Friday, August 20, 2010

Photo Fridays: Garlic Chives

This year we finally have blooms on our garlic chives.

Garlic chive plants

A busy honeybee visiting a flowerstalk

I had hoped we would have blooms someday because they are pretty and provide food for bees, but I also wanted to be sure that the plants were actually garlic chives rather than onion chives.  My favorite herb book, Southern Herb Growing by Texas herb expert Madalene Hill and her daughter Gwen Barclay, notes several differences between the two chive types, the most obvious of which is the flowers.  Onion chive flowers are lavender-pink and globe-shaped; garlic chive flowers are white.

The pollinators are happy because they have another food source. The farmer/scientist who likes to identify and categorize things is happy because she now has a positive I.D.  :-)

p.s. There is a lovely post about Madalene Hill, Madalene Hill on a Sunny Day, on the blog Jim Long's Garden.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Photo Fridays: Beautyberry

A few days ago I was standing at the kitchen sink, washing dishes and sort of daydreaming.  Above the sink there is a small bay window looking out into the back yard.  Many times during this regular chore I have seen interesting things outside, including rabbits, deer and fawns, owls, many kinds of songbirds, squirrels, raccoons, tortoises, and of course the many neighborhood dogs who pay a visit to our pool.  On this particular day I noticed that the beautyberries around the compost pile have suddenly ripened.  The purple color is so intense that the clusters of small berries caught my eye.

American beautyberry is a shrub native to Texas and the rest of the U.S. South.  It grows wild around our property.  We don't do anything to maintain it, yet it keeps coming back and entertaining us with its show of berries each fall.  I've read that some birds love the berries, though I haven't seen any birds eating them myself.  Admittedly, I haven't spent a lot of time watching the shrubs for birds, though.  I hope it is true because we try to give the local wildlife as many native things to eat as possible.  I would rather the birds fill up on beautyberries in the fall than our cherry tomatoes!

Regardless, I love the plants for their aesthetic value.

They earn their name, don't they?

Have a lovely weekend.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Pickled Peppers

They weren't pickled yet, but we did pick a peck of banana peppers to make pickled pepper rings.  Our pepper plants kicked it into high gear about a month ago and we have been trying to figure out what to do with the bounty.  We sold some but not all at the last Tomball Farmers Market, plus there were a lot still on the plants.

Back in 2008, when we belonged to Home Sweet Farm's CSA, there were a few deliveries which contained a lot more peppers than the two of us could eat in a week.  I preserved them by cutting out the stem end, slicing them in half, tray freezing them, then dumping them into freezer storage bags.  It worked pretty well and we ended up using most of them.  Then last year, when our garden was in full swing, I froze a bunch of our own peppers the same way.  Most of them were still in the freezer as of last month.  Once this year's crop started coming on, I had to grit my teeth and put the old ones in the compost.  Sad but true.

So we decided to pickle the banana peppers instead.  I did try it last year - I made one quart jar using a pickled banana pepper recipe from Jigginjessica's blog What's Cooking in the Orange Kitchen.  I need to spend more time poking around her blog - looks like she has a lot of good recipes.  The peppers were tasty but I found that a quart jar was too big for the two of us to finish in a reasonable amount of time.

This year I turned to my trusty canning reference book, So Easy To Preserve from the Cooperative Extension at the University of Georgia.  They host a great website, the National Center for Home Food Preservation, and have produced a great series about preserving food that is available on DVD.  I highly recommend both the book and the DVD set.  I learned to can by watching those videos; the book is full of recipes in addition to instructions for the various preservation techniques.

I used a combination of Jessica's recipe and the Pickled Yellow Pepper Rings recipe from So Easy to PreserveSETP's recipe had a higher vinegar-to-water ratio which produces a lower (safer) pH.  I liked that Jessica's recipe used black peppercorns, garlic and a fresh hot pepper (a way to use our abundance of serrano peppers!).  Here are the ingredients of my hybrid version:

Because Ed is a master of process design and construction (you should see our rainwater collection system!), I asked him to figure out how to set up the water bath canner somewhere besides the kitchen.  It is just too hot in August to be boiling a large pot of water for an hour or so in the house!  In no time he had the whole thing going on a Coleman camp stove sitting on our market table in the garage.  I wish I had a photo.  It was quite an operation.  We had the jars preheating in the canner in the garage, two burners going on the stove (boiling brine and simmering jar lids), and the kitchen island covered with chopped peppers, peeled garlic cloves and spices.

We made 7 pint jars.  Don't they look pretty with the yellow peppers and mustard seeds, the black peppercorns, and the red serranos?

I am still a canning novice, so I was pleased (and surprised!) that all of the jars sealed.  The next day we opened one of the jars to try a couple peppers.  Wow, did I pucker up!  They are very tart.  Next time I think I will try a little less vinegar.  They are still good, though, and I am looking forward to trying some on a good roast beef sandwich.  I will have to wait until the weather cools off.  The high temperature yesterday was 100 degrees.  There is no way I am putting a roast in the oven until at least the end of September.

Right now I will just enjoy knowing those jars are sitting in the pantry, waiting to brighten up an autumn meal.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Photo Fridays: Sweet Potato Plants

We have a whole row of sweet potato plants which we hope are making beautiful tubers down there in the soil.  You don't really know how the potatoes are growing until you dig them up!

We planted sets in mid-May and they soon took off.  They grow vigorously, not only making a sort of carpet on top of the row, but also running down the sides of the row, across the aisle and into the neighboring rows.  Luckily, both the adjacent rows are empty right now.

The young sets the day after we planted them.

My, how they've grown!

Ed has already trimmed them a couple of times to keep them under control.  We will probably dig them up in early September.

Monday, August 2, 2010

A Different Kind of Market Day

This post was inspired by one of Alicia Jabbar's contributions to the Simple, Good and Tasty blog.  Her post Farmer's Markets from the Other Side of the Table describes the farmer's market from the farmer's perspective.  Since we started our farm business, Ed and I have spent most of our time behind the table.  On Saturday we had the luxury of experiencing a market from the customer's side. 

We drove into Houston to shop at the Urban Harvest Farmers Market.  I enjoyed being a customer again, like the good old days.  It sure is a lot less work!  We woke up at 6:30, got ready at a leisurely pace, and even ate breakfast before heading out at 7:40.

For once, I remembered my camera.

A loaf of sourdough and a scone from Angela's Oven

Oyster mushrooms from Animal Farm

Two flavors of chevre from Hammond Farm

A chat with our friends Lori and David Crank of Oaks of Mamre Farm (I had already picked up my eggs and chicken at their semi-weekly delivery in Tomball)

Tomatoes from Wood Duck Farm (our plants are long gone)

Then we headed over to the Midtown Farmers Market at Chef Monica Pope's restaurant t'afia, where I accidentally left the camera in the car.  Houston Dairymaids was out of our favorite, Redneck Cheddar, because they are saving it for a beer and cheese tasting at St. Arnold's Brewery next week.  Luckily for us they still had some of Mozzarella Company's fresh mozzarella, Veldhuizen's Texas Gold and Sand Creek's gouda.  We also grabbed some plain naan from Nisha's.

We came home with a lot of delicious local food.  It was a good day!