Big City, Little Homestead

Living rural in the city.

Category: Food, Cooking, and Processing (page 1 of 2)

Ripening your green tomatoes

This is going to be the shortest blog post (aside from link shares) ever. In fact, here in October, I feel some chagrin for not posting this earlier, but if you still have tomatoes in the garden, they’re not going to ripen this season, unless you do this:

Pull up the plant in its entirety and hang it upside down in your garage or cold cellar. All the cherry tomatoes on this plant – and there were many more; I’ve harvested them regularly – were green when I pulled it up at the end of September. I’m getting a lot more than I thought possible – at least 40 off of 3 plants!

Garden bees, beasts, and plants update

Yay house slippers. 

Well, I’ll bee. I wish I had a camera just a moment ago. I went outside to dump this week’s litter box into the compost, and right away encountered a leafcutter bee in flight, with a leaf disc in its paws. Right over by the compost bin is a rose bush that was in bloom a few weeks ago, which has had subsequent growth (it will bloom at least once more; the established Cabot roses are blooming now, whereas the transplants, in their second year, are still just getting established). This rose bush has long been a favourite of leaf-cutting insects, and now I know that they’re native bees, using my rotting logs for nesting sites. They are welcome to it. I always have kept a couple of logs and some brush piles for wildlife to hide in or climb.

The Mason bee house is occupied, and I have also seen it being used as a source of fibre for other bees, gathering material for their hive. They chew up the wood and build paper for nesting cells. This includes the wasps who are again succeeding in occupying the upper corner of my garage door.

Middle hole
Middle hole
Bottom two holes
Fibre gatherer

As for beasties: Though I’ve seen scrapes and mowed-down day lilies earlier this season, last week my resident skunk kicked out a lot of dirt from under my deck. I had to take what she excavated, a pile about six inches deep on top of my penny royals and flagstones around the pond, and spread it out over the rest of my garden, rather than push it back under the deck.

Things grew while I was in Ontario a week ago. My ground cherry plants and some tomato plants needed transplanting from their pots into the plots that were too sparse; since I transplated them on the weekend, we’ve had some rain and some sun and they are all settling in and I can expect more growth. My lettuce bed is coming along despite being attacked by slugs; arugula does the best. I’m counting on a harvest this year. My peas grew and then got eaten by something that made the leaves look lacy. My beans in the front yard are bushing out or climbing the fence.

Flax is even growing!

The tomatoes are far from flowering (except one tomato is on the vine) but that is OK by me – so far. The cucurbits are flowering – a good sign. But, my marigolds have done nothing since I planted them. And the strawberry plant came up, but did nothing since. Maybe next year.

I’m considering what to do about my messy garden in the back. Its configuration and ability to grow stuff is just not the greatest. I’ve decided in the fall to do a soil test, rent a rototiller, and and lay on a thick layer of whatever will correct the soil, and then plant things that best grow in partial shade and sun and a decent amount of rain (the front yard is drier). Also, I look at other gardens and realize that it is probably wiser to buy seedlings than to start them from seeds yourself; if I build the garden shed that I recently conceived, then I’ll have a better space to start the seeds – but I’ll still buy more seedlings than I have in the past as I’m just tired of transplanting with a low success rate. And, if I build the garden shed, I’ll reclaim more space for a better configuration of food plants mixed in with ornamentals. I could have a prettier back yard and all I’ll lose (maybe) is a dining table that I hardly ever use. Plus, I have a grapevine starting that looks promising.

Red pepper jelly – Gelée de piments rouges

You have to read past the big roll o’ fencing to find out more…

On Monday morning, I had planned out an awesome Homestead day. The weather was beautiful so I was only lacking one person and one tool (a post-pounder, an auger, or a sharp-shooter) for finally replacing my rustic-unchic front fence. This is the kind of fence I want, minus the barbed wire, but instead, I’ve got a roll of this –> which should look something like this when done. I’ve got nice round cedar fence posts from the country, rather than square city posts.

