We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Bowl

Excuse me the title, but when Acadia showcased her Queen Monster Tomato my mind had yet to make the leap from Shark Week and bigger boats to farming and jumbo tomatoes.

And when I say we’re gonna need a bigger bowl…

I mean with all hands on deck and tomato juice flying and canning jars bubbling away and our floor running red with the carnage of so much flesh being torn limb from oops, sorry.  Darn shark week muddling my metaphors.

Argggh, who needs sharks?  I’ve got a couple of  scurvy lasses willing to flash their knives in the name of preserving food.

And while all hands were on deck for slicing dicing squeezing and chopping,

a funny thing happened to me.  In the midst of all this my pulse, racing with the pressure of back to school and outgrown sneakers and unfamiliar schedules and shark attacks, started to beat just a bit smoother.  And my brow, furrowed with the worries brought on by a new middle-schooler and a calendar to be updated with activities galore, relaxed back into my forehead.

So what does one do with an abundance of relaxed emotions and a couple of backyard apple trees that chose this year to produce hundreds of glamour-shot worthy beauties?

Easy.  One leaps deftly from canning tomatoes to grinding out applesauce.  And once again our workers sliced and diced and ground away

all in the name of putting up enough sustenance to keep us well throughout the harsh winter to come.  Oh the joy of walking past the crumbling destruction that is our flooded basement and into the storage closet that now houses this bounty —

(Note to the nay-sayers:  Yes, one can survive on tomatoes, applesauce and jam alone.  But just in case, say hello to our back-up plan:  Operation Vegetarian Katniss.

I’m Not Getting Voted Off This Homestead

The last attempt I made to live off the land didn’t go very well.   Half pint and pa never bagged a bear, and what with all the churning and mending to be done I utterly failed at the task of putting up enough food to feed my family.  It was barely November and I had to hitch the old (station) wagon up to the grocery store trading post.

No amount of chopping wood would have saved me from being voted out of the Frontier House.

I don’t know how those pioneer ladies did it.  They were a tough breed.

Kind of like my own pioneer babe–

Don’t let the Holly Hobby dress and sweet smile fool you.  This nine year old is brimming with teenage ‘tude that would serve her nicely should I follow through with my decision to free-range her out on the open frontier.  And since you were wondering, yes I did wear this dress to school as a suburban child of the seventies.  There is simply no denying it, when it comes to fashion I’ve always been ahead of my time.

But never mind that, food failure was so last year.  My family is on target to make it through this year, this entire year, completely independent from grocery stores.  That’s us, totally self-sufficient…at least as far as jam is concerned.

Oh shush.  Don’t tell me I can’t keep a family on jam alone.  I can do whatever I want.

I made jam, didn’t I?  See–

When we polished off the last of the jars I made back in June, I simply defrosted what was left of our strawberry puree from the picking last fall.   Then I added just a pinch of sugar.

Or perhaps it was a wagon-load of sugar.  I’m not exactly sure.  Then a dollop of magic–

And Voila!  Jam!

2009/2010 will be known far and wide as the year we made it on jam alone.  Impressive, yes, but for 2010/11 I’ve set my sights a little higher.

Welcome to my lofty goal of the year:  tomatoes.  These guys may not look like much but just you wait.  These little guys have been tapped to nourish my family throughout the year to come.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Noooooo! Not My Squash

The same deluge that’s been teasing out the ragweed and the thistles in miserable numbers has been working wonders on our garden.  Instead of popping out with one of two nuggets of goodness, vines are bursting forth in clusters of fruitfulness.  I should be pleased. I should be grateful.  But I’m sulking.

Sure, the tomatoes are tantalizing

And yes, the raspberries are remarkable,

And I suppose we are enjoying the piles of purple potatoes,

But it’s not enough.  Remember Big Bertha?  That feminine nugget on which I pinned all my butternut hopes and dreams?

She is no more.  She was my lone female, and now she’s gone before the bees even had a chance to do their business.  It’s not good.  There comes a time in every woman’s life where she has to draw the line.  She has to say Enough is Enough.  That time, my friends, has come.

Incensed, I marched inside and called the extension program over at Colorado State University and left a message about the peculiar gender trends taking place in my back yard.  Surely there is a PhD student out there just waiting to tackle my plight, restore balance to my backyard, and write an award-winning thesis to boot.

