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Here They Come

July 31st, 2011

On Wednesday I noticed that one of the big tomatoes was starting to ripen. As I thought, it’s a Silvery Fir Tree. I’ve been picking a few Tess’s Land Race Currant and Sungold Cherry tomatoes, but no large tomatoes.

Saturday it was finally ready to harvest. I plucked it from the plant, brought it inside, sliced it and we enjoyed it on a sandwich with local bacon and homegrown arugula on homemade sourdough bread. BLT’s are the perfect summer meal, super quick, easy and so delicious – they’re even great for breakfast! Is there really a better way to enjoy your first tomato?

How do you enjoy the first ripe tomato from your garden?

Making Traditionally Fermented Pickles

July 30th, 2011

Traditionally fermented food are super healthy. It’s always nice when you can make something using these methods. Not only is it quick and easy to make, the end product is healthier than it’s more time-consuming processed counterpart. Pickles are a prime example. I make one kind of vinegar pickles that are canned. The rest of the pickles I make are fermented. Basically you put the pickles in a jar with whatever herbs you want to flavor them and cover them with salt water. A few weeks later you have a probiotic feast! Adding fermented pickles to your meals will help with digestion and increase the amount of nutrients you can absorb from what you eat.

When it comes to making pickles there are a few things you want to consider. First of all, you don’t want the cucumbers to be too large. The smaller the cucumbers the crisper the end product with be. You want the cucumbers to have distinct warts or bumps and no yellow on them. The smaller they are the less developed the seeds will be inside as well. Freshness also counts, if you can process them the same day you pick them that’s best. If you can’t process them right away make sure to put them in the refrigerator to keep them cool and process as soon as possible. The cucumber on the left is perfect for pickling, the one of the right is a little overmature (but you can still use it if you’d like). You can still use it for pickling, but there will be more seeds and the final product most likely won’t be as crisp.

Second you want to make sure you scrub the blossom end of the cucumber well. It is believed that it can harbor bad bacteria increasing the risks that your batch will not ferment properly. It is also thought that it can make your pickles not as crisp. Some people cut the blossom end of the pickle off, I simply scrape it with my nail until I can see the clean end of the cucumber. You can see the different between a cucumber with the blossom end cleaned (left) and one that hasn’t been cleaned enough (right).

Gently wash cucumbers. I usually just wipe with a damp cloth to remove all dirt. You don’t want to scrub them too much as they are delicate and they have beneficial bacteria that aid in fermentation in their skins. Place cucumbers and spices in a fermenting crock or a glass jar. Typically I avoid the use of any kind of plastic when pickling as the acidic brine encourages leeching of BPA’s and other chemicals from the plastic into the foods being fermented. I use 1 Gallon Glass Barrel Jars for fermenting pickles and sauerkraut. Wide mouth half gallon mason jars work quite well also. Depending on the size of container you use for fermenting you can use small plates, glass jars, or drinking glasses to weigh down the vegetables and keep them submerged in the brine.

I also always put my fermenting jars on a plate that has a lip to contain any brine that spills out of the jar. This seems to happen most of the time when I’m making pickles, sauerkraut or kimchi. Do not be alarmed if you see white mold or green mold floating on top of the brine when you’re pickling or in the brine that spills out of the jars onto the plate. This mold is common (some cultures even prefer it) and harmless. You will want to skim this off of the top of the brine daily, but don’t worry about getting all of it as it has a tendency to break up and float away. Since I use wide mouth pint jars to weigh down the vegetable I usually just push down on the jar, when the brine overflows out of the fermenting jar the white mold usually slides down the side of the jar. Every few days I add some extra brine if needed to keep the level up.

When fermenting you want to use pickling salt or sea salt. You do not want to use iodized table salt or any kind of salt that has anticaking agents in it. Many places will tell you to only use pickling salt, but I prefer to use an unrefined sea salt called Redmond Real Salt with the minerals in it. I purchase this salt in 25 pound bags directly from their website.

from The Joy of Pickling

About 4 pounds* of 3-5 inch pickling cucumbers, blossom ends removed
4 to 6 dill heads or large sprigs
2 small fresh or dried hot peppers broken or cut into pieces
8 garlic cloves, sliced
1 Tablespoon whole allspice berries
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
2 Tablespoons whole coriander seeds
1/2 cup pickling salt (4.65 oz)
3 quarts of water

Layer cucumbers in gallon jar with dill, peppers, garlic, allspice, peppercorns, and coriander. Dissolve salt in the water and pour enough brine over the cucumbers to cover them. Place something in the mouth of the jar to weight down the cucumbers and keep them submerged in the the brine (I usually use a drinking glass or pint mason jar with brine in it). Keep jar at room temperature. I keep mine on the dining room table so I can monitor it.

