Let's Get Dirty

A gardening blog for adults who still love to play in the dirt.

Send stories and pictures of your horticultural adventures to letsgetdirty@gjsentinel.com.

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Plum assignment

By Laurena Mayne Davis
Thursday, September 30, 2010

Harvesting Italian plums on the last fruit-laden tree in our backyard orchard last weekend was bittersweet. Fruit season for both birds and Davises starts with mulberries in June, then apricots, cherries, peaches, nectarines and finally plums. There will be less orchard and canning work now, but no more picking breakfast off the trees in the mornings. Guess I better buy some cereal.

Harvest is a good time to reflect on what went right and what to change for the next season. Plucking blue-frosted fruit in the fall morning light, I assessed what worked: The rabbit manure greened things up nicely. The amount of water was right. We hire a licensed sprayer; I never have to worry about insects.

But there are things I'll do differently. The tree is gangly; I need to revise my pruning approach. I also had thinned, but not enough. I need to get more ruthless with my thinning.

My basketful of plums in the course of a day became Plum and Vanilla Jam and two plum cakes. My kids made plum smoothies, and I had plenty to share with my mother-in-law and a friend for their own jam. We still had a bowlful left over for snacking.

Italian plums are purple with light-green flesh. They have less moisture than red plums and are easily dried for prunes. The Plum and Vanilla Jam is from a recipe by Susan Herrmann Loomis in "French Farmhouse Cookbook." It's worth popping $6 a vanilla bean to inhale that unadulterated, flowery vanilla scent as the jam simmers.

There are a lot of delicious, low-sugar jam recipes. This old-fashioned jam is not one of them.

Plum and Vanilla Jam
5 pounds Italian plums, pitted and chopped
7 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean

Mix fruit and sugar in a nonreactive pot and cover. Let set 12 hours.
Add vanilla bean and boil over medium-high heat. Reduce to low boil and skim off foam.
Cook until thickened, about 18 minutes.

(I water-bathed the jars for 5 minutes.)

This cake's equally delicious. It's adapted from a recipe by Marian Burros, food writer for The New York Times.

Plum Cake
1 cup sugar
1 stick butter
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream the above and add two eggs. Blend, then spread in the bottom of a greased 9-inch springform pan.
Pit and quarter 15 Italian plums. Toss them with sugar, cinnamon, and the zest and juice of a lemon. Place the plums, cut side up, on top of the batter. Drizzle any juice over. Bake an hour. Serve with whipped cream or creme fraiche.



I think I can

By Carol Clark
Wednesday, September 29, 2010


"If you are what you eat and you don't know what you're eating, do you know who you are?"   Claude Fiscler

My 80-year old mother asked me why I can produce when I have a grocery store right down the street with a ready supply of anything I could want.
"And"... she says, "isn't it more economical to buy V-8 Juice than to make it yourself?" Hmmmm, she has a point there....

It isn't always cheaper to can your own food but... it is fun! My mother HAD to can so it wasn't fun for her, but I don't HAVE to, I just WANT to. There is something satisfying about preserving your own food for the long year ahead.
Canning local produce supports local farmers who work hard for their money. This keeps all the money circulating right here in the valley with friends and neighbors.

It also helps save the environment by not purchasing food that was shipped for hundreds or thousands of miles. It takes a lot of petroleum to bring us ripe bananas from South America.
Canning is healthier than eating the processed foods from the store with all the additives I can't pronounce.
There used to be a five-acre warehouse in Grand Junction for City Market stores which only held only enough food for one week for local stores. Now, trucks come from Denver daily.
Did you see the store shelves last winter when the trucks couldn't make it over the mountain for a couple of days due to bad weather? If there ever is an emergency, the store shelves will empty in one day. Our Grandparents were always prepared for storms, bad crop years or financial hardships. Isn't it prudent for us to be ready?

But, the biggest reason I can is because it TASTES BETTER. Why do home canned peaches taste soooo much better than the canned peaches from the store? Maybe cause they are our very own Palisade Peaches.

"Go to the ant... consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest."   

The Bible


Got squash?

By Penny Stine
Monday, September 27, 2010

What can you do when you discover a giant summer squash lurking underneath the leaves? Some people choose to throw them out or use them for target practice. Why do that when you can disguise them as chocolate cake or pizza, two of the essential food groups?
Or when you can combine them with tomatillos, jalapenos, onions, garlic, roasted chiles and corn and create a fiery mixed vegetable combo guaranteed to warm your tootsies in January?
Like other gardeners out there, my summer squash is growing to gigantic proportions this fall. Is it because we’re no longer excited about the garden and we don’t spend as much time out there trying to see what’s available? Are we too busy trying to cram in as much fun as possible into these last few weekends before the temperatures drop?
Before you let the kids practice their baseball swing or their swordplay with a zucchini, here’s a couple more ideas:

Zucchini or Pattypan pizza crust:
3 cups shredded summer squash
1 tsp salt
3 eggs
½ - 1 cup flour
½ C shredded parmesan or romano cheese

