harvest

Skillet Potatoes and Onions

If you live in the South, you’re probably harvesting potatoes and onions right about now. Okay, you probably have harvested your potatoes, but apparently I missed a few on the first go round of my harvest session. And the second.

Well, to be fair, my son was part of this process so it’s anyone’s guess how these babies were missed. But here they are, gorgeous and sumptuous as ever.

Potatoes and onions are good friends when it comes to cooking. These two root veggies blend well together morning, noon and night. I prefer mine layered with cheese–as does my family–so I decided to combine them for a side dish at dinnertime. I also prefer cast iron when skillet-cooking in the oven. Adds to flavor, I think. And the dish is definitely a crowd-pleaser. The applause you’ll receive when you pull the skillet out of the oven is wonderful. And well-deserved.

Skillet Potatoes and Onions

2 1/4 lb. potatoes, sliced

2 onions, chopped

2 cloves garlic

1/4 cup butter

1/4 tsp. paprika

8 oz. shredded cheddar

salt and pepper to taste

2 TBSP bacon bits, optional

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Melt butter in a 9″ cast iron skillet and sauté onions until translucent, about 4-5 minutes.  Add garlic and sauté 1 minute longer. Sprinkle with paprika and remove from heat.

Remove onions to a plate and wipe down skillet. Brush bottom and sides of skillet with shortening or butter. Arrange enough potato slices to cover bottom of skillet, overlapping slices. More

Vacation Woes & Garden Envy

Two aspects of gardening we don’t often discuss, but I know exist. At least they do for me.

Recently I helped out a fellow gardener by harvesting some of their crop while they were out of town. Didn’t have to ask me twice. Free bounty? Count me in! However, I was reminded of what it means to be a gardener on vacation.

Weeds. And lots of them. The longer you enjoy your time away, the worse your garden woes at home. Especially after a big rain. Yikes. My back hurts just looking at all the weeding that needs to be done! Every summer the same thing happens to my garden. I’ve resorted to covering most of my beds with heavy black paper to ease the burden, but invariably there are weeds. Usually in my peanuts–about the only crop I grow over the summertime, due to the heat.

But the good news? The bounty was some of the best I’ve seen in a while.

Look at the size of these eggplant plants! They were over three feet high. And take a gander at all that bounty! If you recall, my eggplants were a measly 18 in. tall. “Shrimps” by comparison.

But my envy didn’t stop there. The jalapenos were also amazing and abundant. And tall. Way taller than my plants. In fact, all of the plants were bigger than mine. I’m not sure if his plants are organic or not, however I do know one thing. I’m jealous!

However, looking on the bright side. I do get to enjoy the fruits of his labor–literally. The eggplant was delicious, as were the peppers!

Chive Plants Ready for Seed Harvest

Is your chives plant ready for seed harvest? How do you know?

Passing by them on your way to the rosemary on a gorgeous April day, the sunshine high and bright, the breeze brisk but temperate, you notice your chives plant flowers have some dark seed-looking things perched within them.  The chives flowers have long since lost their bloom (a good sign you’re on your way to seed production), but now what?

“Begin by plucking” is my motto. I pluck those old buds right off the stem and head indoors.  Shaking the black dots off the petals, I gather them into a pile on my counter and run a quick search of the internet for confirmation. Small black bean-shaped seeds.  I look at the computer image, look at my seeds. Yep, that’s exactly what I had in my hot little hands!  But they’re actually flat.  At least to my aging eyes it appears that they’re flat.

Well, by golly, it’s time to march back outside and harvest the rest of them!  Excited gardeners are full of energy and exuberance–we don’t wait for nuthin’!  Especially when it comes to harvest. However, remember the brisk April wind I mentioned? Harvesting chives seeds is best done on days with minimal wind.  Of course it is.

But fear not, enthusiastic gardener! You work quickly and meticulously snipping and collecting, depositing into your homemade seed packet. These babies are valuable! You love your chives, don’t you?

