Friday, October 30, 2009

Delicious Green Tomatoes

K is a wonderful cook. As a little girl she enjoyed cooking and baking with her younger sisters and me, and as a teenager she prepared a couple of dinners a week for our family.

Ever the experimenter in the kitchen, one fall after the green tomatoes came in from the garden she came up with her own lighter, simpler take on fried green tomatoes - sliced,unbreaded, lightly sauteed in olive oil and garlic, served with lemon wedges and freshly-grated parmesan cheese. Fresh basil, oregano, and/or thyme add additional flavor to this yummy treat. Alternatively, brush them with olive oil and broil or grill, then add your choice of toppings. We enjoyed them so much they became a fall tradition.

Having a vegetable garden for the first time in several years, end-of-season green tomatoes were eagerly anticipated. K's Green Tomatoes have been enjoyed more than once in recent weeks.

With this year's unusually cool summer and chilly, overcast early autumn, there were lots of green tomatoes left in the garden. It was a perfect opportunity to try Mom's newest pickled green tomato recipe. A slightly different version was posted last fall. Mom said this one was even better. I used her new recipe for the rest of our green tomatoes, and made seven quarts.

Yum! These are so good, just like the ones Mrs. Schmidt shared with our family when I was a kid. Here's the recipe.

Pickled Green Tomatoes
For each wide-mouth pint jar:
About 1 lb green tomatoes, enough to fill jar to the shoulder
2 medium cloves garlic, peeled and sliced 1/4" thick
1 tsp. black peppercorns
1/2 tsp. coriander seeds or 1/4 tsp. ground coriander (optional, but really good!)
small pinch hot pepper flakes
1 small bay leaf
2 fresh dill heads or 1 1/2 tsp dill seeds (fresh dill is best if available.)
Coarsely-chopped onions and/or a few thick celery slices make a delicious addition.

For brine:
5 oz water
3 oz white vinegar
1 1/2 tsp kosher or pickling salt (don't use table salt)
1 tsp sugar

1. Sterilize a large-mouthed one pint jar in boiling water. Place new canning lid and screw band in water which has been brought to boiling and turned off. Allow lids to remain in water until you need them. Place a dish towel on counter for setting hot jars on.

2. Wash the tomatoes and pat them dry. Small tomatoes can be left whole or quartered, quarter larger tomatoes. Drain jars and set on towel. Place garlic, pepper corns, hot pepper flakes, bay leaf and dill in bottom of jar. Tightly pack tomatoes into jar.

3. Bring water, vinegar, salt and sugar to a rolling boil. Quickly ladle brine over jar ingredients to cover, leaving about 1/2 inch of head space in jar. Immediately place lid and bands on jar and screw bands down finger tight. Turn jar upside down for 5 minutes. Turn right side up and let stand on counter until cooled. Jar lids should pop in during cooling.

Notes: Multiply the ingredients by the number of jars you plan to make. Since we had a lot of tomatoes, I used quart jars instead of pints, and adjusted the recipe accordingly.

Pickles can be processed 10 minutes in a hot-water bath. We like them crisp, and feel the tomatoes and brine are acidic and salty enough to store safely without the hot water bath if stored in a cool, dark place such as an unheated basement or root cellar, or refrigerated after processing and cooling.

Cure for at least two weeks before enjoying to allow flavors to blend.

Always refrigerate after opening.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Amelanchier, a Shrub for All Seasons

Amelanchier is a carefree, deciduous understory shrub or small tree, commonly known as Serviceberry, Juneberry, or sometimes Shadbush. Up to 30 feet at maturity, they're attractive year 'round - even winter, with their graceful form and smooth gray, or sometimes dark brown bark.

Fall color ranges from bright yellow or gold, to orange, rust, or violet-red. They tolerate a range of conditions from sun to shade, and dry to moist soil, from sandy to rich and loamy to heavy clay; either neutral or acid.

The fruits are sweet and tasty, often used in jams and pies. Their flavor is a mix of blueberry and cherry, with a hint of almond. They're loved by birds and other wildlife, disappearing quickly as they ripen.

Native throughout most of the United States, Amelanchier has several cultivars as well. Generally hardy in zones 4-7, some are happy in zone 2, and others to zone 9.

The delicate, hermaphrodite white, or occasionally pink blossoms are pollinated by bees. The serviceberry is a favorite shrub in our garden. Ours has been here since long before either Lawn Man or I. It's beautiful blooming in late April and early May,

Lovely in June with its delicious, ornamental berries,

And just as pretty in autumn.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

While the Gardener Was Away. . .

The rodents did play.

They took advantage of my trip to Mom's, chowing down on about a third of the plants in the shade garden.

