Thursday, September 8, 2011

Making The Best Of It

It's hard to admit this but my gardens were a total disaster this year. You know it's bad when even the morning glories failed to bloom! I can point fingers at the weather, my month long absence or the marauding wildlife (note the squirrel in the former potato bucket) but it all amounts to the same- not much produce. When I arrived home from the UK, there was a lone butternut squash growing on the roof and I admired it for several days. Then one morning it vanished without a trace- the Russian swore he spotted a squirrel running down the alley with it in it's mouth. The pepper squash didn't even make it that far- if it ever produced any offspring, they didn't last long enough for me to witness them. My roof tomatoes were stripped of the few little green fruit they managed to produce. All my peppers got eaten, even the hot ones. The garden in the ground fared only slightly better. We've eaten a few tomatoes and beans but have yet to see a cuke or summer squash. There's lots more tomatoes finally but they are small and green and I doubt they'll make it in time. I emptied the potato bucket today to find -you guessed it- 3 tiny potatoes. I swear they are even smaller than last year. I think I'm just not meant to grow potatoes. My last hope is the brussel sprouts- they look okay but I'm pretty sure they should be taller by now- so far they resemble skinny cabbage.

So what do you do when the season tells you it's time to put up food for winter and there's none to work with? When even Not Far From the Tree picks are few and far between?

You raid your neighbour's, friend's and family's gardens for excess/unwanted produce!

The Russian and I took a few days last week to go visit my family in Sarnia. My parents still reside in the house I grew up in and many years ago when we were a huge group to feed, they planted a number of fruit trees. Since only three of them live there now (my parents are raising one of my nephews), they don't have much use for all of the fruit and most of it rots on the ground. (actually it's the nephew's job to pick it up and dump it in the compost but like most 11 year olds, he has a million things he'd rather be doing). The pears were lovely but got eaten by the Russian before they made it back here unfortunately- that man loves his pears! Most of the apples were still good- a bit scabby and prone to worms but tasty just the same. We spent a good hour picking them all up, discarded the rotten ones and still ended up with over a bushel. The nephew found picking up apples was more fun with company and was enthusiastic at the idea of some apple sauce so we cut them up and cooked them down. Eight large containers went into the freezer and one jar plus a bag of fresh apples came home with me!

My brother and his family live only a few blocks away from our parents- his garden was rather generous this year and they couldn't eat everything they planted so he told us to come by and help ourselves. My dad made away with a large basket of cucumbers for pickling and I took the beans! They had a bumper crop of both yellow and green bush beans and the plants were loaded with beans that were past the good eating stage- large and bit tough. Last year I discovered that these make excellent pickled beans so I picked a bagful to take home, along with some onions and dill. A stop at my sister's later that day contributed a nice red pepper from her garden to complete the ingredients needed for some sweet and some dilly pickled beans.

Sweet Pickled Beans (Makes 6 x 500ml or 12 x 250 ml jars)

11 cups of fresh snap beans, green or yellow ( if you use older beans they are delicious but a bit more dense, which I like)

2 tbsp minced garlic

3 cups white vinegar,

2 cups cider vinegar

1 1/3 cups brown sugar

1 2/3 cups water

4 tsp pickling salt

½ cup mixed chopped peppers ( sweet or hot to taste- optional)

Wash beans and trim ends. In a large pot combine all ingredients except beans and peppers. Bring to a boil and time for 5 minutes. Fill jars with beans. Pack tightly but make sure to leave ½ inch head space- trim beans if necessary. Add 1 tsp of pepper mix to each jar. Add hot brine to jars to cover beans, leaving ½ inch head space. Gently bang jars to remove any air bubbles or use a chop stick to dislodge. Wipe rim to remove any stickiness. Centre snap lid on jar and apply screw band. Tighten to just finger tight.

Place all jars in canning pot. Start timing when water returns to a boil. Process for 10 minutes. Turn off heat and remove jars from water. Allow to cool and check seals.

Store in a cool dark place for minimum of 3 weeks before opening.

Garlic Dilly Beans

Follow recipe as above but use only ½ cup white sugar

Add one clove of garlic, peeled and 1 tsp of dill seed to each jar before adding brine.

Process as above.

Back in Toronto, I continued my quest for stuff to preserve and I been blessed with a generous neighbour who gave me a pailful of cherry tomatoes. Those were dehydrated on cookie sheets in the oven, making me doubly thankful for the cooler weather we've had this week. Today I finally got to go on another Not Far From The Tree pick. It's been bad year for local fruit too so this was only only my third pick this season. We were picking grapes, both green and purple and I had to admire the lovely vegetable garden which took up the entire backyard! The homeowner and I compared notes on tomatoes and commiserated on the not so stellar year and then she handed me a spaghetti squash and told me to help myself to some tomatoes and celery! I sense some sauce in the making.

Of course for the major canning projects I usually have to resort to buying in bulk anyhow. In all honesty I can't grow enough peppers, tomatoes or cukes in my small space to even come close to the amounts I like to put up. Thankfully the greengrocers are loaded with bushel baskets of everything I need and it's all Ontario grown. I've been getting sweet peppers for $1/lb, I've picked up a couple quart baskets of plum tomatoes for $1 each, and corn is still cheap and plentiful. So all is not lost and the preserve shelf and the freezer will be full of goodness again this year. It may not all be backyard grown but it's local and seasonal and that's going have to do.

Now I just have to figure out what to do with 20 pounds of grapes!

1 comment:

  1. My Gardening heart goes out to you! I spent some time in Manitoba at the end of Aug on the farm, and although the plants were lush, tons of flowers, the beans had just start to produce, the corn was over 7 feet tall, and the cukes were coming in slow, the tomato plants were loaded with green, very green tomatoes. Everything was very late! Then I came back to my garden in the foothills, lush but stunted in growth.. My parsley plant is in full bloom! I've never seen it look like that! My tomato plant that I bought in Rona, transplanted on April 1st, has one red tomato! There is always next year!