Green Tomato Time of Year

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I live in maritime Washington State.  We are noted for having temperate summers.  This one was especially so.  It was rather cool.  Gardening of green goods went well with lots of peas, beans, yellow squash, carrots and beets.  In the greenhouse we had great success.

My husband always grows tomatoes via the Dutch bucket hydroponic system.  We usually have bumper crops.  This year’s is modest.  I raised peppers in the Dutch buckets, in a trough system too, and some just in pots.  I had great success in all with the Dutch bucket system performing extremely well.  Not only do I have lots of peppers, they are HOT.  They don’t always get HOT if the weather is cool, but they did this year.  Maybe it was a different variety.  Some I planted were just from a package of “mixed hot peppers.” The only one I recognized was a pepperocini.

Well the outcome of a minimal ripe tomato crop is that there was a bucket of green tomatoes to be had.  Not being a fried green tomato fan, I fell back on my usual recipe for green tomatoes, green tomato salsa. Green salsa usually has tomatillos.  I substitute green tomatoes and it turns out fine and the chickens don’t end up eating all the green ones.  No waste.

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The pressure cooker is in the process of processing them this very moment.  I chop yellow onions, peppers, hot or sweet, according to your taste, garlic and brown that in a little canola oil.  When most of the liquid has dissipated, I add the chopped green tomatoes, some cumin and ground coriander.  Simmer until the consistency you like.  If you prefer it smooth, put it in the blender and blend until smooth.  We like it chunky. Pack in clean jars and process in the pressure cooker.  You could probably hot water bath them, but I am more partial to the pressure cooker for canning.

I have a little left, intentionally, and will make chicken enchiladas for dinner and use the remaining amount.  I can hardly wait.

So, if you are wondering what to do with all those green globes sitting on the plants you are about to compost, try some green tomato salsa, or…. some years I make hot dog relish with them, but that is for another session.

FALL

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It’s Fall

Well after a summer of very grey weather but no rain, fall is here with a blaze of glory.  We have had a very strange year in the maritime Pacific Northwest, here on Puget Sound.  I live on an island in Puget Sound and this morning the fog has rolled in densely and is cocooning us in its wraith-like quality. Certainly appropriate for the up-coming Halloween season.

Yes, it was a very strange summer with few days where the sun shone, but still we had a drought.  By October first the y-t-d rainfall was less than eight inches, a very rare thing in these parts.  It is rare to have a drought and even more rare to have clouds throughout the season that did not bring rain.

Finally about the end of September it started to rain.  And rain it surely has. We are up to almost eleven inches and it is still the middle of October.  It has poured and poured, too late though to make the broadleaf maples turn beautiful colors.  They just got crisp and turned brown, but not so with most of the other deciduous trees which are performing spectacularly now.  It is some of the most beautiful color I can remember.  Too bad the broadleaf maples couldn’t have joined in with their show, but alas, they suffered more than most.  Cedars suffered from the drought as well, sacrificing the top third of their noble visage to conserve water, and a few have died, they being somewhat shallow-rooted.

Another phenomenon we are experiencing is a bumper crop of every kind of mushroom you can imagine including some we haven’t seen in years.  The drought has brought on varieties that require drought in order to “bloom.”  Not only are there rare varieties, but the common ones are standing in abundance in my orchard, flower beds, walkway gravel, in the woods and in the open. One state park here has limited the daily amount you can collect to two gallons! I didn’t even think it was legal to pick anything without permits in state parks.

There is heavy fog this morning and I can hear the ferry “sounding” to detect the echoes from shore.  When I first moved to this island forty-nine years ago there was also a siren that sounded like a police car winding up it siren.  It rang about every thirty seconds.  That is no longer in use and modern technology doesn’t require the ferry to “sound” any longer.  I think he does it to wake up the dock attendant.

