August 29, 2011

Amazing Food Strainer

I've mentioned my fantastic Squeezo-style food strainer a couple times already (here and here). If you do a lot of canning (especially tomato sauce, pumpkin puree, or applesauce) you have to get one of these gadgets. I recently used my Roma Food Strainer to make tomato puree for canning spaghetti sauce. 

Load the hopper full of roughly hacked up tomatoes (I mostly just cut them in half so they wouldn't explode al over the place when they get pulled into the grinder) skins on, stems on, gross corky cracked parts and all. 

Out one end come the skins, cores, stems and seeds.

I passed the waste material through the strainer an extra time to get a bit more pulp out.

Out the other end comes the tomato pulp, perfectly pureed and seedless.

Making tomato puree using the food strainer was a lot easier and faster than the way I used to do it (core the tomatoes, plunge into boiling water, plunge into ice bath, remove skins, chop up, puree in blender). Hopefully I'll be willing to make a few extra batched of sauce this year since it's so easy.

August 26, 2011

Disappointing Watermelon

I picked up a watermelon from the Amish vendors at the farmer's market last weekend. I was really excited because this was going to be my first taste of watermelon this summer. I cut it open and this is what I got:


Well, at least somebody got some satisfaction out of it.

I'm actually kind of worried because the Amish people must have sold like 30 or 40 watermelons that day. Maybe mine was a fluke? Hopefully they won't be getting a swarm of unhappy customers next weekend.

P.S. I do actually have a few small watermelons in my garden. I haven't harvested them yet (partially because they're still small, and partially because I don't know how to tell if they are ripe). Any suggestions on knowing when to harvest?

August 25, 2011

Jumbo Tomatoes

Here are a few photos of my most monstrous tomatoes:

Yellow Brandywine

Prudens Purple

Aunt Ruby's German Green

Pruden's Purple

August 24, 2011

Last Farmer's Market of the Year

I participated in my last farmer's market weekend for the season. The market continues through August, but I foresee the next few weekends being jam packed with canning spaghetti sauce and salsa, traveling, and preparation for the upcoming semester.

I had lots of tomatoes for sale at the market. I sold heirloom tomatoes by the piece and small bags of mixed cherry tomatoes.

Just like last year, the heirloom tomatoes didn't go over very well with the customer base in my area. Many people have never seen a non-red tomato. I actually heard a women walk by and say in a somewhat snide way "Those are tomatoes? They don't look right." Then again, I also heard people pronouncing the word 'kohlrabi' as 'kohl-rabbi' (yes, like the Jewish word). There was also an amusing women wandering the booths shouting out "Does anyone have pomodoro tomatoes? I want to make marinara sauce and I need pomodoro tomatoes." I couldn't bring myself to explain to her that 'pomodoro'  is Italian for 'tomato' and that she was basically asking for 'tomato tomatoes'. I did however, explain that marinara sauce can be made with any kind of tomato (and of course, she proceeded to buy some tomatoes from the Amish vendors instead of from me).

I continue to secretly hate the Amish vendors...I came home with probably 2/3 of the tomatoes I took with me. However, they are currently living out their legacy in a batch of spaghetti sauce.

There were a few things that went over pretty well that surprised me. I sold most of the beets I took as well as all of the edamame (almost every single customer was curious about them). I also sold every single kohlrabi I took, which was almost shocking. I didn't sell a single bunch of beet greens, sage, or tarragon, the swiss chard did not go over well, nor did the sprouts (which always did well last year). The farmer's market is a fickle thing. I don't understand people's choices (my stuff was just as good as the darn Amish people's and my prices were the same), their inability to do simple math, and their lack of food education, but I knew that from last year

August 23, 2011

Principe Borghese

My principe borghese plants are probably the most productive tomato plants this year. I think I planted six plants and that was obviously way too many! Back when I was planning my garden, the thought of truck loads of sun-dried tomatoes seemed like a great idea, but I can barely keep up with these things!

This is just a couple days worth of tomatoes!

I swear, my dehydrator has been running non-stop for the last 3 weeks.

August 22, 2011


Edamame was one of the new crops I wanted to try this year. I got my seeds from Pinetree Garden Seeds. I'm still not sure if edamame are different from normal soybeans, but these ones (the variety was called 'Envy') tasted great!

I grew two very long rows of soybeans this year. I was expecting the beans to ripen around the same time as my bush beans, but I didn't realize that soybeans are a fairly long season crop. They finally started to bulk up last week.

I'm a little disappointed by the size of the pods and the beans. Most of the pods only have two small beans inside. However, they taste great (so much better than the frozen kind you can buy at the grocery store).

I rinsed the pods before boiling them (the hairy pods collect a lot of dirt). Then I boiled them for 2-3 minutes in very salty water. Drain and sprinkle a little extra salt (I always use kosher salt) before serving.

I'm a little overwhelmed by these beans, so I think I'm going to have to freeze some of them. Hopefully they'll taste just as good frozen as fresh.

August 17, 2011

Making Sun-dried Tomatoes

My sun-dried tomatoes aren't technically sun-dried, but rather dehydrated. I started with Principe Borghese tomatoes, which are fairly dry to begin with and are grown especially for drying. I grew about 10 plants this year and I'm getting tons of fruit.

Each tomato is cut in half and put skin side down on the drying rack.

It took quite a few fruit to fill each drying rack.

After drying, the fruit shrink down a lot! I should have weighed them before and after to see the change in water weight. Several large colanders full of fresh fruit fit into a single sandwich bad once dried.

