Archive for Harvest

Thoughts on Canning Tomatoes

Students who take my canning class tell me that one of the biggest hurdles when it comes to canning is … surprise!…  time. (the other is the commendable desire not to sicken one’s family)

I will not prattle about how time used now is time saved later … and other opinions/musings/ramblings etc. I have expressed myself about food preserving in general and  canning specifically before here.

I will not give an on-line canning lesson either – that’s much better done in this nifty, detailed and clearly written USDA guide.  And here, also are the answer to a bunch of commonly asked canning questions from the same source.

All laid out for water-bath canning tomato sauce

But I am here to tell you that canning tomato sauce does not have to be a day-long process. Tasks can be broken down is steps that be performed over several days, with the last day being a couple of hours. Total time is somewhat longer than if done at once. But, for for me, 4 times 2 hours is more manageable than 7 hours at once. Read more

Post Card From The Garden

A quick dash to the garden yields fava beans, eggs, asparagus, new onions, currants. Add a handful of mushrooms and bread – and that’s dinner.  Got to love this time of the year (even if the planting and harvesting all come together so fast)

For Everything There Is A Season

A local Thanksgiving with roasted duck. Photo by Molly Peterson, mJm Photography, Sperryville, VA

This is the introduction to the current Seasonal Table, a column – with recipes –  that I write for Flavor Magazine. The recipes are appropriate for any autumnal meal, and certainly, together, would make a local Thanksgiving feast in many parts of the US.

Harvest Festivals have all but vanished, at least in our society. Thanksgiving Day is sometimes derisively nicknamed “Turkey Day”. For too many people the event means wolfing down a huge plate of indifferent food prepared hurriedly and harriedly. And then go do something else, away from the table, and away from others.

Thanksgiving Day is not about turkeys. Not… really. Read more

Post Card from the Hedgerow

Trifoliate orange (hardy citrus) grows like an evergreen weed around here. The harvest is ending… What should I make with them this year? (last year I made liqueur)

trifoliate orange

Berry Season

There is no question that we are well into berry season.

Strawberries are the first berries to ripen for us here in the Northern Virginia Piedmont. The most common ones that you are likely to grow or buy are the June bearers. They produce a big flush over a few weeks in  late May or June, and then they are done until next year. Day neutral cultivars like ‘Tristar’ or Alpine strawberries produce a little bit all summer long. I pick about a quart of strawberries every week from my ‘Tristar’ patch and that works well for us.

I have just cleaned out my white and red currant bushes. They make the easiest jelly since they have so much pectin, and one of the tastiest and prettiest too, a gorgeous brilliant clear red… that is, if you don’t press the jelly bag while it’s dripping. This year, I exercised great restraint and did not squeeze the jelly bag! But I was not going to waste so much pulp, so I processed the left over berries through the food mill’s finest plate. The strained currant pulp was mixed with sugar and black cherries to make a currant/black cherry jam. Cherries are low in pectin so the jam can be a little tricky to set sometimes…. but not if you use currant as the base for the jam! And the tartness of the currant is very pleasant.

I don’t grow gooseberries  but I am told by friends who do that they are ripening now. Well… I do have one small shrub, and last year I turned the few berries it produce into a charming little pink lemonade. But the shrub and I are not really well acquainted yet… I still have a lot to learn about gooseberries. They may be an acquired taste…

We are in the middle of blueberry season.  And what a glorious season it is!  As all other fruit so far they started a little earlier than usual too. We eat them raw, but since cultivated blueberries can taste a little flat, I like to mix them with other berries for berry salads. They also ake excellent ice-creams and sherbets – try it with a Reine De Saba (almond and chocolate cake).

Or layer it with angel food cake for a very pretty ice-cream sandwich cake that can be made way ahead of time. And just before serving, a fresh barely cooked blueberry sauce.

Of course, a few pots of jam – what’s not to like about blueberry jam? and the rest in the freezer.

Read more

On Cherries

I first encountered really fresh cherries when I was 15 – a defining age to meet a flat of just picked sun-gorged brilliant cherries, I can tell you. On the tropical island where I grew up, cherries do not fruit – they grow, but without a cold dormancy period, they do not fruit. Papayas, mangoes, longans, cherymoyas, pineapple, yes. But cherries are an exotic expensive luxury that travels a long way to get to Reunion Island – like litchis in Virginia. So I was 15, my family was living in Provence for year, and Provence has wonderful cherries. I was hooked. Read more

45 Minutes and The Cherries Are Sour


In 45 minutes, I can pick 9 pounds of sour cherries. It’s a pleasant 45 minutes, in the orchard, with views of the pasture and the hills. It’s relaxing even if it’s hot. If I am lucky the gnats are on the other side of the tree.

