Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Preserving My Tomato Harvest

The last couple of days have been filled with harvesting more tomatoes and preserving them to consume later.

I filled 5 trays in the dehydrator. Each tray will hold about 2 1/2 pounds of sliced tomatoes. I cored the tomatoes and then cut the tops and bottoms off of them and then sliced each tomato into 2 fat slices. The tops and bottoms got diced and made into sauce for pasta tonight and a sauce for an eggplant dish last night.

You can see how much they shrink down. I pack the dried slices into a jar and keep them in the refrigerator. Refrigerating the dried tomatoes preserves their color.

Here's a roasting pan of Blue Beech paste tomatoes that I simply sliced in half, arranged in the pan cut side up, sprinkled with a touch of kosher salt and a drizzle of olive oil, and roasted at 300F for an hour. They were then put through a food mill and then packed into 2 cup containers and frozen. I ended up with 3 containers full from this batch and 4 from a couple of previous batches. The frozen puree gets popped out of the containers and sealed in food saver vacuum bags for long term storage in the freezer. Sometimes I make an easy sauce for freezing by roasting the tomatoes with onion halves, peeled garlic cloves, and herbs, then putting it all through the food mill.

My freezer is starting to get rather full so I pulled out my pressure canner and put up a dozen pint jars of Blue Beech paste tomatoes. Here's eleven of them, one of them didn't seal. Dang, there's always one.

I'm tired, it's time to go to bed and there's more tomatoes to pick tomorrow...

What joy to have such bounty!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Harvest Monday - 9/28/09

It's time to report on what I harvested from the garden in the past week. Daphne is hosting Harvest Mondays on her blog Daphne's Dandelions. Head on over there to see what she and other gardeners have harvested.

This has been the week of the tomato. Pimento de Padrons and Purple Tomatillos are still playing significant supporting roles, and the cucumbers are starting to hog the camera as well.

Starring on the 22nd of September were, starting at the top and working clockwise: Padrons (2 LB +/-) and a few runty Purple Marconi (ripen red), Japanese cucumbers (Palace King), Purple tomatillos, a Diamond eggplant, assorted tomatoes, cherry tomatoes.

The freezer is now well stocked with roasted purple tomatillos and Padrons. The Diamond eggplant has turned out to be a great variety for me. The plants have recovered from the rabbit attacks and are covered with fruits. The eggplant that I've harvested so far have had very few seeds, tender flesh, and no bitterness at all. So far I've just prepared them very simply: peeled and sliced lengthwise about 1/4-inch thick, pan sauteed in olive oil (can't use too much in my opinion). One of them I served with just a sprinkle of salt and pepper and a drizzle of my best balsamico. The other was topped with diced tomatoes that I briefly heated in the pan after the eggplant was done, then a bit of shredded basil.

On the 23rd I picked a box of tomatoes to give to friends (very good friends, my babies and I are not easily parted). They got Hillbilly, Aunt Ruby's German Green, Giantesque, Caspian Pink, Paul Robeson, and Black Sea Man.

I harvested the first seeds from the Red Florence fennel and some more pollen. I like to harvest the seeds when they are mature but still green, they are more flavorful and aromatic then. These seeds are so aromatic that I can smell them every time I get within a few feet of them.

And still on the 23rd, more Padrons, some ripe Guindilla chile peppers (those are being sun dried), Purple tomatillos, and Palace King cucumbers.

The really serious tomato harvesting started on the 25th. Starring in this box, from top left and going clockwise: Caspian Pink, Paul Robeson, Hillbilly, and Chocolate Stripes.

And featured here are Aunt Ruby's German Green and Todd County Amish.

And in this box, Giantesque.

And on the tray, they usual cherry tomato suspects.

On the 26th, still in a supporting (or should that be paternal) role, Padrons and Palace Kings.

But wait, there's more, Purple tomatillos, that is...

And finally coming into the spotlight, Blue Beech paste tomatoes.

Not shown were another half dozen Aunt Ruby's German Green tomatoes, numerous sprigs of basil, one Donkey Ears sweet pepper, a few Christmas Bell mild peppers, a few Pimento de Chiero hot peppers (hot but incredibly aromatic), Piracicaba broccoli shoots, a green Piment doux Long des Landes sweet pepper, and a couple of green Guindilla hot peppers.

