A Few Favorites in 2021

Every year I usually do an annual end-of-year review of what did well in the garden, and what didn’t. This year I am sort of jumping the gun to give a review of some of my current favorites that I have been harvesting and eating. It’s no secret that tomatoes are the most popular and most widely planted vegetable by home gardeners here in the U.S. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are easy to grow though. I’ve been growing them for many years now, but they don’t always do as well as I would like due to weather and other factors. It’s proving to be a great year here in 2021 for tomatoes, so I’ll start with a few of my favorites.

Damsel tomatoes

I have several favorite slicing tomatoes for fresh eating, and Damsel is near the top of the current list. Damsel has pink skin and a sweet, tangy red flesh. I first grew it as a part of my testing of late blight resistant tomatoes, and it has proven to be one of the best I have tested so far. Seed catalogs like Territorial Seed Company claim it has a flavor “typically only found in heirlooms”. I have to agree, and we have been enjoying all the fruits my one plant has produced so far. We have done several tastings this year, and it has beaten the competition handily every time. Next year I need to set out more than one plant and skip some of the others!

Damsel

Garden Treasure is a red slicing tomato I have been growing for about six years now. It was released by the University of Florida Klee Lab for tomato research, and until recently was only available by making a modest donation ($10) to their research program. For that they sent you seeds for it plus their Garden Gem tomato. In our garden, Garden Treasure makes loads of juicy, tasty tomatoes that grow on strong indeterminate vines. It has been a favorite here ever since I started growing it. Seeds are now available online at Proven Winners, where the listing says it was bred “to have true heirloom taste, with modern disease resistance and high yield of large fruit.” Once again, I have to agree!

Garden Treasure tomatoes

Cherry Bomb is a cherry tomato with excellent late blight resistance, and it is my third year growing it. I can say it is definitely my favorite cherry tomato at the moment, and possibly my favorite ever! The slightly elongated round fruits are sweet and in my garden very resistant to cracking and splitting. I confess I’ve snacked on quite a few out in the garden, and for that matter I generally head straight to Cherry Bomb if I’m looking for cherry type tomatoes for use in the kitchen. My one caged plant has yielded five pounds of tomatoes so far, and the vines are still growing strong. In addition to fresh use, I have also dried them and slow-roasted them for later use.

Cherry Bomb tomatoes

Moving on to other things, acorn squash Goldilocks is a 2021 AAS Winner. This spring I set out two plants that were sent to my by the folks at AAS for trial. Both plants did well, and I got around a dozen squash total from the plants. The ones I’ve been harvesting are right about one pound, which is a good size for the two of us to share for a meal.

Goldilocks squashes

Goldilocks is truly one of the best tasting hybrid acorn squash I have ever grown. The seed cavity is small, and the orange/yellow flesh has a great taste and texture. I plan to grow this one again in 2022, and perhaps will set out more plants than I did this year.

inside of Goldilocks squash

roasted Goldilocks squash

Early Bulam is a Korean squash that is nicknamed ‘avocado squash’ because of it’s shape. Botanically, it is a C. moschata squash that is used in the green stage much like tromboncino is usually used. It grows on vigorous vines that I have trellised to keep them off the ground.

Early Bulam squash

I think it has a much better flavor than the tromboncino, and it is a favorite here in the kitchen for sure. The squash has much more flavor than a zucchini, and the flesh is less watery. I really enjoy cutting these squash into cubes and sautéing  in a bit of olive oil.

cooking Early Bulam squash

Gretel and Fairy Tale are two more AAS Winners, Gretel from 2009 and Fairy Tale in 2005. I am growing both these in containers, where they have yielded an impressive amount of tasty, tender fruits. We love these eggplant roasted, grilled and in stir-fries. The flesh and skin are tender and mild.

Gretel and Fairy Tale eggplant

Fairy Tale eggplant on the grill

And last but certainly not least, the Mini Munch cucumber has become my new favorite cuke. The fruits have a tender skin and crisp, seedless mild flesh. I have these growing in our greenhouse, where they were early to yield and quite prolific. We have enjoyed these on salads and other dishes, as well as when turned into refrigerator pickles.

Mini Munch cucumbers

I hope you have enjoyed this review of some of my favorite things from the garden in 2021. I’ll be back soon with more adventures from Happy Acres!.

