Let's Get Dirty
A gardening blog for adults who still love to play in the dirt.
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By Penny Stine
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
I took a day off work so I could get some work done last week. I went to Rettig Farms on Orchard Mesa (thanks for the reminder, Carol) last Friday, where I picked two bushels of Roma tomatoes, one bushel of green chiles and a little less than half a bushel of red chiles. They roasted the green chiles for me while I picked tomatoes. All told, it cost me $41.75 and took about an hour and a half to pick all that produce.
Then I went home and the real work began.I’ve been canning with my friend, Jan of the awesome garden, this year. It doesn’t seem like work when you’re chatting and working at the same time. In addition to all the produce I bought, we had both picked all the tomatillos and tomatoes from our own gardens, too.
Yes, we had a mess in the kitchen. My husband complained that there was tomato juice on the walls.
Our goal was to can tomatoes, make salsa, string two red chile ristras and can some tomatillo sauce. Although we peeled tomatoes like crazy women, we didn’t quite accomplish our goal in one day. We did, however, can 21 quarts of Italian tomatoes (with garlic and basil), 14 quarts of plain tomatoes and make another 16 or 17 pints of salsa. It was almost 8 p.m. by the time we’d done all that, so we called it good and planned to get together on Sunday to deal with the tomatillos.
Sunday afternoon saw us peeling a few more tomatoes, chopping tomatillos and heating up the canning kettle once more. We added some garlic, a couple habaneros, cumin, salt, a little lemon juice and some red chiles to the sauce to give it a Mexican flavor. It’s neither green like the tomatillos nor red like the tomatoes, but somewhere in between. Almost the color of cumin.
We ended up with 18 quarts of tomatillo sauce and had plenty of time to string ristras while the jars were processing.
The sauce is delish, perfect for green chile, posole, chilaquiles, enchiladas, taco soup, tortilla soup with chicken – all those southwestern comfort food dishes that get you through the winter. I used a little bit of it (along with chopped roasted chiles, garlic and instant coffee) as a marinade for London broil last night, and it was way yummy.
Tomatillos will keep producing until it freezes, so we’ll probably make more sauce over the next several weekends. Jan and I both want to make another ristra, too, ‘cuz one just isn’t enough.
Btw, I bought some of the reusable canning lids that are manufactured at the Incubator Center. They’re more expensive, (I think they cost about $10 for a dozen – available at the Fruita or the Palisade co-op or online) but since I’ve been canning for 25 years now, I have no doubt that I will continue to can every harvest and I will appreciate having them next year.
By Laurena Mayne Davis
Monday, September 26, 2011
Last fall Getting Dirty bloggers reflected back on the gardening season and set goals for the next. I had three: 1. Redouble soil-amendment efforts, 2. Commit to perennials and 3. Install an irrigation system.
Now that gardening season is winding down for me (Seriously, year-round gardeners, I don’t know how you do it. By this time of year I am so OVER IT.), it’s a good time to see how I measured up. To cut myself a little slack, let’s just do a little pass-or-fail exercise, shall we?
1. Redouble soil-amendment efforts: PASS.
Manure, grass clippings, leaves, kitchen scraps — it all went back into the garden. It’s a little sloppy and I deal with some weed seeds, but it’s worth it. I didn’t do any fertilizing other than top-dressing with compost a few times during the growing season and I never sprayed pesticides. (Fruit trees, however, are sprayed by a professional.)
2. Commit to perennials: PASS.
After a dozen years of just tilling up annuals every fall, I finally added some perennials. Witness this little rhubarb under the apricot tree and 20 stems of feathery asparagus by the nectarine:
Next year I may add a strawberry bed, too.
3. Install an irrigation system: FAIL.
Note my well-used collection of frog-eye sprinkler heads. I still dragged hoses all summer:
Someday we’ll put in a pop-up sprinkler system, but other home-improvement projects keep trumping this one. Until then, we’re just fortunate to have irrigation water and can get by with hoses and ditches.
Thursday, September 22, 2011
Aching for a road trip, Olan and I set out early Sunday morning with a bag full of snacks to ward off starvation, fishing gear and perfect weather. Our destination? Lake City, to take a sneak peek at the beginning of fall leaves changing color.
Lake City is located in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado at 8,658 feet, about 55 miles south of Gunnison on State Highway 149, and 74 miles north of South Fork. Ouray is close but a rough four-wheel drive Engineer Pass keeps this mountain town very isolated. While we were disappointed in the delay of autumn in the high country, we were thrilled to rediscover the charming town and beauty that surrounds it.
It has been many years since we explored this area so we stopped at the Sportsman store to find out what the fish were biting and asked them where we could stop for a great meal in "The City."
The Restless Spirit Saloon was the answer, and soon we were eating the best eggs Benedict we have ever had in a western saloon. Everyone in this place knew each other, except for us, the obvious tourists. Each person who entered was greeted by name by the grizzly bartender. With a population of only around five-hundred people and so secluded, everyone is bound to know just about everything about you.