Surprisingly, no student was readily available, so I spoke instead to a master gardener.  Now perhaps under other circumstances she’s a decent human being.  But good intentioned or not, she had the audacity to suggest that perhaps my soil was nitrogen-heavy.  Or phosphorous-light.   She doesn’t even know us and here she casually insinuating that my garden has a chemical imbalance?  Pah-lease.  At least she didn’t second the opinion of her colleague, the scientist who gently offered that some squash, not necessarily mine, but some do show hermaphroditic tendencies when they get toward their terminus.  Really? You want to go there, do you?

It was hard to hear at first, but I am nothing if not a caring and nurturing mother gardener.  And so I will ship off a sample of my sweet innocent, albeit potentially imbalanced, soil.  I’ll send it out there into the science world to be judged.  I will do whatever my baby needs to be make it in this cold, dark, mean world.  Especially if that means my garden is happy.

Because if my garden is happy, then I am happy.  Mmmm, I am just about as hungry happy as a clam with a mouthful of my favorite butternut squash pasta. Have you tried this ambrosia of a dinner yet?  It is time. It’s delicious. It’s easy.  It’s wonderful.  And if the squash gods aren’t shining down on you, it’s ok.   Someone, somewhere is having success growing the gourds.  Pick one up at the farm stand.  It’s even, gulp, worth a trip to the market.

Dave’s Crazy Good Peach Salsa

This salsa fresca is unbelievably good.  This version is medium-mild, but you can always increase the number of jalepenos if you like it hot hot hot.  The key here is using ultra-fresh ingredients.

  • 2 c diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 c diced yellow bell pepper
  • 1 large diced, peeled peach
  • 1/4 seeded and diced jalapeno (more or less to taste)
  • 1/2 c chopped red onion
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbls lime juice

Add all ingredients together and toss lightly.  Put it in the fridge for about an hour and serve cold.  The extra liquid can be drained off before serving.

Footloose and Sneezy-free

Thank you to all for the plethora of suggestions on how to beat the seasonal snotties.  I take it you were not impressed with my plan of barring the doors and windows and never venturing forth into polite company again?

Worries over me becoming a hermit are groundless.  Why just today I strolled out through the door and into my garden.  I made it almost 5 minutes before the allergens launched their merciless attack.  And despite the onslaught I lasted another half hour past that, long enough to photograph the progress of the garden.  Because, yippee, we are making progress.

Not only have the cucumbers finally gone co-ed, but they’ve been (getting) busy.  They are not big, they are not ready, but they are going to be tasty. . .if they reach their teens before the first frost. (Note, objects taken at extreme close-up may actually be just a tiny fraction of apparent size.)

Not quite as far along socially are the squash vines.  Still, credit where credit is due–they too are showing signs of leaving bachelorhood behind.  Here, without further ado, is our first female flower.

Allow me to introduce you to Big Bertha, our beautiful butternut babe-to-be.  I am expecting big things from her, assuming some studly male steps up and does his duty.

I am impressed by the perseverance of the rainbow chard.  I had given it up as gone to the bugs when we returned home to find the leaves holey and frail; but when I trimmed them back new growth sprung forth.  Looks like the cucumbers may have someone to play with after all (you know, on my salad plate.)

The raspberries are numerous and ripening fast–

Ahh, and the tomatoes.  The tomatoes are hanging heavy.  Really heavy.

Is it wrong to think that it might be time for my produce to get a bra?

Welcome to the Jungle

We put in some time in the garden this weekend, and I think I finally understand those people who think slapping bugs and pulling weeds is relaxing.  It was delightful. I sat myself down in the wet dirt and wrestled with the overgrown jungle in our backyard.  There was no traffic concerning me.  I didn’t have to worry about finding a smoke-free room with two beds somewhere on the safe side of some random town.  After weeks out on the open road it was terrific to be hemmed in by strawberries plants in the midst of staging a coup to overtake the yard and towering 6 foot high raspberry bushes.

