Tuesday, July 12, 2011

I sing the garden dynamic

Wondered where I've been?  Out in the garden every chance I can get - that's where.  There is so much to do right now, besides harvesting, I am also doing plantings for fall.  So every minute is precious.  But, it was raining when I woke up this morning, so I have a few minutes to catch you up on what I have been doing.

Harvested all peas except for this batch - these come out in about two weeks - getting bed ready for next planting of peas, with carrots in front for the fall crop

Harvested snow peas (Oregon sugar pod) and garden peas (Alderman) - a quick dip in near boiling water, then an ice bath, and then off to the freezer

Garden Peas - I freeze these on cookie sheets and then pack in freezer bags when they are frozen - that way I can shake out what I want and not have them frozen in a big clump.

Snow peas get frozen individually too, then put in a freezer bag, so I can grab a handful and throw into a stir fry when I need them.
Picked the main crop of currants - about 3 quarts - still a few on the shrub to pick this week

I've been drying all the currants for scones later this winter...

Harvesting sage - this is the time of year to harvest your herbs and dry or freeze them.  If you freeze them, chop them up finely and process with butter, freeze in ice cube trays, and then you will have lovely herb butter to add to pasta or bread.  Here I am giving the sage a good wash.

spinning herbs in salad spinner before drying removes excess water

Stack in drying trays - I ended up with 8 trays in this batch!
What to do with leftover sage that wouldn't fit into the dryer?  Finely chop - along with some rosemary...

Throw herbs into a bread dough - I had some milk going sour that I needed to use up anyway.  don't ask for a recipe - I make up bread as I go using what is in the fridge or needs to be used up in the garden.

Let rise till double...

Form into a loaf

Let rise till double, then bake in a hot oven till done...

Yum - perfect with Italian Wedding soup

Speaking of Italian Wedding soup, which is a family favorite, it usually takes spinach, but I used our spinach mostly for salads, and then it bolted so quickly and I didn't have time to plant more.  However, our swiss chard has really performed well this year.  It has loved the cool weather and lots of rain it had this spring.  But I knew that the hot temps coming in July would do it in, so decided one evening to sit and harvest it all.   

Bright Lights and Razzle Dazzle Swiss Chard in front of peas - ready to harvest
For my purposes, I didn't need the thick center spine - some people steam it and eat it, but I find it a little strong tasting.  My compost was happy to get the stems though.
Since the leaves sort of fold anyway, I just folded them, snipped out the spine, cut up the chard as I picked it. 

I had done a taste test earlier with the last of my spinach, to see if chard would be a good substitute for spinach in this recipe.  Our chard was so mild, that it worked great!  So,I picked, chopped, steamed, chopped some more, and ended up with enough chopped frozen chard for about eight batches of soup.  I made enough for myself to last all week for lunch.  Then my granddaughter who is being a picky eater right now, decided that my soup was just the thing she wanted, and had several bowls.  Well, I got at least one helping for lunch this week!

Here is our family recipe:

Zuppa di nozze italiane. (Italian Wedding soup)
You will need a stockpot full of chicken stock – I would recommend at least 2 gallons.  Make sure it is flavorful.  (I make my own from scratch - with a bit of wine)   If it doesn't have a lot of flavor, add a bit of salt and pepper and let it reduce a little while simmering if you need something more concentrated.  

Meanwhile, bring out the frying pan and a stick of unsalted butter.  Slowly melt the butter, and the start adding a pound of mild Italian sausage, but in little tiny pieces.  You want the pieces smaller because this is a soup, not a pasta dish.  You could put it in in larger pieces, and then just use a fork to mush them up as they cook.  You want really small pcs, like you would find in a soup. (Sometimes i cook up the sausage, let it cool, and then mush it up with my fingers to get it really fine.)   When done cooking, add about a quart of chicken stock – use what is heating up in the pot if you want.  For each batch of soup (1 pound of sausage, 2 gallons stock) you want to add 1 pkg of shredded frozen spinach (or swiss chard).  No need to thaw, you can just put it on top of the meat (once you have taken it out of the box), cover the frying pan, and let it steam ( till ice melts and it is all thawed out.  If you have fresh spinach or chard, cook it and chop it first, and then add it.  Once it is cooked, it is really hard to chop up fine if mixed with the meat.

