Lots of people have Christmas Cactus plants. They are downright common. I thought that I was purchasing a Christmas cactus, years ago, when I bought a small, spindly sprig from my local WalMart and hoped I could keep it alive.
But, alas… I did NOT obtain a Christmas cactus. This plant has consistently bloomed, every Thanksgiving, without fail. Weather is unseasonably warm; cactus blooms Thanksgiving week. Weather is unseasonably cold; cactus blooms Thanksgiving week. Weather is incredibly different from anything ever seen in human history… you guessed it!
I guess if I am not exactly normal, I can’t expect my houseplants to be.
One of the first things my parents did after we built our log cabin was to plant 2 trees each of pear and apple. Our apple trees never produced well, but most years, the pear has given us (and the deer, squirrels, crows, and even the occasional coyote) more pears than could possibly be consumed.
This year, though, our production is way down and the pears are very small. We are not in a horrible drought, but we didn’t necessarily get rain at the best times for the ripening fruit. But, when we saw a squirrel running across the rail on our back deck with a small pear in it’s mouth, we were pretty sure they were ripe!
I took some to a friend who had been sending over all of her excess produce for me to can up for Winter and then kept a good sized bucket (4 gallon maybe) heaped up for us.
The pears are small and hard with thick skins. Older varieties that were often grown on old farms and homesteads are often hard and grainy. These traits keep the fruit from turning to mush when canned for Winter use.
And canning pears is totally worth the effort! Pear crisps, pies, and other desserts are delicious on a cool day. Pear sauce is tasty and a nice change from apple sauce. We even mix some pear and apple together when we have an abundance.
But, add a few spices and the pear sauce totally transforms into an absolute country delicacy…pear butter. Mmmmm, mmmmm! Just different enough from apple butter to be a touch exotic, it is the best way to use up small, hard pears.
Here is how I make mine:
Wash the pears in cool, clear water and sit aside.
Rough chop them with a large knife and place in crock pot. Don’t peel or core them. Just cut off any obvious bad parts or insect damage (save those for compost). The smaller the pieces, the faster they cook!
Add about 1 cup of water or fruit juice and a tablespoon or two of lemon juice. Place lid on crock pot and turn to high.
When the pears are cooked and have released all of their juices, use a slotted spoon to put them in a food mill or sieve to make a pear sauce, while leaving hard bits of core, skins, and seeds behind.
Strain liquid through a sieve and store in refrigerator (it is tasty to cook oatmeal in it or just to drink it…or use it for the liquid in your next batch of pears).
Return pear sauce to crock pot (I usually refrigerate mine overnight and deal with it the next day) and add sugar (at least 1 cup, possibly more), cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and ground cloves to taste. Just remember to use more cinnamon than any other single spice and you will be fine. If your sauce is runny, let it cook on low all day with the lid a bit ajar so that steam can escape. If too thick, add some pear liquid, just a bit at a time until it is the consistency you would like. If it is just right (and Goldilocks would approve) just let it heat on low for a couple of hours so that the flavors come together a bit.
Then, you can freeze it or can it for later use. I am assuming that there are enough simple water bath canning (and pressure canning) video examples and blog posts to cover the rest of the story. If not, let me know and I can do a post on how to can the pear butter.
This year, we have had a lot of veggies to can up for Winter eating. But, we didn’t grow most of them ourselves. A few we have purchased, but mostly, as we didn’t have the time needed to have a really successful garden this year, friends have given us their excess garden produce. We have been very fortunate to have friends who have shared excess banana peppers, squash, zucchini, corn, green beans, basil, rosemary, and literally almost 2 bushels of tomatoes! We have either eaten fresh or canned for Winter eating from all of these wonderful foods.
We plan to move a lot of our raised garden beds to a different place on our property so that they may get more sunlight than where they are now. Leafy greens, like basil, do really well in that spot, but tomatoes, hot peppers, and beans just don’t seem to take off like they should. I think a couple of extra hours per day of sunshine may make a big difference. Of course, the fact that I spread a very thick layer of “poopy hay” from the riding stables and didn’t leave quite enough time for it to break down, didn’t help my situation a bit.
But, live and learn and I learn a little more of how not to garden every year! Of course, the best garden I have ever had was in old tires filled with purchased compost and rabbit manure. Oh, the peppers and tomatoes were stunning and plentiful. Oh well, I don’t think that the tire garden, no matter how structured and orderly, is going to make it past my parents. As I am not inclined to put them in an early grave, I tend to abide by most of their aesthetic desires for the yard. But, that being said, Patrice over at Rural-Revolution has a hugely productive tire garden!
