Category Archives: The Foodie’s Garden

Yes, I Can… Vegetables

By Tamra Wilson

Canning season has come early this year. Pee Paw’s garden is overproducing, Syl says. She picks and stems the beans; I own the canner. We share the lids, rings and the jars.

This all began last year when we decided to eat more local and healthy. I invested $99 in a  pressure canner and attended a canning clinic at Home Extension.

“Follow the rules,” the agent advised. “Treat this like a science project,” which meant scalding the jars, sterilizing the lids, discarding rusty rings.

“Botulism can kill you. You must process properly to kill the varmints inside the jar.”

Varmints? That sounded scary, but not so much as the canner looked with its vents, locks and gauge – taunting me to come closer.

My mother did not can. Like most women of her day, she kicked all semblances of home canning to the curb with the warning that it’s old-fashioned and dangerous. The canner can explode. Improper seals could breed botulism, a slow death by poisoning. Her grandmother died after eating home-canned corn. Enough said.

But for me and many like me, risk-taking pressure canners are a new frontier.

I read the pressure canner instructions with trepidation.

Boil the sealed jars in the canner with lid closed until steam, like white smoke announcing a new pope at the Vatican, swirls out for 10 minutes. Place the petcock over the vent. Wait until the pressure reaches 11 pounds. Process for 25 minutes. Don’t take calls, knit, text or watch TV. Watch the canner. Monitor the gauge.

When the process is done, place the hot jars on a clean towel and cover them with another towel to prevent jars from breaking in a cool draft – as if anything vaguely cool could exist in this hot kitchen.

Photo by Flickr/Sommer Poquette

Pressure canning green beans takes three hours, 26 minutes per jar, not to mention the cost of energy and supplies.  This is a pricey undertaking, even with freebie.

It was then that I noticed the green bean smell inside the canner. Don’t ask me the physics, but the pressure bath smells of green beans, a musky old-time odor I hadn’t encountered since dining years ago at the Green Parrot Cafe in Rochester, MN, where Mother scheduled an annual physical at the Mayo Clinic. “Take No Chances” should have been her middle name.  Though she had no known ailments, every June, we kids tagged along to “Mayo’s” for three days of utter boredom in the waiting room.

The Green Parrot, our kitchen away from home, served home-cooked green beans with plated entrees, also boring. The service wasn’t particularly fast either. After lunch, we’d return to Mayo to draw pictures, read or watch people while waiting for Mother’s appointments to check not for a miracle cure, but a blessing that nothing was wrong in the first place.

Why did my mother insist on Mayo? They’re the best, she’d say, the same reason I sit by my pressure canner.

Patience = quality. I am my mother’s daughter.

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Summer Squash and Zucchini Galore!

If your garden has supplied you with a whole boatload of zucchini and squash like mine has, you may be wondering what to do with all of it. You’ve pawned it off on your neighbors and co-workers but you’re still flush with squash. Well, we have a few suggestions.

  • Roast or grill it with other vegetables. Just a touch of olive oil and your favorite spices and herbs. Great with steak or chicken and couscous. I like roasting or grilling it because it helps eliminate some of the sliminess you can get when cooking zucchini or squash.
  • Zucchini bread. It’s sweet, light, moist and has a serving of vegetables! (I’ve even heard you can pass it off on children – they won’t know the difference.) Add walnuts for a little crunch.
  • Oven-fried squash and zucchini. I love fried zucchini and squash (who doesn’t) but if you’re trying to watch the fat, try this. It’s much better for you and fairly passable if you’re craving the deep-fried stuff.
  • Zucchini or squash Parmesan. We’ve also eaten it as a meat-substitute on meatless Mondays. Cook good-sized chunks of it on the stove and toss with sun-dried tomato pesto, pasta and Parmesan for a faux Chicken Parmesan. You could even do this with the oven-fried zucchini if you want to get really crazy.
  • Zucchini Lasagna. Throw in some diced zucchini or squash to add more vegetables to your regular lasagna recipe. Or to make it super low-carb, try replacing the noodles with long slices of zucchini. Yes, I’m skeptical too, but willing to give it a shot.