Of course you do. Label your packet and hold them until it’s time to plant chives again. If you’re planting indoors, plant chives seeds in the dark at about 60-70F. Once they sprout, move them into the light. If planting outdoors, wait until threat of frost has passed and sow in the ground. Keep in mind they prefer warm rich light soil and lots of sun. By the way, it’s helpful to know that you don’t have to wait until your chives go to seed. You can divide your plants into clumps and replant as a method of increasing the “chives love.” Just be sure that each small plant has about 10-12 buds on it.

Perfect Pizza Topping

As a budding Italian (I married into the family), I continually strive to improve my culinary talents with regard to all things Italian. Tomato sauce, gnocchi, homemade pasta, pizza dough… There is an art to creating these dishes and of course, success depends on which Italian is tasting the final results. Never one to shy away from a challenge, I’ll admit that pizza dough is tough one. It’s an endeavor my daughter and I tackled a few years back and the finished product looked good…

pizza!

But it wasn’t my favorite. The red sauce was delicious, the crust only so-so. And if you’ve ever met an Italian, they are VERY particular about the pizza dough they prefer. Everything else is simply sub-par. Hmph.

One recipe we have been working to perfect is our peppers. Mixed with oil and spices, these are wonderful served on a slice of fresh bread or–as I prefer–on pizza.

fill pepper jars to the brim

Normally I grow Hungarian Wax peppers for this purpose, however, lately we’ve expanded our selection to Sunset peppers. They look the same, taste nearly identical and work like a charm when it comes to pizza topping. Now there are some who will turn their nose away at my detour from the classic Hungarian style pepper, but me? I go with what works, what’s available, and what tastes good. I’m easy that way!

And canning peppers is easy. All you do is harvest, rinse, slice and remove seeds, cover with salt overnight to dehydrate the peppers, then rinse and dry the next morning, fill your jars, seal your tops, boil for 15 minutes and allow to cool. Done! For complete instructions, check my recipe page for Hungarian Wax Peppers.

Sweetest Tears You’ll Never Cry

Something about homegrown sweet onions doesn’t make you cry. You leap for joy, you eat your heart out, but you don’t cry–not when you’re cutting them you don’t. I only cry when I run out for the season!

fresh sweet onions

And they taste sweeter than any onion I’ve ever purchased from the store. Yep, they’re that good and very easy to grow. In fact, the only problem I can find with sweet onions is waiting for the harvest!

sweet onions almost ready

They don’t require a lot of attention or bug spray, only water, which is why I make a point to heavily mulch my onions. Makes sense when you consider their body is made up of mostly water. And when they’re ready, they’ll die back so you know when to harvest. More

Harvesting Sweets for Thanksgiving!

Oh, what a fabulous day when the sweet potatoes are ready! Now mind you, we could have harvested these babies a few weeks back, but it’s oh-so-much more fun to harvest them in time for the holidays. Sweet potatoes are a staple on our Thanksgiving table. Actually, in our house these potatoes make a year round appearance because not only are they delicious, they’re healthy.

Wonderful! We do love healthy. But now is the time when sweet potatoes are actually “in season” in Central Florida. So, with this in mind, we scooped away the dirt and voilá ~ potatoes!

Kids LOVE this part. Harvesting potatoes is commonly referred to as “swimming” for potatoes and once you let that cat out of the bag, the kids come running. Really puts a nick in my child’s playover when their friends want to garden (ugh-moan) instead of kick the soccer ball around. But gardening is that much fun.

