Category: cilantro

Garden’s last hurrah: nectarine basil preserves (+ a salsa).

It’s September, and the weather is changing. My little herb garden is still growing, but it’s struggling. I know it’s short-lived: the temperatures are dipping down into the 50′s at night, and they’re starting to show the signs that it’s too cold for them. So I’m using every last bit that I can. Making sauces & throwing in extra basil, making cilantro rice, and making rosemary-herbed chicken. Because before I know it, I’ll be drying them all for use over the winter.

When I was a kid, this time of year used to depress me. Back at school for weeks already, time in the pool getting cut drastically short (or disappearing altogether), the weather changing, etc. As an adult I find it doesn’t anymore… sure, I miss the summer. But after long, swelteringly hot days where my face feels like it’s melting off, I look forward to the coolness of the fall. The quietness. The changing leaves. The awesome fall TV lineup. The ability to bake a cake & not have it be too hot to breathe or have the frosting form nothing but a sad, pathetic puddle of sugary mush.

I definitely always miss my garden once the fall weather moves in. Using dried herbs just isn’t the same. And I miss all the fresh produce, too.

But right now… it’s still just warm enough, and it’s all still fresh.

Beautiful, fresh Washington State nectarines.I mean, come on… really now… they’re insanely beautiful!

I made the following recipes after receiving a second massive box from the Washington State Stone Fruit Commission. You might remember that the last time it was a huge box of beautiful peaches. This time, it was half ‘Sweet Dream’ peaches, half ‘Honey Royale’ nectarines (shown above); grown in an orchard right outside Yakima, Washington. They were so stunningly picture perfect, I couldn’t help but snap some photos before they were gobbled up. The nectarines were so big & perfect they almost looked like apples! Just gorgeous. I swear, I have never seen such beautiful fruit before. Not even at farmer’s markets, or gourmet food stores. The fruits I’ve received from them have been some of the best produce I’ve ever had.

So of course, after I took photos… a few of them got eaten fresh. And my parents took some. Gave a few to lucky neighbors.

And the piles of fruit that were left were all for me to play around with!

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Scenes from the garden, 2013.

My grandpa's 60+ year old rose.

Typically, I update about my little container “Victory garden” a few times during the summer. But because I’ve been so busy this year, I really had to pare down. I didn’t grow anything other than the usual herbs; a few of mine come back every year (chives, oregano, mint) and I bought a few more, like dill, tarragon, rosemary, etc. You all saw my garlic already. So I was going to stick to just herbs, my little garlic shoots & my flowers, but then I bought a cherry tomato plant at the last minute because it felt kinda naked without any veggies. But I swear, I’m stopping at that!  I have way too much going on this summer to have a massive garden.

Anyway, I was inspired by my visit to the Queens County Farm Museum & I thought I’d share some photos with you of my garden, & what I’m growing this year. Even if it’s not a lot of stuff, it’s still beautiful, because nature is always beautiful & interesting. That rose pictured above is from a plant that’s over 60 years old. It was one of the first ones my grandpa planted when he moved out to Long Island from the Bronx, and it’s still the most beautiful rose I have.

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A time to plant, a time to sow.

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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!

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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.

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Except this year.

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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.

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But it was still worth it. Each tomato or pepper is one more tomato or pepper I didn’t have to buy.

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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.

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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)

Ingredients:

  • 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

Directions:

  1. Lightly toast thick slices of white bread, then drizzle with olive oil.
  2. Add tomato slices, salt and freshly ground black pepper, slabs of feta, fresh oregano, and more oil.
  3. Eat!

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.

Raspberry-jalapeño-cilantro jam, or “rasp-jalantro.”

“One must maintain a little bittle of summer, even in the middle of winter.”
-Henry David Thoreau

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I saw that quote the other day and it struck me, probably because I related it to the blog. How could I not, really? In a few ways…one, canning & preserving. Aren’t the two of those things doing exactly what that quote says- keeping a ‘little bittle’ of summer with us, all through fall & winter? Is that not how canning & preserving & pickling originated? Of course. And two, the very fact that I run a blog means I have an internet-based, HTML & CSS created cookbook & diary at my fingertips, 24/7/52/365. Even if my old pictures make me cringe (they’re all taken with FLASH!What the hell was I thinking?), I can look back at my summer posts on the coldest day in winter, when the snow is coming down and my toes freeze just walking to the car, just the same way I can look at those wintery posts about Shepherd’s Pie when it’s 100º outside and I sweat just thinking about having the oven on. But I digress.

The idea behind my coming up with this jam is pretty simple. I’d been thinking of a sweet/savory jam for a while now, after the success of last year’s habanero rosemary jelly & after hearing that my friend Chrisie made a blueberry-basil jam, but I just wasn’t sure what kind I wanted to make. Like most things I make, it ended up being carefully thought out, totally obsessed over and then in the end, made differently than I thought. Right away, I decided I’d do something raspberry-based. My initial idea was a raspberry-chipotle jam. I’m hugely into Mexican food, all things Mexican actually, and so chipotle just popped out at me.

One of my most prized possessions is this handpainted skull Jay got me in San Antonio, TX when he was there playing a show back in November.


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He actually got me a TON of sugar skull stuff down there, all imported from Mexico: a handscreened oven mitt, a painted terracotta tile, etc, etc… and I love it all. But she’s by far my favorite. Jay got a matching more masculine one, too. We’re cheesy like that. Basically anything sugar skull themed is sure to make me smile.

Anyway, I wanted to make a spicy, savory yet still sweet jam. I was inspired by Chrisie’s blueberry-basil concoction, Mexico & it’s food/culture, and then… I saw some raspberry-chipotle sauces & salad dressings for sale. I’m out of the loop with that stuff, I’m more of a classic salad dressing & marinade girl, myself. No fruity or fancy stuff. I use Jack Daniel’s or Guinness barbecue sauce & blue cheese dressing, for goodness sake. But I figured if it makes a good sauce, it’ll probably make a damn good jam. However true to form, I had trouble finding chipotle peppers. Can I get a WTF? As a matter of fact, I couldn’t find them at all. Not in any ethnic, natural or gourmet market. I had to settle for using jalapeños, and threw a bit of cilantro in there for an added Southwestern flavor. Not that there’s anything wrong with jalapeños. I love them. They just have a very different kind of heat & flavor than chipotles, which are actually just smoked & dried red jalapeños. But the smoke was the thing I originally wanted for this jam. And yes I could’ve made my own, blah blah… but I wasn’t really in the mood to smoke & dry/dehydrate ONE jalapeño pepper myself to make 12 ounces of experimental jam. I had the berries, I needed to make the jam ASAP. So I used half of a green jalapeño I had already.

I also decided to make a very, very small batch just to test it out. How small? About three 4-oz. jars.


