Autum Garden Stuff

In the Autumn Garden – September

By Celia Hayes

That blessed day – the day that we can turn off the AC and open the windows arrived this last weekend. Cool fall weather in South Texas arrived in tandem with the notice from the city regarding brush pickup, so the neighborhood has been serenaded with the sounds of chain saws all this week. Receipt of the brush pickup notice meant for us that it was time to call the tree guy to come and take out two many-stemmed laurel-cherry trees, which had begun as a self-planted small saplings, grew into a hedge-like thing which screened my back yard from my next-door neighbors and offered a small touch of shade, and finally one of the two into a towering behemoth which banished direct sunlight from half the yard.

Nemesis arrived promptly at midday on Friday, and before 4 PM the trunk and branches and all were piled up on the curb. It is not quite the biggest pile in the neighborhood – but my daughter and I added some more to the top, by cleaning out some half-dead rosemary bushes in front, and pruning some particularly leggy roses. The big thing, though – was reclaiming the area which the laurel-cherries had shaded into oblivion, now that the sliver of potential flower or vegetable bed has been restored to sunlight.

I originally had the idea to make that corner into a kind of outdoor parody- living room, centered around a small chair-shaped plant stand (which we rescued out of the bulk trash pick-up a couple of years ago (beating the metal scavengers to it by a short head) and a huge pottery chiminea (to which my daughter beat everyone else). And a small concrete statue of a sleeping cat, marking the final resting place of the much-traveled and much-loved cat who accompanied us from Greece, to Spain, to Utah, California and then to Texas. The chiminea has succulent plants in it – at some point when someday I am ambitious, I will replace with red and yellow chrysanthemums – to look more like fire spilling out of it, you see. It’s a nice bit of garden art, anyway – and after drilling holes in the stump and pouring stump-killer and boiling water on it, we parked the chiminea on top and gathered all the other potted vegetables which have survived until now all around, on top of a nice layer of mulch. So much for the out-door living room parody – but it still looks incredible, done with the gathering of container-grown vegetables. And the sunny, suitable-for-vegetable growing space has been increased by about a third, now.

When we hit Lowe’s for the mulch – we also made the happy discovery that a lot of garden items like lattice panels were on sale for half off. We had once had a lattice in back of the birdbath, to set off the space against the blank wall of my next-door-neighbors’ house, and then for a time a trellis arch, until the weathering, wood-rot and a high wind broke it all apart. Three tall lattice panels and some odd plants made it into the car, along with the mulch – and now we have a nice little space defined by the lattice, the bird bath and two tall shepherd’s crooks with bird feeders hanging from them. And that was my weekend – yours?

 

Home Made Marinara Sauce

Marinara

Since getting the new refrigerator, revamping the larder cupboard, getting the vacuum sealer and experimenting with canning, bottling and picking – we’ve been stocking up even more intensely. Well – now that we have the space, or the re-vamped space, and the technology – why not? Indeed, thanks to a fortunately-timed stop at the marked-down shelf at the local HEB a couple of weeks ago, I can report that our requirements for exotic vinegars, balsamic and otherwise, have been fulfilled for the foreseeable future. And one of our projects over last weekend was to clear out the deep-freezer in the garage. Yes, indeed – it is possible to lose track of what is on the rearmost shelves; we found a package of frozen chicken with a best if by date of 2008 on it, as well as some other stuff that was so old we didn’t even recognize it at all. Hence – our current insistence on labeling and dating items before consigning them to frozen storage.

This weekend I had a new project – that of making an enormous batch of marinara sauce. The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond, has a very simple and serviceable one on her website, but I went for broke and doubled it, with an eye towards adding different things when the basic sauce is eventually used. We do have a liking for meatballs in marinara over spaghetti, a dipping sauce with calzones, as a basis for eggplant parmagiana, and sometimes in desperation, for pizza. If I make it, we will use it, one way or another.

Slosh a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in the bottom of a fairly large pot, and gently sauté six or seven cloves of slivered garlic and two medium—sized chopped onions. When the onions are limp and the garlic aromatic, deglaze the pan with one cup of chicken or beef broth, and simmer until the liquid reduces by half.

Pour in a whole number-10 sized can of crushed tomatoes. A number-10 sized can will contain about three quarts of tomatoes; this is why I used the big pot to cook this up in. Stir in salt and pepper to taste, 1 teaspoon of dried thyme and a pinch of sugar.

I left this to simmer over low heat for nearly an hour. Toward the end of that time I added half a bunch or ½ cup chopped fresh parsley and about a quarter of a cup of chopped fresh basil.

I had a number of pasta sauce jars given to me by a neighbor who thought they were the sort which could be re-used in home canning – they can’t, of course, but they were a good size, and the batch of sauce filled up four of them. I put the lids on very loosely, so that the sauce would have space to expand as it froze and not break the jars. They do sell special containers for freezer condiments, or I could have parceled it out in vacuum-seal bags, but the recycled pasta sauce jars are what I had on hand, and they didn’t need labels.

When it comes to using the sauce, it can be used plain, or punched up with the addition of half a cup of sliced mushrooms, or chopped olives, pureed roasted red pepper, or some browned Italian sausage to every two cups of sauce. And that was