When the nights start to feel chilly and the calendar rolls around to September it means one thing at our house: time to harvest winter squash. Last year we grew over 150 pounds of pumpkin and winter squash. This year we aimed for 200 pounds, but we fell far short.
Pumpkin is a staple at our house, providing a base for many delicious and nutritious fall meals. We make pumpkin soup, bread, casseroles, and even pizza and pickles from pumpkin. Last year although we were plagued by powdery mildew we still managed a decent harvest. This year, not so much, thanks to squash bugs.
July 4th weekend I noticed that our pumpkins and squash were suffering. Instead of growing they were dying back. I wrongly assumed that the problem was powdery mildew and treated for it. Instead of rebounding the plants continued to look worse. When I looked closer at the plants I discovered that the leaves were covered with squash bug eggs. Squash bugs lay groups of small brownish eggs on the underside of the plant leaves. When they hatch, the baby squash bugs (called nymphs) suck out the lifeblood of the plants. The leaves turn yellow and eventually the plant dies.
By the time I figured out what I had going on it was way too late. Although Jim and I spent hours turning up leaves, removing eggs, and killing nymphs, I had let the infestation go way too far. Instead of carrying a carload of squash back home from our community garden plot, we harvested a mere 45 pounds or so of gourds last weekend. I suppose I feel happy just to have something.
We’re reevaluating how and where we grow winter squash and pumpkins. At $3 a pound for organic winter squash locally, our expected harvest is valuable and we rely on it. Because winter squash and pumpkins take up so much space to grow and we have such pest issues, I’m not sure where to turn. Ideally for next year’s crop we would like land that has never been gardened before or at least where no squash has been grown nearby. Not sure how we’ll find that!
We’ve make our own mustard, relish and pickles, but I’ve never tried making ketchup. Our bumper tomato crop this year made me decide to try canning ketchup for the first time. Most ketchup brands at the grocery store have high fructose corn syrup, which we try to avoid. I figured why not try to make my own and see if I can get away from the commercial varieties for good. As it turns out, making ketchup is pretty easy and I was blown away by how much I love the taste! It came out so well I wanted to just eat it right out of the pot. Here’s a simple recipe I modified from my Ball Canning Book. Let me know if you give it a try.
Home Canned Ketchup
12 pounds cored, peeled, pureed paste tomatoes
1 1/2 cups cider vinegar
3/4 cup white sugar
1 hot pepper (optional)
2 medium sized yellow onions
1 1/2 tablespoons celery seeds
2 teaspoons whole cloves
1 teaspoon whole allspice
1 broken cinnamon stick
2 tablespoons canning salt
Heat tomatoes, vinegar and sugar in a large stainless steel pot. While tomatoes are warming up, puree pepper and onions together in the food processor. Use some of the liquid from the tomatoes to make sure you get it really smooth. Add to tomato mixture and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer.
Tie up a piece of cheesecloth with the celery seeds, cloves, allspice and cinnamon stick inside. Hang off edge of pot with your tomatoes. Add salt.
Simmer until thickened. You want it as close to the consistency of commercial ketchup as possible. This can take as long as 4 to 5 hours. You will have to stir fairly frequently. Remove cheesecloth and spices and scrape it as clean as you can.
Prepare your water bath canner. Make sure your jars (half pint) and lids are clean and put your lids in a small bowl of warm (not boiling) water. Your jars should be in simmering water to keep them hot.
Ladle hot ketchup into jars, leaving 1/2-inch head space. Carefully wipe your jar rims clean. If your rims aren’t clean your jars will not seal, I’ve learned that lesson the hard way. I keep a roll of paper towels handy and first wipe each rim with a wet paper towel and then with a dry one.
Place lids and rings on jars and place jars in your boiling water bath. Boil in the canner for 15 minutes. Turn off heat, remove cover and let canner sit for 5 minutes.
Remove jars and place on a towel. Let sit for about 24 hours. Check to make sure your jars sealed by feeling and looking at the lid, there should be no flex to the top. You can store these in a dark place for one year. Recipe makes about 6 half pints.