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Harvest Monday August 23, 2021

It’s time once again for Harvest Monday, where gardeners from all over celebrate all things harvest related. It’s been a great year here for tomatoes, and I have harvested almost 150 pounds of them. They have been dehydrated, roasted, turned into sauce and paste as well as eaten fresh at every opportunity. Juliet and Health Kick have been especially prolific, and so far I have gotten 40 pounds of Juliet along with 25 pounds of the short vine Health Kick. I have four plants of Juliet in two remesh cages, and three plants of the Health Kick.

harvest of paste tomatoes

Juliet tomatoes

The slicing tomatoes have not disappointed either, and last week I picked a couple of big Chef’s Choice Yellow tomatoes that weighed over a pound each. While impressive, I have to say I prefer the slightly smaller sized fruits like the red Garden Treasure ones in the below photo. It’s hard to get a decent slice out of the ones with the big shoulders.

Chef’s Choice Yellow and Garden Treasure tomatoes

It’s been a so-so harvest for the winter squashes so far. I got a mix of Thelma Sanders, Gill’s Golden Pippin and a couple of delicata along with two more of the yellow acorn Goldilocks. Goldilocks has been the star squash so far as well as the earliest, though I am looking forward to getting a taste of the others soon. The neck pumpkins are setting on quite a few fruit so we should have plenty of them for winter storage.

winter squashes

We have had a bumper crop of eggplant this year, and have been well supplied for a couple of months now. The ones planted in-ground are now producing, and I’m harvesting a mix of Italian and Asian type varieties that are quite useful in the kitchen.

eggplant harvest

One thing we did with the eggplant last week was to make a cheesy casserole. For this dish I cooked Carnaroli rice in the rice cooker until it was done but still had a bit of “crunch” to it. That way it could continue to soak up moisture from the other ingredients, which included tomatoes, mushrooms and mozzarella cheese. I topped the casserole with fresh basil and more mozzarella and Pecorino Romano cheeses. It had a great flavor and mouth feel, and made for a comforting side dish at dinner time. The leftovers were pretty tasty too! I can see this casserole using other garden goodies like squash or perhaps even cabbage.

cheesy eggplant and rice casserole

cheesy eggplant and rice casserole

The pole beans are just now really starting to produce, and I got enough last week for another cooking plus a few for the freezer. We use a lot of beans in soups as well as for cooking up on their own, and we have used up pretty much all I froze last year.

bean harvest

In other news, I baked up a batch of Everyday Sourdough Bread last week for sandwich use.  This King Arthur Flour recipe is easy to make, and baked in a Pullman loaf pan which makes for a loaf with a dense consistency that can be sliced thin and yet still hold up to wet toppings like tuna salad and such. I’m still experimenting with this recipe, and for this loaf I used 20% sprouted whole wheat flour along with 80% bread flour. It took about 16 hours from start to finished loaf, but only around 15 minutes of that was hands-on time.

Everyday Sourdough bread

We still have lots of things blooming in our flower beds. The hardy hibiscus plants are really putting on a show, and even though the blooms only last a day there are usually several news ones to open up each day. The Ligularia (aka ragwort) is also looking good in the shade garden now.

Scarlet Hibiscus

Ligularia blooms

Rainbow Marcella Echinacea

My wife is especially fond of this Fluffy Shasta Daisy that is blooming now. She has several different daisies in the Sun Garden area, including Becky and the 2021 AAS Winner Sweet Daisy Birdy. Fluffy has quite a few blooms given that it was just planted a couple of months ago.

Fluffy Shasta Daisy

Harvest Monday is a day to show off your harvests, how you are saving your harvest, or how you are using your harvest. If you have a harvest you want to share, add your name and blog link to Mr Linky below. And be sure and check out what everyone is harvesting!


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Harvest Monday August 16, 2021

It’s time once again for Harvest Monday, where gardeners from all over celebrate all things harvest related. It’s still tomato season here, and I’ve now harvested over 100 pounds of them so far this year. The eggplants are doing well also, which has us scrambling to look for new ways to use them as well as making old favorite dishes. The summer squashes are about done for, but we are still getting ones like tromboncino and the Korean avocado squash (Early Bulam).

August harvest

Eggplant sandwiches are a favorite here, and always a treat when we have both eggplant and tomatoes fresh from the garden. One day last week we grilled mini naan bread until crisp then spread with some smashed avocado, and topped with roasted eggplant and tomato slices. A slice of cheddar cheese went on top of everything, and after a quick trip under the broiler it made for a quick and light lunch. We’ve also made it on a slice of bread, but the Stonefire Naans are the current favorite.

eggplant sandwich

Another meal last week featured roasted eggplant along with spiralized squash topped with cheese and basil. The veggies went well with grilled chicken breast. We are looking forward to trying a cheesy eggplant and rice casserole soon, perhaps tonight. I find eggplant to be pretty versatile in the kitchen, especially when they are mild and tender and fresh from the garden.

spiralized squash with roasted eggplant

Right on schedule, I got the first harvest of the climbing/pole beans last week. Robe Mountain is a dependable early performer for me and in my experience sets pods at about the same time as modern varieties like Fortex or Musica, which I am not growing this year. The bigger pods have strings that are easily removed, while the smaller and younger pods usually don’t. They have a great “beany” flavor and the pods stay tender even when big.