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Yep. Super small batch! But number one, I wasn’t at all 100% confident in it’s deliciousness and two, how much raspberry-jalapeño-cilantro jam does one person need? Not that much really. Even if you do love it, you can only eat so much of it. And that’s another reason I like having the 4-ounce jars around, because they’re excellent for experimental jams & jellies (and also for overflow; a.k.a. the bit left over after you fill your jars up that isn’t quite enough for a full jar). You don’t have to feel horrible about tossing it (if it’s crappy) when it’s only one or two tiny jars worth. Unfortunately, the 4-ounce jars are insanely hard to find. At least around here. My dad managed to pick me up a case at a Walmart recently, but I’ve only found them ONE other time in a store and it was around Christmas.

The ingredients are pretty easy to remember: raspberries, sugar, freshly squeezed lime juice, one half of a jalapeño, and fresh cut cilantro. I adapted a basic raspberry jam recipe to suit my needs and just added the pepper. I tossed in some roughly chopped cilantro at the end, right before removing it from the heat. I’m giving you my recipe, but of course it can be changed slightly to adapt it to you. If you prefer more heat, add the entire pepper… for less heat, use a pepper that isn’t so hot. You can also use a Serrano or Anaheim pepper. If you like more cilantro, add more. If you don’t like cilantro, take it out altogether. Because it’s such a small recipe, you can also double and even triple it with good results. You don’t need any added pectin. I’m not really sure why people use commercial pectin with blackberries, raspberries & blueberries. You don’t need it. If you dislike the seeds, you can remove them. I find they add a nice texture, plus they’re healthy. But if you really hate ‘em, this blog has a recipe for seedless raspberry jam that you can get some seed-removal tips from.

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RASPBERRY-JALAPEÑO-CILANTRO JAM

Makes about three 4-ounce jars

Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces fresh raspberries, washed
  • 8 ounces granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
  • half of one jalapeño pepper (or more or less, depending on taste), chopped or diced
  • a tablespoon or two roughly chopped cilantro leaves

Directions:

  1. Place the raspberries in a medium saucepan. Using the back of a wooden spoon, crush them as best you can. Add the sugar and lime juice, then stir.
  2. Turn the heat on medium and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add the chopped jalapeño. Keep cooking it until it reaches the desired thickness (or “set”; this can be different times for different people/ovens/pots). Turn off the heat and add the cilantro, stirring until it’s combined.
  3. Ladle the jam into your hot, sterilized jars. Wipe rims, place lids, and process for 10 minutes.

If you can find chipotles, or you have them already, feel free to use some finely diced chipotle in this. The smokiness would be fantastic, and you can use a little more of them than jalapeños without burning someone’s mouth off with the holy-crap-I-was-unprepared-for-the-hotness-in-a-raspberry-jam stuff going on in this. I actually might just have to do another version of this after I find some chipotle.

You can also add a little more lime juice if you want, or take it out altogether. I liked the tartness it added.


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It looks pretty delish, doesn’t it? And it WAS. Quelle surprise. I was genuinely surprised, seriously. I didn’t have high hopes for this one for some reason, but it was definitely successful.

It’s great on a cracker- the ones above are some kind of Wheat Thins herb-y flatbread cracker thing- but it’s also good whisked with some olive oil and balsamic vinegar (or red wine vinegar) and made into a salad dressing. And of course, it’d probably be excellent melted down and used as a sauce for chicken or even chicken wings. You could probably find a couple of different ways to use it. I bet it would be good with certain cheeses, too. Ooh! And on cornbread! Ohhh, the possibilities. Just endless.

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I’m sure you’ve got the eating part covered. So make it. Worse comes to worse, if you don’t wildly love it- sharing is caring. Everyone loves a jar of something homemade, right? Just be sure to let them know there are hot peppers in there, or else they might get a nasty surprise & also might not want to eat much of your canned foods after that.

And for those of you thinking “Where the F&%! are the cupcakes?!” they’re coming! This week! It’s been really hot here, and I haven’t been in much of a mood for tackling frosting & things more complicated than cobblers. But have no fear. The cupcakes are coming.

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Raspberry-jalapeño-cilantro jam. on Punk Domestics

Asian-inspired quick pickles.

My grandmother had a thing for all things Asian. She was totally immersed in the culture. She read Pearl S. Buck books over & over again (The Good Earth being a favorite), collected cloisonné ginger jars & imported Japanese figurines, had a large Buddha statue sitting cross-legged in meditation pose next to her couch, had porcelain Geisha girl lamps and even had a mural of a bonsai tree on her living room wall. And all that is just the tip of the iceberg. She had tons of hand-held fans with Oriental scenes on them. She loved movies like Raise the Red Lantern & The Last Emperor. She loved jade. She loved Asian food, Asian history, Asian-inspired scents, Asian clothes; Cheongsams & kimono robes. She was a major Asiaphile, which I always thought was funny for a little red-headed Irish woman from the Bronx. But it just fascinated her, that’s all.


So, you can see why recipes like this immediately make me think of her, and how much she’d love it.

This is a kind of Frankenstein pickle recipe. Meaning that I got the idea from two sources: Food in Jars’ Asian-Inspired Refrigerator Pickles and The Foodinista‘s posting of Momofuku Pickles and morphed the two into my own version of an Asian pickle. Both pickles are refrigerator pickles, meaning there’s no canning involved. Both pickles also use rice vinegar/rice wine vinegar (as far as I’m concerned, both are interchangeable). One uses hot peppers & some herbs, the other is just straight forward. I like a little added oomph in my life, so I decided to do the herb thing as well. I thought cilantro sounded fantastic; I made some green coriander pickles last summer that Jay would’ve definitely, without question, defended to the death had they been threatened in any way. So yeah, I knew cilantro was the herb of choice for me, although Marisa says you can also use mint instead, as well as use green onions or scallions in place of shallots. You can also totally omit all the extras and make it with just cucumbers/vinegar/sugar/salt if you wish.

These photos were taken after they sat in the fridge overnight. Feel free to cut your cukes thinner, if you want to use them as more of a condiment.



ASIAN-INSPIRED PICKLES

Makes roughly two pints or one quart

Ingredients:

  • 5-6 smallish pickling cucumbers, cut into slices
  • 1 chili pepper, thinly sliced, or a 1 teaspoon of hot red pepper flakes (optional, I left them out)
  • 1 cup rice wine vinegar or rice vinegar
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1 small shallot, cut into thin slices
  • 1 garlic clove, sliced thinly
  • 4-5 sprigs of cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar

Directions:

  1. Pack the cukes into the clean jar. Stuff the pepper in there too, or sprinkle the pepper flakes in on top.
  2. In a glass bowl, mix the rice vinegar, shallot, garlic, cilantro, salt and lime juice together. Pour the boiling water over it, and stir. Pour into the jar, and using a butter knife, poke the garlic/shallot/cilantro down amongst the cukes as well as you can.
  3. Screw a lid on the jar as tightly as you can, and give it a good shake or two to distribute things. Leave in the fridge for 24 hours to marinate before eating, toss after a month.

