Starting tomatoes from seed proves successful


I don’t know about you, but I have tomatoes everywhere right now. My vegetable baskets are filled with them, they are on the kitchen counters and more are ripening by the day (at least they would if the sun would ever come back out here).

This is a good situation to be in though because last year my tomato plants lagged on producing tomatoes so our pantry was getting a little low on pasta sauce and other tomato-based items. It should be fully stocked after this year though.

I grow primarily Roma tomatoes for canning, with a few cherry tomatoes and one slicing tomato plant.

Last winter, I wrote about a new experiment I was trying with my greenhouse and starting all of my tomatoes from seed. I was thinking about that blog just the other day and realized I hadn’t followed up on it yet.img_4893

When I first put the tomatoes out, I was a little concerned because I had transplanted them into the largest pots I had for them, but they were still getting very root bound. The temperatures just weren’t warm enough yet for me to be comfortable putting them outside. So instead, I gave them the best care I could in the greenhouse but the leaves were starting to wilt just a little.

Finally, it was time to plant them. I kept my fingers crossed that they would all bounce back. After a few weeks in the ground, they did just that. All of my plants except the one that something ate and I had to replace, really took off once their roots had room to spread out. They grew into nice sized plants and they are producing more tomatoes than I think I have ever had, while many people in the area are having smaller amounts of tomatoes this year.

I know that I will be starting my tomatoes from seed again next year – but maybe a couple of weeks later in the year. I want to see if I have the same results two years in a row. If so, I will always be starting my plants from seeds from now on.

With all of these tomatoes, it’s time to start preserving them. I’ll begin sharing recipes and things I have discovered in my upcoming blogs.

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 and some will be featured in upcoming columns.



Enjoying the taste of dandelions 

While many people fight an ongoing battle to remove dandelions from their yard, I have always viewed them as a sign of spring. They are some of the first hints of color after a long, cold winter.

But they are more than just something to look at. Knowing they were edible, I set out to find ways to use dandelions, besides the soap I had made from them last year.

Dandelion Jelly sounded good and looked good from the information I found about it online.

So I set out to gather my dandelions. After a couple of times of picking, I soon realized the best time to pick is late morning. The dandelions are fully open and easy to spot at this time. This year, my yard has been covered with the bright yellow flowers, making picking fairly easy. For one batch of jelly, you will need to collect four cups of tightly packed dandelion heads. Then rinse them and let them dry for a bit. This will make the next step a lot easier.

You have to remove the yellow petals from the green leaves surrounding them. Some have said they use a knife and cut off the bottom of the dandelion, then remove the petals, but I found simply grasping the bottom of the flower in one hand and then plucking the yellow petals from the middle works pretty well. Sometimes you have to go back and pick a few of the leaves out if you got several, but a few doesn’t seem to make a difference. (I read that too many green leaves will make the jelly bitter.) You will have sticky, yellow fingers at the end of this process, but it’s worth the effort.

Once all of the petals are “plucked,” place them in a jar or bowl and pour four cups of boiling water over them. Place a lid or saucer across the bowl or jar to keep in the steam. Let this set for a minimum of two hours or even overnight, letting the petals steep.

After this is done, strain the liquid into a pan, removing all of the petals. Add one box of pectin and one quarter cup of lemon juice. Heat the mixture to boiling, then add three cups of sugar. Stir constantly and boil for one minute. Then pour the jelly into sterilized jars and process for five minutes in a water bath.

The jelly looks a bit like the Sunflower Jelly I made last summer, only a little darker and with a much richer and different taste. There is a hint of honey flavor in the jelly.

Until next time, happy garden-fresh eating!

Julie Clements is a Butler County Master Gardener. 

Getting creative with flavors


One of my favorite ways of preparing meals is by smoking the meat, whether ribs, chicken, turkey. To do this, recipes often call for rubs to be used. We’ve tried a variety of them, finding several that are our favorites, but it just wasn’t home grown.

With the variety of peppers I grow, many of which we smoke and dehydrate, it seemed I could do something with them. Besides, if I just use those peppers in recipes, I’ll never get through them all.img_4176

I found some homemade rub recipes in a smoking and grilling book I had gotten for my husband and thought I’d give it a try. I found a recipe that I had most of the ingredients for and began making a few substitutions. It was fun trying to find as many homegrown ingredients as I could for each recipe.

Through a little trial and error, I made a variety of rubs and seasonings, including an all-purpose rub that can be plain, hickory or apple smoked; as well as a Steak House Rub, Memphis-Style Rib Rub and Hickory Dill Rub. The fun part about this is getting creative. Substitute peppers for an endless variety of combinations.