Fog can do strange things to acoustics.  There is a railway along the shore of the mainland about three miles from my home.  I can hear the train whistle too.  It “sounds” at most crossings.  It is as loud and clear as the ferry.  If I listen carefully, I can hear the cars getting off the ferry with the clunk-clunk of the wheels on the ramp to the dock.

My rain barrels are full now.  I had emptied them early watering during the drought and had to resort to the old fashioned hose bib to water by early summer. My mint never came up until the rain came in the fall.  Now it is going great guns and mojito season is past, more like hot buttered rum and spiked cider time.

I’m not complaining as the temperatures are still in the fifties and comfortable.  The weeding is much easier now that the ground is wet.  You could hardly pull weeds when the ground was like cement. I enjoy the fog and to me it feels cozy, hiding much of the world and giving me the privacy I once enjoyed when I first moved here, before the hoards discovered that living on an island in Puget Sound is close to paradise.

Fair Time

 

It is July and it is fair time.  I was always a pretty active participant in the fair, bringing goods and winning ribbons was lots of fun.  That was forty years ago.  The fair has changed considerably in more recent times.

It is still the fair, but it is no long run by the county and therefore not a “county” fair.  It is the Whidbey Island Fair run now by the Island County Port Commission.

During the transition from one system to another some important things were neglected, the major one being the booking of the carnival folks.  We always had the fair around the middle of August when things were hot and dusty.  Now the fair is the middle of July, much too early for an agricultural event.

What happened? When the port realized that they hadn’t booked the carnival, it wasn’t available and there weren’t any others available for the usual time frame, mid August.  What to do?  Well you need a carnival for the fair and the only one available was available way too early for an agricultural event.  They booked it and moved the fair up a month.

What were the repercussions of this sad move?  The carnival activities look ok, though this concessionaire is smaller and doesn’t have the usual Ferris wheel or roller coaster or hammer. The rides aren’t as exciting.

The biggest repercussion is the agriculture events.  How many folks in Western Washington (night temps in the 50s) have corn ready to show at the fair?  Only strawberries have ripened in time.  You should see the examples of garlic, beans, and squash.  Piddily. Most of the produce is just coming on and showing juvenile veggies is not what the fair is about. There were flowers, but they were early summer ones not late summer, a completely different collection than what we use to see.  Folks can’t get inspired to show their wares if they are still immature.

Cattle, pigs, sheep are still somewhat under their usual August weights.  Auctions bring in smaller dollar amounts.  Horses are ready any time as are the chickens, rabbits, dogs, cats, and such.

When I first moved to the island and lived in a Clinton beach community, the local kids and I would go on walkabout and collect shells, sea glass, seed pods, driftwood, and rocks and work on project gluing these to plywood or larger driftwood to enter the kid’s crafts.  It was fun and they treasured the ribbons given to them for their labors. Nowadays the kids are on computers or cell phones and don’t collect detritus from the beach to make beach collages.  Too bad because the exhibit was painfully lacking in interesting material.

Photography seemed to be popular with hundreds of participants, but most were just snapshots without much concentration on creating a piece of art.  The fine arts exhibition was beautiful with a variety of participants, but smaller than in past years.

The usual commercial exhibits didn’t show because the attendance wasn’t high enough—no vegamatic.

We usually go on the first day of the fair in order to see the flowers and vegetables and baked goods at their best, before the wilt and mold set in.  Baking was poorly attended, but there were a goodly number of flowers.  Vegetables were, and have been for all the years the fair  has been in July, small, and severely lacking.  It used to be my favorite department and I would always participate.  Unfortunately, this year, the weather has not cooperated especially, with temps in the 50s at night and 60s during the day and rain to damage much of the goods.

My students produced an educational project that garnered a blue ribbon.  I won two blues and a red.  Many of my students achieved the blue ribbon and some the best of category.  I am proud of them.  The judge was fair and did write critiques for them to read about their work.  It is good to compete as you put your best foot forward and work on painting harder.  The rewards reinforce their attempts. Not everyone goes home happy, but most are happy.  I will crack the whip next year to get them to compete again.

