No Dig Carrots and Potatoes

Have I mentioned lately how much I love my raised bed garden? I’ve only had to pull a few weeds all summer… and those were only baby sprouts easily plucked from the soil. No tilling or hoeing either. The only maintenance required is watering, fertilizing, staking, and harvesting… harvesting being the easiest and most rewarding chore, if you can even call it a chore. I mean, seriously, if you think that harvesting your crop is a chore, you probably need a hobby other than gardening.

I have been harvesting, and eating, a lot of carrots and potatoes from my garden lately. Want to know how I harvest the potatoes? I reach into the soil and lift them out. No digging. No accidentally piercing them with a shovel or garden fork. No problem! The carrots are equally easy to remove from the soil. What about this is not good?!

Another great thing about growing root vegetables in raised bed garden soil is that they don’t have to compete with stones and hard lumps of soil for territory. They come out of the ground picture-perfect with no battle scars or malformations.

Off to the garden to collect some veggies to toss in the crockpot with a roast!



Bring Me Some Figgy Newtons

The other day, I made my first batch of fig newtons using fresh fruit from our large, ancient fig trees. Even if they didn’t bear fruit, I would adore these trees for their structure. Their knobby lower limbs grow nearly parallel to the ground and make ideal climbing trees for my 7-year old niece. Oh, how I would have loved to have just one of these trees when I was a kid!

Even though the trees are loaded with figs every year, the birds and other critters manage to make a substantial dent in the crop. That’s okay. There’s no way we could eat all of the figs produced by these trees. I just wanted enough to try a couple of recipes – fig cookies and fig newtons. Mission accomplished.

My favorite part about baking with figs is cutting them open. In contrast to the lackluster exterior of a fig, the pulp is an unexpectedly gorgeous, luscious red. Not only are they beautiful, but they are also very easy to process. There’s no need to remove the skin or seeds… just wash and dice. The knife slides through them like butter. Working with figs almost seems too easy.

So… are they good for baking? Yes! I was delighted by the results of the recipe below. The cookie/bar was moist, sweet and figgy-licious!

 

Homemade Fig Newtons

Filling
1 lb. dried figs or 2 lbs. fresh figs (9 medium, 12 small)
1 c. sugar
1/2 or 1 c. water (1 c. for dried figs; 1/2 c. for fresh)

Dough
1/2 c. butter, room temp.
1 c. sugar
1 egg
1 tbsp. cream or milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1 3/4 c. flour

Dice figs and soak in water for 1 hour. Add sugar and cook on medium heat until of thin jam consistency.

Beat sugar, butter, egg, milk and vanilla until well blended. Add dry ingredients. Mix well. Refrigerate 1 hour.

Place half of dough on floured surface. Knead about 6 times. Roll out to 1/4 inch thick. Line bottom of 9 x 13 inch glass dish and cover with figs. Roll remaining dough and cover figs.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.



 

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Purple Potatoes?

I like to plant at least one new, interesting vegetable in my garden each spring. This year, it was purple potatoes. According to their official name, Adirondack Blue, they’re not purple. Unless my mom was messing with my head when she taught me my colors, this potato is purple! Then again, she was a co-conspirator in persuading me to believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy when I was a child. With the exception of Santa, we know these entities are imaginary 😉

Back to talking about blue potatoes that are actually purple. Adirondack Blue is a fairly new hybrid that was released in 2003. This variety is especially high in antioxidants, especially if you eat the skin. You really should eat the skin, you know. It’s not “icky”.

The problem with unusual looking vegetables is that their appearance is sometimes more appealing than their taste. Not true with these ‘taters! They have a rich, nutty flavor and a firm texture. They taste great mashed, boiled, baked, and steamed. This time, I diced them and roasted them with olive oil and fresh rosemary. Tasty!

I’m told these potatoes also make interesting potato chips. Try it!



Sauerkraut & Beer Cake

I made my first Sauerkraut & Beer Chocolate Cake the other day. It doesn’t sound appetizing, does it? Think again!

Even though sauerkraut, chocolate and beer do not sound like a tasty trio, they make a surprisingly moist, rich, chocolate-y cake. Contrary to what many of you fear (based on some of the comments I received when I announced that I was going to make this unusual cake), sauerkraut and beer cake does not taste one bit like sauerkraut or beer. In fact, I believe that something in the sauerkraut and beer enhances the flavor and intensity of the chocolate.

Both sets of my great grandparents came to America from Germany in the late 1800’s. They were hardworking farm folk (homesteaders, actually) with simple tastes and needs. Perhaps that explains my odd passion for cake made with sauerkraut and beer. Or, maybe my curiosity got the best of me when I discovered this intriguing recipe in Grandma Ruth Baumgart’s tin recipe box several years ago. I can’t believe I just now got around to trying it! Not only is it delicious, it’s extremely easy to make because it uses boxed cake mix. Typically, my grandma baked everything from scratch. Not this time! Thanks Grandma 🙂  If you are a glutton for punishment, go ahead and make the entire cake from scratch… or just pretend that you did. I won’t tell.

I urge you to get over your fear of sauerkraut and give this sinfully delicious cake a try. You will not be sorry!

IMPORTANT:
Follow the baking instructions on the box, but DO NOT add the liquid ingredients listed on the box. Use the dry mix only. The only liquid you will need comes from the sauerkraut, beer and eggs.



Check out Prairie Homestead for more homesteading advice, recipes and wisdom!

