Thursday, July 28, 2016

Mr. Stripey Heirloom Tomato Caprese Salad

Nothing is more summery than a big, juicy tomato fresh off the vine.  The first tomato always brings excitement.  It is usually the small cherry tomatoes, which are delicious and juicy balls of sunshine that you pop into your mouth as soon as they are picked.  The anticipation of the first big tomato is a summer tradition.  While the evening soundtrack of cicadas, crickets and tree frogs plays in the background, I walk the tomato row looking for signs of ripening.  I had my eye on a big Mr. Stripey with anticipation.  It was a giant tomato and seemed to take forever to ripen.

Finally the moment came.  Time to harvest the first big tomato of the year:

Mr. Stripey Tomato: 1 lbs, 2 oz
This is my first year growing Mr. Stripey.  It is an heirloom variety that was discovered by Wayne Hilton in Georgia.  The reason I added him to my grow list, other than his cool stripes and giant size, is that it is an heirloom tomato that has been shown to have very good resistance to late blight.  With hot and humid summers in South Carolina, late blight always shows up in my garden.  Any disease resistance is a positive trait to have.  It is an indeterminate tomato that can grow very large, which I luckily have room for.  I just hope it doesn't get so tall that I can't reach the tomatoes!

What to do with this big, beautiful tomato?  I wanted to highlight it's loveliness and flavor, so I felt a Caprese salad would be perfect.

I assembled some simple ingredients: a big Mr. Stripey tomato, fresh mozzarella, garden fresh basil, olive oil, salt and pepper.

I sliced the tomato and the mozzarella into 1/4 inch slices.  Just look at that beautiful tomato!

Then I layered a tomato slice, a mozzarella slice and topped it with a basil leaf.  I kept making stacks and then drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper.

A beautiful and delicious way to enjoy the first big tomato of summer.  Mr. Stripey has a low acid content, which means that the sweetness comes out.  It is not a strong or tart tomato, so a simple dish highlights its flavor without drowning it out.

If you decide to grow Mr. Stripey, be sure to not overwater.  They are prone to cracking and have a better taste with less water.

Savor those fresh garden tomatoes... summer is fleeting!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Harvest Monday 7/25/16

My exciting harvest this week is my first big tomato of the year, a 1 lb 2 oz Mr. Stripey:

Mr Stripey will get a dedicated post later this week.  As a preview, it was one delicious tomato!

You can see that the tomato is almost as big as my little Rocky Ford melon:

I also harvested the first Striped Armenian Cucumber.  They are technically more closely related to melons than cucumbers, but they taste like cucumbers.  The great thing about them is that they never get bitter in the summer heat and they are pretty cool looking!  The downfall is that they are a bit fuzzy, but you can always peel them.

The other big harvest this week is the first winter squash, a Green Striped Cushaw weighing 10.3 lbs.

This is a great squash to grow in the south because it tolerates heat very well and even more importantly, the squash vine borers don't care for it.  It can be substituted for pumpkin in recipes.  Another great thing about cushaws is that they store well- up to four months and they are surprisingly easy to cut through.  

I've been harvesting lots of other summer veggies here: Cubanelle peppers, Roma tomatoes, Sun Gold cherry tomatoes, Red Noodle beans, okra, zucchini and yellow squash.  The summer squash wilting has begun.  I've pulled two plants and a third one is looking like it is on its way out.  I do have back-up seedlings that I will plant.  We are having some really hot weather, so I was hoping the hundred degree days would pass before planting the new seedlings.

My green bean pile was getting large, so I froze my first batch for the year.  In doing so I discovered a freezer tragedy.  Last Sunday we had a thunderstorm that briefly knocked out the power.  I didn't think anything of it and then on Tuesday I was blanching and freezing green beans.  I took the beans out to the freezer in the garage and find that it is far from cold.  The power outage had reset the outlets in the garage.  All I had to do was press the little reset button on the outlet and the power was back.  The freezer was without power for two days in a 90 plus degree garage and everything was thawed.  The temperature was up to 68 degrees.  The good news is that there wasn't too much in there.  This was probably the best time of year for me to have a freezer crisis.  The only loss from this year's harvests was some cream of broccoli soup that I had put in the freezer on Sunday before the storm.  The rest was leftovers from last year's garden that I hadn't gotten around to eating.  So now I have a clean and empty freezer!

