Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Visit to Grandad's Apple Farm

A recent visit to Grandad’s (no, not my Grandad) Apple Farm in Hendersonville, NC really got me in the mood for fall…even though it was 98 degrees on September 24th! You can’t help but love people who are having fun at what they do. These folks seem to exude bushels of it and the entertainment starts from the minute you pull into their drive.
After all, how many times do you see a Tyrannosaurus Rex in the goat pen eating some poor bloke? The resident lama whose job is to protect the goats from harm didn’t seem to notice the large intruder in his midst. Perhaps his eyes were crossed from all the cabbage he was ingesting.

A Stegosaurus was in the pumpkin patch…how many pumpkins a day does it take to fill him up?

As my friend and tour guide Jennie and I walked into the farm market the smell of fresh baked pumpkin bread and apples wafted through the air. There were large bins of apples and the best part was they were all labeled with large signs. I especially appreciated it because it takes the guesswork out of trying to figure out which variety is which.

A very patient young lady was peeling and slicing samples for all of us customers to sample. Honey crisp was a new one to me that was really sweet. We voted for the lovely green mutsu with its crisp and tart innards (I was thinking how grateful I was to still have mine after passing through Jurassic Park on the way in!) As I wandered around and looked out the back of the building, the cornfield maze and mountains made a scenic background. Workers were bringing in apples and fall vegetables from the back to continually fill up the bins while customers were loading bags of apples, pumpkins, gourds, and veggies into their vehicles in the front.

Jennie bought apple cider and pumpkin bread and it reminded me of the apple orchards in Northern Michigan where apple cider and fresh made hot doughnuts team up to usher in autumn tourists. As we meandered about looking for more oddities I had to wonder who parks their tractor on top of a silo. Maybe they were protecting their John Deere from the dinosaurs? Or was it some mountain gnome’s idea of a practical joke? They’re everywhere you know. It was all quite perplexing to us adults but as I took one last look I felt quite sure that any visiting children would find everything in perfect order.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Guilford County Master Gardeners

Yesterday I had the privilege of speaking at the Guildford County Master Gardener 9th annual Gardening Gala and Seminar. 200 garden enthusiasts listened to my presentation of “Kitchen Gardening in the Front Yard”…and what a great audience they we re. Afterwards, I had the chance to talk to many of them as I signed copies of my book, “The Cracked Pot Herb Book” and learned they were from Greensboro and surrounding areas. It is always a pleasure to hang out with a bunch of gardeners at events like these. They all come ready to learn, enjoy great food, win door prizes, buy plants and gardening accessories from the vendors and meet and chat it up with other people who love gardening. The Guildford Master Gardeners have a wonderful demonstration and community garden which I had fun meandering through. I was told they had been working hard in the gardens to get them ready for this annual fall event and it showed…they were beautiful! They had a huge rain barrel from which to water from and I have to admit I did experience a bit of rain barrel envy when I saw it. That barrel must hold a good bit of rain.

I loved their outdoor classroom and vermi-culture area. What a great facility to hold workshops and gardening demos in the garden. The public is welcome and the Master Gardener volunteers answer questions on occasion in the garden.

I am so impressed with the number of community gardens that North Carolina has and after talking to gardeners who volunteer their time to work in them I am inspired to do more with community gardens in my own neck of the woods.

The Guildford Master Gardeners took such great care of me. They booked me a room in the Proximity in Greensboro. This hotel has won many awards for their sustainable gardens and landscape. The food in their bistro was excellent as well. I ate a mushroom and quinoa stuffed pumpkin with a side salad and beet chips. Yum is all I can say about that!

Many thanks to the Guilford Master Gardeners whose volunteers worked hard to produce and staff such a large event and to the people who came to enjoy the fruits of their labor!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Can you say Asteraceae?

This was my third of five weekend classes in Mountain City, GE learning about wild plant medicine making. The weather was near perfect, no rain which in a rain forest is unusual. We trekked over trails and at Patricia's whim we would stop, drop and key out plants.
She and Lorna are trying to get it through our heads to think in families when we look at plants. By recognizing plant families we will have a basic familiarity right from the git-go and no matter where in the world we are we will at least know a little something to point us in the right direction.

It's like going to the pool at the YMCA in the summertime and observing the families who come to swim...the kids all have similar characteristic traits special to their family which makes it easy to identify which family they belong to. Does that make sense or is it just me? Many of the plants we keyed out this weekend were in the Aster family....hence Asteraceae, the proper family name. I had no idea how many plants are in this family and how difficult they are to identify down to precise variety.

Difficult or not, persistence, a good magnifier with guidance from our fearless leaders and our trusty 'Newcomb's Wildflower' and 'Vascular Plants of the Blue Ridge' books in hand (or backpack or apron) usually resulted in the correct identification of certain Asters, Goldenrods and Boneset varieties which were blooming happily in fields, on the roadsides and along the trails.

