Preserving the Summer

Empty jars, soon to be filled. We're giving away half-pints of preserves as wedding favors, and today it was finally cool enough to do some canning. With no central air, the idea of boiling a lot of water in our stuffy kitchen was more than I could bear these last few weeks.... today was only a high of 86 and it seemed cool. A canning bonanza ensued.

The first order of business was the dilly beans. The beans came mostly from our Main Street Community Garden, with a little extra that I bought at the Co-op (local from Happy Valley Farm).

Home grown onions and garlic, and dill from Keewaydin organics in Viroqua. Somehow this year we ended up with no pickling dill of our own. It's so easy to grow, I was a little embarrassed to have to buy it.

I used the recipe from pickyourown.org. Easy as pie.... or easy as pickles I should say.

Because I'd been putting pff the jam making for a few weeks, we'd had to freeze these black-caps that Mom picked earlier this month. She's a master berry picker, and has a few secret spots on Madison's East side that she frequents.

I'd considered making jelly (basically jam but without the seeds), but I decided last minute to make a whole fruit jam instead. The black-caps are seedy, but they taste amazing and I personally like the seeds (plus it's a pain to strain them, and I just didn't have the time). It's a simple process - just followed the recipe on the box of Pomona Pectin. I like Pomona, it allows you to make preserves with less sugar, and I've had great luck with it.

As you can probably tell, these peaches aren't quite as fresh as the berries. These are the last of the frozen peaches from last year's epic peach haul. What better way to use them up than peach jam?

Again, I followed the directions on the Pomona Pectin box. I used the food processor to puree them and spiced it up a little by adding a bit of powdered ginger and cloves. I also added a few pats of butter to keep it from foaming. The result was a really nice light jam with a hint of spice.

Five hours of work yielded me 33 half pints for the wedding, and a few extra pints of dilly beans for us to eat. I jarred it all and then sterilized them in a hot water bath. Not bad for a day's work!

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Oh My Goodness It's Already Mid-July!

I swear there is no time at all between mid-June and mid-July. We've been crazy busy with family get togethers, work, and planning for the event that has started to dominate our lives: the wedding.

I keep taking pictures of all the gardens, and then getting busy and not thinking of posting them until the plants have grown so much that the pictures are obsolete.... I took some shots today, and decided that I had to post them along with some of the older ones just to show the growth.

The picture above is one I took today at McCormick Community Gardens. You can barely see our plot way at the end, or maybe you can't see it. It's there.

Back to that soon, first let me show you the berries...

First, there were strawberries. We went picking on the 26th of June, just in the nick of time before the season was over. We went to Berry Hill Farm, and I was accompanied by these two accomplished berry pickers.

After a few hours of picking, we had two heaping flats full of small tasty jam berries. I made a big pot of jam and canned half pints to give away as wedding favors.

Next came the cherries (not exactly berries, but they belong in the same class). I picked a bunch from the tree at our Main Street garden, and made what I thought was going to be jam, but turned out to be sauce. The Sure Jell just didn't jell - I discovered later that pectin will lose it's jelling properties when it's overcooked. I think I processed the jars of jam in boiling water too long when I canned it. Ah well, cherry sauce is good too. This is also destined for wedding favors.

Last, but not least, the wild black caps. I picked some this weekend and added the few I picked to the huge quantity my Mom picked. She loves to pick, and has been saving them for me in her freezer of the last few weeks.

It's been a bit dry, so these berries aren't quite as plump as I might like - they are a touch dry and seedy. So, I think I will make jelly instead of jam.

This is just the beginning of my wedding favor making. I'm planning to do small batches of a bunch of things: jam, jelly, dilly beans, pickles, apple butter.... something for everyone.

Speaking of wedding, here are the wedding potatoes at Main Street - big and beautiful!

OK, now back to McCormick.

This is what our Three Sisters plot looked like when we got back from vacation in late June....

.... and here it is today.

Everything is growing quite well, except the beans. Some little rodent has been slipping between the bars in our fence and nibbling on them. They are alive and a few are thriving, but something will have to be done if we are to have much of a bean harvest.

I'm letting the purslane grow wild in this garden and pulling all the other weeds. I just love purslane in salads and for snacking... maybe I'll regret leaving this weed, but it doesn't seem like it's doing much harm.

I've been feeding everything regularly with fish emulsion since this garden is not planted in the best of soils. It all seems to be doing well, although the leaves are a little yellower than I might like. The pumpkins will soon be flowering!

OK, now back to the homestead.

Of the five beds in the side yard this is my favorite, and the most wild. We have cilantro (going to seed), elephant head amaranth, baby's breath, bronze fennel, two cherry tomatoes, and bells of Ireland. Way too much for this little space, but it is beautiful.

Bed number two - lettuce and peas. Next weekend I will take these down to make way for the autumn collards I'm growing for the wedding. We've gotten many good salads out of this lettuce patch, and I'll be shelling the peas for dinner when I'm done writing this post!

Bed three, four, and five a few weeks ago....

... and here is bed three today. Can you tell which of the cabbage were transplanted? It's amazing how much that can set these plants back! I originally planted 1/2 in cabbage and 1/2 in Brussels sprouts, but the Brussels didn't germinate, so I thinned the cabbage and transplanted it into the whole bed. These will be cole slaw at the wedding. The sunflowers are Teddy Bear and will be for wedding decorations.

Bed four. Not too exciting. Zinnias about to bloom, Statice starting to bloom, and onions. Yes, this is all for the wedding as well.

Bed five was the last to be planted and the least impressive. More strawflowers, zinnias, elephant head amaranth, and bronze fennel. You guessed it - they are for the wedding.

And here are the chickens that are mad because they aren't allowed into the side yard... they have too much of a taste for cabbage plants.

Oh, and there is this bed in the front. Turns out it is not at all sunny enough to grow strawberries. They plants have grown, but not enough. I planted basil between the rows, and it seems to be doing well. The strawflowers in back are doing very well and are about to bloom....

I know this is getting long, but just a few more wedding things to tell you about. This is the Taco Bell parking lot where Stanley and I parked in the dead of night and cut a bunch of wild bee balm to dry for wedding decorations. It's so pretty, and just the right color!

and this is the peppermint and lemon balm tea that I dried from Main Street Garden peppermint and front yard lemon balm. It will be the after dinner drink of choice at our October wedding.

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