Ugly Spread

It’s pretty before it’s baked!

A few inquiries after my post about the garden party, and the food served has prompted this post. I haven’t a clue where this recipe found its way into my box, but I’ve been making it for forty years or more. It’s so simple, and a great way to use up the potager’s bounty. Here’s how it’s done:

Peel 3 medium eggplants (about 3 lb.) and slice 1/2″ thick. Lay on paper towels and sprinkle with salt, covering the top layer with paper towels. Allow to sit for 2-3 hours to remove excess water. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. In a casserole with lid (I use my bean pot/cookie jar shown above) drizzle a bit of olive oil. Place a layer of eggplant, cutting pieces so it’s a fairly solid layer. Sprinkle with a tsp. of finely chopped garlic. Cover the eggplant with a layer of tomatoes sliced 1/2″ thick, making a solid layer. Add a layer of basil leaves over the tomatoes. Sprinkle with 1/2 c. diced onion and 1/2 c. diced green peppers, and a grind or two of black pepper.

Repeat until the casserole is nearly full…mine holds three layers, plus there’s room for an extra slice of tomato and sprinkle of onions and peppers right on the top. Place the lid on top and bake for 4 hours. Often, I just turn the oven off and leave the casserole there until ready to serve, so it stays warm. Just before serving, cut thru the entire mixture in a 1″ checkerboard pattern to make it easier to spoon onto slices of baguette.

It tastes LOTS better than it looks!

This can also be refrigerated and reheated later, or frozen in smaller portions. I’m sure there’s an official Italian name for this dish, but our family just calls it “Ugly Spread.” It’s about the only way I can get most of them to eat eggplant!

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September in Review

Our view changed this month, and we rather liked it!

There is an old adage that says “Whatever the weather on the first day of September, the rest of the month you’ll see!”  Well, not so for 2019’s September. While it rained on the first day, the rest of the month was painfully dry, with higher temperatures than normal. Apparently it was the driest September in 14 years. But overall, it was a beautiful month, with clear days and sunny skies, and lots of good gardening! The melons, tomatoes, peppers and beans really loved the heat and showed it with bountiful crops, as long as they were watered well. The newly planted shrubs in the Front Garden needed weekly watering, too.

I did ask it’s forgiveness…..


After the birds had eaten the final berries, the elder got a good pruning, taking out all the dead wood, pruning drooping branches to do a bit of shaping, and after this photo, the volunteer mulberry was removed. I couldn’t use all the bloom and berries the elder provided, plus it was just getting too large, and totally shading the orris root planted below. Now I can add some winter aconite bulbs under its shelter next month.

The potager in late September.

Despite frequent waterings, you can see the potager looks a bit dry. Combine that with the normal change from summer green to autumn olive drab, and the feeling that the season is winding down is definite, despite young crops of peas, beans, beets and carrots. There were new plantings of spinach made, using up all this year’s seed because it rarely germinates the second year. The biggest job this month, besides harvesting & preserving, was putting 3 truckloads of mulch on the potager’s paths, but it was worth the effort. Not only does it look much better, but keeping the landscape cloth covered from the sun’s rays will lengthen its useful “life.”

September was definitely a bountiful month, with 317.5 pounds recorded. Of course that doesn’t count the “grazing” done by the gardener or guests, or occasional items grabbed on the go with a “I’ll write that down later” promise that is forgotten. Melons and tomatoes were the biggest items, of course.

The pears for this jam came from my nephew’s tree.

Tomato juice, diced tomatoes, pickled red cherry tomatoes, jalapenos, and pickled beets

There were over 100 jars/containers added to the pantry shelves or freezer, and we ate REALLY well all month, plus provided food for the annual neighborhood party on our deck, and the Garden Party.

One of my new favorite beans “Romano Purpiat!

I’ve kept my vow of not canning any beans this year, since there are dozens of jars from 2017 and 2018 still on the shelves, so we’ve eaten lots and given even more away. As the month ended, there were “Provider, Velour French Filet, and Dragon Tongue” being picked. Happily, the lettuces seeded early in September are coming on nicely, because salads lately have mainly been Caprese or slaws of various types.

