Friday, October 31, 2014

Fall Root Crops

Fall season has it's own unique colors, smells, sights, and activities.  Pumpkins, winter squash, and gourds are plentiful. Hay rides, corn mazes, Halloween parties, and Thanksgiving.  It is also the time to harvest root crops that where planted late summer. Root crops have been a staple that our ancestors have depended on to survive.  A rutabaga may not be the most glamorous and sought after vegetable in the garden but along with other root crops such as carrots, beets, turnips, radishes, and parsnips they are a delicious addition to fall meals and a great long term storage crop.
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Carrots belong to the Umbelliferae family along with parsley and fennel.  Carrots are biennials meaning they need two growing seasons to produce flowers and seed.  The orange varieties, which are a mutation, are high in beta-carotene.  This powerful antioxidant is converted to vitamin A.

Orange is not the only option when it comes to color.  The gardener has a rainbow of colors to choose from- purple, red, yellow, and white.

Growing Guide
  Carrots prefer a loose, moist soil free of rocks.  Any obstructions, such as rocks, the roots hit will cause them to split and start growing two shoots.  A deep dug raised bed of fine soil is ideal.  

The small seeds of a carrots need constant moisture to germinate and the fine soil allows for good surface contact to ensure good germination.  

Carrots are best sown directly in the garden.  The seeds can be mixed with fine soil in a shaker  or use your finger to make a small trench and distribute the seeds.  Just barely cover them and keep them moist.  Fluctuating moisture will cause poor germination.  You can cover the area with a row cover or weed cloth to keep the ground moist and remove it when they start to germinate. Water gently so you don't wash the seeds away.  After they germinate, mulch around carrots.  Carrots prefer even moisture throughout the growing season.  If the crowns of carrots are exposed cover them to prevent them from turning green and bitter.

 For more information on varieties of carrots here another post.

A bed of carrots and beets.


Beets are a member of the same family as chard and spinach.  The seeds are a cluster of multiple seeds and if not thinned will not develop roots. Technically the beet seed is not a seed at all but a dried fruit that may contain one to six seeds which is why they will require thinning. When thinning cut plants off at the ground  with scissors instead of pulling them out.

 Young beet greens are delicious in salads and smoothies.  Blood red beet tops are a beautiful maroon color and make delicious tops. I add them to salads.

 Older greens can be cooked in the same manner as chard and spinach.  My absolute favorite beet is Touchstone Gold.  It is sweeter than red beets and has a milder flavor.  They are so good roasted.

Beets store very well in the refrigerator.  Cut the tops off leaving 1 inch of green, brush off the dirt and store in bags in the a cool, dark place.  They can be canned, pickled,  or roasted. 

Beet roots have the highest sugar content of any vegetable and are extremely low in calories.  They are high in iron and potassium.  They are a great storage crop.

Beets.  The maroon leaves are the Bull's Blood Beet a favorite top to eat.

Rutabagas and Turnips

"There is nothing in the garden as unromantic as a turnip, unless perhaps it's a rutabaga.  Strong-flavored good storing root vegetables, they are rarely invited to sit at formal tables.  But they are good, earthy peasant food."  
Barbara Damrosch The Garden Primer

Rutabagas and turnips are often considered to be twins. Both have the same cultural requirements and similar taste.  They are actually two different species.  The rutabaga is a result of a hybridization between a cabbage and a turnip.  I prefer the taste of rutabagas over turnips.  They are sweeter.

Turnips have been cultivated anciently since the Romans.  Rutabagas are sometimes called "Swedes" and are believed to be native to Sweden.  Rutabaga's leaves are smooth, while a turnip green is rough and slightly hairy.  Rutabaga flesh is yellow, while a turnip flesh is white.  Turnips are rich in vitamins while rutabagas are high in beta-carotene.

The turnip is a quick maturing vegetable.  Ready in only a couple of months while the rutabaga is slower and needs four months to mature.  I plant both for fall crops.

Turnip roots are best harvested when the roots are 2-3 inches in diameter.  Rutabaga roots should be harvested when the roots are 4-5 inches in diameters.

Like beets and carrots they store well in the refrigerator, root cellar, or cold garage.


Parsnips are another very unromantic vegetable.  They are a rough, dirty white root.  Parsnip were anciently used as a sweeterener before the sugar beet came along.  Fed to pigs, they are said to sweeten the meat and make delicious hams.  Next spring we will be getting pigs and I will try this out.  Since I'm not overly fond of parsnips I wont' mind sharing with my pigs.

