Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Bowl of Sunshine

Sunshine Yellow Meyer Lemons

Look at my bowl full of sunshine! Those are some beautiful home grown Meyer Lemons.

No, I didn't grow them here at Mountain Harvest Basket. It's difficult to grow citrus up here in the mountains. These lemons were a gift to me from Jack who brought them back from Los Angeles a week ago. His sister has a bountiful lemon tree at her house near the ocean, and she gave him a big carton full of lemons to bring home.

This is the second bunch of lemons he has brought me this summer. We have squeezed some directly into tea and on shrimp salad and grilled salmon. We have also made a few batches of fresh lemonade to quench our summer thirst. Very good lemonade! I like to make Greek salad dressing using fresh lemon juice in place of vinegar when making vinaigrette. Using the best dark olive oil I can, of course.

I used some of these juicy lemons to make a lemon meringue pie earlier in the summer. We gave some away to friends and family. We had so many lemons that we had to start squeezing a whole bunch at once before they spoiled so that we could save the juice for later use by freezing it. I have some more squeezing to do here soon. The juice freezes well and will be a welcome treat during the fall and winter months. The tart citrus flavor adds a "brightness" to so many savory and sweet dishes.

I just wanted to share some of my sunshine with you today. When life gives you lemons...☺

© Copyright 2009 Mountain Harvest Basket

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Plum Harvest

Late Santa Rosa Plums

This is just a quick post to show you my small, but delicious plum harvest. Just one small basket full. My Late Santa Rosa Plum tree usually has a bigger harvest than this, and usually they are ready earlier in the summer. This year probably due to our weird extended hot weather, the plum harvest was pretty small and their ripening was delayed until August.

I picked this basket of plums, which is the entire tree harvest, one afternoon in early August. They are very juicy, tangy and tasty. Just how I like them!

© Copyright 2009 Mountain Harvest Basket

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Clever Sun Tea Idea

Sun Tea Concentrate ~ One Quart Jar

I brew tea in a jar placed in the sun - sun tea - to make and enjoy iced tea all year around. I especially like to make and drink it during the warm summer months. I usually fill a 1/2 gallon mason jar with cool water and add about 4 tea bags or maybe less depending on how strong the tea is naturally. I use different kinds of black, green and herbal teas as my mood dictates.

I place the lidded jar outside to sit in the hot sun for 2-4 hours, again depending on how hot the weather is and also how strong the tea bags are. When the tea reaches the color I desire, I bring in the jar of tea, remove the bags and chill it in my refrigerator to enjoy later over ice. I've been making my sun tea this way for years and years. It works very well. It tastes good, it's easy, it's natural and it's inexpensive.

Being that it was such an uncomplicated process, I never thought about making any improvements to the method.

Well a few weeks ago I learned about another way of making sun tea from Sue of Country Pleasures. She read a post about this method in another blog that she likes to read. So the knowledge continues to get passed on and on from one blogger to the next. I love that!

What they recommended was to make a strong tea concentrate using a smaller jar, like a quart sized canning jar, so that it will take up less room in your summertime fridge. This makes sense to me because during my garden harvest season my refrigerator is always crammed full of produce, jars of water and tea, juice and fruit. There's not much room in there usually.

I took a clean quart sized canning jar filled with cool water and added twice as many tea bags as you would normally put in a quart of water. Then I capped the jar and set it in the sun for awhile to brew up very strong. When it was a very dark colored tea, I brought it inside, removed the tea bags and placed the jar in my fridge. I now had a very strong tea concentrate with which to make my ice tea.

When I desire a fresh glass of ice tea, I add ice cubes to my tall glass and then pour in some of the strong tea concentrate until it fills the glass about 1/4 to 1/3 full. I then fill the glass the rest of the way with cold water from a jug in my fridge. Stir to mix. Add some lemon if I feel fancy, and enjoy my nice cool fresh iced tea.

I thought that brewing the tea concentrate extra strong like that would make the tea taste bitter, but it did not do that. It was very tasty, and that small one quart jar of concentrate lasts for quite awhile in my refrigerator. It takes up less space which I appreciate this time of year.

So I am passing this good idea on to you. Try it. You'll like it.

© Copyright 2009 Mountain Harvest Basket

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Canning & Jamming!

Sunny Apricot Jam ~ 10 Half Pints

Started out looking like apricot soup:

Apricot Jam in Cookpot

My apricot tree did not have even one apricot on it this year. My plum tree had a few beautiful plums, but only enough to enjoy eating fresh. So in my dual effort to clean out my freezers (all 3 of them), and in order for me to even out the "jam vs Jen" score started by that strawberry jam incident last June, I used some frozen fruit to make a couple of batches of jam.

I made one batch of apricot jam and one batch of plum jam. Both fruits were gathered from local trees, pitted and frozen either last year or the year prior. They kept remarkably well in my freezer. Their colors and taste were still quite fresh. When cooked down with the sugar (I don't use added pectin in my jam) both fruits tasted great.

I had an abundance of apricot jam this time. See the photos above. The recipe makes about 8 half pints, but this batch produced 10 half pints for me. I had only prepared 8 jars, so I poured the rest into a pint jar and kept it in the fridge to use now rather than later.

My plum jam, shown below, made exactly 8 half pint jars. One of which did not seal correctly. First time that's ever happened to me in my canning experience. So I placed that jar of tangy plum jam into the fridge next to the apricot jam. Both jams make great PB&J sandwiches, especially on my homemade bread.

Bright and Tangy Plum Jam ~ 8 Half Pints

Here are the plums simmering with the sugar in the cookpot. Sort of looks like plum stew at this point.