Our chest freezer is usually quite full of garden veggies by the time our tomato harvest rolls around. That doesn’t mean they go to waste, just that we have to can the majority of our tomatoes. I prefer canned tomatoes to frozen anyway, though it is far more work to can. Canning salsa is a great introduction to home canning, as tomatoes are acidic and it’s difficult to mess them up. Plus, who doesn’t love salsa? If you have a way to harvest or otherwise get your hands on a half a bushel or so of tomatoes, here’s an easy-to-follow home-canned salsa recipe.
Home Canned Salsa
10 to 12 cups cored, peeled paste tomatoes
3 green bell peppers, seeded
3 medium onions
4 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons cilantro
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, or 1 teaspoon dried
1 teaspoon cumin
2 hot peppers (or to taste)
1 1/4 cups cider vinegar
1 tablespoon canning salt
Scant 1/4 cup sugar
12 ounces tomato paste
Prepare your water bath canner. Make sure your jars (pint) and lids are clean and put your lids in a small bowl of warm (not boiling) water. Your jars should be in simmering water to keep them hot.
Start heating tomatoes in a large stainless steel pot. Depending on how chunky you like your salsa, you could chop them in the food processor or just let them go as is.
Chop peppers, onions, garlic, and herbs together in food processor. Add to tomatoes. Add remaining ingredients EXCEPT tomato paste.
Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until thickened. This can take as long as 4 to 5 hours, depending on the type of tomatoes you are using. When the salsa is getting to close to your desired thickness, add the tomato paste to thicken it a bit further.
Ladle hot salsa into pint jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. Carefully wipe your jar rims clean. If your rims aren’t clean, your jars will not seal. I’ve learned that lesson the hard way. I keep a roll of paper towels handy and first wipe each rim with a wet paper towel and then with a dry one.
Place lids and rings on jars and place jars in your boiling water bath. Boil in the canner for 15 minutes. Turn off heat, remove cover and let canner sit for 5 minutes. Remove jars and place on a towel.
Let sit for about 24 hours. Check to make sure your jars sealed by feeling and looking at the lid, there should be no flex to the top. You can store these in a dark place for one year. Recipe makes about 6 to 7 pints.
As a youngster I remember my mom asking me every year, “What kind of cake do you want for your birthday?” My answer was always the same, “ICE CREAM CAKE!” Her answer back … “No.” Back then Carvel was the only place to get an ice cream cake. They weren’t sold in grocery stores, and I never had the idea that my mom or I could make one. That longed-for cake stayed just out of reach throughout my childhood. We usually celebrated my birthday at the county fair, and ice cream cakes don’t last long in a hot car. Another issue was the cost. With a family of six, my folks had to stretch every dollar, and dropping $10 on a cake wasn’t in the budget when Mom could make a regular cake from scratch for a few pennies.
After 45 years of waiting I got the idea this year to make my own ice cream cake. It cost $6 to make and was worth every penny! Here’s the recipe in case you have a birthday coming up this summer and you want to really make it a special one.
To-Die-For Ice Cream Cake
1 package (15 to 18 ounces) chocolate (or your favorite flavor) cake mix
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup milk (I used almond milk)
1/2 gallon ice cream (your favorite flavor, I used peanut butter cup)
1 container frosting (your favorite flavor, I used chocolate)
Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease bottom and very low sides only of 13-by-9-inch pan; set aside.
In large bowl, beat cake mix, oil, egg and milk until well-blended. Spread batter in pan and bake at 350 F for about 25 to 30 minutes.
Check for doneness as you get around the 25-minute mark. You want it set but not hard.
Cool completely for at least 1 hour.
Let ice cream soften for about 15 minutes. Spread on cake. Freeze for a couple of hours. Spread frosting over ice cream. Freeze about 1 hour.
Before you want to eat it, bring it out for about 10 minutes or so to soften up. Enjoy and don’t bother asking about calorie count!
We’ve eaten zucchini nearly every night for about a month now. Jim says he’s getting sick of it. Me, never; I love zucchini. But we really do have an awful lot of zucchini right now.
I’ve frozen about three dozen cups of zucchini milk for future bread-baking adventures, and I froze 14 cups of shredded zucchini last night. Come the dead of winter I’ll be able to bake a few loaves of zucchini bread to remind me of summer’s bounty. I also made a batch of zucchini muffins over the weekend. Muffins and bread are a great way to use up the zucchinis that hide under your plants and get too big for just eating.