Robe Mountain beans

A large amount of paste type tomatoes went into a batch of sauce I cooked up on Saturday. I made it extra thick, so it can be used as a pizza sauce. I didn’t add any seasonings though, which I think makes it more flexible to use later. Earlier in the week I cooked up a batch of tomatoes for paste. 16 cups of blended tomatoes cooked down to about 5 cups of sauce, which I put on dehydrator sheets to finish the process and drive off more of the moisture.

tomatoes for paste

dehydrating tomato paste

After about three hours in the dehydrator, the paste was ready. I now had about two and a half cups of finished tomato paste, which was quite thick. I spooned it into ice cube trays to freeze. The cubes are great to add to sauces and other dishes that need a bit of extra tomato flavor. Canned tomato paste is not all that expensive to buy, so I certainly can’t justify making it myself as a money saver. But the flavor of the homemade paste is wonderful, and there is only one ingredient: organically grown and vine-ripened tomatoes.

finished tomato paste

I’m trying to showcase some of the tomatoes we are growing this year. I figure it can help other gardeners see what they look like without the hype generally present in seed catalog listings, plus it makes a good record for me in the future as I plan what I want to grow. I have been growing the University of Florida bred Garden Gem tomato for several years now. This year they offered an Improved Garden Gem variety in their Citizen Science Initiative, and I have one plant I set out. This is a tasty variety for both fresh eating and for turning into sauce, which is what I did with this batch. Each tomato averages a bit more than two ounces, and the determinate vines are loaded with fruit. I am impressed with the improved version, and I will likely set out more than one plant next year.

Improved Garden Gem tomatoes

In other news, we have been growing the scarlet hibiscus here for many years, but this year my wife and I also planted some of the large flowered hardy hibiscus. They are just now beginning to bloom. The flowers only last for a day, but are usually followed by more blossoms from the same flower stalk. They are a favorite of hummingbirds, and occasionally I see butterflies on them.

hibiscus Fireball

hibiscus Midnight Marvel

Harvest Monday is a day to show off your harvests, how you are saving your harvest, or how you are using your harvest. If you have a harvest you want to share, add your name and blog link to Mr Linky below. And be sure and check out what everyone is harvesting!


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My Five Favorite Ways to Preserve Tomatoes

It’s tomato season here at Happy Acres, and I am keeping busy harvesting and processing them. I’m not complaining, since it looks to be a great year for them and last year they had lots of issues with splitting and rotting. I’ve hauled in over 70 pounds of them already, with lots more on the vines ready to ripen in the coming days and weeks. In addition to eating quite a few of them fresh, we also preserve lots of them for later use. I suspect there are other gardeners with lots of tomatoes coming in now, so here are some of my suggestions for how to deal with them all. I’m sharing five of my favorite ways to process and preserve tomatoes.

dehydrated Juliet tomatoes

dehydrated Juliet tomatoes

Dehydrating is one of my two favorite ways to preserve the smaller tomatoes, though larger ones can also be dried. Dehydrating them concentrates the flavor, and the dried tomatoes can be used as-is or rehydrated in water. I use all colors and varieties for drying, depending on what is available at the moment. Orange and yellow ones lose some of their bright color, but not their flavor. The red ones get a deeper shade of red.

dehydrating tomatoes

dehydrating tomatoes

I’m often asked about which dehydrator we have. We have been using an Excalibur dehydrator for about 10 years now and are quite pleased with it. In my experience it takes between 8-18 hours to dry the tomatoes to the desired leathery consistency, depending on the size of the tomatoes and their initial moisture content.

Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

Slow-roasting is my other favorite thing to do with the small ones. Like drying, the roasting concentrates the flavor. But when roasted the tomatoes keep more of their moisture than when dried. It’s important to keep the oven heat low, around 250°F or the tomatoes will burn easily.

slow roasting tomatoes

After roasting, I freeze the tomatoes with a little olive oil added. They make a tasty addition to pizza, pasta dishes and salads.

blending tomatoes for sauce

I also turn quite a few of the tomatoes into sauce. In the past I would heat the tomatoes and then pass through a food mill to remove the skins and some of the seeds. These days, I just put them in the blender, skins and all. I do remove the cores on those that have one, but smaller plum type tomatoes like Juliet (one of my favorites) go in whole.

