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Archive for September, 2008

With mornings and evenings getting cooler and cooler, the blooms are looking rough around the edges. However, several plants have re-bloomed in the last couple of weeks. I mentioned in an earlier post that the flower carpet roses are covered with blooms. This week, the Purple Passion rose I bought in Chicago last spring has put on a burst of bloom. This rose suffered from a disease earlier in the season. Its foliage looks good now–shiny and not too holey, but the blooms are a bit ragged. As happened last year, the English larkspur (Delphinium elatum ‘Pagan Purples’) is putting up more blooms in the fall after seeming to die mid-summer.

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Market farmers (and gardeners) will likely be leaving many crops unripened in the ground this fall, according to one of the vendors I talked with at Saturday’s Northfield Farmers’ Market. Summer started two or three weeks later than expected, then we plunged into a semi-drought. As a result, many vegetables are still blossoming–confused about what time of year it is. That certainly is the case in my garden. I have tons of blossoms on the cucumber vines, and my one green pepper plant–which has produced only a couple of peppers–now has more blossoms on it than it has had all year. The vendor remarked that he has dozens of melons in the field that will likely be hit by frost before they ripen. The average first frost in this part of Minnesota is Oct. 5–a week from today.

One benefit of the late start and recent warmer weather is that tomatoes are still producing, and I also overheard an interesting idea for salsa at the market. Take a few tomatoes or tomatilloes, a couple of hot peppers, an onion cut in quarters, and some garlic cloves. Roast them in the oven for a half hour or so, then chop in the food processor with some lime juice and cilantro.  I tried the recipe last night, replacing the lime juice with lemon and the cilantro (which is not popular in my house) with parsley. It was a good salsa, but whoo, hot!

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In fall, berries are as striking as blooms. This year we have a large crop of perfectly formed, perfectly red berries on the American highbush cranberry bushes in our backyard. These will hang on all winter, providing food for birds and comfortable places for snow to rest.

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Hurry Up, Make Pesto

With fall hard upon us, it’s time to make as much pesto as possible. Yesterday while I was waiting for my red pepper relish to marinate, I decided to make a batch of pesto for freezing. Even if you do not have much freezer room, pesto is easy to make and keep for that cold January night when you want something to remind you of summer. Also, there is nothing sadder to see than a basil plant that has experienced frost–hurry up, make pesto!

I don’t really use a recipe for pesto, but here is the procedure:

  • Pick a big pile of basil and parsley leaves–several cups. Rinse them, pat them dry, and trim off the hard stems. (I use a kitchen shears for this.)
  • Get out a blender.
  • Throw in the blender a small handful of walnuts, a big dollop of chopped garlic (I’m lazy and buy the jarred kind), and a teaspoon or so of salt. Give it a whir to chop things up.
  • Then put the leaves in. I’m pro-parsley and put about 40 percent parsley, 60 percent basil, but others like all basil. Add to the blender enough good olive oil to get things started, maybe 1/2 to 3/4 cup. Start the blender and watch things pull together. The sauce should not be chunky or too thick. Add more oil, if needed, but not so much that it becomes watery. You want a bright green color.
  • Get out some sandwich bags with the zipper closure. Divide the pesto among the bags, depending on how much you typically use for a meal. Lay the bags on a cookie sheet and put them in the freezer. When they are frozen the bags can be stored standing up in the door of the freezer or some other convenient place.
  • NOTE: Do not add parmesan cheese to the pesto until you serve it. Cheese does not freeze well.  Without the cheese, frozen pesto will keep for many months–although it probably will not last much past January.

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Red Pepper Relish

When September rolls around and the red peppers start showing up at the Farmers’ Market, I get out my canning equipment and make red pepper relish. I’ve had this recipe more than 25 years, having gotten it from the mother of an old boyfriend. She was an exceptional cook, and in the early 1980s, I had never tasted anything as sophisticated as red pepper relish over cream cheese spread on water crackers. I lost track of the boyfriend long ago, but the recipe gets used every fall.

I’ve never had good luck growing red peppers, so I usually buy them, but I picked a few Haralson apples from my tree to use in the relish.  This recipe makes 9-10 half pints, which is a nice size for gift giving. There is a waiting period in the middle of the recipe, so plan to start early in the day or even the night before.

Red Pepper Relish

  • 10 red peppers, finely chopped (I use a food processor.)
  • 6-10 jalapeno peppers, finely chopped (Add more if you like it hot, less if not.)
  • 4 cups tart apple, finely chopped (about 6 large apples)
  • 3 TBSP salt

Mix all this together in a large pot and let it sit for 3 to 6 hours. It will look like the photo above right.

When the marinating is done, drain the liquid from the vegetables and stir in:

  • 2 1/2 cups cider vinegar
  • 3 cups sugar
  • Thyme or tarragon, if you’d like.

Put the pan on the heat and boil the mixture for 30 to 45 minutes. (The recipe says 30, but it’s always more.) It should thicken and look like the picture at left. (Be warned: Your house will stink like vinegar when you do this!  Open the windows, because it’s worth it.) While the mixture is boiling, get out jars and lids, wash them, and put a huge pot of water on the boil. (If you’ve never canned before, check out this site.) Sterilize the jars. When the mixture is ready, spoon the relish into jars, wipe the tops, screw on the lids, and process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.

Let the jars cool completely before storing. In addition to the appetizer mentioned above, the relish livens up any bland dish. It’s great on top of butternut squash soup or macaroni and cheese.

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Garden Product Reviews

One of the unexpected perks of blogging is that occasionally a company will send me a product to try out. I’ve received liquified worm poop fertilizer (highly recommended) and a bunch of books on gardening and design.

About 6 weeks ago, the folks at Ethel Gloves™ sent me a pair of their Jubilee gloves. Ethel gloves are like cashmere sweaters–pricey, but wow! The palms are covered with synthetic leather and the backs of the gloves are a stretchy, but breathable fabric. They fit snug, but not too snug, and the elastic around the wrist keeps dirt out. Mine got fairly dirty after a few weeks of use, so I threw them in the washing machine and the dryer, and they came out looking fine. They are also rather cute. They cost $18 a pair retail–which is a lot for garden gloves–but if you are the kind of person who does not lose their gloves and you work in the garden a lot, Ethels may be a good bet.

The second product I want to let people know about is the CobraHead® Weeder and Cultivator. This was not a freebie. I bought one of these from a vendor at the Midwest Master Gardener Conference in July. It’s advertised as an all-purpose garden tool and I’ve used it to dig holes for transplants and to loosen soil, but its best use is in pulling weeds. The cobrahead is basically a sharp hook with a handle. On small weeds, a couple of quick passes with the cobrahead unearths the weed. On bigger weeds, you slide the hook under the crown of the root, making it much easier to remove the entire root. Yesterday, I pulled a bunch of weeds from my front garden in about 5 minutes with the Cobrahead. The short-handled version I have is $24.95 online. There is a long-handled version for a bit more.

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Anyone know what kind of bugs these green guys are? They pretty much destroyed the flower head of this sunflower, and I have seen the bugs in other gardens, too. I checked the Minnesota Extension insect site and my guess is it is some kind of aphid. That makes sense in that yesterday I discovered a batch of these creepy red aphids on black-eyed Susans in the front garden. My usual attitude toward bugs is disdainful tolerance, though I removed the stalks of the black-eyed Susans, since they were spent anyway.

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