One thing I’ve noticed about older cookbooks is the lack of muffin recipes. My grandmother’s cookbook/recipe stash has two muffin recipes: bran and corn. Yuk! I guess people just didn’t make a lot of muffins back then. If anyone knows why or has their hands on dessert-style (fruit, sweet) muffin recipes from pre-1940, I would love to hear from you.
I adore muffins, in part because they freeze well and with 30 seconds in the microwave, I can have a tasty treat at the ready. Here’s a simple zucchini muffin recipe for you to try:
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 cups unpeeled, shredded zucchini
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups white flour (can substitute up to 1/2 whole wheat)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease and flour a regular-size muffin tin; set aside.
Combine the oil, zucchini, eggs and sugar in a large bowl.
In a second bowl mix together the flour, baking powder and soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add the dry ingredients into the large bowl and stir just enough to combine. Add in walnuts and stir, but take care not to over-stir or your muffins will be tough.
Fill cups in prepared muffin tin just over two-thirds full with batter.
Bake for 22 to 25 minutes. Cool for about 5 minutes before trying to remove from the pan to a cooling rack. Yields about 12 muffins. Enjoy!
After last year’s successful apple foraging and our small but tasty butternut harvest from neighborhood trees, we have become a lot more aware of the possibilities for “found food.” We work hard to get food from our gardens, but we love foraging.
This month’s urban foraging escapades are on our very own property: sunflower seeds and quince. We feed sunflower seeds to the birds every winter. Inevitably some get dropped near the feeder and others are buried by industrious squirrels. We had quite a number of sunflowers come up spontaneously this year both below the feeder and along the edge of the garden. We let the seedlings grow and they flowered beautifully. We somehow managed to keep a few heads from the birds for our own harvest.
Sorry, birds, but sunflower seeds are delicious! We’re waiting for the heads to dry and then we’ll roast the seeds in the oven.
Earlier this week we discovered that our backyard quince trees have fruit for the first time. Our own fruit trees on our small homestead, how exciting!
We understand that quince aren’t really all that good for eating fresh, but I have read that they are high in natural pectin, so I can make quince jam without added pectin. We’ll only have a handful this year, but if we get lucky, maybe in coming years we’ll have enough to make quince wine. We do love our fruit wines.
We are thrilled to add quince and sunflowers to our food supply. Any food we can forage is something we don’t have to buy. What tastes better than homegrown? Homegrown and FREE!
I wrote last year about how to make your own mustard. It’s surprisingly easy to do, and I wanted to take it a step further. This year I decided to plant my own mustard so that I could harvest the seeds and use them to make my own mustard. What I didn’t realize, but should have, is just how small mustard seeds are, how laborious harvesting them can be, and how many I’d need to harvest to make this dream a reality!
I grew both yellow and brown mustard in pots on the back porch this year. As a bonus, the greens off the plants were delicious in salads. Spicy, a little hot, a lot like mustard, actually. A little went a very long way.
After the mustard plants bolted and completely went to seed, I had no clue what to do with them so I just left the containers out on the porch, hoping the seeds would mature. Of course, I left them too long and the seed pods started bursting, to the delight of the neighborhood birds. Jim saw them at first eying the plants with interest and ultimately clustering around the plants eating the seeds. Hurry-up, time to harvest! I cut off all the foliage and brought it inside ASAP.
To separate out the seeds, first I rubbed open the seed pods with my fingers – the yellow mustard plant had a prickly seed pod so I had to use gloves. The chaff and the seeds all fell down onto a newspaper I had laid out to catch them. The real difficulty comes in separating the seeds from the chaff. The seeds are miniscule, and it’s hard to remove the chaff without getting the seeds all over the place. Ultimately I resorted to blowing lightly on the whole pile, blowing away most of the chaff and just a few seeds.
In the end what I have is enough seeds to either make a very small batch of mustard this year or to, you guessed it, to plant mustard again next year.
I now realize that to have a large enough crop to actually make mustard, you have to plant a whole lot more mustard than I did.
So this experiment wasn’t a success but it wasn't a failure either. I loved the mustard greens and the process was enjoyable. I wouldn’t call it cost-effective to grow mustard to make your own mustard, but it’s a fun DIY project anyway!