Monday, October 27, 2008

When You Get Free Apples, Make Applesauce

I didn't get much of a fruit crop this year. Just about every time something else came into bloom last Spring, we'd get another freeze. That happens more often than not, but about every three to four years we squeak by and end up with bumper crops of everything. Just not this year for my trees. However, I do know of a big old apple tree, over in the part of town built in the 1860's, on the lawn of a lawyer's office. It had a beautiful bunch of apples this year, and no one ever seems to want them. So, just before the hard freeze, Aries and I took the ladder over and picked a bushel box full (free is good - and I did take a bucketful into the office to share too).

I went through and separated out any that had blemishes - to eat now and to make a batch of applesauce (and a pie too - Aries does love apple pie). I don't know what kind of apples they are (no one else does, either), so I don't know if they'll keep very well, but I put the really nice ones down in the cellar and will keep an eye on them. If they do store well, I might try rooting a cutting (oh, I'll probably try it anyway - I don't know if it's the micro-climate where it's growing or if it is just perfectly adapted to the area, but it did set a nice crop when my trees didn't). The apples look a bit like Jonathans.

Applesauce is probably the easiest thing there is to make and can. All you need is a paring knife, a pot to cook them in, and a potato masher (apple juice, jars, and boiling water bath optional). I sat down in front of the TV to watch a movie, cut the apples into quarters, cored and peeled them and put the chunks into a pot of water with some lemon juice added. When I was ready to cook them, I drained out the water and added apple juice to cover the bottom of the pot maybe an inch. I think cooking them with juice instead of water makes for a better end product. I use a flame-tamer under the pot, and cook them with the lid on until soft. It's more steaming than boiling them. In the meantime, I get my boiling water bath heating up, sterilizing jars and rings (half-pints fit our needs best). When the apples are soft, I just mash them up with the potato masher, fill the jars to ¼", seal, and process 10 minutes after the water starts to boil again.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Enchilada Sauce (pressure canned)

Another annual tomato processing project around here is canning a batch of enchilada sauce. I grow and dry my own peppers (and the onions, garlic, and thyme), but if you have some extra tomatoes and a pressure canner/cooker it might be worth your while to shop for the dried chiles. Most of our grocery stores here have a Hispanic foods section, with a pegboard display of herbs, spices, and dried chiles in cellophane packets. I always check there for herbs - prices are a lot better than buying the little jars in the spice aisle (then just transfer them to the recycled glass jars of my spice rack). In my supermarket, more than enough dried chiles for this recipe were less than $3.

The big chiles are usually labeled California or New Mexico chiles. They're the pretty shiny chiles most often hung up as a decoration (if you're using ones from a decorative string, make sure they haven't been varnished or treated with any kind of preservative coating. If you use them from the bottom, you can keep the string looking nice, if just a bit shorter). Chipotle is really a generic term meaning any smoked chile. Jalapeños are the ones most commonly preserved this way, so here chipotle usually means a smoked jalapeño. But the cellophane packets are marketed to Spanish-speakers, so the smoked chiles you want for this recipe will more likely be labeled Morita (or maybe Tipico). They'll look like little wrinkled reddish-brown cigar butts.

Enchilada Sauce (8 pints)

2 onions + 3 bulbs garlic, drizzled with olive oil (no need to peel, just make sure root end is clean). Wrap in foil packet, roast 45 minutes at 375º.

8 dried California + 24 Chipotle chiles. Rinse with cool water, remove stems, cover with boiling water and soak 45 minutes. Drain before proceeding.

4 pounds tomatoes, cored and halved

Add veggies above to 6 quarts water with 8 sprigs thyme (about 3 tablespoons dried) and 4 teaspoons non-iodized salt. Simmer 45 minutes.

Discard half the cooking water (about 3 quarts - I ladle it out, pouring it through a wire sieve into a measuring bowl). Puree the veggies (I just run it all through my blender - I don't have a food mill, but that would probably work too) and press through wire sieve along with remaining cooking water. Discard the dry pulp remaining in the sieve. Fill sterilized pint jars to ½" headspace. Seal, pressure-can 50 minutes at 7-10 pounds pressure (depending on what type of pressure regulator you have). Let canner return to zero pressure on its own before opening.