Not to mention that my Mom isn’t really big on canning, but she is always game to help out, snap beans, prepare tomatoes, and just be my buddy in the kitchen. Canning tasks seem so much easier with an extra set of hands and some good company!
So, have we canned enough that we won’t need to purchase any veggies this Winter? No, but it ain’t over yet! There are still collards, kale, cabbage, and others that I may come up with or purchase. Plus, canning dried beans make fixing a quick meal so easy. At the end of a long day canning, it is so nice to see rows of jars, cooling on folded dish towels. No matter what kind of day it was, just that sight can remind me that it was a truly productive day.
There is nothing that my family likes better than homemade salsa throughout the year. It is the one thing that my sons request that I make in large quantities (that includes the many jams and sweet goodies that I also make).
For them, Mama’s homemade salsa is a sure winner!
I wish I could take credit for this amazing salsa making prowess, but, alas, I cannot. I learned to make homemade salsa from my wonderful hubby, who, in turn, had learned from his mother, an excellent cook.
However, she made hers fresh in small batches whenever she needed some and I make mine and can it for year round eating and some gifts. Hubby and I have learned how to expand those same fresh flavors into a safely canned product that we have been making for years.
First off, please consult a good book or website on food preservation and review the section on Water Bath Canning. As salsa is a high acid food, it can be easily canned in glass jars with two part lids.
This year, we have not had luck with growing tomatoes (last year, either), so we are using #10 cans of diced tomatoes that we got from our local grocery store. It is an economical alternative to fresh tomatoes when they aren’t at hand. It also enables me to make a batch on the fly when tomatoes aren’t in season for gift giving or if we run out (hungry hubby and two teen sons and all that).
Now, I would prefer having crushed tomatoes, but those aren’t available locally in the big cans for me, so I use an immersion blender (either when they are in the can or in the pot) to crush them up a bit for better texture. I pulse cilantro, onions, garlic, and peppers in the food processor, but you can put chunks in a good blender with diced tomatoes and let it grind all up together if you prefer. We have done both ways.
We tend to just add peppers until we like the taste. We do add about 1 tablespoon salt to each big batch, but no other dried spices are needed. So, when it is hot enough to make our eyes water, we heat to boiling and can it according to the latest USDA guidelines.
We will also make a much milder version for most of our friends and other family for gift giving and entertaining. We don’t want to hurt anyone! He he!
Water bath canning is simple and easy to do. Just look up the procedures in a good book or online and follow the steps. You will have a delicious, preservative free, fat free, vegetable salsa in no time. Yum!
Last year, I battled our wascally wabbit to keep him out of our garden. I figured that this little guy had plenty of grass and little shrubby bits on our acreage without decimating our food crops, small though they may be.
In very early Spring, the family made a sweaty day of shoveling old manure and hay into Grandpa’s truck and hauling it home and mounding it on the garden beds, around our lilac and blueberry bushes. Since we weren’t entirely sure how “hot” the nitrogen levels were, we opted to not start seedlings this year and purchase some plants after the manure had time to sit a while.
Today, younger son and I went to our local WalMart (no, I am not thrilled with Wally World, but it is kind of unavoidable around our area and it really was much cheaper per plant this time) to get bedding plants. We were able to find 8 strong tomato plants that were all heirloom varieties that we had wanted to try and two hybrid jalapenos (no heirlooms available). We will augment these with others each payday until our planting beds are full.
Upon returning, I carried an armload of plants out to the garden and heard the sounds of a bunny bounding through the underbrush on the edge of the clearing.
As is my custom, I talked to him and looked around until I spotted him, haughty and sitting upright on the edge of our path into the woods. This has proven to be one seriously bold bunny. He carefully watched me putting plants out into their places to be planted shortly. He cautiously crept closer.
When younger son followed me down with the rest of the plants, I reminded him that we would have to be diligent about making sure that our pallet gate (rigged to the max) was closed tightly and not just propped in place to keep bunny out. He laughed and thought I was being a bit paranoid about the bunny battles that were sure to ensue over the summer.
At just that moment, I smiled and quietly asked him to look over toward our path and, as he turned, our bunny friend (possibly frenemy) startled, jumped, and quickly turned to run, his cotton tail bouncing off into the brush.
He was watching our every move. Wascally Wabbit, indeed!
I love pesto! My hubby uses it in making many delicious meals and we used to buy it in a jar to savor the taste. This summer, I grew basil for the first time and had a bumper crop (read about it here)!
