Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Easy ways to preserve vegetables and fruits

Whether to can, freeze or dry produce, depends on what it is and how much effort and time a person wants to devote. Freezing is the fastest in prep time. Canning takes longer, but is better for maintaining vegetable or fruit texture. Canning is definitely best for salsa and pickles. Drying might be the easiest, but it has limited use, such as for herbs, mushrooms and fruit.

Easy freezing
It’s easy to freeze vegetables and fruits. Some don't require cooking or blanching. For celery and rhubarb, just wash, chop, bag in serving sizes and freeze. To freeze zucchini for making bread: shred or grate and freeze without blanching. For peppers, just cut out the seeds, wash and let dry, then freeze in bags. The quality and texture is reduced after freezing, but they still have that garden fresh taste when used in cooking.

Apples
To prepare apples, wash, peel and core. Then slice or cut into chunks or quarters. As you prepare apples, dip the cut pieces in a solution of 1 tablespoon each salt and vineqar to 2 quarts of water, to prevent darkening. Drain well, rinse and drain again. Then you can either pack plain, with sugar or with syrup. Leave a ½ inch head space for pint containers and 1 inch for quarts. When using liquid, place a piece of crumpled paper or plastic wrap on top to keep fruit under the liquid. For syrup, mix 1-1/4 cup sugar and 5-1/2 cup water to yield 6 cups of syrup.
When ready to use, thaw fruit in refrigerator or bowl of cool water. If cooking, thaw just enough to separate.

Blueberries
Blueberries can be put in the freezer with very little preparation. Remove stems and bad berries, wash in cold water, drain, pack in freezer bags. Label and freeze.

Blanching 
Most other vegetables and fruits require blanching, which is pretty easy. To blanch vegetables, you need:
* a large porcelain or stainless steel pan with basket strainer and lid, 2/3 full of water
* large bowl in the sink filled with ice water
* colander
* bags or plastic containers and a permanent marker
Bring the water in the saucepan to boiling. Meanwhile, wash and trim the veggies. Place the veggies in boiling water, close lid and time. See chart below for time. Then remove from the pan and drain quickly. Next, place in ice water for the same amount of time as boiled. When the time is up, remove and drain well in a colander. To remove more moisture, place clean towels on the counter and lay the veggies out for a few minutes before bagging in labeled freezer bags and placing in the freezer. Here are blanching and cooling times for vegetables:

Vegetable blanching times - equal time in boiling water, then ice water, (Except for corn on the cob, most vegetables should be blanched 2 to 3 minutes).

Broccoli, 3 minutes
Cabbage, 3 minutes (cut into wedges)
Corn on the cob, 6 to 10 minutes
Green beans, 3 minutes
Peas, 1 to 2 minutes
Swiss chard and other tender greens, 1-1/2 to 2 minutes (avoid matting leaves)
Zucchini slice, blanch 3 minutes

Tomatoes
Tomatoes taste better when sliced in half, and baked or roasted on a cookie sheet, (350 degrees for 30 minutes for large tomatoes). Or you can blanch them for 30 seconds.

Do not freeze too much at one time in your freezer. It could raise the interior temperature. Leave space between packages so air can circulate freely until frozen.

Can if you can
Canning takes some time. It’s more fun when you undergo the canning process with good friends or family, plus it’s less work. You will have the sweet, or sour rewards all winter long, so much better than store-bought. You will thank yourself and your canning buddies. Hot water bath canning (boiling in jars without a pressure cooker) is good for high acid foods, like tomatoes, pickles and relishes. It’s also good for sugary spreads, jams and jellies. You need to buy jars, lids and a big stockpot with wire canning rack. The pan needs to be 3-5 inches deeper than your canning jars. For other foods, like green beans, a pressure canner is needed. For further information, find the Ball Blue Book Guide to Home Canning, Freezing & Dehydration. It is a very good, easy-to-follow reference guide, and costs approximately $10. It is available at freshpreserving.com

For an easy salsa recipe, see my recipe page on the right or visit gardentogarden.blogspot.com/p/recipes.html