Making Enchiladas
One pint of the sauce above makes a 9x13" pan of 12 enchiladas. This sauce is hot, a concentrate, and needs to be stretched and mellowed. Traditional recipes use cream (8 ounces sour or whipping), or you can use a can of evaporated milk, but I usually whisk one can of condensed cream of mushroom soup into the pint of sauce. Prepare approximately 2 cups of filling (beef, or shrimp & crab, or pork, or leftover turkey, or sauteed onion & mushroom with tofu, or eggs & potatoes, or whatever else you think might be good. I'm going to experiment with diced eggplant - don't tell Aries) binding it together with a bit of sauce. Soften corn tortillas according to package directions. Divide filling equally, roll up in the tortillas, and place in baking pan seam-side down. Pour sauce mixture over all, smooshing them down with your spatula to completely cover and soak edges of the tortillas. Top with shredded cheddar (optional - and I also sprinkle with chopped black olives). Bake uncovered 400º 20 minutes or until bubbling. Comer, beber, y reir (Eat, drink and laugh)!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

My Pepper Pantry

In my garden every year, one 50' soaker hose bed is the "Fruiting Bed". This includes my tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and chiles - all started from seed inside in early Spring and set out as plants in June. I always try to have 5-6 bell pepper plants, 5-6 big roasting-type chile plants, a jalapeño or two to use fresh, and then 2-3 plants of a different hot pepper each year. This year, I had a couple of Cayenne pepper plants, and one Habanero. Last year, I grew Ancho chiles; year before that, Paprika.

The fully ripe hot peppers, I hang up to dry. A length of peppers sewn together for drying is called a ristra, the Spanish word for string. Using a big needle threaded with a doubled length of heavy-duty carpet thread, I make a big knot in the end then thread through the thickest part of the stem just above each fruit, pushing each one down to the end and turning them different directions. I make a hanging loop in the top end, wrap a little label with type of pepper and the year around the string, and hang them up. The wall between my kitchen and living room has a big cutout area. Aries took a big dowel, slid a bunch of "S" hooks on it, and attached it to the top of the cutout for me to hang my ristras (that's corn up there too). They're both decorative and tasty.

A lot of the dried chiles I grind into powders to use in cooking. I have a coffee grinder that I use only for grinding spices (when I'm finished grinding something, I clean it by grinding some rice into powder, then dumping it out - that absorbs any flavors and oils, and keeps my chili from tasting like curry). When I need some chile powder, I'll take down a ristra, rinse the chiles to remove any dust, and hang it outside to make sure they're completely dry again before grinding. I'll break the chiles apart (wearing gloves), remove stems, the pithy inside ribs and the seeds (saving some for when I want to grow that variety again), and grind just the red skin. I re-use yeast jars to store the different powders - they have a rubber rim inside the lid that seals tight, and the dark glass keeps the flavor and color from fading.

Next year, it will be time to plant extra Jalapeño pepper plants. These short thick peppers are too fleshy to hang and dry - they tend to rot instead. However, they can be preserved by drying in a smoker - then they're called Chipotle peppers. Chipotles, either ground or a whole one removed before serving, add a wonderful smoky heat to winter's bean crockpots or soups. I have half a jar of powder, a few whole ones, and just used the rest making a batch of enchilada sauce (I'll put that canning recipe in a separate post).

Monday, October 20, 2008

Monitor Pass

Aries is on vacation for two weeks. He always takes vacation time in October, ever since our honeymoon (it was our 19th anniversary, earlier this month). We usually get a hard freeze by mid-October, so he helps clean up the garden for the season, makes compost, and does all the household maintenance chores before winter sets in - clean the chimney, roof and gutter repairs, vehicle maintenance, drain the irrigation system, lots of little honey-do's. But we also make time for little daytrip outings too. Autumn is such a nice time of year here. The nights are chilly, but the days quite often are blue skies and moderate temperatures.

