The Final Basil Harvest

I planted a prodigious amount of basil this year.  Like, a LOT, a lot.  After a summer of pruning here and there to make pizzas and pestos, it was time to cut everything down and see what I had.
final basil harvest

(I apologize for the iPhone pictures- it’s just what’s close at hand when I’m covered in garden dirt!)

I peeled all the leaves off and dumped them into a sink of cool water and swished them around a bit to knock the dirt off, and let them sit a few minutes so it all could settle to the bottom of the sink.  I had to do it in 3 batches, but everything was spun through the salad spinner to get dry, and then made into pesto and frozen.  (And YES: my next batch of laundry smelled amazing.  Thanks.)

final basil harvest

I used this recipe, from Sustainable Eats, and loved it.  I normally use a recipe from my trust BHG (Better Homes and Gardens) cookbook, but any recipe that says:

“I can force about a cubic foot of loosely packed basil leaves (removed from the plant) into a cup and a half of oil.”

Nice.  THAT’S what I want to hear at the end of the growing season!

I portioned it all into quart-sized ziploc baggies and froze them flat- I ended up with 8 cups of pesto.  Not too shabby!

 

 

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Processing Apples into Sauce, Butter, and Pectin

From start to finish, this is how I process a crate of apples.  Most  years I get 2 or 3 crates of apples from my mom’s trees, and this year I got some extras from a friend who didn’t have time to process a few boxes of “seconds” apples before they went bad.

  1. Empty the crate into the sink, weeding out any moldy or squishy apples.  For me, I am entirely OK with holes and little blemishes that I can cut out, especially if I am going to be cooking it for days into apple butter.  But if a worm hole grosses you out, pitch it.
  2. Fill the sink with cool water, to wash the apples.
  3. Slice apples into halves (or quarters if they’re huge) and fill a large stock pot.
  4. Add a few cups of water to the apples in the stock pot, and set on the stove to bring to a simmer.  Make sure it doesn’t boil dry, and cook 5 or 10 minutes till the apples can be pierced easily with a fork.
  5. Working in small batches, run the apple pieces and cooking water through a Sauce Master.  IF you do not have one of these machines, you can either peel and core the apples before cooking them down into sauce, or cook the chunked apples down and then force them through a colander.  (The latter is easier to do if you have an apple peeler.)

making applesauce and apple juice

6. Throw away the refuse (peels, seeds, stems).  Put the apple sauce puree into a lined colander, over a large bowl or pot.  Let it drain.
making applesauce and apple juice

7.  If you started with a mix of ripe and unripe apples, the juice that drains out can be considered pectin- it will be a thick, silky liquid.  I’ve never cooked with it, but this woman has very clear instructions.  At the very least, it could be cooked down into a delicious glaze for desserts, sauce for ice cream, or used as a syrup with sparkling water to make apple soda.  If you started out with very ripe apples, there will have been very little natural pectin remaining, and the juice that you’ve drained off can be brought to a boil, decanted into hot and sterilized quart jars, and processed in a water bath for five minutes to seal.  You MUST bring the juice to a boil before you can it, to kill off any germs.  I like this juice best when I mix a few different types of apples.

making applesauce and apple juice

8.  The drained apple sauce can either be brought to a boil, funneled into hot jars, and processed for 25 minutes in a hot water canner, OR you can put it in a crock pot (with the lid ajar and heat set to low) for a day or two until it is thick to your liking.  I prefer to add a bit of cinnamon or other “pie” spices at the end, to taste.  It can be spooned into pint or smaller jars, and processed 25 minutes in a hot water bath canner.  I have never used sugar in either my sauce or my butter, and have always felt it was plenty sweet.

making applesauce and apple juice

 

9.  Let your jars sit overnight on a towel, then check to make sure the lids sealed, remove the rings, and rinse everything off before storing the jars away in a dark and cool place.

Tomatoes at my House, From Seed to Kitchen

Every February or March, either my mom or I plant up a squillion or so tomato seeds in dirt trays in our greenhouses, and wait for them to sprout.  Once they’ve come up, we use a very careful method involving a teaspoon and a sharp pencil to pick up each little sprout and transplant it into a beer cup full of miracle-gro dirt.  (What do YOU call those red, 20 oz., Solo brand plastic cups?)

(These are actually basil starts, but you get the idea)
basil starts in the greenhouse

tomato starts in the greenhouse

We leave our army of tomato-seedling-filled beer cups in our green houses until they’re nice and big, and the weather has warmed up.  Once that’s happened, they’re transplanted outside.  This is normally in June or July.  This year, I took my biggest transplants and moved them to gallon pots in May and June, to give them bigger root systems before putting them in the ground.  Tomatoes can send out roots wherever their stems touch dirt, so I de-leaf the bottom half of the vine and bury it.

In years past, I’ve put my tomatoes in pots.  While lots of people have huge success with this (including my mom) I never do.  That’s probably because I’m not the most conscientious waterer, and plants in the ground are more forgiving about water since they can find their own.  Now, I put them in the ground, again burying the bottom part of the stalk so I can get a stronger root system.

I discovered my favorite staking method this year, and it surprised me: I found plastic “bamboo” stakes in the shed, left behind by a previous owner.  They’re about a 1/4 inch thick, and four feet tall.  I stuck them in the ground behind the transplants, and used a rubberized wire to twist-tie the tomato vines to the stakes as they grew taller.  Next year I’ll remember to snip off the top of the vine once they reach the top of the stakes, but even without this they did great this year and nothing fell over.

