Sunday, September 28, 2014

Changing Seasons

We are beginning to see touches of color in the trees. Poison ivy makes its presence known to birds, who eat the seeds, by turning bright red while most of the trees are still green. If the ivy has no berries, it remains green much longer.

In the vegetable garden, the beds are overflowing with cool season greens and we are still picking okra. Tonight's menu will therefore include a pot of gumbo and some "kilt" greens. For those who do not speak Appalachian, "kilt" = "killed," meaning that the fresh greens are cooked in a hot dressing until they are wilted. The dressing involves bacon fat and vinegar, and the dish is usually garnished with the bacon that provided the fat. Two strips of bacon will render enough for a 12-inch skillet full of greens. After frying the bacon, transfer it to paper towels. Add about 2 teaspoons of your favorite vinegar to the fat in the skillet, along with a few grinds of black pepper. Raise the temperature until the dressing boils, add the washed greens, and stir fry until the greens are wilted and tender, about 3 minutes. You can also add onions or garlic to suit your preference. This is amazing with turnip greens, but any greens will do. You can mix different types, provided they are approximately the same texture. Otherwise, lettuce may overcook before the kale gets done, for example.

Our cousin from New Mexico sent us a bunch of the famous Hatch chilies, and we have been making salsa this weekend. Canning salsa is a great way to use up the last of the tomatoes. Find specific recipes for canned salsa online and follow them to the letter. Do not experiment with the ratios of tomatoes and acid components (vinegar or lime juice) to other ingredients, or you risk dangerous spoilage. You can, however, adjust seasonings or substitute one type of pepper for another without risk, so long as the total amounts remain the same.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Harvest Time

September is the month of the Harvest Moon (which arrives on Monday the 8th) and with good reason. From late tomatoes and squash to fall favorites like pumpkins to"second spring" lettuce and scallions, in September the Tennessee Valley has it all. No wonder the Tennessee Valley Fair has traditionally been held in September. If you are interested in agriculture at any level, the fair is worth a visit. There will be exhibits of home canning, various cooking demonstrations, horticulture exhibits, fruit and vegetable competitions, and showings of all kinds of domestic animals, from rabbits to cattle. The fair is a great starting place if you think, for example, that you might like to have a few chickens. You can get up close and personal with numerous breeds. Take advantage of the opportunity to talk to the exhibitors, too. You will never find better advice.

September also marks the time of the big Fall Plant Sale at UT Gardens. If you are looking for special plants for your landscape, you can find some great choices at the Fall Plant Sale. It begins at 9:00 AM, Saturday, September 27th. UT Gardens Members get a sneak preview on Friday, September 26.

You still have time to plant fall greens. Members of the mustard family, turnips, bak choy, and arugula, will all mature a crop from seeds planted now. We have about a month before we can reasonably expect frost, and two months before a hard freeze. Fall greens can take a bit of frost, so plant away. The warm soil will result in speedy germination.

This is also the month for warm season herbs in great abundance. If you find yourself with an excess, make an herb jelly. Here is a master recipe that works with mint, basil, tarragon, lavender, rosemary and probably most other herbs.

Herb Jelly
2 ounces herb leaves, stripped from the stems (about 1 quart loosely packed)
2 1/4 cups boiling water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 cups granulated sugar
1 drop food coloring (optional)
3 ounces (one pouch from a 6-ounce box) liquid fruit pectin

Have ready four half pint canning jars with lids. I like to keep them warm in the water bath canner.

Place the herb leaves in a saucepan and pour the boiling water over them. Stir to thoroughly wilt all the leaves, crushing some with the spoon to release the aromatic oils. Bring the liquid back to a boil, cover, remove from the heat and allow to steep for 10 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve. Measure out 1 2/3 cups of the herb infusion and place in a large pot. (Use any remaining to flavor iced tea.)

Add the lemon juice, sugar and food coloring (if used) to the pot, place it over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. When the liquid is at a rolling boil that does not stir down, add the pectin all at once. Continue boiling and stirring for one minute.

Working quickly, skim any foam from the top of the jelly, using a large metal spoon. Ladle the jelly into the hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space, apply caps, and process for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath.

Herb jelly can be used as a condiment on roasted meats, and is delicious when served atop cream cheese on crackers.