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Monday, October 31, 2011

Green Tomato Pickles

This week I've been picking as much of the garden produce as I can before a killing frost comes. We've had 2 light frosts but even the basil plants haven't been hurt much. Yet. After a summer of drought and heat and low tomato and pepper production, those plants have gone into high gear, trying to catch up on production.

Adam, who I have written about here many times, left us with a fabulous fall garden. Too bad he didn't get to enjoy such lushness during the summer when he was farming the garden and selling at local farmers markets. (Adam left in mid September to work on a farm in Maryland for the winter; that farm sells at the DuPont Circle farmers market the year around).

Ten pints of fish house green tomato pickles.

I've spent the day today, putting up some of the excess produce. With all the green tomatoes, I wanted to use the smaller ones for fish house green tomato pickles. They're a favorite in the catfish restaurants in the South and it's a great way to use up some of the tomatoes. Josh plans on making green tomato mincemeat, too, for pies this winter.

Tomatoes ripening in the window.

The larger green tomatoes will simply stay on the kitchen windowsill where they will slowly ripen over the next couple of months. (I've used the wrap-in-newspaper method, which is a hassle, also the put-in-the-basement method, also a hassle to check every couple of days; on the windowsill, where I see the tomatoes every day, is the easiest and simplest and works just fine. Some years we have the last of our summer's ripe tomatoes on Christmas Day).

You can use green tomatoes in any recipe that calls for ripe tomatoes, too.

Here's the recipe in case you want to use up your green tomatoes:

Catfish-House Green Tomato Pickles

2 quarts quartered green tomatoes
2 cups chopped onion
1/3 cup chopped hot peppers
1/3 cup chopped sweet red bell peppers
2 cups sugar
3 Tablespoons salt
3 cups apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon celery seed
1/4 teaspoon yellow mustard seed

Combine ingredients in a large cooking pan and bring to a slow boil. Let simmer for about 5 minutes. Ladle into hot, sterile jars, wipe lip edge of jars, screw on hot, new jar rings and flats and lightly tighten. Place into a boiling water bath, with at least 1/2 inch of water above the jar lids. Bring to a boil and keep slowly boiling for 15 minutes (for pints). Remove and cool on a towel. Don't tinker with the lids, they will seal in a few minutes. Let cool overnight then label and store in the pantry. These are best after the flavors have matured, about 2 weeks or more.

Hot sauce with a kick, and green tomato salsa are from a single recipe. 

I also made a batch each of green tomato salsa and one of green tomato hot sauce. If you'd like the recipe for those, visit my recipes blog. Both are a combination of varieties of hot peppers and it's a tasty hot sauce with a real kick.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Planning a Different Kind of Garden Next Year

Lettuce is a crop that thrives in cool weather and does great in a cold frame - even in January!

Ozarks Gardening
Jim Long

Planning Now for Next Year’s Garden

I have gardened in the same spot for 32 years and in that time I have seen a constant warming of our summers. In 1979 when I planted my first garden here, the winters were colder, frost dates were earlier in the fall and later in the spring. Warmer zone crops, like figs, were only a dream. Not only can I now grow those (two figs for breakfast this morning), but muscadines, another warmer-climate fruit, are doing fine. Amaryllis and gladiolus bulbs once had to be dug, now I leave them in the ground the year around. Texas tarragon, once only an annual in my garden, now thrives as a hardy perennial. The same holds true for a good many tender, annual crops, that I now grow as established perennials.
This is one of my garden beds from August, 2011. Sad, really sad.

With the disappointing experience of this past summer fresh in my mind, the stinging heat that was too hot for tomatoes, peppers and eggplants to set fruit, the hot winds, the lack of moisture for nearly two months, and the hordes of insects that attacked every food crop, I’m making changes for next year. It didn’t matter what the crop was, or how much water we poured on the garden, there was a lull between the first of July and the end of August. No plant produced like it should have, most barely survived to be alive. The same was true for last year, as well.

What I’ve learned from this recent experience it’s likely we’ll continue having severe summers and disappointing gardens for some years ahead. With that in mind, I am planning for a very different garden next year. I will plant an early spring garden, some of it in waist-high cold frames (you can see photos on my garden blog). They’re cheap and easy to use. That provides an early season crop before bugs are a problem.
This simple cold frame is nothing more than 1/2 inch pvc pipe bent to support clear plastic.

I’ll still plant a few tomatoes and peppers, but not as my primary crop. Instead, I’ll plant more of those in late June rather than late April, and aim for a later summer crop. We have the best garden of this season right now, in October, with more lettuce, carrots, green beans, beets, squash and eggplant, better than anything we produced during the summer. Another good thing about planting a garden in mid to late August for fall crops, is you avoid a nearly all of the insect pests. Squash bugs, stink bugs, Japanese beetles and potato bugs, are past their cycles and the crops they attack are thriving now without bug problems.
This is early April and the coldframe is full of spinach and lettuce.

While it’s too late to plant a fall garden now in October, you can still plant things for spring. You can plant onion and leek seed now, lettuce, spinach and kale can still be planted and kept over with just a little protection like a sheet of clear plastic or a simple cold frame. It’s not too late for garlic and shallots, as well. Poppies, larkspur and cilantro can also be seeded into beds this month. Cover crops like buckwheat can be planted in the garden beds for winter, then plowed in next spring, adding fertility and organic matter.

You might enjoy my book, How to Grow and Use the Ten Most Popular Herbs, available from my website.
Happy gardening!