By Valerie Barr
It is mid Summer and we are beginning to feel the seasonal changes with shorter days and cooling temperatures. After 32C for a few days in early August, 24C now feels cool and I have started wearing a jacket on our evening walks. The long stretch of time from my last Blog entry at the end of June was caused by Summer and all its activities. Growing food keeps gardeners busy every day. Along with the continuous work comes a great deal of satisfaction, and much soul calming time found by touching the earth and its produce. Those of us lucky enough to be gardening have hopefully had an easier and calmer experience during this COVID summer.
The noticeable changes in our garden from year to year keeps us in tune with the vagaries of the weather, and all things that weather influences. We have had early heat, and then late rain. Even in August we are getting enough rain to minimize the need for watering, and it is sparing us unnecessary checks to see how our shallow well’s water-level is holding. There are also negative aspects to the timing and duration of the rain. The summer damp has brought on more predation by slugs and insects. Are there any gardeners on Quadra who have not been affected by slugs this year?
One lesson learned is where not to plant the cabbages in the future. This year, the cabbage crop was too close to the raspberry patch, which harbours slugs and sow bugs. I have enough cabbages headed up to satisfy for sauerkraut and some yummy coleslaws, but bugs and slugs have taken the majority of the plants. I have just harvested my first green cabbage though and plan to make a delicious coleslaw.
Ongoing since June our harvest has been plentiful, with much more to come in the next couple of months. One freezer, dedicated to this year’s crop, is filling up with berries and different types of pesto. Will there be room for everything this year?
At the end of June we froze 42 pounds of Sour or Pie Cherries. The weight was calculated by weighing one full freezer bag, times the number of bags harvested. Every year I jar a blend of Sour Cherry, Prune Plum, and Candied Ginger Conserve, using little or no sugar (except from the ginger). I am just waiting for the plum harvest to cook up this standard Christmas gift.
I have avoided pie crust for many years because of the amount of fat the dough requires. For a very good friend, who requested in detail how he would like a pie, I renewed those lost skills and presented him with home-made Cherry Pie. I have to say it was delicious, and lovely to share within our ‘bubble.’ Now I have leftover pie dough in the freezer and am thinking about quiche.
The end of the raspberry crop is still producing enough for breakfast. It has been a luscious year for size, colour, and flavour of these red beauties. There are plenty frozen, plenty shared with friends (who pick their own), and on July 26th I canned 35 jars (1/2 pints – 250 ml) of Raspberry Vinegar, from last year’s leftover freezer inventory. This Raspberry Vinegar is in demand within our circle. I have shared the recipe at the bottom of this Blog.
I remember watching the bees working hard on the blueberry flowers in early May, and we certainly have had a magnificent crop. The weather has been perfect for blueberries – early heat and late rain. The crop is almost finished but on August 10th we are still picking from our three bushes.
The early cool weather crops of peas, lettuce, and red mustard leaf have lasted beyond their season. I am sure it was the timing of the rain which extended their harvest. The last Sugar Snap Peas were harvested on July 24th. We frequently stir fried them, but mostly ate them as a raw vegetable, often sliced thin to add to wraps and salads. The end of the lettuce was picked August 2nd as the last few plants began to bolt. Since washed lettuce can keep fresh for a long time in the fridge, we had our last lettuce salad on August 9th – to me this is a very long season.
We did have some delicious Romaine salads and I am happy with the new variety Coastal Star from West Coast Seeds. It is a thinner and drier leaf than the succulent Romaine we can buy at the store. I suspect commercial Romaine crops are forced with nitrogen to speed growth, with larger mid ribs and fleshier cell structure. With toasted sunflower/pumpkin seed and a lemon juice, anchovy paste, garlic, spice, and olive oil dressing, our home-grown Romaine was very satisfying.