It’s a lovely, bright, crisp pickle. Very summery. Like I said, I omitted the pepper, but because it’s a fridge pickle, if you decide it’s too bland for you without the heat- you can always add a sliced up pepper. Then just put it back in the fridge and let it sit another 24 hours. Which is exactly what I did! Haha. Turns out, it needed a bit of a kick. So I had two red jalapeños left over from some other kitchen wizardry, and I took one, seeded it & removed the ribs/inner membrane, sliced it up into very thin slices and tucked them in the jar. If sliced thin enough one jalapeño is enough for three pint jars.



Just be sure to wear gloves when cutting hot peppers. It may sound silly, but bad reactions are common… some people can develop blisters and burns from even the mildest hot pepper, and even if you don’t, in the best case scenario the pepper oil will stay under your fingernails & in your skin for a while, causing issues when you rub your eyes or use the bathroom later on. Red jalapeños are slightly hotter than green ones, but also sweeter, just so you know. I’m aware that the jalapeño is not an Asian pepper, but you use what you’ve got, right? If you can get your hands on a Thai Chili pepper or a Goat Horn, then good for you. Otherwise, use what you have.

If you’ve got a rice vinegar that’s 5% acidity, you can most certainly change these to a be a shelf-stable, waterbath-process friendly pickle. My vinegar was only around 4.3% so I left them as fridge pickles. And did you notice these awesome jars!? I finally found them! The elusive Ball Collection Elite® 16-oz. jars. *siiiiiigh* And of all places, I found them in a Target. GO FIGURE. Not my Target, of course, but a Target like 5 towns away. After a year and a half of searching, they’re finally mine.

Playing in the dirt.

I thought I’d do a quick little update on the garden while things were a bit slow around here due to today’s excessive heat & sunshine that’ll blind you.

(Alright, I’m lying. It’s not that slow around here, nor is it that hot – it’s around 91° F, which compared to our 101° temps last week is nothing. I just wanted to do a garden update. Whatever.)

And so I’ll begin this written portion of the program by saying that while every other woman in the country (seemingly) is squealing in excitement for the final film installment of The Twilight Saga and/or reading Fifty Shades of Grey, I’ve been gardening, cooking, baking, canning, beaching, grilling, strolling, sunbathing, and generally enjoying the outdoors. Not that there’s anything wrong with the aforementioned activities. I’m just saying. Summer goes by quickly, folks. Enjoy it while it’s here! The winter is loooong.

But right now, it’s pretty much hotter than hell most days. That sun I photographed above beats down relentlessly (when it’s not pouring rain & thundering, oh the joys of high humidity!) on everything making the sidewalk so hot I could fry my peppers outdoors. This poor little guy was one of the (probably many) casualties of the heat. I call him The Jesus Lizard, because a few weeks prior, I found a lizard laying in quite the same position, and assumed him dead. Yet when I went to brush him off the walkway into the flowerbed (I don’t know why, my version of a lizard burial I suppose) he flipped over and scooted away. This time… however… he was 100% definitely dead. I have a sneaking suspicion that this is that very same lizard. So of course, what else would I call him but the Jesus Lizard? Somewhere, many other lizards are awaiting his second coming. Until then, rest in peace little dude.

The heat is no joke. This is why they tell you to check on the elderly & young’ns and make sure your pets have plenty of cold fresh water. Anyway… let’s get back to something pleasant: my container garden! Prepare for lots of photos.

Cajun Belle pepper

Green Zebra heirloom tomato

SuperTasty Hybrid tomato

Herbs; dill, cilantro, rosemary

Oregano

Variegated oregano

Mint

Rosemary

Lavender (not edible)

Basil

The “Mystery Plant”

So yeah. That’s pretty much that.

The interesting thing is that “Mystery Plant” there. Whatever it is, it’s a plant from last year that I thought was just dead wood. However, I failed to remove it from the pot at the end of the season in October, and the tag that told me what it was went missing over the winter. So I was surprised to see that there was green life coming from the dead-looking brown stalk a month ago, and I decided to leave it and see what came of it. It’s gotten bigger, with more green growing, but I’m not 100% sure what it is. It’s possible it’s my Habanero plant, or it could be a Bell pepper. It’s definitely not a tomato, and I doubt it’s an eggplant. But I guess we’ll see, right?! Whatever it is, it’s a pleasant surprise, and a testament to life and nature. It’s so true what my grandma used to say: where there’s life- there’s hope! Except for Jesus Lizard, that is.

I did have one little casualty. A Cajun Belle fell off the vine prematurely. It was so cute, and so perfectly formed… but so tiny! So I tossed it into the grass for the local bunnies or my friendly raccoon family to nibble on.

My mint is struggling to come back full force, which kinda sucks- I have a feeling by the time it’s huge the season will be over and it’ll be time for me to cut it down and dry it. It’s turning brown slightly on the edges. Blah. I’ll update again once more things start to come around. Basil? For a while it wasn’t doing too well- it seemed to be shrinking. But now it’s better. My cilantro took a nose dive, though. My tomatoes are taking an extra long time, trying my patience, for sure. I lost two buds (one from each) in a bad thunderstorm that lasted over 12+ hours and it took forever for the other teeny buds to catch up. Ugh. Hurry up tomatoes!

At least I hope they get here before Breaking Dawn pt. 2.

Kidding.

Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?

My name is a derivative of Mary, did you know that? It’s an old English form of the name. Fancier than Mary, but still the same name & the meaning (of the original Hebrew root name, Miryam, that is) ranges from bitter/bitterness, salty to rebellion, obstinacy. I’d like to think I’m not bitter, but salty… yes. I can be a bit salty at times. And rebellious? Totally. I’ll even admit to obstinate.

That doesn’t really have anything to do with gardening. Does explain the title of this post, though. And it explains partially why my grandmother used to call me ‘Rosie the Riveter.’ I grow my own veggies & herbs in the spring/summer, bake, cook, can my own pickles/jams/jellies/sauces/etc. I can sew. I am the modern Rosie the Riveter, I guess. I can fix anything, I can paint, I can repair almost anything or install almost anything. I think it’s important to be independent. Women who are the “damsels in distress” make me want to vomit. There’s a balance though. Yes, I like doors held open for me and I like things done for me. Yes, I like to be protected and feel safe. Yes, it’s nice when a man shovels the snow for me, carries the groceries or offers to climb the ladder to fix XYZ, etc. Of course I like that. But do I need a man (or another human for that matter) to help me do things? Not most of the time. I can handle pretty much anything you throw at me. And I think that there are a lot of women who agree with me, but there are also a lot who don’t, surprisingly. They need a man to change a lightbulb or hang a picture. It’s ridiculous. Get up off your ass and learn to do something. I just hate whiny little wussy women who don’t know how to do anything. I remember when I was 17 I had to tell my then boyfriend which was the transmission fluid in his car and which was the oil. And I didn’t even own a car myself at the time- nor did I drive!

