Friday, June 29, 2012

Garden Update: Now With MOAR Pictures!

Mama Love soaking up some shade.
Early Jalapenos. Just like little Christmas ornaments, all red and green.
 Harvested the garden today.  It's getting hot, up in the hundreds all last week, so the tomatoes are starting to shut down.  I'm amazed that they've hung in this long, being sick and all.  The peppers are kicking ass, though.  Here's a sampling:

Look at that color! Corno di Toro Giallo Pepper.
Long Slim Cayennes, hanging there like little jewels
Joe's Long Red Cayenne. It's a bigun.
Leeks doing well among the asparagus.
Artichoke bloom from the side.  It looks like an alien.
But from the top, it's just pretty.
Spaghetti Squash! Already!  I saw seven without having to hunt for them.
White garlic. The ones on the right are the little cloves I planted along with the big. Next year, I won't bother.
The Cream Cowpeas are producing. Man, that was fast!

Today's harvest, along with the onions I thought I'd bring in.

Nellie taking a break. Gardenin' companionin's hard work.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Photo Update

Lots of bell peppers and an Anaheim
Big old bell pepper

Tomato patch

Squash and garlic in the background

Watering the garden

What's cookin' this month

Tomato sauce!  I make sauce from all the extra tomatoes from the garden, not just the Romas.  All the different flavors of the tomatoes really makes for a full-bodied sauce with a lot of zing and depth.  As the tomatoes are harvested, I usually throw them into a ziploc bag and then into the freezer, just fresh, no blanching, taking them out to make sauce later when I have quite a few.  Dropping the frozen tomatoes into boiling water makes it very easy to slip the skins right off.

Since the tomatoes were previously frozen, they're mushy and easy to put through the sieve.  Of course "easy" is relative (God, I hope Santa brings me a tomato mill this year.).

The tomato juice, after going through the sieve:

Cooking the juice down.  I simply simmer it 'til it's thick enough, then ladel it into ziplocs for the freezer.  I'm too lazy to can it right now.  Besides, hiding some of those ziplocs in the bottom of the freezer always makes for a nice surprise in late winter, when I'm really jonesin' for some taste of summer.

While I was at it, I thought I'd dry some more Principe Borgheses.  Aren't they pretty?


I think I'll put some of them on some flax bread.  Mmmmmmm. Dinner.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

I WON!!!!!1!!!ELEBENTY!!!

I won Tastiest Tomato at the Tomato Festival at Ladybug today! WOOT!

My entries.
I wasn't going to enter since I had to work today and couldn't figure out how to get my entries over there and entered, but earlier this week Michael, my boss at The Natural Gardener, said he was going and offered to enter them for me.  So I went a bit nuts and entered six in the tastiest contest and one in the biggest contest.  Yeah, I owe him a bag of tomatoes for all that.  (Update One: I told Michael that if registration was a pita, just enter the Arkansas Traveler and the Creole in tastiest, and maybe the big Traveler in the biggest if he could without too much trouble. Yep, registration was a pita, so he donated the rest of them to the boy scouts who were selling BLTs that day.  I like that ~ the brag sounds better when I tell that I won with only two entries instead of enough to fill a shotgun shell. I still owe him a big bag of tomatoes and they're coming tomorrow.)

Update Two: It was the Arkansas Traveler!!

I didn't expect much from the biggest contest since my entry wasn't really all that big.  I'd picked other bigger ones at the beginning of the season.  Some of the first blooms on beefsteak types are commonly fasciated (think "Siamese blooms"), so those regularly produce whoppers.  But since I've been picking ripe ones for a month or so now, the biggest one I had uneaten at this point was an Arkansas Traveler and it wasn't all that big.