Plum Jam in Cookpot

One of my new canning tools that makes fishing the lids out of the hot water in the canner a lot easier, is this nifty lid rack show below:

Canning Lid Rack

Using this rack, I just lower the whole thing filled with washed & rinsed canning lids into the hot water inside the canner to sterilize the lids and keep them warm until I need them. Then I lift the whole thing out and place it on the kitchen counter while I work quickly to fill the hot jars with jam and place a lid and ring on each one. Before I had this rack, I'd have to fish out each lid separately either with tongs or the little magnet tool that worked well, but had a handle that was way too short. Kept burning my fingers. This rack is way better. You can buy it at Lehman's, along with many other nifty things.

So now I have plenty of jam around here for awhile. I may make more before the summer is over. I still have more frozen fruit in my freezers. Nice to enjoy the fruity tastes all during winter.

© Copyright 2009 Mountain Harvest Basket

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Garden Garlic

Garlic Braid

I grow garlic every year. I plant it in the Fall and harvest it the next Summer. I tried growing garlic bought from a seed company the first year, but found that not only was it very expensive, it did not grow well in my garden. So the next year I bought a handful of ordinary garlic from the supermarket for about 50 cents, took it home, separated it into "toes" (leaving the paper skin on each toe), and planted it in my garden pointy side up about 1 inch deep in the soil. I watered it as I would any garden veggie until the Winter rains came. Then I pretty much ignored it and left it to grow on its own until the warmer weather came back the next Spring and Summer.

When the garlic tops (leaves) started to turn brown in late May or early June, I test-dug one bulb to check for size, and then harvested all of the bulbs over the next day or two. I washed each bulb with cold water and veggie scrub brush, leaving the long stem and leaves intact. I then braided the garlic as best I could to hang over my kitchen sink in front of the window to dry and to be handy when I needed it for cooking. I made sure that I reserved 3 or 4 nice looking heads for planting next season's crop.

I have been growing and harvesting my homegrown garlic in this way for the past 10 years. Each year I use some of the garlic that I harvested in the Summer to start my new crop in the Fall. It works very well, and I have been very happy with the results. Some years have been better than others. Other years have had odd weather and small bulbs resulting. Some years have had huge bulbs produced. One year I had an invading gopher (yes, in my raised bed!) and had to dig up my half grown garlic bulbs and transplant them into another raised bed to finish out the growing season while we repaired the hole in the original raised bed. That was fun. Not.

Anyway, until this past year I usually planted the same type of garlic each year. Descendents from that original handful that I purchased at the local market. The common California White, a softneck variety of garlic. I live fairly close to the Garlic Capitol of the World, Gilroy, CA where there are fields upon fields of CA White garlic growing prolifically. I am sure there are other types grown too, but the most common one we see in the markets is CA White softneck.

I have always enjoyed my homegrown CA White. It has a medium-strong garlicky flavor that I used in a variety of dishes. It keeps very well hanging in braids in my kitchen for months after I harvest it in Summer. It is easy to peel once it has dried a bit.

This photo below and the photo of the garlic braid at the top of this post is from my current crop of CA White softneck garlic. I think it is beautiful. I love looking at it, and enjoy having it decorate my kitchen.

California White Garlic

Last Fall, inspired by my local organic farm store's variety of garlic that they had for sale and also by two of my favorite blogging friends, Farmgirl_dk from Critter Farm and frugalmom from Fancyin' the Farm Life and both of their garlic gardening adventures, I decided to try growing a few different types of garlic along with my favorite CA White. I chose about 4 varieties from the farm store. I don't even remember their names. One was purple. One was reddish brown. Another was tan. At least two of them were hardneck varieties. One was the standard CA White like the one I had already grown. I thought I'd compare store-bought to my own homegrown garlic descendents as far as growing and bulb production.

So I planted my usual 5 or 6 rows of garlic, some of the new varieties along with my CA White, each row having about 7 or 8 plants. They all sprouted and grew through the Winter months. This photo shows how my garlic bed looked in late Spring:

Garlic Growing

That's broccoli, lettuces, chard and bok choy you see growing in between the garlic rows. I find that the close proximity of the garlic helps repel the bugs and slugs from my tender greens.

I found that my homegrown CA White garlic descendents grew much bigger and stronger than the store bought CA White, by the way. I have a theory that has proven true with many crops in my garden. My theory is that plants adapt to their local environment, the weather, the soil, the air, the gardener's vibes, and whatever else affects plant growth. I have noticed that each succeeding generation of plants grown from seeds (or in this case, bulbs) from a homegrown plant, is bigger, stronger and produces better than new seeds just being introduced to my garden environment (like from purchased seed packets). This works best with open pollinated varieties as opposed to hybrid plants.

Continuing on my garlic growing adventure, I read all about the phenomenon of garlic scapes on Fancyin' the Farmlife, and then I ran out to my garden with my camera and found these odd looking spiral flower stalks on every hardneck variety garlic plant.

Garlic Scapes in the Garden

I had never grown hardnecks before, only the softneck CA White. This was a new, exciting and weird happening for me and my garden. Apparently, only the hardnecks send up scapes as the weather warms in late Spring/early Summer. The scape is a flower stalk (you can see the flower bud in the photo). It is recommended that the gardener prune off the scapes to allow more nutrition to be available for the garlic bulb's growth. So I did that:

Severed Garlic Scapes

The scapes tasted like "green garlic" and were quite good. I understand that they make a lovely pesto sauce. I used them in my normal cooking as I would any garlic. I chopped them up small and put them in soups, stir fries, stews, eggplant parmesan etc.

And they added delicious flavor to my homemade pizza!

Mushroom Pizza

Homemade Pizza! Yum!

Garlic is good! Plant your own this Fall.

© Copyright 2009 Mountain Harvest Basket