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Acquiring Winter Wisdom

Recycled celery from the kitchen and tomato starters from the compost will be my first winter crop…

I have tomato starters growing on the deck in little pots right now, very late October. I rescued the sprouts from the compost heap a few weeks ago, because I have a hard time letting go of living things. At the time I had a vague idea about actually starting a greenhouse this winter and miraculously having some of these ripe beauties for a salad in the middle of winter. I’ve heard that it’s possible, but I haven’t done it yet myself.

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Canning Anxieties Revealed

These jars of carrots lost a lot of liquid while in the electric pressure canner.
These jars of carrots lost a lot of liquid while in the electric pressure canner.

Yesterday was my day to can carrots, which I did, but I had some troubles that weren’t entirely unexpected, and then learned, from people who know better than me, that I shouldn’t even be using my new (sort of) electric canner. This is proof that after more than a decade of all this homesteading stuff, I still make mistakes like a gullible virgin! Let me explain.

Vegetables like carrots have to be canned with a pressure cooker. I am entirely comfortable with a water bath canner, but have had repeated trouble with loss of liquid from jars in my pressure canner. I read up on that and found out that if the jars are sealed it’s still safe, if not as attractive. But then, once, when I canned some cubed sweet potato, I found the canner itself completely empty of liquid when I opened it after processing. Now that scared me a little! I wondered what could have happened if I had left it going for another few minutes. Now I have realized that that’s when I walked out on my cook top canner in a moment of irritation. I turned my back and went on an expensive dutch date with a brand new electric canner. That turned out to be a big mistake. And I don’t know why I was even so sure that it would solve my problem (it didn’t) anyway.

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Planning for Canning

Should I use tarragon or rosemary? It’s hard to decide.

I don’t have a master plan for canning in the summer and fall. If I did I wouldn’t stick to it because that would probably be impossible. Generally, if it’s piling up then something has to be done with it before it spoils. That’s the long and short of my master plan. Some foods last for awhile though, especially if refrigerated or put into cold storage. Last year I kept my carrot crop fresh in a refrigerator drawer for a long time. I finally grated what I had left and made a couple of quarts of fermented carrots that I kept in the fridge for salads and ginger carrot salad dressing.

It is late October now, and I still have about six or seven pounds of carrots. A few days ago I decided to can them instead of fermenting them. The first step was to look for a recipe. I decided to try one from the Better Homes and Gardens Complete Canning Guide. But their Rosemary Carrots recipe requires chicken broth. Well, I have a quart of smoked turkey broth in my pantry but no chicken broth, so like any honest homesteader I had to make my chicken broth first. Since I had frozen several bags of chicken gizzards and other parts when we butchered some of our chickens in the spring, (no master plan for those either,) I decided to make broth with those. But I didn’t have time to tend to a pot of chicken broth on the stove top, so I made the broth over night in the crock pot.

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In Search of Tahini

I thought I was through writing about eggplant, but I’m not. Last time I was dishing about my eggplants I was roasting more than twenty of them to freeze in cubes and make puree. Now the cubes are in the freezer, and I scrounged up more containers for the puree too, but I didn’t want to just freeze all of it. I want to use some of the fresh puree to make baba ghannouge, which I have never made before. But even without looking up a recipe, I already know that I need tahini (sesame seed paste). So I have unfinished business with my eggplant puree, and we definitely did not grow any sesame seeds this summer!

Having now lived in Greenville for a little more than ten years I can say that I have lived here continuously longer than I have lived anywhere else. In my travels I have turned to middle eastern shops, when available, for a nutritious and reasonably priced meal. But in all the time that I have been here I never knew about Pita House, both a middle eastern market and restaurant. There’s a sign on the door that says cash or check only, and that’s the way they have been doing it for thirty two years now, according to the very friendly and polite young man at the register. They had tahini at a reasonable price, and I bought two pounds.

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Cucumber Salad

Cucumber Salad to keep in the fridge.
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Sometimes when a cucumber vine gets going some of the cucumbers grow too large and turn yellow. When that happens I cut it from the vine and leave it there in the garden. It creates the opportunity for the cucumber to reseed itself and become a late season cucumber vine. Now in late October, I have one growing in the kitchen garden. It’s good timing because just a week or so ago I finished the cucumber salad that I prepared in early summer.

Cucumbers are cooling, which I’m imagining might be good for hot flashes (waking me up early lately.) Dr. Lee told me that cucumbers are better than lettuce for women (and lettuce is very good for men). Since most everything he has told me has turned out to be helpful, I’m taking his word for that.

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Setting up for Spring

The future is buried beneath rich soil.
I searched for good dirt in the compost with my shovel. 
I hoed two empty garden beds and made rows.
With my trowel I made holes for garlic bulbs in the beds,
and buried tulip and daffodil bulbs in my pots and kitchen boxes.
With my imagination I see so much more than dirt.
I pray that we will all rise toward the sun come spring,
and the world will be more beautiful.
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Homesteading in the City

Last week I asked how homesteaders were initiated, and I talked about how I got started with canning. But I’ve been thinking since then about how I used to know people in New York City who kept gardens in community plots. Even though I didn’t even think about doing something like that at the time, it had more of an influence on me than I realized simply because I became aware that other people were doing it. If I moved back to New York City (which I don’t plan to) I would be one of those people on my knees in a garden or advocating for a roof garden, or in some way contributing to making urban life more natural.

So I ask the question, why can’t a city be green? Why shouldn’t city people be able to grow their own food or climb a tree? I’m not the person to say that everyone should move away from the city and start their own gardens. I believe that wherever you live, that’s your homestead. There is so much that we can do to eat healthy food and live more natural lives no matter where we are. It may seem impossible but if we start one step at a time, we can make meaningful and long lasting changes. Probably the most important step of all is to teach our children.

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Herbal Activity

Dried thyme, basil and sage on my kitchen table, with the thresher I use to process them.

There’s a lot of canning and freezing going on this week by those who are taking in and preserving their harvests. I’m one of those people. I already talked about my date with the eggplants yesterday, and I’m planning on pickling my banana and jalapeƱo peppers before the week is over. While I’ve been doing that dance with boiling water and chopping boards, I didn’t have to do anything to dry these herbs except leave them alone.

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Even More Ways to Preserve Eggplant

I’m always seeing hearts in my vegetables…

A month ago I was writing about what to do with eggplant because I had so many in my kitchen. In that post I talked about making fried eggplant and eggplant parmesan. When eggplant love is new it tastes so sweet and delicious. After a couple months of eating and freezing the stuff, I start to think about other vegetables again. My husband stopped watering his garden about a month ago, after he harvested everything else. He left his eggplants to their own devices while it was very hot and dry. We had almost no rain that whole time. But to our surprise, the eggplants have thrived while gardens have withered all over the Upstate.

We have trouble giving eggplant away. Our friends and neighbors mostly don’t like or never tried an eggplant and don’t show any signs of changing their minds. I was tempted to just let those eggplants go to seed, but they looked so big and beautiful; it would have been a shame and a waste. So yesterday I went down in the field and picked most of them, and also dealt with them very quickly after looking for some new ideas online and finding a couple at FreshBitesDaily.com.

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