Monday, September 26, 2011

My Sister's Farm

Our whole family loves going to my sister's farm.  For us city folks there are always so many great things to see and do.  It's especially fun on Grape Harvesting day, which we got to experience this weekend.

My brother-in-law and his brother have a couple of acres of grapes that they use for juice and most importantly wine.  Every year at about this time, they invite 20 to 30 friends and family to join in picking and pressing the grapes.  It's something we all look forward to.

For the complete story from picking to juice/wine making check out this You Tube video of the 2009 harvest. Click below or go to

But grapes are just the tip of the iceberg.  Here's what else we saw on the farm.

 And then there was my sister's garden and orchard.  She sure knows how to grow some amazing fruits and veggies.

 And, she's incredibly generous too.  Here's the bounty she shared with us and Fruit Share, who shared it with Siloam Mission.  By the way, these were just the extras - she's already harvested more than that!  Now that's a garden!

 I love my sister, her family and her farm!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Isn't it the cutest little head of cauliflower you ever did see?!

This spring I planted six cauliflower transplants from my basement green house.  The plants came in strong and healthy, but by mid summer all I had was leaves.  It was clear there wasn't going to be any cauliflower this year.  By mid August, I pulled three of the plants but decided to leave three just to see what might happen.

Finally, at the beginning of September I noticed a head starting to form on one of them. Sadly, it only had a couple of weeks to fill out.  Cold temperatures, heavy frost and the plowing under of the gardens (Sept 30) means this little guy didn't have a chance.  

What happened?
I'm guessing that lack of water during a dry, hot summer were probably the culprits.  I know that plants need sufficient water, sun and nutrients in order to produce well.  I suspect our cauliflower got the nutrients and sun it needed, hence the lovely foliage, but not enough water to be able to produce a head.  That's what I get for not watering the garden!

We shared our cauliflower at supper last night.  As pretty as it looks, it had a very sharp, spicy taste.  It was as if all the cauliflower flavour of a 10 inch head was concentrated in each morsel - a little overwhelming to say the least.

Oh well, at least now we know.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Storing and Ripening Tomatoes

I've gathered a few tomatoes!  How about you?
ripe or almost ripe ones on the counter
green ones in the basement
Now what?  I want a steady supply of red tomatoes for salads and sandwiches for as long as possible.  So, I don't want them all to ripen really fast.  I would also like make another batch of salsa or frozen tomatoes.  In other words, I want some to ripen slowly and to keep for as long as possible and some to ripen at the same time.

Warm room temperatures, light and being with other fruits like bananas or apples (that give off ethylene gas) will ripen tomatoes quickly.  So, those tomatoes on the counter are good prospects for salsa, soup or batches of something.

Cool, dark conditions are better for long term storage.  Last year, I described in more detail how to store tomatoes.

As you can see, one of our boxes of green tomatoes is several layers deep.  I know that if I want to increase my rate of successful storage and ripening, I better get another box or two and spread them out.  And, I may also try wrapping some of the big ones in newspaper to see if I can store them even longer.

I'm curious to find out when we'll be eating our last garden grown tomato.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Purple Cabbage

At the end of April, I started my cabbage patch with seeds under grow lights.  In May, I transplanted them to the garden, in June I covered them with a floating row cover to protect them from pests, and now, it's time to harvest!  It's such an amazing process to go from seed to supper.

The purple cabbage was the star performer this year.  I only had enough white cabbage, kohlrabi and brocolli to make a couple of meals.  The cauliflower - well never mind the cauliflower, I only managed to produce a one inch head.  But look at all that purple cabbage.
The Cabbage Patch
8 heads in total
Lucky for me, mom was visiting and offered to take care of all that cabbage.
Mom declined the food processor saying "I can do it faster by hand." And she can too!
In the pot with apples, onions, bay leaf, salt, pepper, caraway, vinegar.
After it's all cooked.
Ready for the freezer.
By the way, in our house we call it "red cabbage" actually "Rot Kraut".  My sister's in-laws who come from another part of Germany call it "blue cabbage" or "Blau Kraut".  I've chosen the more accurate and neutral (huge family negotiations about calling it red vs. blue) term of "purple cabbage".   Anyway, here's a recipe that's very close to mom's recipe.  Of course, mom just goes by feel - she doesn't have a recipe.

Braised Purple Cabbage
2 tbsp canola oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp caraway seeds
1 head purple cabbage, thinly sliced
1 apple cored and sliced into 8 pieces
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup cider vinegar, red wine vinegar or red wine
1/3 cup water
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tbsp sugar or honey (optional)

In a saucepan heat the oil.
Add sliced onions and saute until soft and clear.
Add caraway seed and saute for 30 seconds to release flavour.
Add cabbage, apple and bay leaf.  
Stir and cook until cabbage is slightly wilted.
Add vinegars and water and bring to boil.
Reduce heat and simmer until cabbage is tender, about 30 to 40 minutes.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
If slightly acidic try adding sugar or honey.
Enjoy with a bratwurst and mashed potatoes!  Now that's a traditional German meal.