The view from my lodge room….

Late in the month I attended the International Herb Conference at beautiful Burr Oak Lodge in southern Ohio. Lovely scenery in a serene setting, great networking and informational sessions, plus good food made it a wonderful getaway. I also attended the dedication of the new building for the Center for Medicinal Plant Conservation at the United Plant Savers Sanctuary in Rutland, Ohio and went on an inspirational herb walk. Back home for the final four days of the month, the 7th driest in history and 8th warmest at that point, but I think we broke records as the heat and dryness increased until we got a small rain on the 29th. More harvesting, planting more spinach, freezing peas and broccoli, making ketchup, and watching college football replay in the wee hours. Yes, September was a very good month.

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Homemade Ketchup

The house smells spicy as the ketchup simmers for an hour!

As I age, I find that old family traditions and memories become more important. Picking yet another four baskets of tomatoes, and gazing at overloaded pepper plants reminded me of being young, maybe 7 or 8 years old and being part of making homemade ketchup. Yes, it’s ketchup, not catsup at our house and always has been here in central Indiana. I haven’t made homemade ketchup since my days at the homestead in southern Indiana, but I decided it was time to revive the tradition. I can see my Grandma Miller peeling onions, dicing peppers and tomatoes as clearly as if she were standing here in my kitchen. Back in those days, preserving was often a family affair. Although Gpa and Gma had moved to town, and we were now living on the family farm, they often came out to help with big jobs like making applesauce, freezing sweet corn, and such and would take a portion of the end products back to town. So, I toted the baskets to the kitchen, went back for a basket of peppers and took down a braid of “Red Torpedo” onions because they are least likely to store through the winter, plus they have a good, strong flavor. The tomatoes were washed, cut into chunks and put on to cook while I prepped the peppers and onions. They went into their own pan, because my tomato kettle was already full. When all was thoroughly cooked to nearly mush stage, it was run through the old Foley Food mill. Eight quarts of thick tomato juice and 3 quarts of the pepper/onion mixture went back into my largest kettle with a heaping tablespoon of pickling salt on medium high heat so it bubbled vigorously. Once the tomato mix was cooking, I also put together a muslin bag of spices: 2 T. whole allspice, 2 broken cinnamon sticks, 1 T. mustard seeds, and 2 tsp. celery seeds; tied it tightly and threw it in. If you look carefully at the top photo, it is barely visible floating in the center. It took over two hours to cook down (reduced by almost half) but I kept busy in the kitchen shelling and freezing peas, and washing the bottles. Yes, homemade ketchup HAS to go into bottles, not jars. It’s the family tradition!

These bottles have been the official ketchup bottles for four generations!

Of course, FINDING the bottles was the first challenge. I moved here in 1992, and am embarrassed to admit that there are still a few boxes stacked in the basement that are unopened! However, a box labelled “Canning Supplies” was the jackpot, for inside were all the traditional glass bottles used since I was a little girl, carefully wrapped in packing paper. There are 35, but I knew I wouldn’t need that many, so I took the top 20, checked them for nicks or cracks and gave them a good washing. I couldn’t find the box of metal bottle caps. I know I have it somewhere, but there was no time for further searching, so D made a quick trip to Hobby Lobby since our local hardware store laughed and said they hadn’t carried them in years! Now when did that happen? I think the last time I bought them, it was a box of 100 for about $3.00. D came home and said, “That had better be really good ketchup, because 24 caps were $9.99!” Now I am determined to find that box, just to see if there is a price tag on it to confirm my memories of the cost.

When was the last time you saw these brands?

After the mixture was reduced by half, 3 c. cider vinegar and 2 c. sugar were added, and it cooked for another 45 minutes. I tasted it for salt, vinegar, and sugar and decided it was about right. Fortunately, the bottle capper was easily visible on a shelf in the basement and even after years of retirement, was ready for active duty.

I wonder what Royal Palm tasted like?

