Garden veggies are in full swing in Southern Indiana. In my garden, green beans, cabbage, broccoli, zucchini, summer squash and cucumbers are producing rampantly. The tomatoes and peppers are just ripening a few at a time and okra is just about to bloom which means I will have plenty to eat in just a few days. It’s a great thing to walk to the garden to get the groceries instead of driving to the grocery to get them.
I canned green beans last week and should have enough to last the winter so the rest that we pick will be for fresh. I sometimes freeze green beans to use in stir fry and soups; it depends how much freezer space I have. Cucumbers can be used in salads of various kinds and even made into a refreshing cold soup that tastes great on a hot day. An easy and quick salad is to wash a few cukes, slice and add mayo or sour cream; then stir. If you like dill, add to taste. I usually add salt and just a pinch of sugar to complete the creamy sauce. Just stir until all the slices are coated. It tastes even better after marinating in the frig for a day. My sister’s grandmother-in-law always added sliced onions to this. I think it’s great either way but the fear of onion breath usually prompts me to leave the onions out.
I made sweet and dill pickles last week. I like the taste and crunch of fresh pickles better than canned but my frig can only hold so much and with all the produce I have now, I will can the pickles or find them a good home. I will share a nice recipe for home made dills that doesn’t require much time or space. You could use English (burpless) or Kirby cukes from the store if you don’t grow your own. This could also be a great gift to give your hostess when you attend those summer “get-togethers” with friends and family. The recipe makes 2 quarts and I suggest wide mouth canning jars and lids. A nice touch would be to look for a glass jar with a wide opening and lid at garage sales, flea markets, or Goodwill. Tie ribbon or rafia around the jar neck, add a home made label and and you have a beautiful gift to share.
Dill Pickle Chips
2 pounds cucumbers (English or Kirby) non-waxed
3 Tblsp course salt
3 cups water
2 cups distilled white vinegar
1 Tblsp dill seed
4 cloves garlic
2 bunches fresh dill, coarsely chopped
Directions: Cut the cukes into 1/2 inch thick rounds and transfer to a colander set in a bowl. Toss well with salt and refrigerate for about 1 hour.
Rinse the cuke rounds well; drain. Pat dry and transfer to to jars.
Bring 3 cups water, vinegar, dill seed, and garlic to a boil in a medium saucepan, stirring. Reduce heat; simmer 4 minutes. Let mixture cool slightly, about 10 minutes.
Add chopped dill to jars and pour in brine. Wipe glass rim and top with lid. Let cool completely. Refrigerate for 1 week; then they are ready to eat.
* I also use small cukes and use them whole. Just wash and cut ends off and proceed as directed above.
This years crop was the best ever broccoli I have grown. I recently cut about 25 heads which yielded over 7 gallons of broccoli to freeze. The best thing was that it was so tender and contained no “surprises” in the form of little green catepillers. My husband explained that because of the wet spring the cabbage moth could not fly nor lay eggs on my cold crop plants. It’s those eggs that grow up into little green worms that eat broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower etc. After the main head is cut the plant will produce side shoots that need to be cut every day or two to prevent them from flowering. It is amazing how much broccoli you can get from healthy plants. I keep the shoots in the frig for several weeks in a vegetable bag to use as I wish.
Freezing broccoli is so easy. Let me explain the process so you can give it a try.
Pick your broccoli early in the morning before the heat of the day or purchase at your local farmers market. Sometimes the grocery stores have broccoli on great sales and this would be a way of taking advantage of the extra produce.
If using home grown or farmer’s market broccoli strip the small leaves from the stem and bath in cold water with a hand full of salt added. The salt bath is to remove unwanted guests (bugs and worms) from the heads. After 15 minutes rinse and proceed.
Broccoli generally is cut into spears or small bite-size pieces. If you are using fresh broccoli you can use all the stem because it will not be tough. Cut into the size you desire and then prepare to blanch.
Blanching means that you cook the vegetable briefly in hot water; strain and immerse in ice cold water to cool quickly. Why? Produce continues to age after it is picked and will continue to age in the freezer if it is not blanched to stop the growth. For fresh tender broccoli blanch the heads about 2 minutes and the stems for maybe 3 minutes. If you are using broccoli that is a bit tough blanch for 3-4 minutes. It turns a beautiful shade of green. Don’t over cook or it turns to mush! Immediately strain and dump the pieces into an ice water bath to cool; then strain into a colander to remove water; bag in freezer bags, label with the name and date and freeze.
You don’t have to purchase a blanching pot, just use a large stock pot; bring water to boil and blanch for the correct amount of time. Strain with a slotted spoon or small strainer and place into cold water bath. A blancher is nice. It is like a pasta pot and has a strainer to make it easy to remove the blanched items. It is useful to cook ear corn too!
Another idea is to dry the broccoli to use to make cheese/broccoli soup this winter. Cut into smaller pieces and dehydrate in a dehydrator at appropriate setting or oven set to 175 degrees. Dry until mildly pliable and bag. This can be stored in the freezer or on your shelf. You must blanch broccoli intended to be dried too so follow the directions above and then dry as your last step.
Hope this lesson in life’s simple pleasures has been helpful. Give it a try and you will thank yourself this winter!