It was love at first sight when I came upon this display at a farmers’ market. A fully ripe Fairytale Squash is light brown like the one on the left under the halved squash in the photo. I harvested all my Fairytale squashes green this autumn. Fortunately, winter squashes are usually happy to ripen off the vine if you store them someplace warm.
How much squash could you use in a year? Five pounds? Twenty five? How about one hundred pounds of rich, delicious, orange goodness? Back in January I explained how easy it is to grow winter squash. I’m telling you now: with a single hill of the right variety of squash, you can grow 100 pounds or more!
Really Big Squash
I once bought a 27 pound Blue Hubbard squash along with a 20 pound Neck Pumpkin and shared stories about them on this blog. Articles about them included the following:
- Blue Hubbard Squash for a Small Kitchen Garden
- Exploring Neck Pumpkin at Your Small Kitchen Garden
- Freeze Winter Squash from Your Small Kitchen Garden
These squashes were so large, I hold the farmer who grew them in high esteem; I expected never to grow such large squashes. Then I fell in love with Fairytale Squash.
Fairytales Come True
Last autumn, the farmer who had sold me my giant Blue Hubbard and Neck Pumpkin put together a display that included a Fairytale squash sliced open. It was gorgeous! I took a lot of photos and, as winter set in, I bought a Fairytale squash at a fire sale price.
The largest squash I’d dealt with were a Blue Hubbard (27 lbs) and a Neck Pumpkin (20 lbs) I’d bought at a farmers’ market. Neck Pumpkins I grow each year are descended from that original 20 pounder.
Sadly, I never tasted that squash. It got soft very quickly after I bought it, so I ended up harvesting the seeds and composting the rest of it. Honestly, the squash was in bad shape when I bought it; from the get-go I had wanted it for its seeds.
This spring, I planted a single hill of seeds from that Fairytale squash—four seeds started in June and transferred to the garden in July. In about a month, those four plants had taken over half the space I’d reserved for winter squashes; they were crowding out a hill of Butternuts and a hill of Neck Pumpkins (as well as three hills of pickles, my entire carrot patch, and two rows of bush beans).
About a month after planting, a single hill of Fairytale Squash had overtaken a 14 foot long, four foot high trellis. This is was massive growth, though still immature; it hadn’t yet produced blossoms. Eventually, the vines filled twice the volume they do in this photo and produced 5 large fruits. Because I planted late, I lost several very young fruits to autumn’s first frost.
By the end of August, I was hacking off the ends of some Fairytale Squash vines and training others back on themselves. When fruits finally set, I marveled at how large they grew and despaired just a little that they never ripened from dark green to the soft brown I’d seen at the farmers’ market.
Finally, after the first frost, I harvested the unripe Fairytale Squashes and moved them into our dining room where I figured warmth would help them along. There are at least five of these beauties, the smallest of which is over 15 pounds. The largest is a full 33 pounds! This single hill, starting very late in the season, produced more than 100 pounds of food! Had I planted a month or two earlier, it might have produce far more.
Want 100 pounds of winter squash? You can grow that!
The dining room provides a warm environment for my Fairytale Squashes to ripen. The stack weights, perhaps, 90 pounds, and there’s one more squash on the piano bench.
Find more You Can Grow That! posts here: www.youcangrowthat.com.
I needed about 10 of my homegrown, late-season pak choi plants to come anywhere close to the amount I’d have gotten from a single commercially-grown plant. Still, it made a great stir-fry.
Honestly, I thought I’d harvested my last of the season. Two or three weeks ago I brought in all the peppers and winter squash. Last week I dug the remaining sweet potatoes. I even buried most of the main planting bed under 18 inches of autumn leaves. And then there was a dinner pinch.
The full breadth of my meal-planning this month has been, “shop from the freezer.” With Christmas nigh, my wife will want freezer space to stockpile home baked cookies so I’ll try to use something from our freezer in every dinner I prepare until Christmas.