Shred the squash (I use a food processor, it’s quicker and you can easily do the skins, too.) Toss the squash in a colander & sprinkle with salt. Put a bowl underneath to catch the water – there should be quite a bit – and let it sit for 15 minutes. While the squash is draining, pre-heat the oven to 450. When you’re ready to make dough, give the squash one more squeeze to drain & add eggs, flour and shredded cheese. Mix it with a spoon or your hands; it will be a fairly wet dough.
Spray a pizza pan or cookie sheet with non-stick cooking spray and then dust with flour. This makes enough dough for one really big pizza or two small to medium pizzas. Pat the dough into the pan and try to spread it as thin as possible. Yes, it will be sticky and gooey. Do your best to spread it all the way to the edge of the pan.
Bake in a hot oven for 8 – 10 minutes. Now comes the tricky part… Flip the pizza dough over to brown the other side. You can try it with a spatula, but I’ve discovered the easiest way is to put a large cutting board (or other large, flat, sturdy surface) on top and then turn it over, dislodge the crust to get the whole thing on the cutting board, then slide it back onto the pan.
Bake the other side for 8 – 10 minutes. When it’s done, top it with pizza sauce and anything else you like on your pizza. Bake it at 350 for another 20 – 30. I made one the other day (but didn’t have a camera to take a photo) with a tomato-based sauce, along with mozzarella, cheddar, hamburger, onions and roasted green chiles. Delish.

Another option for giant squash…

Chocolate zucchini (or pattypan) bread

(makes 2 loaves)
2 C shredded summer squash

2C sugar
¼ C dark cocoa powder (you can use the regular cocoa powder, I just prefer the dark)
3 C flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
3 eggs
1 C vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla
1 C chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350. Mix sugar and eggs. Gradually add oil and vanilla, then shredded squash. Sift dry ingredients together and then add to the squash mixture. Stir in chocolate chips. Pour into 2 greased & floured bread pans. Bake at 350 for 1 hour.
I discovered that this recipe can easily be doubled or tripled, depending on the size of the monster squash. Bake it, let it cool completely and then wrap it in foil or put it in a Ziploc freezer bag and freeze it to enjoy in the winter. Or next week when you want something sweet. This bread is great because it tastes like chocolate cake, yet counts as a vegetable.

(Sorry, I don’t have pics for the pizza or the chocolate bread. Trust me, they look fab and taste even better.)

So… I made pattypan pizza. I’ve got two loaves of chocolate zucchini bread in the freezer and two more giant zucchini to turn into bread later this week. I still had monster pattypan and lots more tomatillos. So I combined the following and decided to can it, since I’ve been canning everything that sits on my counter longer than three days.

Late season veggie combo

Olive oil
1 giant onion, chopped
4 – 6 cloves garlic, chopped
2 large pattypan squash
1 giant bowlful of tomatillos (sorry, I didn’t count or measure, I just took a pic to show that some of the purple tomatillos are actually purple)

Look! Some of the purple tomatillos are actually purple!

4 – 6 jalapenos, chopped
4 – 10 green chiles, seeded, roasted and chopped
8 ears fresh corn (I added it just because I had it)

1 bunch chopped cilantro

salt, cumin powder


Pour some olive oil in the bottom of a large pot. Add the onions and garlic & sauté until carmelized. Add the remaining ingredients. It’s OK if you chop as you go – by adding the tomatillos first and letting them cook, it gives you time to chop everything else.
Because this isn’t an approved recipe and so clearly has lots of non-acidic ingredients, I got out my pressure cooker. Processed with 15 pounds of pressure for 55 minutes.
It’s a bit on the spicy side. I anticipate serving it over rice or turning it into a base for soup and then adding cooked chicken or pork, more broth or cream and whatever else I have in the fridge and think sounds tasty.

I bought the corn at Rettig Farms on East Orchard Mesa. It was white corn, which didn't look as pretty in the jars combined with the white pattypan squash and the various green things (tomatillos, jalapenos and cilantro) that all faded to a dull Army green. But it's fairly tasty and would warm the cockles of my heart on a cold January evening, if only I knew what cockles were.  Seriously, I hope eating it in the depths of winter will remind me of warmer days and growing things. 


Summer’s bounty

By Carol Clark
Wednesday, September 22, 2010

My vegetable garden is finally producing like I dreamed it would when I planted it last spring. Just in time for autumn - which starts THURSDAY!

Strawberries are coming back on -

The chives have beautiful blooms -

The pumpkins are blooming but not turning to fruit :(

Fall lettuce is coming on -

Here is yesterday's harvest. Summer squash - can't be stopped!

Tomatoes - enough for eating AND fresh salsa. Green beans producing nicely, jalapenos, cucumber and tarragon. If we could keep this up all year, we could be self sufficient.

My heart is broken for the summer loss to come, but I am waiting in expectation for cool autumn days and changing colors.

"This is the best day the world has ever seen. Tomorrow will be better."
R.A. Campbell



The Flowers of Home

By {screen_name}
Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Flowers of Home

I recently had opportunity to care for my mother's flower gardens.  Certainly it has given me a fresh appreciation of the hours of effort involved.  But I have also enjoyed their beauty--which varies by the time of day, the degrees of  light or shadow.

And, oh what pleasant memories accompany me when I walk my mother’s flower gardens. There’s the rose and flower garden with Mt. Lincoln in the background.

There are flowerbeds with spring flowers—like iris and spirea. There are mock orange bushes whose fragrance is heavenly when in bloom.

There is a talent in creating an outdoor space of beauty—and this yard has had my mother’s loving and talented touch for several decades, since before I was five.  (Certainly some time ago!--but I have no complaints--I became a grandmother Sunday---apparently another very fine joy of life!)

The rock gardens -- I remember my mother working in these in the early morning hours of lazy summer days.

One of my favorites--I love the masterful arrangement of colors, textures, flowers--altogether pleasant!

Simple asters.  Doesn't time in a flower garden calm our spirits and turn our thoughts pleasantly upward?

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