Sandhill Plums a great find for tasty jam

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It’s time to venture outside of the garden again to find this week’s new food to try. It’s the time of year to find Sandhill Plums growing in the wild. These plums are an unusual fruit because they thrive in ditches rather than a well-tended garden.

So it’s time to take that drive in the country again, but keep your eyes open for those purple plums. They are ready to pick once they have started to turn purple, starting out green – just make sure they aren’t soft. The collection of the Sand Hill Plums isn’t nearly as treacherous as the blackberries in last week’s column. No thorns, no scratches – just be sure to wear boots because you will have to get down into the ditch to pick them.

Once home, one of my favorite things to do with them is make Sand Hill Plum Jam. It’s easy to make and is a great way to enjoy the taste of the plums for months to come.

Until next time, happy garden-fresh eating!

Julie Clements is a Butler County Master Gardener.
Share your ideas for garden-fresh recipes or ways to preserve at julieclements75@gmail.com and some will be featured in upcoming columns.

Sand Hill Plum Jam

Sand Hill Plum Jelly

(makes 8 half-pint jars)

5 pounds plums, halved and pitted
4 cups water
1 package (1 3/4 ounces) pectin
7 1/2 cups sugar

In a large pot, combine plums and water. Simmer 30 minutes. Pour water and plums into a strainer and let stand 10 minutes or until all of the water has drained through into a bowl (it should measure 5 1/2 cups). * Note: To make it more like jam, mash bits of the plums through the strainer with the liquid.
Pour liquid back into the pan and add the pectin.  Stirring constantly, bring to a boil. Add sugar and return to a full boil. Stir constantly and let boil one minute.
Remove from heat and skim off any foam. Pour into hot canning jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace and process in a water bath for five minutes.

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Tips on preserving all of those onions

IMG_2942.JPGBy now, you have probably all harvested the onions  in your garden. But what to do with them?
Onions need to be dried out before they are stored so they will last longer. Like I said in the column on potatoes, a root cellar would be excellent but many of us do not have that available.
Instead, we need to do all we can to make them last as long as possible.
Once you have pulled the onions, lay them out flat on a large tray (I constructed several large screens stretched over frames made of 2x4s) where they can be placed in the sun for a couple of weeks. They will need to be moveable because they have to be put under a shelter at night so the dew does not collect on them. Also, if it rains, they will need to be moved to a dry location.
You will know they are ready to store away when the tops have dried out and turned brown. Then you can cut off the tops about an inch or two above the onion and trim the roots if you want to make them look neater. They are ready to be stored – a cool, dark location is again best for them. If the tops were dried completely, they will last like this for quite a while, but if you have more than you know you will eat over a few months, there are other ways to preserve.
You can always freeze them, which is easy to do. It just take a little time. You can chop the onions or slice them and put them in vacuum-sealed bags. I usually portion them in one cup amounts because that equals about one onion. Freeze them, and they are ready to use whenever you need them.
You also can dry them to make onion powder but it takes a lot of onions to make a little powder. Once they are completely dried, they should be brittle. Crush them up in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle, then enjoy the seasoning in your favorite meals.
Until next time, happy garden-fresh eating!

Julie Clements is a Butler County Master Gardener.
Share your ideas for garden-fresh recipes or ways to preserve at julieclements75@gmail.com and some will be featured in upcoming columns.

Blackberry Goodness

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A couple of weeks ago I went for a drive through the country, enjoying the quiet and the scenery. On that drive, I discovered a huge blackberry patch. Unfortunately, the berries were all still red.

As I was heading to town this past weekend, those blackberries popped into my head and I decided to go check them out. What did I find? Perfect, juicy blackberries filled the bushes.

After a quick trip to town it was back home to change and go picking. After a brief encounter with a road grader (I had to keep moving out of the way), I was neck deep (literally some times) in blackberries. I returned home with a bowl full, about 10 cups I discovered when I measured them out. And I knew exactly what to do with them.

