Zucchini Soup

We saw our first zucchini of the season at a farmer’s market this past Saturday. If you are like the Pickle Queen and myself,  you are always looking for a new way to use this plentiful garden veggie. If you haven’t thought about making a soup out of zucchini, try this recipe.

2 c zucchini, sliced thin
1/2 c onion, sliced thin
1 tsp lemon juice
1 c heavy cream
1 Tbsp butter
Salt and pepper
2 c chicken broth

Cook zucchini and onion in butter until soft. Add the remaining ingredients. Cover and simmer 20 to 30 minutes.

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Mixes and Blends of Grasses

I get a kick out of watching people trying to pick out grass seed in a farm supply store. It’s almost as much fun as watching people picking out a watermelon. The one thing the two have in common is that the average person doesn’t have the slightest idea of which one to choose. Hopefully, this brief explanation will shed a little light on the subject.

Most lawns contain cool-season grasses which are sold as mixtures or blends. A mixture contains a combination of two or more different species, while a blend contains two or more varieties of the same species. Which grass seed to choose depends upon the conditions it will be used for. Below are some typical mixtures for various conditions. Looking at the seed tags with a little knowledge should make your selection job easier.

  • For a general purpose lawn that has full sunlight look for: Kentucky bluegrass and red fescue, or Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass.
  • For a general purpose lawn that is mostly shaded look for: fine fescue and Kentucky bluegrass, or Kentucky bluegrass, red fescue and perennial ryegrass.
  • If you have a cool, moist climate select: fine fescue and ‘Exeter’ colonial bentgrass.
  • If you want a wear-tolerant turf either in sun or light shade select: Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass and fine fescue.
  • If you want a turf grass for heavily used areas choose: Kentucky bluegrass and turf-type tall fescue.
  • If you have a moist, shady location choose: rough bluegrass, Kentucky bluegrass, fine fescue and perennial ryegrass.
  • If you need a grass seed for a fast established lawn select: Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass.
  • If you have a warm, dry climate select: Buffalograss and blue gramagrass.
  • If you have a cool, dry climate select: wheatgrass and turf-type fescue.

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Simmering Beans

This is number 6 in what may be considered a series on dried beans. We’ve decided which types of beans to plant, grew our own beans, harvested, dried, stored and finally washed and soaked the beans in preparing them for use. Now, we have to simmer them until they are tender.

In generations past, our ancestors were urged to simmer their beans in the same water in which they soaked them. Today no one is quite certain whether to do the same or to use fresh water for simmering. To most people, the minimal loss of nutrients into the water during the soaking process doesn’t offset the better taste and less “musical fruit” problem when simmered in fresh water. If you are in it for the nutrients, and don’t mind the diminished taste and the gas, use the same soaking water for simmering your beans. Also, remember that the more times you consume beans, the more your body becomes accustomed to the extra B vitamins and fiber found in the beans (less music). I know that my taste buds can’t tell ‘used’ water from ‘fresh’ water and would bet yours can’t either. If you use a salt soak, the extra salt in the ‘used’ water may result in over salted beans. Some people taste the soaking water to determine if it is sweet or bitter. They will simmer in the soaking water if the taste is sweet and use fresh water if it is bitter. I guess the last word would be that it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other. Do what you want. There’s no right or wrong.

Where there is a right or wrong is adding baking soda to the simmering water. DON’T use the old trick of adding baking soda thinking it will speed up the simmering process. Baking soda will destroy the vitamins found in the beans.

Foaming can also be a problem when simmering beans. Add a tablespoon of butter or cooking oil to the simmering water or simply tilt the lid and lower the heat until the foaming stops.

A few things come into play when considering the amount of time to simmer the beans. Varietal differences, length of storage and dryness of the bean are the big three. Allow extra time from what the recipe suggests, just in case. The beans are done when the skins begin to break open and they are tender all the way through when you bite into them. Remember, the acid found in tomatoes, vinegar and wine slows down the cooking process, so add them last if time matters.

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Gel Tests for Jams and Jellies

It won’t be long until wild and/or tame fruits will be ready for jam and jelly making. One thing that some beginners or even seasoned home preservers have problems with is determining the gel or set of the cooked jam or jelly. Here are some methods that may be used to determine the set of your preserves.