All in all, I enjoyed my work time at the fair (4 hours) as I got to see old friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen in years, many of whom I have know as long as I have lived here (almost fifty years) and one who I have known since high school.  It becomes a reunion time.  Some of the kids from the beach collage are parents and grandparents now.  It is good to see their development.  Some of the folks ask questions and one family had only lived here a week.  They were really enthusiastic about the country fair never having been to a small, old fashioned one.

I had my Fisher Flour Mill scone which I have had at the fair as long as I have lived here.  When I was a little kid we went to the Puyallup Fair, which is officially the Western Washington State Fair and had a scone at the Fisher booth.  My sister and I would collect coupons off the flour sacks all year so we could each have a free scone with strawberry jam using the coupons.  I am told the line is very long now, though I haven’t been to that fair in years, too commercial. We don’t get free ones any more, however.

Without a doubt I enjoyed myself and maybe I should work to make it a better event.  We need to keep these small fairs going, they are dying out in America and they are really what the county or country fair is really about. You should seek them out and visit.  They are truly a part of rural America.

PS:  See my award on my website https://theruralgallery.com

A Treat in Winter

IMG_4503It has been a while since I wrote, but winter can be a busy time.  The wind blows and the branches fall and cleanup has to happen.  The critters in the woods come out and attack the chickens and measures need to be taken to make the chickens more secure.  I lost two of my hens to a Cooper’s hawk.

It snowed twice this past week here in the maritime Northwest, an almost unheard of event for late March. It wasn’t traffic-stopping snow, but snow none the less.

The woodshed was almost empty as the weather has been colder than usual with more fuel needed for the woodstove, so I have been working on a new batch of wood, splitting and hauling.  But we ARE keeping warm.

It is also time to do all the tax stuff since the two of us have businesses that require complicated tax forms.

Gee isn’t winter fun?  Well it is, and I am just giving excuses for not writing. We do have a new customer for our card business and we have been preparing a new line of cards as well.  I had three dog portrait commissions in recent weeks too. That is always exciting.

Right now the wind is blowing like mad outside (22 mph) and the temp is in the low 40s.  I just started the stove and will put on breakfast shortly.  Winter is also the time for comfort food and last night I made one of our favorites, ravioli.

We have always made our own pasta and, in more recent times, even have a hand-crank machine to roll and cut the dough.  I made large sheets and cut out round ravioli with the device I mentioned an earlier blog.

IMG_4505Last night, however, the ravioli was a real surprise, even for me who can usually anticipate how it will taste.  I took a bite and was truly amazed at the wonderful flavor.  I made homemade ricotta to which I added homemade marinated sundried tomatoes, pesto, toasted almond meal and porcini mushroom powder plus a whole egg.  Wrapped this up in the pasta.  For the sauce, I opened a can of homemade marinara that I made last fall and added homemade cubed lonzino (a Portuguese version of prosciutto).  Sprinkled it all with parm. Served it with a Whidbey Island Winery Sangiovese. The first bite’s flavor just burst in my mouth. I was totally surprised.  I made this last time without the almonds and porcini, but they made all the difference.  Luckily I made enough so we will have leftovers for lunch tomorrow.  What luxury.

I know it sounds like a long complicated process, but having made the lonzino, marinara, pesto, marinated sundried tomatoes last summer at different times, I had all these items on hand.  The ricotta only takes about ten minutes to make and is half the price of the store bought (I use the whey for bread making or soup stock).  There are benefits to planning ahead.

I took a couple of photos, one of the ravioli airing before boiling and one of them finished in the bowl, but, oops, I had eaten a lot before I remembered to take the photo.  It was soooooo good!

