Alpine Strawberries

I need about fifty more of these plants. They’re especially flavorful and it feels so special to find them in the garden when I’m working.
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Rain, and squash, and rain.

Now is usually about the time I begin to feel like summer is slipping through my fingers and it feels urgent that I try to squeeze in a bit more swimming and tomato sandwiches and take a few more thunderstorm naps. This year I am sick to death of thunderstorm naps.

I have to remind myself not to be dramatic about it, because it really feels like it has rained every minute of every day since I first dared to dream about tomato sandwiches and that the summer has been mud and mosquitos and lightning. Proof that my bad attitude is unwarranted has come in the abundance of squash and greens from our garden, the blessing of beets, onions, carrots, and berries from others, and the sandal tan on my muddy feet.

And today in our haul was this four pound spaghetti squash. Obviously the rain is helping somebody.

I’m still holding out hope for some sunny days, though.

Hot Cumin-Pickled Summer Squash

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We procrastinated on opening the cumin-pickled squash last year for several months, because we had pickled okra (our favorite) and cucumber pickles to go through, and the squash just didn’t sound as exciting. It was the pickle for a lean month. Except we finally cracked a jar and it’s easily the best (fragrant, perfectly spiced, satisfying) pickle I’ve eaten in forever and I’m going to double the batch this summer and I still can’t believe that there are things like harvesting carrots and eating pickled squash that took me three decades to learn were necessary and good. Want the recipe? Here it is:

Originally from Lianna Krissoff in her book Canning For a New Generation
Makes approximately 6-7 pint jars

Ingredients
4 pounds yellow summer squash (another source suggested zucchini, which I may also try)
8 pounces sweet onion (about 1 medium)
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon pure kosher salt
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
1 tablespoon hot red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon ground cumin
6 cups cider vinegar (5% acidity)
2 tablespoons mild honey
7 cloves garlic
7 small fresh serrano chiles

Scrub the squash and cut it into ¼ inch rounds. Cut the onion in half lengthwise and thinly slice it into half-circles. Put the squash and onion in a large bowl and sprinkle with the ¼ cup salt, tossing to combine. Cover with a layer of ice cubes and refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight. Pick out any remaining ice, and rinse under cold water. Drain well. (The original recipe says at this point to toss the squash with the cumin seeds, mustard seeds, red pepper flakes, and ground cumin and set aside. I’ve found I lose some spice in the bowl this way because even when I drain it well it’s still wet. I’ve taken to mixing the spices in a separate bowl and dividing them among the sterilized jars before adding the squash and onions.)

Prepare water bath for canning. Ladle boiling water from the canning pot into the bowl with the lids. (Here again, I’ve since begun keeping the lids at a simmer on another eye in a little saucepan, a la Marissa McClellan from Food In Jars.) Using a jar lifter, remove the hot jars from the canning pot, carefully pouring the water from each one back into the pot, and place them upright on a folded towel. Drain the water off the jar lids.

Working quickly, pack the squash, onion, garlic, and chiles into the jars (not too tightly). Ladle the hot vinegar mixture into the jars, leaving ½ inch head space at the top. Use a chopstick to remove the air bubbles around the inside of each jar. Use a damp paper towel to wipe the rims of the jars, then put a lid and ring on each jar, adjusting the ring so that it’s just finger-tight. Return the jars to the water in the canning pot, making sure the water covers the jars by at least 1 inch. Bring to a boil, and boil for 15 minutes to process. Remove the jars to a folded towel and do not disturb for 12 hours. After 1 hour, check that the lids have sealed by pressing down on the center of each; if it can be pushed down, it hasn’t sealed, and the jar should be refrigerated immediately. Label the sealed jars and store.

 They improve a good deal with a few weeks’ shelf time.

june wildflowers and the front yard drop-off

We have this sort of drop-off in our front yard into a ditch along the roadside. It’s pretty steep and the two-lane brings some way-more-than-55-mph traffic within smacking distance, so I often neglect weedeating this space. In fact, we had some great daisies and wild strawberries interspersed with all the less charming stuff in May, so I began referring to the drop-off as our vertical meadow. Positive thoughts. I planned this Good Parent sort of activity with H where we’d go take pictures of local wildflowers and identify them in our Audobon wildflower guide and get some seed to scatter in the vertical meadow.
These are flowers from June (because that how long it takes to get on top of things.)
Orange Daylilies, which we’ve called Tiger Lilies for forever. 
They are, it turns out, absolutely not Tiger Lilies.
 
In my head I get carried away with these sorts of nurturing activities until it feels like scheming. I thought about how we could do it every month and learn so much about wildflowers and then scatter all those seeds, and the vertical meadow would be so taken over by wildflowers and wild edibles that people would say I’d be crazy to ever, ever weedeat that space again.
So away we ran with it, some of us more enthusiastically than others. We had fun hunting them, despite having to find a spot to park the car off the road while I ran out and snapped a picture. Because I’m not kidding about the two-lane. We’d die walking.
Good old dependable Black-Eyed Susans
 
I read somewhere that the poem Black-Eyed Susan by John Gay was the source of the flower’s name:

ALL in the Downs the fleet was moor’d,
  The streamers waving in the wind,
When black-eyed Susan came aboard;
  ‘O! where shall I my true-love find?
Tell me, ye jovial sailors, tell me true        
If my sweet William sails among the crew.’
 