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

6 tips to ease weeding

When the weeds are larger than the intended vegetation, it's time, or past time, to take action. Last summer, my daughter, Elizabeth said, "Mom, I leave some weeds to create shade for the vegetable plants." She is a smart gardener and has professional experience, having managed a farm-to-table garden in Texas and now with her community garden in Missouri. Both of those locations receive a great quantity of sunshine, unlike my more shady Michigan garden, where weeds are not welcome, 
Here are some ways to reduce weeding and ease the chore.
1. Mulch to prevent weeding. You can use a number of items. I am heading out to the garden this weekend to rake water weeds from the pond for mulch. Other materials you can use, to avoid buying expensive bags of mulch include wet newspapers, straw, grass clippings, leaves, aged manure and aged compost. Manure should not be fresh.
2. Cover it up. Place cover down where you aren't growing anything, like in walkways and borders around the garden. We laid strips of old carpet one year. Black plastic with mulch on top, is good for the walkways. Rototilling between the rows is efficient for keeping the weeds under control, but it needs to be done every three weeks. If you use want to use weed block or landscaping cloth, don't bother buying the cheap woven kind, the roots of the weeds get stuck, creating more work. There's a bonded type, if you want to spend the money.
3. Hoe hum. Hoe the little weeds, that are less than once inch and pull the larger weeds. Hoe 3 to 4 inches deep. I really don't like to hoe, so I usually wait until the weeds are big enough to pull.
4. Wear your thinking cap (or a hat that won't fall off). Weed when the soil is moist or water beforehand and wait a few hours. Remember to water after you weed. I take a tool and loosen the soil before pulling weeds. A tool like the hula hoe which looks like a hoop on a stick or the mini rake or a pronged tool can help loosen the soil. You can use a hand trowel to dig up the big weeds. I do my best thinking while weeding.
5. Garden yoga. My friend Mickey told me her trick to weeding includes the three yoga poses of weeding, (no kidding). Bend over and pull. If you do that too many times, you'll feel it for a week. Squat down on your haunches. I can only do this for a few minutes. Kneeling. This works great until you need to move. You can add various yoga poses, like crossing your legs while stretching over to pull weeds, maybe meditate a bit too while you're down there. You can do a leg stretch in between weed pulling as well. The main thing is to change positions to prevent continuous repetitive motions.
6. Back exercise. Here's a quick back exercise that is like the reverse of bending over. If you don't have any health problems preventing it, lean back against a flat wall, press the small of the back against it with feet flat on the ground and hold for a minute or two. Repeat a few times everyday. If you have persistent problems, of course, visit a health professional. They can recommend exercises, or treatment.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Strawberry farms in Southeast Michigan

It's strawberry season in Michigan, but don't blink, it usually only lasts three weeks. Hopefully the storms don't damage the precious berries.

Here's a list of farms in the area that offer fresh strawberries:

• Middleton Berry Farm, 4790 Oakwood Road, Ortonville, 248-831-1004, www.middletonberryfarm.com

• Blake Orchard & Cider Mill,17985 Armada Center Road, Armada, 586-784-5343, blakefarms.com.
• Miller’s Big Red Farms, 4900 32 Mile Road, Washington Township, 586-752-7888, millersbigred.com.
• Verellen Orchards & Cider Mill, 63260 Van Dyke, Washington Township, 586-752-2989, www.verellenorchards.com.
• Westview Orchards, 65075 Van Dyke, Washington Township, 586-752-3123, www.westvieworchards.com.
• Spicer Orchards, 10411 Clyde Road, Fenton, 810-632-7692, www.spicerorchards.com.

Monday, June 12, 2017

It's strawberry season in Southeast Michigan

It's strawberry time in Southeast Michigan. Today marked the official starting date for Middleton Berry Farm U-Pick Farm, of Ortonville. Hours vary due to quantities and weather, so check before driving out. Call (248) 831-1004 or find them on Facebook, Middleton Berry Farm.

Strawberries are $2 per pound. It is recommended to bring your own container and have it weighed before picking, although they have boxes to purchase.
Also, be sure to bring cash or check, because they cannot accept credit cards.
"When the berries are ripe, they will nearly fall off when you pick them," Stacy Janiga said
She and her sister Carrie Janiga, the owners, recommend washing the berries with the stem on, this prevents water from getting inside the berries, which loses the flavor.