  • Plate Method – Place a few small plates into the refrigerator or freezer before you start cooking your jam or jelly. When you think it has set, take a plate out, place a small amount of the jam or jelly onto the plate and return it to the fridge/freezer for 5 minutes. When retrieved, gently press your finger on the edge of the mixture. If it wrinkles, it’s ready to jar. If not, cook the mixture a couple of minutes longer and repeat the test on another plate.
  • Metal Spoon Method – Instead of a cold plate, use a cold metal spoon. When a cold spoon is dipped into the cooking mixture and held on its side shortly after starting to cook, the syrup will run off rapidly. Toward the end of the cooking process, the syrup will drip off more slowly as the mixture thickens. When the drops form together and ‘sheet’ off the cold spoon, the mixture has set.
  • Sugar Thermometer Method – If you are the type that requires more accuracy, try this method. Suspend a sugar thermometer in the cooking mixture. Be sure the thermometer is not set on the bottom of the pot as you want the temperature of the mixture, not the cooking pot. When read at eye level, the gel point is reached at 220 degrees F.
  • Wooden Spoon Method – When stirring the mixture with a wooden spoon and you think enough cooking time has elapsed, raise the spoon out of the mixture and hold it on its side above the pot. Run your finger horizontally across the spoon. Be careful, the mixture is hot! IWhen the gap in the mixture that your finger created stays open, the gel point has been reached.

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Soaking Dried Beans

This year’s Mountain Men series starts next week. This Thursday evening they had a marathon of past episodes to get those of us who enjoy the show in the mood for the new season. One segment was where Eustace and Preston went into the woods looking for their sow and boar that had broken out of ‘a poor excuse for a pen’. They went on and on explaining how they wouldn’t get any new baby pigs if they couldn’t find this breeding pair, as if we didn’t already know that.

When they mentioned baby pigs, the first thing that popped into my mind was a scene from Lonesome Dove. The scene I’m thinking of is where they’ve loaded all their belonging into a wagon and are leaving Texas, heading for Montana to start a cattle ranch. If you’ve seen the movie, you know the scene. I always wondered what was in the Dutch oven that was wired to the rear axle and was swinging from side to side under the wagon as a couple of piglets scampered behind. I finally figured it out. They were soaking dried beans for supper that night. Prove me wrong!

If you’ve never prepared dried beans before, read on.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve purchased the beans from the store/farmer’s market or dried your home raised beans, the first thing you want to do is to thoroughly wash, remove foreign objects (stones, sticks, etc.) and bad beans from your mess of beans. Some people cook their beans without soaking them first, and then wonder why it takes so long and then end up with unevenly cooked, poor textured beans. The old standby has been to cover the beans with cold water and let them soak overnight in the pot. (See the example in my second paragraph). There is nothing wrong with this method.

The USDA has worked out a variation to this overnight bean soak. Add 3 cups of cold water and 1 teaspoon of salt for each cup of beans in the pot and let stand overnight as has been done in the past. The salt allows the beans to absorb the moisture more evenly which results in beans being in better shape and cooking more evenly. But, if you’re watching your salt intake, use the old overnight method or the quick-soak method.

What’s the quick-soak method you may ask. Imagine the circuit rider called and said that he’s coming to stop by for a visit as he’s missed you at services the past couple of weeks. You want to impress him at ‘vittles’ time with a mess of beans made from an old family recipe. Here’s what you do. After putting the beans into a large pot and covering them with water, cover the pot and bring them to a boil, cooking for 2 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and let stand, covered, for an hour or two. This method is equivalent to letting them soak for about 15 hours. Then use the beans in your recipe or as just plain beans.

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Thoughts On Growing your Own Beans

This is my fourth post on dried beans. The 2nd and 3rd posts were on various kinds of dried beans while this one will consist of some thoughts on growing your own beans for drying.