Finding a pack of round steaks sparked thoughts of stir fry. A simple beef and vegetable dish would take little time to prepare and it wouldn’t be a problem to zip to a market for some broccoli or cauliflower. But wait! What about the pak choi?
After I’d pulled the onions in late August or early September, I had planted pak choi seeds in their place. Sprouts appeared quickly, but cloudy, cold weather has kept growth slow. Supposedly, pak choi (also known as bok choy, pak choy, and bok choi) matures in about 30 days. This Post Produce is at least 45 days past sowing and it took about ten of my plants to equal what you’d get from one commercially-grown plant.
Not a big deal. It’s very satisfying to have harvested anything edible this late in November. My pak choi has thrived through the season-killing frost and at least half a dozen below-freezing nights. The coldest night bottomed out at about 24F degrees but the plants look great (except for some holes chewed through the leaves).
The Stir Fry
There’s nothing amazing about the stir fry—except that it tasted great. When I prepared marinade for the beef, I discovered we had no soy sauce (I was dumbfounded); I used oyster sauce to season the dish.
1 lb beef cut into bite-sized pieces
2 t grated fresh ginger (divided)
1 t onion powder
¼ cup oyster sauce
¼ cup white cooking (or other) wine
½ to 1 t Siracha Hot Chili Sauce
1 large fresh sweet pepper cored, de-seeded, and cut into bite-sized pieces (I used a sweet Italian pepper because I’m still working through what I harvested, but a bell pepper would work nicely)
1 medium onion peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
1 mature head of pak choi or equivalent cleaned and cut into bite-sized pieces (seriously: peel apart the stalks of the plants and rinse them thoroughly.)
cooking oil for frying
1½ cups chicken stock
~1 T corn starch
Combine the first six ingredients in a bowl or zipper-topped plastic bag. Mix thoroughly and make sure all the meat is submerged in the liquid. Set this in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, but overnight is better.
Heat about 2 tablespoons of oil in a wok or frying pan and tilt the pan to coat its bottom and sides. When the oil is very hot, fish the beef out of the marinade (save the marinade) and put the beef into the hot pan. Stir the beef to keep it from sticking or burning and cook it through—this could take 7 to 10 minutes, depending on how well your stove heats the pan.
Pour the beef and pan juices into a bowl and set them aside. Scrape the pan relatively clean, add 2 more tablespoons of oil, and return the pan to the stove. Tilt the pan to coat it, let it become very hot, and then add the onion pieces. Stir to keep the onion from burning and, when the pieces become translucent, reduce the heat to medium.
Add the ginger, stir it through, and immediately add the cut up sweet pepper. Stir for 3 to 5 minutes, add the pak choi, and stir to coat everything with the hot oil.
Pour the reserved marinade into the wok and stir to coat all the vegetable pieces with the marinade. Cook until the liquid starts to boil and add 1 cup of the chicken stock; bring it back to a boil.
Return the beef to the pan and stir it together with the vegetables until the liquid boils. In the meantime, stir a tablespoon of cornstarch into the remaining chicken stock and stir that mixture into the cooking vegetables and beef. The liquid should thicken rather quickly at which point the stir fry is ready to serve. I served mine with rice.
If we get a few more warm days, I may get another decent harvest of pak choi this year. Seems more likely this was my actual final harve
Now You Post Produce!
What are you eating from your garden? Post about it on your blog and then link to it from the widget below:
Quince are naturally fuzzy, but it seems almost as though the fuzz isn’t attached. You could wipe each fruit with a cloth, but the fuzz washes off easily in water.
Making quince candy is an easy and delicious way to use those quinces you just got too tired of processing into jelly. Quince candy is a popular treat in Croatia and Serbia where people call it Kotonjata, and in Spain where it goes by the name Dulce de Membrillo.
The Steps to Quince Candy
Start by washing the quince to remove the fuzz. You could wipe them with a cloth, but giving them a quick bath in cold water is efficient.
