Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Things My Family Taught Me

My dad be a gardenin' fool.

I used to watch him from the window of my bedroom as a kid as he struggled to push the tiller through thick wet dirt and cow manure. I used to follow him through the rows of beans and have him show me what was a weed so I could "help" him pull them.

Don't get me wrong - my mom was also involved with our garden adventures. I remember picking and shelling peas with her. I remember being sent to the garden to get lettuce and learning to wash it in the colander with holes punched in it that made the shape of stars.

One of my students recently interviewed me about the passing on of folklore. She had learned that I knew how to can vegetables and wanted to know how I learned. I told her about days of scalding wet heat where the kitchen was steamy and the mason jars filled with zucchini relish and pickled beets lined up in rows to cool. I told her about a freezer filled to the top with bags of veggies from the garden - corn, peas, beans, tomatoes. I told her about going to the root cellar and picking out potatoes and onions for Christmas dinner when the snow was thick on the roof of our log home and the woodstove warmed my hands when I came up from the basement. I told her about how my grandmother would go out wildcrafting, bringing home fiddleback ferns that she would steam and we would eat with butter.

I thought this was a good post to talk about the things we learn and the traditions we keep alive. I see that often these days this kind of endeavor is linked to privilege. I work with people in poverty and it is way cheaper for them to buy a can of beans at the store than to get mason jars and a pressure canner. People who work over 40 hours a week at minimum wage jobs don't have time to be on their knees in the dark soil. That said, sustainability and the ability for communities to feed themselves is part of the key to ending poverty. I feel grateful I am able to take time to garden. I am grateful that my family taught me about food - how to grow it and keep it.

I have pictures my dad sent me of the start of his garden this year. I hope that it is still standing after Hurricane Irene blew through. These days he plants tomatoes, peppers, onions and other things to make and sell salsa. He's very good at it!

OK - these last 2 are pics of some hubbard squashes he grew last year. SOOOO BIG!

If you have garden pics you are proud of, please email them to and we will post them here!!!

Monday, August 29, 2011

You CAN Teach Old Tomatoes New Tricks

Hey all - I know it's been a looong time. Apologies. Lots has been a-happenin' - one thing is that I have relocated.

Of course not before I planted and nurtured 10 tomato plants.

Let's start with the fact that the sheet mulch from earlier posts did not break down as quickly as hoped, but the tomatoes seemed to do well as long as I kept them well fed with fish fertilizer and old milk. They were smaller sized than I had hoped (the tallest one being about 3' tall), but were producing at a lovely rate that kept me in tomatoey goodness daily without overwhelming me.

But this move...

The person who moved into the duplex behind me is the daughter of the people in the other 1/2, so I hoped perhaps I could leave my babies there and come back to harvest. The folks next door are sooo nice I figured that would work out. But alas - the daughter was planning on taking out all 4 beds and putting in a trampoline (she's 19 so I can't be too upset, but all that work!). So since the tomatoes were going to be ripped out anyhow, I figured I would see if tomatoes that are well established could survive transplantation.

I started by watering them and giving them fertilizer the day before I uprooted them. I also took off all of the fruit - red or green - beforehand. I figured it might fall off anyhow so why not? On the day I made sure that I was going to be able to dig them up and get them back into the ground in less than 30 minutes. I was sure to keep as much soil around the roots as possible, and packed them loosely into tupperware tubs. I put them into my car and covered the windows to avoid burns through the glass. I buried them as deeply as they had been before, staked them well, and gave them more water and fertilizer.

The first two days it seemed touch and go. The plants were severely wilted and sad looking. I watered them every evening, and gave them another feeding. Two weeks later 8 of the 10 are perked up with minimal dead leaves. The other two are yellowing and might die. Am still working on them. Of the 8 that are looking good, 7 are producing more fruit, and 5 have new flowers on them. Not sure how the fruit will be, but I am pleased to know that this is possible if necessary. I don't recommend it!

Sorry for the poor quality photo - the camera is out of batteries

I had a HUGE number of green tomatoes. I have been letting many of them ripen over time, but I did put up three quarts of pickled tomatoes. I used a modified recipe from Joy of Cooking, and used a technique for fridge pickling that I learned on NPR. Here is the recipe:

To make 1 Quart of Bread and Butter Fridge Pickles (I used green tomatoes)

- 1qt. loosely packed veggie you want to pickle
-1/2c. salt
- 1c. white wine vinegar
- 1c. sugar or honey
- 1t. mustard seeds
- 1t. turmeric
- 5-6 cloves or a small cinnamon stick
- 1/2t. celery seeds

I made 3 quarts. I took a large number of green cherry tomatoes and just punctured them with a paring knife to get the brine into the tomato. I also chopped 2qt worth of larger ones into bits.

- Soak the tomatoes overnight in a large bowl with the salt. I filled the bowl with water until the tomatoes were covered and then set a plate on top to hold them under.
- take the tomatoes out and rinse them at least twice
- loosely pack the tomatoes into quart jars (or whatever size you like)
- bring the sugar/honey and vinegar to a boil
- pour the hot mixture into the jar leaving about 1/4 inch at the top
- add turmeric, mustard, cloves/cinnamon, and celery seeds
- screw on lids tightly and turn over a few times to mix in spices
- place in fridge and let sit for two weeks before eating. these should be refrigerated for the duration.

I also added a bit of a twist to two of the jars - one got freshly chopped lemon balm, and another got a sprig of parsley. You could also add garlic if you like (I forgot).

They are tasty!