Spring has officially sprung. The bulbs are peaking up through the cold ground, buds are visible on the apple trees, and the birds have started chirping. From the moment we spring forward into daylight savings time, my mind turns to thoughts of planting our vegetable garden. There is nothing quite like walking out into the garden and eating something freshly picked. I could not LIVE without it. At this time of year cold hardy seeds can start to be planted. Cold hardy seeds would be any kind of pea or lettuce, leafy greens like kale or spinach. It is a great way to get out of winter hibernation and start thinking warm weather. Bartlett’s Farm has a wonderful selection of all kinds of organic seeds to choose from. With the garden center now officially open, browsing though the seed packets and chatting with some of the super knowledgeable garden staff is sure to inspire. If you haven’t done so already think about designating a small corner of your garden to edible plants. It is easy to build a raised bed from scrap wood or a pre made kit, then start planting your favorites. Maybe you don’t have room for a raised bed and can’t bear to give up your flower bed? A dear friend of mine plants his flower garden by intermingling his favorite herbs and vegetables throughout the patch. It is a truly beautiful and unique way to plant. It is easy to be overwhelmed at first when thinking of planting a vegetable garden, start small and branch out from there. If seeds aren’t your thing, think about edible landscaping. Why not plant a fruit tree, or a blueberry bush? The time and effort spent digging will be well worth it when you can pick a fresh apple and taste the difference. I was asked once to name my favorite vegetable. I started by saying asparagus. Of course anyone who knows me knows that it is impossible for me to choose just one. My favorite is ususally the one that I have just finished planting or eating. I probably picked that initially because when I think of asparagus I remember digging the trenches with my husband ( it took hours), I remember being covered in mud (it was cold and wet), I remember seeing the first stalk emerge in the spring and I remember waiting 3 years to eat any (I forgot about that part). The first stalk I ate was the most delicious stalk of asparagus I had ever tasted. We planted it together, we waited, we were patient. There is a real joy in growing your own food. Great stories emerge, laughter ensues, and a delicious meal is sure to be had by all. Happy Spring. Happy planting! A great resource for pre-made raised beds: http://www.gardeners.com/on/demandware.store/Sites-Gardeners-Site/default/Link-Product?sku=34-381RS
On Saturday, Bartlett’s Farm held pick your own tomatoes day. It was a little slice of heaven walking through the fields, canvas bags in tow, and filling them to the brim with all the delicious varieties. At only one dollar per pound, it was the deal of the season. Walking up and down the rows, I was mesmerized by the colors, the ripeness, the abundance. Our fellow pickers were smiling and happy, sharing ideas and recipes. It was a true example of the joy that can be found in the simple moments of the everyday.
Now what to do with 17 pounds of tomatoes? First, share a few with friends, then get to work preserving the last taste of summer.
Tomatoes are full of wonderful vitamins and minerals. Vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, C, E, K, niacin, and folate. Potassium, phosphorous, magnesium, calcium, sodium, iron, manganese, copper, zinc, and chromium. Various studies have shown that the lycopene in tomatoes can help reduce chances of prostate cancer, stomach cancer and colorectal cancer. Lycopene is considered a “miracle” anti-oxidant that may help to stop the growth of cancer cells.
Dehydrating tomatoes is a great way to preserve them without a lot of messy work. Once they are dried, you can reconstitute them by soaking them in some hot water. The flavor is rich and concentrated as a tomato paste would be. If you don’t have a dehydrator you can dry them in the oven at the lowest setting.
- Slice tomatoes about ¼ of an inch thick
- Lightly sprinkle with sea salt
- Place on dehydrator trays so that they do not touch.
- Set dehydrator to 135 – 140 degrees (the temperature of the tomatoes will remain below 118 degrees)
- Dehydrate for approximately 12 hours.
- You can store them in a cool dark place in an air tight container for 6-9 months, or in an airtight container in the freezer for up to one year.
- 2 large tomatoes
- ½ cucumber
- 1 celery stalk
- 1/3 bunch of parsley
- ½ lemon peeled
- 1 tablespoon of freshly grated horseradish
- Pinch of sea salt
- Water as needed
Place tomato slices in a single layer on a baking sheet. Set oven to 200 degrees, Allow the tomatoes to dry in the oven about 8 hours or until they become shriveled, checking frequently during the last couple of hours to ensure that they don’t scorch. Cracking the oven door open can help prevent the heat from getting to high.
The easiest fresh tomato juice can be made in a Vita Mix or other high speed blender. No scoring, no peeling, no boiling, no waste just fresh delicious juice!
Joann’s Veggie Mary
(You can substitute ½ of a fresh jalapeño or a pinch of cayenne powder for heat)
Puree all ingredients in blender. Serve with cucumber stalk.