Archive for Garden

The Secret to Storing Soulful Tomatoes

Off season, store bought toms scare me!

Say goodbye to bland tomato sauce and store bought zombie toms…Tomatoes that have no soul.  Now you can have year round tomato taste with maximum nutrition with minimal space.  

Tomato Powder: the super space-saving, nutrient dense method of preserving the tide of tomato abundance

 

Garden Tomatoes

I didn’t edit this photo at all…you just can’t capture the brightness of homegrown tomatoes!

I grow lots of tomatoes.  Why? Because there is nothing like biting into a garden fresh, vine ripened tomato.  You can’t buy that taste in any store. Okay that is part of it. The other reason? They are easy to grow.  I have so many failed garden attempts withering in my garden beds, that I cover my blunders with gnarly unstoppable vines of tomatoes. If you think I am exaggerating, ask me how many I planted this last year. Go ahead, ask……28.  Yes, twenty-eight plants for a family of six.  Considering each plant yields roughly one bzillion toms, that left me with a few leftover to store.

I used to can tomatoes. They are perhaps the easiest fruit to can and can be used in so many ways; you can’t go wrong with a shelf of home canned tomatoes. Then I embarked on my raw food adventure.  Though I am not close to a 100% raw foodist, it did wake me up to the nutrient value of raw foods. Suddenly I found myself unable to plunge my beautiful, fresh lovelies into boiling water.  Processing, even on a home level, seemed so tragic.  What’s a raw loving girl to do in a crimson tide of toms?  After my first growing season on our “farm” I froze a lot of tomato puree.  But let’s face it, how often do I plan a meal far enough in advance to thaw out a tub of tomato goop? Not often. Not to mention I only have a finite amount of freezer space.

You know what they say about necessity mothering invention? Well, I “invented” something amazing.  Out of desperation, I began stuffing tomatoes into my dehydrator.  Then to save space, I began powdering them in my blender.  Turns out, almost a bushel of tomatoes will fit in one mason jar!  I did it! I found the space saver secret to tomato storage!  Evil laughter filled my kitchen.  And what a bonus it was not to be stuck in a hot, steamy kitchen!  But….what to do with powdered tomatoes?

tompowderThat is the beautiful genius of it all…it is delicious!  Tomato powder can go in pretty much everything short of a cheesecake.  Need more specifics?

 

  • Tomato paste
  • Ketchup
  • Tomato sauce
  • Enchilada Sauce
  • Chili

 

Use it as a thickener. (I especially like this feature when making my raw marinara!)

Create illusions: a spoonful of tom powder in canned soup or sauce just brightens it up, making it taste fresher and, dare I say it, homemade!  (I am all for easy dishes that get you homemade credit!!)

Summer-ize: during the sad winter season when tomatoes only come in pale pink frankenfruit varieties at the grocery store, use this powder to pack a REAL punch of summer into whatever you are serving. For a tasty twist of irony, sprinkle it on your winter-shipped-pathetic-store-bought-frankenmaters!

As for inventing it, I totally did.  The people who market it in stores on the Internet surely gleaned it from my consciousness magically, you know, before I found it in there myself.  Yes, you can buy it.  But I figure I saved myself the cost of a new minivan by making it myself.

Note: it does clump a bit.  You could add cornstarch or something like that to declump, but I would rather use a fork to break it up than defile my lovelies with additives.  Shaking and patting the jar is usually enough to do the job. If you do live somewhere with humidity, try storing with a little pouch of dry rice.  Rice is an excellent natural moisture absorber!

Store in a cool, dry place.  You know, the usual food storage advice.  How long you ask? Well, I had one pint jar leftover from my first season and, one full year later, it still tasted bright and tommy.   I am sure you could add an oxygen absorber to extend its shelf life, but really it is so versatile, you will rotate through it quickly.

 Did I mention it is easy?

dry tomsWash and de-core your tomatoes.  Then, simply slice thin and arrange in your dehydrator. If you have a temperature control feature, keep the heat low, under 118 degrees to preserve the enzymes and “raw” quality.  Dry overnight or until crisp.  Then simply blend in your food processor or high powered blender until you have a fine powder.  Fill your jars and there you go!

 

blend tomsEXPRESS method:

After my first 5 million tomatoes, I was so sick of slicing I moved to this method…puree.  Wash and de-core your tomatoes.  Then toss into your high powered blender and puree.  Pour on teflex sheets (or whatever mats you use to make fruit leathers in your dehydrator).   Dry until brittle…dryer than fruit leather but not burned!  Then break off pieces and powder.

tomatoe powder jarstomatoe powder

 

That is all there is to it!

