Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Turning Lemons Into Lemonade When You’ve Only Got Green Tomatoes



Let’s face it. This has been one freaky summer in Central Ohio. First, it was unbelievably wet and then it was ungodly hot and now it is unusually chilly. While I love our recent temperate weather for almost every activity, my tomatoes, peppers and okra do not share my enthusiasm. Tomatoes love it when it is 75 degrees. When it is too hot, they will not set fruit and will not turn green. Indeed, if it more than ten degrees warmer or ten degrees cooler, they get a little fussy about turning from green to red. Everyone I know has been disappointed with their tomato crop this year. Even OSU was grimacing about this in their last weekly Buckeye Yard and Garden report:



This "tomato time-out" is mainly due to the plant using most of its resources, like water and nutrients, in addition to its manufactured photosynthetic products, to simply survive temperature extremes. More resources maybe partitioned to produce more roots in an attempt to access more water which causes the plant to suddenly cease to grow. Remember, the plants are attempting sustain all of their physiological processes, like cool its leaf tissues, and continue to grow in order to produce new blooms and new foliage, and also ripen fruit, all at the same time! That requires a huge amount of plant resources and energy when environmental factors are perfect, so imagine what that is like when the plant is trying to cope with an environmental stress of…oh let's say 98F and dry, hot constant winds blowing!

Tomatoes do not like cooler temperatures either. In fact, temperatures lower than 50F will cause a type of chilling injury. It may take 2-3 days for tomatoes to return to their previous levels of photosynthetic activity, even after just a brief chill period. For this reason, the best way to preserve the color and flavor of vine ripened tomatoes is to keep them in a cool place out on the counter instead of inside the refrigerator! As the environmental conditions experienced by tomatoes and bell peppers this growing season were reviewed, everyone suddenly realized that just having green tomatoes...is really a good thing!


I've pinched every flower off every plant I have to force all the energy into ripening the fruit instead of creating new fruit. However, I am still facing an overabundance of green tomatoes and there is no Indian Summer in sight.



Determined to turn these green tomato lemons to lemonade, I have begun experimenting with green tomato recipes so that I can salvage some food from this dilemma. After all, there is more to life than fried green tomatoes.



Roasted Tomatoes



My new favorite thing is roasted tomatoes. I chop up tomatoes into inch chunks (i.e., halves, quarters or eighths), toss them in olive oil, spread them skin down on a cookie sheet and then bake them at 400 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour. Yesterday, I made a sauce by cooking them at 350 degrees for two hours. This is awesome with red tomatoes and is surprisingly good with green tomatoes, too. With red tomatoes, I mix them with pasta, parley and cottage cheese or just puree them into a sauce (while adding basil, rosemary and/or thyme and roasted garlic). I ate all of the green ones before trying them on crackers with goat cheese.



Green Tomato Salsa



I experimented yesterday with a tomatillo salsa recipe from The Coyote Cafe and, guess what? It worked and looked pretty to boot.



• 2 pounds fresh green tomatoes
• 6 tablespoons of red onion
• 2 red Serrano chiles, finely chopped
• ¼ cup lime juice
• 1 bunch of chopped cilantro (or ¼ cup)


1. Drop the tomatoes in boiling water for a minute. The skins might slip off for tiny tomatoes, but no worries. We’re just looking to blanch them.
2. Puree tomatoes in a food processor. You might need to do this in batches.
3. Mix ingredients together and serve.


Makes 2 pints. I also canned this, which involved bringing the mixture to a boil for one minute before putting them into the jars.



I have just started my green tomato odyssey. I found a website with 25 green tomato recipes to try, so I’ll let you know if any of them work. In the meantime, keep in mind that green tomatoes are not as juicy as red (so you will not need to strain them) and are more acidic (which means that you'll need less vinegar or lemon juice for canning them).



In the meantime, I’m waiting for my first backyard beefstake tomato to turn red before the

squirrels get it . . . . You can see that it is close.


[Editor's Note: The tomato turned red after I brought it inside. However, four days after I posted this, someone decided to steal the four green ones pictured above it (after I spent the summer watering them every other day).]