Anyway. I digress. I definitely scaled back the garden this year. I’ve got the same amount of herbs that I usually do, but I only got two tomatoes and one pepper. I didn’t grow from seed, I bought baby plants instead to lighten my load, so to speak. And also because I missed the seed-planting boat. But like I mentioned last time, I wasn’t sure how much time I’d have to invest in it this year, so I did want to scale back. But half the herbs were already growing (chives, both oregano, mint & parsley) so honestly, how scaled back could it be? Not only that, but my freakin’ chives could’ve taken over a small country… let alone my oregano. I mistakenly didn’t prune them back last fall so this year they were ridiculous. Scale back? Right. In for a penny, in for a pound, so I bought a few veggie plants and called it a day.

And no. I don’t care if you think that it’s cheating that I didn’t grow them from seeds. I’ve got so much else going on, and I do this for fun. I can’t be Wonder Woman. Well, not all the time. So save your preaching & crap for a blogger who cares & who buys into it. I’m not sustaining my entire family to get through the summer. I’m just doing this because I enjoy it.

So, the tally this year is:

  1. Green Zebra Heirloom tomato
  2. Cajun Belle pepper
  3. SuperTasty Hybrid tomato
  4. Rosemary
  5. Chives
  6. Variegated oregano
  7. Oregano
  8. Mint (small, but still trying to come back!)
  9. Italian parsley
  10. Sweet basil
  11. Lavender
  12. Cilantro
  13. Dill

I wanted to grow an heirloom tomato for a while, so I went with the Green Zebra because it was different. The other tomato? Well I got it because I wanted a regular old red tomato as well. The pepper is supposedly sweet but hot, which has a nice sound. After the Habanero’s last year, I needed a break from the super hot peppers. I ended up with 800 Hab’s and I had no idea what to do with them all! I might break down & buy another small vegetable at the nursery before the season is over, because I’m crazy like that. I’m like the crazy cat lady but with plants. Remember my half-dead blueberry bush from last year? It died, by the way. Didn’t make it through the winter. But I can’t help myself, I go into a nursery and I see all those little plants looking all lonely…

At any rate, here’s some photos from when I first planted & cleaned up my little container garden. The two tomatoes first (Green Zebra left and Super Tasty right), then the pepper (close up) then the herbs- the first photo of those two has the two different types of oregano/cilantro/dill/rosemary and the Cajun pepper (while it was still just flowering), the last photo has the basil and lavender. Things have changed since then, so scroll on down and see!

I’m slightly concerned that I’ve read the Green Zebra tomato isn’t very disease resistant & also that aphids seem to love it. I hate to think that it’ll die or be a waste, but even if I get one or two tomatoes from it I’ll be appeased. Aphids love my roses too, for some strange reason more so my Intrigue & Queen Elizabeth, but so far this year I haven’t seen any. Here’s hoping they stay away! Yeah. I know. I’m dreaming.

As the last thing for this post, here are some of my flowers so far. They’re absolutely beautiful; clockwise from top left… Pansy, Rose, Dianthus and Petunia.

The call of nature.

  “Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher.” - William Wordsworth

My trusty gardening shoes; falling apart Chuck Taylor’s I’ve had since 8th grade, the laces have been replaced 4 times

The Victory Garden is back in full effect, and of course I’m going to show it all to you! Some people show photos of their children, I show photos of my vegetables, herbs, pets and cupcakes. As far as the garden goes, things are going really well so far. No tragedies, like last year’s zucchini “abortions.” *knocks on wood* I mentioned a few posts back that I bought a blueberry bush, so that’ my newest addition, although I’m well aware I’ll see no fruit this season. I’ve been using my herbs to cook with almost every night, which is so nice. Plus, the smell of the fresh basil, cilantro, dill & rosemary is so awesome, when I’m sitting on my patio on a hot day & the breeze blows, you get such a whiff of it. I can’t stress enough the convenience & enjoyment there is in my garden. It’s also like therapy, cheap therapy, relatively. I can go out there and lose myself in the dirt, all the weeding & trimming & picking and planting (and photographing). I recommend it highly. Same reason I recommend having a pet- taking care of something dependent on you is crucial to remembering the world is bigger than just you & your selfish bullshit. You can’t spend all day in bed when you have a pet to feed, or a garden to take care of, etc. It saves you from yourself. There’s a quote by an unknown author that goes something like “You can bury a lot of troubles digging in the dirt.” Unlike blogging, which just inflates your self-indulgence & self-importance to levels beyond all comprehension & has the tendency of blowing everything out of proportion, right into the stratosphere of insanity (if you let it). I know this firsthand. Everyone’s important on the internet, right? In that same vein, I’m no expert when it comes to gardening, or “micro-farming” or anything. I just enjoy it.

I’ve always enjoyed gardening, ever since my mom taught me how to dig a hole & “tuck the baby plant” into the soil, safe & sound. Then in a few weeks, it’d be twice the size! Ever since then I was hooked. Just me, the sunshine, & a bit of water, making beautiful things grow.

Some things never change.

The past few weeks for me have been so hard, my only consolation in all of it has been losing myself in this garden, and in my baking & cooking & jarring. It helps so much, really. My grandma loved to come see my garden, and talk about the vegetables, and she loved to eat a fresh tomato… just cut off the vine, with salt & pepper. So I know she’s happy when I’m out there doing my thing, but my heart is still heavy. Very, very heavy. Everything reminds me of her. She used to call me ‘Rosie the Riveter,’ referring to my ‘Victory Garden’ and all my from-scratch baking, cooking, canning, etc. She’d say how amazing I was, say how did I know how to do all of this. And I miss her saying all those things, and asking questions about each plant, how big will it get, etc. I miss that desperately. But life goes on, and she’d be the first one to tell me that.

And nowhere is the phrase “Life goes on” more clear than in nature. Buds on a plant die, the rest still stretch to meet the suns rays. The wind damages half a tomato vine, yet the rest of it tries desperately to cling to life. And when one entire plant turns brown, from disease or bugs or just nature itself… and it can’t hang on anymore, and it dies… the sun still comes up the next day to greet the rest of the plants. Life continues. The cycle keeps going. My garden is the closest I get to believing in a God. I don’t, but by being outside & watching things grow, I feel like I understand why people do. It doesn’t change my beliefs, as I’m a believer in nature not God. But I get it. I see why it’s such a popular notion. And sometimes I wish that the thought of a God comforted me or that I did really believe in it. But I don’t, and that’s okay. I’m happy with my belief in nature. The Bible has (very) few decent quotes in it that I can get behind, one of them being “You were made from soil, and you will become soil again.”