I used to grind all of my peppers with my mortar and pestle, but I recently made a new purchase for the kitchen – an herb grinder. I haven’t used it too much yet, but when I did it worked great, and I can’t wait to get some more peppers ground up to start creating some new recipes. If you find a new combination that you like, let me know. I’d love to try it out.

Until next time, happy garden-fresh eating!

Julie’s All-Purpose Rub

5 T. dark brown sugarimg_4177
1 T. Hungarian Wax Peppers
1 T. Sweet Red Peppers
1 T. Serano Peppers
1 T. Mucho Nacho Peppers
1 T. Rosemary
4 tsp. onion powder
4 tsp. garlic powder
4 tsp. dry mustard
3 tsp. basil
2 tsp. parsley
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 tsp. ground corriander
1 tsp. sage
1 1/2 tsp. thyme
3 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. salt

Grind dried peppers in herb grinder or with mortar and pestle. Then combine all ingredients in food processor until fine and store in jars or air-tight bags. For variety, smoke the peppers with either hickory, apple or mesquite smoke for different flavors.

Hickory Dill Rub

5 T. dark brown sugar
4 tsp. dry mustard
3 tsp. pepper
1 T. dill seed
2 tsp. dill weed
8 tsp. chives
3 tsp. corriander
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. salt
3 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. cumin
4 T. hickory-smoked Poblano Peppers

Grind peppers, mix all ingredients in food processor until ground fine. Use as a rub on your favorite foods before smoking, or use as a seasoning in your foods.
Julie Clements is a Butler County Master Gardener.
Share your ideas for garden-fresh recipes or ways to preserve at and some will be featured in upcoming columns.

Dehydrating mushrooms for future recipes

There’s nothing more frustrating than finding a delicious-sounding recipe to make for supper, glancing at the list of ingredients and jumping in, then finding out you are missing one thing. For me, running to the store takes about 45 minutes, so that could create issues with keeping on track for the meal.mushrooms

With all of my garden produce and herbs preserved that has stopped a lot of those instances, but one thing I still find I don’t have very often is mushrooms.

I used to opt for leaving them out of the recipe if I didn’t get them when I was at the store. But before putting my dehydrator up for the season, my husband asked me if we could dehydrate mushrooms. I’m not sure what brought up the question, but I replied that I was sure they could be dried. Pulling out my preserving book, I found mushrooms dehydrate very well.

The next time we were at the store, we found several packages of sliced mushrooms on sale and loaded up our cart. To dry them, wash the mushrooms and place them on the trays, leaving a little space between each one. It only takes about four to six hours to dry them until they are crispy. Let them cool, then put them in jars or baggies to store them.
Now, when you have a recipe with mushrooms, simply rehydrate by pouring boiling water over them and letting them set for 15 to 30 minutes. Or, if you are making a soup, just toss the dried mushrooms in and they will rehydrate while cooking.

Now there is one less ingratiate I will have to go without when trying out a new recipe on the spur of the moment.

Another plus is those extra mushrooms no longer go to waste when you do buy some for one 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 and some will be featured in upcoming columns.

Making your own Mexican seasonings

img_4016Tacos, fajitas, Mexican of any kind is among my favorite meals. So naturally, I wanted to make them as much from the garden as possible.

In the summer, I have tomatoes for the tacos and peppers and onions for the fajitas, as well as homemade salsa, but surely there was more I could do.

Then it came to me. Seasonings. I was sure I had most of what they are made up of.

I started experimenting and looking at other recipes and came up with a fajita seasoning mix and a taco seasoning mix.

To create my own ingredients, I ground up some of my chili peppers and cayenne peppers.

Note: where a mask over your nose and mouth when grinding the peppers so you don’t inhale them.

You can even make your own paprika. I like to dehydrate and grind up red Hungarian wax peppers to make the paprika, but I have red you can use any number of red peppers depending on how hot you want it to be.

For the fajita mix it takes: 1 T. cornstarch, 2 tsp. chili powder, 1 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. paprika, 1 tsp. sugar, 1/2 tsp. onion powder, 1/2 tsp. garlic powder, 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper and 1/2 tsp. cumin. Even the small amount of cayenne pepper will add some kick to the seasoning, so if you want it milder, I would leave the cayenne out all together.

For taco seasoning, you will need: 1 T. chili powder, 3/4 tsp. garlic powder, 3/4 tsp. onion powder, 3/4 tsp. dried oregano, 1 1/2 tsp. paprika, 4 1/2 tsp. cumin, 3 tsp. sea salt and 3 tsp. pepper. Note: 3 T. of seasoning equals one packet of store bought seasoning.