Monday, September 19, 2011

GHHCG Art in the Garden Festival Was Well Attended and Organized

On Saturday afternoon, I attended the Growing Hearts and Hands Community Garden Art in the Garden Festival. It ran from noon until five, was very well organized and extremely well attended. We posted a sign about the event on our front gate and two families showed up around noon at the SACG to attend, so I re-directed them to the GHHCG on Oak Street between Miller and Kelton after encouraging them to take some broccoli.












Ms. Joyce was there to check everyone in. Wisely, they collected everyone’s contact information (in order to contact them in the future about volunteering, gardening and fundraising) in exchange for two tickets for a free sandwich (i.e., grilled chicken or hamburger) and ice cream (sundae or float).


GHH uses exclusively raised beds to grow their food. They have 8-10 rain barrels, 4-6 are attached to a nearby garage and four are attached to a next-door house.



The Franklin Park Area Association had a table next to Ms. Joyce and four young volunteers to recruit new members. They passed out a number of fliers, including a listing of upcoming meetings (at 6:30 p.m.) on the last Tuesday of the month at the lower level of Franklin Park Conservatory. They are having a pumpkin patch sale on October 22 and 23, 2011. They invited the SACG and GHH to make a presentation at the February meeting in order to recruit volunteers and gardeners. They also passed out information about neighborhood block watches. The Morrison Hill Block Watch (which is the area due east from the Franklin Park Area Block Watch) meets immediately before us at noon on the first Saturday of the month at the East Main Street Police Station. The Fair Avenue Block Watch meets on the second Monday at 6:30 p.m. at the Word Church on Wilson Avenue. The FPAA also handed out fliers about what to do about graffiti, carjacking, preparing your home for vacation, vacation security, gun safety, being a witness and ATM safety tips. All very useful and interesting information. One of the FPAA volunteers lives next to the SACG’s Jeff, so I droned on and on about his fabulous tomatoes and unique gardening style.


Ms. Pepper was there to organize the artistic events. She showed me the potato barrels (where they grow potatoes). The children painted them earlier in the event. There was a percussion jam session. Ms. Pepper also arranged for donated t-shirts (which she monogrammed with GHH) and the kids painted them with paint funded by GCAC. So many children attended, that they ran out of paint. The tshirts were left to dry on the compost bins. There was another lady there to help the children make beaded necklaces and bracelets.




Ms. Pepper also tried to talk me into growing more broomstalks to make brooms from. She showed me a raised bed at GHH where she was growing some and a field nearby where she was growing a lot.



Richard, the head honcho, told me about their future plans and how they were expanding onto a second lot nearby. They had lots of fall seedlings ready to be planted for their Fall crops. He assured me that they had more than enough water for their needs and was not interested in pursuing a tank. I told Richard that the crowd was pretty amazing and we didn’t have that level of community support at the SACG. He attributed it all to extensive advertising and free food. I doubt that:)




I had arrived to attend the publicized dehydration demonstration, but that apparently was cancelled. I missed the scheduled poetry slam.


As for crime, they had experienced very little until recently. The City had left a large no-trespassing sign on the property, which seemed to deter most thefts. However, it was unsightly and they recently covered it up. They are reconsidering that move after experiencing some produce thefts, and more distressing, the theft of the brass hardware off of their rain barrels. Luckily, the nearby fire department refilled the barrels for them after they were repaired.


It was a very nice event and reflected the dedication of a large number of volunteers to run each of the stations.




Earlier in the day, I continued my seasonal chore of pulling out cherry tomato plants (which are outgrowing my ability to keep up with them). I also attempted to stain our benches. We don't have the ability to strip them. However, I brushed and very lightly sanded them before staining the north bench. However, it clearly required more sanding to make an impression. Later, one of the new neighborhood girls came by to help me harvest tomatoes and beans for the weekly pantry donation. She insisted on wearing gardening gloves like me. However, I had to send her home (with some produce) when she kept tasting what we were harvesting:) Rayna came by to pick up some more tomatoes while she had some processing on her stove. Finally, some contractors came by to pick up the remaining brush from the eyesore next door.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

FPAA Block Watch Makes Progress in Its First Few Months





Earlier this month, the Franklin Park Area Association Block Watch met at the East Main Street Police Station to discuss issues and its progress over its first few months. FPN Block Watch meetings are held at 1 p.m. on the first Saturday of each month at the East Main Street Police Station. Susan strictly enforces the one-hour time limit on the meeting.