Also standing strong was the rhubarb.  Back in June, as we were getting ready to leave town, I judged it done and planted squash right on top.  But clearly I was premature in writing off the rhubarb–

Before I get all puffed up about the glorious successes in our garden, I admit one major disappointment.  Though the vines of the pumpkin, the squash and the cucumbers are gorgeous thick twists heavy with flowers, I worry that when push comes to grow, they will not produce.  NO FEMALE FLOWERS.  AGAIN. Now, I like hanging with guys as much as the next sorority girl, but I’m begging for a nice nerdy science guy out there somewhere willing to explain why inside the house I make all girls, but outside the house it’s one bachelor party after another.  Please?

At least I have some producers to appease me while I ponder the infinite questions of vegetable sex.  Our tomatoes did just fine without us.

Even the rainbow chard that I thought would never show poked it’s head up.  In our absence the bugs had a feast, but at least I can feel good knowing that the little critters received a healthy dose of vitamin-rich antioxidants.

We got potatoes! These truly were the easiest things to grow.  I stuck one rotten looking spud in the ground, cruised around the nation for a couple of months, and Wham! Bam!  French Fries Ma’am!

And finally, after 7 weeks of gifting our CSA share to the happy, healthy Redfern family, we finally got our hands on some local, farm-fresh veggies

We started with the eggplant. According to Dave, a self-acclaimed afficienado, the eggplant parmesan I made that night was the best he’s ever eaten.  I take full credit, gracefully.  Though real credit is probably due to the fact that the eggplant was the freshest we’ve ever had.  Freshly-picked eggplant–ours was picked 24 hours beforehand–is much sweeter and holds far less water.  The less water in the eggplant, the less of a bitter aftertaste.)

Hit the road, jack

It’s time. We are ready to hit the road, Jack.

Heck yeah we’re bringing Jack; who’d you think was going to do all the driving and the refueling and the feeding and entertaining of whining kids?  OK, not really.  It would be delightful to have imaginary handy Jack along, but it’ll just be the four of us cruising the country’s roads.   As you’ve probably guessed, I am busy teaching the girls the lyrics to such classics as I Ate a Peanut, and She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain.  It’s going to be just great.

The critics say we are crazy to attempt this trip sans electronics. Concern is so high, in fact, that I have already declined, politely, three separate offers to borrow mini-DVD players.  Last night, Dave came home from work with a loaner.  His co-workers were worried about our caveman-style approach to car time.  I remain committed to old school.  How can we sing about all those bottles falling off the wall if the children have battery-operated alternatives?

I might be wrong, so to be on the safe side I will keep my mind open and the charged DVD player in the trunk.  You know, just in case Disney is the one thing that keeps me from going completely nuts.

Speaking of nuts, there’s the issue of food on the road.  Though I deny my children all the good stuff 360+ days of the year, travel time is treat time.  I’ve been loading up a box with all the means to make the trail-crossing pleasant; we’re got nuts, yes, and trail mix heavy with m+ms and licorice whips and potato chips, and more.  If our wagon loses a wheel, I am confident that we’ll stave off starvation.

And what about the garden?  Sadly, those berries did not ripen despite my repeated requests and explanations about the tight calendar.  In the interest of research, we threw more seeds in the ground, set out a drip line, and are hoping for the best.

Here’s what’s happening now, as I callously leave my fresh fruit and veggies behind in the dirt and ply my children with sugar instead:

After the first round of sprouts keeled over, I tried again for cucumbers.  Here they are, just poking up through the earth–

Dave apparently had a similar thought, so he went right ahead and dug in a baby tomato. Right on top of my squash.  See what happens when spouses don’t communicate?   It will be a fierce battle (but seeing as my squash has all her sisters and she, I don’t think his puny tomato has much of a chance.)  Only time will tell which veggie will prevail (Go squash Go!)

The potatoes trees are out of control.  What?  You didn’t know that potatoes grow on trees?  Perhaps you’ve heard otherwise, but then how do you explain this–

It’s a potato jungle out there.

We won’t be here to see all the changes in the garden over the next six weeks, but we did get to witness one marked change this week.  Ahh, Acadia.  What would a vacation be without a stopover first for some xrays?

Here she is at the beginning of the week, the happy-as-a-clam swimming cowgirl.

And here she is yesterday, noticeably sadder.

Her boldly attempted ceiling-slap-from-high-leap off the bed resulted not in a gold medal, but in a hairline fracture in her foot.  Kids!  Aren’t they a kick in the pants?