Middleton Berry Farm
Address: 4790 Oakwood Rd, Ortonville, MI 48462
Phone: (248) 831-1004
Directions: Go five miles east of Ortonville Road between M-15 and M-24. From I-75 take Exit 84 (Baldwin Road). Go north on Baldwin Road 10 miles to Oakwood Road, turn left. Farm is one mile on the left.
Website: www.middletonberryfarm.com

Monday, May 29, 2017

Asparagus and rhubarb recipes are in season

Grilled or baked asparagus
Rub olive oil on spears, sprinkle with salt and pepper and bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes or grill for 5-10 minutes, depending on temperature and thickness of asparagus.

Freezing asparagus for later
When there's an abundance of asparagus, wash and bake or grill it all. Take out some for dinner and shock the rest in cold water, drain, place in freezer bags and freeze. The whole spears, baked or grilled, have a better consistency than blanched asparagus.

Ham and Swiss, asparagus spirals
Pre-fry asparagus spears in olive oil, then lay on a slice of ham and cheese, dollop with Dijon mustard and roll up with the asparagus in the middle. Slice into spirals 1-1/2 inches wide. Dip in seasoned bread crumbs, insert toothpick to hold each spiral together, and fry in oil.

Rhubarb Bars
3 cups rhubarb, chopped
1 ½ cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 ¼ cup water
3 Tablespoons corn starch
1 ½ cup rolled oats
1 ½ cup rolled flour
1 cup brown sugar
½ tsp. baking soda
1 cup butter
½ cup nuts
Combine rhubarb, sugar, vanilla, cornstarch and water. Cook on stove until thick, cool slightly. Combine oats, flour, brown sugar, soda, butter and nuts. Mix until crumbly. Put ¾ of mixture into 15 1/3 x 10 ½ jelly roll pan. Spread rhubarb mixture on top. Cover with remaining crumbs. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes.


Rhubarb Cheesecake
¼ cup corn starch
1 cup sugar
½ tsp salt
½ cup water
2-1/2 cups rhubarb, cut in ½ inch pieces
1 unbaked pie crust, regular or graham cracker

Topping
1 package 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
In a saucepan, combine first 3 ingredients, then the water and rhubarb. Bring to boil, stirring often until mixture thickens. Pour into pie shell and bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes. Protect edges of crust with aluminum foil. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Turn oven down to 325 degrees.
Meanwhile beat topping ingredients until smooth. Pour on top of pie. Bake for 35 minutes in 325 oven or until set. Chill and garnish with whipped cream, and sliced almonds or strawberries.

Freezing rhubarb
Rhubarb and berries don't need to be cooked before freezing. For rhubarb, just wash, chop and bag in recipe-size servings. Strawberries can be frozen whole without sugar, rinsed and drained, or sliced with sugar and bagged.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The seeds have been sown

I'm looking forward to a nice serving of
fresh green beans.
Our annual ritual on Mother's Day, (in Southeast Michigan), is to plant beans. So my husband and I planted three rows of tender string-less beans. We also planted more peas and spinach to fill the empty spots where nothing came up from the first planting. We originally planted the peas and spinach as well as the Swiss chard and lettuce, a little late, in mid April. We planted the broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage on April 22.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Winter is over, but it could still frost

Although the weather is warm during the day, it could still get cold enough to frost at night. Most annuals should be kept indoors until Memorial Weekend unless you want to build a cold frame or cover the plants at night. The end of May seems to be the best time to set out transplants in Southeast Michigan, especially for tomatoes and peppers. You may get them in the ground early, but the little plants have a hard time out there in the cold night, and they grow slower.
All is not lost if it does indeed frost. If you have plants or flowering trees that are frost sensitive and you didn't get them covered before a frost, go outside before the sun shines on the plants and spray water on them, rinsing off the frost. This works for a light to moderate frost, but not for a hard frost or freeze.
The forecast is for temperatures above 36 degrees in Pontiac during the next 10 days, so it should be frost free, but keep an eye on the weather report, National Weather Service.
There are many frost resistant vegetable plants: broccoli,  kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts, Swiss chard, kale, leeks, lettuce, onions, peas, spinach, parsley, radishes and carrots.
Flowers that are frost hardy include pansies, primrose and violets.
Vegetables that are NOT frost resistant, include beans, corn, pumpkin, squash, watermelon, cucumbers, okra, and of course tomatoes and peppers.