Parsnips seeds are very slow to germinate taking up to 21 days.  It's best to purchase new seeds each year.  Use the same cultivating methods as for carrots.  Sow the seeds in early spring when the daffodil blooms.  Wait until after the first frost to harvest parsnips.  A frost is what encourages them to develop their sweet flavor.  

This is a parsnip that I overwintered to save seeds.


As with many root crops, radishes are one of the anciently grown root crops.   There are many varieties of radishes.  They come in various shapes, sizes, and colors.  It is fun to experiment with new varieties every year.  

The key to growing a good radish is to grow them fast and harvest them fast. Left even one day to long in the garden they develop a hot sharp taste, become pithy, and split.  An impatient little root, many are ready in 21 days.  Also record the date you plant and days to maturity of the varieties you plant so you can harvest an edible radish.

They prefer cool spring and fall weather.

The key to enjoy these root crops is finding delicious recipes.  Here's a link to some good recipes that might make you rethink the root crops.

Root Crop Recipes


Roasted Vegetables

Cube any of the following vegetables you have available to you.

  • Potatoes
  • Carrots (it's fun to use orange, red, and purple varieties.  Dragon's Tongue is a favorite that is purple all the way through)
  • Beets both red and golden 
  • Quarter an onion
You can also add mushrooms, rutabagas, or peppers if you like

Oil (Olive, avocado, or grape-seed oil)
garlic powder

Pour over the vegetables and pour into a sheet cake pan.  Top with Parmesan cheese.  Roast at 425 until tender.  It takes around 45 minutes.  I love this dish.  You can be creative with the seasonings and vegetables you use

Purple Viking potatoes, Golden beets,  red beets, Dragon Tongue purple carrots, and orange carrots. Such a colorful dish.

Rutabaga Souffle

2 cups cubed rutabaga
1/2 tsp sugar
2 eggs, separated
2 Tbs butter
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup sour cream
Buttered breadcrumbs
Salt and pepper to taste
  • Boil rutabagas and sugar in a saucepan until tender.  Drain and mash rutabagas.
  •  Beat egg yolks and add to rutabaga with salt, pepper and sour cream
  • Beat the egg yolks and add to the mixture
  • Put in a buttered casserole dish. 
  • Top with buttered breadcrumbs
  • Bake at 350 F for  30 minutes
Recipe from Capper's Farmer Magazine

Cheese Carrots

20 carrots sliced
1 small grated onion
1/4 cup of butter
1/4 cup of flour
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp dried mustard
1/4 tsp celery salt
2 cups milk
1/2 lb American cheese, sliced
1 cup breadcrumbs

  • Cook carrots in a saucepan until fork tender
  • Saute onion in butter
  • Stir in flour, salt, pepper, mustard, and celery salt stirring until thickened
  • Arrange layer of carrots and cheese slices in a casserole dish
  • Pour sauce over the top
  • Sprinkle with bread crumbs
  • Bake at 350 F for 25 minutes
Recipe from  Capper's Farmer Magazine 

Glazed Carrots

Carrots, Julian cut
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup water
1/4 sugar

  • Melt butter in a saucepan
  • Add water and sugar
  • Add carrots
  • Bring to boil reduce heat, cover, and simmer until tender
This is a family favorite

  To learn how to grow and harvest root crops check out the link below.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Dehydrated Pears: A Sweet Snack

Dehydrated fruits are a delicious snack you can make at home.  Pears from your organic orchard  are nutritious and easily enjoyed throughout the season when dehydrated.  There are three principles to consider when dehydrating.
  1.  Heat:  The temperature needs to be controlled and  high enough to force moisture out of the fruit.
  2. Dry Air:  Needed to absorb the moisture released from the food
  3. Air Circulation:  to move the moisture away
When food is properly dehydrated 80-95% if the moisture will be removed from the food.

Methods of dehydrating:

Sun Drying or Room Drying:  This method requires warm days of around 90 degrees, low humidity, a means to control insects, and clean air.

Oven drying:  Because of energy costs, this is only a good options for small batches

Commercial  Dehydrators:   The dehydrators provide the most consistent and reliable results.  The fruit dries evenly, quickly, and the quality is excellent with this method.

