Yes, I know, you’re all in “fall-mode” already. Me too. It’s hard not to be when Halloween has infiltrated every store & every blog (or Pinterest page) is pushing pumpkin desserts! And I’ve got those coming for you, too. But first there’s still some wrapping up to do when it comes to summer. Namely the garden.
Every year at this time, I start to dry my herbs. They continue growing until mid to late October, usually, unless it gets very cold at night very quickly. As do the peppers, sometimes. But the herbs usually get so large midway through the summer, that I end up cutting them back in late July and using most of them fresh (or freezing them). The rest I dry and add to my dried herb jars. Then I cut them back again in September. Drying fresh herbs is one of the easiest things to do, as is freezing them, and if you grow your own herbs I strongly suggest you do it! For cilantro, I suggest freezing it in olive oil. Basil is also good that way, as well as rosemary. You can freeze them in water, too, if you prefer. As far as drying them, there are, of course, quite a few different ways to do it… but this is what I do. I bought little jars from Ikea to store them in, but small Ball jars work too, as do cleaned out baby food jars. All you have to do is cut your herbs and give them a good shake outside to evict any unwanted tenants. Not cilantro, though, dried cilantro tastes nothing like fresh and it’s not really worth it. You’re better off freezing that. Anyhow, cut ’em down and give ’em a a shake or two… then give them a good rinse and let them dry overnight on a paper towel or clean dish towel. The next morning, tie the ends of each herb together to create a bunch, and tie with soft twine (or use a small rubber band). Place them in a brown paper lunch bag that you already labeled and “hang” them in it, gathering the top of the bag together around the bottom of the stems and tying it. Then hang the bags or place them in a cool, dry place for 2 weeks. After 2 weeks, you’ll have dried herbs (if not, let them hang another week, there shouldn’t be any moisture left in them). Take them out of the bags and gently tug, pull or scrape the leaves of the herbs off the stems with your fingers. You can crumble the basil, oregano & parsley at this point, if you wish. Place them in your jars and label. Or, if you have non-edible lavender, use it in a sachet. All done!
Anyway… as you might have guessed, this is the last garden post of the season. Sad, yes. But each year it comes whether we like it or not. The good things far outweigh the bad: the fresh veggies that start to come in record numbers, the fresh herbs that grow like crazy, and the delicious meals, sauces & salsas that can come of them all.
Except this year.
This year I was lucky to get 8 Cajun Belle peppers, 4 SuperTasty Hybrid tomatoes and 1 Green Zebra tomato. That’s it. Of course, my herbs were huge and I got tons of use out of them all season, not to mention the pesto I’ll be making & freezing because my basil is taking over a small country. But my vegetables were not at all what they have been in the past. Why? I don’t know. The weather, maybe? I know the country is having the worst drought in two decades. But here in NY, it was a pretty wet summer (wetter than usual), but that flip-flopped from very very hot to very very wet almost constantly. The plants barely had time to dry out and recover from one storm by the time another one hit. Though really, I’m not sure. Maybe it was the crazy wind with all those severe thunderstorms (& tornadoes! WHAT?), maybe it was the really bad heat in between all that, maybe it was just me. My mind has been other places this summer, and I haven’t been as anal-retentive about keeping up with the gardening. I noticed some funky curly leaves on the tomatoes and I never even did anything about it. I haven’t weeded or used any fertilizer/plant food at all either. And maybe it was the fact that I chose heirloom tomatoes, not hardier disease-resistant ones this season. But regardless, no matter what the reason, that’s all I got so far. The “mystery plant” died sometime in mid-August, so I guess I’ll never know what it was (glad we weren’t taking bets!). Now my peppers & tomatoes will probably keep growing for a few more weeks, or at least until it gets too cold at night, but I doubt I’ll get much more out of them. Of course, if I end up with anything else, you’ll all read about it for sure. But basically, that was my bounty of 2012, and I was lucky to get it.
But it was still worth it. Each tomato or pepper is one more tomato or pepper I didn’t have to buy.
I cut those last three peppers off before they matured, because I wanted to use a variety of peppery heat in a dish I was making. The green tomato took forever to finish growing, it wasn’t done until last week. And the SuperTasty’s? Ugh. They were a struggle all season. Like I said, I could probably take some of the blame, if not most- I wasn’t 100% invested this year. But the weather was downright bizarre, so I’m just going to use that as my excuse. In all my years of having a veggie/herb garden, this is the first year my bounty was pathetic, so I guess I should be thankful. And the best part? Using fresh tomato slices from my own plant, and fresh oregano to make a fantastic light hot weather dinner: a tomato feta open-face sandwich, using one of my SuperTasty hybrid tomatoes & both kinds of fresh oregano.
I feel almost silly for writing up the recipe for this, it’s so easy, but epicurious.com did too, so I’m in good company. This is a good way to enjoy the fruits of your garden on a really hot, sticky late summer night. Or a slightly warm early fall evening.
TOMATO-FETA OPEN FACE SANDWICH (from epicurious.com)
- Thick slices of white bread (Pullman loaf is ideal)
- Olive oil (good quality oil meant for eating)
- Tomato slices
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Slabs or crumbles of feta
- Fresh oregano
- Lightly toast thick slices of white bread, then drizzle with olive oil.
- Add tomato slices, salt and freshly ground black pepper, slabs of feta, fresh oregano, and more oil.
I bet this sandwich would look delightful with different colored heirloom tomatoes, and it would probably be amazing with blue cheese or Gorgonzola crumbles too. Noms.