Last year we picked about 25 pounds of apples from two abandoned fruit trees in our city. Both trees were in busy areas, but the free fruit they had was overlooked by everyone who passed by but me, I guess. We didn’t waste any of those apples, eating as many we could stand and canning the rest into apple pie filling. Last month I checked last year’s trees to see how “my” apples were doing. To my surprise both of the trees have no apples this year! Apparently abandoned trees don’t bear as reliably as those in a maintained orchard. Since this discovery I’ve been carefully studying all the trees I pass as I walk and ride around the city, seeking a new apple tree or two.
Last week I finally found an apple tree with apples on it. It’s about three blocks from my office and sits between the sidewalk and a busy downtown street, in front of a group of so-so row houses. An unlikely location for a fruit tree! Jim and I took our apple picker and a small stepladder last Friday morning to visit the tree. Picking tools are necessary because low-hanging fruit is generally gone on any accessible urban fruit tree. To bring in a meaningful haul you need the tools of the trade.
As it turned out, we could only pick about half the apples on the tree. There were two cars parked on the street directly below the choicest apples. Jostling the branches over the cars made apples rain down, and we got worried about setting off a car alarm. In the 25 minutes we spent picking, several people emerged from the apartments around the tree. Each person acknowledged us but didn’t act as if we were doing anything strange or noteworthy. Jim was just happy no one called the police!
We picked 14 pounds of apples from that tree. The fruit is nice sized, and there are only a few blemishes here and there. One great thing about urban fruit is that pests aren’t usually an issue. Monocultures attract pests. One tree here and there won’t support a big worm infestation. Urban apples are generally organic as well. After all, the trees have been abandoned, they aren’t being cared for and they certainly aren’t being sprayed with pesticides.
I’d like to match our 25-pound take from last year. That means I either have to figure out how to get the rest of the apples hanging over the cars or find a second tree. I only have a few more weeks before the season ends, I hope I make it!
One of the first things we did when we moved into our urban homestead was put up a clothesline. We have a semi-shaded backyard, but it does get enough sun to dry our clothes, especially in the summer.
We’ve learned that clotheslines are considered a thing of the past. Although it is in our backyard, our clothesline is slightly visible from the street. One afternoon we overheard two passersby commenting on how old-fashioned and unusual they thought our clothesline is. Only one of our neighbors line-dries her clothes. Our other neighbors probably think we are crazy or at least unseemly, having our unmentionables out on the line for all to see!
We aren’t trying to evoke an earlier era or be quaint by drying out clothes this way. We’re trying to save money and use less fossil fuels. Why use electricity to do what the sun can do so well? I suppose one could argue that it’s more work to line-dry, but I appreciate the rhythm of hanging up and taking down clothes. I don’t find it a chore. On warm, windy days, I treat it like a challenge: Can I get two loads dry in a single day?
Line-dried clothes have a different quality than dryer-dried. Yes, the towels and jeans are stiffer. But only for a minute until you use them or put them on. You also have to watch out for insects. The other day Jim found a bee inside one of his socks just before he put it on! And being mindful of the weather helps, unless you want your wash load getting soaked by rain.
I encourage everyone to put up a clothesline. If you live where clotheslines aren’t permitted, try to fight it. You could have a lower electricity bill in your future!
Canning condiments is a hobby, not a money-saving enterprise, to be sure. That said, there’s nothing quite like the sound of your jars sealing up as you pull a batch out of the waterbath. It’s music to the ears for canners! This photographs shows the zucchini and cucumber relishes I canned last week.
Most of us who have any kind of vegetable garden grow zucchini. And even if you only have one or two plants you probably have too much zucchini to eat. We make zucchini casserole, muffins, bread, milk (yes, zucchini milk!), and we eat it fried up with olive oil and fresh garlic. But there’s inevitably still extra zucchini lying around come August.
Although most commercial relish is made with cucumbers, zucchini relish is just as good. It has a similar flavor to cucumber relish and you may even find that you prefer it. My co-worker likes it so much she claims to eat it right from the jar! We made this relish using the freshest onions, peppers and zucchini picked from our garden and immediately chopped up. Delicious!
If you have even a couple extra zucchinis and are anxious to have a new canning adventure, this recipe is for you. I got it from my mom who has been making it for years.
2 cups grated zucchini
1 cup finely chopped onions
2 tablespoons canning salt
1/2 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
1 3/4 cups white sugar
1 cup cider vinegar
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
2 teaspoon celery seed
Place grated zucchini and chopped onion in large bowl. Add salt. Let sit 2 to 3 hours in refrigerator.
Rinse zucchini and onion mixture thoroughly in a large strainer and drain well. Put mixture in a large stainless steel pot.
Chop peppers in your food processor. Add peppers to zucchini and onions along with all remaining ingredients. Mix well and boil for 30 minutes, or until you feel it is thickened up enough.
Prepare your water bath canner. Make sure your jars 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.
Remove your hot canning jars from the waterbath and ladle the relish into the jars. Leave about 1/2-inch headspace. 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. Our yield was about 5 pints. Enjoy!
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!