Meanwhile, as you are doing this, you were getting the stock boiling.  When it comes to a boil, put in at least one pkg of small sea shells pasta and about a cup or so of anci pepe. 
Anci Pepe can be found in the pasta aisle and it is a small piece of pasta that cooks up round.  This soup used to be called frogs eyes soup, and since it was served at weddings all the time it got the name Italian Wedding soup.  They called it Frogs Eyes soup because when the Anci Pepe gets into the sea shells, it looks like eyes. 
Once the sea shells are al dente ( don’t over cook as they will stay in the hot stock and continue to cook while the stock is hot), add the sausage and greens, along with the liquids in the pan. Stir to meld all the flavors with the stock.  You can either sprinkle on some grated parmesean  then and stir it in, or let people add it at the table.  Either way, it is wonderful. Do not used the powdered stuff from the green can.  Buy a hunk of Parmesan and grate it up by hand.   Make sure you have a good Italian or French bread to help sop up the broth.  It also tends to absorb broth, so you might have to add a little more the next day.  This is much better than the stuff you find in the can.  So superior!.

And so easy to make!  This is one of the main reasons I canned and froze so much chicken broth while my kids were growing up.  I think we had this at least once a week, and it was one of the first dishes my two younger kids learned to make on their own.  I am sure my son impressed a lot of friends (girls) at college by making this easy dish.  And if you think your family won't like spinach or chard, try them on this.  they won't even realize they are eating it.

And last, leftover sage got smashed with butter to be tossed with pasta at a later meal

Meanwhile, out in the garden, the Borage is doing it's job of drawing bees in from everywhere to pollinate the tomatoes... 
Borage with Tomatoes in the background
Amazing how big just three plants can get - and the seeds were so small.

The tomatoes keep trying to get out of control and I keep working at pinching off the suckers and tying them up.

Raspberry picking is at it's height - picked 2 pints Sunday - in the stores they are selling for $5 a pint, so that is a lot of savings.  We pick about a pint almost every other day.  And that doesn't count the ones my granddaughter stuffs in her mouth every time she comes out into the garden.  

Marionberries are ripening fast.  I only planted about three canes, but they have taken over this section of the bed.  My first picking was about two pounds.  I am freezing them for pie and cobbler later this fall.
My happy place in the garden is standing next to the beans and pot marigolds (calendula's).  I am just in awe at how big they got and how well they are doing.  The beans topped the top of the bean house about two weeks ago, and are covered with blooms.  I noticed a few tiny beans already.  I will be canning beans by the end of the month is my guess.
This picture doesn't do this area credit - the intensity of blooms, the buzzing of the bees - this is just a very happy place.

There are parts of my garden that I am not proud of.  The area around the compost bin is one of them.  We ran out of room in the compost drum during the rainy cold spring - nothing wanted to compost down.  So my son-in-law piled everything into a big pile back by the plum tree.   I spent one weekend taking everything out of the drums, sifting it, putting uncomposted material back in the drums, adding blood meal and some water, and got back on the composting schedule.

My granddaughter was unhappy that grandma was using gloves to sift the compost, and she didn't have any.  So we had to take a trip to my favorite Salem nursery, 13th Street.   (http://www.13thstreetnursery.com)  Not only did she find gloves that were almost her size, but a new watering can.  She also picked out some more ground cover for our path we are building, and some more flowers for the side of the grape arbor - she is a very determined gardener.
Amaya kind of wanted the pig watering can - but it was almost as big as her!
All in all it has been a very busy couple of weeks - and I still have not told you about the chicken coop tour, shown you how tall the corn and sunflowers are - next post!


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