Oh the weather

Throngs of people will tell you that life in Colorado is just grand thanks to the 300+ days of glorious sunshine. I’ll let you in on a little secret: those sunny days can really grind on a person. They come with a burden of responsibility to get out there, get the kids outside, go ride a bike or climb a mountain or some such nonsense. Frankly, it’s exhausting. Ok so maybe it is just what the doctor ordered; but sometimes fresh air is overrated.

Last weekend came roaring in like an angry wet lion. Chilly and soggy and not a reason in the world to pull off pajamas or venture outside (well, except Dave, who braved the weather to save the last of the tomatoes.

We read that pulling in the whole vine and wrapping the bunch in newspapers is the answer to an early frost. They did in fact ripen nicely, within about a week.)

Oh yes, and Dave heroically ventured back out into the yard for wood, making the the girls enormously happy as they settled in before the first fire of the season.

I too eventually shed my pajamas to join neighbor Kristin and her daughter for pie-crust-making 101. (Full disclosure: that beautiful pie I boasted of was made of home grown apples…and Pillsbury crust. I know, I know, shame shame on me. I’m a stinky cheater. Lucky for us all Kristin was on a crusade to change that.)

Kristin’s claim? Not only is homemade crust infinitely tastier, but contrary to popular opinion it is not something to be feared. I had my doubts, but in the interest of research and dessert I crossed the street with a bag of apples, a pie dish and an open mind.

Once we got the apples peeled and ready to go, Kristin and daughter Rachel showed us the ropes, following Grandma’s (not so anymore) secret recipe. Kira joined us, delivering the lemon for the filling so I could follow my favorite apple pie recipe for the filling, passed down to me from my late cousin, Valerie, a woman who knew her way around a pie. And Kira stayed, putting her muscle to work rolling and patting and well, you know the drill.

So? Was it worth it? All the rolling and the kneading and the flour in our hair?

Resoundingly, yes. We enjoyed a morning that was wonderful, warm and neighborly. And later on, we enjoyed our pie, our flaky, melt-in-your-mouth, fresh-from-the-tree, hot apple pie. With home-made crust, and of course, ice cream on the side.

Holy Tomatoes Batman

Shout out to our new farm hands, friends Bridget and Colin , who joined our own little seasoned pickers in the field. Without those extra built-low-to-the ground pickers, I don’t know if I would be spending all my waking hours up to my elbows in tomato juice. Thanks, guys.

Ok, so let’s say these extra farm hands result in a lot of tomatoes. I mean, A LOT of tomatoes. I’m talking about 40 pounds of big red beauties. And with their looming threat of transforming from a delicate treat into mashed rottenness, these tomatoes demand attention.

There are some seriously scary stories out there about the horrors that result from amateur canning. I’m not opposed to learning how to manage boiling hot glassware; in fact, reader Amy has it spelled out nicely at her site Five Flower Mom, and I’m going to give it a go with the next batch, I swear. I just know I’ll be more open to that lesson once the frozen veggies start infringing on my ice cream space. I’m the type who needs plenty of room for ice cream.

For now, since Ben and Jerry have some wiggle room, I was happy to stumble upon this site, http://www.pickyourown.org/freezingtomatoes.htm, that walked me through the easy process of freezing. I froze tons as diced tomatoes and the others I put up as sauce.

Here’s a quick break-down of the easy steps:

(1) Drop tomatoes into a pot of boiling water. Leave them for about 45 -60 seconds.

(2) Drop them into an icy bath. I filled the sink with ice cubes and cold water.

Looked like a mooshier version of bobbing for apples.

(3) Pull off the skin.

(4) Once the skin came off, I cut the stem end. Then I took the whole thing in my hand and squeezed. A nice tight hug, to get out the extra water and some of the seeds.

(5) Dice the tomatoes and set the pieces in a colander in the sink to drain.

For diced tomatoes, I put them in ziploc baggies, squeezed out as much air as possible, and laid them flat in the freezer.

For sauce, I followed my dash-o-this, pinch-o-that style tomato sauce recipe, then froze the sauce in jelly jars (lucky for me we polished off the strawberry jam so quickly!)

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. And enjoy.