Now there are 19 bottles of homemade ketchup on my pantry shelves, ready to use on fried potatoes (I don’t normally eat much fried food, but I’ll definitely be making fried potatoes topped with homemade ketchup this winter!) and making the best sloppy joe you’ve ever tasted. It was a really fun day, filling the house with good smells and my mind with great family memories. And now, every time I open a bottle of ketchup, those memories will float back along with those I made today!

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If You Came to My Garden Party…

The Front Garden in evening light.

I hosted a garden party this month, which partly explains the lack of blog posts. If you came to my garden party, here’s some of what you would have seen. September has been extraordinarily pretty, but very dry. In preparation for the party, there was lots of watering, cutting back and deadheading to do. Plus I wanted to get all the gardens edged nicely again.

Adding mums to fill in the holes!

Probably the job that took longest was cleaning up the daylilies! I’ve never seen so much daylily rust and dead leaves. They’ve been cleaned totally three times this summer, but still looked awful early this month. Much of the iris foliage also turned brown and had to be removed. After this cleansing, there was lots of bare earth, so several mums were added here and there in two of the gardens. They certainly added lots of color! Five shrubs were also added to the Front Garden to add a bit more winter interest and structure. The tall arborvitae between the lilies went into a pot because I don’t think it will stay there long term. It will get way too big for the space. Maybe I’ll put lights on it for the holidays!

The Deck Garden didn’t need much work except a final deadheading.

The Deck Garden got a quick edging and deadheading. But, the deck containers needed tidying, the deck had to be swept of falling cottonwood leaves, and the tables hauled up from the pole barn. Of course, during the party, there were bright tablecloths, jars of flowers and platters of food…none of which got photographed, of course!

I love the echoing of the Profusion Double Click Deep Salmon, which are not as pink as they look here in the photograph, with the Zinnia Queen Lime-Orange, which have become a new favorite!
The potager’s exterior border has been filled with color all season!

The potager’s exterior border didn’t need much except a quick mow along the edges, and deadheading, of course. Notice the pot far left. It has a matching pot on the other side, and both contained one “Juliet” tomato plant and a few yellow marigolds. Those two pots have produced so many tomatoes, and so many comments! I tied the tall growth to the posts, and they’ve been super happy all summer.

In honor of the party, a bucket of flowers was added to the potager’s front gate.

You can see the climbing tomatoes on each side of the entrance. Just before the party, I removed the “rabbit barrier” at the bottom of the gate to prevent anyone tripping. The potager took the most work, only because I decided that the paths needed mulch. Because we had such a wet spring, which excluded bringing the truck close for unloading and all the mulch would have been washed out the low spots anyway, I didn’t bother to mulch as usual. But, looking at all the bare spots where the landscape cloth showed, it was obvious that mulch was needed. So, three truckloads later…..

Fresh mulch sure makes a difference!

Other than that, a good watering and a quick removal of some brown leaves was all the potager needed. That’s one advantage of keeping up with the weeding, and continual succession planting throughout the summer. Of course, the Lady Cottage needed a good sweeping, dusting, and a bit of tidying.

A few bunches of fresh mint were hung to counteract the curing garlic and onion scent!

The Lady Cottage is a working garden shed, and because I’m constantly in and out, the floor is always messy. When it is all swept and tidy, I love it and promise myself I’ll keep it that way, but within days there are onion skins blowing across the floor, mud tracked in, and stacks of baskets and buckets!

An old wooden harvesting trug held some of the day’s picking.
The Heritage roses put on a show for company!

The potager’s interior border was full of flowers and herbs. The new Heritage roses had lots of new blooms, there were puffy white feverfew blossoms, golden calendulas, gorgeous snapdragons, and some dahlias.

The dahlias were slow this year, but some are making up for it now.
The Blue Bedder Salvia is so pretty, and much visited by hummers and bees.
I love the contrast of young red-veined beet leaves with husky blue-green leeks.

