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Glorious Garden SurplusBy Audrey M. Smith
I love to garden. It's nothing short of a miracle to take a tiny fleck of a seed, plant it in the ground, and then watch it grow into a sweet, crunchy orange carrot. I grow everything organically, and believe me; the taste far exceeds any grocery chain store's equivalent. Marveling aside, sooner or late I'm faced with too much of a good thing. There are many ways of preserving surplus produce: storage in a root cellar, storage in barrels, plastic bins, and metal trash cans in a basement; freezing, canning, making jams, jellies, and relishes, drying, or even leaving it in the garden to winter over with or without the protection of a cold frame, depending on the zone.
There are tons of websites, books, and magazine articles devoted to telling how to do all of the above, but what I'm looking for at this time of year are savory, but simple recipes to enjoy the just-picked goodness now. I also relish good tips for alternative and new-to-me ways of preserving the garden's bounty in natural ways, while retaining as many nutrients as possible.
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In my new home state of Vermont, rhubarb is one crop that grows exceptionally well in the cool, northern climate and short growing season. Everyone grows it, has abundance, and searches for ways to prepare it.
Yes, rhubarb can be frozen for up to 4 months. Wash it and cut into 1/2 to 1-inch pieces. Pack 6 cups (the amount used in an average rhubarb pie) in 1- gallon freezer bags. Mark contents and expiration date on bag. To use, defrost completely and drain excess liquid well. Use it in any of your favorite recipes. Frozen rhubarb can be a bit more watery than when fresh, so baking time may need to be extended. Same great taste!
Rhubarb recipes often call for a lot of sugar. Too much sweetener tends to mask the subtle flavor of rhubarb. Rhubarb desserts tend to taste sweeter the next day or so than fresh out of the oven the first day.
Recently, I set out to conquer the problem and create my own new and improved rhubarb pie recipe. Mixing and matching a number of family recipes, I found that one cup of sugar in the filling, when topped with streusel, was all that was needed. Less sugar actually tasted sweeter, but in a natural, satisfying way, plus I could actually taste the wonderful rhubarb flavors! After numerous trials, I settled on a recipe I created by combining new finds with old family favorites.
Audrey's Rhubarb Pie
This pie gets rave reviews from the family every time we bake it. I bake an oven full at one time. Freezes well.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. For filling, in large bowl, mix the first three ingredients and set aside. Next, prepare pastry dough. In small mixing bowl, combine flour and salt. In a small bowl, whisk water and oil together until milky in color. With pastry blender or fork, slowly mix in oil-water mixture, tossing mixture with each addition, until the size of peas. With hands, press mixture into a ball. Roll out pastry by first wetting rolling surface lightly to hold waxed paper in place. Roll pastry between two sheets of waxed paper, first flattening the dough by hand, then gently easing pastry outward from center until it reaches the desired size to fit pie dish. Fold pastry in half and then fold once more. Carefully, place folded pastry in pie dish, point of fold in center. Unfold pastry, trim edges, and poke holes on bottom and sides with a fork. Pour in filling. Pile higher in center.
Top with streusel topping.
To prepare streusel, in a small bowl mix dry ingredients together. Cut in margarine with a fork or pastry blender until mixture crumbles into pea size. Sprinkle over filling, covering entire pie surface. Place in oven on top of a cookie sheet covered with foil pr parchment paper to catch drippings. Bake for 1 hour. Cover with a sheet of foil laid over the top to keep streusel from getting too dark. Continue baking for approximately 30 minutes more or until filling is set and not watery.
Zucchini - the great producer of many gardens
Yes, zucchini can be frozen, too. I shred it and bag it up in recipe-sized portions. Like rhubarb, after defrosting drain it well. I use it to bake zucchini bread and cake, but also to add to just about any cake or cookie recipe to make it exceptionally moist. It's a great addition to vegan versions of meatloaf, meatballs, soups, casseroles, and lasagna. Adjust the liquid ingredients in a recipe to allow for the extra liquid contributed by the zucchini.