Vitamix Tomato Sauce

Vitamix Tomato Sauce

I cook the tomatoes down until the volume is reduced by half, which usually takes about 1 to 1-1/2 hours to make a nice thick sauce. I make most of my tomato sauce of unseasoned, with only one ingredient: tomatoes. That way it can be used in a variety of dishes, from soups and chili to enchiladas, marinara sauce and other dishes. I freeze the sauce into pint or smaller containers for later use.  I’ve never canned it so I can’t really give any details for processing it that way.

Freezer Tomato Sauce

Freezer Tomato Sauce

I also make a tomato sauce that is seasoned with onions, celery and garlic, along with a bit of sugar and salt. It can be used in any recipe calling for canned tomato sauce, though it has a much better flavor when made with ripe homegrown tomatoes!

Homemade Tomato Ketchup

Last but certainly not least, my wife and I always make a batch or two of Homemade Tomato Ketchup every year. That is a long process, and usually takes us around five hours from start to finish. It’s worth it though, because the ketchup is unlike anything you are likely to buy anywhere! The finished product is processed in a boiling water bath canner, and keeps on the shelf with good quality for at least a year.

jars of homemade ketchup

I hope you have enjoyed these ideas of how to deal with a lot of tomatoes when you have them. If you have your own favorite ways with tomatoes, I’d love to hear about them. And if you try any of my methods I’d like to hear about it too. A list of the recipes with more details follows:

  1. Dehydrating Tomatoes
  2. Slow Roasted Tomatoes
  3. Vitamix Freezer Tomato Sauce
  4. Freezer Tomato Sauce
  5. Homemade Tomato Ketchup

 

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Harvest Monday August 9, 2021

It’s time once again for Harvest Monday, where we celebrate all things harvest related. It is safe to say the tomatoes are really rolling in now. I’ve harvested 50 pounds of them already this year, and the vines are still loaded with ripening fruit. Other harvests now include plenty of eggplant, plus a few of the early maturing the winter squashes. It looks like it is going to be a good year for tomatoes here, in contrast to last year when they had a lot of issues and the yields were way down. I use a lot for processing so it is fairly easy to make them disappear!

typical August harvest

tomatoes for sauce

tomatoes and squash

Benevento is a new red beefsteak tomato from Artisan Seeds that has yellow stripes and keeps well both on and off the vines. It’s my first time growing it, and so far it has been productive.

Benevento tomatoes

My wife and I do a lot of tomato tasting when we have them. They also appear often on sandwiches and as a side dish. One day we compared Chef’s Choice Red and Damsel. While there were subtle differences in flavor, we liked them both and couldn’t really pick one over the other. Both do well here for me, and Damsel has the bonus of being resistant to late blight. Blight isn’t yet an issue for me, but I fear it will be someday so it is good to have resistant varieties at the ready.

Chef’s Choice Red(L) and Damsel(R) tomatoes

Tropical Sunset is another new tomato I’m growing for the first time. The ping pong ball sized fruits are sweet and tasty, and so far splitting has not been a problem with them. I have eaten quite a few right out in the garden, which is always a sign of a good tasting variety. It is visually pretty too, so to paraphrase Bill Murray in Caddyshack, it’s got that going for it too!

Tropical Sunset tomatoes

Last week I roasted one of the Goldilocks acorn squash in a cast iron skillet, and it was tasty prepared that way. This 2021 AAS Winner has been very productive for me, and I look forward to eating more of them this year and to growing it again next year.

roasted Goldilocks squash

With all the tomatoes coming in now, it was time to start processing them. Ketchup making is an annual event here, and since it takes around five hours from start to finish my wife and I both work on it together. For this batch, about nine pounds of paste type tomatoes made 8 half pint jars of finished ketchup. We plan on making another batch this week, which should keep us supplied for a year or so. I also used about eight pounds of the paste tomatoes to make a batch of Freezer Tomato Sauce. This is a seasoned sauce, with added onion, celery and garlic. I plan to make unseasoned sauce with more of the tomatoes as soon as we have them, and if I have enough tomatoes I want to make tomato paste too.

cooking the ketchup

finished jars of ketchup

Harvest Monday is a day to show off your harvests, how you are saving your harvest, or how you are using your harvest. If you have a harvest you want to share, add your name and blog link to Mr Linky below. And be sure and check out what everyone is harvesting!


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