Category Archives: In the Garden

Two for one Canning

First things First

Before anyone gets any crazy ideas about me, let me begin by clarifying that this canning project was done in the late weeks of September, before Ellie was born. At this point I’m not sure how it works to squeeze peeling, coring, straining and boiling into a busy day of bottling, swaddling, changing and swinging.

Also, the canning tools have been reassigned to the never ending job of pulling bottle parts out of the sterilizing pot. And let me mention here that if you ever want to sterilize plastic baby bottle parts in a steamer on the stove, make sure there’s water in the pan beneath. Otherwise you may find that the parts just melt right to the pan. (Don’t ask how I know that.)

Back to canning…

In late September, I used a small portion of our apple harvest to make and can apple butter. The two-fer mentioned in the title was an accidental byproduct of the butter. The apples cooked for a long time, and were ready to can, except that there was still too much liquid to make the butter really spreadable.

I scooped the hot apple butter right into a flour-sack towel, twisted it tight, and rich, golden, syrupy juice which tasted a lot like apple cider poured through into the bowl beneath. A little cinnamon and sugar later, and we had apple cider concentrate to can as well.

What to do:

I’d put a recipe down, but its so easy that it seems silly. Peel and core apples, put them in a pot on the stove with some water, cook over medium heat until the apples are soft. I had a vanilla bean on hand that I added while it cooked.

When the apples are soft and enough water has evaporated that you’re happy with the consistency, its apple sauce. Sweeten with cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla or sugar to taste, if you’d like.

Keep cooking it, adding a small amount of water if necessary to keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pot. When the mixture has turned deep brown color, the sugars have caramelized and you’ve got apple butter. Again, sweeten or season to taste.

If the butter is soft and and still too soupy, strain out the liquid and you’ve got apple cider concentrate, which you can either can or freeze in ice cube trays for single-serve, just-add-boiling-water cider storage.


Cherries (again!)

When we left for London, I don’t think I saw even one unripe fruit outside. But ten days later, we came home to the tree loaded with beautiful golden-red ripe cherries. Even better, we discovered a second cherry tree in the front yard that was also covered in fruit! We did want to beat the birds to the fruit, but there was no Anne of Green Gables style roof climbing/picking for me this year. Hubbs safely got the ladder out and took care of all the climbing and picking. I just handed up the basket.

So this morning, with the cherries harvested and baked up, I sat down to check the blog and see what I’d done last year. I got to the part about leftover-cherry-cobbler for breakfast, and looked down at the bowl of leftover-cherry-cobbler in my lap that I was eating as I read… I see that its useful to keep a record here of what I do, so I don’t go every year making cherry cobbler (and eating it for breakfast) and thinking I’m being original.

last year’s canning

1. Last May I canned and froze cherries, with good intentions of using them over the winter. The new crop reminded me they were still sitting in the pantry and freezer. Well, it’s silly to preserve food and not use it, so I opened up a jar of last year’s canned cherries; they were delicious. (And the years’ infusing of cherries in the simple syrup made delicious cherry lemonade!) The frozen cherries were also great, and really convenient since they were pitted and then individually frozen. The lesson is, remember to use the things I preserve, otherwise don’t waste the time.

2. Confession: I’m pretty sure the reason I think the red and yellow cherries are so beautiful are that they remind me of this.

3. I’m not a big one for specialized kitchen gadgets (called unitaskers on this uncluttering site), but every year when I pull out the cherry pitter, I’m so glad I own one.

4. For your benefit and my own, when next year I have the original idea of making a cobbler, here’s the recipe. The topping was nice and biscuit-y, and the whole thing wasn’t overly sweet.

Cherry Cobbler serves 8

  • 4 to 6 cups fresh sweet cherries, pitted
  • 3/4 cup sugar (for cherries)
  • 2.5 cups flour
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar (for topping)
  • 4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 egg
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 12 tbsp. (1.5 sticks) melted butter
  • 1.5 tsp. vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Butter a 10 inch pie pan or baking dish. Pour cherries in pan, sprinkle with 3/4 cup sugar.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, stir flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Melt butter in a medium bowl. Add egg, buttermilk, and vanilla, whisk until well blended. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and gently fold with a rubber spatula until the flour is moistened and the mixture forms a soft dough.
  4. Use cookie scoop or spoon to scoop dough onto cherries. Bake until the filling is bubbling, the topping is golden brown, and a toothpick inserted into the topping comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Remove from oven, cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream.

Six Vases Six Ways #3

Note: Yes, this series is being written slowly. I see that this little parenthesis was opened last July and I’m still only halfway through! But I haven’t forgotten about it, and so I persevere:

Six Vases Six Ways #3: Bulbs

Inspiration for this post came thanks to the chickens. I went to check up on them as they roamed around the yard (I believe this makes them free-range chickens) and found them all scratching through the leaves beyond the compost pile on the side of the house. And all around them, bulbs were popping up! This is the first January we’ve lived in this house, and I certainly did not plant these bulbs, and if it weren’t for the chickens I’m sure it would have been awhile till I braved the mud and visited the side-yard. So I grabbed a shovel and dug around the roots to remove a large cluster of bulbs.

