Winding up the Season

As the cool weather descends upon us, the leaves begin to change and the days grow shorter, nature marks the beginning of the end of a season. I have always loved October. Not only because this is the month of my birth, but also because it marks for me the bridge of transition from the the last days of the memory of summer, the full feel of fall and the first breath of winter that November brings.

My community garden and home garden contribute to this transition. As I harvest the last of my tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and green beans and look forward to harvesting my fall plantings of swiss chard and raddiccio in a few weeks, I begin to think about how I will soon be engaging in a different form of “harvest” come November.  That will entail pulling from the freezer and cupboards to harvest the vegetables that I froze and canned for use until the spring comes and planting can being again.  But before we begin to turn a bit inward and indoors for winter, I will need to get my herbs into the cold frame to over winter and do the final garden clean up in advance of the first frost. Hopefully mother nature will give me a few more weeks to do so.

As I was surveying my community garden plot and beginning to pull up for compost the plants that had exhausted their life of production, a woman was walking on the sidewalk outside the garden fence. As I was lost in thought, I heard her voice calling to get my attention. I looked up. She smiled and asked how she could get involved in the community garden. She said she is not experienced but wanted to learn how to grow things.

I explained to her how the community garden worked and guided her to the county park website. She said she traveled back and forth to Africa, where she is originally from, and she wanted to learn how to garden so she could help grow gardens in schools in Africa.  We chatted a bit more and she bid farewell.

With her departure, I felt bittersweet emotions. I was ready to close down my community garden plot for the winter.  At the same time, I love the interactions that I have had with passer bys over the past few months of the growing season.  I will miss them.  But one thing I know for sure.  All seasons have a purpose and, for now, a part of me is looking forward to the winter. A time when we are brought indoors for reflection and renewal. Then come March or so, I will be ready to take on the spring!


Canning Adventure: Roasted Garlic Pasta Sauce

Woo hoo! A tomato bonanza!  (Thank you community garden plot and patio garden.) This called for some canning action. So I flipped through my canning magazine and decided to whip up a batch of roasted garlic pasta sauce to can. It was a fairly intense process but I am sure it will be worth it when we crack open the jar in the cold of winter.

Sporting my new green apron

Here is the recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens 2011 “Canning” magazine:

Roasted Garlic Pasta Sauce

6 bulbs garlic

3 tablespoons olive oil

4  medium red, yellow and/or green bell peppers,  halved and seeded

12 pounds peeled tomatoes (*see below for easy peeling procedure)

3 tablespoons packed brown sugar

2 tablespoons kosher salt or 4 teaspoons salt

1 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 cups lightly packed fresh basil, snipped

1 cup lightly packed assorted fresh herbs (such as oregano, thyme, parsley, Italian [flat-leaf] parsley, and/or basil, snipped)

6 tablespoons lemon juice

(1) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Peel away the dry outer layers of skin from garlic bulbs, leaving other skin and cloves intact. Cut about 1/2 inch off pointed top portions, leaving bulbs intact but exposing the individual cloves. Place the garlic bulbs, cut sides up, in a 1- to 1-1/2- quart casserole.  Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the oil. Cover casserole.   Arrange peppers, cut sides down, on a foil-lined baking sheet; brush with the remaining 2 tablespoons oil.

(2) Roast garlic and peppers for 40 to 50 minutes or until the pepper skins are charred and garlic cloves are soft. Cool garlic on a wire rack until cool enough to handle. Pull up sides of foil and pinch together to fully enclose the peppers. Let peppers stand for 15 to 20 minutes or until cool enough to handle; peel off skins and discard. Chop peppers; set aside peppers.

(3) Remove garlic cloves from paper skins by squeezing the bottom of the bulbs. Place garlic cloves in a food processor.  Cut peeled tomatoes into chunks; add some of the chunks to the garlic in the food processor. Cover and process until chopped.

(4) Transfer chopped garlic and tomatoes to a 7- to 8- quart stainless-steel, enamel, or nonstick heavy pot.  Repeat chopping the remaining tomatoes, in batches, in the food processor. Add all tomatoes to the pot.

