Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Plethora of Pickles

Fall is definitely here and cucumber production has finally stopped. I'm glad the cucumbers were so productive but I'm also glad this growing season is over. We ate cucumbers, gave away cucumbers, and pickled cucumbers. Pickled a lot of cucumbers actually.

We are not huge pickle eaters and still have dill pickles from three years ago. However, we do both enjoy Bread and Butter pickles so this year I decided to only make sweet pickles. Because of the number of cucumbers we got from the garden I made two different batches of pickles.

The first batch was a traditional style Bread and Butter pickle that called for onions and peppers. As always I made a few substitutions. I didn't have any onions or bell peppers so I substituted whole cloves of garlic and hot pepper rings. The rest of the ingredients were pretty basic and I left them alone. The other ingredients were vinegar, sugar, turmeric, and mustard seed.

The second batch of pickles I decided to make as basic as possible. I used the last four ingredients from the first batch to make my pickling solution and filled the jars with just cucumbers. Well, all but one jar. I was a few cucumber slices short of a full jar so I added a sliced carrot just to top it off. I actually expect the pickled carrots to taste pretty good but the jars have to stay sealed for 10 weeks to complete the pickling process.

I still have beans, the occasional squash, and garlic in the garden. All the green tomatoes were picked off the vines this week. I don't think I'm going to pickle any more of the harvest but I am going to make relish from the tomatoes. I guess that is a type of pickle, too. I wonder how pickled beans would taste?

Friday, September 17, 2010

A Bounty of Basil

The weather turned cool and wet at the end of August, with very few days dry enough to do anything in the garden. We were able to get some herbs dried though we had to use the dehydrator because of the humidity in the house. We took in the occasional tomato or squash but for the most part the garden has been ignored for the last few weeks.

Today the sun was shining so I decided to hit the garden. Several pounds of tomatoes, squash, and cucumbers later I finally got to the herb garden. Most of the herbs I planted are perennials and will come back year after year, as long as the soil conditions are good and the weather is right.

Basil is one of the few annuals I plant each year. I've tried it in various places and even tried different varieties. With few exceptions I get so so growth and lots of bug damage. This year the only Basil I planted was a single plant in a small decorative planter I caught on sale when I purchased the rest of my starts. I planted it in the herb bed and didn't give it much thought, expecting it to do like the previous years and just sit there.

I couldn't have been more wrong. The single basil plant was well over three feet tall and covered with the largest leaves I've ever seen. I don't know if it was the soil or the plant itself but I have a huge bounty of basil this year. I cut all of the basil back, the main stem was well over 1/2 inch thick, and picked off all the leaves. There were so many that I filled my dehydrator well passed capacity.

The basil leaves are now drying in the computer room. The whole house smells like basil. Dreams of pastas and pestos are running around in my head. I can't wait to fill the dryer up with rosemary, sage, and other herbs later this weekend.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Home Made Spaghetti Sauce

I've always enjoyed cooking and in my earlier years I thought I wanted to be a professional chef. Many years and miles later, I have come to realize I love to cook but I absolutely hate working with other people, entertaining, drama, and politics. All things required to be a professional chef. So now I cheerfully enter the kitchen to cook meals for my family that I know they will love, if only I could learn to cook for two instead of thirty.

Here's a recipe for the most delicious home made spaghetti sauce you could ask for. It makes about 15 cups of sauce and takes a long while to make it but it is perfect for the home cook, large families, hungry boys, or pot lucks.

Spaghetti Sauce

20 medium tomatoes - all diced into 1/2 pieces
3 Tsp oil
1/2 large onion - diced
1 bulb garlic - diced roughly
2 large carrots - peeled and shredded
1/2 cp fresh basil - chopped
1/2 cp fresh thyme - chopped
1/2 cp fresh oregano - chopped
4 bay leaves
1 red bell pepper - diced
1 green bell pepper - diced
Salt and pepper to taste

1) Place oil in large, heavy sauce pan and get hot.
2) Sauté onions, garlic, and peppers until just soft.
3) Add half the tomatoes, the herbs, carrots, and salt and pepper.
4) Simmer until all vegetables are very soft. Taste for flavour and add more garlic, salt, and pepper if needed.
5) Remove the bay leaves.
6) Use an immersion blender, food processor, or other devise to puree the sauce completely.
7) Add the rest of the tomatoes and simmer until as thick as you like it.

You can add ground meat to it it you wish but it is pretty darned tasty without it.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Dreams for the Future

PeterC and I decided to do some driving around and explore roads we had never been on. In the process, PeterC noticed a sign for a 94 acre farm for sale. As we drove further down the road he mentioned it several more times. Finally, after we stopped for a bathroom break I declared we should go back and take a look. So we did. We couldn't get up the driveway to look at the place proper but the owner had a some information sheets at the end of the driveway. "94 Acre Farm for Sale to Settle Estate. Includes House and Garage. $175,000.00" and the phones numbers he could be reached at.

