Monday, June 27, 2011

our homestead: the growing season's really here at last

We've been having a very mild start to summer...a few sunny days here and there. Still some overcast but temperatures are thankfully rising. For instance, though it was very cloudy the other day, it was at least a balmy 70 degrees out. I'm still hoping for more sun (like everyone), though I've always joked that summer in Western Washington really starts on July 5th (the day after Independence Day as it usually rains on the 4th of July). Anyway, though everything will be late this year, my vegetable garden is really taking off. The tomatoes, celery and cucumbers are becoming thick and lush in my little green house (see top photo). In fact, I've been munching on a cucumber here and there as I water my tomatoes (which finally have tiny green tomatoes after days of hand-pollinating their flowers with an electric toothbrush). Part of my morning ritual these past few weeks has been to snack on sugar snap peas straight off the vine and leaves off my lacinato kale after taking care of the tomatoes and cucumbers. I'm pretty proud of my little kale patch- I've heard that this year has been hard on this particular type of kale. Somehow I have it growing quite happily in my yard. My potatoes are also incredibly bushy and flowering...all sorts of colors: purple, peach, yellow and white (see purple flower photo above). When potato plants start to flower it means that tuber development has begun. I've already snitched and enjoyed a few small fingerlings and some red potatoes from two of my plants. The last photo in the line above is of me hiding in my pea and potato patch. I also have about 100 onions (red, sweet and yellow) growing, rainbow corn popping up, marigolds blooming and my sunflowers are almost hip-level. I'm waiting for my garlic to be ready to harvest...then I'll be able to plant pumpkins and some more corn starts I have growing in little pots in my greenhouse.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

DIY almanac: Harvesting garlic scapes for spicy pickles

It's almost time to harvest garlic...but not quite yet. First off, the garlic's going to try and pop out some flowers. These curly green shoots, known as scapes or ramps, which hide within the garlic greens, are absolutely delicious...kind of like garlicy asparagus. It's beneficial to pluck them because instead of letting them flower and seed into bulbils (tiny, tiny cloves of garlic), picking the scapes will allow the garlic bulb down in the ground to have more energy directed towards its growth, resulting in larger cloves. I think it's far more time efficient to grow garlic from large cloves (which will grow into large heads of garlic in one season) since little bulbils can take years to grow to good size. Anyway, scapes are also too good to miss! If you don't have garlic growing in your yard at the moment you should be able to find these at the farmers market now.

There are a few different ways I like to prepare scapes. First off, they are very good roasted on a cookie sheet with a drizzle of olive oil and sea salt. Mmm...toss some roasted scapes on top of salmon. They are also delicious when chopped up, sauteed and mixed in some mashed potatoes. I'm also experimenting with making spicy scape pickles this year. My recipe is will want to adjust the liquid pickling mix based off of how many scapes and jars you have for canning. Essentially you want to be able to pack the jars and have enough liquid to cover the scapes.

Spicy Scape Pickles

A basket full of scapes
1 quart distilled white vinegar
1 quart of water
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup salt
Dill sprigs (you'll want 1-2 per jar)
Fresh Jalapenos, sliced into circles (2-3 per jar)
1-2 garlic cloves per jar
Optional ingredients: Sliced hot red pepper, mustard seeds, etc.

Wash mason jars and lids in hot, soapy water or run through the dishwasher to sanitize. Prepare canning equipment (fill a stockpot with water and bring to a simmer, keep lids in a saucepan over a simmer, etc). In a large sauce pot, heat vinegar, water, sugar and salt at a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt. Keep hot. Toss jalapenos and garlic cloves into jars, then pack with garlic scapes, leaving about a half inch of room at the top of each jar. Feel free to cut scapes if you'll be able to pack more in. Add dill sprigs to jars. Ladle hot vinegar mix into jars, leaving 1/4-inch head space. Using a non-metallic spatula or spoon, slide down along an inner side of each jar to release any hidden air bubbles. Wipe mouths of jars clean and then fix on their lids. Boil in your hot water bath for up to 15 minutes and then allow jars to rest on the counter until they've sealed. Your pickles will be ready in 4-6 weeks.

our homestead: baby bumps and apple blossoms

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to take some photos documenting the celebration and anticipation of the little bundle of joy my friends, Ryan and Juanita, are expecting on June 27th. They will be having a boy named Bronson. I decided to take most of their photos within and underneath the hundred year old apple trees at my house and the wild orchard hidden in the thicket across the street. These are the same apple trees that I make apple sauce, pie and apple butter with every year, and they are very special to me. I'm so happy for Ryan and Juanita and look forward to meeting their little man very soon.