Saturday, February 6, 2016

2016: Year of the Tomato!!

Grow It Eat It announces that in 2016 we're celebrating everyone's favorite, the tomato! You can read all about it on our Year of the Tomato page - we're going to have a red and juicy time! (And other colors too. Let's celebrate a rainbow of tomatoes.)

Many posts coming up on this lovely (botanical) fruit, but meanwhile you can visit the links to old GIEI blog posts via the tomato page link above.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Pulling Supper Off The Shelves

Bad picture of full pantry

One of the reasons I love to can is the bounty you end up with in the dead of winter. As long as there are jars of last year’s produce safely tucked away on the pantry shelves, I feel safe (smug even) when the weatherman starts talking about Snowmageddon and urges everyone to rush out to stores. I must admit, I made sure the wine and chocolate were sufficient to a few days’ cabin fever – but otherwise, we were pretty much good to go with what I had stockpiled from last year’s garden.

I know a lot of people don’t can tomatoes – they freeze them instead. But I do both – partly for space (only so much on the pantry shelves, only so much in the freezer) and partly for flavor and convenience of use. I like the flavor of canned tomatoes and you don't have to thaw them. I can quart and pint jars of tomatoes, spaghetti sauce, salsa V-8 (or my equivalent) and Bloody Mary mix, which is just as delicious in soup as in vodka. 

Half a quart of canned tomatoes going into soup
There are jars of bread and butter pickles (which is lovely on a tuna melt to say nothing of with chicken sausage or turkey sandwiches or just out of the jar for a sweet-sour snack), pickled lemon peppers for adding to virtually anything needing a little kick, and lemon peppers in sherry for black bean soup, curried red pepper jelly (a great hostess gift when you’re rushing out the door to a party your forgot you were invited to) and great on goat cheese and crackers or mixed into venison stew. There’s raspberry jam, raspberry shrub and raspberry vinegar.  Tomato bullion, a spicy mix of tomatoes, onions, black pepper, a little brown sugar and celery seed is called Ma Comp’s Soup Seasoning in Maryland’s Way Cookbook. A couple of tablespoons in a mug of hot water is a delicious and quick mid-morning pick-me-up.

There are pickled dilly green beans, which are nice when someone stops in for cocktails – also one of the imperatives when someone slogs through snow or mud to come visit because they’re going nuts at home after several days of shoveling. There are also dried herbs – oregano is particularly easy as is thyme and they taste so much fresher and more flavorful if you do it yourself – and dried beans – calypso beans and tiger’s eye, which I particularly like. (My husband very sweetly shells them out in the evening in late fall). To complement these home-grown and home-canned things, I stock other dried peas, beans and lentils and tins of things like sardines and tuna, chipotle peppers, and anchovies.

Sautéed leeks, onions and celery for tomato and white wine soup
Tomato and white wine soup about to simmer. Easy lunch
I freeze a lot of things too, and not just the things that aren't safe to can in a water bath. Last year I had plenty of tomatoes and peppers and so sautéed a kind of quick sofrito, a tomato-pepper-onion seasoning you can pull out and throw into a frying pan full of chicken or chorizo and rice with a little white wine and have supper in no time flat. I also did something I saw on TV years ago – put about four large tomatoes and one big onion into a Dutch oven with about 2-3 tablespoons of melted butter and let the whole thing simmer on the lowest possible heat until it’s all soft. Maybe 35 minutes. Puree it, cool it and stick it in the freezer in a quart bag or container. Pull it out to make a quick vodka sauce for pasta, or in my case, use it as the very quick base for red pepper soup. I happened to find three beautiful fresh red peppers (when I went back out to the grocery story AFTER everyone had picked the shelves pretty clean), chopped them up, threw them with three cloves of chopped garlic into a pot of that tomato-onion-butter base along with a chicken bullion cube and voila! Soup!