Both of us were floored. This is the cheapest listing we have ever seen in this area that included a house. We've been looking for a place we could afford that had a house, even if it needed some work, to live in while we get the farm going. So we took the sheet home and gave the man a call. He said the house had recently been refurbished but still needed some repairs. We thought great we're pretty handy with repairs and made an appointment to view the place the next day.

Yesterday dawned cloudy and cool, a perfect day for tromping around 94 acres to see what we were getting ourselves into. We arrived at the driveway a few minutes early to find the owner was already on is way to unlock the gate. As soon as we started up the driveway we noticed there was a lot of cat tails, willows, and other wetland species. No biggy for us since we want to encourage native species as much as possible. Besides the driveway was going uphill and the house sat at the peak of the hill.

We pull up to park next the the house and several things immediately. There is no siding on the house; the house has been added onto at least once if not more; the house is very small even with the add ons; most of the visible screens are ripped and torn; there are dead vehicles every where; the "garage" is an old buggy house that is on its last legs; there is a barn buried in the trees that is falling down; and there is a remains of another building which already fell down. All of this right around the house.

The owner, an older gentleman, arrived quicker than we could survey much beyond the quick look from the truck and driveway and let us view the house. To say it needed repairs was a severe understatement. There was no drywall or siding in any room. The house was essentially two rooms, 1 up and 1 down, and had been designated into separate areas by partially built cabinets. Down stairs was the living room and kitchen. Upstairs, up a spiral set of stairs with no railings, was the bedroom and a bathroom. The bathroom was interesting in that it was a toilet and a small shower stall that got its water from a recycled barrel. The floors were plywood with very thin carpet remnants stapled to it.

The addition was designated as the furnace room that housed a large wood boiler that had been modified by the rather proud owner. He then went on to proudly tell us he had wired the whole house for 200 Amp, but when PeterC looked at the panel there wasn't a ground connected anywhere. In fact the owner seemed pretty damned proud of the whole house as if he had created some beautiful place. Don't get me wrong, the house had character and had a great deal of potential, but it was definitely in worse shape than he suggested over the phone.

Next we went to the basement. To access it you had to lift a bench that hid the basement hatch, and climb down another set of spiral stairs. The basement was gravel floored and absolutely jam packed with crap. I counted 4 hot water heaters but only one was connected. There was the water pump for the dug well. The power panel was to one side, near the remains of the sump pump. Electrical wires ran every where, higgle dee piggle dee, in, over, and around the plumbing wires. The water tank was rusted pretty badly, support posts didn't touch the ground, and barely enough room to walk to the panel and back without stepping one each other.

We headed back up stairs and tried to get a look at the furnace room. I say tried because the guy kept saying we couldn't go in there because of the dog and blocked us from get much more than a peek through the open doorway. From what I could see the floor was dirt, electrical wires spider-webbed their way all over the room, and there was a cast iron wood stove in there. Add all the stuff he had in there and his own admission that a good wind would blow the room away and we decided it was unsafe to push the point of wanting to see the room entirely.

Finally satisfied with the house we decided to walk the back are. There were fields full of ragweed, golden rod, asters, and other native plant species. The owner had been keeping paths cleared through the fields and brush so we walked on of the paths. The field was nice and high but the bush began where the path turned down towards what he claimed was a creek that was the East boundary. It was a bit boggy but not to bad back there. Mosquitoes made my life hell while we stood there, but Monarch butterflies flitted from one bunch of flowers to the next feeding on the wild nectar. Definitely a good place to have bee hives.

He continued to regal us with the plans he had for the place and the work he had put into it during the entire walk. While he talked I looked and saw a great number of features that I was really looking for in a farm. Fertile ground, established wind breaks, stones for fences, and plenty of wildlife. Unfortunately, I saw several things I didn't like. There were more dead vehicles hiding in the high grass and bush than I could count. There were no mature fruit trees, and there were no fences.

We got back to the house and told the owner we would have to look at financing, and after the fourth attempt we got away from him. He was disappointed that we hadn't agreed to buy it and had spent at least 1/2 an hour talking to us about the place, and then his history and childhood. I guess on top of wanting to sell the house he was also a little lonely and wanted someone to talk to.

We started analyzing the place and by the end of it decided the property was exactly what we wanted but the house was not livable. Even if we bought the property we would have to come up with another $50,000 immediately to fix the wiring, plumbing, and get the heating up to code. All while living here at Sparrow Haven.

In the end we decided we just couldn't do it, unless we win the lottery. We've bought a couple of tickets and we're crossing our fingers that we can win the money we need to buy the place so we can gut the house and start all over to create our dream come true. So here's praying we win the lottery and can finally start the rest of our lives on a nice, big, fertile piece of land.