The Red Sails lettuce produced for a longer time than the Romaine, and was greatly enjoyed with sliced raw vegetables and Raspberry Vinegar. The red leaf mustard, while a great addition to the diet in the earliest part of the season, seems to get old as the summer progresses. I have frozen some red mustard leaf pesto and will see if we like the flavour in soup.
We needed space for the vining winter squash to grow out, so Grant dug the first 40 pounds of potatoes on July 20th and we shared the bounty with our relatives. All my concern about wire worm numbers on the soil surface in the early part of the season has not shown up as damaged potatoes. So far, we are harvesting a lovely, fresh, and un-blemished crop.
Now is the season for potato salad, and I am amazed when, no matter how large a bowl I make, it disappears so quickly. My secret recipe calls for the juice and chopped pickles from my home-canned dill pickles, with some sweet white onion, dried dill weed, and a touch of mustard powder. The eggs and mayonnaise finish off the flavour.
We grow a small crop of blue-fleshed potatoes, and I did make blue mashed potatoes a few weeks ago. Blue fleshed potatoes are just for fun – the flavour of the blue potatoes is quite nice and rich but not exceptionally different from normal mashed potatoes. Being blue, perhaps it has different phytonutrients than white or yellow potatoes.
Our Pickle Cukes are doing well. I planted six vines and am harvesting cukes every other day. I keep them in the fridge in a brown paper bag until I have enough to make a batch of Dill Pickles. I don’t wash them before I store them, just dry wipe the debris off with a cloth. On August 4th I made the first 5 quarts of Dill Pickles and now have about half the amount of cukes in the fridge for the next batch. I use dill weed seed-heads, 3+ cut cloves of garlic, and a good dash of whole black pepper corns per jar for the spice.
I am also harvesting zucchini every two days so watch out if you come close to our house for the rest of the season. Anyone who shows up, who is not gardening, leaves with a bag of zucchini and exuberant instructions on how delicious they are when pan fried or barbequed. We have been eating small ones raw in salads and cooking them in any stir fry or casserole type dish. This is all from two plants.
The kale plants (3 varieties) are of course doing well. We have fried or steamed kale for breakfast, kale chips as a snack, and kale added to stir fry dinners. I made delicious kale chips from Lacinato Kale on August 5th and will make some more next week. I am not sure how long kale chips will keep before going soft, simply because they don’t last long in our house. On August 6th, I made 9 containers (250 ml) of kale pesto which I will add to soups and stews etc. through the winter.
We are also eating the beginnings of the tomato crop, enjoying the first Cherry tomato varieties. The early fruit of Aunt Molly’s tomatillos are also being eaten as snacks, with many more of the green husks ripening on the plants. I am delighted to say that the first Eggplant fruit is showing with lots of flowers on the plants.
Ah, basil! We love it, especially on a winter’s night with pasta. In the last few years, I have changed the way I think about basil pesto – I am much more experimental when adding different flavours. For many years, I bought non-dairy grated Parmesan cheese in bulk (I am lactose intolerant) to make the traditional pesto of basil, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, and olive oil. For some reason it is now difficult to find non dairy Parmesan-style cheese. Now I make pesto without cheese and have been trying all kinds of different flavours. You definitely need ‘lots of garlic,’ and some kind of nuts, for basil pesto – after these basic ingredients, there are all kinds of interesting recipes. On July 30th, I made the first batch with blanched sliced almonds, nutritional yeast, and a good drizzle of toasted sesame oil – we both enjoyed the flavour of the sesame oil in this batch. On August 9th, I made basil, walnut, and mint pesto, and added a few Jalapeno peppers. I fell in love with the scent of this recipe – to me it smelled like fresh sweet green apples.
I really like pine nuts in this pesto – they add a distinct flavour – so I may spend the big dollars this summer for some pine nuts. I never eat basil pesto on the day I make it. For some reason I cannot taste the full flavour after working with the basil for so many hours. Each batch (3 x recipe) produces six dinners for the freezer. See these two recipes at the bottom of this Blog.