The potager’s beds were still packed full of veggies, and provided nearly all of the food served that evening: marinated various cherry and grape tomatoes; roasted beets on wheat bread with horseradish cream; pesto torte with crackers; slow-baked “ugly” spread with baquette slices; five kinds of melon skewered with fresh mint; and five kinds of cookies, along with Hugos made with our elderflower syrup and mint, lemonade garnished with lemon verbena, and iced tea.

The Wando peas gained the most comments!

Even seasoned gardeners seemed surprised to see happy pea vines filled with pods in mid-September! Believe me, there weren’t nearly as many pea pods after the party as there were before! There was lots of grazing going on, but that was fine with me! Many guests went home with bags of grape tomatoes, big tomatoes, melons or peppers.

Some of these individual Blight Buster plants are nurturing over a dozen huge peppers!
The reason for the party!

The garden party was held to host friend, horticulturalist, singer Chuck Voigt. Chuck was the herb specialist at the Univ. of Illinois for decades, and became a good friend. After a bout of throat cancer, during which he was warned he might not be able to talk again, let alone sing, he decided to celebrate his wonderful recovery by singing in 100 gardens! We were honored that the potager was chosen to be one of the 100, and he was videotaped singing in the potager before the guests arrived. However, because of the record heat, he gave the concert in the shade near the Deck Garden, which allowed his audience to also sit comfortably under the trees. All in all, it was a fun evening, filled with music, friends, neighbors, beautiful weather and plenty of food.

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August in Review

Considering it is August, the potager is surprisingly green and lush!

Yet another month has flown by at warp speed. We’re already a week into September, and I’m just now posting last month’s review! As I’ve stated in recent posts, timely rains have continued throughout the summer. Instead of turning hot and dry, it’s been relatively cool and humid for weeks. No complaints here at all! We’ve had a number of beautiful days, with perfect outdoor working and growing conditions. As you can see from the photo, the potager is still filled to capacity, giving us a wonderful variety of food, with lots of late crops just coming on. Some of the vines are beginning to turn brown as they mature their crops. We’ve had loads of luscious melons, and too many cucumbers. The last of the fantastic Earli Dew melons has been picked…15 in all…and those vines have already been removed, along with the first planting of Minnesota Midgets. That’s a good thing, because space was needed for fall plantings of beans, lettuce, spinach and radishes. I am a bit concerned at the yellowing of the pumpkin vines (in the center of the photo) which are “Harvest Princess.” There are some 4-5 lb. pumpkins hidden in there, just beginning to turn orange, so I’m hoping the vines don’t die. No sign of borers or squash bugs on these, although the “Baby Bear” vines did show frass, so I injected the stems with Bt and hopefully that took care of the problem.

There’s been lots of canning and jelly-making during August. There were finally enough tomatoes to can, and beets to pickle. Twelve varieties of jams and jellies were made. Beets, peppers, and cucumbers were pickled. Broccoli was frozen, as well as pepper strips. It was a fun month in the kitchen, with 125 cans/bags preserved.

The potager’s front border has been so pretty all summer!

Hours have been spent deadheading, but it’s all worth it to keep the zinnias, marigolds and other flowers in bloom. The grass never stopped growing, so there’s been lots of edging and mowing to do as well, which normally are not even on the job list in August. But, there hasn’t been much hose dragging, which is normally very time and energy-consuming, so I guess it all balances out.

For those interested in numbers, the potager produced 187.5 pounds of produce in August. That’s a bit above last year’s 177.75 and 2017’s 181.0 so I am pleased, especially considering no big quantity of beans for canning are included in this year’s numbers. We’ve had plenty to eat fresh, but since there’s still plenty of cans left from last year, I swore not to can any this year.

We have our neighborhood party and a garden party in September, so I’m giving each garden a quick go-over, and also hope to FINALLY get the potager paths mulched. I’d almost decided not to even do them this year, because the heavy rains keep washing what mulch is there toward the shed. But, with guests coming I can’t have them tripping over landscape cloth edges, and a new coat of mulch will freshen the entire potager. So, I’d better get shoveling!

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Short review: Romano Purpiat

My favorite new bean for this season….so far!