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The Season of Pickled Herring

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I am Swedish by birth, only partly, but some.  The Christmas holidays, these days, is Pickled Herring season.  We didn’t eat it when I was a kid, and I don’t know when I developed at taste for it.  Probably this happened during the years when I lived in the neighborhood of Ballard in Seattle in my young adult life, eons ago.  Since then, the Christmas holidays always included pickled herring.  There was a wonderful bakery/deli name Johnson’s and later Olson’s, I believe, where it was readily available.  I used to go there and buy almond paste and air smoked and hardened lamb and pickled herring that they made in fifty gallon drums.  Theirs was the best. They also carried about twenty-five brands of cod liver oil.  I asked who bought this stuff.  It seems that folks who grew up with it needed to be supplied consistently in their adulthood.  Can you imagine drinking this stuff voluntarily?

Now that place is gone and we travel to Ballard to the Scandinavian Specialties shop on 15th Northwest.  Theirs isn’t the best, but it is the best substitute we can find. My husband went two days ago and bought a couple of quart tubs of herring, a pint of lingonberries and some currant spread.  We now make our own potato sausage so we don’t purchase that any longer.  They do not have the air dried lamb.  Times change and folks no longer eat these specialties.  I guess I am old fashioned even though they are not from my youth.

I can remember as a kid trying to talk my mom into buying gjetost from the grocery during the holidays.  Every year I would think I loved this.  You can read about this brown, caramelized cheese that is considered Scandinavian Fudge on the internet at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brunost.  Each year I would take a few bites and it would languish until tossed to the chickens about April.  My mom would give me a scowl and put the small package in the cart, but she knew it would not get eaten.  My dad would eat a few bites too, but it was so cloying that it clenched the muscles in your jaws to rigor mortis.

Anyway, I found myself with pickled herring, the kind in sugared vinegar, not sour cream, my favorite.  I also had on hand several other ingredients and wanted to make a Latvian salad I had had a few years ago that had really impressed me. It is also eaten in Finland, Estonia and Norway to name a few places.  I made it last night for dinner with warm rolls and felt like the holidays had truly arrived. The recipe is below.

When I brought my love of pickled herring into the relationship with my husband, he turned up his nose and pooh hood the dastardly stuff.  Said he wouldn’t get caught eating such weird ethnic stuff.  Was this a slur on my heritage?  Of course not, he loved me and yes he would try a piece, but only one piece.

I went off to work the next day and when I returned, he was making dinner.  I decided to have a couple of pieces of herring as an appetizer before he served dinner.  I rummaged through the refer to find the quart container I had purchased at Johnson’s.  I couldn’t find it.  We had eaten about a half cup the night before, but the remaining three quarters or so of the quart eluded my search.  He had eaten it all for lunch.  Boy, was he taken with pickled herring.  I am glad, as I love it, but I was sorely disappointed to not have more than a few bites of that quart.

So for the Latvian version of Herring and Potato Salad, here it is.  I noticed that my husband ate half of the salad today while I was it work.  Luckily there was enough for a photo. Enjoy.

Estonia: Herring and Potato Salad

Estonian Herring and Potato Salad

For the salad:

  • Pickled herring to taste, we use lots
  • 2 red-skinned potatoes, boiled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 3 canned beets, cut into 1/2-inch dice ( I cooked fresh from the garden)
  • 1/3 cup minced onions
  • 1 large tart apple, cored and cut into 1/2 inch dice
  • 1/2 cup diced dill pickles
  • 2 hard-cooked eggs, chopped

For the dressing and garnish:

  • 1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard (I used brown mustard seeds)
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard plus I used some sweet and hot prepared too
  • 1/2 cup prepared mayonaise
  • 1 1/3 cups sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon prepared horseradish, drained
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar, or more to taste
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 hard-boiled egg, for garnish

Cut the herring into half inch square pieces. Place in a large bowl and combine with the potatoes, onion, beets, apple, chopped eggs, pickles.

In a small bowl, whisk the mustards with the mayo until smooth. Stir in the remaining dressing ingredients (through the salt and pepper) and blend well.