Other Simple Uses
As the desire for more zucchini wavers, I cut it into matchsticks or shred it and add it to any pasta sauce for an easy, yet delicious way to sneak in some extra zucchini. Slip it into sloppy joes and tacos made with vegetable crumbles, textured vegetable protein, or mashed beans. Enjoy it raw on a salad or mix zucchini shreds into your favorite pancake or muffin recipe.
Low Fat Zucchini-Applesauce (or Banana) Cake
Bake in a large batch to make good use of a lot of zucchini. Freezes well up to 6 months. Makes a nice, firm loaf that slices easily without falling apart. Packs well in lunchboxes, too.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In medium size mixing bowl using a wooden spoon, stir together sugar, applesauce or banana, zucchini, and soy flour/water combination. In separate bowl, mix the rest of the ingredients together and combine with the sugar- applesauce mixture. Pour into oiled or greased loaf pan. Bake 45-55 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
Tomatoes and Herbs and Green Beans and Summer Squashes
Tomatoes freeze exceptionally well. Wash and dry fresh tomatoes. Place whole on a cookie sheet in freezer. When frozen solid, seal in plastic containers or freezer bags. To use, remove from bag as needed. Hold under warm running water until skin cracks and slips off easily. Use like a stewed tomato.
Homemade Pasta Sauce
After a season of gardening and preserving the bounty, I appreciate the simplicity and versatility of this delicious sauce.
Using stockpots, wash and chop up tomatoes and place them in the pots. It doesn't matter what kind of tomatoes - plum or slicing, red or yellow, add them all. Next, toss in fresh herbs from the garden or sprinkle in dry on hand: basil and oregano are especially good. Add a quart of water. I keep adding whatever the garden surplus: shredded zucchini, onions with tops, garlic, chopped green beans and wax beans, summer squash, sweet bell peppers, potatoes chunks (potatoes cook down and make a hearty thickener for sauce), carrots add a nice sweetness, chopped spinach, turnips, chopped beet greens, kale, and whole peas, for example. Simmer on medium low, stirring occasionally to keep from sticking. Simmer until it reaches the desired consistency. Depending on how many and the type of vegetables used, it may take hours to cook down the juices, but the wait is well worth the effort. The sauce may be used fresh, frozen, or canned over pasta, as a pizza sauce, in lasagna and other casseroles, and a zillion other ways.
Marinated Herb Tomatoes
Slice tomatoes fresh from the garden. Drizzle with olive oil and red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar. Sprinkle with fresh or dried basil (or experiment with different herbs). Marinade in refrigerator for a few hours. Serve chilled as a side salad. Simple elegant dish.
Marinated Bean Salad
Follow the same recipe above using cooked green and wax bean. Dill or basil is especially good
Pumpkins do well after harvest sitting on a shelf to harden off until use in soups, pies, cakes, breads, and sautes. It is as versatile and welcomed in a variety of recipes as any other winter squash. We enjoy the following pumpkin pie recipe, dating back hundreds of years when pies were not fillings baked in a crust, but baked alone.
Baked Pumpkin Custard in the Shell
A delectable, fun dish to bake and serve, baked in a whole pumpkin and served that way, too.
Remove pumpkin top, discard stem* and set rest aside for lid while baking pumpkin. Clean out seeds and pumpkin insides, preserving flesh. Mix the rest of the ingredients together and pour into pumpkin. Dot top of custard with margarine. Cover with pumpkin top and place in a baking dish filled with about 1 inch of water. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until pumpkin flesh is soft. Test by inserting knife into shell near top of pumpkin. During cooking, some of the pumpkin flesh may fall into the custard and bake into it or flesh may remain separate. Serve in pumpkin shell making sure each serving includes bakes pumpkin flesh and some custard.
Simply Pumpkin Soup
Simple, pleasant autumn custom to usher in the cool, crisp days. A nice change from other soups, too.
In Dutch oven, cook onion in 1 T. oil until soft. Add the rest of ingredients, except milk. Bring to a boil and simmer 8 minutes. Stir in milk and heat through.