When I make kale and red leaf mustard pesto, I simply chop it in the food processor and coat it with olive oil to protect it in the freezer. The word pesto in Italian is defined as ‘to pound or crush.’ Traditionally this is done with a mortar.
I have started drying some herbs. When the dill plants were small, I collected some of the excess, hung it to dry, and then cut it with scissors – it keeps in my spice chest for years. I have Mojito mint drying now and will soon harvest oregano.
I make this in volume so I will write the recipe as I make it and you can reduce to suit your needs.
12 pkgs (medium zip lock) or about 32 cups frozen raspberries
8 cups white wine vinegar+/- 1500 ml about 3 bottles (Quadra stores don’t seem to carry this so – CR)
sugar – determine amount – see below
Thaw raspberries in 2 large stainless steel or glass bowls. Add vinegar and cover in fridge for about 20 hours
Strain juice and screen out pulp. Measure liquid into stainless steel pot
Add ½ measure of sugar to 1 measure of juice. Bring to boil and simmer for 10 minutes
Jar in sterile bottles and can in hot water bath – 15 minutes at a boil for 250 ml jars, and 20 minutes for 500 ml jars. (For detailed instructions on how to can click here.)
Recipe requires this amount of sugar to darken raspberry colour and counter acid of vinegar
Stores well when sealed. Half or quarter the recipe for reduced volume.
To prepare a vinaigrette for salad use equal parts vinegar and olive oil with freshly ground black pepper. Let dressing sit awhile to absorb the pepper flavour. Some friends drink Raspberry Vinegar as a flavouring in mineral water.
Almond Basil Pesto
4 cups basil – stems removed (I don’t wash the basil – I pick it in the heat of the day so oil content is high)
3 – 6 cloves garlic to taste
2 cups sliced almonds or whole almonds with skin on
1 – 2 tbsp nutritional yeast (or more if you really like the flavour)
Instead of nutritional yeast sub real Parmesan or other dry cheese.
toasted sesame oil to taste (a drizzle)
olive oil 1 cup or less to help blend and chop the leaves plus to cover pesto in container for freezer
In food processor finely chop garlic and nuts. Add some olive oil, nutritional yeast and sesame oil. Put in basil leaves and process until it becomes a coarse paste. Add olive oil as it is blending to aid in the mixing of ingredients to a paste. Olive oil protects the nutrients in the pesto by coating. I always pour olive oil on the top of the container to protect it from freezer burn. I fill 250 ml containers. One 250 ml is enough for 2 people for a pasta serving. We add butter and non dairy cheese when mixing it in the pasta.
This recipe makes 500ml or about 2 cups of pesto – I usually triple the amount for one batch.
Basil Mint Walnut Pesto
4 cups basil–stems removed (I don’t wash the basil – I pick it in the heat of the day so oil content is high)
1 cup mint leaves stems removed
6 tbsp Parmesan cheese (optional)
6 – 8 cloves garlic to taste
1 cup olive oil or less
1 ½ cup walnut halves
Jalapeno pepper 1 or 2 per recipe – Do you like it hot?
In food processor finely chop garlic, Jalapeno, and walnuts. Add some olive oil as it is blending to aid in the mixing of ingredients to a paste. Add Parmesan, then basil and mint leaves. Add more olive oil as needed. Olive oil protects the nutrients in the pesto by coating. I always pour olive oil on the top of the pesto in the container to protect it from freezer burn. I fill 250 ml containers. One 250ml is enough for 2 people for a pasta serving. We add butter and non dairy cheese when mixing it with pasta.
This makes 500ml or about 2 cups of pesto – I usually triple the amount for one batch.
Next Post I will offer some more recipes and talk about harvesting tomatoes, beets, bean, corn, cabbage, etc.
Grant Hayden and Val Barr are happily retired to play in their garden as they like. Val worked in horticulture for almost 45 years and started her first food garden at 18. Grant grew up as a prairie farm-boy and his last occupation was in forestry. He has planted thousands of trees and cut quite a few down as well.