Making homemade pickles and relish

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My cucumber vines are loving this weather we have been having. I seem to be picking at least 3-4 cucumbers a day off of just two vines. As the cucumbers began to stack up in my vegetable bowl, I decided it was time to do something with them.

Pickles and relish are two easy ways to preserve cucumbers for use throughout the year.
I have made pickles out of pickling cucumbers, as well as slicing cucumbers, which I tried this year.

It is recommended to use a pickling variety of cucumber, but I didn’t really know why until trying them both. The pickling cucumbers are firmer after they have been pickled, while the slicing ones are softer and a bit mushy. But the taste of both is the same, so you could use whatever you have on hand. When using slicing cucumbers I did pick them small though.

For both of these projects, I have found it easiest to buy mixes, although there are recipes out there if you want to do it from scratch. I’d rather have more time to spend on tomatoes though.

IMG_3179There are several varieties of mix out there for pickles. I went with the standard dill pickle mix. The relish mix is for sweet relish.

To make pickles, simply slice them about a 1/4 of an inch thick, then pack as many slices as you can into the jars. Then cook the mix as directed on the package and pour the brine into the jars until they are full. I have never had enough brine to do as many jars as the package says it will make. It’s usually about half as many so plan accordingly.

Then for the relish, chop up the cucumbers and put them in a food processor.IMG_3171 Blend until they are course pieces, but don’t go so far as to liquify it. Then cook the mixture as directed and pour into the jars and process according to the directions.

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.

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Saving those summer tomatoes for winter

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It’s that time of year that if you garden, you probably have tomatoes everywhere. Your counters are covered with them, bowls are filled with them and maybe, you can’t eat another one and the neighbors don’t want any more.

It’s a shame to let all of those delicious tomatoes go to waste. What better to do with them than preserve them so you can enjoy the fresh taste of the home-grown tomatoes in the middle of a cold, snowy winter day.

The easiest way is to can the tomatoes. This can be done by blanching them, peeling them and cutting them in half. I prefer to use Roma tomatoes to can over slicing tomatoes. I find they provide more tomatoes, less juice and if you’re making sauce, a thicker, richer pasta sauce.

So once you have dipped the tomatoes in boiling water for a couple of minutes, put them in ice water immediately. After they have cooled, peel them and start packing them in jars.

One important note is the level of acidity is important in preserving foods, so for tomatoes you have to add one tablespoon of lemon juice to each pint and two tablespoons to each quart jar. You also can add a half and full teaspoon of salt if you choose – I usually do.
Simply fill the jars until they are almost full. As you fill, use a spoon or other utensil to gently mash down the tomatoes to get the air out. Once full, wipe the rims, put the lids on and let them boil in a water bath for 85 minutes.

These tomatoes are great to use in chili, stews, spaghetti sauce and more. And they offer the ease of opening a jar, but the taste of the garden.

Last year I wanted to get a little more creative with my tomatoes, so I started adding some herbs. I took some dried oregano and put it in one jar and basil in another. Just add a small handful; you can use your own judgement. Then mix them in with the tomatoes before putting on the lid. They make a pretty jar of green and red when canned and taste good too. Are they better than simply adding the herbs as you cook the tomatoes in a recipe? I haven’t decided, but they are fun to make.

Until next time, happy garden-fresh eating!

Homemade Spaghetti Sauce

2 quart jars of tomatoes
handful of crushed basil and parsley
small handful of oregano
one pound hamburger
one medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
salt and pepper to taste

Cook hamburger and drain grease, then continue to cook hamburger, onions and garlic until softened. Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer 30 min.

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.

Finding new ways to preserve onions

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I’m going to return to onions one more time this week. After staring at my pile of onions in the kitchen for a few weeks, I decided to jump in and get something done with them. They were in the way all of the time.

In researching chopping onions on the Internet (I was looking for tips to protect my eyes while chopping), I watched a video on dehydrating onions. Well, I’d never tried that before. I always just chopped and froze them, but this didn’t look too bad.

With my dehydrator empty of herbs at the moment, it was a good time to get them going.
Chopping onions has never been one of my favorite chores, but in the video, a Prep Solutions Onion Chopper was used, which made it look a lot easier. I was willing to give it to try. After finding the same onion chopper at a local store, I was ready to go. All I had to do was peel the onions, cut the ends off, wash them and cut them in half. Then place them on the grate and chop them. I have to admit, I was a little hesitant. Usually these “cool” devices don’t quite live up to what they promise, but this one did. I had my dehydrator full in no time, not to mention my fingers weren’t cramping up like usual after chopping that many onions. I highly recommend this device if you don’t have one.

Back to dehydrating. Once the onions are all chopped, spread them out on the dehydrator trays, but make sure there is a liner on them so they don’t fall through as they dry.
A tip I saw in a couple of places was to start the onions outside. Could it really be that bad? But it was a nice day, so I sat my dehydrator out on the picnic table and ran an extension cord to it. Boy was I glad I did. The only advice I have to anyone trying this with close neighbors is to prepare a gift basket to take them with an apology note. You could smell the onions all the way around the house they were so strong as they started drying.
After about six hours of drying, I did bring them back inside due to a threat of rain over night, but with the ceiling fan on, the smell was mostly gone.

