Dealing With the Autumn Harvest

Yesterday I spent most of the day and well into the evening trying to use up some of the produce from my garden before it went bad. This time of year can be a real challenge when everything needs to be harvested, cleaned, prepared, and often canned or frozen all at once. And I haven’t even started dealing with my root vegetables, which are starting to pop out of the soil they’re getting so big!

I harvested the four pears that were growing on my tiny little pear tree. The three on the left were of one type, and the one on the right is another. The tree has four different kinds of pears grafted onto the main trunk, but I stupidly removed the labels and now I can’t remember what varieties there were. I’m pretty sure the odd one out on the right is a Bartlett, though. I considered trying to bake something with the pears, but my kids claimed them for their lunches.

My black sweet pepper plants only yielded one black pepper; unfortunately, the others all died or turned out to be green peppers. I really only grew these as an experiment anyway, since I’m not a huge pepper fan, so I gave them to my mother.

My apple tree is starting to drop its fruit; sadly, the poor tree suffers from a nasty case of apple scab despite my care, and a lot of the fruit aren’t good to eat. Apple scab itself is safe (although it’s ugly), but it does mean that the fruit often ends up cracked and rotting on the tree, or creates areas where it’s easier for pests to crawl inside. Even so, I have lots of apples to use up in recipes — this variety is very tart, so it’s best cooked.

I’m still harvesting a lot of tomatoes; although I feared frost a few weeks ago, this past week has been one of summer-like heat, so my tomatoes are actually still flowering! What fruit is on the vine is ripening nicely, so I may not have too many green tomatoes to deal with this year (even though I have a few great recipes for those too). Last night I made up another batch of Blender Salsa from page 92 of Preserving by the Pint: Quick Seasonal Canning for Small Spaces (Marisa McClellan, 2014), since my husband likes that version so much. The above photo was taken immediately after removing the jars from the hot water canner.

The basil plant in my mom’s garden needed to be cut back for the season, so she let me have all of the leaves in exchange for some of the pesto I made with them. Pesto is one of my favourite sauces to make because it’s so darned easy and can be made with so many leafy greens. I’ve made pesto before out of beet leaves, nasturtium leaves, and garlic scapes. The one that I made last night was the most common type: basil, garlic, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese.

Before I made the salsa and the pesto, I set aside two large tomatoes and a tablespoon of basil so that I could bake Fresh Tomato and Basil Loaf. The recipe is found on page 156 of Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf (Jennie Shapter, 2002). This bread is started in the bread machine, which mixes, kneads, and proofs the dough. Then the dough is removed from the machine and additional ingredients are kneaded in by hand, the dough is left to rise in a loaf pan, and then the bread is baked in the oven. The addition of the tomatoes made this dough really sticky and unpleasant to knead, and I made an enormous mess, but it was totally worth it since this bread is delicious. I will definitely be using this recipe again.

MosaïCanada 150

This past week I took the kids to MosaïCanada 150, which is a massive garden installation in celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday. The exhibition is being held in Jacques-Cartier Park in Gatineau, Québec (right across the river from Ottawa) from June 30th to October 15th, from 10:00am to 7:00pm. And it’s free! Well, the garden is, but parking isn’t.

The girls and I took a picnic lunch and stayed for a couple of hours, much to their delight. As a family we really do enjoy playing tourist, even in our own city. We ended up with perfect weather! I took what seems like a million pictures, but I’ve narrowed it down to my favourite pieces and the ones that resonate the most with my heritage.


Canada 150: A Powerful Symbol


Engine CPR 374

I’ve always loved trains.


Anne of Green Gables (waiting at for the train at the station)

I loved the Anne of Green Gables books as a child, and I faithfully watched the televised version with Megan Follows with my parents. I haven’t had a chance to check out the new version; although I’ve heard good things, I don’t know if it can compare in my mind with the nostalgia that the old version induces.


The Lobster Fisherman

I don’t know that any of my ancestors were lobster fishermen, but they’re iconic to the East Coast, where my family is definitely from.


The Canadian Horse

My girls loved this sculpture the most. They pointed out to me that it greatly resembles the scene at the end of The Last Unicorn where the unicorns emerge en masse from the sea. I particularly liked the use of grasses for the mane, which flowed in the breeze.


The Prospector (panning for gold)

We spent a lot of time in elementary school learning about the Klondike Gold Rush. I especially liked how the fountain in this piece added motion as the prospector “washed” his pan.


The Voyageur

Similarly, I remember many lessons on the French-Canadian Voyageurs.


Mother Earth: The Legend of Aataentsic

I have to admit, I’m not familiar with The Legend of Aataentsic, but Mother Earth and Mother Nature are stories told all over the world in different forms. I was especially impressed by this sculpture, which was the crowning glory of the exhibition. No other display was done on such a grand scale, or with such flow and attention to detail.


