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

Tomato Ketchup Chronicles

Tomato Ketchup Chronicles

by Celia Hayes

I was inspired by an old blog and Facebook friend, Katie Barry, to have a go at making home-made ketchup this weekend. I had often intended to try it before, as this condiment is one that we (as Katie points out in her own housekeeping blog) all have in our condiment collection. I was put off some of the recipes for it in my own collection of canning books, because they called for simply awesome quantities of fresh tomatoes, and unless and until my garden starts producing tomatoes by the ton … well, I like fresh home-grown tomatoes too much to condiment them. But Katie’s recipe started with canned diced tomatoes, and I thought … oh, that is doable. One six-pound can of diced tomatoes from Sam’s Club, and I am in business. I took a recipe from one of the canning books, since I do want to can the resulting ketchup for later use … and I would also like to duplicate the splendid spicy Whataburger ketchup, too. Excellent stuff that is, but home-made might be even better. On consulting the listing of contents on the label of Whataburger Spicy Ketchup it seems that the secret ingredient is red jalapeno pepper puree … and red jalapenos were not available in my local HEB … although I may have my own from the garden in a month or so, by allowing the jalapeno pepper plants to ripen all the way. But I had it in mind to make ketchup this very weekend, and I thought that adding a smidgeon of smoked chipotle peppers in adobo sauce would certainly amp up this batch to an exciding degree of spicyness.

So – amend the recipe in Sunset Home Canning for spicy ketchup, by using canned diced instead and pureed the entire six-pound can of diced tomatoes with a whole onion and one peeled and seeded red bell pepper … which had been peeled, sealed in Foodsaver bag and frozen.

Simmer and reduce the resulting puree over medium heat for about an hour or until reduced by half. Tie into a piece of clean cheesecloth 1 ½ teaspoon each of mustard seeds, black peppercorns and dry basil, 1 teaspoon whole allspice, one dried cayenne chili pepper, a large dried bay leaf and a 2-3 inch length of cinnamon stick. Add the spice bag to the reduced tomato puree with ¾ cup packed brown sugar and ½-2 teasp. Paprika. Continue to simmer, lowering heat gradually and stirring frequently as it reduces to approximately 1 quart. In the last fifteen minutes, I stirred in ½ cup cider vinegar, which had been pureed with 1 3-oz can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. Salt to taste – and we agreed that it did have a rather pleasant chipotle smokiness. If it had been just for myself, I would have put in another 3-oz. can. It came out to three pints and a bit – the recipe said it would yield two pints. Likely I could have reduced it a bit more, but it did seem quite thick enough already. Katie’s recipe called for powdered herbs and spices, rather than the whole version steeped in a cheesecloth bag. I’ll experiment with this in the next batch, and see if it makes a difference in flavor.

I poured it all into three sterilized pint jars and processed in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes. The extra bit went into a plastic freezer container – waste not, want not. It came out a very nice red color, and a bit grainer than the commercial version – but well-worth the effort and the Number 10-can.

Hanging Gardens of Spring Creek Forest

The Splendid Hanging Gardens of Spring Creek Forest – Spring 2014

by Celia Hayes

All right then – I confess that after last year’s disastrous tomato adventure – in which that which wasn’t killed by the heat was demolished by invading rats – I could be forgiven for giving up entirely. But darn it, the year before was so bountiful … well, not really all that bountiful, but a good many dinners enlivened with fresh sliced tomatoes on the salad. I hunger for fresh garden tomatoes, and it’s too darned far to drive down to Trader Joe’s for a box of their assorted baby heirloom tomatoes every day or so, with gas over $3.00 a gallon. I stocked up at Rainbow Gardens on a wide assortment of heirloom tomato starts, after the unseasonable hard freeze at the end of February, and embarked again on the adventure of a thriving backyard garden.