I also harvested the last of the New Mama Super Sweet corn.  I have a second round of Honey Select corn that will hopefully do better, although I find that the insects on and in the corn tend to get worse as summer progresses.

The cucumber harvest continues and in an effort to avoid having too many jars of pickles, I've been experimenting with cucumber recipes including cucumber bread that you can read about here.

My garlic harvest is now dry and cleaned up.  It wasn't a great harvest, but it was a last minute crop planted with grocery store garlic.  This fall I plan to order some varieties to plant.  There are lots of small heads, but any garlic makes me happy.  They will come in handy very soon when the tomato sauce making begins.

Weekly harvests:

Summer squash 5.89 lbs
Peppers 2.94 lbs
Okra   0.63 lbs
Corn  2.35 lbs
Cucumber  11.66 lbs
Green beans  2.98 lbs
Tomatoes 7.57 lbs
Eggplant 0.25 lbs
Melon  4.13 lbs
Cowpeas 2.56 lbs
Garlic  2.90 lbs
Winter squash 10.30 lbs

Yearly harvest: 275 lbs

That's all the harvests coming from my garden this week.  To see what others are harvesting, check out Harvest Monday on Our Happy Acres.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Cooking with Cucumbers

Yes, you read that correctly.. cooking with cucumbers.  If you are surrounded by cucumbers, then I may have some yummy help for you.

I tend to grow too many cucumbers.  Last year I canned over 40 jars of pickles.  The problem is that we are not big pickle eaters.  Everyone I know got pickles for Christmas and any other holiday or occasion I could think of.  I'm trying to start a new gift giving trend!  I've already harvested over twenty pounds of cucumbers this year.  I still have nine jars of pickles in the pantry from last year and just added eight new ones.

I decided it was time to look for other options to use cucumbers besides pickling!

Thanks to Google searching I discovered that you can make cucumber bread much like zucchini bread.  I decided to try making Eggless Chocolate Cucumber Banana QuickBread because I figure that everything tastes better with chocolate!

I assembled the ingredients: flour, dried cherries, vanilla, almonds, salt, sugar, olive oil, bananas, cinnamon, allspice, cucumbers and cocoa  The recipe ended up using two cucumbers, so this is probably not going to put a dent into my cucumber supply unless I eat a ton of bread!  However, friends, relatives, coworkers and neighbors may be more happy to receive bread instead of another jar of pickles!

Tip:  Use a food processor to grate the cucumber.  I didn't and would have preferred smaller pieces and less cucumber chunks in the bread.  I then mashed up the banana, mixed the rest of the ingredients, put it in the oven and waited.

Out came my first ever cucumber bread:

I honestly did not taste a drop of cucumber in the bread.  I used the Special Dark cocoa powder, which gave it a very strong chocolate flavor to mask any hint of cucumber.  It did turn out very, very moist.  Tip:  Drain the shredded cucumber to reduce the moisture.  I also wouldn't mind if it was a bit sweeter, which is probably because of the dark cocoa powder I used. 

Overall, this was a delightfully different way to eat garden fresh cucumbers!  Do you have delightfully different ways to use cucumbers?  If so, I would really like some suggestions before I get buried in pickles, again!

Shared on the Homestead Hop.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Harvest Monday 7/18/16

This week brought more first harvests for the year.  My favorite was a small (1.4 lbs), but oh so delicious melon.  I could smell the sweet aroma as I walked by it in the garden.  This is an heirloom variety called Rocky Ford that has green flesh even when ripe.  Last year was the first time I grew this variety and was scratching my head as to why my melon that looked, smelled and tasted ripe was green.  I finally pulled out the seed packet to learn that was how it was supposed to look.