Go for Gojis: growing super berries

What is a better bargain, super berries at $26 a pound, or $2.56 plus shipping for unlimited, perpetual super berries? I’m not good at math, but I will opt for the second.

Even worse than my math skills are my gardening skills. My thumb is only the palest shade of green around the edges…I am working on it. But there is one place where my love of food, my obsession with nutrition, and my adoration of bargain shopping collide: in the garden.  Alas, I have thrown in my spade and started shoveling more than just a good story now and then. (Which reminds me, have you read Charity’s “other” blog: Spade & Spatula? Green thumb and gorgeous? Oh yeah, and published. It’s almost too much! xo)

I really love my gojis, wanna shake my tree…

My proudest venture of late is not my forlorn looking cucumbers and straggly tomato vines. Not even my overblown broccoli and lone but voluptuous watermelon. No, those are too ordinary for accolade. My crowning achievement this year is much more exotic. It hails from the fertile crags and valleys of the Himalayas. The not-at-all-humble goji berry.

Goji Greatness

If you haven’t encountered them personally, you have surely heard of the super berries. They reside in a myriad of health drinks, supplements, elixirs, remedies, weight loss concoctions, and even shampoos. They are touted as the world’s most nutritious food. David Wolfe, my raw food crush, rates them as the #1 superfood on the planet (a close second–the sensuously nutritive cacao bean–is also a very, very good friend of mine. mmmm)

My “raw food guru crush,” David Wolfe. To be fair, I would crush on anybody holding Goji and raw cacao nibs. Hmmm…must be the food I am crushing on.

Besides being a complete protein source (exceptional to note in a plant!) and rich in a spectrum of vitamins and minerals, gojis are said to promote longevity, reduce free-radical damage, have adaptogenic (stress-relieving) properties, and–according to Wolfe–they improve vision, enhance immune system, increase libido, keep organs vital and offer brain, neurological, and cardiovascular support.  Which on that list would you not appreciate?

Such power in such a small package!  You may start to see why they are so celebrated by the Whole Foods crowd.  Paying the big bucks to buy them by the pound might almost be justifiable, unless there is a better way.

Beauty and Brains…a total package!

Grow Your Own Gojis!

Meet my better way….grow them yourself! Growing goji berries is not as hard as you might think.  There are so many benefits to having a super fruit in your own garden!  Goji berries are:

  • Easy to grow (I haven’t killed them yet!)
  • Drought tolerant
  • Prolific (hundreds of berries from each vine-like branch and they branch out more and more each year!)
  • Novel (do your neighbors have them next to their marigolds and petunias? I bet not!)
  • Attractive (those little purple flowers dare you not to smile)
  • Possibly Lucrative…If you won’t pay to tour my garden, maybe you will purchase a bar of goji goat milk soap! (Yeah, that is a forthcoming Purple Barn creation, I will put you on the waiting list right after me.)

I have tried three methods now–seed, seedlings, and root stock–and I have managed some level of success with all three!

From seed to super!

Seeds:

Slow and steady. To grow by seed you can order them on Amazon. Or come snag a berry from me. Each berry has about ten seeds in there. One or two are certain to germinate!

Sprout indoors somewhere warm. After about 10 days, you will see enough root that you can move it to a greenhouse or outside if it is warm enough.  This method is slow. It takes 2 years to get berries from a seed.  But it is worth the wait and the ultimate in frugal feed!

Seedling:

A nice middle ground.  You can order 1 year seedlings from all kinds of catalogs now. I ordered a few the fall we moved in from the Burgess catalog.  They were scrawny when they arrived, but pulled through and are now resilient and full of character. Hmmm…much like my kids.  I will admit, I didn’t think these little seedlings would live through the winter. So…I forgot about them and went about other projects. (Green thumbs up!) Imagine my surprise when I commenced weeding out a weed encumbered bed on the side of the house and found a thriving berry patch! If they can live with little watering, zero attention, and completely covered in morning glory, then gojis can certainly make it in your spot of garden!

Keep an eye out. I found goji seedlings in my local garden center for the first time this summer!  You may want to hurry and get ahead of this fad so you can say you had them first!

Root stock:

my favorite; more expensive, but designed for the impatient. This spring I splurged on 3 year root stock from this place: “Buy Goji Berries.” I love them. They are friendly, answer questions, and I love love love patronizing the little guys. Did that sound patronizing? Burgess wouldn’t give me the time of day when I called and asked for info on growing gojis, but these guys will answer, encourage, and even use the profits for a good cause (animal rescue)!  The root stock I planted this spring are teeming with bright red cylindrical berry goodness.