Some of the tomatoes are growing in the hanging containers, or in single surviving Topsy-Turvy, but most are in large pots, or in a pair of round raised beds – the suggestion of a commenter on a gardening discussion forum. It seems that you can take a length of hardware cloth or other wire mesh, or even chicken wire, make a circular form about the size of an oil drum with it, line with landscape fabric or weed barrier, dump leaves, grass, twigs, etc to fill it up to within ten inches of the top, then fill the rest with garden soil or potting mix. The stuff underneath composts merrily away, even as the vegetables grow … and in colder climates, the rotting compost even keeps the tomatoes going well into late fall. Lord knows, I have a sufficiency of leaves, what with the Arizona trashtree, and my next door neighbors’ oak molting frequently and generously, and little space to compost them. May as well put them to use as a basis for raised beds

The good garden news this week is that the two sapling fruit trees I bought at Sam’s Club for a pittance sometime in January have both begun to put out tiny green leaves. I thought the peach tree would be OK, as it had noticeable buds swelling the ends of the branches, and when I cautiously pruned an end of the branch, it was supple and green underneath, but the plum was more of an enduring question. It just sat there, sullenly, week after week, all bare twiggy limbs long after the peach began putting forth tiny green leaves. This week, the plum began bringing forth leaves of its own, and I was relieved. Naturally, it will be years before we have any fruit from them, but the speed at which the two crepe myrtle trees and the fig tree grew encourages me no end.

The new flowerbed by the front door – that one which my daughter and I built up when we re-did the brick step – is also doing very, very well. All of the bulbs have come up, the rose bush is thriving mightily, some of the scattered seeds have produced … well, something, and the four narrow planters where I planted mesclun salad greens have done well enough to have been harvested for salads several times already. I planted another round of mesclun greens in back, in two lengths of guttering nailed to the fence – another suggestion from an on-line garden discussion. Cap off the ends of a length of gutter, fill with garden soil, and there you have – a vertical garden. I’d really like to have this be the year that I hardly have to purchase any produce at all.

Gardening March 2014

Planning for the Garden

By Celia Hayes

Once more into the breach, my friends; with the date of the last predicted frost in South Texas historically being in mid-March, it’s time to get started with vegetables. Indeed, the local HEB began putting out vegetable starts late in February, when the temperatures became so balmy and mild that I was seriously tempted in indulge – after all, $1.00-1.25 for a four-inch pot with a healthy young plant in it? Yes, I was eager to enter the fray once again, after last years’ disastrous tomato-growing debacle. It was too hot, too soon, and those plants which did manage to bear fruit … well, the rats got to them. Not just the tomatoes, but the fresh young sprigs, and the leaves of the pepper plants as well.

The very Sunday afternoon that I finished setting out the various starts from HEB – even as I was assembling the patent tomato cage, the cold front blew in. There I was, working in jeans and a short-sleeved shirt on a warm and muggy afternoon; we had even been running the AC, since it was so warm. Then, suddenly, I felt a cool breeze, as if the AC had suddenly kicked in outside, and within ten minutes it felt as it it had dropped fifteen degrees. We rushed the newly-planted tomato and pepper starts into the greenhouse, along with the tenderer of the potted plants, but to no avail. The water in the birdbaths was frozen hard the next morning, and the newly-planted lantanas by the walkway were pretty well frost-scorched. Even the new green leaves on the ash trees were hit. Curiously, the long containers of lettuce and salad greens by the new flower bed at the front door as well as the bulbs in it – all of which had just sprouted in the last week or so — survived just fine, under cover of a heavy blanket. But everything else, even the pole beans which had just put up two or three leaves … alas.

So they are not kidding when they tell you how fast a cold front can blow in. And they also were not kidding about the last frost being in mid-March. Fortunately, I still had plenty of pole and bush bean seeds, so I’ve only lost a couple of weeks as far as they are concerned. And on Friday, we bustled over to Rainbow Gardens, which offered row upon row of tomato starts, plain, fancy, heirloom, large and small, early and late. I’ve gotten half a dozen of them into the grow box, and the rest must wait for a bag of fresh potting soil to go into the topsy-turvy planters. I’m also figuring out a way to do space-saving and self-sustaining raised beds, rather than depending on the compost bin and my vast collection of large pots. There’s a kind of raised circular bed called a key-hole garden, with a working compost heap in the center, which looks very attractive and useful, but being circular would take up too large a chunk of the back yard. Another suggestion was a series of low columns about the diameter of fifty-gallon drums, made of chicken wire lined with straw or even weed barrier, with compost working in the bottom two-thirds, and a layer of potting soil on top with plants growing in it, which would be a bit more practical for me, space-wise.

And that is my week in the garden – yours?