But I was kinda' hoping for the tastiest.  Them's some good bragging rights right there.  I mean, what in the hell are we growing tomatoes for?  They sure don't write songs about a tomato's disease resistance, and productivity won't make you "slap yo mama".  So yeah, the more I thought about it, the more I thought if I win something that's the prize I want, and I want an heirloom to win it.  Since I have plenty of those, I went out last night, whittled through the thirty or so varieties out there, and picked six ~ Creole, Arkansas Traveler, Snow White, Ponderosa Red, Valencia Orange, and Brandywine.  I still don't know which one won.  It was all done anonymously obviously, so I'll have to get any paperwork Michael was given and then contact Andy at Ladybug to match up the winning number/info.  I can't wait to find out. (Part Two of Update One: I still don't know if it was Arkansas Traveler or Creole, so I still can't wait to find out.  Hopefully I'll find out tomorrow.  I'll let y'all know.)

It's funny.  At first I didn't much care about winning or not.  I just entered for the fun of it, to say I did, thinking it would be kinda' nice to be a part of it.  But this morning as I was driving to work, I kinda' thought a bit about how good it would feel to win.  Then after Michael left with my entries, I started kinda' wanting to win.  As I stood there at the info desk where I was working today, that feeling kept getting stronger and stronger and stronger, hauling ass passed "kinda' " and hitting "reallyreallyreally" about noon.  I didn't know where that all was coming from since I'm not normally that competitive, so I thought about it and thought about it and then thought some more.

I thought, "It sure would be nice to have bragging rights!"  But no, that wasn't it, not completely.  Then I thought, "It'd be nice to win Ladybug's first contest and be a part of history so to speak."  But no, that factored in but wasn't it either.  "An heirloom has to win the tastiest contest. That's why I want to win."  Nope, not really.  Then I thought, "It'd sure be nice to see Judge Clark's face next time I see him if I was to win."

Yep, that was it.

I met Judge Clark a few years ago when I started at the Natural Gardener.  He was one of our plant suppliers, bringing in vegetable transplants he'd grown for us to sell.  I was always so happy to see his kind face and what he'd brought us this time, and never a bit minded his gentle urging to "Get my babies in the hoophouse and out of this hot sun soon now."  A couple springs ago he came to work with us as our Tomato Consultant and sat at a table just outside the veggie hoophouse door, holding court with his tomato books and tomato catalogs at the ready.  I got to know him even better then and was glad of it.  He has a passion for growing food, just like I do.  I learned so much from him by bringing customers to him for advice, then standing there and listening.  Many times I'd ask followup questions of my own later and he was always happy to talk tomatoes, and general country life.   

It took a little while for me to find out that Judge Clark is a local celebrity since he never brought it up.  Coworkers eventually filled me in, so I Googled him.  What interesting things I found!  Even if you've never come into the nursery, you may have been touched by him and just not known it.  Ever eaten at some local restaurants lately, flashed the Hook 'Em Horns sign, or had (or been) a child in the Texas school system in the past twenty or so years?  Then you've been touched by Judge Clark.

This past spring I was a bit disappointed to hear that he wouldn't be joining us at NattyG's.  Seems he was going back to judging, traveling all over the Hill Country to do it.  Well, I guess that's an important enough reason.  Darnit.  At least I'd still get to see him when he comes in the nursery.  And little did I know he'd be one of the judges judging my tomatoes today.

Yeah, I really can't wait to see him next time he comes in.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

2012 Celebrity Challenge: Update 2 ~ Taste Test

Taste test time!  

No, Squint, you can't help.

Following the production results I listed in the 2012 Celebrity Challenge: Update 1, I did a taste test the other night and wrote down my conclusions.  Then I took them all to work (except the Dinner Plate ~ wasn't enough left of it to take really) and got some of my coworkers' opinions.  Here's how it all shook out:

My picks: Arkansas Traveler was best, followed by Trucker's Favorite, Ponderosa Red, Rutgers, Creole, and Dinner Plate.  The Homestead and Super Fantastic just didn't do it for me, and apparently not for anyone else either ~ those two weren't even mentioned except by a couple people to say they didn't like them much.  
No, you can't either, Nellie.

