Planning to grow everything for this year's Thanksgiving dinner.
Tuesday, January 3, 2012
Garden Goals for 2012I have been gardening most of my life since my parents were pretty frugal folks and enjoyed "putting up" a lot of home grown food each year. In fact, most years were identified by how many quarts of tomatoes or beans were canned, the number of pounds of squash, onions, potatoes, beets, turnips, etc. were harvested. It was a small Illinois town and gardening was a neverending source of challenges and amusement.
Now with a supermarket/Farmer's Markets/farmstands around every corner, the simple act of gardening doesn't seem to be as prevalent. I grow my usual crop of tomatoes, peppers, beans and greens mainly for immediate use. Once in awhile, I find myself overloaded with a crop that needs to be "put up", or someone with a bigger garden gives me their surplus, so I get to do some canning. (FYI: I put up 13 quarts of beans this year. :>} )
Every long winter in Wisconsin gives me plenty of time to think and plan my summer garden. Over the years I have discovered that it is fun to try new varieties and have had many successes and failures. That is the most fun of gardening in my opinion.
After yet another exhausting 2011 Thanksgiving dinner where I attempted to make memorable, gourmet dishes which turned out to be best forgotten, I decided to simplify my favorite holiday. So, with that in mind, I have decided that whatever goes on my Thanksgiving table this year will have come from my garden (or locally, if disaster strikes). So, for the first time I will be planting potatoes (which I can buy for $5 for 50 pounds up here in the fall) and sweet corn -which my husband never eats. I will have green beans (naturally, for the green bean casserole), and squash. (Don't tell my granddaughters because they think they are sweet potatoes.) I will also attempt to grow yummy brussel sprouts which have rapidly become a favorite vegetable option for our feast.
Tomah, WI is "The Gateway to Cranberry Country" and my very good friend's husband works on a marsh, and he will rake some fresh ones for me. The real challenge will be the peanuts for the traditional "Thomson Peanut Salad" recipe that has been on every Thanksgiving table for generations. This year, I will attempt to grow my own peanuts. I don't need too many because no one actually eats very much, but HEY, it's a tradition!
For dessert, I have two apple trees and a pumpkin patch. Piece of cake!! We love pecan pie, but I don't think I can pull that one off in this decade and Zone 4. We are the Dairy State afterall, so perhaps some homemade ice cream would be a great addition to our menu.
So now I am perusing all the wonderful seed catalogs that are arriving every day and researching the different varieties of plants from which to choose. Hopefully, that will keep me busy until April when I can start growing some of my plants indoors.
Monday, June 18, 2012
How Does My Garden Grow?Last January in the midst of winter, I decided that this year the purpose for my garden would be to grow everything I serve at our Thanksgiving dinner including peanuts for our traditional "Thomson Peanut Salad". Silly me, I thought the peanuts would be my biggest challenge, but as luck would have it, my "green bean casserole" beds are not doing well.
The first 4x4 bed I planted came up so sporadically that I had to replant most of it, and the second time the plants came up looking rather damaged. Not sure if it is a root rot problem due to overwatering on my part or something more sinister. I planted a second bed and it came up better, but now the plants in both beds have brown spots all over the leaves and look as if they will surely die. I am really in need of expert advice because beans shouldn't be this hard to grow, and it is the one crop that I enjoy the most during the summer.
Other than the beans, everything else is doing pretty well. My brussel sprouts are looking extremely healthy as are my pumpkins and squash. My "mashed potatoes" are growing away in their grow bags, and the sweet corn I planted came up so well I had to do a lot of thinning. Tomorrow, I am going to decide if I should just pull out the beans and start over with another variety such as Blue Lake since that seems to be a popular kind or find another spot to plant them. I really need advice and don't know where to turn since this has never happened before. Anyone??
Monday, September 10, 2012
Thanksgiving CountdownIt is 74 days until Thanksgiving and I think my family will not starve this year. The green beans that were giving me fits in my last entry "snapped out of it" and really did well. I've frozen a couple of pounds of young, slender beans that I plan to use in my green bean casserole, ate tons of fresh ones, gave some away, and canned 18 quarts. All of this out of two 4 x 4 foot beds.
I planted 3 buttercup squash plants and have over a dozen of the beauties sprawling all over the punkin' patch, and the pumpkins!! Oh my, there must be 2 dozen of them for carving as well as pie pumpkins, and this isn't counting the little ones I grew for decorating. So it is safe to say there will be pumpkin pie for everyone and whipped squash for dinner.
My corn did fairly well in the first planting, and I froze some on the cob for the grandkids as well as several pounds cut off the cob for however we choose to serve it. We ate some fresh and it was delicious, but the second planting didn't do as well with the ears only partly developing. We had such beastly hot weather and no rain, and when I watered, I watered low and long where overhead watering might have aided the pollination process better. It seemed that the tassles were loaded with pollen before the silks were ready to recieve it, but even with the half cobs, I harvested as much as I could find.
