Garlic & Texas

As we get out and about now selling our herbs a Farmer’s Markets and Garden Festivals, I am frequently asked if I have any garlic.  When I ask questions to clarify just what the customer is looking for, I am surprised that they are looking for seedlings so that they can grow their own Garlic.  How marvelous!  Just one problem…

If you want to grow garlic in Texas you need to plant is in September, the same with strawberries- but that is a whole other blog and soapbox.  Once planted in September, the bulbs will sprout and grow all winter long then in June or so, the tops will start to turn brown and it is time to harvest.  Yes, no matter where you live garlic takes that long to grow.  But, it is so worth it and it really is easy.

To get started, you will need something to plant- right?  Garlic can be purchased in the store as a bulb.  In that bulb are many cloves.  Each clove when planted will produce another bulb and the cycle just keeps going.  So, once you purchase your garlic you will not ever need to purchase more, just save some cloves from your harvest and you will be good to go.  You can plant the garlic from the grocer or you can order from a seed company.  If you order from a seed company you will know exactly what variety you are getting and in the supermarket you will have no idea.  I have planted plenty from the grocer and did just fine.

The looser the ground, the better for growing garlic.  However, I have grown in clay and done fine.  Just dig a little whole twice as deep as the clove is long and plant the clove pointy end up.  Then wait.  You can inter plant with something like lettuce that has a shallow root system to make use of the open soil and double your harvest from the same square footage.  For the best harvest, you will need to water- but no more than you would for any other crop.

You will know when to harvest by the fact that the stalks have bloomed and now are beginning to turn brown.  Use a pitch fork or something similar to loosen the soil.  Gently pull the garlic up.  Spread the stalks on a dry and flat surface and let the cure (dry out a bit and the outer “paper” will dry).  Garlic can by stored for the better part of the year easily meaning that if you plant enough you will never need to buy garlic again.

Happy Planting!

garlic bulbgarlic plantinggarlic young plantgarlic bloom

“Orange” You Glad You Read This!

What I am about to share with you is the simplest of all homesteading, self-sufficient things.

Making your own orange oil cleaner.

It is this simple:

Peel oranges- eat the oranges

Place the peelings in a large jar and cover the peelings with vinegar.

Let set in a sunny window for about 3 weeks- longer is OK, less time will make it weaker.

You can collect the peelings over several days to a week.

Strain vinegar into a clean jar.

That is it!  I dilute it by half into a spray bottle.

Now you can have high quality orange cleaner for just pennies and you know exactly what is in it.

Orange oil

Straining the oil
Straining the oil

 

How To Make An Herb Infused Oil

Filling a large jar with citronella to make an infused oil.
Filling a large jar with citronella to make an infused oil.

There are many reasons for making an infused oil and all are great.  Really, the infused oils fall into two categories- for culinary purposes or medicinal purposes- because of all the great benefits of herbs, any  oil used for culinary purposes gets to double as a medicinal oil.  Either way, infused oils are made the same way- and it is simple.

You will need:

1 qt jar- clean and DRY

Desired herb

desired oil- I like to use olive oil, it is good for you and easily available.

Place 1/3 cup of dried herb in the jar, add enough oil to the jar to fully cover the herb.  Check jar after a few hours to make sure the herb material has not soaked up the oil and left any of the herbs exposed.  If this has happened, add more oil to cover herbs.  Make certain that your jar and all utensils are dry as moisture will ruin your oil.

Cover the jar with a piece of cotton cloth, cheese cloth or an unbleached coffee filter and secure it with a rubber band.  Do not cap with a lid yet as the herbs may release gasses that can blow the lid off.  The results would be awful to clean up!  Let the oil infuse on a sunny window seal or the kitchen counter for at least 10 days.

After that time, strain out herb matter and discard to the compost pile.

The resulting oil can be stored in a glass bottle at room temperature for up to one year.

Citronella oil ready to steep.  Always label with name and date- leave nothing to chance!
Citronella oil ready to steep. Always label with name and date- leave nothing to chance!

Suggestions for medicinal oil-

  • Mullein for ear pain.- add a drop to the hurting ear.
  • Calendula will sooth and heal skin
  • Lemon Balm will help to sooth the nervous system.
  • Simply rub oil on skin and let your skin absorb the oil and use the herbal goodness.

Suggestion for Culinary Oil-

  • Lemon Pepper Oil- zest of one lemon, 2 tsp of multicolored peppercorns, 1 cup of olive oil
  • Garlic, Chili, and Oregano
  • Parsley and Cilantro
  • Basil and Garlic

There are so many combinations so explore and be creative!

Hyssop- An Ancient Herb With Benefits Today

A lovely herb for the body and the garden.
A lovely herb for the body and the garden.

“Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” Psalm 51:7

For centuries, herbs were used more for health and healing more so than for simply culinary purposes and hyssop is one of the oldest in recording.

