic or glass food-grade container.
You can buy them at a local hobby shop, or if you are making a large batch like I do, you can usually get them from an area restaurant or the deli department of your neighborhood food store.
As long as it is meant for food, that’s all that matters.

(And that it never held hot peppers).

If it is used, be sure it is quite clean.

Ingredients:

About 2 lbs. or 4 cups of your favorite fruit/fruits.
1 ½ cups of sugar
If you are not using berries, add ½ cup of honey (If you are using peaches for example)
1/5 vodka

Always be sure you use clean unbruised fruit. Remove any stems or pits.
Cut up the fruit and mix with the sugar/honey. If you have large fruit pieces, mashing can help.
I use a net bag (new clean pantyhose works well, too) to help with the straining done later.

Mix it well and cover the opening of the container tightly with plastic wrap.
Let it go for a day. Add the vodka and mix.

I should say here that the better the vodka the better the product, to some extent.
The longer it sits does more to improve the flavor. So if you are in a hurry, get good vodka.

If you can, let this sit 4-6 months. (I have a hard time getting past 3 months). Strain and bottle.

Be sure to select bottles that are meant for food.
Although it’s fun to pick up fancy bottles at yard sales, you never really know what has been in them.

PS Don’t throw out what you strain!
Although it looks nasty, it sure tastes good over ice cream or pancakes (be careful, though; it also packs a wallop!)
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