Everyone who has a few feet of space can have a container garden, and if you only have a flower box you can certainly grow some herbs, so I encourage you all to do so. It’s not too late; go buy some big pots, potting soil & some herbs & veggies at Home Depot, Lowe’s or a garden center. I had to stop myself at Home Depot around the middle of July, I saw three tomato varieties I wanted to buy; German Queen, a purple & a yellow … but I had no more big pots! And then I’d have to buy three new pots, a couple of bags of potting soil… and on and on we go. I get so excited about it, I can’t help it. Especially when I see some blooms starting! Whatever is left at this point might be a bit run-down, but I’m a firm believer that with a little TLC you can coax some beauty out of anything before the season is over. I check my garden everyday, mainly for bugs/mites/disease, but also to see the progress. Of course, I take photos of the progress to share with you (and also for my own edification). I love this kind of thing, and I have this silly idea some people out there reading this might too. It may even encourage people to grow their own food. Be self-sufficient & self-reliant as much as you can. But never make it a chore. It should always be enjoyable, never like work. The day I’m no longer excited about my garden is the day I stop doing it; same goes for baking or cooking or anything else. Why do something if it’s not gratifying and fun?

Most of my little container garden outside the porch (taken a while back in late June, before things really grew like crazy)

So many things have changed, it seems like forever ago that I first posted about my garden this season, although it’s only 2 months ago. People might scoff at container gardening, they might say there’s no way you can achieve results this way like you can by growing in the ground. I say they’re wrong. I have proof. Last year my harvests were tiny, really, but this year already things are growing twice as big with twice as many (in some cases three times as many) buds/fruits. I may have only gotten a few peppers/one eggplant/4 or 5 tomatoes from each plant last summer, but this year I already have 6 buds on my eggplant, and at least 20+ buds and about 8 or 9 growing fruits on each of my tomatoes, not to mention my insane peppers. Okay, well, let’s start with those peppers. I was so excited to get some Habanero’s & make some hot sauce, since those were the first of my peppers to “bloom” I had already planned what I was going to do with them. But then I saw how many there were & I realized I can only eat so much hot sauce! So many people are anti-hot anything, and won’t use hot peppers. You may not realize it, but there are so many health benefits in hot peppers (just be sure to wear gloves when cutting them)! Plus, hot peppers can increase metabolism.

  • All chili peppers contain phytochemicals substances called capsaicinoids that produce capsicum. The capsicum is the ingredient that gives heat intensity when habanero chili peppers are ingested or applied topically.
  • When habanero chile is consumed, it binds with the mouth and throat which are the pain receptors of the heat. Once it is transmitted to the brain, it responds to this burning sensation by increasing heart rate perspiration and releasing body’s natural endorphin.
  • Researches have shown that habanero chiles may have some beneficial properties as an anticoagulant. Small amounts of capsicum may help prevent heart attacks or strokes caused by blood clot.
  • In cases of cardiovascular diseases, some doctors recommend a bit of habanero chiles in dairy dishes because bad cholesterol could resist oxidation for a longer period of time and delay the development of a major risk.
  • Habanero chili peppers can provide symptomatic relief from rhinitis and possibly bronchitis by clearing mucus from stuffed noses or congested lungs.
  • Some studies in mice show that capsicum products in particular as could help people suffering from obesity to lose weight, even though this is not proved yet with human beings.
  • Capsicum peppers or Capsaicin in general are also a good substance for diabetes control by creating new cells that start producing insulin again.
  • In some countries, chilis are used in salves due to their slight anti-inflammatory and anesthetic effect. Some researches have proved in rats that capsicum products can block pain without causing temporary paralysis.
  • Habanero chiles consumption does not cause stomach aches or cancer even though people usually used to associate them. It has been proved there is not any relationship between them unless capsicum peppers have been adulterated with Sudan I, II, III, IV, para-Red and other illegal carcinogenic substances as aflatoxins and N-nitroso.
  • Several studies confirm that capsicum varieties could have an anti-ulcer protective effect on stomachs infected with H. pylori
  • Jalapeño and habanero chili peppers are a good source of vitamins as well as they are very high in potassium, magnesium and iron, which in turn, may be effective in protecting against cancer. They contain 357% more vitamin C than an orange: green habanero has twice as much as citrus fruit and red ones have three times more, plus an important amount of provitamin A. Moreover, they are a good source of most B vitamins in particular vitamin B6.
  • All kind of chili pepper powder and fresh habanero chiles may help control food contamination in countries where there is a minimal or even no refrigeration.

-(source)

As pretty as they are, I’m actually kind of scared to cut those guys, haha. I’ve been burned (literally) by peppers before. I am really excited to make some hot sauce & Habanero jelly, though. Anyway, the second to start blooming were my Red Bell peppers. Last year I only got one really nice one, between storms & a little animal that hangs around here (no names mentioned *ahem*THUMPER*ahem*), so I have high hopes this year. I’ve promised stuffed peppers to some very important people. So far, so good. Red peppers are so good for you…

Compared to green peppers, red peppers have more vitamins and nutrients and contain the antioxidant lycopene. The level of carotene, like lycopene, is nine times higher in red peppers. Red peppers have twice the vitamin C content of green peppers.[5] Also, one large red bell pepper contains 209 mg of vitamin C, which is almost three times the 70 mg of an average orange.

-(source Wikipedia)

 

My Cowhorn’s were the last to bloom. Slow little guy, huh? Ironically, though, while he was the last to bloom, he was the first to actually grow what resembled a “pepper” and the first ones that I actually cut & used (more about that later this week).

I cut those babies off before they were even matured and made this with them! Insane. My dad used some of them (& the basil) in his spaghetti sauce & said smoke came out of his ears. Bwahahahaha

That one… right there in the middle… he may look benign sitting on his little shelf, but he’ll burn your hair right off your head.

I felt the need to label it appropriately.

..

I think it’s amazing to see the growth in just a few days of each bud. Nature never fails to just floor me. It’s fucking beautiful. I know, I sound like such a hippie (which I AM NOT), but it’s true. If you can’t find beauty in a little seedling that grows to be a large, glossy green plant, bloom little flowers & then, from the ruins of those flowers, grow big shiny fruit or vegetables that we can eat, save the seeds from, and continue the cycle… then you’re just plain crazy. CRAZY, I say.

My romaine is getting quite large too. I love Romaine, it’s my favorite lettuce (I like Iceberg too, though). Romaine is full of antioxidants, which, like other leafy greens, are known to help prevent cancer. Also, it’s low in saturated fat and sodium, and very low in cholesterol, as well as being a good source of riboflavin, Vitamin B6, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and copper, and a very good source of dietary fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, thiamine, folate, iron, potassium and manganese. On top of that, it’s mildly anti-inflammatory. Ya get all that?