A couple of days ago, we decided to take a drive over Monitor Pass. We headed south out of town, crossing the California state line in the Carson Valley, through the little hamlet of Woodfords, and continued south through the tiny town of Markleeville. We continued south along the east fork of the Carson River, where the cottonwoods and willows were just starting to turn to gold. We left the river and turned east, climbing up over Monitor Pass.

Monitor Pass is one of the higher passes in the area, at 8,300 feet, and usually closed November to April by snow. On top is a big grove of aspen trees, that can be stunning this time of year. We turned off the paved road and drove up into the aspen grove. Unfortunately, a dry winter last year, and an early snow this year, left the colors dulled and some of the leaves already down. But it was a nice day to get out, let the dog run, and wander about the grove, crunching over the snow still lingering in the shady spots.

Basque sheepherders have been scratching and carving the smooth white bark of aspen trees in the West since the 1860's. Many of the carvings are names and dates - an "I was here" marking. Some are a bit more artistic - perhaps the shape or face of a loved one back home. Still others are even more graphic about what was on these lonely shepherds' minds - some to the point of being considered pornography. I'll only post some of the more G-rated ones here.

After a while, we get back in the truck and start down the eastern side of the Pass. As the road switchbacks down, the change in vegetation, from the evergreen forests of the Sierra to the piñon pines and chaparral of the Great Basin, is obvious. The Great Basin is the high-desert between the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains. This vast area isn't flat - it's wrinkled and rippled, like the inside part of a sheet of corrugated cardboard, range after mountain range alternating with little valleys across all of Nevada and most of Utah. It's called a Basin because none of the water flowing here ever reaches an ocean - the snow melts into rivers that either just disappear into the sand, or flow into lakes, like the Great Salt Lake, and are lost to evaporation. At the bottom of the pass, we turn north, crossing the state line back into Nevada at Topaz Lake, and a 45-minute drive back home. (The two photos directly above almost fit together as a panorama - the dark hill in the middle distance on the extreme right of the lower photo is the same one on the left side of the upper photo; the snow-covered peaks, right side of the upper photo are the Sierra Nevada range in California, the ones in the lower photo are looking east across two smaller Nevada ranges.)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Hot Sauce Recipes

Aries is on vacation for two weeks so he's around the house, getting in my way, and helping out. It was nice today, so he was out in the garden, cleaning up everything that froze, shredding it, cleaning out the chicken coop, and mixing it all together to start our compost for next year. I spent most of the day in the kitchen. I had enough paste tomatoes ripe to make a batch of tomato sauce, so I got the tomatoes started cooking down. Then, once I had the water heating for sterilizing jars, I figured I might as well do something with the hot peppers.

I'm just about out of the Jalapeño Hot Sauce I made in 2006, but I didn't get very many jalapeño peppers this year. What few I had, I just sliced and froze. This is the recipe I usually make every couple of years:

Jalapeño Hot Sauce (makes 20 oz.)

1 t vegetable oil
20 fresh Jalapeño peppers, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ C minced onion
¾ t non-iodized salt
2 C water
½ C sugar (optional)
1 C white vinegar

Over high heat, in glass, enameled or stainless steel pan, sauté oil, peppers, garlic, onion, and salt for 4 minutes. Add water and sugar, and simmer 20 minutes, stirring often. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.

Transfer mixture to food processor or blender and puree until smooth. With machine running, slowly add vinegar. Pour into sterilized jars or bottles with tight-fitting lids. This sauce will keep for months when stored in the refrigerator.

I save and reuse little glass bottles, especially the ones that have an inside shaker/dribbler-type cap, like sesame oil or wine vinegar. Using jalapeños makes a reasonably mild green sauce.