Within 3 days you will begin to see tiny bubbles rising to the top. If scum forms on the top of the brine skim off. Pickles should be ready in about 2 weeks when they are sour and olive green throughout. At this point, remove the weight jar, remove any scum, and top off with brine if needed. Cap the jar and store in the refrigerator. These pickles will keep for several months to a year, although they seem to lose a little bit of crispness after a few months. I have had a batch in my fridge for about 9 months and they were very good down to the last pickle.

*if you do not have 4 pounds all at once you can continue adding cucumbers to your jar until it is full. Just remember to let them ferment for 2 weeks after last cucumber has been added.

You can certainly change the spices in the recipe above to suit your tastes. Add some sliced onions and mustard seeds, or perhaps mixed pickling spices instead, some horseradish would be nice as well. When making more than one batch of pickles, always make sure to label your jar with the type and date started. I also include the page number that the recipe was on. If you’re interested in learning more about both traditional fermentation and other kinds of pickling I’d highly recommend purchasing The Joy of Pickling: 250 Flavor-Packed Recipes for Vegetables and More from Garden or Market. It’s full of all kinds of recipes from fermented vegetables to gravlax and so many other interesting things.

Do you make or enjoy any traditionally fermented foods?

Friday Favorite: Childhood Books

July 29th, 2011

There’s nothing like rereading books you loved as a child when you’re an adult. I was particularly fond of the Little House on the Prairie Series. My sister and I had a set and we read them so much they had to be taped back together many times. My sister actually still has the set and my nieces love to read them.

Last winter I got the Little House books from the library and really enjoyed rereading them. They’re just as engaging now as they were when I was 10. Last summer on our trip to Monticello we stopped at the Royal Oak Bookshop in Fort Royal, VA. It’s a wonderful little place with a great selection of used books. I was able to find almost the entire Little House Series in hardback, there was only 1 missing. I purchased the missing book used on-line this past winter and now I have a lovely set of one my favorite childhood series. This winter I’m planning on reading through them again.

I also loved The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe as a kid and the rest of that series (the Chronicles of Narnia). My sister and I also wore out the set of those as well. Five or six years ago I purchased this set as one big book in C.S. Lewis’s preferred reading order. I’ve read this series more as an adult, I even took a C.S. Lewis class in college. It is a wonderfully engaging series for kids and adults and I’m looking forward to reading through it as well this winter!

What books did you love as a kid? Have you ever reread any of them?

Dreaming of Figs

July 28th, 2011

Two years ago I ordered a ‘Hardy Chicago’ Fig from Richter’s Herbs. I’ve read that I could grow it in my garden on a Southern slop with winter protection, but I’m not about to risk losing the plant. I have it planted in a large pot and it gets lugged down to the basement during the long cold winters in my zone 5 garden. This summer it has finally taken off, it’s HUGE. Now that it’s so large I’m going to take a cutting and I’ll try planting that in a protected spot next summer to see if it overwinters successfully.

A week or two ago I was watering my fig tree when I noticed a tiny fig. It’s quite exciting when a plant fruits for the first time in your garden. I’ll be keeping my eye on this little fig waiting and watching for it to ripen (hopefully that won’t happen while I’m on vacation).

Last summer I acquired another fig, a ‘Brunswick’ that I purchased at Monticello. Eliot Coleman talks about overwintering figs in cold climates in his book Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long. That’s where I first got the idea and decided to give it a try. It’s actually not very difficult because I simply put the pots by my seed starting area and move them outside again in late February.

Do you have any exotic fruits or vegetables that you try growing in your garden?

A Little Something Different

July 27th, 2011

A month or so ago, the leeks that I had overwintered in my mom’s garden started to bloom. We thought about pulling them out to make way for something else, but left them for a while because they’re quite beautiful and beneficial.

When they opened up I cut some to put on my table. This year I’ve been trying to keep more fresh things from the garden on the dining room table to enjoy them.

I loved the leek blooms so much I might start planting any extra leeks I have in my front flowerbed just for their beautiful blooms. Of course you can’t really harvest them and use them after blooming because they get woody. I’m happy to sacrifice a few leeks and onions for some beautiful blooms.

Do you ever let any of your leeks or onions bloom?


This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.