As earlier reported here, the Block Watch has licensed the lot across Stoddart Avenue from the SACG for a neighborhood beautification project. A large flower bed was created as a friendly gateway to the Stoddart Avenue neighborhood. An annonymous donor created a sign thanking the supporters of the FPAA Block Watch Beautification effort: Lowe's, Sutherlands, Ohio Mulch, City Land Bank and the SACG.


The first monthly neighborhood walk-though was conducted by officials and an attorney from the City’s Code Enforcement Division. As reflected by the success of NYC and Braddock, Pennsylvania, strict code enforcement is one of the best ways to reduce crime in a neighborhood. Who knows why? Is it because people tend to obey laws when they see even “minor” ones being enforced? Is it because they are less likely to commit crime when the area is attractive (i.e., no graffiti or overgrown weeds)?



Ownership of the two “eyesore” buildings between the SACG and East Main Street has been transferred to the City’s Land Bank. A no-trespassing sign has been posted on the buildings. Over the last ten days, contractors have been mowing grass and chopping down trees on the property (which now deprives our shed of shade, but will increase the amount of rain collected by the shed’s rain barrel). I have been unsuccessful in obtaining information from the City about its plans for the two buildings. Is demolition imminent? What will this mean for the SACG? And our shed and compost bins?


The Block Watch received a tiny (and I do mean tiny) federal grant, which funded the purchase of two security cameras for the neighborhood. The cameras have been installed and video is being recorded as part of a pilot project. We would like to install three more cameras along Cherry Street between Morrison and Fairwood since there has been some criminal activity in the area over the last few years. I will be working with BTBO, Urban Connections and Roy’s Body Shop to pursue additional grants (including through the United Way’s Neighborhood Partnership Grant program). Several of the neighbors have been funding Block Watch initiatives out of their own pocket.



There has been increased and aggressive police visibility in the neighborhood, especially in serving arrest warrants and deterring drug activity. Neighbors reported less loitering on the street (which had been blocking traffic).



Concern was expressed about continued dumping of construction debris in the alley between Stoddart and Morrison Avenues. Hopefully, the cameras will obtain at least license plate information about the illegal dumping.


After the meeting, I walked behind the police station to check out the community garden supported by First English Lutheran Church. As I approached, I observed a gentleman stop his SUV, get out and begin to harvest tomatoes. When I asked if he was a gardener, he reminded me that we had met previously and he was a Board member of Four Seasons City Farm, which licenses the lots upon which there are two community gardens. The first garden (which was pretty weed-ridden) was filled with orange tomato plants, which had all been donated in June by Strader’s Garden Centers. He explained that he had been at the carry-out around the corner and the carry-out owner explained that he lacked fresh tomatoes to sell. So, this gentleman was going to harvest a dozen or so for the carryout manager to sell to his patrons. Then, he showed me the First English community garden, where I admired the fence used to support their tomato plants. They also had herbs and pepper plants as well. My host explained that they admired our fence (around the garden) at the SACG, as well as our locked gates.



On my way back to my car, I passed an elderly gentleman who was picking up litter with one hand and supporting himself with a cane with the other hand. He was an inspiration.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Revisiting the Bexley Community Garden





A few weeks ago, I accepted an invitation to revisit the Bexley Community Garden, where I also used to garden a few years ago. It is much larger now and they have a large shed to store supplies. They seemed to have solved their soil fertility problem from 2009. Barb, Diane, Trae and Willie were there to share all of the low-down news and problems. It was surprising that the BCG is having more problems with produce thefts than we do (probably because we at least have locks on our gates). However, I encouraged them not to blame the significant number of sunflowers for giving shelter to thieves; they are such friendly flowers . . ..