My brussel sprouts look great and taste great as well although not as large as you find in the store. I just cut the tops off the 4 plants and hope that this will encourage them to put all their energy into plumping up the remaining sprouts. A frost will most likely make them even tastier, or so I've heard.
Ok, so now I've got corn, green bean casserole, pumpkin pie, squash and brussel sprouts for dinner, but what is the most important part of diinner? Turkey, you say? No, but I'll get to that later. It is mashed potatoes, or at least in my opinion. This year I planted potatoes for the first time in my gardening career. Since they don't grow well with squash and pumpkins, I bought some potato "grow bags", one large, one medium-sized. When planting the spuds I put in the highest number that was recommended for each size and when my neighbor and fellow gardener looked at them a few weeks ago, he commented that they were probably going to be small given how many plants I had in each bag. He certainly wasn't wrong. I just dumped the smaller of the two bags on a tarp and harvested my first crop of potatoes. And, small they were! Some were the size of grapes although there were some the size of small potatoes you buy at extravagant prices at the store. I just cooked some of the smallest ones and they were delicious so I think we'll have mashed potatoes afterall. We may just have to rethink how we prepare them because you can imagine how long it will take to peel them all. This year we may be having mashed potatoes with their skins. Healthier, right?
Then, of course, I must fill you in on the peanut crop for my family's annual "Thomson Peanut Salad". The jury is still out on that crop because it needs another month of growing time. Today I am going to cover that bed just in case we get an early frost, and since the garden is in a lower area near our pond, it can frost down there sooner than in other places. Hopefully, my harvest will yield at least 1 cup of peanuts which is all I need for the full recipe, but if not, 1/2 cup will do to make less which is more than my family will eat. It's tradition, folks.
Ok, so I also have available in my garden several spices and garnishments to complete my dinner such as parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. So that brings us to the turkey. Since I am not into raising poultry, a friend and former neighbor did some checking and took me to an Amish farm up "on the ridge" so I could place an order for a plump bird the weekend before Thanksgiving. (Not on Sunday, please.) As we drove out of the barnyard after shooing away all the young, curious turkeys that had gathered around our car, I wondered if I was staring into the eyes of THE ONE that would complete my dinner. For just a moment, I considered a vegetarian Thanksgiving, but then where would I get that delicious turkey gravy to go with my mashed potatoes?
Friday, September 28, 2012
55 Days to GoFall is coming early to our garden, and although it is not unusual to have frost at the end of September in Wisconsin, many years the colder weather holds off until October. Not so this year. In the last two weeks, we have had several nights where the temperature dipped down into the low thirties and once even into the high twenties. So it is no wonder that most of my garden is being "put to bed" for the year.
I would have to say that I had an extremely successful garden this year and have put up plenty of food for my Thanksgiving dinner. As I said in my last entry, I even got on the list at an Amish farm for a free range turkey and the local cranberry crop is being harvested as I write. I still have brussel sprouts in the garden that are still doing well, and I am hoping to keep them going for as long as I can because having them fresh for our feast would be ideal.
The last piece of the puzzle has finally found its place in my grand scheme and that would be the peanut crop. Never having grown peanuts before, I wasn't sure how much longer I needed them to stay in the ground because they are said to need 120 days of growing time. It has been difficult to keep them protected given the low nightly temperatures, so I decided to go ahead and pull them today. Guess what? Success!!
I got more than I thought I would and if all goes well, I will certainly have enough for the peanut salad that our family has every year. Now the trick will be to find a place to let them air dry for several weeks where they won't be eaten by my ever hungry squirrels. I will probably find a place in my front room by my southern facing windows. There are 55 days to go, and things are looking mighty rosy.
Thursday, November 8, 2012
Two weeks and countingThanksgiving in now only two weeks away, and after a bountiful summer in the garden, I am ready. A stalk of brussel sprouts is the only thing still growing in my garden. Even though we've had a few temperatures in the 20's and a little snow on Election Day, they seem to be doing quite well, so I may not have to use the ones I froze "just in case". I also have 4 - 5 buttercup squash and a couple of pie pumpkins waiting in the wings for the the big feast. Now I am just waiting for my letter from the Amish family notifying me when I can pick up my free-range turkey.
One interesting side-note is the unexpected 'crop' I harvested when I cleaned out my windowboxes. I had planted sweet potato vines like I often do in my planters, but this year, they pretty much dominated my design. Although a beautiful yellow-green, they crowded out the purple, red, and white flowers I had envisioned would cascade over them. So, when I dumped out the planters, I found not the usual small tubers I would usually find but some pretty hefty spuds. After some research to make sure they were edible, I mashed some with a little butter, and they were delicious.
What a great exclamation point to a successful growing season.
Friday, November 9, 2012
WalnutsAfter 4 - 6 weeks of drying, I decided to crack into the walnut cache. I read where you were to soak the walnuts in hot water for 24 hours and wondered how would you keep the water hot for 24 hours. So I put them in a kettle on the stove and periodically heated the water for a day. Then I set up a "station" in the garage by the workbench's vice and one at a time cracked those little buggers. I had to crack many of them more than once and tried different orientations, but found the pointy ends at the receiving ends of the vice to be the most successful.
