National Strawberry Month

Every year, I look forward to strawberry season so I can stock my pantry and condiment supply with a variety of strawberry jams. Since its National Strawberry month, we wanted to share with you some of the things we like to do with our strawberries and also share a couple of quick tips.

Strawberry season is short here in Texas so I decided to head back out to my favorite spot to pick strawberries, which is at Good Earth Organic Farm.  The strawberries at Good Earth Organic Farm are plump, juicy, and sweet. This was my third year returning to pick some beautiful sun-ripened berries and I was not disappointed. After spending an afternoon picking those yummy red jewels, I am ready to get into the kitchen to make all types of things from jams and vinaigrette to refreshing smoothies.
Maybe you too have amassed a bunch of strawberries from one of those U-pick or roadside stands or picked up a supply from one of your local farmer's markets and now have more strawberries than you know what to do with.  Here's a few tips on making your strawberries last so you can enjoy them for more than a few days!

 

 

Quick Tips

Strawberries are extremely delicate so you should put them up as quickly as possible and if if you are making jams and preserving them, for the freshest quality, you should try to can them within a couple of days of picking or purchasing them.
If you don't can, freezing strawberries is the simplest way to preserve them quickly.  You can then enjoy them in smoothies, desserts or in baking. Please note, frozen strawberries should be used within 6 months.
Don't soak your strawberries in water.  They will loose their flavor and you will wash away some good nutrients.
It is optional to sprinkle a little sugar before freezing. I don't add any sugar to my berries.

How to Freeze Strawberries

Remove the tops of the strawberries after rinsing.
Freeze them whole.
Whole strawberries are great to have on hand for your favorite smoothie recipe or to add to your favorite strawberry dessert.
Rinse them gently, spread them evenly on a baking sheet so they can freeze without touching each other and place the baking tray in your freezer until they are frozen solid.
Place them in an airtight container or you can also use zip lock freezer bags (not storage bags).  Be sure to put a date on your container.
 
Hope you enjoy strawberry season as much as I do!!

Spring is Here…Time to Prepare Your Garden

The weather is warming up and there is still time to get your gardens prepared.  The average date of the last freeze in North Texas is the third week in March so now is the time to get started.   I’ve followed Neil Sperry for many years for his expert advice on gardening and so much more on his weekly radio show .  I ran across this great online guide titled “Everything you need to know to plant a successful vegetable garden here in North Texas”.

He includes are some very informative tips, check it out.

http://www.star-telegram.com/living/home-garden/neil-sperry/article194406789.html

Pick the sunniest site. Vegetables need sunlight.

Provide perfect drainage. No vegetable crop grows well in waterlogged soil.

Start small. Too many gardeners are overly ambitious at the outset, only to become discouraged by their poor results when they can’t maintain all the space they’ve opened up. Choose only crops your family really likes, then specialize in those. You can always expand the second time through, but if you fail you may never come back.

Prepare the soil carefully. Organic matter is your key to success. Add 5 or 6 inches of a blend of sphagnum peat moss, compost, well-rotted manure, finely ground bark mulch and other organic matter and rototill to a depth of 12 inches.

Know the proper planting time for each crop that you’re growing. This is a really big issue! Every crop has a two- or three-week window in which it must be planted. If planted too early it may not survive the cold weather. If planted too late it may not mature before heat sets in. This is one of the main places where people set themselves up to fail.

Here are some of the main crops and their timing. Late January: English peas, asparagus (perennial), onions. Mid-February: cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, Irish potatoes. Late February, early March: leaf lettuce, Swiss chard, radishes, carrots, turnips, beets. Late March, very early April: beans, corn, tomatoes, peppers, squash, melons, cucumbers. Mid-April into early May: sweet potatoes, okra, southern peas.

Choose the best varieties of each crop that you grow. Texas A&M vegetable specialists have lists online. In many cases they will be hybrids selected for productivity, yield, flavor and pest resistance. Many of the old heirloom varieties, tomatoes for example, are notoriously poor producers in Texas conditions. Limit the numbers of those that you try.

Care for your plants regularly. Check them daily once they start growing

Harvest your produce at the peak of maturity. In many cases, that will be before it reaches full size. Cucumbers, okra and summer squash, for example, should be harvested when they’re little more than half their full size. The same goes for carrots, green beans and lettuce leaves, and you harvest broccoli before any of the flower buds actually start to open.

Extend the season by planting fall crops in the same ground. Truth be told, fall vegetable gardens are often more productive than their spring counterparts.

Involve a youngster in your gardening plans. Whether it’s a child, grandchild, niece, nephew or students at a school in your neighborhood, there’s something magical about helping little hands plant big seeds and guiding them in growing vegetables all the way to harvest. It’s something neither you nor they will ever forget.

 

Fruit Trees – A Family Tradition

Spring is absolutely one of my favorite times of year.  I look forward to planting my Spring vegetable garden and I thoroughly enjoy the beauty of seeing everything in full bloom this time of year.

When I was growing up it was very common to see fruit trees all over our neighborhood.   Some of my fondest memories were plum, pear, and peach trees growing in our yard and also in my great-grandmotherdear’s yard, just one block up the street from our home. I will always remember the muscadine grape vines growing in her backyard. Talk about the best grape jelly!

fruit treets (1)

Carrying on this family tradition, I planted three fruit trees a few years ago, (plum, peach and nectarine) and to my surprise, in the first year my plum tree produced a couple of plums--yes two plums--and my peach tree also produced two peaches, as you can see in the pics.  They were all delicious and gave me hope for this year. I am hoping for a huge yield. My sister Agnes also planted fruit trees and her little peach tree was loaded with peaches last summer.

Fast forward to this Spring.  All of my fruit trees are currently in full bloom.  The pink blooms are from the nectarine and peach trees and the white blooms are from the plum tree. 

plumsI can’t wait to infuse some of my homemade jams and jellies into some amazing spring and summer dishes.

Will keep you posted! 

Let’s Make a Conserve

I have an extensive library of both old and new canning books, magazines and recipes that I have collected over the years, and I still refer to several of my old books from time to time for a good throwback recipe. I discovered several of my favorite conserve recipes in some of these classic canning books. One of my books is titled “Putting Food By” – which is what they used to call it back in the day when my Great Grandmother, Mother Dear, we called her “Mu-dear” was growing grapevines and canning all sorts of things from her garden. What great memories. I remember sitting on her front porch shelling a bushel of purple hull peas, which were then canned or frozen.

SO WHAT IS A CONSERVE?

Conserves look just like jam and they have the same consistency, except they take it up a notch or two. A Conserve is made with a combination of fruits, including citrus, nuts and/or raisins. Conserves are excellent paired with meat and poultry dishes, and also very good as a topping for desserts –or just on a good biscuit.

I’ve canned quite a few combinations of conserve recipes over the years, but my favorite by far is Peach and Orange Conserve with Slivered Almonds. I know I have made hundreds of jars of this Conserve.

There are now some very interesting contemporary combinations that I plan to try. Some include the use of cardamom and pistachio nuts. Here are some other combinations for Conserves to think about.

Apple-Sour Cherry Conserve With Toasted Almonds
Cranberry and Orange Conserve with Chopped Pecans
Fig, Orange and Pistachio Conserve
Cranberry Apple Conserve with Walnuts
Cranberry Pear Conserve with Fresh Ginger
Rhubarb-Strawberry Conserve
Apricot and Pineapple Conserve
Pear and Orange Conserve
Tomato-Apple Conserve
Cantaloupe-Peach Conserve
Gooseberry Conserve

Check out my Peach and Orange Conserve Recipe.