A lot more recipe ideas from Health Magazine and Food.com.

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An Ode To Olives

By David Radavich

These are the bread of life:
green as oak leaves,
black as lust.

You can taste the desire
almost from smell,

the stuffed ones with pimientos
offer Christmas year-round.

I can see why the dead
might not like them:

too luscious
for the after-life,

earth
on a platter

that keeps
living and living

like schoolgirls
on a starry night.

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Waiting

Julie with her kids picking strawberries at Carrigan Farms last Mother's Day.

This entry is one of our Mother’s Day contest winners. We asked readers for their favorite food memory about mom.

By Julie Crandall

I remember when I was a kid waiting for strawberry season.  My Mom’s favorite dessert was strawberry shortcake and we’d always have it on Mother’s day and my birthday and pretty much anytime Mom came home with those giant bright red strawberries that she’d get at a roadside stand along a dusty road near our home in Glendora, CA.  We’d see those berries and the look on Mom’s face and we could almost taste the promise of summer.   I can still picture my Mom biting into that crispy warm shortcake and the intense red of those juicy berries with the bright white dollop of fresh whipped cream mounted on top.  I don’t know exactly what it was about that strawberry shortcake that makes me still almost weep for home.

I left CA after my Mom died in 1991.  Time passed and strawberries started popping up in the market not just in the spring, but at all different times in the year.  At first it felt like an exciting novelty, making our treasured dessert in the Fall or even in the dead of winter.  But pretty soon it became sort of confusing and disorienting when I noticed that eventually strawberries joined the ranks of bananas and oranges (and everything else for that matter) as fruit that was available anytime throughout the year- imported from somewhere else, so we’d have to wait for nothing.  Sure, there is something nice and convenient to getting anything anytime, but we lose something as we slowly and gradually wake up to find that nothing is special anymore.  It was in the “waiting”- in the longing- for the season when we’d see Mom walk in with those beautiful strawberries that made strawberry shortcake more than just a dessert.  Strawberries were a season, and strawberry shortcake was an experience… it was a time and a place and it was the sweetness of Mom.

Waiting… I guess you could say it’s a spiritual practice; you could definitely say that learning to wait is a necessary tool for life.  So I mostly pass by those strawberries that I see in the market in the “off season.”  I’m waiting for those strawberries which are picked at their prime right from the fields down the street.  Come to think of it I may even drag my own kids down to pick a few baskets ourselves this Sunday on Mother’s Day.  We’ll head home and I’ll get out the Bisquick… and I’ll make strawberry shortcake just the same way Mom used to.  With a grateful heart that longs for home, I’ll watch my kids and think of Mom- and how sweet it all was and still is…. and how very worth the wait.

Other Mother’s Day contest winners:

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Mutant Strawberries! They’re Big, But How Do They Taste?

Note to readers: that is a real human-sized spoon, not a Barbie spoon.

Portions and foods in general are getting bigger and bigger, but this is ridiculous. My fiance brought home some freak, mutant strawberries last week. I had to share the photo because I didn’t know you could actually buy strawberries this big. I thought they were the subjects of “whoa, look at that thing” ribbons at the state fair or perhaps B- horror movies (Attack of the Killer Strawberries?) Is this the result of some kind of nuclear radiation or genetically modified seeds grown with steroid fertilizer? I decided to investigate.

Giant is right.

According to their website and a representative I contacted, they do use some pesticides:

…we use practices and methods to minimize the need for pesticides whenever possible. Our team works closely with scientists at the University of California to determine the best time for applications of pesticides and insecticides and they are used ONLY when necessary to protect the survival of plants.

They add that they also offer organic berries, as well. As for genetic engineering:

California Giant does not use GMO’s. We rely on traditional breeding methods to develop and enhance our berries’ flavor, quality, size and color.

If GMOs are not involved, the size must be attributed to some selective breeding. I’m no farmer or geneticist of course, but it seems like it would be difficult to breed for BOTH size and flavor. Based on the strawberries I had, it seems like size won, they weren’t particularly flavorful or juicy…

The giant berries growing in their giant habitat. Photo from California Giant Berry Farms Facebook page.