Mother Earth: The Legend of Aataentsic


Mother Earth: The Legend of Aataentsic

If you’re in the Ottawa/Gatineau region before October 15th, I highly recommend visiting the MosaïCanada 150 garden. I hope to be able to go back again in the fall once the leaves have started to change colour; I expect it will be gorgeous.

Salsa & Cherries

Canning season is in full swing, with my garden producing enough ripe tomatoes for a good-sized batch of something every couple of days, and fruits and vegetables at the cheapest they’ve been all year at the farmer’s market and supermarket. Although most days are still quite warm, it cools down quite a bit after dark, so I’ve been taking advantage of the lowered temperatures to get some canning done in the evenings after the kids go to bed. Sometimes this doesn’t work out so well when a recipe unexpectedly refuses to thicken up and I end up getting to bed around two o’clock in the morning, but I’d take a late night over canning in the heat any day.


Mild tomato salsa, all ingredients from my garden except the onions.

In addition to trying to preserve family recipes, another reason I started this blog was to keep track of recipes I’d tried, which ones I liked, and any changes I’d make in the future. Last year I didn’t write any of this stuff down, and when it came to canning season again I had the hardest time remembering what recipes I used. Sure, some of them are quite distinct, but did I get them online? Did I find them in any of my copious number of cookbooks?

The salsa above is a case in point. I mean, salsa is extremely popular and easy to make. Every canning book has at least one salsa recipe. So I figured that this year what I’d do is make a small batch from each of the recipes that interested me, and pick the one I liked best for next year. The photo above is Smoky Tomato Salsa, from page 255 of Put ‘Em Up! Fruit (Sherri Brooks Vinton, 2013). This was a pretty decent salsa, although it didn’t turn out as smoky as the writeup suggested. Perhaps I will try chipotle powder instead of smoked Spanish paprika next time. Additionally, the recipe was really, really watery, and I had to boil it down for quite some time to get my preferred consistency. This was totally my fault because I used whole cherry tomatoes instead of peeled, seeded and diced tomatoes as specified in the recipe. Last year I peeled all of those tiny tomatoes and it was so tedious that I decided never again. Because I had to boil it down, this concentrated the vinegar and the sugar a little too much for my liking. I think that next time if I use cherry tomatoes I will just elimiate the sugar altogether (cherry tomatoes are much sweeter than regular-sized ones anyway). I would also cut down the vinegar to half a cup (8 Tbsp). The yield of this recipe was three to four 500mL jars of salsa, which should still make the mixture acidic enough to be safe for hot-water canning. (Lemon juice and vinegar have a similar PH, and Pat Crocker’s Preserving recommends adding 1 Tbsp bottled lemon juice to a 500mL jar, and even halving the vinegar makes it 2+ Tbsp per jar.)


Amaretto cherries.

Another recipe that I tried this year is Amaretto Black Cherries from page 126 of Preserving: The Canning and Freezing Guide for All Seasons (Pat Crocker, 2011). I overfilled a few of the jars and had to remove some of the syrup-coated cherries before sealing, and I was very impressed by the flavour. I can only imagine what they’ll taste like after soaking in the syrup for a couple of months. They’re like a tipsy maraschino cherry. When I was a kid and we bought cheap fruit salad preserved in syrup, I would always save the cherries for last because they were my favourite part. In addition to eating these cherries straight out of the jar or as a dessert topping, Preserving also includes a recipe for Amaretto Clafoutis with burnt Almonds on page 128. I will definitely have to try making this dish once the cold weather hits.

Late Summer Garden

Right now my garden is bursting at the seams — okay, well, all except the peas, which have died back somewhat. My potatoes are starting to pop out of the ground (they don’t grow down very well because of the hard clay under the garden), and I have to keep re-covering them with soil so they are not damaged by the sun. Before I planted the garden this year, I doubled the amount of soil, which seems to have delayed potatoes popping up, but didn’t keep it from happening.

Even tied back, my tomato plants have passed “threatening to take over” and are now simply the rulers of the garden. When I look out the window behind them, it’s like looking through a jungle to the back yard. If you can see me hiding back there, you’ll get an idea of how tall the plants have grown — and they’d be taller if I had taller stakes to support them, but their fruit is weighing them down.

Today’s harvest included a whole lot of cherry tomatoes, banana peppers, jalapeno peppers, and hot peppers — along with handfuls of herbs to use in cooking tonight.

Beginning to Harvest the Garden

I spent some time in the garden yesterday, weeding and harvesting a little bit, but mostly tying up my tomato plants, which have escaped the raised bed and are trying to take over the lawn. Mosquitoes love the shade under these plants, so every time I go out there, I end up with a new handful of bites at the very least. Even so, it was totally worth it because I was happy to discover lots of fruits and veggies that were either growing large and healthy, or that were already ripe and ready for harvesting.

The pears are doing well, although they’re still hard as rocks and not nearly ready to harvest. My research indicates that they should be ready to be picked from August to October in this climate — and mine seem likely to be ripe later in the season.