Add the dressing to the salad: toss. Transfer to a serving bowl. Serve garnished with sliced egg.

Serves 6.

 

 

Back Roads

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The Back Road to our Farm (the only road)

Today we will go to a potluck sponsored by the local historical society here on Whidbey Island.  The potluck is at a hundred year old community hall.  This gathering happens once a quarter and the discussion is about back roads of Whidbey.  This time we are discussing Quade Road and Goodell Road.  I assume that this is the current Goodell Road as there use to be a couple of roads named Goodell Road.

The photo above is a back road, albeit, more rustic in nature than the ones under discussion.  It is an old road to my farm where I grow my vegetables and fruit.  I have talked about growing there in former blogs.  The interesting thing about this road is it is six hundred and sixty feet down this road to the edge of my farm.  I travel another four hundred feet beyond to the garden.  The farm is ten acres of very secluded land.  About two acres is cleared and my garden and fruit trees are in this clearing.  We have farmed here for about seventeen years.  It is not where we live, but eighteen miles from our home.

We use to garden at our home, but the land to the south of us, which was fields when we moved here, have grown up into tall conifers and shaded out our garden and orchard.  Now we garden in this remote site. I love the peace and solitude this remote location affords.  About the only sounds I hear when I am gardening are the resident raven making his croaky sound to talk with its mate, an occasional airplane and the scream of an eagle who has his eye on my dachshund. I have to keep a careful eye on both the dog and the eagle.  If the eagle gets too aggressive the dog has to be in the truck.  He would much rather be looking for mice in the garden. He likes to dig in the garden with me.

The interesting thing about this back road to my garden is that once this road was frequented by trucks that hauled strawberries to the local steamboats that took the goods to larger city centers.  Until 1945 this was a strawberry farm, as were many of the farms in adjacent area.  They had their own grange in the community as well.

In 1945, for some reason, the farm was left to decay.  The folks who lived here moved out, leaving a very small house, two rooms, no plumbing, electricity, with wood heat, and never returned.  We bought it in 1988.  The house was partially collapsed and had to be taken down.  A neighbor down the street gave us a photo of what it looked like when a family lived here.  He didn’t know what happened to them.  When we bought the property, strawberries still grew here, wild, but not flourishing.

There were also two other buildings on the property and an old root cellar.  The two other buildings were at opposite ends of the property and were workers shacks.  They were about ten by fifteen feet with just studs on the inside walls.  The outsides had shiplap siding.  Where there were knot holes in the siding and the knots had fallen out, the residents (strawberry pickers and weeders) had nailed up cornflakes box tops over the holes to keep the elements and mice out.  Tin can lids were nailed over some of these as well.  The same was true of the boards on the floor.  The roofs were hand split cedar shakes from the property.

It was always fun to travel down this long road through two gates and arrive at this little part of history that we owned.  We had hoped to build here someday, but life passed us by and it never happened.  We garden and enjoy the solitude and hope that the folks who had tended there garden here so long ago watch over us and feel that we are good husbanders of their land.  It is never easy work.  Even with my modest garden, it is still a lot of work.  I can’t imagine tending acres of strawberries.  They also had goats, so maybe they provided milk and cheese and weeding for the strawberry farmers.

Now we are to an age where we have to think about the end of our lives and the farm will provide our retirement when we sell it.  The time has come and I only hope that the new owners, when they materialize, are as reverent of the land as those who have gone before.

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Hundred Year Old Apple Trees

The dish I am making for the potluck, if you are interested, is Italian Strata

Here is the recipe.

Italian Strata

Layer the following in a large casserole (I am using my lidded cast iron kettle)

Large cubed bread (day old, stale, tough) soaked in a little butter, cream and milk until soft

Finely chopped onion

Pesto

Sun-dried tomatoes

Goat cheese (chevre)

Homemade ricotta (see previous blog) with a little lemon zest stirred in

Red and yellow peppers chopped

Diced and browned lonzino (you could use bacon or ham)

I mixed five eggs with milk and poured over

Topped with shredded romano cheese

And bake until set.  Because mine is large, I am baking part of the time with the lid on and then taking off to brown for the last few minutes.