Barb has done a fantastic job of creating a front flower bed between the street and the garden. I was jealous of the stone edging (which was donated by one of her neighbors who was replacing a sidewalk).

Diane, Barb and Trae will always have a soft place in my heart. After the first of our murders in August 2010, I didn’t think that anyone would still come to our evening gardening seminars (let alone join the SACG). However, Barb, Diana and Trae were each there the following week (and most of the following weeks as well). Barb even came to volunteer in April.

Trae has become a visible leader at the BCG. Her plots are not just functional, they are beautiful as well. She is not satisfied just growing food; she plans to do it with style and sets the tone for everyone else. A few other BCG gardeners also make an effort to dress up their plots with design. At the SACG, only Betty seems interested in putting some personality into her plot (by adding flags, etc.).

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Yes, I’m a Bean Freak




I am currently benefitting from our late July rain storm by harvesting an abundance of green beans. Otherwise, aside from being relatively bug free, this has been my worst harvest ever of green beans.




When I was but a wee gardener, my father used to compel me and my siblings to harvest a long row of beans on hot summer evenings while being attacked by horse flies and mosquitoes at my grandmother's. (We were not allowed to plant or weed, but we could harvest beans. I now realize this is because he realized that we could not damage the garden by harvesting beans; any fool can do itJ). It's a miracle I do not hate beans. . . . . Anyway, as an adult, I now value my bean harvest time as a way to tone up my buttocks and back thighs. The constant bending is great exercise. . . .




These days, I usually harvest a few quarts for myself and a few quarts for the food pantry, but this year, most of my plants wilted in the rainless July heat. This is unfortunate because I generally do not water my bean crop (which always takes 25% of my plot so that I can rotate my other crops through it eventually). Dr. Mitch used to give me a hard time about giving so much space to a food that is relatively cheap to buy at the grocery. However, beans improve the soil and I think it's important to devote at least 25% of your garden space to a legume each season.


Moreover, dried (or shelling) beans are a working girl's best friend because there is no guesswork involved in determining when to harvest them. You simply plant them and wait for the beans and plants to turn tan brown. It accomplishes its life's mission to produce seeds and then dies. You simply need to harvest them before the pods burst and the plant re-seeds itself.




This year, my dried bean crop (turtle, kidney, red peas, pinto, and Taylor) was only half of what it was the last two years (which will impact my soup making this Fall) and ripened three weeks earlier than usual. However, the pole beans I'm growing at home surprise me every day with a couple of handfuls. (The plant has been an explosion of leaves, has grown up my climbing rose bush and has almost reached the power lines 20 feet off the ground. I have to use my tree trimmer to pull the vines down and harvest beans). I've grown an assortment of Contender, Blue Lake, Kentucky Wonder, Asparagus and Romano. My contender beans usually produce all summer long (albeit some of the beans in June and July get eaten by a few bugs). This year, the bugs have mostly avoided what few beans I've been able to harvest. I'm thankful for small favors. I planted a second crop of beans at the end of July and they look very promising. Last year, I also grew edamame, lima and garbanzo beans as well.




Asparagus beans (also called Chinese beans) are drought tolerant, will produce all summer long, will grow up a fence, and can grow to be several feet long. I use them in stir fries, but they are lovely by themselves (with soy sauce and grated ginger) or chopped up like regular beans. My friend, Gretchen the Chef, says she used to serve them collectively tied into a giant knot. I'd find something like that on my plate to be a bit intimidating . . . .




What green beans I don't eat myself during the week, I steam for about five minutes (which makes them turn an unnaturally bright green), plunge into ice water and then run through my salad spinner (to dry them off as much as possible) before putting them in freezer bags and sucking all of the air out of the bag (with a mere straw) and then labeling and throwing the bag into the freezer. I used to also can beans, but they lose a lot of color and flavor during the pressure canning process.


