fall garden update

This summer in Austin wasn’t so bad, compared to last summer’s endless days above 100 degrees. Still, it was warm enough that by the time I pulled my dead, dry tomato plants from the ground and tossed them into the compost pile, I was ready for a gardening solution that wouldn’t require me to spend too much time weeding or tending until October or so, when the weather cools down.

You may remember that I am an apartment-dweller and have a plot in an Austin community garden, so I have the advantage of being able to spy on my neighbors and steal their techniques. My boyfriend-and-gardening-partner and I remembered that last year, a neighbor planted pumpkins in her plot and they completely took over. The big, beautiful orange pumpkins grew out of long, green vines that shielded the soil from the sun, suffocated weeds, and seemed to need very little in the way of “tending,” other than the occasional watering. This seemed like exactly the solution we were looking for, but I’m not super excited about growing Halloween pumpkins. Keeping the same technique, we planted seeds for Lakota, butternut, acorn, and sugar pumpkin squash.

The garden’s going wild. It’s so awesome.

The herb bed is still intact, though some of the herbs are suffering in the heat. The peppers (jalapeno, sahuaro, tiny bells) are going strong and being pickled as fast as I can pick them and get them sliced. The vast majority of space in the garden, however, has been given over to gorgeous, trailing, vining, delicious-looking winter squash.

A couple of the seeds never sprouted, or their plant-lings aren’t doing so well, so over the next few weeks I’ll start planting broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and spinach in the spaces between. Last year, the fall garden was pretty orderly– everything was in beds in nice rows. This year, all the beds have been taken down and we’re just going to let things ramble and see how it goes. I’m looking forward to a winter full of orange, starchy, golden, roasted squash.

P.S. I had a panic moment when I wondered, “How am I ever going to make use of all of this mutant squash [note: link is hilarious, but a lot profane]?” But luckily, Two Peas and Their Pod recently posted a round-up of 50 Pumpkin Recipes! I bet a lot of these could be adapted for any sort of winter squash, don’t you think?


strawberry vanilla jam

It all started so innocently. There I was, in the grocery store, picking up sundries for the week’s dinners. Donald and I had just come from the homebrew supply store, where we picked up the ingredients we needed for a Christmas beer. I was thinking how nice it would be to give some of this beer away as Christmas gifts, maybe with some jam. Then, I turned around. Texas strawberries, $1.50 a pound!

I bought 12 pounds, which as soon as I loaded them in the car made me think I had taken leave of my senses. What the heck am I going to do with 12 pounds of strawberries? Panic set in as I simultaneously assured Donald that I would not let 12 pounds of strawberries go bad and remembered that I had only ever made jam twice before, and those results were pretty mixed.

A quick trip to my favorite canning blog, Food in Jars, assured me that all was not lost. I could indeed make something delicious with my zillion strawberries. While Donald made us some delicious nachos for lunch, I sliced ten cups of strawberries (and realized that a pound of strawberries yields about 2 cups of chopped strawberries, so I really didn’t NEED 12 pounds, strictly speaking), combined them with a vanilla bean and some sugar, and stuck them in the fridge.

Then I proceeded to sneak little sugar-covered slices every hour for the next several hours.

The next day, Donald and I made a batch of holiday beer for Christmas gift-giving, we made shortbread for his birthday, we fried fish for fish tacos, and I processed those strawberries into beautiful jam.

Marisa over at Food in Jars does a great job of explaining the process, so head on over there for her recipe for vanilla-scented strawberry jam. Marisa’s recipe got me about a dozen 4-ounce jars, and two half-pint jars. I had a few tablespoons left over, so I poured them into a jar, let it come to room temp, and ate it on toast immediately. The jam had set up nicely, the vanilla was super subtle, and the strawberry flavor was transcendent.

cinnamon-honey butter

I probably never would have made this butter if a friend hadn’t asked me to bring it to a party she was throwing. She had a fancy birthday party at home. It was awesome– everyone got dressed up, we all drank and ate delicious food– and one of the things that was so great is that it was a planned potluck. She asked everyone to bring something from a specific category– a dip, a dessert, a finger-food, a bottle of booze, etc.

I cut the recipe in half, thinking that half a pound of butter was maybe a little much for a small gathering, but feel free to double it back up to its intended amounts. I got a little over a cup of honey butter out of my recipe, and served it in 4-ounce mason jars with some no-knead bread.

Cinnamon-Honey Butter
Adapted from Fly Through Our Window
Makes about 1 cup

You will need:
1 stick of butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup honey
1 tsp. cinnamon

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix with a hand mixer until well-mixed. Pour into jars for serving. Serve immediately, or refrigerate until ready to serve.