Sunday, August 28, 2016

When life gives you hot peppers...

Last week I harvested a handful of banana peppers and, as I always do, stuffed them with cheese and ran them under the broiler. One bite later, I realized that I had made a terrible mistake: I planted HOT banana peppers, not the mild ones that I normally grow.

And the plant was producing peppers like crazy. I was in a pickle about what to do with them. Then I remembered that I was almost out of our Wild Carrot Farm pepper butter, the secret ingredient that I put in my pimento cheese. I had been meaning to stop by my neighbor's farm, just up the road, and buy a case of his locally famous pepper butter. Instead, I decided to make my own.

A quick google search revealed a number of recipes, none of which included butter, but most of which did included a tablespoon or two of flour. A few of the recipes mentioned that one should probably not use flour in recipes that are canned, but they did so anyway. I have a mortal fear of killing my beloveds with foods that I home can, so I researched some more and found a recipe that uses something called Clear Jel, in place of flour. I ordered a bag of it, picked my peppers, and set to work chopping the peppers and discarding the stems and seeds. I added two red pimento peppers to the mix, just for their pretty color.

I pureed the peppers and then added them to a pot and simmered with some white vinegar, mustard, sugar and a bit of salt. I added in the Clear Jel and let the mixture thicken before filling small jar and placing them in the canning pot of boiling water for processing.

I'm quite pleased with the results. The pepper butter is tangy and not too hot. I added a teaspoon to today's lunchtime chicken salad and it gave it just the right amount of oomph. I may even try a dab or two on our pork chops tonight.  And I'm planning to use another scoop of it tomorrow to make some pimento cheese for our Meatless Monday lunch.

So, the next time life gives me hot peppers, I'll know what to do with them. In fact, I may intentionally plant some next year just so I can restock my pantry with homemade pepper butter.

Friday, August 12, 2016


Late winter finds me flipping through seed catalogs, dreaming of my summer garden. In early spring, I can't wait to plant the first peas and radishes. Once the weather warms, I go all out, planting cucumbers, tomatoes, green beans, okra, an assortment of squash, two kinds of potatoes and a bunch of herbs. Early summer, I mostly just admire how beautiful the garden looks.

But now, I spend my days dealing with the consequences of earlier efforts. The harvest (and the weeds) grow exponentially by the day.

I haul in buckets of squash, zucchini, and cucumbers.

My basil turns into bushes and I scramble to turn the bushes into pesto.

Carrots, beets, shallots, onions and garlic are eager to be pulled from the earth, but then demand that I do something with them. The pumpkin and sweet potato vines are out of control -- like things from Little Shop of Horrors.

Just this week, the tomatoes are beginning to redden. The first few off the vine are celebrated with fanfare. But then the pace quickens, and I'm left to find creative ways to use hundreds and hundreds of tomatoes. (There are only so many BLTs that our family can consume.)

I'm not really complaining. There is nothing more that I love than going out to the garden and seeing what can be turned into dinner.  Tonight we are feasting on a Nicoise Salad, which uses up the last of the green bean harvest, some tiny new potatoes, a handful of cherry tomatoes and some lettuce before it bolts. It's topped with a grilled tuna steak and garnished with eggs cheerfully provided by friend Jackie's hens.

My garden work is made easier these days with help from Jack, thankfully home from China.

And he's quite appreciative of his mama's cooking. Makes it all worthwhile.