All that in this little guy, who  actually grew like seven times this size before he was eaten.

And of course, true to form, basil is getting huge. I used some of it in that jar up there with the Cowhorn’s. Basil, like most things that grow in the ground, also has health benefits.

Recently, there has been much research into the health benefits conferred by the essential oils found in basil. Scientific studies in vitro have established that compounds in basil oil have potent antioxidant, antiviral, and antimicrobial properties, and potential for use in treating cancer.[8][9][10][11] In addition, basil has been shown to decrease the occurrence of platelet aggregation and experimental thrombus in mice.[12] It is traditionally used for supplementary treatment of stress, asthma and diabetes in India.

-(source Wikipedia)


….
Variegated oregano, from last summer, is doing amazing. Since this photo, it’s tripled in size (so has the basil).

 

And of course, my tomatoes! Two out of the three (Roma & Better Boy) I have are well on the way to giving me lots of beautiful fruits. The third, Beefsteak, is plodding along… quite slowly, I must say. It’s my first time with all three, so I have no experience with them. But the Better Boy seems like the winner when it comes to the amount of tomatoes! I’m thinking that I’ll use a few of the Beefsteak to make some fried green tomatoes. Tomatoes are good for you too:

Their consumption is believed to benefit the heart, among other organs. They contain the carotene lycopene, one of the most powerful natural antioxidants. In some studies, lycopene, especially in cooked tomatoes, has been found to help prevent prostate cancer,[21] but other research contradicts this claim.[22] Lycopene has also been shown to improve the skin’s ability to protect against harmful UV rays.[23] Natural genetic variation in tomatoes and their wild relatives has given a genetic plethora of genes that produce lycopene, carotene, anthocyanin, and other antioxidants. Tomato varieties are available with double the normal vitamin C (Doublerich), 40 times normal vitamin A (97L97), high levels of anthocyanin (resulting in blue tomatoes), and two to four times the normal amount of lycopene (numerous available cultivars with the high crimson gene).

-(source Wikipedia)

And of course, here are pics of the tomatoes that are budding so far.

Better Boy is budding, and… we have tons of tomatoes!! That’s oregano at the bottom… here are 2 more views of more fruits growing:

So cute.

Beefsteak is a little slow going, I’ve got buds but tiny ones. Sadly when I transplanted it, I knocked off a branch that had buds on it so the little guy had to start over. But he’ll catch up!

I apologize for the varying photo quality… but mother nature doesn’t care about anyone’s photography needs, so when the sun ain’t out- it ain’t out

 

My Black Beauty eggplant has just started to get some buds going too. This excites me, last year my eggplant only gave me two, one of which was knocked off the vine prematurely, the other of which was delicious in eggplant parmigiana. Like I said above, nature is beautiful, but can also be cruel. And so can I, when I want to smother you in bread crumbs, fry your ass up and serve you with homemade tomato sauce. But I’m already ahead of the game this time around, ’cause I’ve got tons of buds.

Eggplant’s fiber content is high, which helps our digestive process and also acts against coronary heart disease. Eggplants not only feature a number of vitamins, proteins and minerals but also contain important phytonutrients. These phytonutrients are known to act as antioxidant. In phytonutrients found in eggplants, there are phenolic compounds, such as caffeic and chlorogenic acid, and flavonoids, like nasunin. Potassium in eggplants brings a balance in salt intake and maintains a nice level of hydration. It also plays a role in regulating blood pressure. Eggplants also contain folate, magnesium and niacin as well as copper, manganese and thiamine (vitamin B1).

-(source)


As far as my cucumber (Burpless Hybrid), he was the second the latest bloomer I have, no pun intended. But finally, there were signs of little teeny cukes! Cucumbers also can be beneficial to your diet/health:

  • Very low in calories; provides just 15 calories per 100 g. Contains no saturated fats or cholesterol. Cucumber peel is a good source of dietary fiber that helps reduce constipation and offers some protection against colon cancers.
  • It is a very good source of potassium, an important intra-cellular electrolyte. Potassium is a heart friendly electrolyte; helps reduce blood pressure and heart rates by countering effects of sodium.
  • It contains unique anti-oxidants in good ratios such as ß-carotene and a-carotene, vitamin-C, vitamin-A, zea-xanthin and lutein. These compounds help act as protective scavengers against oxygen-derived free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) that play a role in aging and various disease process.
  • Cucumbers have mild diuretic property probably due to their high water content, which helps in checking weight gain and high blood pressure.
  • Cucumbers surprisingly have high amount of vitamin K, provides about 17 mcg of this vitamin per 100 g. Vitamin-K has been found to have potential role in bone strength by promoting osteotrophic (bone mass building) activity. It also has established role in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease patients by limiting neuronal damage in their brain.

-(source)

 

I can’t wait to pickle these guys!

Popular for it mild taste, Burpless Hybrid matures early for fresh cukes, fast. The fruit is straight, cylindrical, and excellent sliced, though it’s also good for pickling. Burpless varieties contain less curcurbitacin, a naturally occuring chemical that causes some cuke eaters to burp.

- source

So that’s what’s happening around here. Of course, by the time this posts, these will be even bigger & there will be even more of them… considering at this point is when they grow like weeds (pun intended, ha) and just take off.

And the absolute best part of growing my own food? NO PESTICIDES. Pesticides have known health effects on humans & animals, you can read a bit about some of the registered ones here at the EPA website. I never use any kind of bug spray at all, not even the “super safe organic non-toxic” kinds. All I use is a mixture of Murphy’s Oil Soap and water or dish soap and water. Of course, I usually never spray the vegetable or fruit itself, just the plant, and I probably wouldn’t unless there are significant bugs on the fruit itself (which I’ve never had, honestly). And when it comes to herbs, make sure you wash them (and dry them) thoroughly before using. This Peppermint Castile soap spray sounds like an excellent idea too. The concept is that the soap dehydrates the insects & drowns it, it doesn’t poison. This website has a great resource for alternative methods to the soap/water bug spray.

My dill & cilantro went to seed and in turn are now brown & no longer growing. My rosemary, Italian oregano & parsley are all doing great, though. My chives are the craziest! I’ve cut them down 2 times so far, and they’re still massive. My parsley is getting there in size too, and considering it was a weakling when I transplanted it that’s saying something. I love having these fresh herbs right outside my door. But really, I’m just excited to start canning some more pickles with my own cucumbers & some tomato sauce/tomato jam with my tomatoes.

I love my garden. I’m only sorry that this year my grandma didn’t get a chance to taste my tomatoes, or eggplant, or peppers. I know life goes on… it’s just hard right now. Please excuse my temporary insanity. I know things will get easier with time.

“I wish I had a nickel to buy a pickle.”