I know, I didn’t give any measurements.  It is just great to do it by feel and sight.  You can add lots of goodies or a few.  Bread is the main constituent, but it doesn’t have to be.  Just have fun.

Rabbits, Rabbits, Rabbits

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Yes, Rabbits!  A town nearby on Whidbey Island is having an issue with lots of rabbits.  These are not the wild cottontails that live around my farm, but domestics that have run rampant.

Years ago, the county fair, which is located adjacent to the city limits, had an event for children called The Barnyard Scramble.  Folks on the island donated animals, of which they had a surplus, for the children to chase and capture and take home.

Many a parent didn’t think little Johnny had a chance of catching a piglet or rooster or rabbit or duck so allowed them to enter in the competition.  Unfortunately, Johnny or Mary DID catch one.  Now they had to take it home to a situation for which they were totally unprepared.  How do you house a piglet, rooster, rabbit or duck?  The local feed store made out like bandits as the confused parent tried to decide what was needed to keep the little treasure happy and alive.

We live on an island with lots of predators, coyotes, raccoons, weasels, owls, hawks, eagles, and mink.  Keeping my chickens safe is a project, one that has needed a lot of polishing over the years to avoid disaster.

Well mom or dad is at the feed store trying to decide what type of containment, food, water, vitamins, minerals, sleeping materials this new member of their family needs to be happy.

Sometimes it is so frustrating that they just decide to let it go in another neighborhood away from theirs.  Johnny is heartbroken, but maybe we can get him a more suitable pet, perhaps a gerbil.

Well, one of the problems with the Barnyard Scramble is that a few of the more wily got away.  Mostly rabbits.  For a number of years their number was not significant.  Now, numerous years later, they have multiplied logarithmically.

I was walking downtown the other day and didn’t see the rabbit.  It only just avoided my stepping on it by a “hare’s-breath.”  It just laid there sunning itself, challenging me to walk around.

Now they dig up the football field at the school creating leg-breaking divots in the terrain.  They are competing with the local deer in the neighborhood for your delectable bedding plants within minutes of them being established in their proper location in the garden.  They hide under the rhododendrons, sleep in your garden shed and…… have three or four litters of up to six offspring each year.

I drove into town in May and there were five identical quints nibbling grass at the bus stop.  They were still hanging out together two weeks later.  When I first spied them they were smaller than teacup size and then they were full grown and looking at each other in a distinctly sexual way.  Children driving to town with you in your car can get a sex education in almost every block of town.

I live six miles from this town and twice in the last two months, foreign, domestic rabbits have appeared in my neighborhood.  I have had a problem with cottontails for years.  They will run when they see me.  They do chew off the tulips and then decide that they really didn’t like the taste of them, leaving them laying on the ground to wilt and die.  They use the same approach with raspberries, and my bedding plants.  If you plant bulbs in the fall they will dig them up to see if they are edible and leave them laying on the ground to get frozen if you don’t notice soon enough.  Some folks plant bulbs with chicken wire placed over the top and then filled with dirt to deter them.  The bulbs grow through the chicken wire just fine.

Recently around the Pacific Northwest the news folks have been predicting the doom and gloom of a cataclysmic event.  Do you have enough water?  Do you have enough food?  Do you have a plan to keep warm?  How will you survive unless you plan ahead?

I have planned ahead.  I am ready.  When this happens, we will eat rabbit.  Don’t tell anyone, because, there are only enough for us for each season.  Well maybe a little more than enough for us.  I am not sure what we will eat with them, but we use to eat rabbit a lot when we raised them for meat.  Why not now?  Rabbit stew day in and day out may be boring, but it is life sustaining.  I am not sure we could put much of dent in the population at the rate they reproduce, but we could make some inroads.