A Sweet and Vinegary End to the Season

Greetings from the Community Teaching Gardens! We hope that you had a bountiful harvest and an enjoyable end to your season. As we wrapped up at the Ethan Allen Homestead and the Tommy Thompson Community Gardens, we were able to come together for a few final work days; to clear and cover our beds, to plant our garlic, and to fortify ourselves for the cold winter ahead with some tasty fire cider, a vinegar-based immune boosting beverage.

Fire Cider 3
Fire Cider prepared in the Community Teaching Garden advanced course. Yum!

But before we get into all that! It wouldn’t be the Community Teaching Garden if there wasn’t a potluck. Sure enough, we gathered in early October we one final time to share a meal together and celebrate all that we have learned this season. With that, if you, our dear reader, are interested in learning with us next season, please keep in mind that registration for the next year’s Community Teaching Garden will open in December. For more information, check out the Community Teaching Garden page on VCGN’s website.

CTG Graduation Photo
Happy graduates of the Community Teaching Garden beginner and advanced courses.

 

Fire Cider, which was widely popularized by notable Vermont Herbalist Rosemary Gladstar, is a simple and fun way to boost your health during the cold winter months. Including many elements that heat the body and clear it of illness, like horseradish, ginger, and spicy hot peppers, creating your own fire cider at home is as easy as chopping up a batch of ingredients, tossing them in a large jar, dousing them with vinegar, and giving them a hearty daily shake as they rest on your counter for a month.

A quick inventory of our garden added some fun herbs like sage to the mix. Using the basic recipe posted above, you can create endless variations to suit your palate. After a month, you strain your ingredients and add honey to your liking. Store your fire cider in the fridge and use it whenever you would like a sour tonic, a soothing vinegar tea, or a flavorful salad dressing.

As we close the season, we send one final thank you for joining us in our learning journey!

We hope to see you in the garden next year,

Your pals in the CTG

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Seasons Collide Over Plant-Based Dyes

This week the Community Teaching Garden experienced a taste of two seasons! We harvested apples from tree adjacent to our garden as well as our first watermelon of the season. On the hot late-summer evening, we were happy to join together to learn a new skill: making plant-based dyes.

Apples from a nearby tree
Apples from an adjacent tree, a dye-making resource book, and sample patches from our dear teacher Carolina.

With the goal of making some plant-based dyes in mind this season, we planted indigo and coreopsis— two common plants used in dyeing. We also harvested some wild-growing goldenrod to make a third dye. A wide range of plants and techniques can be used to create dyes in your own garden, so don’t limit yourself to our examples!

For our dye project, we wanted to create vibrant colors using easy materials and a quick process. Protein-based fibers, like silk and wool, tend to be easier to dye, so we started by creating silk scarves and swatches. Plant based dyes work better if the fabric is treated with a mordant. After soaking our silk in the mordant and preparing our dyes (boiling our coreopsis and goldenrod in water for about an hour) it was time to begin!

Dyeing our silk swatches with coreopsis and goldenrod was as simple as draining the dye and soaking the material. To create our indigo dye, we headed back to the VCGN offices, where we combined indigo with ice and water in a high-powered blender and strained the plant material to create our dye.

It was hard to believe that the bright green dye would produce blue fabric, but indigo needs to oxidize before it takes it’s trademark color. After soaking for just a few minutes, students rinsed their silk to find it had transformed into a lovely robins egg blue color.

Final Product
At the end of the evening, several students display their plant-based dye projects.

While it was a brief introduction into the world of plant-based dyes, the students in the Community Teaching Garden course were very inspired and hope to have a bright future ahead of them as they continue to create natural dyes.

A Balmy Evening in the Garden

The gardeners in the Community Teaching Garden have been hard at work this summer growing and harvesting herbs and flowers to make tinctures, glycerites, and balms. This week in class, they gathered together to make lip balm and a skin-soothing balm out of herbs and flowers cultivated this season. Like making tinctures and glycerites, creating your own balms is easy, cost-effective and fun!

Completed Balms
Lip Balm fresh from your pals in the Community Teaching Garden!

Early in the season, we identified herbs and flowers in and around our garden that have medicinal and skin-soothing properties, and created oil infusions of calendula, plantain, comfrey, yarrow, lavender, and chamomile. If you’re not sure which herbs are beneficial for topical use or skin irritation, this resource is a great place to start. After identifying the herbs and flowers we wanted to use, students dried the herbs, added the dried herbs to a base oil (olive oil, sweet almond oil, coconut oil or jojoba oil all work well!), and let them sunbathe on their sunny windowsills for 4-6 weeks to create a solar infusion.

Solar Infusions of Rose and Calendula
Rose and calendula infuse in sweet almond oil on a CTG student’s windowsill. 

Once our infused oils were ready, we gathered together the ingredients needed to create our balms. The two primary ingredients needed are infused oil and beeswax, but other ingredients like vitamin E oil or castor oil can add extra moisture and sheen to your lips or skin. You can add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to your balm just before pouring it into a tin or lip gloss tube for additional healing properties or to add a fun fragrance.

Beeswax and Lavendar
Beeswax and lavender, a sweet and fragrant pair!

We used a base proportion of one part beeswax for every three parts oil, and melted them together in a pyrex on a double boiler. For our lip balm, which we wanted to be a bit firmer, we used three parts oil to one and a half parts beeswax. Make sure to stir your balm regularly as the beeswax is melting, and to have your containers for the balm ready. To check the consistency of your balm, dip a spoon into the boiling oil and wax mixture and withdraw it. It should harden quickly and give a good sense of it’s thickness.  You can thicken your balm by adding additional beeswax or loosen it by adding additional oil. Once it has reached your desired consistency, quickly and carefully add your essential oils and place it in your tins and tubes.

Making these simple balms is a great way to enjoy and share your harvest! For more detailed instructions, check out these lip balms from Mountain Rose Herbs and this “owie cream” from the Hippy Homemaker.

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!

 

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!