So, what better way to celebrate the harvest than a party. Last night we had a group of friends over to feast on dishes that starred tomatoes. We started with what I called Green Rubys, a take on a recipe I found for Golden Marys only featuring Aunt Ruby's German Green tomatoes. I made juice from some Aunt Ruby's German Green tomatoes which was then blended with some good reposado Tequila, lime juice, ginger, and cilantro. Served in glasses rimmed with salt mixed with ground cumin and black pepper. Very good, very interesting.

Then we had gazpacho that one of the guests made. She used heirloom tomatoes and it also had chipotle chile which added a wonderful touch of smoke and heat. That was a winner. And then the feast continued with sliced tomatoes topped with crumbled ricotta salata mixed with fresh herbs and a balsamic dressing. A tart of puff pastry topped with carmelized onions, seared tuna, and sliced tomatoes and a garlicky balsamic dressing. And a tomato and bread salad. And a corn and tomato clafouti. Good wine, good bread, good company...

Everyone left with tomatoes and peppers.

So now that I've whittled down the piles of tomatoes by simply feasting, it time to get to work making sauce, puree, paste and dried tomatoes.

I'm finding my Harvest Monday posts to be quite useful. Even though I'm not keeping track of weight and value, the visual record of what is coming out of the garden is informative. I have only the vaguest memory of what I harvested and when from past seasons. I do weigh some things out of curiosity. Like the boxes of tomatoes that I picked on Friday, they each came in at about 8 to 10 pounds.

Tune in same time, same place next week to see the continuing drama...

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Fog In The Valley At Dawn

This morning the fog in the valley was so beautiful that it drew me outside, camera in hand, BC (before caffeine). I scrambled up the path to the bench above the garden, snapping photos all the way.

An informal collage of the full valley view.

Looking toward the coast.

Across the valley.

The fog changes minute by minute.

Cowlicks form in this part of the valley.

Up the valley.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Harvest Monday - 9/21/09

Here's what came out of my garden in the past week. There would have been lots more to show if I hadn't been gone for a few days. I haven't harvested anything since the 17th. The tomatoes are really coming in now! I'm in heaven...

Here's a tray full of cherry tomatoes: Black Cherry, Galinas, and Isis Candy. Some of these became Oven Candied Cherry Tomatoes: Toss the tomatoes with some olive oil, salt, and pepper, spread on a rimmed cookie sheet, roast at 300F for about 2 hours until shrunken, shriveled, and caramelized. Yummy good and they keep in the fridge for a long time.

Blue Beech paste tomatoes and Black Sea Man.

Clockwise from the upper left: Giantesque, Caspian Pink, Paul Robeson, Hillbilly, Chocolate Stripes, and Aunt Ruby's German Green.

Piracicaba broccoli shoots, Plaza Latina Giant tomatillos, runty little Marconi Purple sweet peppers (the runts are just as tasty as the full size peppers), Pimento de Padron peppers, and Purple tomatillos. And what is probably the last zucchini. It's not powdery mildew that did the zukes in, it was a mole (a family of moles?) that seemed intent on rototilling one of my beds. It severed most of the zucchini roots and pushed a bunch of seedlings around. Dang rodents...

I've been roasting the tomatillos and packing them in containers and freezing them. The purple tomatillos keep a lot of their purple color when cooked. The broccoli has been coming in faster than we can eat it, so I've been blanching and freezing that also.

More Pimento de Padrons and tomatillos. Lots of roasted Padrons in the freezer now.

And another bunch of Piracicaba broccoli shoots, a couple of Christmas Bell peppers (C. baccatum), and the first Palace King cucumber.

Join in the harvest fun at Daphne's Dandelions!

Now, I really have to get out to the garden and do some harvesting. Y'all come on back next week and see what I found...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

GBBD - September in the Vegetable Garden

I haven't participated in Garden Bloggers Bloom Day in ages, either I totally forget about it or the dry summer has made for slim pickings of blossoms. But early yesterday morning we had a rare sprinkle of September rain that made everything fresh looking so I was taking photos of flowers as well as vegetables. So, here's some flowers from the vegetable garden.

Cilantro (Coriander)

Magdalena Big Cheese Squash

Sweet Alyssum and Squash Blossom with Two Types of Squash Foliage

Red Florence Fennel


To see what is blooming in other bloggers' gardens this September visit May Dreams Gardens

Monday, September 14, 2009

Harvest Monday - 9/14/09

Monday, time to show off the harvest. Daphne hosts Harvest Monday on her blog. It's fun to see what she and other garden bloggers are harvesting. Go check it out and then join in the fun!