Instead, being one person too short (yes, I am one person and, at 5’4″, too short, but here I mean too few), I mucked about with what remained of putting the garden to bed for winter, and covered the rose bushes. Yes, I have rose bushes. I barely deserve them. (So rarely does one have what one deserves!) In so doing, I got stung by a wasp on the fleshy part of my left hand. That put a stop to further garden work – and then the sun went behind the clouds.

It also put a stop to chopping, so I didn’t tackle the red pepper jelly until today. These beautiful red “piments rouges” peppers – which doesn’t translate into pimentos, which are stumpier – came courtesy of the grocery store, which is so kind as to give me, the bunny lady, their trimmings and vegetables destined for la poubelle. I gave a few peppers to the rabbits (they were not so spicy as to be a problem) before I thought to make jelly out of them. Red pepper jelly is a great addition to any cheese or cold cut sandwich.

I found the recipe easily enough in my collection of cookbooks from yesteryear – which are, bar none, the best cookbooks if you’re into the idea of local food. When I cannot find a pickle or preserve suggestion in my mother’s old stash, I go straight to Jehane Benoit’s Encyclopedie de la cuisine canadienne. Between this book and Mrs. Appleyard’s Family Kitchen, I have the historical stories and recipes of my entire region’s local food prior to the globalization glut that landed cantaloupe on every restaurant breakfast plate in the month of March, and the concomitant assumption that the food supply chain takes care of everything so that all we have to do is choose. — hobby horse ends here for now.

The recipes are diverse and simple. On this page, you can see quince (coings), mint (menthe fraîche), parsley (persil), lemon verbena (vervaine), and sage (sauge) jelly. Most if not all of these will be eaten with cheese or meats, so it’s no surprise that they’re on the same page as red pepper jelly. However, they also have (swoon) currant and elderflower jelly (groseilles aux fleurs du sureau). I’m half-Danish, and when I first had elderflower juice in Copenhagen (København) it struck a chord with me that I knew this and I’d had it before, though I could not say how or where. But as Swedish venture would have it, one can now get it at IKEA. And you can get elderflower or elderberry tea at the Polish bakery.

So I’m making the jelly today. The peppers are on the old side, so they were drying out – which made them fabulously easy to de-string and seed, though more difficult to chop. The wasp-stung hand had some work to do. Presently I’m waiting for the four hours to elapse for the peppers to sit in salt. Did you know that Windsor is next to Detroit, where they have a huge salt mine? It’s worth seeing the Time photo essay. Yet despite the Windsor mine being in Windsor, Windsor Salt is headquartered near to me, in Pointe Claire, QC. (And since I’m showing sugar here, I have a blog post on that.)

When the pepper jelly is done, I’ll probably update this with another photo. Though this one, with the ingredients, is more illustrative than a Bernardin jar with pretty red contents.

…et voilà: 

Early November activities

I haven’t updated in almost a month, and that is a good thing because the posts would have been obsessed with squirrels. (No pictures. Not for now, anyway. Trust me, I’ve got pictures.) They are under strict (oh well, not so strict) rationing of two to three chestnuts per day, given out to two or three squirrels. The two boys – Rufus and Clyde – know me well. Clyde dominates Rufus, but Rufus seems to be more like a pet. Occasionally, a smaller squirrel comes by and I chuck it a chestnut that it fails to notice, because squirrels are not super-scenters like dogs are, it seems.

We had our first frost a couple of nights ago, and the swiss chard is surviving, as it usually does, but its days are numbered and so I’ll be eating more of it in the coming weeks. The rabbits are getting peevish about receiving expired tomato leaves, but I’m also giving them juicy wilted nasturtiums. The green tomatoes are in a box in the garage, still on their vines, and the green ones in the kitchen are turning red.

I canned the sauerkraut as soon as I saw a bloom on it, and I cooked down two of the three pumpkins. The third became a Jack-o-Lantern for Hallowe’en. It’s on the table on the back patio, and both Rufus and Clyde have had fun chewing it – on the outside and from the inside!