Makes 8 to 10 side servings

You can increase or decrease this recipe depending on how much cabbage you have.  We multiplied everything by 6 and froze the extras once it cooled off.

What would you do with a bounty of red/blue/purple cabbage?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Risk of Frost

Its mid-September and the "risk of frost" warnings are being posted by Environment Canada.  How do you react?  Do you...

  • play the odds and take a chance that it won't actually happen
  • play it safe and throw covers on anything requiring a little protection
  • put an end to this year's garden and take out whatever isn't hardy enough to withstand the cooler temps
What ever you do, we all know the end is near.  Cooler days and colder nights mean that those warm season veggies will soon be finished.  In fact, some will virtually stop all growth at 10 degrees Celcius (50 degrees F) and then if they're hit with extended periods of frost (an hour or more of frost) the plants will die completely.

But don't despair!  Now's the time to look to those cool temp veggies and enjoy them to the fullest.

In case you're wondering, here's a chart showing the frost tolerance of common herbs and veggies.

Very Sensitive to Frost
Survives Light Frost
Very Tolerant of Frost
Bush Beans
Brussel Sprouts
Leaf lettuce
Mustard greens
Green Onions
Runner Beans
Swiss chard




What did I do?  Well, the first night I hummed and hahed all evening while my husband was encouraging me to roll the dice and let nature decide.  By 9:30pm I couldn't stand it any longer and I raced down to the garden with a few blankies.  Of course, it was very dark down by the river.  And, I realized four blankies weren't enough to cover half of what I needed to cover.  So there I was, with only the moonlight to guide me, picking peppers and as many tomatoes as I could.

By the second night, I tossed in the towel and picked the rest of my green tomatoes (no patience for hauling blankies to and from the garden).  I came home with a 30lb bag of them.  There was a brief rain an hour before, so unfortunately my tomatoes were damp and dirty.  When I came home, I sat in the kitchen drying my tomatoes, while Melanie was doing her "new math" homework. I'm not sure which one of us had the worst task!

Whatever you decide - Good luck!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Growing Rhubarb

Thanks to Leanne for this great post on growing rhubarb in the back yard.
Leanne's rhubarb, planted this spring
Here’s how a recent conversation went with one of my friends:

Me: I’m really happy about how my rhubarb is coming along. It’s hard to believe I just planted it in May from a little 4 inch pot. It’s growing like crazy!
Friend: Have you seen the rhubarb I’ve been trying to grow under my apple tree for eleven years?
Me: Yeah, I did notice it just the other day, in fact. Eleven years, eh? It doesn’t look so good.
Friend: I know! Who can’t grow rhubarb???
Me: Do you water it?
Friend: Who waters rhubarb?
Me: Well… I do.
Friend: You shouldn’t have to water rhubarb. It’s supposed to grow anywhere, without any work – it’s a weed, for heaven’s sake!

Hmmmm…. You know that old saying: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”? I’m just sayin’…

Here’s what I did, based on advice from the book 3 Step Gardening: The Quick and Easy Way to Grow Fruit and Vegetables (Steve Mercer, 2009, Toucan Books):
I dug a big (3 feet in diameter), fairly deep hole in a partly shady spot in my backyard (seemed ridiculous for the little plant I was putting in it),filled it with fresh, lovely compost, transplanted the rhubarb,covered up the roots and left the new little shoots exposed, watered thoroughly and mulched with a thick layer of rotting leaves. Then I watered regularly, wanting to give my new plant a really good start, since I expect to have it for the next twenty years or more. 

Two sources are telling me not to harvest for the first year, but it looks so good… maybe just 1 cobbler’s worth?!?

Backyard Container Gardener

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Apple Pie

Thanks to Fruit Share I've had the chance to pick a few apples.  I've been using these apples to test various recipes to include in the Guide to Backyard Fruit that I'm putting together.  Of course a classic apple pie recipe is a must.  
Usually, I would "wing it" and loosely follow whatever pie recipe I stumbled across.  But this time, I had to record every nuance and address any possible question that someone might have.  So I began experimenting.  Several pies later, here's my take on apple pie made with delicious prairie apples.

Apple Pie
A fantastic apple pie recipe with a flaky, tender crust and a filling with soft apples coated in a light, thick sauce. This is the way apple pie was meant to be.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1tsp salt
1 Tbsp sugar
6 Tbsp cold butter 
6 Tbsp shortening 
1 Tbsp vinegar 
5 to 7 Tbsp ice water
1 tsp soft butter

6 cups sliced tart apples (prairie apples are perfect for this recipe)
1 Tbsp lemon juice
3/4 cup sugar
1 ½  Tbsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp Cider Vinegar

Sift together flour, salt and sugar in a large chilled bowl.
Use a pastry blender to cut in butter and shortening until crumbly. 
Sprinkle vinegar and the smallest amount of water over the flour mixture. 
Mix with a fork just until ingredients come together to form a ball.  If needed, add a drop of water at a time until ingredients stick together.
Pat into a flat ball, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes or longer.