There’s nothing better than blackberry preserves on toast in the morning, so I set to work making it. After washing and crushing the berries, I began the cooking and canning process. I also snacked on a few, too.

Once that was complete, I headed back out to pick a few more. I would have to wait until morning to try the preserves, so some blackberry cobbler was just what we needed for dessert that night. It was such a perfect time for picking that I couldn’t stop myself. I picked the three cups I needed, but everywhere I looked were more plump blackberries waiting to be picked. I came home with nearly 10 more cups.

Setting some aside for the cobbler, I decided fresh blackberries mid-winter would be really tasty so I decided to freeze some.

To freeze them, gently rinse them off, being sure to get any stems off that may have stuck to the berry, then pat them dry and spread them out on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper. Slide them into the freezer for a few hours and once they are frozen, transfer them into a freezer bag to store. They will keep at least six months in the freezer –that’s assuming you can stay out of them that long.

While I picked many berries this weekend (I actually went back three times, picking about 13 pounds of berries), there are at least twice as many that have not ripened yet, so there is still time to get your own. Take a couple of hours, enjoy a drive in the country and watch the sides of the roads for those berries.

It’s easiest to pick them using a bowl rather than a sack which will get caught in the thorns. I have a large plastic bowl that works well. And speaking of thorns, be sure to wear long pants, boots and a long-sleeve shirt. Those thorns will grab you as well. I’ve tried gloves, but the berries are too fragile and end up getting squished while picking, so I tough it out and use my bare hands. Then when I get home, I grab the tweezers and pluck the thorns out that I couldn’t avoid. I also have scratched up hands for a while, but it is worth it. It’s always fun to find something growing in the wild that can provide food for you – and very tasty food at that.

Until next time, happy garden-fresh eating!

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Blackberry Preserves

(makes 9 half pints)

10 cups blackberries

5 cups sugar

1 (1 3/4 oz) package dry pectin

Mash the blackberries with a potato masher, then place in large pot. Slowly add pectin and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Once boiling, add sugar all at once and stir in, bringing back to a full boil. Boil one minute then remove from heat and pour into warm jars. Process the jars for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath. Remove and let set undisturbed for 12 hours.

 

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Blackberry Cobbler

1 stick butter, melted

1 cup sugar

1 cup flour

1/2 tsp. salt

2 tsp. baking powder

3/4 cup milk

2 cups fresh blackberries

Melt butter in cast iron Dutch oven (or any deep baking dish) at 200 degrees in oven. Take out when almost melted and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix sugar, flour, salt and baking powder together. Add milk and mix well. Pour batter into melted butter, do not stir. Drop spoonfuls of berries evenly across surface of batter. Do not stir. Sprinkle top with 1/4 cup of sugar. Bake for 50 minutes to one hour, until golden brown.

Julie Clements is a Butler County Master Gardener. Share your ideas for garden-fresh recipes or ways to preserve at julieclements75@gmail.com and some will be featured in upcoming columns.

Nothing better than garden-fresh peas

IMG_2958Peas are a hot commodity at our house. Let me explain. That is probably my fault. My husband always says it’s lucky if any of the peas I am picking even make it into the house. I can’t help it. Fresh out of the  pod are my favorite way to eat peas.
In fact, I was never a big pea eater until I started growing them myself. Frozen was OK, canned I wouldn’t touch, but once I tasted my first fresh pea, I was hooked.

I grow several rows of peas each year. Plant more than you think you will need because with our hot Kansas summers, the plants don’t last long once it warms up. There’s really only a couple of good harvests before the vines give up and turn brown, which mine have already done for the year.

Peas also are climbers, so give them something to climb on. To save space, I tried something new this year. I planted my peas along side the rows where my tomatoes would later be planted. It probably looked strange to anyone observing my garden, but I went ahead and put up my tomato cages as well. The tomatoes would come a couple of months later.

