Sunday, July 31, 2016

My Imperfect Plot: Grazing From the Garden

The last couple of weeks have been great for the garden.  We got a little more rain, and a lot more sun.  The beans, despite having been accosted by a deer (or a few) have continued to produce.  I will not get enough to can up for the winter, especially since we are not sharing with the deer, but we have had several good meals of them and shared with a few neighbors too.  

The squash has slowed down a bit, but remain a dinnertime staple.  I’m still open to suggestions if you have a new way to cook these bunny-like producers.  We have four eggplant plants that have each already given us one good sized fruit, while more glossy purple lobes grow more every day.  At my #2’s suggestion I tried a new recipe for an eggplant on Wednesday.  She will try almost anything I make, but doesn’t generally want to spend time cooking with me or offer suggestions.  So when she leafed through the cookbook last weekend and remarked “hey, we should try this” I jumped on it!  To my surprise, the ricotta and mushroom stuffed beauty went over pretty well.  Just don’t tell them there were mushrooms in it.  I may have left-out that little detail.  

Next week when #1 and #2 get back from camp, we’ll make eggplant parmesan.  It’s not something I do often, and I need to look it up again.  I prefer not to do the deep fried breaded version.  I try to do things a bit more healthfully, and to be honest I’m not good at frying things.   Put more that a couple of tablespoons of oil in a pan and I’m bound to splatter it everywhere, stain my shirt and ultimately burn myself (or even worse, someone else)
A daily haul from the garden

I’m not sure what to think about the tomatoes.  There are lots of plants, three or four different kinds.  If you look under the leaves, there is a plethora of green orbs clinging to the vines, just waiting for the sun and nutrients to penetrate their firm skins, turning first to yellow, then orange and finally the coveted red glow, begging to be eaten.  The whole thing looks so promising, my mouth waters just thinking of it.  Unfortunately, something seems to be not quite right.  

One of the varieties I picked is called “Early Girl”, a fitting name, specifically selected because they should be ready early--producing the first of the summers juicy bounty.  I have picked three of these girls.  There appears to be little, if any, more orange glowing from the depths of the foliate.  My daughter asked the other day if I had picked the tomato that was ripening.  The answer was no, but when we went to pick it, there was none to be found.  I’ve settled on two theories.  Either the plants are too close and not enough sun is getting through to efficiently ripen them.  Or (this is the way I am leaning) those majestic beautiful creatures that my brother likes to hunt expect me to share!  Yes, I think I am sharing my garden with the deer.  

That all started a few days after I pulled the garlic.  We’ve had deer before, wandering through the neighborhood, eating the tops of fresh tender plants, but this year, they’ve stayed away.  Until we pulled out the garlic, that is.  A couple of days after I harvested those pungent bulbs, the signs were glaring.  The tops of my beans had been gnawed off.  Thankfully, there were still enough beans to pick, but damage had been done.  A few days later, the prints were more numerous and not only had the bean plants gotten even shorter, the tips of the tomato plants had suffered.  Raw edges jutted out at weird angles where there had once been bendy vines and soft leaves.  Now, I suspect they are stealing my tomatoes!  Selectively!  Could they really be taking only the ripe tomatos?  Saddly I think so.  My hope is that the bundle of them ripen more or less at the same time, allowing me to get what I want to can and still allowing them to have their taste.  

Why am I so willing to share?  Well, I don’t think there is much I can do about it.  My brother, I am sure, would volunteer to sit on my patio with his 22 or even his bow, but I’m pretty sure that would break far too many laws to be worth it.  Not to mention the obvious: our neighbors are so close it would be highly dangerous--even if he is a good shot (which might be negotiable).  My darling husband has offered to forgo the comforts of modern plumbing to assist the efforts, and several have suggested spreading dog hair on the plots perimeter.  I’m not sure these approaches will work, but if I don’t get some ripe tomatoes soon, I may have to find out.  

Stuffed peppers from the garden
In the meantime, the peppers are making me very happy.  My peppers have never produced so well.  I’ve taken to adding banana peppers to everything from scrambled eggs, and tacos to salads, and the pizza/calzones we made last night for dinner. I just love the taste of those crunchy, sweet, but bitty yellow cone shaped peppers.  The Bells are phenomenal this year too.  I spent about two and a half hours in the kitchen yesterday morning cooking/freezing up the peck of peppers I picked.  I only picked the biggest ones too.  There are more biding their time on the vines, bent low from the weight.  I made a double batch of my favorite stuffed peppers for my inlaws and my girls (#1 has been begging all week).   I also made bags of what I call “Lazy Stuffed Pepper Casserole” for the freezer.  The recipe is basically what I make to stuff the peppers, but I leave out the rice and cheese, and chop the peppers.  

Later this winter when it’s cold and gloomy, I will put it on the calendar for a day when Craig makes dinner.  All he will have to do is open the bag, dump it’s contents into a casserole dish, add a cup of rice, pour in 2 cups of water, and put the whole thing in the oven for about an hour.  We stir in the cheese when the rice is just about done.  I started doing this last year when my sister’s peppers overwhelmed her.  It’s a good healthy comfort food and it’s easy to make on work nights when time is tight.  It does take a bit of prep work, lots of chopping (I think I should look for a bigger chopper bowl for my food processor).  However, in about twice the time it would have taken to make the regular stuffed peppers that we would have had anyway, I added six more meals to my freezer for later.  Those six meals will take about five minutes each to put in the oven.  For me, it is well worth the effort.   Quick homemade meals, without chemicals, from produce grown in our own yard, ready to go for the middle of winter. What’s not to love about that?   

The hot varieties are not quite ready to be picked yet.  But when they are….oh the things we will make!  

Wendy Bacon likes to cook, can and freeze especially when her husband cleans up the dishes afterwards (hint hint).