Hyssop is one of those that has been known for its abilities to help clear excess mucous and phlegm.  Hyssop is also said to be a caminative- an a herb or preparation that either prevents formation of gas in the gastrointestinal tract or facilitates the expulsion of said gas, thereby combating flatulence. With antiseptic properties, this is an herb that is also good for skin irritations , scrapes and bruises.  An excellent herb for combating the common cold.

Two good sites for herb information say this about Hyssop

Medicinal Action and Uses—Expectorant, diaphoretic, stimulant, pectoral, carminative. The healing virtues of the plant are due to a particular volatile oil, which is stimulative, carminative and sudorific. It admirably promotes expectoration, and in chronic catarrh its diaphoretic and stimulant properties combine to render it of especial value. It is usually given as a warm infusion, taken frequently and mixed with Horehound. Hyssop Tea is also a grateful drink, well adapted to improve the tone of a feeble stomach, being brewed with the green tops of the herb, which are sometimes boiled in soup to be given for asthma. In America, an infusion of the leaves is used externally for the relief of muscular rheumatism, and also for bruises and discoloured contusions, and the green herb, bruised and applied, will heal cuts promptly.  A Modern Herbal

Hyssop is used in herbal medicine to move excesses of fluids or phlegm. Since the expectorant qualities of the herb depend on its essential oil, always brew hyssop tea in a closed vessel and keep the bottle of hyssop tincture tightly closed. American folklore prescribes a bath of hyssop to help ease rheumatism. Japanese research published in 2003 in the Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology suggests that hyssop teas can help lower the sharp increase in blood sugars after eating which is common to people who have or who are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes.    Mountain Rose Herbs

There is also good information at www.livestrong.com

Not only does hyssop help the body, it is beautiful in the garden.  An evergreen perennial, bushy herb, growing 1 to 2 feet high, with square stem, linear leaves and flowers in whorls, six- to fifteen-flowered.  The blooms, depending on the variety of the plant, are going from August to October.   The colors of the herb vary in color some being blue, white or red.  Just as with all other herbs, butterflies and insects love the blooms.  Being an evergreen you will have green herb to work with all year long.

Your health, your responsibility-For educational purposes only This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.
This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Sauce Bechamel

The only thing that will make this sauce better if fresh raw milk.  Me & my Saanen dairy goat kid.
The only thing that will make this sauce better if fresh raw milk. Me & my Saanen dairy goat kid.

A few years back, when I decided that in the way of eating my family deserved better, I found myself in a quandry.  You see, when you cut processed and boxed food out of your diet you cut out a lot of convenience- at first glance.  Because of the lack of teaching basic fundamentals in the kitchen, most of us don’t know how to cook quickly and from scratch.  The truth of the matter is that if you master a few certain sauces, you can make a gourmet meal in the amount of time it takes to cook up Hamburger Helper.

I hesitate to use the word “sauce” because I am concerned that those reading this will think of the little buckets of BBQ sauce handed out with the non-food items we eat from the drive thru windows.  But in real cooking, a sauce is the body of the dish, it brings the ingredients together.  It’s the part of the dish you can’t leave behind, why do you think the French love sauces and bread. You have to have the wonderful bread to soak up every last bit of sauce left on the platter- either that or you will find yourself using your fingers which is frowned upon in certain circles.

Anyway, as I say we were cutting box dinners out of our lives.  This may sound funny, but around my house we  really liked the Tuna Helper. I added peas and carrots to it and this made a tasty lunch for me and the kiddos.  So, I really wanted to figure out how to recreate that at home.  I knew that somewhere was a real food version of the powdered sauce that came in the box.  I stumbled upon a recipe for Bechamel Sauce, it sounded creamy and good.  Once I had made it and tasted it I knew that this was the sauce I had been wanting for our lunches.  I cooked up some pasta combined it with the sauce, tuna, and peas.  What a tasty dish and so, so simple.  I must admit that the first batch of Bechamel was a bit thick, but with a little practice it was perfect.  My daughter, Savannah, quickly picked it up and now makes a mean sauce without ever consulting a cookbook.

This sauce goes well with any sort of poultry, fish, shellfish, and most vegetables.  A great addition to the basic sauce is garlic, as a matter of fact, garlic is the basic recipe for our family.  I add garlic to just about everything given that this is an herb that has so many great health benefits.  Once you learn this sauce, quick meals made from real food are easy to assemble and are as nutritional as they are tasty.  Recipes of this type are what folks need to be able to make meals that have the convenience and speed of boxed dinners but the nutrition of whole foods.  Now some of you may take a look at the ingredients and worry about fat and calories.  However, read the ingredient labels on the ingredients- butter, milk, wheat, garlic, salt.  Now, go read the ingredients label on the boxed dinners in the pantry.  Stark contrast in the least.