The tomatoes on the possibly-beefsteak tomato plant (the one that was supposed to be a cherry tomato plant) aren’t ripe yet, but the fruits have almost doubled in size. I have a feeling that spaghetti sauce may be in their future.

My sweet bell peppers are growing well and look like they’ll end up being pretty sizable. This variety is supposed to yield a black (really very dark purple) pepper, so these obviously aren’t ready yet. Well, that’s if they were labeled correctly; I don’t really trust the labels 100% any more.

My pea vines are still yielding nicely, although with being at the cottage off and on, I ended up letting a bunch of pods dry out on the vine. Oops. That’s good for seed saving, I guess, but not what I was trying to do.

Unlike their sweet cousins, my hot peppers are starting to ripen beautifully. The red banana peppers and the green jalapeno peppers are destined for hot sauce once I’ve picked them all, so I wash and freeze the early-ripening ones until I can use them. Freezing peppers makes them mushy upon thawing, but that’s not really an issue when they’re just going to be blended smooth in a sauce anyway.

Last but not least, my cherry tomato plants have started ripening! I believe that what’s coming up at the moment are Pink Ladies, Sweet Millions, and generic yellow cherry tomatoes. I have a personal fondness for the yellow ones, but the Pink Ladies have come up really sweet this year, and I just can’t stop snacking on them. My husband, too, is a huge fan of cherry tomatoes of all varieties, and will go through a large bowl of them when vegging in the evening after the kids have finally been put to bed.

Overgrown?

My garden isn’t just growing, it may be overgrowing. When I plant my garden in the spring, it always looks like I’m leaving too much space between the rows. Then I go out into the garden on days like today, and there’s very little room to walk. I have to gently push plants aside to get at the tomatoes and potatoes.


My garden, with me for scale

I have to be careful with the tomato plants nearest the wall of the house, as they can get caught in the track when I open and close the window to let in fresh air. On the other hand, the plants that are supposed to be there are actually crowding out potential weeds, for the most part. The only exceptions are near the celery and the onions, which I planted late and hence aren’t growing as fast.

And the tomatoes are growing quite large, considering they’re supposed to be cherry tomatoes! I wonder if some of them were cross-pollinated, or probably mis-labelled at the garden center. It has happened before. Or maybe it’s my awesome gardening skills producing abnormally healthy and large fruit? If only.

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Well, my garden definitely doesn’t grow with silver bells, and cockle shells, and pretty maids all in a row. I mean, outside of the historical explanations, the plants in the “Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary” nursery rhyme were all flowers, and I’m just not that big into flowers. I love to look at a beautiful flower garden, no question, but when it comes to growing my own plants, I prefer something that I can eat. Although last year I did grow a bunch of nasturtiums, which serve both purposes; both the flowers and the leaves are edible, and the leaves make a lovely, slightly-peppery pesto.

This year I skipped the nasturtiums, as well as my usual crop of pumpkins. I usually plant my pumpkins along the fence line, but this year we were supposed to get a new fence installed, and I knew that the installation would kill the delicate vines. Now the installation has been delayed until September (much to my great frustration), but I’m still kind of glad that I didn’t plant any gourds this year. It has been an incredibly wet summer so far (I’ve only had to water the garden once), and with all that water comes earwigs, which will eat all the fruit from a squash vine before it has the chance to grow more than a few centimeters in diameter.

Banana peppers were a late addition to my garden, but they are growing well despite the cooler summer we’re experiencing. Any hot peppers that I grow this summer will be incorporated into hot sauce come fall, which I can and then save to give out at Christmas.

My parsley, even more so than my other herbs, is trying to take over the world — which is why I plant herbs in pots instead of directly in my garden. After my successful attempt at tabbouleh the other day, I have a feeling that this plant will become our main source for this dish this season. I think I’d prefer a higher ratio of parsley to bulgur next time, so the plant will be used up even faster, unless its growth rate increases. Herbs generally fare better with pruning, so it could happen.

My Swiss chard is coming up nicely. I’ve never actually grown this plant before, but I was inspired by my friend’s garden last year. The rainbow colours of the stems are gorgeous. I made pickles of the stems last year, and much to my dismay the colour leached out of the stems into the pickling liquid over time, leaving the stems a pale, flaccid cream colour. What a shame. Maybe this year I will freeze the excess stems instead to saute or steam at a later date.

My tomatoes are coming up nicely, although I think that they, along with the rest of my garden, could use a few more sunny days. Some of the plants are almost as tall as me, although their yield so far seems lower than last year.

Oh, and we’ve already had our first harvest! It was just a small handful of peas, but they were quite delicious according to my children, who were very happy with their haul. The girls really like being able to wander into the yard and pick food directly from the plant. My response when they ask me to do so is invariably yes (so long as the food is ready for harvesting). I really have no complaints if they want to eat more fruits and veggies.