The results from work were similar, but a different fave was picked: Creole.  Maybe that's because it was sweeter and I like more acidic ones best?  Maybe because the other night my taste buds were on overload by the time I got to that one?  Maybe I'm just weird?  Dunno (but my money's on the last one).  

About a dozen people let me know what they liked, some mentioning two or three, so I'll just list how many "Likes" each got:
Creole ~ 8
Arkansas Traveler ~ 6
Ponderosa Red ~ 5
Trucker's Favorite ~ 3
Rutgers ~ 1 liked and 1 definitely did not

BJ. Honey. I know you're not the brightest bulb on the string, but surely you already know what I'm about to say. I can see it in your eyes. You know, but you had to ask anyway so you didn't feel left out. Bless your heart.

The Creole and Arkansas Traveler were the most talked about, and there were a few people who were adamant in their liking of one or the other.  Since those two are also fairly productive (though no where near as much as Celebrity, dammit), looks like they're the front runners so far this year.  I think I'll enter one of each in the tomato contest at Ladybug this Saturday.  I went out there to check and there are some nice ones still on the vines, but they're awful red.  I hope they hang in there 'til then.

The two fluted ones at bottom left are the Ponderosa Reds, and the two round reds front and center are the Creoles.  And in case you didn't see the writing on the wa... uh, tomato, all the other pictures are of the Arkansas Traveler. And my goofy fambly who have to horn in on everything. God love 'em.

I still have a few that I haven't taste tested yet.  Tonight, I noticed the Mortgage Lifter is ripening a LOT of fruit.  I'd forgotten all about the Mortgage Lifter.  I guess you've got it bad when you forget about an entire tomato plant.  And let's just not mention that tonight, when I wanted to check the progress of my contest entrants, I had to consult the map to find the Arkansas Travelers...  Okay, okay, AND the Creoles.  Hangs head in shame (over my faulty memory, certainly NOT over the number of tomatoes I have. *clutches pearls*)

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Thursday's Haul

Man, the tomatoes are really coming in now!  Just look at how many I picked Thursday night.  We amended a couple more beds, planted a few more things (two Sugar Baby watermelon plants, a package of red seeded yard long beans from Kitazawa seeds [yes, more yard longs], and a bunch of orphan plants from work), harvested some of the garlic and picked a LOT of tomatoes.  You can see all sorts in the baskets in the picture, along with some onions I plan to use in sauce.  Underneath the hat (and booze) are a dozen or so bulbs of garlic, some of which will go in the pot, too.

The garlic did pretty good.  I planted a hundred each Inchellium Red and some other plain white garlic from work last October.  I'm leaving the plain white for a little while longer since it was still quite green, but the Inchellium was falling over, so we pulled it and got about 75 bulbs that made cloves, some small and some large.  I planted probably twenty really small cloves that I didn't expect to make much, so all told that's a good harvest.

I kept out a dozen or so of the biggest bulbs for replanting next year.  Some stems broke off the bulbs when we pulled them, so those came in the house with me for cooking first (I'm thinking trim the pointed top, stick a pat of butter on it and bake).  And the rest were braided.  I'm not sure if I did it right and the braids may fall apart before too long, but at least they're all not laying on the ground.

Overall, not bad for the third try.  First try, I left them in the ground waaaaay too long and the wrappers rotted away.  Second try, it got too hot way too early and they never made cloves.  So I'm happy with this year's gain.

Garlic is a member of the Holy Trinity of Cooking, so I'm not giving up on learning to grow it well.  And to find the perfect types for this area.  I hope to order some different ones from Gourmet Garlic Gardens this fall.  I also picked up some bulbs from a little old man at the farmers' market last week who said he's been planting it for thirty years, so long that he's forgotten what kind it is.  It's purple striped and looks like a hard neck, but I may be mistaken.  He said to wait until the first cold snap to plant it so it'll sprout right away.  Sounds like a good tip to me.  Faster sprouting = less time sitting there in the ground, getting exposed to disease and rot. 