I cut my little melon the morning I picked it with plans to just eat half.  Well, somehow the whole melon vanished and this time I can't blame my dog!

Another new harvest this week is cowpeas.  If you live in a place that has long and hot summers, I highly recommend growing cowpeas.  They are easy to grow, thrive in the heat, produce plenty, and don't seem to be bothered by the bugs.  The variety I grow is called Pink Eyed Purple Hull.  It is very easy to tell when they are ready to pick because the pods turn a burgundy color.  You can shell and cook them fresh, or freeze them or let them dry.  When looking for recipes, black-eyed peas are the most common type of cowpeas, so that will most likely be the ingredient to look for.  If you have fresh cowpeas and have a recipe for dried ones, just skip the soaking step and adjust the amount.  If a recipe calls for 1 1/2 cups of dried cowpeas that is equivalent to about 4 cups of fresh.

I cooked mine into an Indian dish with dill and corn and other spices and ate with rice.

Other harvests coming in this week include cucumbers, Red Noodle beans, the first Roma tomatoes, cherry tomotoes (Sun Gold), yellow squash, zucchini and okra.

Another first  harvest for the year was eggplant.  I really thought I took a picture, but that seems not to be the case.  It must have been a mental image!  Anyway, it was a Long Purple eggplant. which will be sliced, roasted and added to a pizza later this week.

I made my first batch of dill pickles for 2016.  I have vowed to not can 40 jars of pickles this year!  That was way too many.  I still have nine jars remaining from last year after giving them to everyone I could think of.  I am exploring what else to do with an abundance of cucumbers.

 Weekly harvests:

Broccoli 2.23 lbs
Onion 0.38 lbs
Amaranth 0.78 lbs
Summer squash 8.04 lbs
Peppers 0.74 lbs
Okra 0.37 lbs
Corn 2.21 lbs
Cucumber 12.06 lbs
Green beans 2.86 lbs
Tomatoes 2.04 lbs
Eggplant 0.22 lbs
Melon 1.39 lbs
Cowpeas 2.61 lbs

Yearly harvest: 221 lbs

That's all the harvests coming from my garden this week.  To see what others are harvesting, check out Harvest Monday on Our Happy Acres.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Canning Banana Peppers

July in the garden is filled with blooms, produce, and lots of sunshine along with humidity.  These are the days when the garden must be enjoyed in the morning and the evening to avoid melting in the sun.  I'm always amazed that the garden plants can thrive with so much sunshine.

The peppers love the heat.  My banana pepper plants are not very big, but they are loaded with fruit.  Usually the tomatoes are ahead of the peppers for harvesting, but this year the roles are reversed.  It was time to harvest and do something with my abundance of banana peppers.

I harvested a little over 2 lbs of banana peppers.  Domino poses with the bounty while keeping an eye out for rabbits and squirrels.  It seems the rabbits are getting closer and closer to the garden this year.  I haven't noticed any damage inside the garden, yet.  Domino isn't the only one looking out for rabbits.  The other day J saw a large coyote just beyond the garden!  I guess the good thing is that the rabbits have a natural predator; the bad thing is that I worry about Domino having a run-in with a coyote.

As the sun gets higher in the sky and Domino pants more and more, we take our harvest into the kitchen.   Here peppers are washed and chopped.  I was smart this year and used rubber gloves for handling the peppers.  Even though banana peppers are not that spicy, I always manage to touch my eye.  The worst was when I put my contacts in after handling banana peppers.  The oils transferred to my contact and the burning and tears wouldn't stop, so I had to put the pepper contaminated finger back into my eye to take out the contact.  Lesson learned!

Then I cleaned the jars and filled them with a boiling vinegar mixture.  The recipe I used came from the So Easy to Preserve book from the University of Georgia. The ingredients, other than peppers, include cider vinegar, canning salt, mustard seed and celery seed.  I have now added, "grow mustard for seed" to my list of things to do.  I've never grown mustard because I'm not fond of the greens, but I never thought about growing them for seeds.  Finally, the filled jars are placed into a steaming water bath.