After FOUR hours, I was finally done with slightly discolored nailbeds and brown-looking cracks in my fingertips. The sum total of nuts harvested from this adventure was enough to fill one pint jar. There was a lot of nut "meat" left in the shell that I couldn't get to so decided to let them dry out for a few days. I thought they would dry out a little more being exposed to the air and warmth of the house and would be simple to pick out with a nutpick. After picking out about 2 tablespoons of pieces, I decided to give the squirrels an early Christmas gift. They had those suckers cleaned out in a matter of days.
Saturday, November 17, 2012
The TurkeyLast Tuesday I received a postcard from the Amish family from whom I requested a Thanksgiving turkey informing me that "my" turkey would be ready on Saturday, the 17th of November, if it was still ok with me. Immediately, I rushed to the post office with a letter informing them that yes, I would be there around 2:30 on Saturday the 17th to complete this agreement. Couldn't phone them, right?
I pulled off the backtop onto the one-lane dirt road that wound around another Amish farm and took a few pictures hoping to capture the reality of their life for his blog. I knew, however, that it would be rude to take pictures of their home (with their knowledge~ "mybad"), but when I pulled into the farmyard and saw all the feathers, I was sooooo tempted to break a few rules. Luck would have it, though, that the feathers belonged to a goose that had met a similar demise that day
They invited me into their home, weighed the bird at 17 pounds, and @ $2.50/pound and $42.50 later, I left with my bird in a full rigormortis state, legs sticking up at approximatelya 60 degree angle.
Since I couldn't bend his legs, he was kind of hard to fit into a container but finally put him in a canning kettle and covered him with plastic wrap for a few days. Today I made a brining solution, put him in a small cooler 'breast down' and he is now soaking up the deliciousness of a Martha Stewart brine recipe. (By the way, after a few days, his legs are becoming more pliable.)
PS: Once again, I had second thoughts about becoming a vegetarian after reading this postcard.
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Two days and countingOk, so it is now down to only 2 days until the big meal, and although my son, Jared, and his family can't be here this year, I am still pumped about cooking for my daughter, Katie, and her family.
Today I have accomplished the following:
*Made orange/cranberry relish using hand-raked local berries
*Made the infamous peanut salad using my own home-grown
peanuts and cabbage
*Made and chilled pie dough
*Roasted and pureed my pie pumpkins
*Put my local, free-range, Amish raised and harvested turkey in
a brining solution
*Harvested and cleaned the last stalk of brussel sprouts
I plan to assemble the green bean casserole tomorrow, make the pies, roast and puree the buttercup squash, and do some last minute cleaning. Bring it on!!
Monday, November 26, 2012
Thanksgiving PastWhen I began this blog last January I expressed that my desire for having a much simpler Thanksgiving dinner was the root of my gardening plans for the 2012 season. Successfully, I planted and harvested all the food that I could possibly want or need for my dinner with the obvious exception of cranberries and the turkey. Those two items I obtained locally since I live in "The Gateway to Cranberry Country" and near many farm families that humanely raise poultry.
So, the following is the menu for our feast this year. The star performer was naturally the turkey which was very moist, tender, and ever so tasty. I am sorry to say that I didn't get a picture of it after it came out of the oven, but more about that in a minute.
The side dishes consisted of mashed potatoes, a home-made, soupless, green bean casserole, whipped buttercup squash with maple syrup, sauteed brussel sprouts with lemon zest, orange-cranberry relish, and of course, my family's peanut salad. Everything turned out great and we ate leftovers for 2 days afterwards and never got tired of it.
For dessert, we had pumpkin pie and from the black walnuts I gathered from my neighbor's tree I made a Maple Walnut Tart which was simply decadant. My granddaughters even made some home-made ice cream on one of the nights they were here.
So, I accomplished my goal of growing my Thanksgiving dinner in 2012 and am pretty proud of myself, but to say I simplified the final leg of this project without gettling hassled, stressed and exhausted is a stretch. In the final hour while the turkey was "resting" I should have been able to snap a photo of that magnificent bird, but I was too busy with all the last minute dishes and demands that I missed that opportunity. To say I am disappointed about that is an understatement.
So I think I'll give it another try in 2013 and concentrate a little more on the finish line. My garden became an even more enjoyable place to spend time, if that is even possible, and I so enjoyed watching and nuturing my "side dishes". I will plant corn again even though we didn't serve it this year, brussel sprouts, beans, squash, pumpkins and even peanuts. I will NOT gather walnuts for that turned out to be way too time consuming, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a good enough apple crop next summer.
Perhaps when all the seed catalogs start pouring in in the next few weeks I'll add something new to my menu. I'm already planning on growing beets and kale. This has been a very rewarding growing season and I am looking forward to another year. For now, however, my garden is resting and so must I.
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