(5) Add brown sugar, salt, vinegar, and black pepper to the tomato mixture. Bring to boiling. Boil steadily for 50 minutes, stirring often. Add chopped roasted peppers to tomato mixture. Boil for 10 to 20 minutes more or until mixture is reduced to about 11 cups and reaches desired consistency, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; stir in basil and assorted herbs.

(6) Spoon 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice into each of six hot, sterilized pint canning jars. Ladle hot sauce into jars with lemon juice, leaving a 1/2 -inch headspace. Wipe jar rims; adjust lids.

(7) Process filled jars in boiling water canner for 35 minutes (start timing when water returns to boiling). Remove jars from canner; cool on wire racks.  Makes about 6 pints.

*Easy Peeling:

–Score bottoms of tomatoes with a small “x”

–Blanch tomatoes in boiling water, simmer for 1-2 minutes, until you see the peel “cracking”

–Plunge into water with ice.  Peels will now be easy to remove.

Let’s Salsa!

I decided to make salsa with the tomatoes and peppers from my community garden plot.  I originally planned to can it and store it in the cabinet with my other canned items made over the past few months.  But then I started to research canning safety and had a little freak out. I read that canning tomatoes, with lemon juice, provides sufficient acidity to prevent botulism.  But if you add low acid foods such as onions and peppers, it is important to follow a trusted recipe and use the exact proportions indicated.

Well! I wracked my brain trying to remember if I actually was true to the measurements called for in the recipe. Visions of botulism spores floated around in my mind as I tried to remember, was it a 1/4 cup peppers that I used? More? Less???? Aackk. I gave up and decided to stick the jars in the freezer. Problem solved. Next time I resolved to carefully follow the recipe. Either that, or stop worrying so much.

For the safety conscious, here is a primer on canning salsa:

Make salsa the safe way

By Carol Ann Burtness, University of Minnesota Extension

ST. PAUL, Minn. (9/9/2009) — Bushels of tomatoes are turned into salsa every year. In the U.S., salsa is now more popular than ketchup. To make sure home-canned salsa is safe, it’s important to follow research-tested recipes.

Most salsas combine low-acid foods such as peppers and onions with higher-acid foods such as tomatoes or fruit. To make sure toxic microorganisms do not have an opportunity to grow in the sauce, maintain proper acidity.

Tomatoes used to be considered an acid food, but some of today’s varieties are actually low-acid. To safely can tomatoes or tomato products such as salsa, add acid. Add 2 tablespoons of bottled lemon juice, or a 1/2 teaspoon citric acid per quart of tomatoes or salsa. For pints, use 1 tablespoon of bottled lemon juice or 1/4 teaspoon citric acid. Fresh lemon and lime juice varies in acidity and isn’t reliably safe for canning.

If you do not have bottled lemon juice or citric acid, substitute vinegar (4 tablespoons of 5 percent vinegar per quart). However, vinegar may cause an unwelcome or undesirable taste. If the acid flavor is overwhelming, add a small amount of sugar.

For successful salsa, follow these tips:

  • Choose only disease-free, firm produce for canning.
  • Tomato varieties and colors can mixed and matched for salsa but still need added acid to make sure the product will be safe.
  • Do not reduce the amount of lemon juice or tomatoes in the recipe.
  • Do not add extra peppers, onion or garlic. You can reduce the amount of peppers, onion, or garlic.
  • Canned chilies may be used in place of fresh.
  • You can substitute one type of pepper for another but do not increase the total amount.
  • Red and yellow onions can be substituted for each other.
  • Spices and herbs may be adjusted to personal taste and will not affect safety. For a stronger cilantro flavor, add fresh cilantro to the salsa just before serving because the hot processing temperatures may reduce the flavor.
  • Do not thicken salsas with cornstarch, flour or other thickeners before canning. Add thickeners after opening the salsa if desired.
  • Always store open jars of home-canned salsa in the refrigerator.
  • If you are using a non-tested recipe or adding additional ingredients, it’s a good idea to either freeze your salsa or store it up to one week in the refrigerator and eat it fresh.

Beetle Attack!!!!!!