A Vegetable Medley

Vegetariana

 

by Celia Hayes

Alack and alas, the squashes which I planted in the spring, which came up, leafed out and flowered bountifully never actually produced any squash plants before they gracefully sank to the ground, withered and gave up the ghost. This has been to my complete mystification – they were provided plenty of sun, water and fertilizer, and I did not see that any of the plants were afflicted with vine borers. Well, next spring is another chance for a San Antonio home backyard garden; meanwhile I have pulled up the dead plants and harvested the small crop of red potatoes … which did thrive, although most of the resulting potatoes were the size of marbles and radishes. We have already eaten the largest of them – and tasty indeed they were, although I mourn they are not zucchini and patty-pan squash … I would have made ratatouille from the zucchini, the eggplant and the garden tomatoes. And no – ratatouille does not normally involve rats. This is a recipe that my mother loved, from Sunset’s French Cookbook 1976 edition. Just think of it as a vegetable medley – sometimes I have made it with fresh tomatoes, too.

Combine in an 3-quart ovenproof casserole:

3 TBsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove minced garlic
1 1-lb eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 medium zucchini, cut in 1-inch slices
1 1-lb can whole tomatoes and their juice, chopping tomatoes roughly with a spoon
1 tsp basil leaves
1/2 tsp salt

Cover and bake in a 400 deg. oven for about two hours, or cover and simmer gently on the stove-top, until vegetables are very soft, uncovering and stirring once or twice. Garnish with parsley and serve.

The tomatoes didn’t do well this year, either. Again, I am not certain why – except that perhaps my personal tomato curse has returned, or that it was, like previous years, just too darned hot for them by mid-spring.

However, and on the bright side – we had beans, lots of lovely green beans, and now that the first planting has given up the ghost, I have planted another round. Eggplants we have – not very many, but it’s not one of my absolute faves as a vegetable, either. But as for peppers … cayenne and bell peppers and jalapenos – all of those plants are thriving, many of them on their second or third year. Very likely I can grind up my own chili powder or cayenne pepper from that I have.

Another vegetable delight that I hope someday to make from home-grown vegetables is vegetable chili – this from Nava Atlas’s Vegeteriana

Sautee in 2 Tbsp olive oil: 1 chopped onion, 1 chopped bell pepper until the onion is limp. Then add 1 zucchini, sliced, 1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels, 1 14-oz can whole tomatoes with their liquid, 1 6-oz tomato paste, 3 Tbsp soy sauce, 2 tsp chili powder (more or less to taste), 1 teasp ground cumin, ½ teasp each ground coriander and oregano, ¼ teasp dried thyme, dash cayenne pepper, and 2 ½ cups cooked or canned kidney beans. Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are done, about fifteen to twenty minutes. Serve garnished with grated cheddar cheese, sour cream, pickled green chilis and warm tortillas on the side; food of the gods, vegetarian division.

 

Our Little Backyard Garden in April

April in the Garden

by Celia Hayes

Ah, the rain which fell last week; glorious, bountiful rain, just when we had given up all hope of seeing such again. And just about when I had concluded that we had skipped over spring entirely and gone straight into summer. Having to run the air conditioner because it’s ninety degrees outside – freaking ninety degrees! – in March! That is just wrong … especially when most of the rest of the northern hemisphere is suffering cold, rain, snow. If I could have figured out a way to swap about twenty degrees of Fahrenheit for about ten inches of rain over a week or so, I would so do it.

On the other hand, the cycle of undue warmth and a sudden generous rain has worked out in the long run, so I ought not to complain too much. The big raised bed is filled with squash sprouts – zucchini, golden and the round greenish ones which my grandmother always called ‘patty-pan’ squash. This is a promising start, for as of yet they are only sprouts: Whether or not my ambition to have squash by the bag-full to inflict on the neighbors remains to be seen. The five seed potatoes that I planted at the far end of the bed are also sprouting vigorously. I had a thought – potatoes might make a very attractive bedding plant, if interspersed with some kind of flowering annual. And at the end of the season, you could harvest the potatoes; ornamental and edible!

Now the small raised bed, full of three kinds of beans is going to town. I thought that all three of kinds planted there were bush beans – but it seems that the middle row is sending out exploratory tendrils towards the chicken wire that I wrapped the raised bed in, so as to prevent the dogs from trampling all over them. My ambitions are to have two more small raised beds, so as to keep the bean crops going as long as possible, and now I see that a trellis of some kind will have to feature in them.