After mixing each of these, they can be stored in airtight jars on your shelf until needed.
They add some great flavor to Mexican dishes, using a lot of homegrown ingredients.

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 and some will be featured in upcoming columns.

More pecans than you know what to do with

img_5389Have you been seeing all of the pecans falling from the trees the last few weeks? I have and I couldn’t wait to gather some. I planted some nut trees this spring, so I have several years to wait for mine to produce. Luckily, I know someone who has a giant pecan tree in their front yard so I could gather all I wanted.

Since I don’t have any way to reach the high ones, I found it easier to simply pick up the ones that had fallen to the ground, being on the lookout for the really light ones that were rotten.

With two sacks full of pecans, now the question was what to do with them all. I certainly wouldn’t be able to eat them all while they were still good.

After a little research, I found the best way to save pecans is by freezing, and with all of the rest of my garden done for the winter, I have plenty of time to sit and crack pecans.

While it’s not hard, it is definitely time consuming. I decided the entire bowl was a bit too much to do at once, so I would work on the pecans for about an hour a night, making pretty good progress.

Pecans are one of the easiest things I have preserved so far. Once the pecans are shelled just toss them into a freezer ziplock bag and they are done. You can add to the bag as you go.

I look forward to having my own pecans on hand throughout the winter for all of those tasty recipes. There are so many times I simply leave the nuts out of a recipe I decide to do on the spur of the moment because I don’t have nuts on hand.

I froze mine whole, but you could chop them if you wanted before freezing. I’ll just chop mine as I go.

Until next time, happy garden-fresh eating!

Pecan-apple pancakes

Half cup chopped pecans (or to taste)
Half  large green apple, chopped  (or to taste)
Pancake mix

Prepare the pancake mix according to the directions, then mix in the pecans and apples. Cook until golden brown.

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

Crab apple delight

img_3599Fall brings a crispness in the air, changing leaves and crab apple pie. Yes, you heard right. Crab apple pie.

I discovered crab apples about three years ago and fell in love with the tartness they offer. I can never look at a regular apple pie the same way again.

Crab apples don’t ripen until around October, depending on the weather that year, and they have a fairly short window in which they are ripe enough to use, but not overripe.

During that time, I am picking and preparing apples in every spare moment I have.
There are four ways I have found to use the apples. My favorite (and the most labor intensive) is for pie filling. This takes a lot of apples and involves a lot of cutting, but it is worth it in the end. img_3646

I also like to make apple sauce and apple butter out of them. This is still work, but a lot easier than the pie filling. You will need a food mill, and if you can recruit an extra pair of hands or two, it speeds things up quite a bit. A side product from the apple sauce and butter is apple juice. You have to boil the apples quite a while to start with to soften them up. Once they are done, simply mix a little sugar into the leftover water to make a great juice.

All of these have the great taste of apples, with the extra bonus of the tart flavor of the crab apples.

Until next time, happy garden-fresh eating!

Crab Apple Pie Filling
(makes 7 quarts)img_3788

12 pounds apples, washed and cored
5 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups Clear Jel
1 T. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
5 cups apple juice
2 1/2 cups cold water
3/4 cup lemon juice

Cut sides off of apples, removing seeds and stem. Measure 33 cups. Then in a largeimg_3605 pot (I use a deep fry pan and basket), heat one gallon water to boiling and add one-third to half of apple slices, return to boiling and boil for one minute. Transfer apples to a large bowl, cover. Repeat with remaining apples.  Next, in a large pot, combine sugar, Clear Jel, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Stir in apple juice and cold water. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and boils. Add lemon juice and boil one minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in apples, mixing well. Spoon into hot quart jars, leaving one-inch head space. Process in water bath canner 25 minutes.

Crab Apple Sauce/Apple Butter

To prepare apples, wash, remove blossom and stem ends, then cut in half. Do not core. Mix 28 cups of apples and 16 cups of water in large pot, boil for 25 minutes. Strain liquid from the apples and set aside for apple juice. Then put the crab apples back in a pot and add 1/2 cup water for every 2 cups apples. Stir until well mixed and boil 3-5 minutes, stirring constantly. Put the pulp through a food mill to remove seeds and peels. This pulp is then used for apple sauce and butter.
For apple sauce: Combine 10 cups pulp and two cups sugar. Bring to a boil, then pour in jars and process 15 minutes for pints.
For apple butter: Combine 4 cups pulp, 2 cups sugar, 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. allspice, 1/2 tsp. cloves in large pot. Boil, about 12 minutes, stirring constantly. To test, drop a bit of the mixture on a cold plate. If it is moulded, the apple butter is ready. Pour into jars and process in boiling water bath for 20 minutes for pints.

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