But with no jalapeños, I decided to experiment with cayenne peppers. The cayennes that were red ripe on the plants at harvest time I'd hung up to dry. The rest of them, I'd dumped into a bowl on the counter for a couple of weeks. Quite a few of them ripened up red too, so I substituted 15 big red meaty cayenne peppers for the jalapeños in the recipe above. Since they're hotter, and a lot of peppers' heat is in the inside ribs and seeds, I de-ribbed and seeded them (wearing latex surgical gloves - very important to wear gloves when working with hot peppers!). I'm thinking it should turn out like Tabasco sauce. It's on the left in the photo.

I also got a few Habanero peppers this year. Only a couple were orange ripe at harvest, but left in a bowl on the counter, almost all turned orange eventually. Some of those, I strung up to dry, and a few more I de-ribbed, seeded, and froze. With the rest, I thought I'd try an experimental adaptation of the jalapeño recipe, combined with the memory of a Habanero hot sauce I bought when I was in Belize. That's it in the middle, making for a very nice hot sauce rainbow.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Harvesting Carrots and Potatoes

The temps went down to 19 here for a couple of nights, so I'm so glad I'd gotten the carrots and potatoes dug up the day before (both can be damaged by freezing temperatures). I got a good crop of carrots, by shading the seeds with an old sheet at planting time. It really helped germination in our dry climate by keeping the seed bed moist. By sitting out there later and thinning the carrot patch, I have enough nice big roots to store in the cellar until next summer. After digging, I clipped the tops to less than an inch (longer, they'll shrivel the root; too close and the top of the carrot will start to rot). I put an inch of straw into the bottom of a couple of 3.5-gallon buckets, filled both with the unwashed carrots, put lids on to keep moisture in, and put them down in the cellar. A few that had cracked, and a few that were too tiny to store I brought in to eat now.

I'm still experimenting with potato growing methods. This year, I planted my seed potatoes, saved from the year before, about six inches deep and then piled straw 15" deep over the top inside a wire cage. So now, evaluating the results of my experiment: the Yukon Golds (right bin) did really well, with big potatoes both on top of the dirt and underneath the surface; the Russets (left bin) I got were nice, but the yield wasn't as good as last year's. The straw did keep them from greening up, but some of the plants didn't make it up through the straw. We still had to do quite a bit of digging and sifting through the dirt to make sure we got most of them, too. The goal is lots of nice-sized potatoes, easily harvested without missing any. So, next year, I think I'll try planting only a inch or two deep (potatoes make new potatoes only above the seed potato), use the wire and sticks cage again, and add the same amount of straw over the top but only a couple of inches at a time.

The Yukons I left in their bin, the Russets filled a 5-gallon bucket. They're all in the cellar now too - lids on both since I also have fruit down there. The ethylene gas that the apples and grapes put out can cause the potatoes to sprout in storage (some old-timers say to not store fruit and potatoes together), but since it's the only space I have, the lid barriers work well enough.

We also found something interesting in the straw, inside the cage near the edge - an abandoned clutch of quail eggs. I wonder why she laid that many and then left them. Maybe something happened to her - the cat isn't allowed in the garden (I hiss and run him off whenever I see him even nearby, and besides, he doesn't kill his catches anyway), but we do have hawks and owls living nearby. Oh well, there's certainly no shortage of quail around here - I think they're why I haven't gotten a decent lettuce crop for years.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Simple Green Frugal Co-op Blog

I've been asked to join a simple-life co-operative blog writers group. People all over the world are worried about the state of the world today. Not only our global economy, but issues related to peak oil, climate change, chemicals in our food, ethics, and greed have grabbed the attention of those seeking change and a different way of life. Lots of people are looking for help, ideas, lessons, and encouragement in their quest to live a more meaningful and simplified lifestyle. Here, I write about my little piece of ground, and the things I've learned over my lifetime. Now I'll also be sharing that information and experience in a bigger forum, a couple of times a month. Like-minded, concerned bloggers, from varying age groups, lifestyles, and countries, will be adding their efforts too, in one big reference blog. It's called The Simple Green Frugal Co-op Blog - and the name really says it all. There's a link on my sidebar, or you can check it out here.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Crock-Stored Sauerkraut

It was a blustery cold day, with a dusting of snow just before nightfall. I'm soooo glad everything from the garden is snug inside (except for the kales, broccoli, and leeks, anyway - and with temps expected down to 20ºF tonight I covered the broccoli and kale, just to be on the safe side). It was the perfect morning to warm up the kitchen water-bath canning a batch of tomatoes.