Casualties included phlox, coneflowers, asters, bellflowers, heucheras, monardas, an ornamental grape vine, hostas, baby hydrangeas started from cuttings, and more. The grape vine (photo above,) was looking so pretty with it's bright burgundy foliage. Asters, including a couple of blogalong passalongs gifted me by Gail earlier in the season, were in full, glorious bloom. . . were. . . now they're stubs. Golden ragwort, PPPP, and a penstemon (possibly Penstemon X?) Gail sent, though not in bloom, weren't touched.

They ate my favorite coneflowers too. These coneflowers, in bloom since late June, held their blooms a long time. Seeds still haven't matured. There's only one lonely bloom left to save seeds from. Even if time is running out for seeds to mature, they're not getting that one, nope, not if I can help it.

Behind the coneflower, evidence of the carnage is visible .

I'm thankful they didn't dig anything up. Squirrels have a habit of doing that around here, especially small transplants. There are quite a few small seedlings and divisions planted before the trip. They were, surprisingly, untouched.

If it had to happen, I'm glad they waited until nearly the end of the season. Maybe I should thank them for the time I won't be spending cleaning up the garden next spring. Surprisingly, (knock on wood,) they didn't touch the veggie garden all season, not even while I was gone, not even a nibble. I'm glad for that.

Still, I find myself fantasizing about rabbit stew and barbecued squirrel.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

I'm Late, I'm Late, For a Very Important Date

Last week was chilly and soggy - too wet for the camera. This morning it's cold, sunny, and dry enough to venture out for some quick shots of what's still blooming in the shade garden in October.

Not fancy, ubiquitous wax begonias bloomed all season, requiring no fuss and no watering, while adding spots of color here and there.

While most of the Chicago area had frost last week, we haven't been hit yet. The yellow mini-rose is blooming again, and the red one is budding. They've been happier this season than most, and weren't bothered by black spot, for a change.

Autumn Joy sedums started from cuttings late last fall, though small, are blooming.

Herbstsonne Rudbeckia has been in bloom since July.

Calamint has been blooming since July too. Easy to start from cuttings, there was initially one of these. Now there are three.

'Rozanne,' blooming since May, will continue until frost. This one's a bit ragged, playing host to a small caterpillar. Please hurry into your cocoon little one - you don't have much time left.

And there are still a few Susans blooming. A deep pink mum, Autumn Bride heuchera, impatiens and other annuals are still blooming. Tender plants that will be overwintered were brought in last Saturday.

Although we weren't hit by last Saturday night's freeze, I'm glad that chore is done. By this time next month, the basement greenhouse will likely be the only place to see anything blooming here.

For more Bloom Day posts, please visit Carol at May Dreams Gardens, who hosts this popular garden bloggers' event each month. Thank you Carol!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Trip to Mom's

Recently I got to spend a week in Southwest Wisconsin visiting Mom and her Garden Buddy. What a pleasure it was enjoying this nice long visit!

With me came The Biology of Transcendence, borrowed from their vast library on a previous visit, divisions and seedlings for the ornamental borders surrounding their lovely, loving Ocooch Mountain home, a batch of Lawn Man's freshly-grilled, delicious, spicy jerk chicken, and yummy yellow pear tomatoes from our garden.

What a time we had playing in the garden, browsing old photos, sharing generations of family letters and stories, going to town for a physics lecture at the university, experiencing two of their favorite ethnic restaurants, enjoying two magnificent foreign films Mom's Garden Buddy (a/k/a Social Director) selected, and seeing Michael Pollan's excellent, thought-provoking talk together.

K, my oldest daughter, joined us for the weekend. Mom's Garden Buddy, K, and I got a workout harvesting a ton (well, more like 75-100 lbs.) of potatoes. K and I came home laden with veggies from their fabulous garden and delicious organic apples from their orchard, enriched by the experiences and fond memories of our delightful visit.

To give you an idea how awesome their garden is, consider one of the delicious, beautiful Kuri squash brought back home. The squash on the left is from their garden, and the one on the right is from ours. Kuris are typically small squash, averaging two to three pounds. My squash weighs in at 2.5 pounds, about the size of a typical acorn squash. This one from their garden weighs a whopping 9 pounds, and many of them were even larger.

Besides visiting with Mom and her Garden Buddy, one of the pleasures of the trip is enjoying the natural beauty of their land - exploring the woods and rock formations, beholding the ancient, forest-covered mountains, observing multitudes of birds at the feeders, surveying the stars, (which seem so much more numerous in the inky, rural night skies than they are here at home,) and keeping eyes and ears alert for the wildlife that share their land.

I heard packs of coyotes howling at the moon, enjoyed birds at the feeders off the deck, watched deer foraging in the woods, and spied a small rafter of wild turkeys enjoying their breakfast on a slope near the woods' edge. The turkeys are shy, alert, and challenging to photograph. Aware of my every move, it wasn't long before they retreated back into the woods.

It's a joy visiting Mom and her Garden Buddy, playing in the garden, and basking in the warmth of the love we share.