I had three ornamental wire plant towers, bought here and there, now serving as either tomato cages for the tomatoes that I planted in earth boxes, or as supports for sugar peas. I planted the sugar peas just last week, and after seven days there are tiny green slips sprouting in the earth box. The tomatoes in the home-made hanging containers are also thriving; they were started the earliest and so are already putting out embryonic tomatoes. The largest is the size of a marble. Several weeks ago I discovered Rainbow Gardens as a source for exotic tomato starts – a veritable rainbow of colors of tomatoes. I loved the little lemon-yellow tomatoes that we had last year; ‘Yellow Pear’ was the name, and so that’s one kind that we’ll try again. Last week I bought a huge, gangly variety called a ‘Black Krim’ which comes from southern Russia and is supposed to thrive in heat … which we can guarantee!

I’ve held over a number of plants from last year; notably various peppers which had been growing in the pepper topsy-turvey. They did OK in the topsy – not spectacular, but OK. I put them all in pots – much, much better. I will never have to purchase cayenne or jalapeno peppers ever again, and as for bell peppers – a single plant from last year now has nearly a dozen half-sized green bell peppers on it.

And that was my week in the garden – how was yours?

Ongoing Garden Plans

Ongoing Garden Plans – and a Lament

by Celia Hayes

Well, we’ll need a bag or two more of potting soil to properly fill up the big raised bed that I wrote about a couple of week ago, so there’ll be a delay in planting it. There’ll also be a delay in constructing the two narrower raised beds, which will be placed against the fence, with a bit of latticing attached, so that that plants which wish to climb – like beans, peas and cucumbers – can go to town. The big bed will be planted with zucchini and summer squash, which are supposed to produce by the ton, but which last year got attacked by some nasty kind of crud/parasite which attacked their stems and killed the plants themselves almost overnight.

The patent topsy-turvy tomato planters, which saw stout service these last two years by actually producing a nice little selection of tomatoes, were not up to another year. The heavy plasticized fabric that made up the body of the planter disintegrated to the point where I could tear it merely by poking it with a finger, and not very hard at that. The two planters which had been intended as a kind of hanging butterfly and humming bird garden fell apart even faster; one of them shredded spontaneously as we were taking it down from the tree. But the good news is – the rest of the unit, especially the metal ring and the wire loops and hooks which the whole thing hung from are still perfectly sound. And that gave me an idea to just create my own topsy tomato planters with those useful bits. I have a number of inexpensive plastic pots; just cut the drain hole a little larger, trim an ordinary cellulose sponge to fit inside the pot, insert a tomato seedling in the pot drain hole and secure it with the sponge, fill up with potting soil, and suspend the plastic pot from the hanging frame that we built last year, using the metal ring and wire loops that I saved from the old topsys! Here we go – a whole new forest of suspended tomato plants, and with luck, and the judicious application of the right kind of fertilizer and insecticides … more tomatoes!

The one remaining topsy that I don’t think we will use this year is the one for peppers. I’ve removed all the plants which survived from last year, and replanted them in large pots – just like I did with the ones from the year before. All the peppers – cayenne, Bell and jalapeno alike – are thriving. The one seedling vegetable variety that we do not need to re-stock the garden with this year is pepper. Seriously, I think there must be about fifteen individual pepper plants.

Which brings me to a lament a local casualty of the drought over the last couple of years; the Antique Rose Emporium outlet on Evans Road has closed. It actually closed six months ago, and when I first heard of this, I thought it must be a rumor. Surely we had been there – just before Christmas, sometime in September, I thought. But no – and there went a place which not only supplied me with darned near everything the least little bit exotic in my garden, but with gave me an example of what a beautiful, blooming, native Texas garden could be, stocked with roses and herbs and adapted perennials! So passes the glory of one of my favorite retail outlets, although there is some comfort to be had in knowing that their main establishment and website is still in business. I have no idea where we will go now for vegetable starts and herbs; split our devotion between HEB, Lowe’s and Rainbow Gardens, I guess..