August 15, 2011

Finally Some Tomatoes!

My tomatoes are finally started to roll in. I remember last year at this time, I was already on the tail end of tomato production, but I guess the cold spring really delayed things this year. I'm hoping to get enough tomatoes that I can have a decent selection at the farmer's market this coming weekend. I'm not sure what else I will sell other than tomatoes (basil? eggs? cucumbers? zucchini?).

Japanese Trifele tomatoes are oddly shaped. This one is is like a lumpy tri-cornered hat.

...And the bottom has some of the strangest fasciation I've ever seen!

These three gorgeous Creme Brulee tomatoes ripened all on the same day.

They look quite similar to Black Krim, but the flavor isn't as salty.

August 12, 2011

Bantams At The Zoo

I went to the zoo this past weekend. I think the petting zoo is probably my favorite part of any zoo (because I can daydream about having all kinds of farm animals). I was surprised to catch a glimpse of some bantam chickens (the two on the left). I had never seen any in person...they are soo tiny! I asked the zookeeper about them and she didn't even know they were bantams. She told me they were just baby chickens, but it's pretty obvious that they're bantams (since they already appear to be full grown, yet about 1/3 the size of a normal chicken). They're so cute! I might have to get some in my next round of chickens (whenever that happens).

August 11, 2011

Feather Hair Extensions

I've been noticing more and more feather hair extensions lately, so I was curious where they came from and whether they were real or synthetic.

Turns out, most of them are real rooster saddle feathers. On you can buy 3 dyed saddle feathers for about 18 bucks! I can't believe how expensive they are considering they're basically chicken butt fluff.

I'm not a vegetarian or anything, but I started reading about how these hair extensions are produced and it's kind of sad. Read this article if you're interested. Basically, rooster farmers catering to the fly fishing industry are now producing feathers for the hair extension market. The sad part is that the roosters only grow one set of feathers in their lifetime, so the feathers are "harvested" by killing the bird and removing the saddle. The birds also happen to be inedible, so the meat is wasted (at least they said it is composted).

I wouldn't be so opposed to these hair extensions if the feathers happened to be a byproduct of slaughtering the birds for meat (or if they could be continually harvested from the bird, like angora from a rabbit), but they're not. They are grown and slaughtered solely for their feathers.

How is this different from wearing fur?

August 10, 2011

My Research Is In A Magazine!

Over a year ago, I conducted an experiment to test the use of abscisic acid for reducing drought stress of potted chrysanthemums and asters. This experiment was a little over-the-top in scale and even involved an entire semi-truck shipment of plants! It was a lot of fun, but probably the most time-consuming experiment I've done yet, mainly because it was completely condensed  into a week's time (a more typical experiment is spread across a couple months).

I'm happy to announce that our research the article was finally published in Greenhouse Grower Magazine's August issue. If you're curious about what abscisic acid has to do with drought stress, check out the article.

This particular experiment took up one very large greenhouse and another smaller one. I got to slowly kill off about 1,000 plants by not watering them (on purpose, to test the effectiveness of the chemical application). Despite the cruel things I had to do to the plants, they were absolutely beautiful for a few short days. I get to work at such an amazing place!

August 8, 2011

Chocolate Stripes

I got my first 'Chocolate Stripes' tomato yesterday. I looked this variety up in the Baker Creek catalogue and they didn't list a days-to-maturity number ( I hate when they do that). Considering how large the fruit are, I figured they would take a lot longer to ripen. Instead, they've become one of my earliest tomatoes this year.  Oddly enough, my 'Bloody Butcher' tomatoes, which are supposed to be my earliest (at 55 days to maturity) haven't ripened yet (and it has been ~63 days since I planted them). It has been a weird year...

August 4, 2011

Make Your Own Tahini

I had some really good hummus at a high school open house last weekend, so I really wanted to make some of my own. Tahini (sesame seed paste used in any hummus recipe) is fairly expensive to buy, so I thought I'd make that from scratch too!

I bought about a pound of raw hulled sesame seeds from a local ethnic food store that sells things in bulk. Sesame seeds were only $2.50 per pound!

I sauteed 1 cup (which isn't even half of the bag I bought) in a dry skillet stirring often. The directions I found online said to roast them in the oven, but I didn't really want to heat up the whole house. The skillet method worked just fine.

I toasted the sesame seeds on medium heat for maybe 5 minutes until evenly golden brown.

Let the seeds cool slightly then whiz them up in a food processor with some oil (do not attempt this in a blender). For every 1 cup sesame seeds, add about 1/4 cup vegetable oil or a mix of vegetable oil and sesame oil (if you have it on hand). I had to add a little more than 1/4 cup before the mixture really came together.

The finished product is the color or peanut butter, but a little runnier. This tahini is probably a lot grainier than store bought, but it tastes really good and is super inexpensive.

*I should mention that this made about 1 cup of tahini, which is way more than you would use in a regular sized hummus recipe. The extra can be stored in the fridge for at least a couple weeks or longer.

August 2, 2011

Orange Sungold

The first Orange Sungold tomatoes finally ripened. I'm surprised they took so long to ripen considering they're cherry tomatoes. The flavor is pretty good, but I'm still not a huge fan of cherry tomatoes. I don't like how they burst in your mouth when you eat them.

August 1, 2011

Blossom-End Rot

I decided I might as well pull these tomatoes off now since they're not going to be useable once they ripen. I always seem to get some amount of blossom-end rot and certain cultivars seem especially susceptible. Despite all the bad tomatoes, I still get plenty of good ones!
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