Tuesday, August 31, 2010

We Have Squash!!

I love growing squash! It's so much fun and so interesting! I am a little nuts about squash like other people are about heirloom tomatoes. I know people that grow three dozen different types of tomatoes! I like to grow several different types of squash, whatever kind I find interesting.

The picture at the top is the acorn squash growing on the fence along the driveway. There has been a battle this summer between the acorn squash and the morning glories, to see who would take over the fence. It sure is beautiful!
Most of the squash that I planted this year has done very well and there have been some surprises! This is an ambercup and blue hubbard cross, bound to be delicious with those two for parents! Who knows, maybe it will be fabulous. If I keep pollinating it back to itself for a few generations, I might have a stable new variety of maxima squash. Wouldn`t that be fun!

This is our favourite winter squash variety, ambercup. It is so sweet and delicious without being overly stringy. It`s also small and easy to peel and bake, easier than hubbard, anyway. Those giant hubbard have to be cut with the axe!

We also like buttercup. I planted very decorative buttercup squash this year. Aren't they beautiful! I have about two dozen of these growing in the squash field. These are "turban" squash, also called "Turk`s cap", and are a type of buttercup. Buttercup squash are easy to handle, sweet and delicious, and I like these for fall decorating. The only drawback I have found with the buttercup is that they don't keep as well throughout the winter in the cold cellar. The softer skin that makes them a little easier to peel and cook, also prevents them from keeping as long.

This is a Hopi black squash. The Hopi indians used to grow them in the three sisters fasion. I also planted Hopi pale gray squash, which are suppose to be very good "keepers" but I don't think they did very well. I couldn't find one out there, anyway. Perhaps when the large squash leaves, weeds and grass has died back I will find a few. I hope so.

I planted a few spaghetti squash this year for the first time. Someone told me that the stringy inner part looks and tastes like spaghetti noodles and is good with sauce on it, much like you would eat spaghetti. I planted a few, just a few to try. There are four of them growing out there now and they look like they are doing very well. I don't know how the guys will go for having squash instead of noodles, time will tell. It's bound to be healthier but that's not necessarily a "seller" at our house, unfortunately.

I planted three other types of interesting squash, "upper ground sweet potato" squash that is suppose to taste a lot like sweet potatoes, (we love sweet potatoes!), "sweet mama" squash which should be very sweet and "pink banana" squash, just because it was interesting.
The "sweet potato" squash" are huge, the size of a very large pumpkin! Isn't it lovely and big! There are two of them! That should give us quite a lot of "sweet potato" squash.

The "sweet mama" squash are smaller and grew on a trellis. I have two of those growing with the tomatoes.

I have already received a few seeds for "Sweet dumpling" squash to grow next year.

Squash is so easy to grow and so much fun! Because most of what I grow are maxima, they do tend to cross a bit even though I do hand pollinate most of it, but I'm ok with that.

I would love to plant a very large field full of various squash and have a "pick your own squash" week in the fall. Maybe next year I'll do that. I could grow some jack-o-lantern pumpkins in there too.

I have a surprise jack-o-lantern pumpkin plant growing in the old chicken pen now. We don't have chickens at the moment and the growth in there is amazing. It is so thick with huge weeds, and this pumkin, due to the old chicken manure in there. I am looking forward to seeing the size of those pumpkins! The stems on this pumpkin plant stretch to the roof of the 6' pen and have leaves to match in size. Amazing growth! The massive weeds in there with it prevent any pumpkin viewing at this time, but they will all die back with fall comes.

I also have a squash or pumpkin growing in the old compost pile. Its so weedy I can't see what it is right now.

I have never seen a squash borer but I have planted the squash in a different field so far every year. Maybe it's just not a problem up here. Something has to compensate us for the winters!

I can grow squash! I cannot, however, seem to grow luffahs...

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Chichiquelite and Grape Jelly

Today I had time to make some jelly. I didn't really have the time to spare, but I took it anyway. Sometimes you have to just "Do it, anyway". The fence is not finished, but it is at a place where Buck is running free now, so we can slow down a bit. The chichiquelites are producing very well and I had to do something with the berries or lose them.

I made jam. I made grape jelly from Welch's grape juice and I made a combination chichiquelite and grape jelly with the berries and the left over juice. Both turned out to be delicious, although the grape jelly did not gel. I made is exactly according to the directions in the pectin box, but that doesn't surprise me. I sometimes have problems getting the pectin to gel properly. Its finicky stuff and a tricky worker. The acid balance and sugar amount has to be right or it doesn't work. I used the recipe on the paper that comes with the pectin, followed exactly, and it still didn't gel. It will have to be done again. Oh well, its only half a dozen pint jars.

Lately I have been making jam with gelatine and am finding it much easier and more foolproof. It always gels, sometimes too hard if not enough juice is used with the package of gelatine. You can use unflavoured genatine, if you want to keep it organic and all natural. I sometimes use flavoured jelly powder too, like Jell-O, but generic, to add even more flavour to the jelly I am making. If your berries or fruit do not have a lot of flavour, the addition of flavoured jelly powder can give it a real boost!

The combination chichiquelite and grape jelly I made today was made with flavoured jelly powder. I used grape and berry flavours.

This is the recipe for all types of juice made with jelly powder:
1 small box jelly powder
2 cups juice
2 cups sugar

Directions: Bring the juice to a boil, stir in the jelly powder until dissolved, add sugar. You need the sugar to help preserve the jelly at room temperature if using a water bath to seal the jars. If you are going to keep this jelly in the freezer, you can use whatever amount of sugar you want. You don't need to sugar to make it gel.

