Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Summer Lovin'

So, I've been on a blogging hiatus for a while, mostly due to professional development and vacation. But I'm sooo glad to be back and enjoying all that home has to offer this summer! I wanted to share a bit with you about what culinary/gardening adventures I've been up to over the past week, in hopes that it might inspire you to make the most of the bountiful summer produce you find in your own garden or at the local farmer's market.

Last week, while visiting with my mom, I had the opportunity to visit a few gardens in the eastern part of the state. One thing that I've found with gardeners is that they are generally very willing to share both their knowledge and their plants. So, I came home with a back seat full of perennial flowers, ground covers, and a few herbs. Most of what I planted has survived, despite the continued heat wave (it took lots of watering). The most exciting thing for me in sharing with these gardeners was to learn from them. One prides herself on her organic vegetable garden, which is totally amazing, so that really helped me out with our veggie garden here. Another is a Master Gardener (see your local ag extension office if you don't know about that program), so she shared a lot with me about saving seeds and amending soils. The last was a family friend who has always had a love of garden and has inspired me to begin collecting stones from our travels to add to our flower gardens as another layer of textural interest and a unique trip down memory lane.

When I got back here, blackberry season was in full force, so we spent several hours picking berries (and climbing into thickets or up banks others might have deemed dangerous--anything in the name of fresh summer berries!). We also found a blueberry patch a friend told us about where you can pick a gallon for $5! (Do you realize you pay that much for 8 ounces at the grocery store! Ridiculous!) So, we picked a gallon of those last Tuesday evening. This all came together beautifully when a friend volunteered to help me learn to can home grown produce, so last Friday I made my very first batch of mixed berry jam! I haven't opened the first jar yet, but we're totally looking forward to it. I'm hoping to be able to make some apple jelly or butter this fall with our apples and give some of both as Christmas gifts.

The same friend who helped me with the canning (thanks, Michele!), also has an amazing vegetable garden. Like most gardeners, theirs seems to grow a bit every year, and it seems this year it grew a little too large... so large they can't keep up with eating all the produce! That means that we get to share in the bounty. :) They've offered us tons of yellow squash, zucchini, cucumbers, and green beans. In addition to helping her can some of the cucumbers as pickle relish (another fun learning experience), I've experimented with some new recipes for squash and zucchini. Of course, we've steamed some in the microwave with our fresh herbs and some of the first peppers from our garden. I also discovered this zucchini tart recipe in the recent edition of the Rachel Ray magazine, which I tried on Sunday night. I'll warn you, it's labor intensive, so prepare yourself for a few hours in the kitchen. (I did use the food processor for slicing the zucchini and wouldn't hesitate to steam the zucchini first, rather than doing the salt soak thing to get the moisture out, since it's going to be cooked anyway. We also made a double batch, since we had the ingredients.) I'm also wanting to try a zucchini bread recipe, as well as a squash casserole. Does anyone have a fantastic squash casserole recipe you love?

One thing I've been doing with the abundance of fresh herbs I have is making herb butter to put in the freezer for winter, when I don't have those fresh herbs on hand. This is so easy to do and takes practically no time. First, I use room temp butter (this usually means I set it out the night before or sometime that morning to make an afternoon batch). You can use as much as you'd like, but I generally only soften one stick at a time so that I have a variety of flavors in the freezer. Then I chop my herbs (as much or little as your taste preference is). Some of my favorite flavor combos are parsley, chives, and cilantro; parsley, chives, and sage; parsley, chives, and basil; lemon balm and mint. Then, I just mix the butter and chopped herbs in a bowl with a fork or small spatula and place the blob on waxed paper. I make a roll with it inside the waxed paper, double wrap in plastic wrap or aluminum foil, and label it. Then it goes in the freezer. This is a fantastic addition to any sauté you do in the winter, as well as great for adding to burger patties (we put about 1/2 tbs. in the center of each patty before grilling and love it!), meatloaf, or spreading onto bread for garlic bread.

I can't wait for the summer tomatoes to come in later this week! They're looking beautiful on the vines right now, but I am so ready to pop one in my mouth! There's just nothing quite like a home grown, vine ripened tomato.

So, how are you enjoying the love that nature has to offer in the veggie garden and farmer's market this summer? Are you finding, as I am, that your dollar goes further for better produce at the farmer's market than the grocery store, or is it a toss up to you? Here's to living and saving green on produce this summer! I'd love to hear from you!

If you're into local food and farmer's markets the way I am and haven't read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, I highly recommend it. I just started it and can hardly put it down!


  1. Hi Allyson,
    Your list of activities are so impressive! You are on-the-go! I really like your herb-butter ideas. I don't have many herbs planted, but I do have parsley and basil. I planted chives and cilantro, too...but they did not thrive. As for the parsley, the swallowtail cats have all but finished it off! So that leaves me with basil. I'm sure I can do something with that, all by itself. My veggie and herb gardening success is not too good this summer! Have you received the tote-bag yet? I just thought I'd ask, since it should have arrived by now. Take care. Jan

  2. As for the herbs, I've tried several different ways and have found that the perennial herbs do better in the ground here in Appalachia and the annuals do better in pots. I guess the amended potting soil gives the annuals the boost they need. I've tried chives in several locations around the house, and they seem to do better in full sun (as with most herbs), and lots of compost/mulch in early spring to help them get going. Hoping that helps those of you with herb questions!