That was an old song my grandma used to sing when I was a kid. I always thought it was the silliest song I ever heard, but sadly I never asked her where exactly she heard it. I know she went to Salvation Army summer camp (which she HATED and refused to go again) one year with her brother, Tom, when they were very small in the early 1920′s. That is where they learned the famous song “Found a peanut, found a peanut, found a peanut just now…” but I don’t think the pickle song was learned there. As a matter of fact, I’ve only found one source on the internet that has it listed. It might be that she meant this song, if so, then the lyrics are really “My mom gave me a nickel to buy a pickle…” Hey, don’t laugh, Dean Martin & Ella Fitzgerald both covered that one.

I miss my grandma terribly. I think about her every day, as there’s always something that reminds me of her. But grief is a funny thing. I feel better about things when I’m busy or being constructive, so I decided to “turn my sorrow into treasured gold” and keep myself busy at the same time by making some pickles. My grandma loved my homemade pickles. When I say loved, I mean loved. She ate an entire jar by herself, and her and my mother split one on the 4th of July. That’s what I mean when I say ‘loved.’ She was waiting patiently to open her new jar of pickles, but they hadn’t fully fermented yet before she passed away, so sadly she never got to try them. So in the spirit of all that, I went out and bought some locally-grown, farm fresh cukes, and I came up with a generic pickle recipe using dill seeds, pickling spice, garlic and a little bit of hot pepper flakes. I know it may seem crazy to some, that I miss my grandma so I made pickles. But to me it makes perfect sense. I also made a recipe using some stuff from my garden- fresh dill heads & some coriander (cilantro) that had started to go to seed. Yep. Coriander pickles! Two pickle recipes in one post.. how lucky are you!

Yes, I realize I’m nuts. Don’t hold it against me.

Right after Nana died, there was a terrible heatwave- I’m talking 105° temperatures. It was too hot to breathe. Yet here I was, canning/jarring almost every day. Jams, jellies, canned hot peppers in oil, pickles; you name it, I canned it. So I started experimenting with recipes so I wasn’t making the same thing over & over… & that’s where the coriander pickles came from. And HOLY SHIT were they famous around here! But first, let’s just talk about the straight up “spicy” pickles. They aren’t hot, not at all, they’re just made with pickling spice & cumin so therefore they are “spicy.” It’s really just a basic pickle recipe, nothing fancy.

I clearly like to pack the cucumbers before I add the spices, haha… what a mess I make…

Pre-water bath; this time I made some pickle slices too, just to shake things up

 

MARILLA’S SPICY PICKLES

Ingredients:

  • 8-10 small pickling cucumbers (about 3 pounds)
  • 2 cups white vinegar
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons pickling salt
  • 4 heads fresh dill or 4 teaspoons dill seeds
  • 1 teaspoon pickling spice (divided into fourths)
  • cumin seeds (a dash per jar)
  • hot pepper flakes (to taste, I only used a teeeeeny weeny bit because I didn’t want these hot, just “spicy”)
  • 4 small cloves garlic

Directions:

  1.  Cut a thin slice from the ends of each cucumber. This prevents a “mushy” pickle, as the ends of cucumbers contain an enzyme that makes them mushy. Place jars in canner to sterilize them and place lids in hot water to soften seal.
  2.  Meanwhile, combine vinegar, water, and salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove hot jars from canner. Place 1 head fresh dill or 1 tsp dill seeds, ¼ teaspoon pickling spice,a dash of hot pepper flakes and 1 clove garlic into each jar; pack in cucumbers.
  3. Pour boiling vinegar mixture over cucumbers to within ½ inch of rim (head space). Process 10 minutes for pint jars and 15 minutes for quart jars.
  4. Allow jars to sit for one week before opening for optimal flavor.

Spears and slices, slices and spears…

I used wide mouth jars this time. I know some people prefer regular mouth for pickles because they tend to rise a little, but I find it doesn’t matter if you pack the cucumbers well enough. And it really is necessary to pack them tight, because they shrink up quite a bit. I actually had 3½  pounds of cukes, and it filled the jars perfectly but the second jar of slices is a little short on pickles. Oh well! I always make that mistake, somehow & end up with one jar that has less than the others. I actually find I prefer wide mouth for pickles, because it’s easier to pack them tighter. But to each his/her own.

As far as the coriander pickles, it was something I came up with after noticing my cilantro had started to go to seed. I had tons of sprigs of it with little, round, green coriander seeds starting to grow and I had no idea what to do with them. I basically decided I’d use them & the dill heads in with a pickle recipe, and see how that turned out. Coriander is often found in pickling spice mixes, so I thought there wouldn’t be any harm in adding it. Although I know there’s probably a difference between dried, mature coriander seeds and young, green, fresh coriander. The recipe is very simple, being that it’s just off the top of my crazy head. Using an equation of 1 parts vinegar to 3 parts water and ¼ of the vinegar measurement in pickling salt. For example: 1 quart vinegar, 3 quarts water, 1 cup pickling salt. The measurements should match the amount/size of jars & pickles you’re using, obviously. Then boil the mixture in a non-reactive pot, meanwhile slicing your Kirby’s (or other pickling cucumbers) lengthwise after removing the “nibbly bits” on the ends. Pack the jars with the sliced cukes, adding one clove of garlic, 2 sprigs fresh dill heads (preferably gone to seed) and one sprig coriander that had started to seed. Pour the boiling vinegar mixture into each jar, leaving ¼ inch headspace. Place lids & bands on top and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes. Annnnnnnnnnnnnd you’re done.

This jar I added a bit of extra dill to in the form of dill seeds… just because the one dill sprig I had left was pathetic looking & small, as you can see.

You can see the garlic, coriander sprigs & fresh dill sprigs in the bottom there…

The fresh, green coriander seeds have a very different flavor than the dried ones. It’s a citrusy, bright flavor that’s a sort of cross between coriander and cilantro. If you can’t get your hands on them (which you often can at ethnic shops), then it might not be worth using the dried. I grow my own, so it’s easy for me to take advantage of these little green pods. If you have a cilantro plant, let it grow. Use those seeds fresh or dried, you won’t be disappointed. The taste of these pickles was so unique, you could really taste the taste of cilantro.

Cheese & rice, could I be any paler?

Also:

Coriander Seed is an important source of dietary fiber, iron, magnesium, and manganese. In holistic and traditional medicine, it is used as a carminative and as a digestive aid. Coriander seeds reduce fever, and promote a feeling of coolness.