There is one house sparrow, a little male, first-year it seems, who broke his leg and so he’s not that able to perch – he must hunker down on his foot. He comes with the other groups of sparrows and gets his fair share of millet seed. He is more flighty than the others since he must be defensive about his disability, but I hope he will be OK over the winter with enough food and water. I watched him strategize having a bath in the pond yesterday. Today the first red Northern Cardinal came by.

And as for myself, now that I’ve put the garden away for the winter (unless I can find a someone to help me install a fence before the ground is too frozen), I structure my day to get the most work I can do underway. There was a time in my life where, I kid you not, I had “1063 actions to do under 54 projects.” Those days are over! I have something like 7 underway now: I have a quilt to finish blocking and bagging. I have mittens to knit, and after that, a sweater and a pair of socks. I have to find and get a job. I am writing a book. I have pitches to prepare, though I only ask myself to send out one this month. I have a day this week at the House of Commons and a day at the Assemblée Nationale to advocate for woodland caribou and other concerns. And I have to look at getting a financial advisor.

What’s for dinner? Pumpkin everything!

**Good news! My home-made sauerkraut is flippin’ awesome.**
Two evenings ago, I baked one of the three pumpkins I brought back from Ontario. As the fastest way to process a pumpkin is by baking it, I just cut it in half, scooped out the seeds and pulp, and put it in the oven with a little water. But the baking takes an hour and a half, and The Most Important Rule For Cooking that I learned as a child – which it floors me that more people don’t know – is… well, it’s first, don’t use the oven in summertime, but…When You Use The Oven, Cook More Than One Thing. Cook three, in fact:
  • Roast, scalloped potatoes, custard
  • Squash, casserole, cake
  • Pizza, … well, that takes only 20 minutes, so you can get away with only the pizza…
  • Chicken, baked potatoes, pie! 

I’m a vegetarian so I don’t cook meat anymore. I make other stuff. This time, I cooked pumpkin, eggplant parmagiana, cranberry-apple crisp with walnuts, and the pumpkin seeds.

The cran-apple crisp, you can wing on your own. I used less butter than was called for, but it was organic butter. It goes in for about half an hour. The oven was at 375ºF.

Eggplant parmagiana is two slices of eggplant, salted to draw the water out, then rinsed, dipped in egg and flour, and fried in a cast iron skillet. Then add the tomato sauce and mozzarella and bake it for maybe half an hour, not even. Serve with spaghetti or linguini.

And the seeds – oh how I love pumpkin seeds! – are first boiled in salty water, strained and picked of the pulp, and dumped into an oiled skillet and put in the oven. They went in for about 45 minutes, forgotten, but not burned. Far from it. They were just slightly less oily than I usually like them, so I can warm them up again in the smaller skillet in the toaster oven.

The next day, having left the pumpkin in the oven overnight, I had to clean up where the juice seeped out of the pumpkin and out onto the floor. Then I mashed the pumpkin in the skins and scooped it out, keeping the extra juice by using a colander and bowl in the process. I froze half of it, another quarter was transformed into a beautiful soup, and the last quarter was reduced and slightly caramelized in butter, in the cast iron skillet, in preparation for making pie.

Pumpkin Soup: 
Butter to sauté
1/2 onion
Large slice of ginger root
Two rings of red pepper
*if you have it: fresh fennel.* If you don’t, add fennel seeds.

After sautéeing, add:
1/4 of a pumpkin, mashed
2 small potatoes, quartered
Add the pumpkin juice from mashing
Salt and pepper, and sage if you like
Clap the lid on the pot and let boil. The pumpkin has a lot of water in it, enough to cook everything if you keep the lid on. Add a bit more water if you’re worried it might dry out.

20 minutes later:
Mash the pot contents, remove (if you want) the ginger slice, and then purée the whole with either a blender or a Braun handimixer. If you remove the ginger slice, you can further slice or dice it and add it back in. It’s nice to have a little chunky kick. Add more salt and pepper at this stage.
To cream the soup, stir in a 1/4 cup of real cream, whole milk, or coconut milk.


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