The garden is winding down. Yesterday afternoon and evening, Lovana helped me begin the clean-up job. She pulled out the tomato cages. I picked the last remaining vegetables off of dying bushes. There is much more to do, but we got a good start before it became so dark we could not see any more.
I have several large raised beds. I have a large portion of the garden that is able to be tilled. About 1/3 of the fenced area is in berries, which are permanent. I was able to get a start on cleaning out the raised beds last evening. After I clean out the old plants, I will put compost on the emptied beds. In one bed, I have some leeks, spinach, peas and chard, which I will leave in for the winter. There are also 2-3 plants of overwintering broccoli.
I was able to get butternut squash, a few zucchini, peppers, and cucumbers. More tomatoes are ripening daily and there are many squashes that will be good for many months. It was an extra-long growing season this year and I feel very blessed for all the wonderful produce we have harvested.
This week was fun! My friend visited from out of town for 3 nights and we canned up quite a few things from the last remains of my bountiful garden. It is looking pretty bedraggled by now, but we found a few items that we could still use. She brought a few green tomatoes and a few peppers from her garden as well. The recipe we used was from the Foods of the Pacific Northwest pamphlet, Salsa Recipes for Canning. One thing we decided to make was Green Tomato Salsa, or Salsa Verde. The recipe is also on the website for the National Center for Food Preservation. It is called Tomatillo Salsa, but I always use green tomatoes for it.
We made a triple batch. The onions I grew this year were very small. We had to peel a LOT of them! We both cried a couple of times while peeling and as we got a whiff of the aroma when we started to whirl them around in the food processor. The rest was easy. We just chopped everything up, measured it out into a big pot, and followed the directions in the recipe. Then we canned it up. We got about 22-24 jars of various sizes, but most were pints. They all sealed and the next day, after they were cool, we put half in my basement and packed half for her to take home. We had a wonderful time, visiting and canning and agreed: We both have a strange sense of what fun is–but we both love to can and got a lot of pleasure from each other’s company and the rows of jars gleaming on the counter when we were done!
We were blessed with a huge harvest of Sweetmeat squash. In the picture above, my 15-year-old, Ja’Ana, is bringing a wheelbarrow full up to the house for curing. There are many more down in the second garden by the barn. Some of these may be too small and immature to be good, but most are going to be delicious. We will sort them out by color, choosing to take the grayish ones over the greener ones. Also, the mature ones will be harder, and usually bigger. If we really can’t tell by looking, we simply open one up, cook a little bit in the microwave, and we know right away whether or not it has the delicious flavor we expect, or whether it is chicken food.
You will notice in the picture that Ja’Ana cut them off with a knife, leaving a stem. This helps them stay good longer. We also put them in a dry place in the house for a couple of weeks to cure. This seems to lengthen their life as well.
After they have been cured, we store them in the garage or shop in a cool location. Usually, we store them in a single layer. Sometimes we use newspaper to put them on, as seen in the picture above. At times, we have stacked squash in plastic crates in the garage. Last year, they were out in the shop on a pallet and the mice crept up through the boards and ate holes in them! We’ve even had chickens peck holes in them when we’ve left them out too long! So, we’ve learned to be more careful and you can be sure they aren’t going into the shop this year.
Once we have the squash cured and stored well they keep for months. If one gets a soft spot, usually that can be cut out and the rest cooked and frozen, thereby saving most of the affected squash.
To break one of these open, we use a hatchet and chop it. A large knife will work, but it is hard to safely cut it with a knife. Another method we have used is to drop the squash on a hard surface, such as a concrete sidewalk. It will break and can then be cleaned. The seeds are removed with a spoon, and the cut pieces are set onto a foil-lined cookie sheet and placed into a 350 degree oven. The squash is then roasted until soft, anywhere from 1 hour to 2, depending on the size of the pieces. It is done when a fork can easily pierce the flesh. Then the cooked squash is scooped out with a large spoon and ran through a food mill. I use a Foley Food Mill that I have had for years.
Because the squash are so large, it is nearly impossible for our family to eat one up before it goes bad. We simply freeze the puree.
We use squash in many ways. Sometimes it is served as a vegetable, and brown sugar is often sprinkled on top. We use this squash to make all of our pumpkin pies and other baked goods that call for pumpkin. It is less stringy than true pumpkin and has a very sweet flavor and a non-watery texture.