So, I decided to make my own pesto to freeze for the winter. Pesto is an oil based sauce and it can be very thick, so I don’t think that canning would be a good option this time, so freezing seemed the optimal choice for both safety and yumminess.
That having been decided, I didn’t want to take up any more freezer space than necessary. Additionally, I knew that the basil would likely oxidize and turn brown if not packed tightly into containers to minimize air pockets. So, I began to do some research. I have found that the recipes at the One Hundred Dollars A Month blog with Mavis were usually really good, so I decided to modify one of hers.
So here is what I came up with. It is really more of a method than an actual recipe that allows you to use what you have and adjust to taste.
Clean, drained basil leaves
Peeled garlic cloves
Walnuts, Pine Nuts (pricey), pecans, etc.
A decent olive oil
Pack (and I mean pack them in fairly tightly because they will mince down into nothing) basil leaves into your food processor. Add about 4 peeled garlic cloves to the top along with a good handful or two of the nut of your choice (maybe a cup).
Pulse and let the leaves start to grind down. Open the top and add 1 cup or so of parmesan cheese (out of the container from the store is fine or grate your own, just get that goodness in there!).
Turn processor on and drizzle olive oil until the mixture just starts to come together to make a super thick paste. STOP! If you are freezing the sauce, this is where you want it. Pack into small containers or baggies and either fill to the very brim or squeeze all the air out. Label and freeze.
To use the sauce immediately, keep adding that drizzle of olive oil slowly until the mixture becomes a spoonable sauce. It shouldn’t heap up on a spoon, but be just barely pourable. That is perfect for immediate use!
To use the frozen sauce, defrost and then add to a bowl and slowly add in fresh olive oil (stir with a small whisk or a fork) until the consistency is the same as for ready to use. That’s it! Add to your recipes and taste a bit of summertime all year long!
This past year was pretty horrible for our little garden. An unusually wet Spring and early Summer caused many things to just rot where they stood instead of growing and producing as much beautiful fruit and veggies as they would normally. It made me sad.
It was, however, a phenomenal year for our herbs, particularly our basil plants! From our few plants (maybe 9), I harvested gallons and gallons of basil for pesto, to freeze, and to enjoy fresh. My friends were even able to fill their freezers with some yumminess from my plants. It was amazing.
Plus, I still had basil as late as one week ago while many others in my area had pulled up their plants just before the highest heats of the summer. I literally ripped out the plants (which were now waist high with woody stems at the base) and used the last of the good leaves a week ago, so they wouldn’t get caught in a hard frost and start to look horrible and dead.
How did we manage to do this? By recognizing that basil plants “bolt” or flower and go to seed. Many producers rip out their plants on the first signs of them sending up a flowering stalk. I have read time and time again that production will be diminished and the resulting leaves will taste bitter if eaten after the plant has begun to set flowers. But, in my experience, that wasn’t the case at all. Once the plants began to send up the flowering stalks (and in the heat of a Georgia summer, they will send up loads of them at one time) the leaves that the plant will produce will be smaller and bees will begin to flock all over the garden to get at them! To prolong the plant, every time you walk through the garden, pinch off the little flower stalks at the base where two leaves join. Simple. Every time you do this simple act, you are buying more time to grow the leaves that you eat and enjoy. It’s that simple. As for the leaves, they did get a bit smaller after the plants tried to bolt, but they had the same rich flavor as they did before.
My hubby is a very picky eater. He is probably a supertaster, as he can eat a restaurant meal, determine what flavors he tastes and then reproduce it at home. While my brain is going, “Mmmmm, good!” his brain is going, “Is that a touch of Cardamom? With allspice?” Anyways, he thought the basil leaves tasted essentially the same before and after bolting, so that is good enough for me.
Keeping these plants over the summertime allowed us to harvest approximately 10 gallons (no kidding) of leaves for freezing that we would otherwise not have had. And the smallest of those flower stalks that are still tender will go well into a homemade pesto for freezing and taste just like the leaves. I think this qualifies as a thrifty move as well!
To preserve our harvest, I wash leaves in cold water and drain. Then I pack my poor, old food processor to a ridiculous amount and begin to pulse the leaves. After 3-4 pulses, they leaves on top arent’ moving around, so I begin to drizzle a decent olive oil in the processor while it is running. This will make a green slurry. When it is a nice, pasty consistency, spoon into ice cube trays and pack down. Place in freezer. When frozen, transfer to airtight bags or containers and label. To use them, just drop a cube (or half a cube) into the final few minutes of cooking a pasta sauce, soup, etc. at the last few moments of cooking to add a taste of summertime!