Speaking of that Holy Trinity, I've still got to work on growing onions better.  I think I'll order some sets from Dixondale early this year and get them in the ground as soon as they'll send them.  Got that tip from another grower at the market who was selling some gorgeous whoppers.  She said it was her first try at onions and got them in the ground in December.  Gonna' do that next year for sure.

Peppers, the last member of the Trinity, I think I have by the balls.  Check out the bell peppers in the picture on the left, and the one in the picture below.  It's as big as a baby head!  FINALLY I've figured it out.  Acidity.  They like acidity.  I read about that online, on a guy's website who had pictures of plants with beautiful colored bells dripping off his plants.  With success like that, you don't argue much.

I put two 2 cubic foot bags of acidified cotton burr compost in the 2'x12' or so row the bells are in and they are going ca-RAY-zeee!  ALL eight plants.  In years past, I'd get maybe three or four sick little bells per plant per year.  Not this year.  I have that many on each plant already, and they're all whoppers.  Besides the ones I started from seed, I bought four plants of two types of bells at work and planted one of each in the acidified bed and a non-acidified bed.  So far, the acidified ones are doing much better. 

The rest of the peppers, things like jalapenos, poblanos, cayennes, etc., I've had good luck with ever since I started feeding them extra nitrogen.  They just produce and produce and produce.  But the bells stymied me.  Not anymore.  HeeheeHEE!

The jalapenos, cayennes and poblanos are doing well.  The plants are just covered with fruit.  I want to make ristras with them.  Next year I think I'll grow a lot more of those.  I'm thinking Christmas presents.  Chili ristras and garlic braids.  Ooooh!  Garlic braids with three or four kinds on them!  And handmade parchment labels telling which kinds of garlic are on it!  Yeah.

The NuMex Joe E. Parker anaheim isn't doing so well ~ one fruit on the one plant.  Don't know what went wrong with it.  Could be just a bum plant, or maybe it just takes a bit longer to get going.  The one pepper on it does look good though!

And the tomatoes.  Man.  I have so many of them I don't know what to do with, so while preparing the Principe Borghese and Red Figs for drying, I eyed the Brandywine Blacks and Snow Whites and thought why not?  I cut them all in two, tossed them with some peanut oil and coarse sea salt, popped them into the oven at about 175 ... and proceeded to wait, and wait, and wait.  I checked on them every twenty minutes or so for four freaking hours ~ still not done.  By that time it was kind of late, so I kind of forgot about them.  Ooof.

But they were still great!  The little Snow Whites were a bit too burned.  They're a sweet tomato, so don't take well to a bit of blackening apparently.

But the Brandywine Blacks were FABULOUS!  And the little Figs were even better!  Up 'til now, I'd thought the Principe Borghese were good.  Nope!  I'm thinking I may not even grow those anymore, replace them with the Red Figs and Brandywine Blacks for drying.  Yep.

So I tried this drying thing again tonight.  Caught them early this time (mostly) and I also learned my oven gets hotter in the back than in the front.  Makes sense, seeing's how I left the door open a bit.  I need to remember to turn them halfway through the process.  This time, I turned them up to 200 so it only took two hours.  Surprise!  Ooof.  But no matter.  The Snow Whites are perfect!  No salt on them.  They're fruity sweet, so I didn't think that would be very tasty.  Turns out to be a good call.

But those Red Figs!  Oh, what flavor!  Comparing the Principe Borghese to the Figs is like comparing a whimper to a scream.  Night and day.  Definitely a keeper, that one.  I was also making sauce from the Romas during this time, so as I was cooking I kept eating just one more, then just one more, then just one more, then I remembered I hadn't taken a picture yet.  Ooops.

I also talked to Marlena at the market today and she said a gas stove is much better for drying ~ just put them in and let the pilot light do it's thing.  Man, I miss my gas stove. But I get to have it back once I get moved into the cozy cabin!  Soon.  Very soon. 

She also said don't bother with the oil and salt.  So I didn't on tonight's round.  Not bad.  And easier.  I like easier. 
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