In 45 minutes, I can pit 3 pounds of sour cherries. (that means 135 minutes to pit 9 pounds!) Read more

We Give Thanks

We give thanks for being able to grow this food, for being able to cook, for being here, now, and for friends.

This year, I am cooking most of Thanksgiving dinner – it has not happen in years, as we generally are celebrating elsewhere.


And so of course I have to use the things we have here. Now. To me that’s the meaning of a harvest celebration – which is after all the root of Thanksgiving.

On the menu:

Cream of Pumpkin & Apple Soup with Truffle oil
Roulade of Turkey Breast with Dry Cranberry/Sage/Onion Stuffing & Autumn Olive Jelly
Cardoon Gratin
Roasted Sweet & Irish Potatoes
Swiss Chard Gratin
Chestnut Puree
Arugula & spinach salad with roasted apples

Appetizer & Dessert to be brought by guests.

Homemade: bread, broth for the soup, butter, lard

From the garden: Pumpkin, sage, thyme, parsley, parcel, Swiss chard, potatoes, sweet potatoes, arugula, spinach, mustard greens, raspberries, cardoon;

Foraged: chestnuts, autumn olives;

Purchased from local sources: turkey, cream, apples, whiskey (to soak the dry cranberries), wine;

Not local: onions, sugar, olive oil, truffle oil, salt, flour & vinegar.

We give thanks indeed.

The End of Summer

Summer is leaving with a trail of rain… and about time too. Summer raged – hot dry –  into April and never lightened up until just now when we can finally say “good by”! I’ll be glad to see you again next year. Meanwhile, let’s enjoy the rain and the cooler temperatures.

The fall raspberries certainly like it too. And we like fall raspberries.


It’s also time to dig the sweet potatoes – an official harbinger of the end of summer. Actually it’s later than I want to dig the sweet potatoes:  the second week of September is better, as we need to give them time to cure to ensure they keep in storage. But the ground was so dry, it was just about impossible to unearth them. And one has to be fairly gentle or ends up with sliced sweet potatoes.  Sure, they callus pretty easily, but why compromise their keeping quality?

So after Monday’s rain which soften the ground, and before Wednesday and Thursday’s rain which is dumping more water than we’ve seen in the last 6 months, I dug about 1/4 of the bed, or about 1/3 of a wheelbarrow. That’s promising. We love sweet potatoes: in the garden they have been – so far – trouble free, and in the kitchen they lend themselves to all kinds of preparations savory and sweet.


Another sign that summer’s is over is that we are eating fresh cilantro again. I encourage cilantro to reseed – really it needs no encouragement, if you let it go to seed and let the seed try, you’ll have cilantro from September through June. And with the help of a cold frame plop over the bed, you’ll have fresh cilantro in the colder months too.


With all this rain, mache ought to germinate soon and I’ll be anxiously looking for it. And maybe this year I’ll get around to thin it (in my free time).

And soon enough it’ll be time to put the cover back on the hoophouse and move all the fragile plants in the green house…

Postcard From the Garden

Early September harvest.


Two weeks later: cucumbers have succumbed to squash bugs and the drought, but green beans and wax beans are now harvestable: Yeah! As you may recall, summer beans were devastated by Mexican bean beetles. Peppers are ripening – although there is no question that the drought has been hard on the plants. Lima were a failure, summer squash – not quite a failure – but not far. Certainly no zucchini glut this year. Swiss chard was very disappointing (isn’t they supposed to be a fool-proof crop?). But the raspberries, oh! the raspberries…

Let me tell you about the raspberries. They like the cooler temperatures, they need to be picked every day (underripe today, perfect tomorrow, overripe the day after), they respond well to a big drink of water… and they are soooo good. My nano-CSA clients get a pint in their basket every week, we are eating them with yogurt, by themselves, with other fruit, and I am freezing them by the bagful. I was able to make jams but unfortunately have no time whatsoever to bake. This is both harvest time, putting up time and working on the fall and winter garden. And the catering business is picking up for the fall. No time, I tell you….