We just devoured the first picking of “Romano Purpiat” beans, a variety I’ve never grown before, and I must say they were absolutely delicious…tender, flavorful, stringless. Of course, they turn bright green when cooked, but the young ones are delicious raw, crunchy and not exceedingly starchy in flavor. According to the Territorial Seed catalog, they are a good variety to tolerate early spring cool conditions, so I figured they’d also be okay during the cooler evenings that early autumn brings. The 5″ flat pods were abundant, a 6′ row providing just the right amount for the two of us, with LOTS of younger pods for the next picking. This open-pollinated variety grow about 24″ tall…next year I’ll plant them on some pea fencing so they don’t sprawl into the path or onto a neighboring row. They matured in slightly less than the 60 days listed, which was fine with me, and made a yummy change from the “Jade II” variety we’ve been eating recently. The succession plantings of smaller quantities has been much better this year, with fewer beans given away. Definitely WON’T be giving away any of these beautiful “Romano Purpiats!” If you haven’t grown them, give them a try.

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This and That

Late August and the grass is so very, very green!

The end of August is approaching but it’s felt more like late September, due to misty mornings and cool, cool evenings. Normally our grass is beige by now, and the mowings happen rarely, but with this year’s unusual rains the lawn has maintained rapid growth throughout the summer. The mower hasn’t had a rest.

Rainy days mean indoor activities, like making over 80 jars of jellies and jams.

Another rainy day was spent making an inventory of the canned goods in the kitchen and garage pantries, which should have been done before the preserving season started….or actually before the planting season started. If I’d done it then, I certainly wouldn’t have planted so many cucumbers! I swear I won’t pickle another jar this year!

The “Cresto Orange” zinnias get a reprieve!

Rainy days allow more time just looking at the gardens rather than always working in them. Over the last few weeks, I’ve decided I like the “Cresto Orange” zinnias very much after all. No, they aren’t the exact form advertised, and they certainly aren’t uniform, but they are bountiful, colorful, and the butterflies like them. Because of their variety, they make interesting bouquets, with their varying shades of oranges and yellows. So, I’ll be planting them again next year after all! Glad I didn’t toss the seed in the bin!

The sunflowers are continuing to provide great enjoyment, but the amaranth is still under debate.

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Just to the right of the sunflowers are some of the “Copperhead” amaranth, also growing in the Cutting Garden. I wish they were more pointed on top rather than so full, because I think they would be prettier in bouquets. However, my biggest problem with them is that they totally wilt as soon as they are cut and don’t seem to recover to upright despite being put immediately into water. I guess I need to do some research, or maybe one of you have the answer. I do like the color, and will try hanging some to dry for winter bouquets when it stops raining. I assume the goldfinches and other birds will enjoy them later, even if I don’t.

I’m really happy with the varieties of sunflowers planted. Unfortunately some didn’t get photographed, but hopefully they will self-seed, and I will be planting all of them again next year. I’ve decided I like the bright yellow ones like those above during the summer, and these with coppery and mahogany tones for autumn.

“Earthwalker” sunflowers are quite varied, like the single in the back, and the double one in the foreground.
These darker ones are also “Earthwalker.”

If you look carefully at this photo, you’ll see a young sunflower to the left of the one blooming. These were started in the greenhouse in late July and planted out to hopefully bloom after the earlier ones have gone to seed. They are along the potager’s back interior border. I’m really trying to extend the sunflower season, and planted more branching types to help achieve that.

A very late-blooming daylily.

Along that same goal, I’m trying to extend the daylily season. The daylily shown above is a cross between a tall night-blooming daylily and the old “Frans Hall” which has alternating dark petals and light petals. In this cross, the “dark” petals are much lighter than the true “Frans Hall” and it has the height (about 4 1/2 feet) of the night-bloomers. I also purchased 3 late-bloomers from The Lily Patch, an Indiana grower near Rochester, IN. So, hopefully next year, there will be even more daylilies blooming through August. It’s a continual challenge to improve the gardens, but that’s certainly part of the fun! What’s your latest blooming daylily? What changes/improvements do you plan for next year? Are you taking time to savor these last few weeks of the gardening season?

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