This time of year is a busy one at Sweet Briar Cottage. This week I canned 13 pints of beans, 20 quarter-pints of jalapenos, 7 half-pints of maple-vanilla-peach jam and 8 quarts of peaches.
We also started a crock of sauerkraut. The directions for making it are here. We didn't grow our own cabbage because we can buy a ten pound head for $1.40 at a local vegetable stand. Two heads are all the cabbage we need and it costs about the same as a packet of seeds. Takes up less space in the garden also. Which reminds me, someone asked why I don't raise chickens. Our village has an ordinance against it, but it just isn't cost effective for us. By the time you buy the feed and house a small flock, and they don't lay too much during our harsh winters, those eggs are getting expensive. It helps that I can buy free-range ones just outside of the village limits for $2 a dozen. We use less than a dozen a month. You always have to weigh the benefits when being thrifty. Of course, chickens do give the place atmosphere, so if they ever change the ordinance, neighbor Tom has offered to split the costs with us.
In the garden, we are harvesting our first tomatoes! If you have ever tasted an heirloom variety picked fresh from the garden, still warm from the sun, you will understand why the tomato is a fruit and not a vegetable. So wonderful! So sweet! Every year I fret over them. Will they ripen before the first frost? This has been such a strange year; we are already digging potatoes, but the corn is still puny and I'm not sure the pumpkins will ripen this year before a heavy frost. I don't ever remember things growing so tall, either. The hollyhocks have to be at least ten feet tall, and the sunflowers too. The lilies come up to my shoulders and we have to beat back the black-eyed Susans. On the other hand the corn is floundering and the Concord grapes are just hard little green pebbles. Gardening! It's always feast or famine, that's why it's so important to preserve what you can; you never know when you'll get more!
We save most of the seeds from our garden, as many are rare heirloom varieties. It helps keep the costs of gardening down. This week we are collecting the seeds from our tomatoes. Each year we select the earliest, most perfect, sweetest, meatiest ones; traits we are trying to breed into them The textbook way to save tomato seeds is to cut open the tomato, scoop out the seeds, place in a jar of water, stirring a couple times a day, let the pulp ferment at room temperature for a couple day, the seeds drop to the bottom, pour off the pulp, repeat this procedure until the seeds are clean, spread the seeds on a paper towel to dry. However, I've found it is easier to put the seeds in a fine mesh sieve and wash the pulp off under running cold water, then just plop the seeds onto a porcelain plate to dry, scrape them off the plate when they are dry and store.
Our dear friend, Mary, gave us a bunch of ferns from her garden.
"Walking, I am listening to a deeper way. Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still they say. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands."
~ Linda Hogan, Native American Writer~
One old-fashioned thing we are doing this week, is cleaning all our room-sized rugs. Just like the old washerwomen of days past, we fill tubs (modern-day storage bins work also) with soapy water, throw in the rugs and stomp on them with our feet, like we are making wine. In another tub, we rinse them. Then we lay them over clothes lines, bushes and this make-do (two sawhorses and the garden table) for our very heavy braided wool rug.
A few days in the hot sun, and they are dry. You'd burn out the motor of your washing machine with these old rugs , they are so heavy, and for what it costs to dry clean them, you might as well throw them out and begin anew. Make sure you use cold water so the dyes do not bleed. You have to make hay while the sun shines! So much to do in summer.
RECIPE FROM THE GARDEN
One thing we don't do during the summer, is to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. One of our favorite summertime meals is Panzanella, or Italian tomato and bread salad. Most of the ingredients can be found right in the garden, so it's thrifty too. And it's vegan!
1/2 C. olive oil
two cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. ground red pepper
1 loaf of a hard crusty bread (like French) cut into cubes
5 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp. black pepper
4 lbs. ripe tomatoes, cut into 1" cubes
2 C. chopped bell peppers
1 small red onion
1 C. basil leaves, torn into pieces
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Whisk together 3 tbsp. olive oil, 1 clove garlic, salt, paprika, and red pepper. Toss bread cubes in mixture.
Spread cubes evenly on a cookie sheet. Bake 20-25 minutes, stirring halfway through, or until cubes are crisp. Let cool.
In a large bowl, whisk together vinegar, remaining 5 tbsp. olive oil, remaining clove of garlic and black pepper.
Add remaining ingredients. Add bread cubes. Toss to coat. Serve immediately.
BTW, check the reduced-for quick-sale shelf of your grocer's bakery for good, cheap bread for this salad. Since you are toasting it, it doesn't need to be fresh.
Most of our meals this week have consisted of freshly dug potatoes, (either roasted or boiled and served with fresh dill and a dab of butter) just picked tomatoes, green beans from the garden and some berries for dessert. Life is good!
The recent storm has gifted us with some treasures. There were lots of branches to be gathered for firewood and smaller ones that I am collecting for a Colonial-style stick fence for our garden, If a person put some effort into it, I'm sure they could gather enough wood to see them through several weeks of heating the house by woodstove.
Another windfall were these plums.
"To me a lady is not frilly, flouncy, flippant, frivolous, or fluff-brained, but she is gentle, she is gracious, she is godly, and she is giving. You and I have the gift of femininity ....the more womanly we are, the more manly men will be and the more God is glorified. Be women, be only women, be real women in obedience to God."
THRIFTY THINGS WE DID THIS WEEK
Canned peaches, jam, jalapenos and beans.
Saved tomato, hollyhock, spinach, dill and mustard green seeds.
Collected windfall branches and plums.
Harvested tomatoes, summer squash, peppers, beans and herbs from the garden.
Washed our area rugs rather than dry-cleaning them.
Knitted a scarf from a free pattern.
Got more free compost from the village.