Sun Gold Tomatoes from Patio Pots. (No connection to blog. Just love the photo and wanted to use it :))

Beautiful cool weather, what an amazing change for a hot and humid August. So we headed over to the community garden plot to harvest the green beans that were taking off. They were an unusual crop in that they looked like pirate earrings, curved so perfectly. As I was clipping the beans from the stocks, Patrick remarked that it looked like something was going after the eggplant leaves.  As we inspected the eggplants closely, we discovered that the leaves looked like they had been sprayed by miniature bullets. Then we saw the culprits: teeny tiny little black flying insects. So we drove home to research what we were dealing with and figured out we had flea beetles.  Armed with organic insecticide (composed of carrot juice, soap, soybean oil and a few other natural ingredients) and compost tea (to give the eggplants nutrients to fight the good fight), we headed back to the community garden plot. As we worked quickly to spray the leaves with our  insecticide and nourish the eggplants with the compost tea, a major storm was was on the horizon.

A woman stopped by. She has a community garden plot in another part of our city and she was curious how ours was going. She said many of the “ladies” from her community garden are from West Africa and they share a lot of knowledge from their home countries. She said she was originally from Ghana. The next thing I know, we are deep into “garden talk” and how much we love gardening. Both of us confessed how we started small and now are totally hooked and are looking for more space to plant. She told me how to harvest okra seeds and how quickly peach trees can grown from little seedlings. As we shared stories, I thought that the looming storm be damned.  We had more garden talk to do! Finally we had to stop as the storm was on top of us.  But before we left, she gave to us a few peaches that came from a friend’s garden and off we went.  As we drove away, I was so happy that, once again, the community garden plot brought us together with another plotter who loves the earth and planting. I love these interactions.

How Do You Like Them Tomatoes?

So many tomatoes from the community garden plot and my patio pots, now what? So, I decided to whip up a few batches of tomato sauce to freeze and a batch to use for a tasty recipe I found for rigatoni that also called for eggplant and squash. Both of which I had on hand thanks to the recent Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) delivery.

The recipe went by ounces rather than tomato count.  So, the first challenge I had was to figure out just how many tomatoes equal a pound? Well, thanks to the following conversion chart, the mystery was solved.  Source:

Tomato Equivalents
• 3 medium globe tomatoes = 1 pound
• 8 small plum tomatoes = 1 pound
• 25 to 30 cherry tomatoes = 1 pound
• 2 cups chopped tomatoes = 1 pound
• 3/8 cup of tomato paste plus 1/2 cup water = 1 cup tomato sauce
• 1 cup canned tomatoes = 1-1/2 cups fresh, chopped, cooked tomatoes
• 1/2 pound or 1 tomato = 1 serving
• 1 cup firmly packed fresh tomato = 1/2 cup tomato sauce plus 1/2 cup water
• 1 pound fresh = 1-1/2 cups chopped
• 1 (16-ounce) can = 2 cups
• 1 (35-ounce) can = 4 cups undrained
• 1 (28-ounce) can = 3 cups undrained

Once I had the number of tomatoes needed sorted out, I could begin the chopping, dicing and cooking.  The result?  Ratings from Patrick, Calvin and me:  Five peas ••••• each (on a 1 to 5 scale)

Baked Rigatoni with Garden Eggplant and Zucchini


1 1/2-2 lbs combined of zucchini, eggplants or other squash, cut into 1 inch pieces
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
3/4 tsp sea saltSAUCE: 
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
28 oz. various medium sized, ripe tomatoes or (1 can 28 oz. plum tomatoes)
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1 chicken bouillon cube dissolved in 3/4 cup hot water
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh basilPASTA: 
1 package (16 oz.) whole wheat rigatoni
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 Tbsp. chopped basil
Roasting Vegetables:
Preheat oven to 450˚. In large bowl, toss eggplant, 2 tablespoon olive oil, sea salt and zucchini. In a baking pan lined with a foil, layer the vegetables in an even layer. Roast the vegetables for about 30 minutes, switching racks midway for the vegetables to cook evenly. Avoid mixing them with a spoon because it bruises and mushes the vegetables. It also prevents the nice caramelization on the vegetables to happen evenly. I move them around only once, gently, when I switch racks from middle to top. Remove pans from oven, let cool and set aside.
Tomato Sauce:

Cleaning Fresh Tomatoes:
First, peel and deseed the tomatoes. Do this by making a small incision in the skin on each tomato. Mean while, boil a large pot of water. Bring to simmer, and dunk the tomatoes in the water and let sit for 5 minutes. You will see the skin begin to peel back. In a separate bowl, fill with ice water. Strain the tomatoes, and dunk them in the cold water. The coolness will help contract the fruit away from the skin and allow them to be cool enough to handle. Let them sit in the water for 5 minutes, adding more ice if needed. Strain again, and carefully peel the skin off the tomatoes. When done, it is time to deseed them. With your hands, puncture the middle and tear open the tomato, and empty the seeds in each “pod”. Put the empty tomato aside, and continue along for all the fruit. Now you have fresh tomatoes ready to use in recipes. (I ended up saving the seeds and pods and adding them to the tomato sauce that I made and then froze, see below.)
With the tomatoes, crush them with your hand until broken up and “mushed”. Now, in a 3 qt. saucepan,  heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and add garlic and onion and cook until tender, about 5 minutes.
Lower the heat and add in all the tomatoes and their juices, tomato paste, pepper, salt, breaking up the tomatoes with the back of your spoon as you stir.
Let simmer for 5 minutes, then add the bouillon, and stir. Heat to boiling than simmer for 20 minutes, or until sauce is thickened. Add basil for the last 10 minutes of cooking. Set aside.

Pasta and Assembly:

Preheat oven to 450˚. Cook pasta according to package directions, and drain. Return to the sauce pot. Add the roasted vegetables to the pasta and toss. Add the tomato sauce and half the Parmesan cheese and toss. Butter a 12 x 9 Pyrex pan and pour the pasta mixture evenly into the pan. In a small bowl, mix the ricotta with the rest of the Parmesan. Using a spoon and your fingers, add the dollops of cheese on top and nestled into the pasta. Sprinkle with the chopped basil, and cover with tin foil. Bake the pasta for 30 minutes until hot and cheese is melting and bubbly. Uncover for the last 5 minutes. Let sit for 10 minutes and serve with extra Parmesan.

With the rigatoni in the oven, I turned to making a batch of tomato sauce that I could freeze. I added green peppers, fresh oregano, fresh thyme and sugar to the recipe above, as well as the discarded seeds and pods. Thanks to canning jars that are freezer safe, I have three jars stored away in the freezer that I will see again come winter.

This Week’s Garden Round Up

This week saw many days of full sun and heat, creating a happy environment for sun and heat loving eggplants, tomatoes and peppers in the community garden plot. They were aided by a few days of heavy rains early in the week.

Container Garden on the Patio

The patio container garden is taking off, turning the back yard patio into a sea of green formed by the pole beans, bush beans, tomatoes, peppers and squash. Deep orange Sun Gold tomatoes were harvested this week, together with a handful of pole beans and some bush tomatoes.

I harvested the remainder of my dwindling lettuce crop from the front porch containers and planted new seeds. The covered porch and shade help protect the lettuce from the heat and sun.

To top off the week, there was a beautiful pink sunset one of the evenings we went to check on the community garden plot.

View from the Community Garden Plot

Boggled by Beans

I planted beans for the first time last year after picking up a few seedlings, sticking them in the ground and watching to see what would happen.  I also planted bush beans in patio containers and we harvested beans and more beans throughout the growing season.

Well, after last year’s experience, one would think I had it down this year.  Wrong. I got boggled by beans. I bought pole and bush beans early in the season to be prepared. Pole beans for the community garden plot and bush beans for the patio containers. But then I lost the packets. So I bought more. But when I went to look for these beans to grow in containers, I could not find them.

After much searching, I finally came across my originally purchased beans and did my patio container planting. All was going well until the squirrels decided they really “dig” beans and dug up my newly sprouting bean seedlings. So I had to start over. In a somewhat rushed state, I absentmindedly grabbed a packet from my seed bin that I thought were the bush beans and planted them in my patio containers. Then my husband and I put the containers together and carefully wrapped netting around them to keep the squirrels out.

Well, as the seedlings grew, and grew, and grew, I realized my mistake.  I had planted pole beans.  Beans that grow over six feet tall.  So I have tried my best to stick in various stakes to let them grow as needed.

I worried that my beans would not thrive.  But this weekend they have begun to flower!  As back up, I planted a line of pole beans in my community garden plot.  I also planted some bush beans in two containers and also in my side yard plot. I am not taking any chances with beans this year given my boggled bean beginning.