Always Start Fresh

You want to use fresh, high quality fruit.  That is the benefit of having a home orchard.  Pears are relatively easy fruit to grow. They are very productive and tend to bloom late enough to miss early frosts.  I have one Bartlet pear and a Packman pear.  The Bartlet's are my favorite.  One tree gives our family plenty of pears for eating, canning, and drying. 

Pretreating the Fruit

Dipping pears in a pretreatment prevents them from oxidizing.  The fruit will brown, lose some Vitamin A and Vitamin C during oxidization.  Lemon juice makes an excellent natural pretreatment.

Use 1 cup of lemon juice to one quart of water

It is best to not leave the fruit in the dip for more than 10 minutes.

Preparing the Pears

Any variety of pears can be used.  Wash the pears.  I like to slice the pears into quarters, then core and peel each quarter. Cut into 1/2 slices You can use a apple corer and slicer.  I think it leaves the pieces too small and prefer to do it by hand.  Place the sliced pears in the pretreatment.  Every 10 minutes remove the pears from the pretreatment and place on trays. Individual fruit pieces should not be touching each other so air can circulate.

Dry pears at 130 to 135 degrees until leathery. 

Because it is difficult to slice evenly, be sure to check for doneness frequently and remove any fruit that is done.


Store the dried pears in an airtight container and away from light.  You can put an oxygen absorber packet in for longer storage.  I like to use gallon size mason jars.

Vaccum pack some  for longer storage life.  In some cases it can extend the shelf life 3-5 times longer.

Stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark place these delicious snacks will store for 1 year.  Don't count on them lasting that long!


Saturday, October 4, 2014

When to Pick Pears

“There are only ten minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson


 A ripe pear is a sweet, juicy treat, but it is often difficult for the grower to determine when the time is right to harvest your pears.  Unlike other fruit, pears do not ripen on the tree.   If left on the tree too long or picked too early, they either remain rock hard or turn gritty and mushy.  Pears ripen from the inside out so by the time the outside is ripe the inside is mushy and mealy.  


Types of Pears


 European pears include fall and winter pears.  Fall pears do not need a storage period before they are ready to use, and winter pears will not mature properly unless they are given a resting period in cold storage immediately after picking. The fall pears are earlier ripening varieties such as Bartlett, Clapp Favorite, and Orcas, while those that ripen later, such as Bosc, Comice, and Highland, are winter pears.


When To Pick a Pear


The key to picking pears is doing so when they are mature but not fully ripe. Look up the maturity date for your pear variety and begin checking your tree regularly before this date. The pear will be green and feel very firm when it is mature.  Tip the pear to the horizontal position and if mature it will easily break away.  If it clings it is not mature.  You should not have to tug and pull your pears off.


It is helpful to write on a calendar when you picked your pears and begin check for maturity one or two weeks prior to that.


Allowing Pears To Ripen


After picking, fall pears can be kept at room temperature until ready to eat.  They are ready to eat when yellow color develops and the fruit begins to soften. Fall pears can be stored but usually do not keep for very long. Storing in a refrigerator or cool dark place is helpful in extending storage life.  Fall pears are best used for canning and drying. 


Winter pears should be put into some kind of cold storage (below 40°F, down to 33°F) for  least 3-4 weeks. You can start to bring out fruit as needed to soften up at room temperature on the counter. 


Monday, September 29, 2014

Seasoned Tomatoes: Italian, Mexican, & Cajun Spice Blends

I love having these canned tomatoes on my shelf!  Italian, Mexican, and Cajun seasoned tomatoes are one of the tomato product I use the most in cooking. They always have a place in my pantry.  Any recipe that calls for diced, crushed, or whole tomatoes I choose one of these seasoned tomatoes whose herbs will enhance the recipe.  The Italian seasoned tomatoes are a must in pasta dishes.  The Mexican seasoned tomatoes in taco mixes, Mexican soups. beans, or rice dishes.

I love the blend of herbs in each of these recipes.  All these recipes come from Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.

Preparing the Tomatoes

Wash the tomatoes.  I submerge the tomatoes in water. I wash all the tomatoes then get a saucepan with water boil. You can use either slicing or plum tomatoes.  Some heirloom varieties may be too juicy but some are fine for canning.


Skin the tomatoes.  