Tomato season is finally starting in my garden. I've now harvested at least one tomato from 9 of the 13 varieties that I'm growing. This year is so weird, there are 4 varieties that still haven't ripened, but that will change in the coming week. To be fair, 3 of those 4 got a really late start, I had to start seeds of those varieties a second time on April 27 because the first round of seedlings were a failure.

Shown above, harvested on September 9: clockwise on the round tray, a couple of zucchini (dwindling fast), Piracicaba broccoli sprouts, slightly more than a pound of Pimento de Padron peppers, 1 Caspian Pink tomato, 1 Giantesque tomato, cherry tomatoes, 5 Blue Beech paste tomatoes, 2 green Guindilla peppers. A bowl of fennel pollen. A bowl of Purple and Plaza Latina Giant (not so giant anymore) tomatillos. Some of the tomatillos and the guindillas were used in a roasted tomatillo salsa.

Thursday night I made pasta with a couple of tomatoes, I'll just describe it here since I didn't keep track of amounts. I briefly cooked some chopped garlic in olive oil, then tossed in some slivered red onion, slivered ripe Marconi Purple sweet peppers, and some dried salted capers. The vegetables just barely softened over very low heat while 1/2 pound of whole wheat penne boiled. When the penne was ready I turned off the heat under the vegetables, added the pasta to the pan, 2 large tomatoes cut in 1/2-inch dice, some shredded basil leaves, fresh ground black pepper, a good amount of my best olive oil, folded it all together, and served it with grated Idiazabal cheese. It was really good.

If I was keeping track of weights and value the Pimento de Padrons would be golden - there's a grower in the SF Bay Area who sells the Padrons at farmer's markets for $6 a 1/4 pound bag, $24 per pound! I've never seen them in the Monterey area other than on one restaurant menu for beaucoup bucks. I sent a couple of pounds home with visiting friends yesterday.

September 11, clockwise from the top of the round tray: Plaza Latina Giant tomatillos, Purple tomatillos, 1 small cracked Aunt Ruby's German Green tomato (the first), the first Hillbilly tomato, 1 Giantesque tomato, 6 Black Sea Man Tomatoes, many cherry tomatoes (yellow Galinas, Black, and Isis Candy). A bowl full of Pimento de Padrons (about 1.5 pounds) and a few ripe Guindillas. A bunch of Piracicaba broccoli sprouts.

Also on September 11, a handful of carrots - St. Valery, Afghani Purple, Atomic Red, and Daghestan White. Those were peeled, grated, lightly pickled and some of it used in a sandwich with hummus, cucumbers and tomatoes, yum!

Other than what is shown I think I only harvested basil and parsley and another handful of tomatillos.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Is UC Santa Cruz Going to Abandon it's Arboretum?

It's really not my thing to rant, but this issue got my attention. A rather short sighted budget cutting measure seems to be in the works at UC Santa Cruz. The inside scoop is that the University is quietly gutting the staff of the Arboretum and allowing the collection to literally die away. Here's the scoop from a staffer that was passed on to a Santa Clara County Master Gardener:

1. They have taken away the only state funded salary the arboretum has - that of our executive director Dan Harder. The decision took effect immediately, leaving Dan no time to come up with a fundraising plan to cover his salary. The university expects to enforce this plan immediately.

2. They are pushing Dan to lay-off 5 arboretum staff essentially gutting the arboretum. So far Dan has refused, and is looking to mitigate and compromise for a solution even though at this point the univeristy refuses to.

3. We feel this is a very shortsighted attempt by the university to effectively shut down the arboretum, not recognizing the true value of the arboretum's collections, or understanding what a wonderful resource the arboretum is to the university and the greater community. They are doing it slowly to prevent a community uprising. If staff are laid off, the collections will go unmanaged, enabling the university to say 'if you can't take care of it, then you can't have it'. It would be easier for them politically to slowly shut down the arboretum, rather than shutting it down in one fell swoop - because they know if it was one fell swoop there would be a community uprising, and bad publicity.

Up until now we have essentially internalized our financial difficulties; the situation has become dire and it is now time to get the word out and rally our support base together.

So what can you do? Just get the word out - to anyone and everyone in the community. Tell them what is happening here. Write a letter to Chancellor Blumenthal stating your support for the arboretum and its world class plant collections, dedicated to conservation and research. Currently, a number of faculty are drafting their own letter of support for the arboretum.

