[Note: Lillia is conspicuously absent from these pictures. She decided to go to camp this year, instead of coming on the family vacation. That seemed like the right choice for everyone’s sanity! You can see pictures from past vacations in Lubec here.]
How could I talk about the long and short of things
without mentioning the kosher dill pickles I’m putting up?
A good year is a good year, in cucumbers as in grapes, in pickles as in wines,
so I’m putting up enough to have some left over, just in case.
—from My Vegetable Love by Carl H. Klaus
I’m not a homesteader, nor do I pretend to be one. With a quarter acre lot, (much of it given over to house, garage, and the intense shade cast by ancient oaks, black cherries, and pines) I can’t ever hope to have a garden that can produce enough to “put up” or “put by” a year’s worth of fruit and vegetables. Still, I like to learn new things. I like to do old-fashioned things that older generations are probably glad not to have to do anymore—not to make light of how hard they worked, but to get a glimpse of how and why they did it. I dabble in the homely arts, but nothing is ever done with any great intensity around here.
This year I wanted to try preserving something that we grew in our garden. Not because I have to—and, believe me, I am grateful for that—but, just to learn something about how things are done. I definitely knew I did not want to mess around with any hot water baths or the like, so I kept it simple: Frozen green beans, cherry tomato jam, and refrigerator pickles. I thought I’d share the recipes with all of you because, seriously, if I can do it, you definitely can do it.
Zane, of course, was my constant companion and assistant throughout, although I think he was a little skeptical about how it would all turn out. This afternoon he crunched down on a powerfully delicious refrigerator pickle and, with a gleam in his eye, exclaimed, “These are handmade!” Any aggravation (See also: A royal mess) was well worth it just to witness that moment—the pride in his face at having made something.
Three Easy Ways to Preserve the Summer Harvest
Kitchen Note: I sterilized my jars, just to be on the safe side, but these “preserves” are really meant to be consumed within a month or two. The pickles won’t last long, anyway—they are really, really tasty!
FROZEN GREEN BEANS
No need to blanch! Just trim off the blossom end of the beans and rinse thoroughly. Spread beans out in a single layer on a cookie sheet, and freeze for 30 minutes to an hour. When the beans are frozen, tuck them into a Ziploc bag and label with the month and year (if desired). That’s it! You can warm them up by steaming or boiling later in the year when you’re craving a taste of summer. Folks claim that green beans can last up to a year or more in the freezer using this method.
CHERRY TOMATO JAM (adapted from The Magic Onions)
Makes 2 half pint jars
5 cups of cherry tomatoes, halved
2 tsp grated fresh ginger
2/3 cup sugar
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp salt
Combine the tomatoes, ginger, sugar, lemon juice, and salt in a saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil, and then reduce heat and simmer until jam thickens (about 1 ½ to 2 hours, perhaps more). You will know that the jam is done when it drips from the spoon in large, thick droplets that have a tendency to stick to the spoon. Spoon into sterilized jars.*
*Sterilizing half pint jars is really easy. Fill the jars half full with water and then microwave for three to four minutes. The metal lids can’t be microwaved but they can be boiled, fully immersed in water, for about ten minutes.
ZANE’S FAVORITE REFRIGERATOR PICKLES (adapted from This Homemade Life)
2 large cucumbers, sliced into rounds or quartered into sticks
2 Tbsp + 2 tsp salt
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup water
1 Tbsp dried pickling spice
1 Tbsp sugar
1-2 tsp minced garlic
Combine cucumbers with 2 tablespoons salt and chill for one hour in the refrigerator, then rinse and drain. In a quart jar, combine vinegar, water, salt, pickling spice, sugar, and garlic. Stir until salt and sugar have completely dissolved. Add the cucumbers and chill in the refrigerator overnight. These pickles will last up to a month in the refrigerator, but I guarantee they won’t even last a week because they are so delicious!
Who loves a garden still his Eden keeps;
Perennial pleasures plants, and wholesome harvest reaps.