Then, this afternoon, it was time to deal with the rest of the cabbages. I had three big heads and one smaller head of cabbage split when I didn't get them root-pruned soon enough. Towards the end of the growing season, cabbage can take up water so fast it can literally burst the head apart. This can sometimes be prevented by driving a shovel into the dirt next to the stem and then half-pulling the plant out of the ground - thus severing half of the roots and slowing the growth down. I caught three big heads and one smaller one soon enough, and got some nice firm heads to store. Not wanting them to freeze, day before yesterday I pulled them up by the roots, pulled off the loose outer leaves (making for some very happy chickens!), and they're now down in the cellar, upside-down, roots and all, in a bin stuffed with straw.

Split cabbage heads don't store very well, but I really don't mind. One big one that was in pretty good shape I've kept in the refrigerator to use now. The other three are now packed into my glass crock, destined to be sauerkraut. When trimmed and shredded, those three yielded five pounds of slaw. I mixed the shreds with three tablespoons of kosher salt, then packed it all into the crock and kept mashing and packing it all down until enough brine had risen to completely submerge the cabbage. I mixed two quarts of water with another 3 tablespoons salt, and poured that brine into a gallon zip-lock freezer bag, squeezing out all the air and sealing it up tight. Laying the bag over the cabbage prevents air from reaching the cabbage and keeps it submerged (using brine instead of plain water means a possible leak won't water down the fermenting cabbage). If air reaches the cabbage, it can spoil the whole batch - the fermentation process needs to be anaerobic. To keep everything clean, I sealed the crock with a piece of plastic wrap before adding the lid. Now it's ready to go into the cellar to ferment. I love having a glass crock - I like being able to see the cabbage change to sauerkraut, and can also see if any spoilage occurs (a pink color is bad in any fermented product - whether it be kraut or yoghurt). Letting it ferment in the cool cellar slows the process way down (usually taking at least 8 weeks), but the kraut will be wonderfully crisp and crunchy. It will make some nice winter meals, and as long as I'm careful to not contaminate the contents when dishing out a bit, it will stay good down there until Spring (or it's gone, whichever comes first).

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Green Tomato Piccalilli

Piccalilli is a green tomato sweet relish. My dad's side of the family is from Texas, and you can't eat black-eyed peas and cornbread without a glop of piccalilli on top. It's also really good in tuna salad, or any other place you'd use pickle relish. A pint jar usually lasts me about a year (opened jars have enough sugar and vinegar to store well refrigerated), and my nearby siblings will beg a jar now and then, so this is something I'll make every 4-5 years.

Piccalilli (8-9 pints)
Grind (or chop in a food processor) 8 pounds green tomatoes (optional: and 1 small jar pimento peppers). Add 4 pounds brown sugar, then simmer 3 hours.

Then add:
1 quart vinegar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon mace
Boil 15 minutes more, then pour into hot sterilized jars and seal. (That's all there is to Mom's recipe, but I put the hot jars into a boiling water bath for 10 minutes just to make sure they seal)

What to Do With Green Tomatoes

Forecasted low for tomorrow night is 25 last I looked, so I was out in the garden again today trying to pick/dig/store most everything that a hard freeze will harm. One of my local readers emailed, asking what to do with all her green tomatoes (a very likely occurrence around here - forget growing Brandywine or Beefsteaks; we're lucky to get vine-ripened Early Girls). I picked just about all my tomatoes five days ago. I break away all the stems as I pick them, as those can puncture the other tomatoes, leaving holes and bruises that will rot instead of ripen. I leave the hard, little green ones, with an almost frosty white look to them - they won't ripen and aren't big enough to do much else with (don't really care to pickle them). But any green tomato close to full size, especially with darker green shadowing on the top part, is easy to ripen indoors.