With all of these beans, I've had to come up with new ways to prepare them and will share three recipes with you. I assume you already know how to make green bean casserole (which is how I use my canned beans).



Genovese Green Beans




This is modified from a recipe in Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy, which I obtained from the Bexley Library.




Ingredients



  • 1 pound green beans with the tips removed


  • 1 tbsp EVOO


  • 1 tbsp butter


  • 1 chopped garlic clove


  • 2 tbsp lemon juice


  • 3 small chopped anchovy fillets

    Directions


  1. Steam green beans for five minutes and then drop into a bowl of ice water. Strain them when they are cool and set aside.

  2. Heat EVOO, butter, garlic, lemon juice and anchovies over medium heat in a cast iron or other heavy skillet. Let it sizzle until the anchovies melt into the oil.

  3. Toss in the beans, toss them around a bit until they are all coated and hot (for about 2-3 minutes).

  4. Serve immediately.

    You can "fancy" up the beans up a bit by splitting the beans into two and trimming the ends after they come out of their ice water bath.

This sauce is also tasty for zucchini which is sautéed and sliced into inch-long strips.




Bacon & Beans with Shallots


I found this on the epicurious.com and served it for Christmas. It was fast and popular.

Ingredients




  • 1 pound green beans, trimmed


  • 2 bacon slices, thinly sliced crosswise


  • 4 tsp butter


  • 1/3 cup chopped shallots

Directions





  1. Steam beans for about 5 minutes. Drop in ice water and then drain. (Can be prepared 6 hours ahead, wrapped in paper towels and refrigerated in a plastic bag).

  2. Cook bacon in cast iron or other heavy skillet over medium heat until crisp. Don't forget to use a splatter guard. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel to drain.


  3. Add butter to the skillet and melt. Add shallots and sauté about 3 minutes.



  4. Add beans and sauté until heated through – about 5 minutes.


  5. Add bacon back to the skillet and toss to blend.


  6. Season to taste with salt and pepper.



  7. Serve warm.


Roasted Green Beans


This is the best recipe if your beans are near the end of their edible life and only a few days from joining the Great Compost Bin. I also make this regularly on the grill during the summer and with frozen beans and a broiler during the colder months. This recipe was modified from an old Cook's magazine which my friend Vicki gave me a few years ago. The first time I made it was great and I inhaled a quart in one sitting. The second time – which I made for Vicki – I burned them. That didn't stop us from eating them.

Ingredients



  • 1 pound green beans (fresh or frozen)

  • 4 tbsp olive oil


  • ½ tsp salt
Sauce




  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar


  • 2 chopped garlic cloves


  • 1 tsp honey


  • 1 tsp thyme
Directions

1. Heat oven to 450 degree oven. Have rack placed in the middle.

2. Toss beans in ½ tsp salt and 2 tbsp olive oil.

3. Spread aluminum foil on cookie or baking sheet. Spread beans evenly over sheet.

4. Sprinkle with salt. Put in oven for 10 minutes.

5. Make Sauce in a medium bowl. Take beans out of oven and scoop up beans with tongs and shake in the bowl with the sauce. Return beans to cookie/baking sheet and return to oven for another 10 minutes. (If using frozen beans, turn on broiler).

Beans should have black spots on them and shrivel up.

Plan on 1 quart per person per serving. I inhaled a quart in just two servings and wanted more.

I do not recommend using canned beans because the color is not consistent. With fresh beans or barely blanched frozen beans the difference in color will not be noticeable.

Be careful not to overcook them. They should still be green when you remove them with black spots where it is beginning to carmelize. However, do not panic if you over-cook them because they will still be tasty. I once left them in for five minutes too long and they all came out black (and some even crunchy). They were still edible (although they were not inhaled in one sitting like correctly roasted beans) and the blackness disguised the color differences between the frozen and canned beans.

In the summer, I use romano beans and put them in the grill on foil and cook them on the upper grate (while a steak is grilled below it on the lower grate). You just toss them once and put them on foil and on the grill. Even better if you add melted butter to the marinade. Just turn them a bit when you turn the steak.