Saturday, July 13, 2013

On the Homestead: Fruits From the Farm (So Far)

Our little garden has survived late frosts, crazy spring storms, critter attacks and maybe *someone* forgetting to water as much as that *someone* knows should be done. But  it has survived and flourished. There is just something so sweet about literally eating the fruits of your labors. And even though we are only in the middle of the growing and eating seasons, I thought I would share a couple of the things that we have been doing and making with our locally, as in the backyard, grown foodstuffs.

Basil
I love growing herbs, I find them slightly less intimidating and a little bit more forgiving than fruits and vegetables, they are beautiful plants (I like using them in flower bouquets) and learning to cook with fresh herbs really has made a difference in my culinary endeavors.

This year, basil has been one passive aggressive beast.  I lost a couple plants to a late frost, the new plants didn't seem like they were growing at all and I thought all may be lost. Then BOOM, all of a sudden the basil plants (3 sweet basil and 1 Thai) were growing like they were titans and demi-gods. One of the first things I always do with a surplus of sweet basil is make pesto. It is super easy, uses up a ton of basil, freezes well and is oh so delicious.
I usually use, 101 cookbook's pesto recipe and adjust the ingredients to taste. With pesto, it is important to use quality ingredients;  fresh garlic (never any of the jarred silly stuff), good quality cheese you freshly grated and a good olive oil. All these things totally make all the difference. I freeze pesto in ice cub trays which allows me to only take and out use however much I need.

I also used fresh basil in two pretty amazing pizzas I made for an Independence Day luncheon. I can call it a luncheon because I pulled out the lace tablecloth and fancy china. The friends I invited over definitely deserve a step  or two up above paper plates and napkins.
Cherry Tomato Pizza Margherita and Summer Peach and Balsamic Pizza. Both recipes come from Love & Olive Oil, a site with fantastic pizza and well as other fine recipes. Both pizza pies were super flavorful and filling without being heavy.

Tomatoes
And speaking of tomatoes,  the above pizza party was right before our tomato plants really started to produce, so I used a majority of heirloom tomatoes from the store for the Margherita Pizza, with only a couple of cherry tomatoes from the garden.

Now that the cherry tomatoes are really coming in, they usually don't make it to a recipe, sometimes not even to a bowl, just to my mouth--nature's candy indeed, and the goodness of knowing for sure that no pesticides were used on the veg.  We are still waiting for our big boy tomatoes to come in, but I check and cross my fingers and taste buds every day.
Mint
We grow English mint which some people find pretty strong. I tried to make non-alcoholic mojitos with it and everyone was like, um. . .no.  So, I've been trying to use it more as garnish. I freeze mint leaves and sliced strawberries in ice cubes and use them in drinks, such as water and lemonades, whenever I want to feel extra fancy. As the ice cubes melt the water gets a refreshing fruit and mint taste. It makes me feel classy AND healthy.  Other fancy ice cube ideas can be found here.   And I'm sure I'll find some occasion, like being thirsty, to try out some of these fancy infused water recipes. One more time: fancy. No  matter how many style points you rack up doing so, it is important to stay hydrated in these hot months, take it from me, the poster child for bad things happen when you are dehydrated. End of safety speech. Seriously, drink your water. Ok, done for realz. 
Cucumbers
I bought and planted pickling cucumbers because I wanted to make pickles, and pickles were indeed made this week. I have had mixed results using pre-made pickling spice mixes, so these year, I used Food in Jars' Garlic Dill recipe and they turned out super good. These are pretty strong tasting pickles, but oh my word, I love them so. I used white vinegar instead of apple cider vinegar, and upped the garlic slightly, no vampires will be getting these cukes.  I am hoping for another harvest of cucumbers, I planted pretty aggressively, and trying making a slightly sweeter pickle.

I am patiently awaiting the arrival of some melons (watermelon and cantaloupe), my lavender to start blooming (pleeeeeese), our onions and potatoes are coming along nicely, and I'm always looking for new uses for the  dill, sage, rosemary and thyme (wait, isn't that almost a song?) .  Hopefully I can share more tasty garden adventures later on in the season! 







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