The paste tomatoes I want to ripen quickly, so I can get them processed and out of my way. Some say to pull up entire plants and hang them upside down (say, in the garage) to ripen green tomatoes. That's too messy. When the tomatoes get ripe, they'll fall and splatter. And forget the old-timers advice to wrap each green tomato in newspaper - too time-consuming and too hard to see when they're ripe. The best way I've found is to spread out an old shower curtain or other piece of plastic, then spread the green and orangy ones out in one layer. Then, cover them all with a couple layers of newspapers. This traps the ethylene gas, same way the old-timers' wrapping method did, but it's so much easier to just lift the paper to pull out the ripe ones. Top photo shows my paste tomatoes five days ago, on the table that just fits over my guest room bed. Lower photo shows them today, after five days under the newspapers. The red ones, I'll can whole in a day or so; the orange ones will be ready for a batch of sauce in a few more days, and the ones green now will be ready for second batch of sauce not long after that. Within two weeks, I've got my sewing/crafting table back, and a full pantry!

The green Early Girls I want to ripen slowly, so I can have fresh slicing tomatoes as long as possible. I've got them on a tray down in the cooler cellar. It's about 50 degrees down there now - cooler than in the house, but not as cold as the refrigerator. Refrigerating fresh whole tomatoes wipes out just about all the taste, so I never do that, but the cellar is cool enough to let them ripen slowly. I can eat fresh tomatoes until early December. Maybe your house has a cooler closet, or a spot under the bed that would work for you.

Of course, you can always make Fried Green Tomatoes (firm red ones will work too). Slice tomatoes, 1/2" thick, and dredge them in flour with a bit of salt and sugar added. Brown the slices in a bit of butter or oil until crisp (to be authentically Southern about it, you'd use bacon grease), turning them only once. Keep cooked slices warm in a dish in a warm oven. When all the tomatoes are cooked, gradually pour some milk into the frying pan, stirring constantly to make "gravy". Add salt and pepper to taste, and pour over the cooked tomatoes. Serve right away, before the tomatoes get soggy.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Sierra Leaf Update

Sweet husband did a little motorcycle outing today. Since I have quite a few searchers turn up my blog looking for Sierra Nevada leaf-change information, I thought I'd give a quick report on the status of our fall season. Weather the past few days has left the tops of the peaks and the ski runs on the Nevada side of Heavenly Valley with a dusting of fresh snow. Aspen on top of Monitor Pass, one of the highest, on Hwy 89 above Topaz Lake, are in full color. The trees in Hope Valley, on Hwy 88 south of Lake Tahoe, have just started to change from green to gold. They should be in full glory in another week or two. The Tahoe Basin shouldn't be far behind. Closer to home, the Virginia Creeper is halfway to red, the Honey Locusts halfway to gold, and everything else still green.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Putting By the Grape Harvest

No freeze yet - it only went down to 35. The harvest continues, just not quite so frantically. I have a red seedless Reliance grapevine, about 18 years old now. It's the one fruit I can almost always count on, blooming late enough to miss most Spring frosts. It's planted on the east side of the dog run/chicken brood pen (I also have a green Himrod, that never produces much at all but shades the west side of the dog run, and a very young Golden Muscat just getting started on the east side of the deck). The Reliance is shaped into a four-arm Kniffen, with two branches running south and two north. By pruning it back each year to just those four arms, the new growth gets plenty of sunlight each year, and it's easy to net the whole thing from the birds. I've got one long piece of netting that will stretch all the way up and over, clothes-pinned underneath to the chain link fence, and more than long enough to go around the corners. I use an old broom to lift the netting on and off, and wind it around an old Christmas wrapping paper cardboard tube for storage year-to-year.

I now get probably 40-50 pounds of grapes each year. Some I freeze to use like blueberries in muffins, smoothies, and cereal (I love frozen grapes, with their little casing of ice milk, in my cereal bowl). Some we eat fresh out-of-hand. Fresh grapes will keep into December, laid out in unwashed bunches one layer deep on newspaper-lined trays in the cellar. Some I give to the neighbor kids. And the rest I dehydrate into raisins.

