Sweet bounty

Goodness from the garden ready to take us through the fall and winter...and give as gifts.

Goodness from the garden ready to take us through the fall and winter…and give as gifts.

We have a really big yard that we love to work in. Steve is outside right now weeding the lavender bed. We had such a dry winter that about half of our lavender plants didn’t survive. We had a hearty few that did, plus a number of volunteers that are filling out the space. And¬†we added a few new ones to get the bed going again.

We’ve got flowers and green plants taking the places now of what were hundreds of volunteer trees when we moved in. It took us three years to pull all the maple, sumac and mulberry trees that had been allowed to take over this yard. But in the twelve years we’ve lived here, it has become our oasis. We like to say that we live in a park by a park.

Like my brothers and sisters, we also enjoy growing some backyard crops. My brother George, though, is the one who really inherited Grandma Piskac’s green thumb. He can grow it. He can pickle or can it. (He makes the best dill pickles!) He can cook it. My brother Mike has also discovered gardening, which is funny because about the only vegetables he will eat are green beans and sweet corn. Interesting, that is what he grows in his backyard! Actually, Barb planted cantaloupe too. (We are looking forward to that harvest so we can wrap some prosciutto around it and enjoy it with a nice prosecco.) Sally lives on a farm now and she sends us regular updates through snapchat photos of the produce from her garden.

Steve and I have our beautiful cherry tree, given to us as a wedding gift from my dad and stepmom. We have our tomato square (four plants planted new this year, and four volunteers Steve couldn’t bear to rip out). We also have another square that contains a rugged patch of untamed raspberry plants. It started out as two, but now it is an actual tangled briar of lots! We were out picking them just yesterday. We also have our scattered chives and oregano in the back which have spread from potted plants, plus our patio tomato and two basil plants. Inside we’ve got our rosemaries where they can grow all year. That’s our food garden.

Somehow, the Prescott siblings have found pleasure in the garden. Nothing is better than fresh vegetables Рespecially those homegrown tomatoes! I think Grandma Piskac would be proud of all of us.

The other great thing that some of us have rediscovered is canning. When we were little we used to watch our mom make jelly. The one I remember is crabapple. She saved all the odd glass jars that used to go through a kitchen and those would become jars of crabapple jelly, each sealed with a dollop of paraffin on the top before the lid went on. I don’t think we ever had grape jelly on our pb&js when we were little. It was always crabapple but oh my! it tasted so good.

After our mom died, we sisters still made crabapple jelly. The neighbors had three crabapple trees in the yard next door and we became experts on which tree made the best jelly. At some point, we just stopped.

Jana and I rediscovered the joy of making jelly when we moved into our Chicago Street house and it came with a cherry tree in the front yard. Picking the fruit, cooking it down and squeezing out the juice, it all came back. And the kitchen is just filled with that beautiful smell of cooking fruit! After ladling it into hot jars and putting it through the hot water bath, we labeled the jars and we were ready for the fall and winter, and we had plenty of homemade jelly for Christmas gifts.

I am married to a man who enjoys this process with me. Already this summer we have cooked up 42 cups of cherry jelly and have shared it with friends. There is more to share! Next week we will be making a nice batch of raspberry, and I will work really hard to sieve out all the seeds. I’ve got some friends in Atlanta who need some more. (I even transported some carefully to Iraq in March to give to special people there.)

Bubbling tomato jamToday the kitchen smells like Thanksgiving. We are working on our second batch of tomato jam. Seasoned with ginger, clove and cinnamon, it smells like pie. It’s cooking down right now, thickening up with each minute that ticks by. In about half an hour I will ladle it into those jars and then immerse the jars into the hot water bath. Then it’s ready, ready to be enjoyed. And we know there are more tomatoes out there!

Thanks Grandma. Thanks Mom. These are good lessons that are still paying off.

Homegrown Tomatoes

DSC00495John Denver recorded this great old cowboy song by Guy Clark back in the day:

Homegrown tomatoes, homegrown tomatoes What would life be without homegrown tomatoes? Only two things that money can’t buy And that’s true love and homegrown tomatoes!

We have a big yard at our house, but most of our gardens are given over to flowers. We’ve got a cherry tree in front and a raspberry patch on the north. There are a number of volunteer herbs in the back like chives and oregano that started themselves from some pots years ago. But the best part of our garden is the eight-by-eight foot square box where the tomatoes grow. Every year we stop at the Douglas County Extension office for the Omaha Men’s Garden Club plant sale and pick up four plants, all heirloom. I say four, because Steve usually wants more than that. In a household of three where only two actually eat tomatoes, four is plenty! The only exception this year was somehow we missed the sale so we bought our plants from a local nursery that has supplied many of the plants in our yard. Four. We bought four. (Well, we actually did buy a fifth one to put in a pot on the patio. It has produced, but nothing like what is in the garden.) We got them planted early this year, about three weeks earlier than last year when we were late. Once planted, Steve nurtured them and staked them. He weeded around them so all the energy and nutrients from the soil would go into the tomatoes. He didn’t pull everything that was cutting into their supply. I saw when all was said and done that we actually had eight plants. He saved and protected four volunteers from last year. He always has a way of getting around my limits! So tonight we are going to enjoy the bounty of that eight-plant supply when we have the first of the season BLTs for dinner. I can taste them already! It’s a summer treat that I hope we can have for weeks yet. There are plenty of tomatoes even though the weather hasn’t been that great for production.

2013 vintage tomato jam

2013 vintage tomato jam

I am also hoping that we get enough to make another treat which we discovered last year: tomato jam. We just chop up about five pounds of fruit, cook it down with lime juice, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and sugar, until it becomes this dark, gooey DSC00494jam. We made six batches last summer as those tomato plants were most generous. I am really looking forward to that whole process again this year. That tomato jam kept us with the flavor of summer in our mouths all winter long. That song proves true every year this time: only two things that money can’t buy and that’s true love and homegrown tomatoes!