South Texas Garden Plans

Plans for the Garden – Spring 2013

by Celia Hayes

When just about everything in the garden was done producing for the year and the weather began to cool off, my daughter and I put up the folding gazebo-greenhouse which one of our San Antonio neighbors decided was surplus to needs. Into it went all the surviving plants, and the delicate things, like the patchouli plant, the pepper vine, an earth-box full of salad greens and lettuce, and another with three tomato plants which had self-seeded from last year’s crop. In advance of the first cold snap, we zipped up the window openings and doorway, and aside from unzipping the door long enough to water everything once a week, we pretty much ignored it. All the plants inside thrived on this regimen, and one of the tomato plants has already put forth baby green tomatoes the size of grapes … in late January. We do not know, of course, what kind of tomatoes they are – could be the black cherry sort, the yellow pear-shaped sort, the heirloom beefsteak variety or even the egg-shaped roma tomatoes … all of which we had in the hanging planters last year, or in one of the earth boxes. Any of them could have self-seeded – and the resulting plants are thriving. So – yes, we will keep the gazebo-greenhouse up. As a matter of fact, it was such a pain to assemble that we are extremely reluctant to take it down.

As it turned out for us last year, although the hanging turvy planters, the earth boxes and the pots of various sizes produced a splendid-looking assortment of vegetables, and the garden looked nearly the best that it ever has been, the actual crop wasn’t that impressive. It wasn’t enough to entirely supply our salad green and vegetable needs throughout the summer and fall, and certainly not enough that we were going around to the neighbors leaving sacks of zucchini and peppers on the doorstep, ringing the doorbell and running away.

So, this year, we’re moving on to Plan …well, by this time it is Plan C. Plan A, back in the beginning was in just digging in lots of sand compost to what is essentially hard clay – which worked for some things, but but vegetables. Plan B, which was to plant the vegetables in containers, was what we did last year – and there just isn’t enough container space. Plan C is – a series of raised beds, made from wide pine planks, and filled with compost and good potting soil. This is what we have started; last weekend I built the largest one, from a pair of 12-foot planks, which the nice people at Lowe’s were kind enough to saw into 4 and 8 foot lengths. Four pairs of corner joist fasteners and a handful of wood screws – and there we go. Fill with soil, and put square concrete pavers around the edge so that we’re not waiting through the mud every time we water … and there’s the first raised bed. We should be able to build and fill two or three more, and fit into various unused spaces in the back yard, which will offer lots more space for vegetable-growing.

We’ve carried over enough cayenne, jalapeno and bell pepper plants from last year that we need not buy any more for this year. Alas, one of the tomato turvys has split and disintegrated under the stress of two years hard use, and I suspect the remaining two are very close to following suit – so, here we go, looking for more. With the greater space available in the raised beds, we might better be able to grow more squash, zucchini and bush beans – and just today when we were at Lowe’s for some shelf brackets, I noticed that they had bags of onion starts and seed potatoes … and those are definitely things that I’d like to have. And that’s the plan for my garden this year – what’s yours?

Okra

The Way of the Okra

Although I have only one huge okra plant, and a couple of others which have produced intermittently and spasmodically, individual okes (is that the singular of okra, like meese should be the singular of moose?) my garden just doesn’t seem to produced sufficient of them in a short period of time to make a decent batch of okra pickles on any given day. At least, not enough to be worth firing up the canning kettle. It’s really not worth heating up the kitchen in my San Antonio home unless there are at least three quarts or six pints in contention … and my okra plants just aren’t that prolific. So I cheated – I went and bought two pounds of okra at the Indian market (cunningly disguised as a gas station on the corner of 410 and Starcrest) and added into it the gleanings of the last week or so and made a batch of spicy okra pickles from a recipe that I found on the interned and amended. Oddly enough, we like okra as pickles, in gumbo and even breaded and deep-fried, in which format it is as addictive as popcorn although somewhat more fattening … but okra on it’s own … that is a vegetable that needs work.

Basically, make a pickling brine from 2 ⅔ cup cider vinegar and 1 ½ cup water, and 1 ½ teaspoons salt, and when it comes to a simmer, either add to it, or steep in a tea-ball, 2 Tbsp. pickling spices.