Sauce Bechamel

2 Tbsp unsalted butter (real butter not margarine)

3 Tbsp flour

2 cups milk with 1/4 tsp of salt

1 clove of garlic minced (optional)

In a heavy saucepan or 9 inch cast iron skillet (which is what I use), melt the butter then stir in the flour , by the way this is what is called a Rue.  Cook together at a foam, but not hot enough to brown the flour add the garlic at this time.  After 2 minutes, stir in milk.  Stir quickly with a wire wisk or slotted metal spoon and bring to a boil, boil for approximately 1 minute. Salt and pepper to taste.

All done- its that easy.

An easy recipe using this sauce would be to add 2 cups of diced cooked turkey (or chicken), 1 cup of cooked peas or carrots, and 16 oz of cooked pasta and heat through- this will feed up to 6 people.  You don’t get much easier than that!

What is your favorite easy and healthy meal?

Could You Use A Little More “Thyme”?

Beautiful, lemon creeping Thyme
Thyme
Kitchen Dictionary: thyme
Pronounced: TIME
This is one of those little plants that laughs in the face of a Texas summer and remains undaunted by a few freezes.  The creeping variety has been spreading between the rock stepping stones in my herb garden for months.  I have to harvest it or it will cover the stones.  It is fabulous!  With dark green foliage that is so petit it belies its strong flavor, it is a perfect choice for edging the bed or filling in between the stones.
For me, it was surprising to see that Thyme is classified as a Southern European and Mediterranean ingredient.  I thought it was totally southern cooking.  When you think of decidedly southern dishes such as Chicken n’ Dumplins, Turkey & Dressing, Roast Chicken, Meatloaf, and so on, Thyme is a key player in creating the warm comforting tones of these dishes.  If I am boiling chicken for almost anything, I have Thyme in the pot, too.  Nothing beats the flavor of a lightly battered filet of Tilapia with Thyme mixed in the flour and cornmeal, I don’t care who you are- that is good right there!
Being that Thyme is a perennial, it is easiest to start with a seedling in the garden.  Soggy places are no good for Thyme as it likes will drained soil.  Lots of sun is a must, but a little afternoon shade in a Texan summer is greatly appreciated.  This is an extremely easy plant to grow.
With Thyme being available in the garden year round, there is no reason not use fresh Thyme in all your cooking.  Just snip off what you need and chop it finely or tie the sprigs together with kitchen twine and remove before serving.  Thyme is a well-mannered herb and is not given to being over-powering in a dish.  To a roasted chicken, I will sprinkle about 2 teaspoons over the skin or add about 2 tablespoons to a pot of soup.  Your personal tastes really are the determining factor in how much to use.  Experience is the best teacher, so give it a try.
 
However; some days it may not be very convenient to get to the garden, so I like to keep dried herbs in the pantry. To dry Thyme, cut as much as you want from the plant- but never taking more than two thirds of the mother plant- and using a rubber band, secure the stems and hang in a dry place with good air circulation.  I have a little “clothes line” strung above my refrigerator where I clip bunches of herbs for drying.  Once dry, which will take about 2 weeks, remove the leaves from the stems and place the leaves in a air-tight container and store out of the sunlight.  Dried herbs keep for about 6 months and any extra you may have makes great gift ideas.

A mini clothes line works great for drying herbs
Matches well with: beef, carrots, chicken, figs, fish, goat cheese, lamb, lentils, onions, peas, pork, potatoes, soups, tomatoes, venison
So, get planting!  Everyone needs a little more “thyme” in their day!

Dill Crisps, Yum

This is a tasty addition to a veggie or dip tray.  It makes good use of that fresh dill in the garden.  After all, even though I love to feed the Swallowtails, I love to eat it myself also!

Dill Crisps

2 Whole wheat pitas
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons minced fresh dill
1 tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Preheat oven to 400′

Slice each pita into 8 triangular wedges.  Seperate each triangle in to two at the seam.  Set the triangles, crumbly side up, on a slotted broiler rack.

In a small dish, combine the olive oil, dill, and cheese.  Use a pastry brush to paint the mixture lightly onto the triangles.  Bake in the center of the oven until just brown a the edges and slightly curled.  about 5-7 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Growing Dill

Dill is so pretty when it blooms

If your looking for an easy to grow herb, Dill is a great choice.  For beginner gardeners there is nothing to boost the confidence the way Dill can.  Not only is it easy to grow, but it makes your fish and tarter sauce taste wonderful.

Of course, there are many more ways to use dill.  Dill goes great with cucumbers, it is a key ingredient in pickles.  Many dips make use of dill as well.  I have also found that the bags of lettuce that had a sprig of dill in them stayed much fresher longer.  I can’t document the science behind it, but it works.

