Sunday, September 20, 2009

Lettuce, Fruit Trees, and Apple Butter

This week I bought lettuce. This might seem unremarkable, unless you understand that this is the first time I have bought salad greens since May. This is possible because I have a little greenhouse. Here in our northern climate where there is snow on the ground often from late October to April, having a greenhouse means that I can grow our own vegetables that we eat all summer long. Recently, I have developed and expanded my outdoor garden as well. It is mostly devoted to raspberries, strawberries, herbs, and potatoes.

Now, I am not a super duper gardener. I like digging and planting. I am not so good at weeding and watering. And I'm really bad at thinning. I always plant too many seeds (because probably most of them won't grow), then I don't want to thin them (because they managed to grow and I want each and every one of those little plants to survive...). Weeds thrive in my greenhouse much more than they should. And every summer I go away for a few weeks on a holiday, and whoever I hire to look after the gardens never waters enough. Don't even get me started on the topic of slugs.

But nevertheless, I have enough fresh-picked organically grown veggies to feed my family all summer. We eat seasonally -- radishes, spinach, lettuce, green onions, and sorrel show up first, then peas, swiss chard, sui choy, carrots, beets, kohlrabi, beans, cucumbers, kale, tomatoes, and hot peppers. (This year, the cabbage worm decimated most of the sui choy, rutabagas, kohlrabi, and kale. Every year something fails to thrive.)

Growing vegetables is very satisfying. I love picking and preparing food that I have grown myself. For example, tonight we had lasagna (made with onions, swiss chard, and tomatoes from the garden, and locally raised organic beef). From the garden, we also had green beans, and cucumber salad, and a tomato, onion, & basil salad.

One trouble, though, is that it is hard to keep up with whatever is in season. I try to use or preserve or give away everything that I grow. I have a busy working life, so my gardening and food preparation is relegated to evenings and weekends, where it competes with hikes, bike riding, seeing friends, and all the fun stuff.

Right now, apples are in season, and I have three heritage apple trees. I spent every spare moment this weekend doing things with apples. Yesterday I picked up all the usable windfalls. I sorted out and washed all the good eating apples. I made apple-plum clafouti for yesterday's dessert. I made a batch of apple jelly. Then tonight I made a batch of apple-rhubarb butter. But there are still bags of apples waiting to be dealt with -- and we haven't even started actually picking them yet!

Just a word about apple butter-- don't make it. Every time I make it, I say to myself that I will never make apple butter again. It just takes way too long to push the pulp through a sieve. I have tried many different methods, and all of them are time consuming. (Tonight I used cheesecloth and a colander.) Once you've finally got some strained pulp to work with, it takes a long, long time to cook down, and you have to stir it constantly or it will scorch. Altogether, sterilizing the jars and equipment, chopping the apples and rhubarb, the initial cooking, the sieving process, cooking down the butter, filling jars, and processing in the hot water bath took about two and a half hours tonight, all for six little jars! But it is delicious. I guess that's why each year I "forget" and make it once again.

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