The easiest way to skin tomatoes is to submerge them in boiling water for 30-60 second. Then submerge them in ice water This causes the skins split and the tomato slips easily out all ready to slice.  I don't not leave them in the boiling water longer than this or it cooks them.  The skins will peel easily even if the skin is not split.  Have a tray ready to put all the tomatoes on. Finish all the tomatoes then go on to prepare the jars and herbs.

Use a tray with sides so you don't have juice everywhere.

Prepare the jars, water bath canner, and herbs

Sterilize your jars.  I do this in the dishwasher and leave them there until I need them.  Prepare the lids and rings.  Fill the canner with water and have it on the stove.  Add a little vinegar if you have hard water.

Choose the spice blend and quantity desired.  Mix in a small bowl.

Italian Spice Blend

Dried herbs                      2 Jars                 6 Jars
Basil                                1 tsp                  4 tsp
Thyme                             1 tsp                  2 tsp
Oregano                          1 tsp                  2 1/2 tsp    
Rosemary                        1/2 tsp               1 1/2 tsp
Sage                               1/2 tsp               1 1/2 tsp
Garlic powder                   1/4 tsp               1 tsp
For each pint jar, and only use pint jars for this recipe, use 2 1/4 tsp of the blended spices. You also need to add 1 Tbs of lemon juice to each pint jar.

 Mexican Spice Blend

Dried Herbs                    2 Jars                   6 jars
Chili Powder                      2 tsp                    6 tsp
Ground Cumin                  1 tsp                    2 tsp
Oregano                          1 tsp                    2 tsp
Garlic powder                   1 tsp                    2 tsp
Ground coriander              1 tsp                   2 tsp
Seasoned Salt                  1/2 tsp                 1 1/2 tsp

For each pint jar use 2 1/2 tsp of the spice blend.  Add 1 Tbs of lemon juice to each pint also.

With the spice blend and lemon juice in the jars you are ready to fill the jar.

Add desired spice blend and 1 Tbs of lemon juice to each jar. 


 A helpful tip is to place your cutting board in a tray.  The tray will trap the juices of the tomatoes so you don't have such a mess.


Fill the Jars

Dice the tomatoes and fill the jars leaving 1/2 inch of headspace.  You will be using the tomatoes own juice as your liquid so as you add the tomatoes, press down with a spatula to release the juices.  Release air bubbles as you go.

Wipe the rims and adjust lids.  Process for 40 minutes in a water bath canner.  I add 10 minutes because of my altitude.  When the time is up remove the lid and leave jars for 10 minutes in the canner.  Remove from the canner and let them cool.

When the jars are cool check your seals, remove the rings, and wipe the jars clean.  

Enjoy having these beautiful, delicious tomatoes in your pantry!

The jar on the right is Old Ivory Egg, an heirloom variety which is fun to have on hand to cook with.  It's nice mixed with the red tomatoes.
The recipe for the Cajun spice blend is in the book.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Canned Pineapple Zucchini

Need a new way to use zucchini?  Try canning pineapple zucchini.  Diced or shredded this zucchini tastes like pineapple.  It makes a great treat out of the jar.  It has pineapple flavor with a softer texture.  You could also substitute it in recipes calling for pineapple tidbits or use the shredded pineapple zucchini in bread recipes.  I'm excited to try it.

A heads up.  I learned that I have a allergic dermatitis to raw zucchini.  Yes, such a thing exists.  The skin on my hand got tight, dry, and just peeled off.  Not too pleasant. So I wear gloves when dicing raw zucchini.


This recipe came from the USDA Home Canning Guide 2.  This is a great guide available online from the extension office. There are other guides for canning tomato products, vegetable products, meats, pickling, and jams and jellies.  Wonderful resource with information on how to can safely and recipes to try.

USDA Home Canning Guides


4 quarts zucchini, grated or diced
1 1/2 cups bottled lemon juice (standardized acidity)
1 can ( 46 oz. ) unsweetened pineapple juice
3 cups sugar

Yield:  8 pints

Peel zucchini and cut into cubes or shred.  Mix the zucchini with all the other ingredients in a large saucepan and bring to a boil.  Simmer for 20 minutes.  Fill hot jars leaving 1/2 headspace.  Remove air bubbles, wipe rims, and adjust lids and process in a water bath canner.  Process half pints and pints for 15 minutes below 1000ft add 10 minutes at 5000 ft. 

Caveli is one of my favorite varieties because it has few seeds

Caveli zucchini
Diced zucchini

Beautiful finished product