This reminds me of the State of California's attempt to shut down the majority of the State Parks. Doesn't the University realize what a valuable asset they have? Are they ready to throw away years worth of work collecting and growing plant specimens, many of them unique to public gardens in America? Do they realize what the expense would be to recreate such a collection? Do they realize the monetary value of the collection?

From the Arboretum web site: "Many of the species in these collections are not otherwise available for study in American botanical gardens and arboreta." and "To date, the Arboretum is the original importer of more than 1,500 different selections of choice ornamentals. Many of these have been and will continue to be the plants of future California gardens."

Are they really ready to throw all of that away....

It really ticks me off that they are trying to be so sneaky. They aren't even giving the arboretum staff nor the public a chance to help.

If this ticks you off as well, you can send your protests to Chancellor Blumenthal through his email at Then you can pass the word on.

Additionally, those of us who are close enough, visit the arboretum and/or join as a member. Not only does it have a wonderful collection of plants, it's also a fabulous place for bird watching, the hummers there are amazing. And don't forget to stop at the gift shop Norrie's and buy a treasure or two, members get a discount. Discounts at a number of local nurseries are also available.

Now I need to get to work and write a scathing email to the chancellor. Then I'm going to send in my membership form.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Elsewhere in the Garden

My kitchen window looks out over a raised bed built up next to a block wall. That bed is home to a few interesting plants. Here is Hoja Santa (Piper auritum), the common name means "sacred leaf" in Spanish. Another common name for this plant is Rootbeer Plant for the fragrance of its leaves.

From Wikipedia:
The leaves can reach up to 30 centimeters (12 in) or more in size. The complex flavor of hoja santa is not so easily described; it has been compared to eucalyptus, licorice, sassafras, anise, nutmeg, mint, tarragon, and black pepper. The flavor is stronger in the young stems and veins.

More from Wikipedia:
It is often used in Mexican cuisine for tamales, the fish or meat wrapped in fragrant leaves for cooking, and as an essential ingredient in Mole Verde, the green sauce originated in the Oaxaca region of Mexico. It is also chopped to flavor soups and eggs. In Central Mexico, it is used to flavor chocolate drinks. In southeastern Mexico, a green liquor called Verdín is made from hoja santa. American cheesemaker Paula Lambert created "Hoja santa cheese", the goat's milk cheese wrapped with the hoja santa leaves and impregnated with its flavor. While typically used fresh, it is also used in dried form, although drying removes much of the flavor and makes the leaf too brittle to be used as a wrapper.

The essential oils in the leaf are rich in safrole, a substance also found in sassafras, which has been shown to be carcinogenic in animals. In 1960, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned sassafras bark along with sassafras oil and safrole as flavoring agents because of their carcinogenic properties and the Council of Europe imposed the same ban in 1974, although toxicological studies show that humans do not process safrole into its carcinogenic metabolite.

In warmer climates than mine this plant can be invasive. Winters here are cold enough to knock the plant down to the ground but the roots survive and send up new growth in late spring. It isn't warm enough here for it to be a vigorous grower so I don't worry about it taking over.

My favorite use for the leaves is as a wrapper for grilled fish.

The plant is actually growing in a large pot set on top of the soil, I'm sure the roots have gone through the drain hole in the bottom of the pot and are well established in the ground. Sharing space with the Hoja Santa in its pot are a volunteer cherry tomato and wild oregano.

Next to the Hoja Santa is my prolific Meyer Lemon Tree. The tree has all phases of fruit on it right now, from buds and blossoms, to just set fruits, to small green lemons, to ripening lemons, to huge thick skinned very mature lemons.

And on the other side of the lemon tree is another pot-bound exotic, cardamom ginger (Elettaria cardamomum or perhaps Amomum species, the plant was labelled as Amomum cardamomum, but that's a synonym for Elettaria c. true cardamom). Regardless, the plant will never bloom in my climate so I will never get any cardamom seeds. The foliage does have a nice spicy fragrance to it, with hints of ginger and cardamom. The poor plant would be much happier and prettier if it were in the ground.

And look down here, below the bed, next to the house, growing in almost complete shade... another volunteer cherry tomato.

With tomatoes. Such a nice healthy looking plant.

And here to entertain us is Stella. One of those plants volunteering in the gravel is catnip.

Which explains the blissed-out look. Must be some good stuff...