The Baptist Church down the street dismissed and it seemed the whole congregation congregated at the saloon.We both thought about how wonderful and in some ways not so wonderful living in such a small isolated community would be.
Afterwards, we found a quiet fishing spot on the river and took an afternoon nap. Sorry, I don't have any changing fall foliage photos for you but I am open to suggestions for another road trip next weekend.
There isn't time,
There isn't time,
To do all the things I want to do.
With all the mountain tops to climb,
And all the woods to wonder through.
- Eleanor Farjeon
By Penny Stine
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
I’m finally picking enough tomatoes to eat them every day for breakfast, make fresh pasta sauce, Caprese salad, bruschetta, eat them with basil and cucumbers and generally make a happy little pig of myself. These are all Virginia Sweet tomatoes, grown from seed purchased from Tomato Growers Supply Company.
Earlier in the month, my husband and I tasted and compared Sioux and Jetsetter varieties. Today, I brought a Kellogg Breakfast (pictured here) and one of my precious Virginia Sweets to work for an official tomato taste test and review.
I gotta say, I like the looks of both tomatoes.
In the garden, the plants are both huge – big enough to overgrow and overwhelm the tomato cages in which they’re planted. Both started falling over last week. I'm propping up this tomato cage with the stakes I planted for the cucumbers to climb. The cukes didn't grow up the stake teepee, but they are starting to grow in the tomato cage!
But back to the review:
The Kellogg Breakfast has few seeds and plenty of meat. It’s a very low acid tomato and doesn’t have near as much juice and general tomato snot that some people can’t stand in a raw tomato. The texture is on the firm side. Extremely mild, but good flavor.
The Virginia Sweet is sweet and tangy. Also huge and full of juice, seeds and all that offensive tomato snot and slime. I included one in a pot of fresh tomato sauce and the result was unbelievable.
Here at the Sentinel, the Kellogg Breakfast tomato won more fans, but my personal preference is the Virginia Sweet.
I've never been able to grow such big tomatoes before - they're even easy to find in the garden, although the plant made this tomato cage collapse, too. The giant marigolds are keeping the tomatoes off the ground.
Good thing I don’t have to decide today what to grow next year, because I can’t make up my mind.
By Penny Stine
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Last time I went to my favorite orchardist to buy peaches, he had flats of small Asian pears (AKA pear apples, apple pears, Japanese pears, Japanese pear apples, etc, etc) sitting on the table in the garage next to the peaches. He explained that he only had two young trees and the fruit was small. They looked so tasty I had to buy a flat.
As you can see, we ate several before I thought to take a photo.
Then I decided to put them in a pie, although when I began to google, I discovered that the experts said they weren’t good for baking because they’re so juicy and most people choose to eat them raw. Bah! I scoff at the experts. Actually, I suspect that most people choose to eat them one at a time and raw because they're so stinkin' expensive in the grocery stores. Way too valuable to experiment with in a pie. But Arnie sold me the flat for $6.
I wanted to make enough pie crust on Sunday morning before church to bake two pies, since I also had enough ripe peaches to fill a pie. I had already decided to make a sour cream pear apple pie, which only needed a bottom crust, so I needed to make enough dough for two pie bottoms and one top.
Oops. I was ready to make pie dough but discovered I didn’t have enough shortening. Necessity is the mother of invention. Rather than drive to the store, I decided to do a combination butter/shortening crust. I improvised as I went along, but here is the general idea:
3 ½ C flour
½ C shortening
½ C cold butter
1 tsp vinegar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
cold water – maybe half a cup.
When making pie crust, I always use a hand-held pastry cutter. My mom uses a fork and makes fab pie crusts, but I can’t. I’ve tried the food processor, too, but nothing beats the pastry cutter for me.
The combination of butter and shortening was magic. The dough was the easiest dough I’ve ever rolled. I made one pie early Sunday morning and refrigerated the rest of the dough wrapped in plastic to use Monday night. It was still great Monday night. Before I even tasted it, I knew the butter/shortening combo was my new secret weapon against pie crusts that refuse to cooperate.
Since I was improvising a recipe for the crust, I did the same thing for the filling:
1 C sour cream
1/3 C brown sugar
1/3 C white sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp ginger
2 Tbsp flax meal (good for you, plus it's a great thickener)
1/2 C flour
7 small Asian pears
Mix the sour cream, sugars, flour, flax and spices in a bowl. Combine with the sliced pears (I peeled half of them, but got lazy & in a hurry and decided not to peel the rest) and put in an unbaked pie shell.
Sour cream pies usually have a crumb topping, so here's what I did for the top.
1 C oatmeal
¼ C butter
1/3 C brown sugar
1/3 C slivered almonds
1 tsp cinnamon
Combine topping ingredients with beloved pastry cutter and spread (pour, place, whatever) across pears. Bake 375 for 50 minutes or until crust looks done.
Why is a pie recipe in the gardening blog, you ask? It was tasty enough that I’m going back to my peach grower to ask him where he bought his trees. I planted a peach tree in my back yard this spring. Perhaps next year, I’ll plant an Asian pear.