—from “The Garden,” by A. Bronson Alcott (1868)
While this poor blog may have fallen into neglect this summer, I am pleased to report that the family garden is thriving. This is our third summer cultivating raised bed vegetable gardens, and we’ve put in the usuals—tomatoes, zucchini (both green and yellow), cucumbers, bush beans, an eggplant for Zane (white this year), and an assortment of greens. We also added two beds in the backyard this year, in which we put three Brussels sprouts (now only two, thanks to a hungry critter—chipmunk, perhaps?), three kales (now only one, see previous note), radishes, beets, and carrots. I had read that some vegetable plants can grow in partial shade, which might be too generous a description for the growing conditions out back. I’m pleasantly surprised by how well they are doing (this despite the shade and occasionally having their leaves munched off).
The raspberries we planted three years ago are finally coming into their own, and I’m concerned that they may eventually outgrow their current location. This spring I ordered three Triple Crown thornless blackberry plants from Stark Bros., which are planted alongside the garage, and they are really shooting up now in the hot weather. Also from Stark Bros., we ordered Chinook and Cascade hop rhizomes to be trained over the trellis we used during our wedding ceremony—it’s nice to get the trellis out of storage and use it for something “fruitful”! (My apologies—I can never say no to a pun when it presents itself.) For first year hops, I think our plants are doing really well. Their vertical growth appears to be stalled out now, which I’ve read is normal for first years, but the Cascade actually has quite a few cones on it! In answer to your question: Yes, we would like to brew our own beer, eventually. But, we’re looking to do one gallon batches so we don’t need so much “infrastructure.”
The star of the show (for me) is the one, singular, pear we have growing on the Comice pear tree that Damian bought me for Mother’s Day—and, we have that little pear well protected with a nylon fruit sock (you can see it in the picture below). We also purchased a Red Anjou pear tree for cross-pollination, but it won’t be producing any pears this year. If all goes according to plan, someday we’ll have two big, gorgeous pear trees for fruit and shade. I have more plans for building out our edible landscaping, but if I’ve learned anything from gardening (and I have learned a lot), it’s that nothing can be done at any speed other than what nature allows. There’s no guarantee I’ll live to see everything grow to its full height but, as the Greek proverb says, “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”
A few other garden notes: I’ve been watering everything with a two-gallon watering can instead of the hose, with really good results. It can take up to an hour to water everything (including the pear trees), but I really like knowing exactly how much water I’m giving to the various plants. Tomatoes need a lot of water, especially when they’re setting fruit. It’s also been a really positive experience for me, personally. I wouldn’t say watering with a can is “meditative,” but it does give me time to think—parents with young children know this is a rare commodity—and, I like doing things the “old-fashioned” way.
No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn.
Lillia: What a difference a few months can make in the life of a young person. In my last update, I disclosed that you had been feeling really down. Without going into too much detail, I’m happy to report that our efforts to help lift your depression seem to be working (you can see the change in these pictures!). As the school year came to a close, you seemed much more “yourself,” which is a huge relief. You even managed to pull off straight A’s for the third trimester, though it must be noted that you weren’t running the last leg alone—it would be fair to say that you limped across the finish line with nagging parents and generous teachers in tow. And, that just goes to show how difficult it is to get straight A’s all year—it is a huge accomplishment, and you should be very proud of yourself! Of course, you should know we are always proud of you, no matter what, as long as you try your best.
Zane: My goodness, you have grown—both physically and in other ways—these last few weeks of the school year. Your face, your demeanor, everything has changed. And, these changes all point to a boy who will soon be turning six. Some say that the “six year change” is like a first puberty, and I can definitely see how an astute observer might make that connection. As an almost-six-year-old, you have a sharper tongue, and you are quick to point out my faults. In some ways it is painful to see my “baby” vanishing before my eyes (I barely survived the kindergarten graduation ceremony), but I am also so excited for you as you enter this new phase of your life. I’m looking forward to being able to spend more time with you now that school is over and summer vacation is here! I’ve missed you this year . . .