I used to dry my raisins out in the sun on the deck, moving the laden screens inside every night. But when an elderly neighbor across the street decided to get rid of everything and move to India, she gave me her old dehydrator (it's harvest-gold color - at least 30 years old), plus the paperback book that went with it; Food Drying at Home by Bee Beyer. It's a really nice dehydrator, the size of a big microwave, with eight rectangular screens, a fan (a bit noisy), and an adjustable temperature control. I still use the sun for dehydrating summer produce, but it's so much easier to do the grapes in October inside. So today, I watched a couple of movies on TV and de-stemmed enough grapes for a full load.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

A Peck o' Peppers

Our first freeze is predicted for Sunday night, and we've had intermittent rain sprinkles the past couple of days (the guineas must have felt something in the wind - they didn't fly out of the chicken pen today, instead staying in, close to cover, and bossing the chickens all day). If we get a dry cold snap in September, I'll usually cover the fruiting bed crops - buying myself a couple more weeks time. I've got a bunch of old draperies that work well - heavy enough to stay put if it's windy and big enough to wrap around and drape over support cages and all. But by October, I'm ready to bring it all in, especially if it's going to be wet (I really don't like wrestling with half-frozen sodden draperies the next morning).

So the past few days I've started getting the tender crops in. This is what my kitchen counter looked like this morning - a variety of peppers to process. I have mostly open-pollinated (not hybrid) crops, so I put the biggest, ripest, prettiest-colored couple of each type aside to save the seeds. By this afternoon, I had most of the bell peppers cut into 3/4" chunks, the jalapenos in slices, and both into the freezer (no need to blanch peppers). I did save quite a few bells for a couple more batches of gazpacho, since I've got enough Early Girl tomatoes and cucumbers still out there. The chiles, red bells, and banana peppers I roasted, now cooling in bags in the refrigerator, ready to peel. The red cayennes I strung into a ristra, using a big needle threaded with a doubled length of carpet thread, and hung up to dry. I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do with the green cayennes and habaneros just yet. I have a recipe for jalapeno green sauce I think I'm going to adapt, and maybe do another adaptation with oranges and the habaneros. More on that later.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Vintage-Look Clothespin Bag

When I was in Colorado in May, Mom gave me some vintage pattern transfer sheets. No envelopes or other identifying names - just the big newsprint sheets with various projects on each - so I'm not sure where they're from. They look a bit like the Aunt Martha patterns still available today, but I've never seen any Aunt Martha ones like these. Anyway, I loved the one for a clothespin apron, with the image of a happy little clothespeg jumping on a bar of soap.

Years ago, I bought a cheap clothespin bag at the grocery store. The bag was a rough, paper-like material. It finally started to fall apart recently, so I jumped at the chance to use that old pattern. I cut a piece out of the edge of an old cotton sheet, too thin and worn in the middle to use on the bed anymore. The pattern suggested all different colors for the embroidery, but I was going for more of a vintage look so did the whole thing in red (a bit more about redwork here). I took the old bag apart so I could reuse the metal hanger part and the plastic strapping that holds the top open. I sewed up the new bag, complete with inside liner in the same cotton. I used some decorative stitching to hold the strapping in place, and punched in a couple of eyelets for the hanger part. I didn't realize how rough the old bag was, until I noticed how nice it was reaching into the new bag made out of lovely soft cotton.

I'll let you in on my favorite "secret" source for redwork and other outline embroidery patterns: children's coloring books. You can find just about anything, from Disney characters to Christmas scenes to fairy tales, sized just right for pillows or quilt squares. For anyone wanting to embroider their own happy little clothespeg, TipNut has the same transfer pattern as a scanned pdf on her site, along with links to lots more clothespin bag ideas. In fact, her entire site is a wealth of tips, patterns, and tutorials. Check it out!