The idea worked though. The tomato cages provided something for the peas to climb, without having to come up with a separate fence or support like I have in the past. By the time the tomato plants were getting bigger the peas were ready to be pulled up. This also doesn’t leave a blank spot in my garden after pulling the peas like previous years. I think I will be doing this method again in the future.

Now that you have those peas picked, it’s time to shell them. Give yourself more time than you think to do this. I had half an hour one night, so I thought, I can get through this bag. Well, an hour and a half later I finished, but I had a nice bowl of fresh green peas to show for the effort.

As I said my favorite way to eat them is fresh. Or you can grab a handful or throw some on a salad. But most likely you will have more than you can eat right away.

Freezing is a good way to preserve them. To do this, blanch the peas in hot water for 1 1/2 minutes then dip them in ice water. Pat them dry, put them in bags, seal them and toss them in the freezer. They will be great to pull out later to add in a soup or stew.

Until next time, happy garden-fresh eating!

Julie Clements is a Butler County Master Gardener.
Share your ideas for garden-fresh recipes or ways to preserve at julieclements75@gmail. com and some will be featured in upcoming columns.

The joys of harvesting potatoes; tips for storing, preserving

IMG_2902.JPGHarvesting potatoes is such fun. After weeks of watering and weeding, not seeing any actual potatoes, it’s great to dig in the soil and pull out handfuls of red and yellow potatoes. There are always so many hiding under the surface of the soil.

After digging all of these potatoes, the question is what to do with them. I mean, who can eat this many pounds of potatoes? I love potatoes, but that is a lot.

It’s a good idea to preserve them as fresh potatoes as long as you can. If you have a root cellar you are in luck, but lots of people don’t – me included. Here’s what I have found works best. Spread the potatoes out in the shade after digging to let the dirt that is stuck to them dry. (Note: it is best to dig them when the ground is dry; I stop watering for a couple of days before digging.)

Once they have dried out – usually a couple of hours is enough – gently brush some of the excess dirt from them. Don’t worry about getting it all, just enough so you don’t have dirt all over the house when you take them in. Be careful though with the delicate skins so you don’t damage them.

After that, store them in a cool place, out of the sun. I have a wooden box with holes in it to provide air flow.

I know what you’re thinking. The potatoes are still dirty. I should probably wash them. But resist that urge. While they would be all shiny from washing, they won’t last as long. That’s a tip I read once and it seems to be true. Keeping them dry with a little dirt makes them store better.

Now that you have all of them stored, what to do with them? I have included a Potato Salad recipe I created a couple of years ago. I hope you enjoy it.

But what about those you can’t eat? Here are a couple of options to further preserve them.
I like to freeze some potatoes. I quarter some, blanch them and freeze them.

To blanch, dip them in boiling water for 3-4 minutes, then remove them and put them in ice water.

Pat them dry and put them in a freezer bag or a sealable bag from which you can remove the air and they will keep in the freezer for more than a year. A tip on freezing is to lay them out on wax paper on a cookie sheet to freeze them so they do not freeze into one clump, then once they are frozen put them into a bag.

These are good to thaw and drop into a stew or roast or make them into mashed potatoes. Because of the changed texture, they don’t really work for things like potato salad any more.

Another option is to slice the potatoes up and freeze them in the same manner to make french fries or shred them into hash browns.

Until next time, happy garden-fresh eating!

Potato Salad
(serves 6-8)
6 medium potatoes (if red leave peel on)
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/8 cup mustard
1 1/2 cups mayo
4 hard boiled eggs, chopped
2 1/2 heaping Tbsp. relish

Boil potatoes 30-35 minutes. Cut into chunks.
Mix mayo, mustard, relish and onions in a bowl. Mix in potatoes, then stir in eggs.
Refrigerate 4 hours.

Julie Clements is a Butler County Master Gardener.
Share your ideas for garden-fresh recipes or ways to preserve at julieclements75@gmail.com and some will be featured in upcoming columns.