145. The Harvest Kitchen

It’s been a busy harvest season; yet still I don’t have any canned peaches or pears. We had only about a dozen peaches on our little second-year peach tree and about a dozen pears on the Bosc pear tree. The other pear tree — a Bartlett — is taller and more beautiful and has never had a single pear so far. But the apples are beginning to ripen…

harvest kitchen

And how has my beautiful new kitchen held up under the rigors of harvest season? Well, I can tell you that it hasn’t looked beautiful and pristine lately.

I’ve learned a few tips for all you would-be kitchen designers out there…

kitchen triangle

During harvest season the kitchen triangle is most important — but this triangle is sink, stove, chopping block.  Under my butcher block island are big wide drawers for all manner of utensils. It’s a must to have all those necessary kitchen tools close at hand for chopping, tasting, stirring, filling, straining, and hot jar-lifting.

IMG_6392Also filling a huge need is the deep farmhouse sink. I’ve always loved it, but never more than this canning season. I have asked Mr. H.C. to put his carpenter brain and hands to work to fashion a chopping block that I can put (temporarily) on one side of the sink. That way, I can just  chop tomatoes or peel apples and not worry about the juices dripping on the floor.

IMG_6451 A big, wide windowsill helps too, for ripening green tomatoes, keeping paper towels handy, and putting aside certain fruits or veggies to deal with later.

Clean Kitchen floor!

Clean Kitchen floor!

A comfortable floor to stand on is a necessity — and it has to clean up easily. My VCT (vinyl composition tile) kitchen floor is both of those. It’s cool to stand on in summer bare feet, and mopping up the VCT is fairly easy too. It’s been down now for two years, and I am just now thinking that I should probably strip it and re-wax. After canning season is done. (And I didn’t mention that it is probably the most inexpensive flooring you can buy…)

The soapstone counter that I can put hot pans on with no worries is a must in a canning kitchen. Hot jars, pans of boiling water, a pot of hot tomato sauce — all can go right on the countertop. No, it doesn’t look beautiful and waxed and shiny right now; that’s for after canning season is over.

That lovely little glass “filling cup” came to me from Clara, Mr. H.C.’s mom. It’s been a workhorse this season.

The high faucet and deep sink is fantastic for filling the canner. And I’m not sure if it’s the finish (brushed stainless) or the expensiveness of it, but it never seems to get dirty. For that I’m grateful…

deep sink and high faucet

The biggest drawback I’ve found with the kitchen design is not enough room on the left side of the stove. I’m not sure if that is a permanent state of affairs or not, because that’s the one unfinished area of the kitchen. missing the backsplashThe subway tile back splash will continue around the corner, and there’s a planned shelf above the backsplash where the appliances will sit. Before canning season, I was hedging about this, thinking they were fine right where they were. But now I’m not sure. Storage is limited in this smallish kitchen, so the shelf will be built, but what goes on the shelf is TBD — hopefully before next canning season.

And that brings us to the last necessity for a harvest kitchen — space for one’s jars of Beautiful Canned Goods. I thought the old-and-lovely built-in cupboard would be big enough, but it isn’t.  I’ve purchased five dozen canning jars so far this season; that’s sixty extra jars in a cupboard that was already sort-of full.

Aunt Mary stored her canned goods on the shelves that are four-steps-down from the kitchen in what was probably built as a storage cellar. The shelves are perfectly sized for canning jars, but they are currently filled with the tools of Mr. H.C.’s trade — painting, plumbing, and electrical supplies — and I don’t think they will be cleaned off anytime soon, so here’s the inside of my over-crowded kitchen cupboard:

the fruits of canning season

the fruits of canning season

How I spent August and September… and the apples are just starting. Anyone have an easy recipe for apple butter that doesn’t include burnt pans or exploding pressure cookers?



144. Squashed, but not defeated

Is there any squash with better flavor than butternut?

It’s the only winter squash I’ve ever grown, because, really, why grow anything else?

The groundhogs like it too. groundhog chewed squash

This summer, from four hills of squash, we grew 24 lovely butternuts. And seemingly overnight the groundhog took one or two bites out of half of them. When I discovered the treachery, I covered the garden plot with fencing, just casually thrown over the plants. It seemed to work, and the twelve unblemished squash remained perfect. They are currently curing in the side yard with some early onions.

But that left twelve of these beauties that couldn’t just be stored for fall.

I’ve been trying to can rather than freeze, because our freezer is full, and there’s not much room for anything extra. So I found this website from the University of Minnesota that recommends canning cubes of squash or pumpkin for 90 minutes (quarts) in a pressure canner.

