FallA Novemberish view.
Even though it is predicted to be in the 70's again next week, there is no doubt that summer is over. The garden is frost-blackened and blasted, waiting to be cleaned out and put to bed for the winter. The last of the brightly colored leaves will soon be gone, and already bare branches greet me through my office window.

We have lots to do outside yet, but in terms of food preparation and preservation, we are pretty much done - and it has been a fruitful year!

It was my first full-scale attempt to put away a good quantity of (mostly) home-grown food for the winter, and while it did involve a fair amount of work, the satisfaction is practically its own reward - although we have already been enjoying a few of the fruits of our labors.... :-)

I have 2 more food preservation tasks left, and then it will be time to rest for a few months - something I'm very much looking forward to after this busy first summer on the homestead!

Here's how things went, for our first season of partially self-sufficient living:

Our new garden was surprisingly productive, considering it was an entirely new garden space that was dug up from the sod, and we experienced copious amounts of rain for the majority of the summer - a challenge in our heavy clay soil. Most of the garden beds were surrounded by "moats" - sometimes for weeks at a time, often to the point where they developed an algae-like scum on top! The hay bales, of course, did not suffer as much from this, and surprisingly, even most of the plants in the ground seemed to weather it fairly well, although the peppers got a little droopy from time to time.  (I will do a season-end update on the entire year for the hay bale gardening experiment later this month.)

After the wet spring, and hours of back-breaking labor digging a new garden out of the grassy "back 40", our garden was off to a late start, so we didn't really get too overwhelmed until August, when everything seemed to bear fruit at once. For weeks, we were swimming in cucumbers, tomatoes and squash, even though I had tried to exercise restraint when planting the latter. Since we ended up with around 30 tomato plants (including volunteers), that part wasn't so surprising.  :-)
PictureJams - raspberry, strawberry, & peach.
It also seemed to be a good year for berries, as they were constantly on sale in the local grocery stores, and I like to stock up when possible. After some great finds on raspberries and strawberries, I made some small batches of jam, which is one of my favorite things to preserve. Organic strawberry, raspberry, and peach gave us plenty in the larder for the colder months. The peach - made the "old-fashioned" way, without pectin, ended up being my favorite. I think I will try more no-pectin jams next summer. I like the flavor better, and they seem more consistent in the way they set up. The organic strawberry I made using pectin, and it is so thick it can stand up on its own!

PicklesRefrigerator dills - cucumber & squash.
Cucumbers were plentiful for the first part of the summer, so lots of pickling ensued - a good thing, since my husband loves them, and has already made quite a dent in our supply. :-)

I canned about 12 quarts of cucumber pickles - mostly dill, but a few bread & butter - and also made several jars of refrigerator pickles, including one experimental batch of lactic acid fermented dills. Cucumbers tend to get mushy during the fermentation process, but mine were nice and crunchy - for a few weeks. If I make those again I will make sure to eat them up quickly, as they got very soggy later on. I also pickled some non-cucumber items, including 2 pints of watermelon rind pickles, 2 pints of green tomato pickles (just a couple of weeks ago - after picking all the green ones when the first frost hit), some summer squash, and a small jar of jalepeno peppers by special request from my husband.

PictureResults of all the canning!
Then came the tomatoes...and tomatoes...and tomatoes.... For a while, it seemed the canning would never end, but eventually it did, and we finished out the season with 38 quarts of canned tomatoes (diced and sauced), about 10 quarts diced and frozen, and 4 pints of canned salsa - which I am eager to try, as it tasted delicious before jarring!

When I got tired of canning (and ran out of canning jars), I switched to freezing. Rows of bags of frozen tomatoes, peppers, and shredded zucchini and summer squash line the shelves of the deep freezer. Freezing is also great for miscellaneous items like herbs. I froze quite a bit of dill, which I planted very late, so unfortunately most of the cucumbers were gone by the time it came on strong. I also froze a couple of quarts of whole jalepenos, as well as some whole cayenne peppers, of which we had a really big crop despite planting only 2 plants!

Frozen vegetablesFrozen tomatoes, peppers, squash,
and celery.
Our most experimental crop this year was celery. I've never seen it grown before anywhere, nor ever even heard of anyone I know growing it, but my husband had given me some seed for Christmas, so I thought I'd give it a try. After a spotty start (mostly due to my neglecting the excessive amount of watering they require), my remaining 3 plants took off, and these things got huge! Giant, waist-high leafy green stalks grew and grew, and I had no idea when to harvest or what to do with them....

Eventually we started picking some stalks, and they were...interesting. They have such a strong celery flavor it nearly burns your eyes when chopping, and they are quite tough. Not woody, but too tough to really eat raw. We tried cooking them, and although it takes quite a while for them to get tender, if cooked in a stew for an hour or two, they are absolutely delicious! The flavor is mellowed a bit, but still VERY strong - you have no doubt what you just got a bite of! And they become very soft and tender.

They will live through some frost, so we left them in the garden for quite a while, and are gradually working on processing them. Since they are so huge and bushy, they don't really fit in the fridge, so I figured I would strip the leaves off, chop them, and freeze them. This turned out to be the perfect method, as freezing seems to tenderize them a bit, so they don't take as long to cook. I also packed the leaves and really thin stalks in large freezer bags and froze those as well - they add a great flavor to stocks!

Dry BeansPinto, kidney, & Jacob's Cattle beans,
Besides all that, of course we also have our storage crops, like the potatoes (which are keeping very well so far, despite my initial misgivings), and dry beans. We grew a few pintos this year, plus kidney beans, and Jacob's Cattle beans - a very productive and delicious variety my mother gave us. We finished shelling the kidney beans last week, and ended up with a couple of pounds - not bad considering I only grew one bed of them this year!

Besides finishing up the celery harvest, I only have 2 remaining preservation tasks. One is to do something with the refrigerator drawer full of eggplants which suddenly set in September and left us with loads of little round purple beauties when frost hit. We already made moussaka and various other eggplant dishes, which barely made a dent in our supply. However, I found an interesting looking recipe for Italian pickled eggplant (which doesn't require canning, thank goodness), so I will be trying that this week.

Hard ciderSuper-bubbly hard cider
from last fall.
The other final task is to juice and ferment the 15lbs or so of apples sitting on our kitchen counter that we got from our CSA. Neither my husband nor I are huge apple eaters, but as I discovered last fall, the fresh juice is absolutely amazing!!

Being a hard-cider lover, I thought I'd try my hand at that as a method of preserving this beautiful apple juice. I tried several different batches using different fermentation methods last fall, and each was very different but delicious in its own way. This fall I'm trying yet another method - starting with a culture of fermented ginger bug. We'll see how it goes, but judging from past experience, it's sure to be delicious.

Cheers to a cozy, warm house, and lots of delicious, nutritious food that we grew ourselves!  :-)




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