Out comes preserved banana peppers.  Summer heat and sunshine are captured in each jar and can be enjoyed long after the season has passed.

Shared on the Homestead Hop.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Harvest Monday 7/11/16

The big harvest announcement this week, even though it is small, is the first tomatoes:

These are Sungold tomatoes, which are deliciously sweet cherry tomatoes.  For me this is the true indication that summer has arrived.

However, I have a sad tomato story.  On Saturday I was weeding around the tomatoes and there were five ripe Sungolds.  My basket was on the other side of the garden, so I picked the little tomatoes and put them in the path so that I would see them.  I continued on with my gardening and when I came back to collect my little tomatoes, they were gone!  Instead of tomatoes, there was a guilty looking Domino!

Good thing he has those sad eyes and the pathetic, "are you mad at me?" look that makes it hard for me to stay angry.

There was an abundance of other veggies this week.  I harvested most of the broccoli heads, which amounted to a little over 6 lbs.

We had steamed broccoli for several meals, but with the abundance of broccoli I froze the rest.  This was one of my gardening goals for this year: grow enough broccoli to freeze.

My banana peppers are doing very well and I harvested over 2 lbs, which I used to can some pepper rings that I will post about later this week.

I've switched to one of my summer greens, amaranth.  The aphid explosion I had earlier this year seems to have gotten better.  These get cooked with eggs for breakfast along with any other random veggies I have on hand.

I'm still harvesting the New Mama Super Sweet corn.  I am obsessed with grilling corn although the last time I meant to set a timer and got distracted online and almost burnt it!

Some of the ears are only partially filled, which may be due to poor pollination or insects (Japanese beetles or earwigs) eating the silks.  I've also run into some ears with corn earworms.  I usually just take out the worm, cut out the bad spots and continue with my corn eating.  Organic gardening and eating isn't for those that are squimish about bugs!

Other harvests this week include cucumbers, summer squash, green beans, okra and bell peppers.

I have been making and eating cucumber salads this week.  I will need to start pickling soon.

I also discovered I way to cook okra that isn't slimy and disgusting!  You can read about it here.  J got to eat his first ever okra and said it is was fine, luckily he wasn't witness to the slimy blob of okra I had prior to cooking!

Weekly harvests:

Broccoli  6.3 lbs
Onion 1.5 lbs
Amaranth 4.6 oz
Summer squash 2.4 lbs
Peppers 2.3 lbs
Okra 5.7 oz
Corn 5.4 lbs
Cucumber 7.9 lbs
Green beans 15.1 oz
Tomatoes 2 oz

Yearly harvests: 185 lbs

That's all the harvests coming from my garden this week.  To see what others are harvesting, check out Harvest Monday on Our Happy Acres.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Roasted Summer Garden Vegetables

Summer brings an abundance of veggies from the garden.  After all the planning, planting, tending and growing it is time to reap the rewards, but that means I need to do something with all those veggies.  This week brought yellow squash, zucchini, green (and purple) beans, peppers and okra.

I'm not a fan of okra, but yet grew it, so after searching for recipes I decided that I should try roasting it.  I preheated the oven to 400 degrees and then chopped all the veggies and tossed them with olive oil and sprinkled with salt.  I kept all the vegetables separate on the baking sheet since they would take different amounts of time to roast.  In retrospect, I would start with the vegetables that took the longest (zucchini and squash) and then add the okra, followed by green beans and peppers.

To turn my roasted vegetables into a meal, I cooked some brown rice in the rice cooker and then made some basil-walnut pesto and tossed it with chickpeas.

The result was brown rice topped with garden fresh roasted vegetables, pesto chickpeas, a sprinkling of Parmesan and garnished with basil.  I am pleased to report that the okra was not slimy.  I was concerned when I put the gooey blob of okra onto the baking sheet, but after roasting it was crisp and do I dare say delicious? Well, at least I will say that when the okra was mixed with the rest of the roasted vegetables it blended into a delicious dish.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Fall Planting Begins

It seems that summer crops have just begun.  I got my first tomato today and I'm still waiting for my melons to ripen.  I also just harvested numerous broccoli heads from my spring planting.  Then I looked at my garden planner and saw that this week I need to get broccoli and cabbage seeds started inside.  Already!