I used another net-recipe for pickling spice, which called for 2 Tbsp. mustard seeds, 2 Tbsp. whole allspice, 2 teasp coriander seeds, the same of cloves, 1 teaspoon of ground ginger and the same of dried red pepper flakes, a crumbled bay leaf and a two-inch length of cinnamon stick. This makes more than needed for a single batch, so save the remainder for the next batch.

Meanwhile, pack the raw okra into 2 hot and sterilized 1-quart jars, and tuck in among the packed oke pods in each jar, 2-3 peeled and lightly crushed garlic cloves, 2-3 dried chili pods (I used ripe red jalapeno and paprika pods from my garden) and two or three small bay leaves … I have a small bay tree in the garden, so again … from my garden. It helps to pack the first layer of okra in the jar with the wide end down, and then wedge the next layer into it pointy end down, and distribute the garlic cloves, the pepper pods and the bay leaves as they fit. Fill the jars with okra and all until just below the point on the jar where the threaded rim begins, then pour in the hot brine and process at least 20 minutes in boiling water, as per the usual canning instructions.

This week, one of our dinners included a salad – of halved fresh garden tomatoes and sliced segments of home-pickled okra, adorned with crumbles of feta cheese and fresh parsley – again from the garden – and splashed with some olive oil. Alas, the olive is not home-grown from my own tree. That will take … a good few more decades.

Yes We Have Tomatoes

Reviving the Garden: Tomato Victory

by Celia Hayes

The curse on growing tomatoes in my garden has definitely been lifted: we have ripe red tomatoes on the vine, and promising clusters of green ones – and although they are not all very large, they are tasty. So the Topsy-Turvys do the trick as promised; even if they haven’t resulted in simply bushel-baskets of tomatoes, they have indeed tomatoes, which is about three steps farther than I have ever been able to go before. Next spring we will try out some of those heirloom varieties, and if my daughter, the queen of all garage sales, manages to score a few more Topsys at marked-down rates, we’ll soon have so many suspended from the tree in the back yard that it will be more than your life is worth to walk out there in a stiff wind without a hard-hat. Just consider it the marvelous hanging gardens of Spring Creek Forest, one of the seven wonders of suburbia.

The Cayenne peppers are bountiful and some of them are just beginning to turn red. I expect that when they are ready, I will pick and dry them, and turn them into pepper flakes, or pepper powder, which will keep us stocked for the foreseeable future, since that is one of those things that get used rather sparingly. My grandmother had a little tin box of Ben Hur brand cayenne pepper which lasted her forty years; no, she was not the most adventurous cook in the world. There are some bell peppers also coming up to ripening too, although the biggest is so heavy and the stem of the plant bearing it is in danger of toppling under the weight.

In other garden news, the two butterfly and humming-bird Topsys are thriving; the plants in them are, although since they are hanging in direct sunlight, the plasticized fabric they are constructed from is fading entirely. At some point, we might have to move the plants in them to the ground, if the sun disintegrates the fabric entirely. The plants that I bought in Wimberly at the beginning of summer are all doing extraordinarily well, especially the vine-thingy which is well on it’s way to taking over the trellis, and the pink-leafed potos which is . . . well, in the pink.

We hit the SA Herb Market two Saturdays ago, and added some more replacements for what was killed by last winter’s brutal cold snap: a pot of parsley, which is something I always like to have on hand, ditto some patchouli, a scented geranium . . . and a pot of sorrel, which I always used to have luck with, since I liked to make this particular dish with it.

This is from Sunset’s French Cookbook: Roast Chicken with Sorrel Stuffing

Clean and pat dry one 3-4 pound whole chicken, reserving liver, which should be chopped and sautéed in 3 Tbsp butter for about 2 minutes. Remove liver, and add 2 Tbsp minced shallots or green onions, and ¼ pound sliced mushrooms. When mushrooms are limp and lightly browned, add ¼ cup fine dry breadcrumbs, ¼ cup whipping cream, 1 tsp Dijon mustard, ½ tsp each salt and basil, and ¼ tsp each pepper, rubbed sage and thyme. Blend well, remove from heat and add 2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley and 2 cups finely chopped sorrel. Fill body cavity of chicken with it, place on a rack in a 375 degree oven. Baste after 20 minutes with melted butter. Bake for about an hour, until leg moves easily when jiggled. Cut into quarters, and serve with stuffing, and pan juices to spoon over.

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