-(source)

I love the color of these pickles. That’s probably from the reduced vinegar amount. If you want to keep them whole and not slice them, you might want to add a grape leaf and/or some alum to each jar. Those things help keep them crisp despite keeping the “blossom” ends on them. Also the garlic may turn blue or green in the jar. That is absolutely no big deal, nothing to be alarmed about, it is only the effect of the acid on the natural pigments in the garlic. Mine never has, but I’ve read it can happen, so just be prepared. Like I said above in the other recipe, I’d let them sit for at least a week to really get the flavors set but if you have no willpower, don’t worry- my father can’t keep his hands off them & always eats them before they’re “ready”, and not only does he not get botulism, he claims they taste wonderful. I have no idea, because I always wait until the jars are ready before I open them. I usually try and wait two weeks, really, just so they’re really all soaked in & stuff. But that’s just me.

I know, I’m crazy, I even tied them in pickle-colored ribbons to give away as gifts.

The coriander pickles are milder than regular pickles, due to less vinegar. Even with the garlic, they have a lemon-y kind of essence to them, very herb-y. Delicious and different, but more of an “artisan” pickle than a regular pickle. It’s not your typical Kosher dill or garlic pickle… it has a different twist. Not too different, I mean vinegar + dill = pickle. But it definitely has a unique flavor. And obviously, if you don’t have the Cilantro gene, then you are not going to like these.

You’re so fresh… you salsa fresca, you.

I mentioned this weekend that I can’t stand to have the oven on in hot weather. I need fresh, cold (or cool, or at least room temperature) food this time of year: salads, etc. Salsa is included in that list of cold foods. A jar of salsa & a bag of chips & I’m all set. Although the past 2 days have been pretty cool, temperature wise, I made this on one of the hottest days on record in New York.

I should state before continuing with the post/recipe for salsa that I am indeed a salsa fanatic. Salsa in almost any shape & form- salsa verde, chunky salsa, mild salsa, hot salsa, salsa with lots of cilantro, salsa with corn & black beans- you name it, I will love it. Except for peach or mango salsas. My salsa has to have tomato or tomatillo in it. So when I happened upon my new favorite blog (thanks mom), Food In Jars, I immediately looked for a quick salsa recipe. Salsa means ‘sauce’ in Spanish, and it’s basically a cold version of an Italian tomato sauce with different herbs, and often no cooking required, particularly with ‘salsa fresca’ or ‘fresh sauce.’ Salsa fresca is also sometimes referred to as ‘pico de gallo’ or ‘the rooster’s beak’, referring either to way it was eaten (with the thumb and forefinger, mimicking a rooster pecking) or the shape of the chili peppers used to make it. Although according to the almighty and always correct Wikipedia:

Another suggested etymology is that pico is derived from the verb picar, which has two meanings: 1) to mince or chop, and 2) to bite, sting or peck. The rooster, gallo in Spanish, is a common metaphor for the hyper-masculine (“macho“) male in Mexican culture. One example of such machismo is taking pride in withstanding the spicy burn of chilis.

However, neither theory can be considered definite, as they assume the use of hot chilis. In many regions of Mexico the term “pico de gallo” refers to any of a variety of salads, condiments or fillings made with sweet fruits, tomatoes, tomatillos, avocado or mild chilis — not necessarily with hot chilis, or any chilis at all. Thus, the name could be a simple allusion to the bird feed-like minced texture and appearance of the sauce.[2]

Although I always considered pico de gallo to be drier, drier as in not as liquidy as regular salsa, and this salsa is liquidy. However I chopped my onion kind of rough, not very fine, so I made it more like a pico. I also added a ton more cilantro because I love it. I also used two pretty small organic “on the vine” tomatoes as opposed to one large one, so it was definitely not as tomato-y. Yes, I know, there isn’t really much to making salsa, and yes, I could’ve figured it out on my own without a recipe (especially since it’s essentially the same as the pico de gallo I’ve made before… but I digress). But it’s easier when you’ve got an idea of exactly how much of what to put in the first time. I plan on experimenting with this, for sure. And next time I make those chicken flautas, I’ll have this on the side & in the filling, thankyouverymuch.

But for now, here’s the basic Salsa Fresca recipe from Marisa at FIJ. Make it & revel in the mouth-puckeringly acidic deliciousness.

HOMEMADE SALSA FRESCA (from Food In Jars)

Makes approximately one pint

Ingredients:

  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • ½ white/yellow onion, finely minced (I used about a little over ¼ of an extremely large white onion)
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • ½ bunch of cilantro, washed and chopped (I just tore the leaves off, I didn’t chop)
  • 1 – 2 jalapeños, seeded and minced (you can leave the seeds in if you want a hotter flavor, I used one & omitted the seeds)
  • 1 lime, juiced (about 2 – 2 ½ tablespoons, for you measurement-obsessed freaks)
  • 2 big pinches of salt

Directions:

  1. Mix everything together in a glass or ceramic mixing bowl. Let stand for at least 15 minutes before serving, but half an hour is even better.
  2. Store leftovers (if there are any) in a glass canning jar.

I used a washed-out spaghetti sauce jar to save the leftovers in, although the recipe’s author is right: there isn’t much left. Let me just say this is amazingly excellent with some Garden of Eatin’ blue corn tortilla chips. Heavenly, as a matter of fact. Or rather, since I don’t really believe in “heaven”, I’d like to think that my version of heaven would be unlimited fresh salsa & chips. Not sure how long this would last in the fridge, but mine didn’t even make it past the next afternoon. Also, if you’re new to cooking, and you aren’t sure how to dice a tomato, here’s a quick rundown of how it’s done; no judgement here. We all start somewhere! And make sure you roll your lime firmly on the counter before cutting & juicing it, that releases all the juice from the pulp and makes it easier to get every last bit out.

Also, an interesting fact I ran into on Wikipedia that I’d like to share with you all:

In a 2010 press release the Centers for Disease Control reported that during the 1998-to-2008 period, 1 out of 25 foodborne illnesses with identified food sources was traced back to restaurant salsa or guacamole.[5] According to a 2010 July 13 news item by journalist Elizabeth Weise, a 2008 outbreak of Salmonella was traced back to the peppers used in salsa.[6] Originally reported to the CDC by the New Mexico Department of Health, over the course of several months, the outbreak sickened a total of 1,442 people in 43 states and resulted in 286 hospitalizations.[7] Weise reports:

 

“Refrigeration is the key to safe salsa, says Michael Doyle, director of the University of Georgia’s Center for Food Safety, who published a paper on the topic earlier this year.[8] ‘An unusual finding was if you used fresh garlic and fresh lime juice, it prevented the growth’ of bacteria. ‘You couldn’t use powdered, it had to be fresh,’ he says.”

Crazy, huh? You learn something new everyday. That should ease the fears of some of you germ-phobes, though. Just make sure your salsa’s are made with fresh ingredients and you’re good. Besides, who’s afraid of a little E. Coli or Salmonella?

OH! I almost forgot: I am also now a member at Punk Domestics. So come see me over there & we can discuss canning & pickling & micro-farming. You know, all that hardcore punk rock stuff.