Garden, Plant, Cook!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Please take my survey.

Dear Folks,

Please take a moment and answer the "poll" at the stop of the sidebar here on the blog.

I am giving some thought to maybe, perhaps, thinking about it, offering cooking classes in a home-based environment or similar.

I would like to get a feel for how much interest there would be for this, offered by me, Catherine, The Herb Lady.

Thanks for your input.

Have a great day.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Don't Just Stand There - Plant Something - Update #2

Dear Folks,

My friend Brenda writes a regular newsletter and blog on gardening, cooking and "homey" attitudes on family, home and life in general.  She is as much a lover of old time gardening and cookbooks as I am and she has some real gems in her library.  We also both appreciate the old time way of looking at things - nostalgia to many - but maybe a little simpler, more thoughtful and in some cases, kinder than the modern 15 second internet 'buzz.'

In a recent edition of the newsletter she shared a great quote for gardeners from Victory Garden Manual by James H. Burdett, published in 1943.

During the war years victory gardens were not a hobby but a necessity accounting for as much as 40% or more, of the national consumption of produce.

If we were all perfectionists, there would be few gardens. I have made fine vegetable gardens for many years in soil which the experts assured me was not suited to vegetables. If your property does not provide a plot which seems right in all respects, do not give up the idea of the garden. Pick out the most suitable space and take steps to correct its deficiencies.  -- James H. Burdett

Read more of Brenda's post and sign up to receive them regularly at:

I've adopted the declaration "Don't Just Stand There Plant Something" as not only a gardener directive, but also as a life directive.  In stead of saying to myself, what can I do about ... I go out into the garden and 'Do Something.'

I'm not being frivolous about life's travails, I am trying to show readers that growing some of your own food is 'A' solution to many of the challenges in life.

Has the economy taken a hachett to your budget? Plant some food.

Are your children too focused on electronics and 'instant gratification'? Plant some food and help them learn patience.

Are you concerned that your family-member does not have compassion?  Plant some food and teach them to share it.

Do you have a need for a peaceful and quiet place to de-stress?  Plant some food whether in the ground or a large pot.  There is no place more peaceful than your own garden for decompression.

A recent Mother Earth News magazine had several really helpful references for the gardener whether new-to-gardening or experienced.  Many times I am frustrated with national publications complete lack of information for the desert gardener.  MEN had some better than usual information.

Mother Earth News National Survey on Top Home Grown Foods

MEN - Best Garden Foods for the Southwest Survey

And, finally a good article on shade-tolerant vegetables.  BUT FIRST - I want to reiterate the desert gardening reality fact -- if you plant at the right time in our desert garden for the variety of vegetable, fruit, or herb you will not have to provide special shade during our hot summers - most of the time.  The reason is the plant adapts according to its own needs when planted at the right time of the year.  And keep in mind, it is the sun exposure that builds the luscious fruit, tasty vegetable or flavorful herb.  The fact that some of these can tolerate less amount of sun is not meant to convey that you can have a huge amount of success by planting "in the shade" but only that some of them will produce.  Shade means less air circulation which can invite pests, dust and diseases to settle on your plants.

. . .

So you get this great harvest of veggies from the garden.  And you can't eat it all.  What to do?  Obviously you can share it with neighbors, friends and family - and if you and your neighbors formed a 'loose' community garden you can get together and swap at harvest time.

Or you can sell the extra at the local farmers market.

Or you can preserve them.  I was recently gifted with a 1940s era pressure cooker, exactly like one my mom used when I was a child - except this one is a little smaller.  I have a new gasket on order and will be ready to pressure can my homemade tomato sauce and soup broths when it arrives.

Preservation of the bounty can be done by freezing (I make 'pie kits' of our fruit), boiling water canning (fruit preserves with our apricots and peaches), and non-acidic vegetables like asparagus with pressure canning.  And do not forget dehydrating many of the foods and herbs.  While you can certainly purchase a dehydrator or use your oven (expense involved) our summer sun does a wonderful job on food like tomatoes - see my blog post from 2009 on how I dried my tomatoes here.

If you garden successful, at some point you are going to have to 'do something' with the bounty.  Give some serious thought to how you will deal with, so you do not get discouraged and decide that gardening with food is too much work!

Canning sounds like a lot of work, doesn't it?  The reality is yes and no.  At harvest time on the farms, canning is a days and weeks long project to get the harvest 'put by' for the winter, because the references you usually see are to the 4 season locations where they had 3-4 months to grow and preserve everything.

Our desert gardens give us a more leisurely approach to preserving extra harvest.  If you want to can 16 quarts or pints at a time, you can certainly do that, but sometimes I use my small soup stock pot (with a rack in the bottom) to can 4 pints at a time.

With most homes lacking a stand up freezer - freezing harvests is less of an option, and canning becomes far more appealing.

If you have never canned food it is VERY important that you read up on it and make sure you understand the standards and methods used for the various types of foods.  Poorly canned food is a serious health hazard.  Mason jar home canning has been around since 1858, so successful home preservation has a very long history of safety and usefulness.  You just need to make sure you know what is needed and follow the instructions and DO NOT use non-specific shortcuts.

After the harvest much of the enjoyment is eating, saving and sharing the food!

. . .

Kicking back in the backyard to enjoy our work is a leisure we love.  I usually have something to drink whether it be sparkling water (I'm not much of a soda drinker except my homemade ones with our fruit syrups), a glass of wine, or homemade liquors (I've made prickly pear and cranberry in the past).

I found a neat "Tea Thyme Cocktail" in Food & Wine Magazine to share with you.

Mixologist Kathy Casey of Kathy Casey Food Studios–Liquid Kitchen steeps vodka in English Breakfast tea for this drink.

When designing your garden for cooking themes you may wish to incorporate a 'beverage' theme.  During the warm months I begin my sun tea with sprigs of herbs for flavoring green or white tea.  So many of our fruits, vegetables and herbs make nice drinks whether alcoholic or not.

I developed a really light refreshing 'tisane' using spearmint and lemon verbena.  You can vary the ratio of spearmint to lemon verbena or try other herbs.  This kind of 'light tea' is served as a replacement for plain water at meals.

Lemon / Mint Refresher

5 sprigs of lemon verbena and spearmint (try 3 lemon 2 mint)
1 cup boiling water
Sweetener of choice (1/2 teaspoon of honey, agave nectar, or sprinkle of sugar or a leaf or two of stevia)
3 cups very cold water or water and ice combined

Add sweetener to boiling water, stir to dissolve, add herbs stir and steep for 20 minutes. Strain and add to cold water. Sip and enjoy.

Change around the ratio of lemon and mint to find your favorite!

Have a great week!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady