The killing frost came a little early this year and I spent the weekend hustling plants inside and preserving up a storm. I don’t actually grow grapes, but one of the perks of living in an Italian neighbourhood is that they are everywhere. I’ve already made up two batches of jelly/jam (one pink and one Concord) and if I ever get through the legions of green tomatoes from the garden in time, I will surely try to do up a small batch of grape wine.
I don’t know whether to call this a jam or a jelly as it sits somewhere between the two. I included grape flesh but omitted the seeds and skins.
These last days of the tomato harvest are fast approaching and I am finding myself increasingly careful about how I use up the remaining fresh fruit. This is it and then I am back to another 8-9 month wait before I get to taste the good stuff fresh again.
It was with this late season panic infecting my brain that I decided I’d better get on enjoying a few last-minute tomato soups. My go-to, there-is-no-other-way-to-enjoy-it-thanyouverymuch method is roasted in the oven. Always with basil. I’ve probably thrown in some oregano now and again. Thyme is also a possible addition. But for the most part I am wholly dedicated to basil in my tomato soup.
I would never dream of marring the perfection of my tomato soup with another herb, certainly not a strong one like fresh sage. Never say never. The other day I was flipping through, “My favorite ingredients,” a cookbook by Skye Gyngell and stopped on a tomato bread soup recipe that used sage as its primary herbal flavour. I’ve made tomato bread soup in the past and while I don’t mind bread soups in general when the ingredients are good and the bread is appropriately dense, I’m always a little taken aback by the mushiness, a textural aversion that I have held onto from my childhood when our cheap canned soup lunches were bulked up by soggy crackers. That said, it wasn’t this aspect of the soup that caused me to pay attention, but the sage.
Sage in tomato soup you say?
I dared myself to try something different and potentially waste one of my last gluts of good homegrown tomatoes. I didn’t follow the recipe exactly. I used more tomatoes than were called for; I didn’t bother measuring out any of the ingredients, come to think of it. Her recipe includes a hot, dried chile pepper, but I decided to use the fresh, mildly hot peppers that are still coming from my garden. I topped mine with grated pecorino cheese. I did not use the chewy, peasant style bread that is often called for in bread soups because I didn’t have any. Instead, I opted for a few slices of stale spelt bread that I had in the fridge. Again though, it was the use of strong, earthy sage versus basil in a tomato soup that I was most interested in. The only reason why I stayed with the bread soup version was because I wanted to stretch this out into a meal.
I was not disappointed. We ate up the whole pot! This would make a particularly warming late fall/winter meal by substituting fresh tomatoes for a jar that has been home-canned (or purchased).
It’s canning season! To get in the spirit, Margaret of A Way to Garden and I are hosting a canning extravaganza and giveaway thanks to our newest sponsor, Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply. Giveaway details can be found at the bottom of this post.
Canning is joyful, fun, and creative activity, but make no mistake, it is work. I’m not sure if it is the creative impulse or the fact of the hard work, but all canners inevitably seem to follow a trajectory that begins in hesitation and fear (OMG will I accidentally kill my friends and family!?), and ends in crazed jar hoarding and pimping. Many of you have followed along on this website or social media where I have mentioned the lengths I have gone to to acquire and schlep home pretty jars that I can’t buy here in Canada. For practical and budgetary reasons I still put up the bulk of my wares in the cheapest jars I can find wither thrifted or new, but the fact remains that I want the aesthetics of my handiwork to reflect the quality of the work I put into filling them. I gotta have nice jars!
I’ve tried all manner of jars over the years, and so far the jars that I love and covet most are simply crafted, glass and rubber works of art made by a German company called Weck. I bought my first set of fancy pants Weck canning jars 4 years ago and I’ve been hooked ever since. Several boxes later and I have managed to assemble a collection that includes at least one of very nearly every size and shape in their catalogue. The first jars I bought back in 2008 were the larger deco and tulip designs. They are absolutely gorgeous jars to be sure, but I immediately discovered that their awkward sizing and shape makes them difficult to can. I fumbled around over the course of two years, sustaining several minor burns, before giving up and deciding that they would be better used elsewhere.
July was painfully hot and dry. The garden suffered and there were days when I was sure that I would lose a few plants as a result.
August, on the other hand, has been wet and somewhat cool. I really can’t complain. I don’t remember the last time I watered anything other than the pots and many plants have bounced back from the extreme conditions. The only drawback is that the earwigs and slugs have regained traction and some of my tomatoes split on the vine due to the rapid shift overnight from extremely dry to wet. I don’t like knowing that summer’s days are limited, but I do like that I can get out into the garden without burning to a crisp!
Clockwise from Top Left: 1. My garden on August 9, 2012. 2. We made Stuffed Squash Blossoms last night. First batch of the summer and SO SO good. 3. Yesterday also marked the first big batch of homegrown Roasted Tomato Soup of the season. It was a day of delicious seasonal firsts. 4. I am in love with ‘Rattlesnake’ pole bean, a beautiful and delicious heirloom that I inherited from my friend Margaret at AwaytoGarden.com. The beans come on fast and grow large quickly, yet I’ve been able to snack on them raw despite their size. Oh dear. ‘Trionfo Violetto’ has got some work ahead if it is going to hold onto its title as my go-to pole bean favourite.
Assorted and Sundry
Our first pocketbook, “Drinking the Summer Garden” has been out for a week. Now that the flurry to publish has started to settle, we’ve decided to roll out a few fun surprises.
Homegrown Crème de Menthe
As with all of my books, I have put together a few free bonus downloads. The first is a recipe for homegrown Crème de Menthe that I think you will love, especially if you have a ton of mint in your garden that needs to be used up pronto. As I mentioned in the recipe intro, crème de menthe was one of the very first liqueurs that I enjoyed. My favourite way to have it then was as a grasshopper, a drink that is so sickly sweet I never imagined that I would ever drink it again. Fortunately, the homemade version is about a thousand times better than anything I’ve bought commercially. I love it! I made the recipe as a small batch, but you can easily double or triple it if you’d prefer a larger batch for gifting. I used 80-proof vodka as it is most widely available. However, 100-proof vodka is great if you can get it — just be sure to add more simple syrup to taste. Finally, the real deal is traditionally made using corsican mint. Again, I adjusted my recipe to be concocted using any mint that you have available since corsican mint is a bit of an acquired taste and harder to come by. I suggest a really strong spearmint to capture that cool minty bite.
Download the free, printable Crème de Menthe recipe here
Please come back if you make it and tell us how it turned out!
$9.99 eBook Bundle $19.99 Paperback
For the second surprise, we’ve decided to giveaway three eBook bundles. To enter, tell us in the comments below about your favourite summer drink. We shared our favourites in our bios at the back of the book. Davin loves sour citrus drinks so his favourite is the Mint Limonada recipe in the book. Mine is a bloody mary sipped through a lovage straw. My homegrown recipe for that drink was published in my previous book, “Easy Growing: Organic Herbs and Edible Flowers from Small Spaces.”
I will draw three winners tomorrow night (Thursday, August 9, 2012) at 9pm EST.
Update: Thanks for entering, the winners have been contacted.