It took about 24 hours to get them completely dehydrated. They will be brittle. IMG_3150
I read this will leave the dehydrator smelling like onions, although I did not think it was that strong and it would probably disappear the next time you dehydrate something. But if you can’t stand even the fainted onion smell in your dehydrator, another tip I read was to dehydrate potatoes right after the onions and it gets rid of the smell, but doesn’t affect the potatoes. I figured it was worth a try, so I prepared some potatoes. After boiling 5-8 minutes, let the potatoes cool overnight in the refrigerator, then shred or slice them, and fill the dehydrator once again.

After 12 hours, the potatoes were dry and the smell was completely gone.

Now I have two new ways to preserve onions from my garden, and the dried onions are said to have a better taste than when frozen. I can’t wait to try them in a recipe.

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.

Preserving herbs and growing new from cuttings

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I recently had the opportunity to visit Teresa Bachman’s herb garden in El Dorado.
Teresa got started on herb gardening simply with a book on herbs she picked up from the bookstore. She began reading through it and decided to give it a try. She created a large area for her herb garden behind her house. Now she grows a little bit of everything. She has several varieties of basil, including Lemon, Purple, Spicy Globe and Thai. She also had German Thyme, Variegated Oregano, Lemon Thyme, Chocolate Mint, French Tarragon, Stevia and more.

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She invited me over to see and sample some herbs. With baggies in hand, I collected several varieties of herbs. While I have the basics – parsley,  basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme – I have never tried the different variations of these.
I quickly ran those herbs home before they wilted too much and stuck them in jars of water. They quickly perked back up. With them happy for the time being, I got back to my other chores, and later that day, washed, dried and prepared them for dehydrating to preserve them for future recipes. I’m going to have to find some ways to use these unusual herbs.
But I didn’t want to limit the amounts I had on hand, so I saved a stem of each herb and put them back in the water. Just enough to cover an inch or two of the bottom of them and placed them on a window sill. They have now started to grow roots and once they have enough roots, I will transplant them into pots and soon will have my own of each of these plants.

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Another option is to keep some of the herbs in jars of water on your kitchen counter – something Teresa showed me. They will stay alive and keep growing, then you can pinch off what you need as you are cooking to add to recipes if you prefer to use fresh over dried.
If keeping in water, make sure you change the water out every three to four days to keep them fresh.
One important note – if you aren’t well versed in the different types of herbs, keep labels on them throughout the process so you know what you have.
Do you have a unique garden growing? Let me know about it
Until next time, happy garden-fresh eating!

Julie Clements is t 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 wonder, deliciousness of homegrown carrots

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Carrots are a fun and easy vegetable to grow. Give them the proper growing area and you would be amazed at what they will do.

I have found carrots in a raised bed will get much bigger and straighter than in the ground. The loose soil in the raised bed provides a perfect place for them to grow. And if you’re like me, it’s exciting seeing how big each carrot is as you pull it.

When planting, I like to just throw some seeds out there and cover them with dirt. Carrot seeds are so tiny, I find that method easier than trying to plant one at a time. The benefit of this is lots of little carrots while you wait for your bigger ones. As they start to grow, you will have to thin them to give others enough room. While this may sound like a chore, it can be very rewarding. Those little carrots, once washed and trimmed, make a delicious snack. As the carrots grow, continue to thin as needed – and don’t forget to keep the ones you pull.

Carrots store for a very long time in the refrigerator. Once you have pulled them, cut the tops off, then wash them so there is no dirt left on them. Then trim off the top and bottom of each carrot. You can keep them in your vegetable drawer, but I have found they keep a lot longer in a vegetable bowl – one of the bowls with a lid, vented bottom and separate water reservoir. Carrots I’ve pulled late in the summer have kept until the following spring this way.

Another option for preserving is to slice the carrots, blanch them for a couple of minutes, dip them in ice water, then vacuum seal them and freeze them. One note of warning, the frozen carrots will be one big clump so measure out amounts you might use in a casserole or stew and freeze them separately.

The fresh ones I like to grate and toss in my salad or simply eat plain or with some dip. The frozen ones can be used in recipes or steamed, along with some green beans, for a side to go with supper. However you prefer them, it will be easy to keep garden-fresh carrots around for most of the year.

For one way to use the carrots, check out the recipe here, a favorite from my childhood.

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.

Carrot and Pineapple Jello

1 large box orange Jello mix
Water
Several carrots (to taste)
1 can crushed pineapple

Prepare the Jello according to the directions on the box, then pour into a dish. Refrigerate just until it starts to get firm, then mix in shredded carrots and pineapple. Mix completely, cover and refrigerate another couple of hours or until the Jello is set up.