Why am I gloating? (AM I gloating?  I like to think of it as encouragement). Because NOW is the best time to start planning what you can plant to have a full pantry next winter, when Snowmageddon 2017 comes. The seed catalogues are here now, you can look with starry-eyed wonder at the perfect garden that you will plant (in your dreams), and you might be looking around your pantry – or whatever shelves or storage you have for what they could hold. (Marisa in Philly keeps hers in the closet along with her shoes).
Having a stocked pantry, or closet or whatever is like money in the bank.

Pureed tomatoes and onion in a little butter

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Maximize the Nutritional Benefits of Your Garden with This One Step

In my work in nutrition I am often asked the question “what is one thing I can do to improve my health?” My answer is almost always “eat more vegetables!”  The Dietary Guidelines of America, recently re-released with new changes as of January 2016, state that half of our daily caloric intake should come in the form of a fruit or a vegetable.  It is especially important to focus on eating more vegetables because they are low in sugar and calories while being rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals. 

Phytochemicals are chemicals in plants that have a health giving property but do not fall under that category of a nutrient (fat, carbohydrate, protein, vitamin or mineral).  According to the Produce for a Better Health Foundation there may be as many as 4,000 different phytochemicals found in the plant kingdom. These chemicals serve many roles for the plants including protecting them from plant diseases.  Likewise, when we consume them through plant foods we can enjoy the health benefits of these phytochemicals.

You may have heard of some of these healthful chemicals including antioxidants, anthocyanidins, polyphenols and carotenoids. Often, these healthy chemicals are also pigments, giving the plant vibrant color.

Since these healthy phytochemicals are often associated with color you can maximize your phytochemical consumption through eating a variety of colorful fruit and vegetables. For example most orange foods contain beta-carotene which is great for your immune system and vision while purple foods often contain anthocyanidins which promotes blood vessel health. To learn more about the specific health benefits of these colorful chemicals visit this great interactive online tool from Produce for a Better Health Foundation:

Since now is the time gardeners start receiving seed catalogs and thinking about which seeds you will order it is a great time to start planning how you will bring a rainbow of color into your garden. You could grow red tomatoes, green broccoli and purple onions to get that color but you can also experiment with different varieties like yellow tomatoes, purple potatoes, pink beans, red lettuce or yellow cauliflower.  Often you can even get seed packets with multiple varieties.

So to answer the question I posed at the beginning of this post about one thing you can do to maximize the nutritional benefits of your garden: Grow a variety of colorful foods in your garden to ensure a wide range of wonderful and health promoting phytochemicals. 

Sunday, January 31, 2016

You're invited! Montgomery County MG's Spring Gardening Conference

More information at This is always a great event, so check it out!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Links for winter reading

Hello again - it's winter and that means time for a links round-up. In other words, have some stuff I've bookmarked over the last several months that you might enjoy reading too, in between ordering seeds and planning this year's garden.

If you'd like to find some new and interesting sources for your seeds, read Margaret Roach's "A Way to Garden" interview Power-Shopping the Seed Catalogs With Joseph Tychonievich.

And you might want to consider growing cauliflower this year, since it's hard to find or afford in stores right now.

While we're on brassicas, Michael Twitty has a great post on the history and culture of collards: A Letter to the Newgrorati: Of Collards and Amnesia.

This is from way back in September: Adrian Higgins on container gardening in cities.

And here's local blogger Susan Harris on Garden Rant, talking about her favorite watering tools.

Why Pumpkins and Squashes Aren't Extinct: how they became domesticated.

The UN General Assembly has declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses (leguminous crops harvested dry). I guess Grow It Eat It was just ahead of the curve with our 2015 Year of Beans and Peas! (We'll be giving you updates on our Year of Tomatoes soon.)

But other organizations do Year-Of celebrations too. The International Herb Association has picked Capsicum (or Peppers) to celebrate as Herb of the Year in 2016. And (since I just happened to find it randomly) University of Missouri Extension has declared this the Year of the Carrot.

Speaking of carrots, this is very important: Baby Carrots Are Not Baby Carrots.

How about we wind up with some beautiful things? Salad-making as performance art, vegetable portraits by Lynn Karlin, and fruit and vegetable photographic tableaus by Brittany Wright.

Enjoy and happy January!