Autumn Creeping In and Herbal Preparations

The days are getting shorter, bright leaves are showing their true colors, and there’s a cool, crisp feeling to the mornings these days. Ready or not, Autumn is on her way! In the gardens, our most massive and unwieldy plants spread about their wide and lazy pathways, our squashes and tomatillos, sunflowers and tomatoes are huge and ripe and seemingly unaware of the eager gardeners scrambling about to complete their work before the increasingly early sunset. As an Autumn mood has begun to set in, the students in the Community Teaching Garden are focusing on what they would most like to learn, make, and do in the quickly fleeting last weeks of garden time. It’s a great time to take an intentional eye to your garden and ask what tasks you would like to complete before seasons end. For us, many of our upcoming classes are focused on processing herbs and flowers that we have been drying or preparing in oil or glyercite over the past few weeks.

Echinacea

Last week, CTG students in the advanced course at the Tommy Thompson Community Gardens started an herbal tincture of echinacea. Using a simple folk method to create our tincture, we gathered echinacea from around the garden, chopped the petals and the edges of the cones, placed the plant material in a large mason jar, then submerged the herbs in vodka. A student volunteered to take the tincture home, store it in a cool, dry place, and give it a hearty shake one time per day. After four to six weeks, we will strain the tincture, bottle it, and distribute it among our peers.

Creating your own tinctures at home is simple, cost-effective, and fun. For more detailed information on creating herbal tinctures, here is a guide to some common herbs and how to best harvest them, as well  step by step instructions to making tinctures.

Wishing you happy harvests and good health!

 

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Pickle Night with the Community Teaching Garden!

Last week, students from the beginner and advanced Community Teaching Garden courses joined forces to learn about pickle making. Guided by Vermont Community Garden Network’s Executive Director, Jess Hyman, students learned some basic principals of pickle making, then worked together to process 48 pints of pickles using fresh vegetables from their gardens including cucumbers, beets, beans, and squash. This cooking adventure was made possible by the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf, who very kindly offered us use of their well-equipped kitchen for the evening!

Proud Picklers!
The Proud Picklers of the Community Teaching Gardens!

Before getting to work, we sampled some delicious pickles, relishes, and ketchups that Jess brought from her pantry. Jess gave an overview of pickling basics, then discussed some of the benefits of pickling, including maintaining a high nutrient content in your preserved foods and reducing food waste. Most student questions centered around food safety, and students were reassured that by taking some simple steps to sterilize their equipment and properly seal their jars, they could happily enjoy their pickles long into the future. If you are interested in pickling, but concerned about safety, there are extensive online resources available to get you started including this illustrated guide to water bath canning and the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning.

After our lesson, we got to work creating making a sweet and a sour pickle brine, washing, cleaning, and chopping our vegetables. Students then packed their jars with their desired vegetables and used herbs and spices to re-create some of their favorite pickles like dilly beans or bread and butter cucumbers, or to invent their own creative pickles. Some students canned their pickles for later consumption, while others made refrigerator pickles to be eaten in a shorter period of time.

A favorite recipe from past pickle nights is Jess’ Zucchini Relish, which we did not make on pickle night, but did relish in tasting! We hope this recipe will serve you well as you harvest your zucchinis this season.

Jess’ Zucchini Relish (Adapted from Wendy Quarry)

Ingredients:

  • 10 cups finely chopped zucchini (pulse chunks in food processor)
  • 4 cups finely chopped onion
  • 2 finely chopped red or green peppers
  • 5 Tbs pickling salt

Mix together and let stand overnight. Drain, rinse in cold water, and drain again. It’s okay to skip this step, but your relish will not be as crisp. 

Put vegetables in a non-reactive pot with:

  • 2 1/2 cups white vinegar
  • 4 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 Tbs each nutmeg, dry mustard, turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 2 tsp celery salt

Bring to a boil and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally.

Fill sterilized jars and process for storage using the following steps:

  1. After filling jars, use a (sterilized) chopstick or knife to remove air bubbles,
  2. Wipe rim with damp paper towel.
  3. Put lid on and ring “finger tight.”
  4. Return jars to water and simmer for 15 minutes, making sure there is at least 1 inch of water over the jars.
  5. Remove the jars and gently place on towel to cool. Listen for “pop” and do not disturb for 12 hours.
  6. Check for seal and refrigerate any jar that has not sealed.

Enjoy!

 

Times of Abundance: Sharing and Preserving Your Harvest

After a slow start to a season marked with cold, rain, and flooding, the Community Teaching Gardens have taken off, and are now in states of utter abundance. You may be surprised to find a large harvest that seems to sneak out of nowhere, seemingly overnight, a bushel of beans, a clump of cucumbers, or a zucchini the size of a baseball bat. Among these curiosities, the plants that seemed to be lagging behind the others may surge, and you may find yourself with a larger harvest that you had plans for. In times of abundance, there are many ways to preserve and share!

Recent Student Harvests
Recent student harvests from the Community Teaching Garden at the Tommy Thompson Community Garden.

One of our favorite ways to share the harvest is to incorporate garden-grown items into potluck treats. At our most recent monthly potluck, several participants noted that they thought they had nothing to make, only to take a closer look at their garden and discover lots of hidden treasures. Despite common harvests of kale, cabbage, cukes and more, ingredients were incorporated in distinct and unique ways, truly demonstrating a diversity in approaches and preparations.

Some methods of preservation work better for certain fruits and vegetables than for others. High Mowing Organic Seeds has created useful guide to how to best preserve commonly grown fruits and vegetables by picking, fermenting, freezing or drying them.

Finally, the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf is happy to accept donations of your homegrown vegetables. Conveniently located at 228 North Winooski Avenue, the food shelf is open from 9:00-4:00 Monday through Friday.

We hope you are enjoying this period of abundance! If you have a favorite pickle, preserve or ferment you’d like to share with us, we’d love to hear from you!

 

Sauerkraut Night!

If you’ve visited the Community Teaching Garden at the Ethan Allen Homestead recently, you may have noticed an exceptionally good looking cabbage patch. Last week, these delightful cabbages were ready to harvest on what is always one of the most enjoyable nights of the season– Sauerkraut Night! One of the highlights of the Community Teaching Garden program is harvesting and processing food on-site in the idyllic twilight hours of the evening. Despite rain, cold, and vicious mosquitoes for this cooking adventure, the CTG students’ spirits were undampened and they produced enough sauerkraut for each student to take home two or three pints!

For many, this was their first foray into fermenting. Thankfully, it is a fairly straightforward process, and one that has been honed through various cultures over thousands of years. For our purposes, we followed a simple recipe: 1 medium cabbage and one tablespoon of salt. Students chose red, green, or mixed cabbage, and after washing the cabbage and removing any bad spots, cut it into thin ribbons. They then set to work massaging the cabbage with the salt. As they massaged the cabbage, it began to release its juices. Some students added other hard vegetables like carrots, while others added caraway seeds. After their cabbage was nice and juicy, students packed it into wide-mouth pint jars and compressed it below a cabbage leaf to help keep the kraut submerged in liquid.

Students were encouraged to top their sauerkraut off with a small bag of stones, a pickle pebble, or a bag of brine to to ensure the cabbage remained submerged while fermenting. By tasting their kraut every day, they could determine the level of fermentation that suited their tastes. In warm weather, a week or two is recommended! Moving the kraut to the fridge will slow the fermentation process, but not stop it completely. If more brine is needed, a simple ratio of four cups water to one tablespoon of salt does the trick.

Following these simple steps can lead to delicious results! But if you are looking for a more detailed recipe, Sandor Katz’s sauerkraut is a great place to start. Enjoy!