We had such a cold, late, summer this year that none of my large tomatoes (roma and Early Girl) ever turned red.  Not even close.  I got a handful of yellow pear cherry tomatoes, but nothing to write home about.

tomatillos and green tomatoes

When the Fall rains started, I harvested every tomato I could find.  I put all the big tomatoes into a cardboard box, in two layers with some newspaper in between.  I intended to just store them in there until I used them in curries or salsas, or found recipes to use them in.  As of right now, three weeks after that harvest, fully 3/4 of my big tomatoes have ripened and are delicious!  Totally surprised me- next year, I’m going to harvest tomatoes as soon as they’re full-sized and let them ripen inside.  I’ll get ripe tomatoes all summer, and the plants will focus on the next crop of tomatoes when I remove the most mature fruit.

early girl tomato

What I’ve not eaten, I’ve been throwing into gallon ziploc bags and putting them in the freezer for later.  From what I’ve read, I’ll be able to just thaw them and the skins will slide off.  Then, I can cook them into quick sauces, soups, salsa, etc.

sweet 100 tomatoes

green tomatoes in the sink

The cherry tomatoes have not done well ripening on the counter, for some reason.  The ripe and almost ripe were picked too late after the rains started, and they’d already split open and were mealy.  Luckily, I’ve been on a pickle kick lately and have a new favorite brine.  In the end, I had two gallons of green cherry tomatoes and they are all taking a bath in a sextuple batch of that brine.  I’m pretty stoked.  (They’ve been fermenting three days now, they have four more to go before they go into the refrigerator.)

The Five Machines I Don’t Want to Be Without

As my “end of harvest season” work load ramps up, I find myself using my favorite tools over and over.
So, here is my list of Big Ticket Items that make this kind of life easy.  Well, easier.
Also, in the interest of making myself feel better, NO.  We did not spend thousands of dollars kitting ourselves up in style.  We’ve been lucky to gift, thrift, or exchange for the bulk of these items.  In fact, the freezer is the only one we went to a store and bought straight out.  I’m only printing this list in the spirit of sharing what has really, REALLY helped alleviate the work load for me.
  1. Deep freeze.  You can always find pounds and pounds and POUNDS of meat, cheese, fruit, vegetables, nuts, and pre-prepared foods in my freezer.  (Bulk batches of gnocchi and pot stickers, anyone?)   What would be better?  An upright freezer would be an awesome substitute for this.  On the plus side, easy to organize, easy to find space to “flash freeze” things on cookie sheets, and easy to find things.  On the down side, more expensive to purchase, more expensive to run.
  2. Stand mixer.  I have a shiny red Kitchen Aid.  (Well, it would be shiny if I took the time to clean it properly, daily.  Let’s not nitpick.)  Our family eats roughly a loaf of bread every day, so I make two-loaf batches every other day.  Roughly.  A two loaf batch fits perfectly in my mixer, and it is SO NICE to put everything in, turn it on, and walk away to let it mix.  I come back every so often to add more flour or check on the dough ball, but my hands-on time is cut down drastically.  What would be better?  A bosch mixer can handle much larger batches of dough, so if you’re wanting to make mondo batches of bread (up to 4 loaves at a time) Bosch is the way to go.  Or, do it by hand.  But that’s not really the point of this list, is it?
(The only photo I could find of my beautiful red machine…isn’t it nice?)
chocolate chip cookies
  1. Grain mill.  I have the WonderMill, and love it.  L.O.V.E.  No, it’s not cheap.  But, I can get white winter wheat for 46 cents per pound, bulk, and make bread that would cost $4 at the store.  It’s healthier, it’s cheaper, it tastes better, and it will pay for itself!  One thing about this mill- it only makes flour.  No cracked wheat.  No cornmeal.  Grinding wheat and popcorn together makes the best corn bread you’ve ever had, but you can’t grind your own polenta.   It will grind any grain, bean, or seed provided it isn’t too oily.  I’ve even ground my regular short grain rice to make a pretty decent mochi, when the craving strikes.

(Image from Amazon.com)

  1. A big, fat blender.  I have a VitaMix, inherited from my parents.  Yes, it’s 30 years old.  Yes, it’s chrome.  Yes, it’s a BEAST and I love it.  We use it for smoothies almost daily, plus soups, sauces, hummus, bean dip, etc.  If this thing ever dies, I am going to use the Vitamix “trade up” credit to send it in and order a new one!  (You buy a Vitamix from the company, then send in your old one and they’ll refund $100 as a “trade up” credit.  Sweetness.)  Oh, and I’ve heard that this blender can double as a grain mill!  This particular model, I’ve not been impressed with the flour I got out of it.  However, a chef friend has a newer one, and doesn’t even bother with his grain mill anymore.

Old Vitamix

  1. My Sauce Master.  You’ve probably never heard of it, but I don’t want to make apple sauce or apple butter with out it!  And, considering that I normally process 2-4 cases of apples every year, that makes it essential.  You put your soft fruit in that funnel up top, turn the crank on the right, and it’s spiraled through a sieve-lined tube.  The good stuff comes down the chute in front, and all the detritus comes out at the end of the pipe.  This particular one is vintage, and a much-appreciated gift from my mother-in-law when she was cleaning out her cabinets before moving.  Only, now she doesn’t ever remember owning this, so where it came from is a bit of a mystery!  This monster can make juice or puree.  (I dream about having enough grapes to make grape juice.)

making applesauce and apple juice

And there you have it!  What’s on YOUR list of “don’t wanna live without it”?

 

 

Purple Monster Smoothie

20111004-113800.jpg

Managed to put almost all the rainbow colors in here. I thought about adding a tomato to get our red, but took pity on the kids 🙂

6 oz peach yogurt
1/2 cup concord grapes
1/4 banana
1/2 cup oatmeal
3 Tbsp. Vanilla pudding powder
1 cup frozen blueberries
1 kiwi, peeled
1 Bosc pear, halved and cores
Water to thin down