It took this long for things (anything) to start clicking in my brain but I'm actually starting to put it all together and think in plant families. Patricia and Lorna will be so proud.

Last class which I didn't make time to post was great fun because we actually experienced harvesting. We dug pleurisy root and cut the soft areal parts of Passion flower, from a field covered in blooms of orange, white and purple. We also gathered Skullcap and horsemint along a trail. All this harvesting was of course done with permission and permits properly obtained. I learned many things but one thing is for sure, a small shovel is a wonderful tool and won't wear a hole in your palm like a trowel will.

Back at Foxfire, we quickly went to work to make medicine from the freshly harvested herbs. We first scrubbed the roots and cut them up in small pieces for a tincture process. We discussed menstruum - the fluid that is poured over the herb parts and the ratios of alcohol and water, how to dilute and how to figure out weight to volume for each plant that we were to tincture.

Once the roots pieces were submerged properly in the correct menstruum I then snipped passion flower and skullcap into separate bowls to be weighed. Once the correct ratio was figured out I put the areal parts into a jar and measured the menstruum and poured it in the jar and put a tight lid on them.

The tincture sits for two weeks (shake daily) before I strain it and put it in it's final resting place (jar), labeled of course. This process was finished at home. It is important to keep good records of all medicine making so I've started a notebook dedicated to just that.

A Bounty of Tomatoes

What’s a girl to do with a never ending supply of tomatoes from the kitchen garden? Put them up for winter of course. This was supposed to be a bad year for tomatoes here in Middle Tennessee but I gotta tell ya, my garden didn’t get the memo because they just keep coming and coming. I even dreamed about maters the other night. Every batch I finish I put all the equipment away for the year only to pull it out in a week and cook up a few more jars.

But, I promised myself this was it. There are only two of us, as my husband reminds me on a regular basis and Annie the dog doesn’t really like tomatoes. My crazy hens Cilantro and Coriander clean up the leftover ends and skins off the compost pile but that doesn’t help me with the front end production.

I have given loads away, I think my neighbors see me coming and hide…although they seem to like maters better than zucchini and really appreciate it if I turn those tomatoes into fresh salsa before I deliver to their doors. I call friends and invite them to come and harvest anytime but people are busy these days and they like them much better already in a basket left in a convenient place on their front porch. I call it my veggie ministry. I keep recycled plastic bags close at hand when I'm working in the kitchen garden, since it is in our front yard, one never knows when a passerby will stop to chat and I can bless them with a sackful of tomatoes.

We had a baby shower the other day and I was so happy to contribute bruchetta by the gallon. A fabulous way to use up lots of maters and it was delicious to boot (if I do say so myself)…of course what’s not to like about chopped tomatoes, garlic, sweet onion, sweet basil, a couple of shakes of sea salt and fresh ground pepper all mixed and drizzled with olive oil served up on toasted bagels with a little shaved parmesan cheese?

This year I canned just tomatoes, spicy tomatoes, Italian style tomatoes, tomato juice and salsa. Altogether I jarred (as they say here in the south) 30 quarts and 15 pints total.

It doesn’t end there, oh no…I couldn’t stand for tomatoes to go to waste so I froze 20 pints, pureed and quartered; great for soup, chili and stewed okra this winter.

Some summers are so crazy I just quickly wash tomatoes and freeze them whole in large plastic bags. Sounds like glass balls clinking every time I move them around while rooting in the freezer on routine archaeological digs (to make sure everything that went into the freezer is being used in a timely fashion). Later when I have time I will break out the frozen red balls, run some hot water over them which causes the skin to crack and peel easily then cook them down for canning.

If freezing and canning isn’t enough I also dehydrated 6 quarts of Roma and heirloom plum tomatoes; something wonderful to soak in olive oil and slather on salads and mix with pesto for pasta. Dried tomatoes are so tasty we eat them as a snack right out of the jar.

It seems like a lot of work but I know I will enjoy the ‘fruits of my labor’ this winter when home grown tomatoes from the kitchen garden are just a memory.

Here is a quick and easy recipe that I used to make an Italian blend all chopped in the food processor

20 cups of tomatoes – washed with any bad spots cut out then chopped in the food processor. My gardening neighbor pals, Jack and Al chop (with skins on) in a food processor the tomatoes they use for their summer production of salsa and they make 100s of jars to sell and no one is the wiser.
Peppers – seeded and chopped (food processor) use whatever sweet peppers you have to equal about 4 cups - I used 2 Italian fryers, 3 sweet bell, 2 pimento and 3 sweet banana

2-3 large sweet onions – chopped in the food processor.

6-8 cloves of garlic – pressed

½ cup chopped basil leaves

¼ cup chopped oregano leaves

1 Tablespoon brown sugar

1 Tablespoon sea salt

Mix all together and simmer for 2-3 hours.

Ladle into hot and sanitized quart jars, seal. Can be water bathed for 20 minutes to ensure a safe and sealed product. Makes about 6 quarts.