I love how I map out my garden plan in the middle of winter while cozy on the couch, likely with a cup of tea.  It seems that anything is possible.  When I looked at my layout, I planned to have an entire row devoted to broccoli this fall.  That amounts to 124 broccoli plants!  The problem is that broccoli has to be started inside long before it gets planted in the garden, which means I need to plant and grow 124 broccoli seedlings while harvesting, weeding and preserving a busy summer garden.  We will see if this happens.  I do love broccoli.  It is one of my favorite vegetables.  I remember making this plan and dreaming of having so much broccoli that I freeze the excess.

I did decide to slightly alter the plan and attempt growing some cauliflower and Brussels sprouts.  I have never been successful growing cauliflower and had one successful attempt at Brussels sprouts.  It has been awhile since my last try, so why not.  I had planned to spread out my broccoli seed planting over the next three weeks.  This week I ended up planting six cauliflower, three Brussels sprouts and 33 broccoli along with ten cabbage (three Golden Acre, three Charleston, three Late Flate Dutch and one Red Cabbage).

 The seedling tray will stay inside where temperatures are cool until they germinate.  Then I will move them to the screened back porch that gets morning sun and afternoon shade until they are ready to be transplanted into the garden.

Here's to fall gardening in early July!

Monday, July 4, 2016

Harvest Monday 7/4/2016

Happy 4th of July from my garden!  We finally got a good amount of much needed rain this week.  It looks like the coming week will be hot and dry, so I'm sure the veggies appreciated some rainfall. There were plenty of veggies from the garden for our 4th of July grilling celebration.  No cookout is complete without some fresh grilled corn.

This is New Mama Super Sweet Corn, which is an open pollinated variety.  It was very delicious, however, I had horrible germination rates with this variety.  Out of over 200 seeds, I only got about 60 plants.  I'm going to save some seeds just to see how they do, but I did go ahead and plant a later round of Honey Select corn.

There was a repeat from last week, another wild blackberry pie.  There are still plenty of blackberries even though there seem to be endless flocks of birds.  We picked plenty on a very hot and humid day, which was a very sweaty endeavor.  However, a scrumptious blackberry pie for the holiday was worth the sweat.

I also harvested peppers, squash and zucchini this week.  I seem to be getting about one squash or zucchini per day, which has been manageable.  The peppers and squash got grilled along with some onions.  The pepper plants are loaded with fruit.  I just need to be a bit more patient and wait for them to turn red.

The broccoli is doing well.

And was used in this broccoli and quinoa casserole.  The recipe called for pesto, so I picked some basil and made my first batch of the year.

I got my first beans this week.  I think I will use them in some stir fry since I don't have very many at this point.  I've also been harvesting a few okra.  I'm not sure why I decided to plant a single okra plant.  I'm not really a fan of it and so far I haven't used any of it.  I did discover that J has never had okra, so I need to figure out how to introduce him to it.  Hopefully he will like it more than me!

The cucumbers are also getting picked regularly, just a couple per day.  I haven't begun pickling them yet, but that will have to begin soon.  I also dug up the last of the spring planted carrots.  It has been a very good carrot year for me.

There was also some more spring planted Red Creole Onions.

Weekly harvests:

Carrots 17 oz
Broccoli 2.7 lbs
Beets 2 lbs
Onion 4.9 lbs
Summer squash  7 lbs
Peppers 14.1 oz
Okra  2.9 oz
Corn 1.8 lbs
Cucumber 4.3 lbs
Green beans 3.2 oz

Yearly harvest: 157.7 lbs

That's all the harvests coming from my garden this week.  To see what others are harvesting, check out Harvest Monday on Our Happy Acres.