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Strawberries Arrive Early

Ripening Strawberries. Photo by Flickr/sigusr0

By WFAE’s Jennifer Lang

Strawberry pie. Strawberry shortcake. Strawberry jam. Strawberry margarita. Strawberry ice cream. Strawberry cheesecake. Strawberry smoothie.

This Bubba Blue-like moment is brought to you by my giddy anticipation of strawberry season. If, like me, you enjoy strawberries in their many delicious concoctions, rejoice! Thanks to a La Nina winter the strawberry crop will come early and abundantly in most areas of the state according to the North Carolina Strawberry Association.

Kevin Hall of Hall Family Farm in Charlotte said their u-pick fields will open April 15, or even a few days before. This will be earlier than the Hall’s have opened in the past few years.

Don’t miss getting your share of the first ripe berries. They’re going to be here soon! Use this Strawberry Farm Locator as your guide to juicy strawberry goodness.

I’m a sucker for simple recipes calling for few ingredients (five is my absolute max!)

Strawberries - best enjoyed plain. Photo by Flickr/tamburix

My favorite-

Fresh Strawberries
Ingredients:

  • 1 Strawberry patch
  • 1 Sunny day
  • 1 Clean t-shirt

Directions:
Find ripe strawberry. Pick. Inspect for bug(s). If found, blow off. Wipe strawberry on the tail of t-shirt you are wearing. Pop in mouth and savor*. Repeat until full. Or your grandmother chases you out of the patch.
*Do not attempt this recipe at a commercial strawberry farm until purchasing the berries.

Kids enjoying fresh picked strawberries. Photo by Flickr/Michael Bentley

What’s your favorite strawberry recipe? Share with us in the comments.

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Eat Honey, Bee Local

Bees scare me.   I feel foolish that something so small and generally uninterested in my presence would cause me to act in ways that call my sanity into question.  I’ve leapt from my automobile, removed clothing in public, and screamed like a girlie girl (which I am not) in response to an unwelcomed visitor.

But bees are not my enemy.  I would go to great lengths to defend their existence, because honey bees are an integral part of our food system.   Beyond making honey, bees pollinate around a third of the fruits and vegetables that we rely on for nutrition.  If you watch the movie Vanishing of the Bees, you’ll learn about a phenomenon called “colony collapse” that is threatening bee populations all over the world.  Our honey sources are in trouble.

So what’s the big deal about honey, and particularly about local honey?  Honey in general has impressive qualities, as well as a broad array of flavor profiles, but there is something very special about local honey that goes beyond satisfying your sweet tooth.

If you dread the onset of spring because of your reactions to pollen, local honey is here to help.  I found Cloister Honey at Dilworth Drug displayed prominently on a shelf with the allergy medications.  Regular consumption of the most local honey you can find has been proven to act like a series of immunological injections, as it helps you adapt to your environment.  Honey can also soothe a sore throat or suppress a cough (a little bourbon doesn’t hurt either).

There are many reasons to buy local honey vs. honey generated from a foreign nectar source.  Commercial honey has often been heated and pasteurized, which reduces the benefits and the antibacterial properties.  And if you buy local, you can know your beekeeper and you can know for sure that you are getting a pure product vs. one that has been blended with something else.If you find it at a farmers market you can be pretty sure that it is local, but it never hurts to ask.

Depending on where the bees roam, honey from different sources can taste vastly different.  Find a beekeeper who will offer you samples and help you find one that you like! A little honey goes a long way – it is sweeter than sugar, and better for your body.  Beyond a topping for yogurt and biscuits or a sweetener for tea, it has preservative qualities that make it useful in baked goods and other recipes.

What can you do to make sure we continue to have an abundance of local honey?  Be a friend to the bees, and support your local beekeeper. Beekeeping has also become a popular hobby, but please go to Bee School first!  Plant a garden for the bees to pollinate, and consider using organic pest control and garden inputs.  It is good for you, good for the bees, and better for the environment.  And how sweet it is once the golden goodness starts flowing.

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