Wash, core, peel and slice apples.
Toss sliced apples in a bowl of water with the lemon juice to prevent them from turning brown.
Mix sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, and salt.
Add cider vinegar.
Let rest while rolling out pie crust.

Preheat oven to 450˚F.
Place oven rack in lowest position.
Divide dough into two pieces.  Leave one piece in the fridge.
Lightly flour a rolling pin and section of counter top.
Roll dough into a 12 inch circle. To prevent sticking, lift and turn tough frequently.
Fold the dough over the rolling pin and transfer to pie plate.
Brush bottom of dough with soft butter to prevent filling from making bottom crust soggy.
Pour filling into pie.
Roll out other piece of dough.
Place the top crust over the apples.
Tuck excess pastry under the bottom crust and crimp the edges using fingers or a fork.
Make five vents in the top crust to allow the steam to escape.
Place pie on lowest rack of oven and bake at 450 for 15 minutes.
Reduce heat to 400, cover edges with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes.
Remove from oven and rest for 2 hours.
Serve with vanilla ice cream.

One Recipe, Three Variations 
I tried this recipe using...
  1. Fresh apples
  2. Frozen apples that were thawed
  3. Frozen apples that were not thawed
Three variations
The result...?

Each method worked, but the end result was a little different.   

Fresh Apples
This pie was a classic. The texture of the apples and the not-too sweet sauce were just right for this flaky crust.
fresh apples
Frozen Apples Thawed
I left the apples to thaw overnight in a colander so the liquid could drain. They lost a considerable amount of liquid, which I did not incorporate back into the pie. I went from 7 cups of frozen apples to 4 1/2 cups of apples. I followed the recipe as shown with the 4 1/2 cups drained apples replacing the fresh ones. This pie cooked up very nicely. The filling was very dark and soft, there were no real apple pieces left. Because I did not reduce the sugar in the filling, it tasted sweeter than the other fillings.  Also, the reduced volume of apples left this pie a little concave.
frozen, thawed apples

Frozen Apples Not Thawed
I took 6 cups of frozen apples directly out of the freezer and mixed them with the filling ingredients. I did add an extra 1/2 Tbsp of cornstarch and baked it an extra 5 minutes at 350 degrees.  The outside of the crust was crisp and flaky, but there were some undercooked parts on the inside (nobody else seemed to notice, but I looked very carefully). The apples held their shape and were only slightly softer than the fresh apples.  Next time, I would extend the baking time by another 5 minutes.

frozen, not thawed
These pies were tested by 10 people.  Everyone agreed they would be happy to eat any of the three variations.  When pushed for a choice, the ranking came out as follows:
1. Fresh Apples
2. Frozen Not Thawed Apples
3. Frozen Then Thawed Apples

As a baker, I'm thrilled to hear the frozen, not thawed apples worked out so well - I love the fact that I can eliminate the thawing stage.  Now I can freeze any extra apples and know that I have a great recipe for this winter.

If you make apple pie - people will eat it!  There's really no need to fuss too much, but if you're interested, here are a few pie tips I've picked up along the way.

Pie Tips:
  •  Use a glass or dull-metal pie plate for best results. Aluminum pie plates reflect heat that prevents browning and dark pans may cause too much browning.
  • A mix of butter and shortening provides flakiness and tenderness.
  • Keep crust ingredients cold and do not overmix.Overworking leads to gluten formation which will make the dough tough. Overworking or warm ingredients will also break down the fat; it is the pieces of fat that will create tender flakes as it melts.
  • To prevent edges from getting too brown, cover edges with a ring of aluminum foil after the first 15 minutes of baking. To make the ring, cut a 12 inch square piece of foil. Cut out a 7 inch circle from the centre. Place on top of the pie. 
  • Adding some cider vinegar or lemon juice to the crust will help to keep it tender.
  • Start baking in a very hot oven 450˚ for 15 minutes and then reduce the heat to 400˚. This will help the fat create flaky pockets.
  • To avoid a gap between the filling and the top crust, try slicing your apples thinner and/or partially cooking the filling before you put it in the pie. Smaller pieces will reduce air pockets and precooking will reduce some of the water content in apples. If you do this, you may need to add more apples than your recipe calls for. 
  • To prevent a soggy bottom: use a glass pie plate, bake on the lowest rack in the oven, coat the bottom of the pie with butter to seal it before adding the pie filling, cool the pie filling before pouring into the crust, bake at a high temperature.
  • Allow pie to cool for 2 hours before slicing into it to allow the filling to set properly.
  • Cut at least 5 vents into the top pie crust to allow steam to vent out.
  • Line the bottom of your oven with aluminum foil to catch any spills.