I planted these in 5 gallon buckets, in premium garden soil amended with compost (thank you bunnies) and left them in full sun. I water regularly and have been rewarded. But keep in mind, the neglected berries of last year are doing nearly as well. (and that through this year’s drought! I wish my lawn was so forgiving!)  I am still trying to figure exactly where I want my goji patch planted permanently, but for now they make an excellent accent on my patio.

Full Disclosure:

I have to be honest, this is, after all the Internet. Mother Nature apparently packed these babies with so many healing properties that a side effect was inescapable: taste.  The immediate sweetness is surprising as it explodes on your tongue, however just as you are tempted to dance on your tip toes, the after taste hits and the afterglow immediately dissipates.  They taste like MEDICINE. Not kidding. Having eaten several now, I have to mentally urge myself to “say Ahhhh” before I can eat them straight off the vine.

So are they worth it? Well you won’t find me fighting my kids to the death over the last one on the vine (that scene has occurred in my raspberry patch on several occasions. We used to have ten children and are now down to four).  But the health benefits are off the chart and the tinny taste disappears in smoothies, salad dressings, or other sauces. They can be used fresh or dried.  I made a strawberry smoothie for my flu-laden sister one morning and she reported a “buzz” of such magnitude, she arose from her tomb and cleaned house.  They really do pack a punch!  And if you just can’t get past the flavor….dip them in chocolate. Oh yeah.

I am proud of my little powerhouse berries.  I like to think Tibet and I now have more in common than just our abounding flow of wisdom.  Salt Lake City Goji Grower, that is me!

If you need more detailed Goji growing information, check out Sask Goji Power Nursery…lots of info on how to grow, where to plant, etc. You can order seeds or seedlings from them, though I haven’t tried them myself.  Good luck!

Buying Goji Berries

If you decide to buy them in bulk rather than grow your own, I recommend shopping asian markets. I have purchased them for as low as $6.99 a pound dried, by far the best price I’ve encountered for whole goji berries.  Otherwise, they are available in most health food stores and showing up more and more in supermarkets.

If you like shopping in your jammies, check out the Amazon suggestions below!

 

Growing pains…in my office

I have a multipurpose room in my new house. It is a little room off my bedroom where I have my office (I type here even now), my walk in closet that I love, my exercise equipment that I hang clothes on, various crafting items (alas, I am not crafty), gift wrap scatterings, and most notably my wannabe greenhouse. The other things melt into the disordered scenery, but my sprouting shelves are kind of hard to miss.  Here is what the scene looks like:

These should be planted outside already, but the cold, wet spring has delayed us.  I can’t wait though to see how they will fare.  This little tower represents hours of hopeful handling….sowing seeds, transplanting them, watering, and yes, occasionally talking to them.  They have read every whereverthere blog post!

     So this growing tower is a simple construction.  A 4 tiered garage shelf I drilled holes into and mounted shop lights on, about 7 bucks each, two lights per shelf.  No special lighting required.  I turn them on in the morning, and off when I go to bed.  One gardener told me you can leave them on all the time, but I read that plants need a night cycle so I chose that route.  For some of the sprouts, I used sprouting mats: little heating mats that keep them at a higher temperature to aid in germination.  I actually noticed very little difference between those on and those off the mat so I don’t know that they are worth the considerable expense.  The lights are on a chain, so as the plants sprout and get bigger, I move the lights up.  I started sprouting in February, but next year will start tomatoes in January.  Melons and cucumbers shouldn’t be sprouted before April.   It really helps alleviate the spring fever to start gardening during a snow storm!

I over-planted to allow for a large margin of error.   Few of them failed to sprout, but some didn’t make it much farther than that.  You may notice the empty shelf on the bottom, those were for the plants that didn’t survive my week in California.  But bless him, all our children and animals survived, so my hubby did pretty darn good!

     Supposedly economical, each plant is one I didn’t have to buy at a greenhouse.  They are planted in a rag-tag combination of milk jugs, plastic and paper cups, and whatever I had on hand.  How is that for recycling?

In retrospect, this, like most of my projects, was more time-consuming than anticipated.  I was especially discouraged when Home Depot had a sale featuring Early Girl Toms and Green Bell Peppers for 50 cents each!!!  So next year, I will probably only sprout more exotic things, like my heirloom tomatoes (Did you know there is a black seaman tom? Who wouldn’t want to plant one of those!!) and oddities like my tiger melons, cherry peppers,  and climbing tomatoes.   But there is a satisfaction in knowing I attended all my veggies from seed to salad.

    I am a long way from harvest still, but as I begin the hardening off process and prepare their beds, I am dreaming of the payoff.  There is a lot of prayer involved as well, “Please oh please don’t let me kill everything!!!”  For someone with a notoriously ungreen thumb, I am trying my best.  I have over 150 plants waiting to go out this next week.  Charity, I may have to borrow some mason jars.

 

 

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