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Posts Tagged ‘gardens’

Aunt Ruby's German Green tomato seedlings.

Aunt Ruby’s German Green tomato seedlings.

The tomato seeds that I started last week have germinated just in time to usher in the first day of spring!  After a very white winter these tiny green sprouts are a welcome site.  Thanks to slightly warmer temperatures and yesterday’s down-pouring rain most of the snow has melted off of my vegetable gardens.  It looks like spring has finally come!

This is our "big" vegetable garden.  It's a bit over 60 feet long

This is our “big” vegetable garden. It’s a bit over 60 feet long

The small garden still has a bit of snow.

The small garden still has a bit of snow.

If the weather stays nice I'll be planting rows of sugar snaps peas along the white picket fence in this garden in a few weeks.

If the weather stays nice I’ll be planting rows of sugar snap peas along the white picket fence in this garden in a few weeks.

The cilantro seedlings are starting to unfold... searching for the sunbeams shining in through my windows.

The cilantro seedlings are starting to unfold… searching for the sunbeams shining in through my windows.

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Patty pan squash, pink eyed purple podded peas, and heirloom tomatoes growing in my garden.

Patty pan squash, pink eyed purple podded peas, and heirloom tomatoes growing in my garden.

Every year I grow an abundance of summer squash in my gardens.  One of my favorites is patty pan squash.  The doll making retreat that I held last fall was in late September, when my squash were still plentiful, but my tomatoes and eggplants were at the end of their seasons.  You can change the proportions of the vegetables in this recipe to fit what you have available.  Ratatouille normally has quite a few tomatoes in it.IMG_2049

Ratatouille

3 large Vidalia onions

4 assorted heirloom tomatoes

2 small eggplants

6 medium patty pan squash

8 ounces shredded Parmesan cheese

6 fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped

1/4 cup olive oil

sea salt

Wash the vegetables and cut them into 1 inch cubes.  Put the vegetables  into a crock pot with a removable stoneware insert.  Toss with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt to taste.  Place the stoneware insert in a 300 degree oven for 3 hours.  Remove from oven and refrigerate overnight.  The next day, put the insert into the crock pot.  Add Parmesan cheese and the basil, stir lightly to mix.  Cook in the crock pot on high for 4 hours.

IMG_2057

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One of my favorite fall scents is the clean, somewhat citrus scent of the Osage Orange.   I’m also quite fond of their appearance and whenever I have any available, I place them around my home in large bowls and cluster them in groups with pumpkins and gourds.

I’m forced to import the large, eerie green globes from Nebraska, on fall trips to the Midwest to visit my family.  On one memorable occasion, my sister and I climbed on top of the roof of a minivan and tried jumping high enough to pick the fruits from a mature tree.  It was not an entirely successful maneuver, as the tree was  huge and we were taking turns juggling her infant son at the same time.

The following are some of the things I’ve learned in my 20 year quest to bring Osage Oranges to Connecticut.

1. It is much easier to pick the fruits up off the ground than it is to pick them off of the tree. 🙂

2. Even if you spend enough to mail them by Priority Mail, Osage Oranges will grow moldy when shut up in a box and shipped from the Midwest to the East Coast.

3. Osage Oranges are very dense and heavy.  An important fact to remember when stuffing as many as possible into your carry on luggage!

4. When you order Osage Orange trees from a nursery, the only ones you can buy are the size of a #2 pencil.

5. Osage Orange trees also have thorns!!!

6. Be really, really careful when zipping past an Osage Orange tree while riding on a lawn tractor!!!  (reread point #5)

7.  When waiting for your Osage Oranges to be really ripe, prior to harvesting the seeds, beware of fruit flies.

8.  Tossing ripe Osage Oranges onto the ground in likely looking locations and waiting for nature to take it’s course, does not result in an Osage forest…

Originally Osage Orange trees were found in the Red River valley in southern Oklahoma and northern Texas, also the home of the Osage tribe (and the source of one of the many common names for this tree).  Coincidentally this is also the area where my family lived for several generations.

Before the invention of barbed wire, many thousands of miles of hedges were created  in the plains states, by planting young Osage trees closely together.  After barbed wire made hedge fences outmoded, the wood from the Osage trees was used for fence posts.  The wood will last for decades in the ground without rotting or suffering from insect damage. Bow makers have long prized the wood for crafting superior weapons.  Osage trees also make effective windbreaks.  And last, but not least, my personal favorite is that the sawdust from these trees can be used to dye fabrics!