  • Depending of what you want to use the beans for and your tastes, you could plant and dry white beans (Baby Limas, Butter Beans, Great Northern Beans, Marrow Beans, Navy Beans, Pea Beans, Small White Beans), Red and pink beans (Red Kidney Beans, Light Red Kidney Beans, Cranberry Beans, Pinto Beans, Pink Beans, Small Red Beans), Peas (Black-Eyed Peas, Yellow-Eyed Peas, Chick Peas, Garbanzos, Ceci Peas, Spanish Peas, Split Peas, Whole Dried Peas), or flavored beans (Lentils, Black Beans, Turtle Beans, Soybeans). These were talked about in two previous posts.
  • You could let your green or yellow snap beans grow to maturity and dry them, if you don’t mind a variety of shapes and colors.
  • The beans from the scarlet runner, planted for its flowers, could be harvested and dried for a large, delicious bean that has red splash of color in it.
  • The easiest way to dry beans is to leave some of the beans on the vine until the pods begin to open and a few beans shell out.  Insects may be a problem with this method along with an excessive amount of shell outs.
  • Another way of drying is to pull the plants and hang them to dry in an airy place. When the pods are brittle, place them in a burlap bag or leg of a panty hose and gently beat them with a blunt stick. Empty the container and separate the shelled beans from the chaff. Place the air-dried, threshed beans in the oven on warm for about an hour to kill all insects /larvae.
  • As your home dried beans are stored for a shorter time period than purchased beans have been, they will generally cook faster and will be less firm.
  • Store your beans in a an air tight container in a cool, dry, dark place. Be sure to use the older beans first when adding additional beans to the larder.
  • A lot of cook books will tell you that dried beans can be kept in storage for up to a year. Realistically, if your beans have been properly dried and stored, they should keep indefinitely without significant loss of quality.

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House Plants For Your Health

In my many years of teaching agriculture, crop production was one of the subjects/topics I taught at not only the high school and post secondary levels but also in my Veteran’s Farm Management and Adult Farm Management classes. I could write the following two formulas from memory then as I can now.

  • C6H12O6 + 6O2 –> 6CO2+ 6H2O + ATP(energy)
  • 6CO2 + 6H2O in the presence of sunlight & chlorophyl –> C6H12O6 + 6O2

The 1st is the formula for respiration and the 2nd, the formula for photosynthesis. One of the things I mentioned while discussing respiration was that “back in the old days” they would take the flowers a patient received while in the hospital, out of the room at night. They were under the opinion that the CO2 (carbon dioxide) given off at night was enough to hinder the recuperation of the patients. They later realized that there was not enough CO2 given off, so they let the flowers stay beyond visiting hours! They were onto something though. Instead of looking at the negative side of plants and flowers, they should have been looking at the positive side of plants.

My folks had a small forest in their living room along with an air purifier. Needless to say, indoor air pollution wasn’t a problem in their home. That isn’t always the case. Building materials made from synthetic products, cleaning products, carpeting, upholstery, artificial scents, molds and various other toxins in the air in some homes may add to the lack of health and wellness of the family living there. Some everyday houseplants may play a big part in eliminating or lessening the problem. Here are 6 suggestions for your consideration.

  • Aloe Vera (Aloe barbadensis) – We probably all have used an aloe plant for its burn-healing gel found in its leaves. The gel contains a combination of anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Aloe also helps to rid our homes of benzene which is found in some chemical cleaning products.
  • Bamboo Palm (Chamaedorea seifritzii) – Thriving indoors, this plant may grow to be over 10 feet tall. It is pet friendly which may be a plus to some people. It filters trichloroethylene and benzene from the air. It does not stand over watering.
  • Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum) – This is the plant often received as a gift. By reducing the level of spores in the home, it helps to keep mildew to a minimum. You will know when it needs watering, but be careful not to over water this plant. It does best in bright, indirect light. The blooms may contribute pollens or scents to the air, so be careful if allergies are a problem in your family.
  • Snake Plant (Sansevieria trifasciata) – Growing from 1 to 6 feet tall, this plant adds a vertical effect to the plants you have, while being low maintenance. It converts CO2 into O2 at night, so place this one in the bedroom. It requires little water, so if you are a ‘plant killer’, this plant is for you.
  • Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum) – As these plants need little care, they are a good choice for the novice plant grower. The spider plant prefers bright, indirect sunlight and only needs a weekly watering. They remove small amounts of formaldehyde and xylene from our homes.
  • Weeping Fig (Fiscus benjamina) – This plant prefers indirect sunlight and requires infrequent watering. In warmer weather or climates, the weeping fig can be moved outdoors if desired. It reduces pollutants like benzene and formaldehyde from the air in our homes. Consider this plant if you want an easy keeper.

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