 
It always makes me think of Black Eyed Suzy.
 
Probably given her druthers the flower would pick Roscoe Holcomb’s banjo playing, too, and forget all about Sweet William.
Orange Butterfly Weed. Possibly my new favorite.
We haven’t really been watching for any July wildflowers, because it’s been raining so much we might be building an ark soon. I’ve been thinking about robbing some of these from neighboring ditches as they go to seed. (Except the last, which is elderberry and came from my house.)
Wild Sweet Pea
I hear these elderberry flowers make good fritters. But, then again, there aren’t many edible things that wouldn’t be good frittered.
Not a wildflower. But I planted this elderberry in the 
vertical meadow hoping it would take off like one. 
 

carrot pickles

From the Saturday farmers market shopping spree we ended up with almost two pounds of beautiful tiny carrots, so I took advantage of the canning pot that was still bubbling after I finished dandelion jelly and blackberry jam to make carrot pickles.
As I have never been to San Francisco, I may be the only person who hasn’t eaten and waxed about Tartine Bakery’s spicy carrot pickles.  I’ll be okay, though. Two of my favorite canning books and many bloggers have jumped to the rescue to offer many variations on the recipe. This blog has reproduced the Liana Krissoff version I used.
I reduced the amount of cinnamon to one stick because the carrots and cider vinegar already impart a certain amount of natural sweetness, and I’m not fond of overly sweet foods. In one jar I also omitted the dried peppers and all but the tiniest pinch of red pepper flakes for H since she’s not a fan of heat. The rest of us will eat the other jars, which are fully loaded.
We sampled the few carrots that didn’t fit into the jars when I packed them, and even without the spices they were already delicious. The brine lends itself to their sweetness, and they became tender-crisp and bright after their quick simmer. The tiniest carrots were left whole, so they retained more carrot flavor. J pronounced them the best pickle recipe we’ve ever had, usurping the okra and cumin squash. I’m excited to crack them open in the fall to see how they are when the brine has mellowed and the carrots have picked up some spiciness.

berry picking

I’ve never had my fill of berries before. They come in those tiny packages with high tags and train you to treat them like a delicacy. I daydream about having enough raspberries for jam and blackberries for pie filling and being able to just eat them until I have a belly ache.

This week at the farmers market I discovered a berry man that offers a U-pick option at his orchard, so the three of us put on our sun hats and long pants Monday and set out for blackberries and blueberries (raspberries are soon). The orchard was a blue-green expanse of orderly rows set against a backdrop of mountains. With the breezy weather and our newbie enthusiasm, we ended up staying until well past noon.

Now we’ve got tons and tons of berries. Gallons. I’ve never had so many at one time in my life.  I’m plotting ways to use them all to make this a year where I get to eat berries all the time so that I might finally feel like I’ve eaten enough. They’re going in the freezer for our oatmeal, yogurt, and baking. I’m also going to try putting some in the dehydrator and make every enticing canned good I can dig up.

I’ve spent hours compiling a list of canning recipes. I want some jars of berries for pies and cobblers, some extra jam to share, and some experimental solutions for the rest.

Even with the kitchen overflowing with berries taking up all the usable surfaces and with all that work ahead of me I don’t think I’m cured. If someone gave me more berries right now I’d still take them in a heartbeat.

dandelion jelly and notes on pectin

We went on a buying spree at the farmers market Saturday because it happened to be the summer debut of carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, and berries. This, of course, spawned a canning spree last night after it was cool enough in the house. (We’re still going with just open windows since it hasn’t gotten up to 90 yet.)

The first on the list was dandelion jelly. The process of collecting flowers for this jelly was pretty straightforward. I rounded up some children, headed into a yard that hadn’t been sprayed, and had a big bag of flowers picked in about half an hour. H and I sat in the kitchen afterward peeling away the petals from the leaves. While it’s not a terribly difficult task it was somewhat tedious. We ended up stopping at a quart and composting the rest.

We actually picked these in the last week of April, but I was preparing to present my thesis, take my finals, and graduate, so I packed a jar full and froze them. Someone on the internet said this was okay to do…
As you can see, we only managed to get about 99.9% of the green off.
So last night we used them in this dandelion jelly recipe. It was my first time making jelly instead of jam, and maybe I wasn’t as nervous as I should have been, because it was also my first time using Pomona Pectin. I’ve been using Canning for a New Generation more than any other canning book in the last two years, and the author doesn’t use any pectin in this book. Instead of researching this odd behavior, I concluded something must be wrong with Ball pectin and bought Pomona’s as a substitute for recipes where I might need pectin. From what I understand now after actually doing some legwork, the dextrose – a corn derivative – is an issue for some. Pomona’s also has the advantage of being activated by calcium instead of sugar, so you don’t have to add as much.
I skimmed through the pectin directions in the middle of the recipe, and then, of course, had to rush off and wing it. Had I read those directions, I would have learned that the pectin clumps up if you don’t mix it thoroughly with the sugar first. By whisking like mad, I managed to dissolve the majority of the pectin and end up with a slightly softer but still pretty successful jelly. It’s an attractive burnt gold color, and the flavor is subtle and is more honied than floral. I’ll be interested to see how it works out in a biscuit.
Next year, maybe I can work up the patience to get enough fluff to add this Dandelion Wine to the list as well.