Part of a row of Osage trees.

I currently have a rather long row of Osage trees planted parallel to one of my property lines.    Some of the trees have been  in the ground for about fifteen years, and the rest are a bit younger (due to several re-plantings to replace trees that died during the winters or wound up being deer snacks).  I’ve read that the only trees you can purchase, are the thorned variety.  I’ve also read that Osage trees come in male and female and that both have thorns, while only the females bear fruit.  Apparently it is impossible to tell the sex of the trees until they reach the fruiting age of ten.

THORNS!

So far all I’ve got are thorns.  In fact I have enough thorns to ring Sleeping Beauty’s castle with an impenetrable hedge of thorns!

The inside of an Osage Orange, look closely to see the seeds.

This year, I’ve decided to try growing some Osage trees from seed to add to my thorn garden.  I’ve harvested the seeds and planted them in pots, now we’ll just have to wait and see.  I’ve also got a back up stash of seeds, just in case worse comes to worse.

Osage seeds.

I know you’ll be happy to hear that Osage Oranges aren’t my only tree obsession.  I also have a long running love affair with quince trees, but that is a story for another time…

A bowl of ripe quince.

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Does it bode well or ill if instead of seeing a groundhog on Groundhog’s Day, you see a possum?  Does it change the weather prognostication if you see the possum after dark, so there is no shadow involved? Was the possum just filling in for an over worked groundhog with scheduling problems???

None of our resident family of groundhogs bothered to stir themselves from their barrow inside of our tobacco barn, but the littlest of the possum brood that also makes its home in our barns, did wander out tonight through all of the mountains of snow for a cat food dinner.   We religiously keep food and water outside our back door for the feral cats that roam our property.

I suppose that it would be too much to hope that our groundhogs have all decided to relocate to Florida!  In case you can’t tell, I am not a groundhog fan, even when they are going by their woodchuck alias.  During gardening season I hate the woodchuck/groundhogs more than deer and that’s saying something.

Should anyone need them, I do have a small collection of woodchuck recipes that I would be happy to share. 🙂

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Preserving Tomatoes

I always do a lot of canning in the fall, but I’m often very rushed for time because of all the other things I also have to do.  Two of my favorite ways to preserve tomatoes for the rest of the year involve using the oven to slowly roast the tomatoes before canning them.  This saves lots of hands-on time and requires less watching and attention than other methods.

Oven Dried Tomatoes

Wash and slice cherry or small paste tomatoes in half lengthwise.  Place tomatoes on parchment paper-covered cookie sheets, skin side down.  Sprinkle with sea salt.  Bake in your oven on the lowest temperature setting available (150 – 200 degrees), until the tomatoes reach the consistency of raisins.  If you start them in the late afternoon or early evening, then they will usually be done first thing in the morning, however the amount of time will vary with the size of the tomatoes and your oven temperature.  I would suggest trying this the first time during the day, when you can check their progress every few hours.

After the tomatoes have dried, remove them from the cookie sheet and pack them in clean sterilized canning jars. Heat olive oil to just below boiling.  Pour the hot oil over the tomatoes, leaving ½ inch headspace at the top of the jar.  Place a clean sterilized canning lid and ring on the jar, tighten, then turn the jar upside down.  The heat from the oil should cause the jar to seal.  After you hear the lid make a popping noise – which means that it has sealed – you can turn the jars right side up. Once opened, store in the refrigerator.

–         These dried tomatoes make a wonderful addition to sandwiches, pastas, and pizza

–         Use the olive oil the dried tomatoes are canned in for cooking and salad dressings

–         Put dried tomatoes and a bit of the olive oil in a blender and blend until smooth, serve with baguette slices for a fantastic appetizer

–         Blend dried tomatoes with mayonnaise for a great treat on a BLT

Canned Roasted Tomatoes

After picking tomatoes of any size and variety, wash, cut off stem and blossom ends, as well as any blemishes and roughly chop.  Place tomatoes in the largest enamelware pot that will fit in your oven.  Fill the pot to the top with tomatoes.  Place the uncovered pot in your oven and bake at the lowest temperature setting (150 – 200 degrees) until the tomatoes are reduced by half.  Depending on the size of your pot, this can take up to 24 hours.  Stir the tomatoes once or twice as they roast.  You may add sea salt to taste if you so desire.  Once the tomatoes have cooked down, but are still hot, ladle them into clean sterilized canning jars, cap with lids and rings and process in a water bath canner for 15 minutes.


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