The first year that I had my garden boxes I planted dill in the bed with other herbs.  The dill grew easily and went to seed.  The seed dried and then fell to the ground.  The following fall, the seed sprouted and I had fresh dill until the first frost.  The dill had time to seed before the frost so I had dill the next spring.  Now, I have lots of dill.  This is not a problem since dill is not an invasive plant, it grows quickly and then dies back.

Another reason to plant lots of dill is to feed the Black Swallowtail Butterfly babies.  Black Swallowtails only feed on dill and other members of the carrot family as caterpillars.  I love seeing these beautiful butterflies fluttering around in my gardens.  So, I plant enough for me and for them.

The caterpillars I love to feed
Black Swallowtail Butterfly
The Beautiful Black Swallowtail

Not only do butterflies feed on dill, but many other good bugs love the dill blooms.  Dill fits in nicely with gardens planned to attract pollinators and good bugs.  Last but not least, I love the scent and the beauty that dill brings to the garden.  Dill is a favorite of mine and will stay in my landscape as long as I garden.  My mother says whenever she smells dill it reminds her of summers spent at the farmer’s market selling produce with her grandmother.

Dried Dill Seed Heads
Rub the seed heads and drop the seeds into the envelope

Could You Use A Little More "Thyme"?

Thyme
Lovely plant and wonderful scent
Kitchen Dictionary: thyme
Pronounced: TIME
This is one of those little plants that laughs in the face of a Texas summer and remains undaunted by a few freezes.  The creeping variety has been spreading between the rock stepping stones in my herb garden for months.  I have to harvest it or it will cover the stones.  It is fabulous!  With dark green foliage that is so petit it belies its strong flavor, it is a perfect choice for edging the bed or filling in between the stones.
For me, it was surprising to see that Thyme is classified as a Southern European and Mediterranean ingredient.  I thought it was totally southern cooking.  When you think of decidedly southern dishes such as Chicken n’ Dumplins, Turkey & Dressing, Roast Chicken, Meatloaf, and so on, Thyme is a key player in creating the warm comforting tones of these dishes.  If I am boiling chicken for almost anything, I have Thyme in the pot, too.  Nothing beats the flavor of a lightly battered filet of Tilapia with Thyme mixed in the flour and cornmeal, I don’t care who you are- that is good right there!
Being that Thyme is a perennial, it is easiest to start with a seedling in the garden.  Soggy places are no good for Thyme as it likes will drained soil.  Lots of sun is a must, but a little afternoon shade in a Texan summer is greatly appreciated.  This is an extremely easy plant to grow. 
Top of Form
Bottom of Form
With Thyme being available in the garden year round, there is no reason not use fresh Thyme in all your cooking.  Just snip off what you need and chop it finely or tie the sprigs together with kitchen twine and remove before serving.  Thyme is a well-mannered herb and is not given to being over-powering in a dish.  To a roasted chicken, I will sprinkle about 2 teaspoons over the skin or add about 2 tablespoons to a pot of soup.  Your personal tastes really are the determining factor in how much to use.  Experience is the best teacher, so give it a try.
Thyme is perfect for filling gaps in a rock pathway
However; some days it may not be very convenient to get to the garden, so I like to keep dried herbs in the pantry. To dry Thyme, cut as much as you want from the plant- but never taking more than two thirds of the mother plant- and using a rubber band, secure the stems and hang in a dry place with good air circulation.  I have a little “clothes line” strung above my refrigerator where I clip bunches of herbs for drying.  Once dry, which will take about 2 weeks, remove the leaves from the stems and place the leaves in a air-tight container and store out of the sunlight.  Dried herbs keep for about 6 months and any extra you may have makes great gift ideas.
A “mini- clothesline” works great for drying small amounts of herbs
Matches well with: beef, carrots, chicken, figs, fish, goat cheese, lamb, lentils, onions, peas, pork, potatoes, soups, tomatoes, venison 
So, get planting!  Everyone needs a little more “thyme” in their day!

Say Hello To My Little Friend

I have a new herb that I am really excited about. Lovage.

When I began gardening in order to provide as much of our own food as possible, celery was a vegetable that I loved to cook with for seasoning and flavor. The problem was that celery does not like Texas summers. So, what was I to do? Now, thanks to Lovage I can have the flavor I love. To use Lovage, all you have to do is snip of a sprig or two, chop it up and add it to whatever dish you are cooking.

An added benefit to using Lovage versus celery, is that Lovage has medicinal properties as well. It stimulates the immune system and is good for treating winter illnesses and respiratory tract concerns.

Lovage is easy to grow. If you purchase a transplant, simply plant it in sun, shade, or partial shade- just be certain that the soil is well drained. One plant is all you need as Lovage grows to 3 ft in one season. The plant is herbaceous (dies back in winter) but being a perennial it comes back every year. What more could you ask for?