A spray with the hose rinsed away all the dirt and rocks from the roots and the roots were teased apart to separate out some of the bulbs. These were put into small vases that had marbles at the bottom and water poured to just below the top of the marbles. The large cluster of bulbs went into the big vase, right on top of the pebbles it held when I used it as a candle holder.

Although the stems were all bent sadly over when they went into the vase, by the next day, with some water and sunlight, they had all perked right back up. The buds look ready to open anytime, and then we’ll see whats inside…

When Life Gives You Vines

There’s this shop on the drive home from our favorite Napa picnic spot which sells dried grape vine decorations – wall-hangings, baskets, reindeer, etc., but especially beautiful wreaths. We like to stop and look, but since these are wine country souvenirs, made from real grape vines from the Napa Valley, the prices are, shall we say, more than I’d like to pay. The idea has been tucked snugly in the back of my mind, though, and so a few weeks ago, when our taller-than-I am and completely un-fruitful grape vines needed to be brought back under control, I had a plan. I whacked the vine back pretty heavily and ended up with a nice open space in the garden and a big pile of vines and leaves.

Not quite sure how to start, but figuring that since my goal was just to make a circle it didn’t matter too much, I bent the first vine into the right size loop, and then twisted another around that and tucked the ends into the twist that was forming.

The pile ran out pretty quickly (I was trying to stretch them out to make four wreaths) so I left them in the sun to dry. It was surprising to see after a few weeks that instead of the vines shrinking and tightening the wreath up, it seemed like they expanded and made the whole thing looser. We have a potato vine (a flowering vine, not a vegetable plant) which conveniently needed pruning, so I twisted those around the dried grapevines  to add some bulk and strength.

Then last week, with fall upon us and the house ready for a wreath, I pulled one inside and looked around for decorations.

The long strands of leaf garlands looked like a good candidate, and I strung the rest of the old buttons on thread to make a button garland – this turned out very cute, but be very careful if you make one, its a nightmare to untangle!

Then with the garlands, some leftover pieces from sister’s wedding flowers -those yellow polka-dots are an amazing flower that the florist called billybob (not sure that’s how its spelled) – and three paper leaves, it was ready for the wall. Thanks for the idea, pricey vine-wreath-store!

Just Add Chickens

My sweet Hubbs has been hobbling around home the past few days, sore from this weekend spent making good on his Valentine promise: some chickens and their very own Hubbs-built coop. With a weekend finally free, he was able to get to work cutting the pile of lumber that’s been staring him down since February; he’s got lots to show for his hard work: the doors working, the little roost in place, and a second floor is built and ready for eggs. The only thing we need now is a roof and some chickens, so, I think its time to start figuring out what our little flock is going to look like.

The Garden Ark, as the coop plans are named, holds 4 chickens. I’m interested in all pets earning their keep, so I want to find 4 chickens that lay beautiful looking eggs and lots of them. And I want friendly chickens who don’t mind being held sometimes.

I’ve done some reading online about good chicken qualities and have come across very dignified sounding breed names, like Barnevelder, Australorp, Ameraucana, and Welsumer (Although the more research I do, the more I think those grand names belong to pretty common kinds of chickens!). According to the reading, having one of each of these chickens should yield us a solid dozen per week, including blue, dark red, green and brown eggs.

Get ready to see chick pics in the next couple weeks!

Some pointers from a cactus guy

While enjoying a free class on succulents this morning at our local nursery (thanks again for the invite, T!), I saw that my conception of succulents had been far too narrow. Cactus, of course, I expected to see. But geraniums? Cucumbers? Some kinds of poinsettias?¬† And all this time I thought succulents were either sharp or boring…

The instructor explained that the easiest way to kill your succulents is to let them be wet and cold at the same time. So he advised planting them in pots and bringing them indoors during the winter – even your 10 foot tall potted cactus which would be “the coolest houseplant ever!” (this is debatable, I think…).

When I got home I promptly removed my mint-chocolate geranium cutting from the water jar that it (hasn’t) been rooting in, since just learning that the best way to root a succulent is to leave it on the counter for a week to dry out and then just plant it.
And, unrelated but learned in the class, if you bring home beach sand to use in your garden, boil it first to get rid of any lingering sand bugs. This tip was in the context of planting succulent gardens that look like the bottom of the ocean.

So there’s my helpful succulent tips for the day, in case more are growing in your yard than you originally thought.


Pear Disaster Cake

This gallery contains 2 photos.

Lest you think that every endeavor turns out to be easy, or that all my cooking is adventure-free (no one actually thought those things, did they?) I bring you: last nights’ baked failure. I decided to whip up a quick … Continue reading