Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Quick Dinner: Zucchini Tartlets Reprise

So, remember when I made the Zucchini Tartlets and froze half of the filling for later? This morning, I put that frozen baggie in the fridge to thaw, and tonight we had tartlets again. It turns out that this frozen zucchini filling makes a quick and easy weeknight dinner.

All I had to do was open a can of crescent rolls, press the dough into the muffin tin and spoon the pre-made filling into the cups! Throw it in the preheated oven, and we have dinner in half an hour. I did stir the filling well first, in case any ingredients had separated. And, since my filling was still a little icy, I baked the tartlets longer than when preparing them fresh—20 minutes or so. I am pleased to report that they turned out just as good!

Making the filling and freezing it for later might be a great way to preserve your late-summer zucchinis, just when you're getting tired of eating them. Cold weather is on the way, and who knows when you'll have a hankering for that wonderful taste of summer?

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Monday, September 28, 2009

How 'bout them apples?

From our latest tree-climbing expedition...just wait till you see what we did with them!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Crab Apple Butter

Back in mid-August, we harvested 35 1/2 pounds of large red crab apples (sizes ranged from large cherry to near golf ball), and the very same day canned 20 pints (and froze several more) of delicious crab apple butter. From picking to canning, it is a long all-day affair, but I'm telling you these lip-smacking preserves are totally worth it.
Last year—our first year canning anything—we managed only 10 pints of crab apple jam, and it took almost four hours just coring the little buggers (they do have seeds almost as big as regular apple seeds). Because crab apples naturally contain a lot of pectin, the finished product was a thick jelly with little chunks of crab apples. Very tasty, but I felt the process as well as the product could be improved. Since then, we have acquired a cone-shaped fruit and vegetable sieve, which eliminated the need for coring. We needed only to pare off any bad spots we noticed as we rinsed and de-stemmed. In a short time, our 32-quart pot was full—literally full—of all 35 1/2 pounds of our fruit.
Next, we added some water (12-14 cups) and cooked them. And stirred, stirred, stirred. The two bad things about using a pot that big are that you must stir constantly or the bottom will burn and that you have to stand on a chair to do it. On the other hand, it was great to be able to deal with all of the crab apples at once.
Once the crab apples were nice and mushy (doesn't take too long), we starting putting batches through the sieve, to press it into a smooth, seed-free consistency.
The crab apple puree then went back into the giant pot, and we added about five pounds of sugar and six cinnamon sticks. We brought it all to a boil again, stirring constantly as always, to ensure that the sugar dissolved and that any lurking bacteria were boiled out of existence.
All the while, we'd been sterilizing small batches of jars and lids in a pot of boiling water. At last, late at night, we ladled boiling hot crab apple butter into the jars, listening to the satisfying "pink!" of the lids sealing as we waited for subsequent batches of jars to be ready.
If you have a crab apple tree, I highly recommend making some preserves, even if you just whip up a small amount for one jar in your fridge. It's excellent on toast, pancakes, ice cream, PBJ, biscuits...
Our family of preserves: apricot jam, apple butter, crab apple butter.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Happy Autumn!

Could it be the first day of fall already? The pleasant weather here in Chicagoland definitely shows it.

The summer was so busy, I can hardly believe it's over. At the same time, the temperatures have been so mild, summer barely seemed to have arrived. My pathetic garden is proof of that. The way things are going (i.e., slow), I'm not sure my mums are even going to bloom before it gets too cold.

Yes, I got several handfuls of cherry tomatoes and those two sorry excuses for cucumbers you saw in my previous post. And, I did enjoy some spinach and lettuce early in the season. Oh OK, the raspberries and strawberries did great in their small spaces, but their prime time ended months ago, meaning I had almost the whole summer to watch nothing spectacular happen in my yard. Disappointing after the initial excitement of spring seedlings and the decent June/July harvest of greens and berries. I am ashamed and disappointed to say that most of what I planted either didn't grow well or didn't grow at all. And besides the tomatoes (which still could have been more bountiful), the stuff that did grow didn't produce much, if at all. My trial and error (mostly error) with herbs in small containers didn't really work out until just recently—I have a much more vigorous bunch of herbs (basil, cilantro, parsley, green onions) growing right now. I have yet to see the beginnings of an actual pumpkin on our little pumpkin vines. Considering what day it is, I guess I won't see any pumpkins this year. Oh well...

My last tasks for the growing season:
  • Enjoy what's left of the nice weather while picking the tapering supply of tomatoes and herbs.
  • Stir the compost!
  • Pull up my remaining shallots and plant the clusters of shallot "heads" for next year.
  • Think about the plan for next year's edible garden.
  • Possibly build a second compost bin (well, ask Len to build one for me) so we can alternate bins each season, maximizing output and minimizing stirring and sifting.
  • Separate what "finished" compost I can and spread it on the permanent garden beds to help get the soil ready for next spring.
  • When it starts getting colder for real but before it really frosts, trim back the raspberry bushes and grape vines. (Oh yeah, I got a few small bunches of small grapes, did I tell you that? They looked more like currants. I was pleased, this being their first full season.)

So Happy Autumn, everybody. I hope your garden produced better than mine, and as you're doing your end-of-season tidying up, don't forget to compost your yard waste.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Would you look at that?

My cucumbers.

All two of them.

These pitiful things, folks, are the result of shallow, heavy, clay earth. And poor sunlight.

I have work to do in this yard before next spring...