Now, when digging for these guys, one must be careful. An aggressive scrape from your shovel WILL leave a mark on that potato you don’t see until you hit it. Gashes detract from your potato’s storage ability so do be aware.

swimming for sweet potatoes

Best tactic is to don the gloves and get to fingering your way through the dirt.  Most potatoes will be collected under the main root system, however, don’t be surprised if you find potatoes on extended vines several feet away. In our case, we actually found some beneath my lovely black-papered walkways!

our school harvest sweet treats

It’s an adventure. Anyhoo, once you’ve gathered a basket full, gently rinse the dirt from their bodies and set in a cool, dry place to store. Anxious to cook them? Thought you would be. Why not try this Deep Dish Casserole? It has an orange twist to it and is absolutely divine on the tastebuds.  Sweet Potato French Fries are also delightful and of course, Sweet Potato Pie proves a huge hit with everyone. No matter how you slice these golden girls you’ll be pleased with the outcome. And remember, sweet potatoes are healthy. Loaded with vitamins A and C, these are superfoods when it comes to anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory power. Enjoy!

Got Onions?

And lots of them? Well, if you’re like me, you’re probably wondering where and how you’re going to store them all. You see, my local seed store sells these sweets in bundles of 100. While it’s fun to plant 100 bulbs and harvest fresh sweet onions for your dining pleasure, 100 onions coming to maturity at one time is a lot. Once more, I planted the excess bulbs from our school garden, driving my total up to near 150.

“Hey, Trip–want some onions?”

“Sure.”  The neighbor friend grins and heads on over to pull a dozen for himself which leaves me with 138. 

A few nights of French onion soup will swallow up another dozen, a carmelized onion tart, sautéed onions for the burgers…an open invitation to the neighbors to pull to their heart’s content and well, I’ve only just broken the 100 point. Staring at my beauties resting quietly in their beds, I’m wondering, Who else would like some fresh onions?

my sweet onions

Gardeners do love to share but we don’t like to waste. So while sitting in my chiropractor’s office waiting for him to twist my back into shape, I got to talking with another patient and lo and behold, a fellow gardener! We do frequent the same places, don’t we? After a while, conversation drifted toward our abundance of harvest and upon learning of my onion dilemma, he shared an onion storage tip with me.  (You’re going to love this one!)  More

Confessions From A Corn Field

Sort of.  I have a confession to make.  I have no plans to plant corn this year. *sigh*  It’s proven a tough plant for me.  Too tough.  Which makes for a very sad day in my household because corn is delicious–especially fresh from the cob.  It’s fun, because the kids can craft corn husk dolls on their way to the compost pile.  It’s versatile, because we can eat it standing between the beds of our garden or hauled up to the house and boiled, roasted or grilled.

kidney beans and corn

And giving up is not in my DNA.  But since I’ve gone organic (the first season after my wonderful neighbors helped me start my garden), I can’t seem to feed my corn enough, de-bug it enough, de-disease it enough.  I won’t say I’ve scored a zero in the endeavor, but the cobs I have harvested are few and far between. The consensus seems to be… More

Hungarian Wax Beauties

Wahoo~my Hungarian Wax peppers are ready to be canned!!  It’s the moment my son has been waiting for.  He can’t wait to get started harvesting–well, in between entertaining the neighbor girl peering at him through the chain link fence, that is.  In between introducing him to all 100 of her imaginary brothers and sisters, her fleet of horses, her real life dogs…

Well, you get the picture.  The boy was distracted, but still managed to snip this bounty of peppers.

Beautiful.  From red to yellow (and a few green we’ll chalk up to the distraction factor), my son has given me quite the beginning for a canning fiesta.  Mind you, he didn’t lug this basket up to the house himself.  I did.  He was busy impressing the young girl with his digging abilities, creating a hole deep enough to step in clear up to his thighs!  Needless to say, she was thrilled. More

Why I Adore Fall Gardening…

It’s cool outside, somewhat cloudy overhead, the ground soaked through.  Rich, composted dirt, lush green growth, there’s a sense of calm hanging in the air.  Walking alongside my beds, admiring Mother Nature in all her glory, it occurs to me that there is more than vegetables and produce here.  There is color, texture.  Emotion, peace.  It’s a sensory experience.

Take my black beauty eggplant and cinnamon basil.  I never noticed this before, but they share common coloring.  Side by side, they’re beautiful, striking.  Leaning close, the scent of spicy basil is distinct, memorable.  Moving further, I’m drawn to my red cabbage. More