Stir it all until the sugar and jelly powder are well dissolved. Pour into hot, sterilized jars. Wipe the rims, put on the new seals and rings. Lower gently into boiling water deep enough to cover the jars with about 1" of water above the tops of the jars. Boil for 10 minutes. Start the 10 minute count after the water has returned to a boil. Remove gently and sit on a towel until cool. Label and store in a dry, fairly cool location. Jellies and jams preserved in this manner will keep for many months.

I ran my bowl of chichiquelites through a juicer and used just the juice. I had about 5 cups of juice. I added 1 cup of Welch's grape juice that I had left over from making the grape jelly that didn't gel. That gave me 6 cups of juice. I added 2 boxes of berry jelly powder and one box of grape and added 6 cups of sugar. After following the recipe above, I put it in the storage room and left it to gel. This morning I tested it. Wow! It's great stuff!

Hubby pronounced it "Delicious!". Since he is the one who usually eats it, that's important. That's also the reason I made jelly instead of jam. Hubby prefers it. I do make strawberry freezer jam too, but we are trying to cut back on our freezer use. The corn is going in there in another month or so.

I don't think all of the corn I planted this year will fit in our freezer. We will give what corn we cannot freeze or eat to the Salvation Army Soup Kitchen in town. They get all our excess food. I wonder if they are a bit overwhelmed with all the zucchini they have received this year? I have some stored in the cold cellar to take to them in another couple of months, just to spread them out some. I took them an armload of flowers with the veggies one week simply because I had them to give. They seemed to be appreciated.

I realize that flavoured jelly powder is not organic but it sure has made jelly making a lot easier and fool proof for me. Even plain, unflavoured gelatine, which is organic, makes a big difference in the ease of jelly making!

UPDATE: I have since been told that the grape jelly didn't set because it was made from the frozen can. If it had been made from the jug of pure juice then it would have gelled properly. I don't know what the difference is. Next time I will be using grape juice from the jug.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Making Pickles

We had a break from fence building today, due to the rain so I had a chance to make pickles from all those cucumbers I picked in the garden last week. When I picked them, I didn't really have pickles in mind, I just picked what was there.

Many of the cucumbers I picked are too large for pickles, having gone to seed with a watery center. The larger ones had enough solid flesh to make long strips after the seedy center was cut out. I was making long sandwich pickes, anyway. We love the Strub's garlic dill sandwich pickles and I have their recipe from their website!
I sliced all of the cucumbers into long slices with my very old "Vegematic". We don't have a slicer but plan to buy a slicer "one day soon", along with a lot of other things we can use. We do have a 20 year old vegetmatic, however, that makes slices, julienne, fries, etc. and works very well. It made short work of the cucumber slicing for today's pickles.

After slicing enough cucumbers to fill all 8 quart jars, I had this scrap left. Some will be saved for salad and sandwiches, the rest will go tino the compost.

This is the Strub's Sandwich Pickle Recipe

Make brine: 6 ml salt, 250 ml vinegar, 1 litre water (x3 for 8 quarts).
Into each jar put 4 cloves garlic chopped and 2 tablespoons dill. I used fresh dill.
I put two cloves of chopped garlic with 1 tablespoon dill into the bottom of each sterilized jar. Stiffed as many sliced cucumbers into the jar as I could and topped with another 2 cloves of chopped garlic and another tablespoon dill.

I put all the jars into my waterbath canner, covered with 1/2" of water and boiled for 10 minutes. When they were cooled I heard the seals pop, removed the lids and put away into the pantry.

In a week I will open a jar and try them! We are all excited about these pickles as we love the commercial Strub's garlic dill sandwich pickles.

Saturday, August 7, 2010


From Seed to Berry in One Season! Our chichiquelites were finally ready yesterday! These little berries are also called "Garden Huckleberries" (Solanum nigrum). They resemble the small wild blueberries but without the flavour of the fresh berry. Chichiquelites do have sweetness and flavour but only when they are fully ripe. Just black and shiny is not ripe enough. You have to wait for them to get dull and a bit softer, then they are very good raw.

The best way to pick chichiquelites at the peak of ripeness is to pick by cluster, rather than berry. If the entire cluster is black, pick them. If there are a few green berries still in the cluster, leave them until they are all ripe. This is the rule of thumb that I have been using and they are very good ripe. They are not bitter or bad tasting when they are not ripe enough. There is just not much flavor there until they are cooked down.

These little gems really come into their own when they are cooked, however! When cooked down with sugar, they do resemble blueberries in taste and are very good! Chichiquelites look like blueberries when they are cooked. They have the same dark purple colour and will probably make excellent organic soap colour, if we don't eat them all. They produce a lot for such a small space and short time!

I do have other berry bushes in my berry and wine garden, but they take years to produce. I needed something that would produce fruit immediately. I got that with the chichiquelites and ground cherries and I am very happy with them both. I have not yet made pie with the ground cherries but intend to do so in the next few days.

Do remember to save seeds for planting next year. I saved a lot of chichiquelite seed this weekend. We'll be planting many more next year than we did this year. I now have an envelope full of dried chichiquelite seed for next year!

This being our first year to grow them, I had to test the chichiquelites out in a pastry. I used some bits of leftover pastry from a previous pie baking last week to make these two little turnovers. Hubby and son pronounced them "fantastic" and "delicious!" They are shocked and pleased that we grew these berries ourselves this year.

I will be making some chichiquelite jelly in the coming week, I think.

We will definitely plant chichiquelites and ground cherries again next year!

How about you? Do you grow these and do have a favourite recipe?