Yes, I had just purchased a lovely made in USA granite-ware pressure canner; and I had two loads of green beans under my belt. I was ready for the 90-minute ordeal…

butternut squashI peeled and chopped and steamed twelve butternut squash, just cutting out the groundhog bites — they were only skin deep, mostly — although there was one that he had obviously had for salad, dinner, and dessert. I only got half of that one…

I wish I had taken a picture of those lovely five quarts of squash for you.

But sixty minutes into the process, I could smell burnt squash. Not good.

I turned off the heat, waited until the pressure dropped, and opened the lid. The water in the canner was gone; it had boiled or steamed or vaporized away…

So now I had five beautiful quarts of squash, just waiting to be botulized.

I let them cool, and the next morning drained all the cubes of semi-canned squash into my big colander, smashed and squashed the squash into puree and put it into bags for the over-crowded freezer.

squash for the freezer

The El Cheapo Method for vacuum packing: Zip the bags most of the way closed, insert a straw just a little way inside and suck the air out of the bag. Zip it shut quickly while pulling out the straw.

Yes, I only got three bags, because I MADE A PIE with the other two cups. We ate it so fast I didn’t get a picture of the pie either. But here you can see the gorgeous orange of fresh squash. We had some for dinner that night as well. It was the most delicious squash we’d ever eaten — picked that day.

My pie recipe was just a regular pumpkin pie recipe using the squash instead — though I do highly recommend the addition of cardamom with the spices. Instead I give you three! yes, three! simple recipes for that delicious butternut squash you are going to buy at your local farmer’s market soon.

Recipes for butternut squash:

Roasted Butternut Bites

Squash bites

Peel squash and cut into cubes. Discard seeds. Toss with olive oil, sea salt, pepper, and balsamic vinegar, and roast in the oven at 425 for 30 minutes, turning the cubes with a spatula every ten minutes. Squash candy…

Fall Butternut Casserole
  • 1 large butternut squash
  • 2 medium onions
  • 2 eggs
  • Fresh nutmeg and thyme to taste
  • 1 c. grated sharp cheese
  • panko or roughly chopped pumpkin seeds for topping, optional

Halve a large butternut squash, and scoop out the seeds. Brush with olive oil and place face down on a cookie sheet and pierce skin with a fork several times. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes or so, until squash is tender. Let it cool.

While the squash is cooling, chop two onions and sauté them in a skillet with olive oil or butter. Add some herbs — thyme is good, and freshly grated nutmeg. Beat two eggs in a bowl, add the onions and herbs and a cup of grated sharp cheese. Salt and pepper to taste, and pour into a greased casserole dish. If you like, you can cover the casserole with panko crumbs. (Another optional topping is roughly chopped pumpkin seeds.) Bake at 350 for 40 minutes.

Squashed Date treats

I have to say I’ve been meaning to make these for months, and I’ve just put it off, so I made a batch finally — especially for this post  (and Mr. H.C. needed a treat for his lunch tomorrow) And yes, I’m sorry I put these little treats off for so long. Yummy and healthy, and a quick little snack — with NO ADDED SUGAR! All told, it took about 20 minutes. I found this recipe on Paleo Grubs, but I changed it up a bit.)

toasted pumpkin seeds Toast 1/2 c. nuts — pecans, walnuts, cashews, or pumpkin seeds and grind them small. I left mine a little chunky because that’s the way I like them.

Soak 1 c. pitted dates in just a little hot water for 10 minutes, so they get soft, and then drain them.

Puree or mash 1/3 c. squash (I had canned pumpkin in my cupboard expressly for this recipe, but why open a can when you’ve got fresh squash?)

Put these three ingredients in your blender or food processor. Add 2 t. vanilla, 1 t. cinnamon, 1/2 t. freshly grated nutmeg and 1/4 t. ground cardamom and a pinch of sea salt. Pulse until the dates are chopped up to your liking. I added a little bit of the sweet date water to help; if you have a food processor, you might not have to do that.

doughScrape your blended mass into a bowl; add 1/4 c. unsweetened coconut flakes, and stir. Roll into one inch diameter balls. Refrigerate for 30 minutes if your dough is too soft to roll. Mine wasn’t. Now you could roll the balls in the coconut if you wanted. It might make them less sticky to eat. I would have gotten 12 balls if I hadn’t been so eagerly testing them to make sure the spices were correct. :-) Store them in your fridge, if you have them that long…

Mr. H.C. gave them a thumbs-up.squashed date treats