Fried Green Tomatoes

I’ve lived in South Carolina for 14 years and have never made Southern Fried Green Tomatoes. Bless my heart!  I ate them a time or two when I was a kid in Wisconsin. However, they were the northern version… flour only, no cornmeal. Very tasty. However, there’s something about the gritty crunch of cornmeal that makes Southern-style fried green tomatoes sooooo much better. Mmmm AND mmmm! I could probably devour an old shoe if it was dipped in egg, flour, cornmeal, and then fried! (My arteries are cussing me out as I type this.)

I decided to fry up a batch of tomatoes after I accidentally knocked one of my green tomatoes off while mowing the grass. One tomato wasn’t going to be enough, so I picked a few more. Two of them were a bit on the not-so-green side, yet very firm. I don’t recommend this. The tomatoes definitely need to be green. What was I thinking? The word “green” is right there in the title!

Fried Green Tomatoes

  • 1 large egg
  • 4 tablespoons milk
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 green tomatoes, sliced
  1. In a small bowl whisk together egg and milk. In another small bowl mix cornmeal and flour.
  2. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat; use more or less oil to reach about 1/4 inch in depth.
  3. Dredge tomato slices first in egg mixture, then in cornmeal mixture. Carefully place slices in hot oil and cook until browned on both sides.



Alien Invasion!

I gasped when I saw this creature on my tomato plant.

 

Even though it looks alien-like, it did not beam itself down from a flying saucer and land in my garden for a quick lunch. It is a common, born-on-the-planet-Earth, tomato hornworm.

I caught this big fella noshing on a baby green tomato. Not only do tomato hornworms enjoy tomatoes, but they also snack on eggplants, peppers and potatoes. They eat the leaves, stems and parts of immature fruit… and can defoliate a plant in a matter of days.

Upon closer inspection, this pinky-size worm is quite fascinating. He looks like he has human mouths and eyes up and down his body. I couldn’t bring myself to kill something so oddly beautiful, so I relocated him to a nice spot in the woods instead. Although, that’s probably the same as killing him since he won’t have a food supply in the woods. If he makes his way back to the garden, I’ll let him feast as a reward for his tenacity!

Toe-Curling Tidbit:
The tomato hornworm has a natural predator – the braconid wasp. It lays its eggs inside the hornworm. As the eggs hatch, they eat their way out, which kills the hornworm. If you see a hornworm covered with white larvae (see bottom photo), let nature take its course. After the wasps hatch, you’ll have plenty of natural protection from future hornworms.


Project Simplify (cont.)

Last March, I launched Project Simplify. My mission: to clear clutter from my life and my home. I made a pretty good dent during Phase One Part One and unloaded hundreds of CDs, DVDs, magazines, etc. Then, life happened, and I had to put Phase One of Project Simplify on hold. Now, I’m back with a vengeance!

As you can see from this photo, I have my work cut out for me. There’s more “stuff” where this came from. How did this happen?!

My plan is to continue listing CDs, DVDs and other things I no longer need on eBay. I hope to have all of the DVDs, as well as some other miscellaneous items, on eBay before the sun sets today. What doesn’t sell will be donated!

Project Simplify Phase One Part One



Scandal!

Tomato Plant Caught Mingling With Hydrangea Bush

This photo was taken at the entrance of my house. A couple of months ago, I planted a pair of yellow pear tomato seedlings in pots on either side of the front steps. As you can see, this one is living in harmony with its hydrangea friend… evidence that we can all get along.

It’s not unusual for edible plants to share space with shrubs and flowers. The practice of interplanting vegetables, herbs and flowers is called edible landscaping. Edible plants are just as beautiful, if not more so in some cases, as decorative plants. Not only that, they are delicious and nutritious.

In addition to tomatoes, I am also growing basil, rosemary and blueberries in my flower beds. Edible plants delight my senses as much as my daylilies, purple coneflowers and roses.

On a similar note…
I recently stumbled upon an article about a woman who faces jail time if she doesn’t remove the raised garden beds in her front yard. The beds are quite tidy, if you’re wondering. She is in no way destroying the look of the neighborhood. When did gardening, and the desire to eat fresh, home- grown food, become trashy? Read her story here http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/08/julie-bass-jail-vegetable-garden_n_893436.html

Happy gardening… no matter where you decide to grow your fruits, veggies, herbs and flowers!



Fresh ‘maters and Blackberries

This is what summer is all about, folks!

BLT’s made with vine ripened tomatoes from the garden and blackberry crisp made with our very own fresh blackberries.

 

 

Blackberry Crisp

2 cups fresh blackberries
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1-1/2 teaspoons water
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 cup quick-cooking oats
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup cold butter
Vanilla ice cream

Directions

  1. Place blackberries in a greased 1-qt. baking dish.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the sugar, cornstarch, water and lemon juice until smooth. Pour over berries.
  3. Combine the oats, flour, brown sugar and cinnamon; cut in butter until crumbly. Sprinkle over berries.
  4. Bake, uncovered, at 375° for 20-25 minutes or until filling is bubbly.
  5. Serve warm with ice cream.



Tomatoes That Taste Like Tomatoes

Picking the first tomatoes of the season is an extremely satisfying moment for a gardener. So is biting into a big, fat, juicy BLT made with tomatoes that taste like tomatoes!

I’m growing three varieties this year – Amelia, Goliath and Lemon Boy. I chose them because they are highly resistant to disease, wilt in particular. I’ve had wilt problems in the past and don’t wish to have them again. So far, so good. The branches are loaded with tomatoes at all stages of development. It looks like growing my plants in a raised bed rather than directly in the earth is the answer.

Take that you wascally wilt!