Chop the quince into quarters and then cut the quarters into two or three pieces each. Remove any bad spots, of course. Most recipes say to peel and core the quince. This is difficult and dangerous and not worth the effort. Just chopping a quince is a challenge; quince is one tough fruit.
Put the pieces in a pot and cover them with water. Cover the pot and bring it to a simmer. Cook until you can easily slide a fork through the pieces and they are soft enough to mash. Remove the pot from the heat and let it cool.
When the quince is cool enough to handle safely, run it through the medium screen of a food strainer or a food mill. Clean the strainer, switch to the fine screen, and strain the quince pulp again to get rid of the skins, seeds, and other parts that didn’t turn to mush (with a food mill, this step might not be an option, so just skip ahead). There may be dark flecks in the pulp but these are harmless and won’t show in the finished product.
For every cup of quince pulp, stir in a half cup of sugar. Most recipes call for a whole cup of sugar, but quince is sweet enough it doesn’t need so much. Put the sweetened pulp into your slow cooker, cover it, and cook it on high until it starts to bubble around the edges. Remove the cover and continue to cook on high, stirring periodically (see the box titled Slow-Cooking Quince Candy).
What you want is a very thick paste. You should be able to drag your spoon across the bottom of the slow cooker and leave a trail revealing the bottom of the pot. When your quince reaches this point, it is done. Turn off the heat and let the paste cool to a safe handling temperature.
Choose a baking dish or other pan of a size that your quince paste will fill to a depth of half to three quarters of an inch. Line the pan with parchment paper and pour your warm quince paste into it. Spread the paste in an even layer and let it cool overnight.
After milling to remove seeds, stems, skin, and other hard parts; after hours of slow-cooking; and after setting to cool for hours; your quince candy should be one giant, flat, soft “gumdrop.”
The quince candy should set to the consistency of a soft gumdrop. If it’s too soft, re-melt it in the slow cooker and cook and cook.
If your candy is properly gummy, turn it out onto a piece of parchment paper and cut it into any shapes you like with a thin bladed knife. I cut it into half inch strips and then cut the strips into inch long rectangles. Toss the pieces in a bowl of granulated sugar. The sugar is for more than sweetness: it helps keep the pieces from sticking together and it helps prevent mold. If your candy is too moist and you find that the sugar is dissolving or there is moisture gathering at the bottom of your storage container, you didn’t cook the quince paste down enough. You can place the pieces in a food dehydrator on low heat to dry it further, but be careful not to melt it. If you don’t have a dehydrator, you should return all the pieces to your slow cooker and cook it some more.
When you make your own candy, you can cut it into whatever shapes please you. Making rectangles is easy and it assures some uniformity among the pieces. After you cut up the candy, toss the pieces in granulated sugar. This final coating helps prevent spoilage and makes the candy less sticky to the touch.
Uses and Variations for Quince Candy
The candy keeps well for up to six months in an airtight tin or jar. You can refrigerate or freeze it if you need a longer storage time.
If you want, add spices to the sugar with which you coat the candy. Cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom are all nice, as is vanilla. I’m partial to the cardamom.
These candies would be great in “thumb print” butter cookies where you put a dab of jam in the center. They’d also be good dipped in chocolate.
I like them just fine plain.
Kris Gasteiger is the owner and operator of White Oaks Farm in Levels, West Virginia. Click here to reach him via email: Kris at White Oaks Farm.
Between home and Ithaca (which is three hours north), one of my earliest autumn images comes from my front yard. Leaves on the maple tree there have been changing from green to flaming red and yellow since late August.
I’m challenged this year to keep my preserving and gardening in order. I’ve many apples needing to go into canning jars and at least two dozen perennials needing to get their roots into the ground. Ironically, because I’m distracted by obligations in Ithaca, I’ve had a lot of opportunities to enjoy the changing seasons.
Autumn has unfolded very slowly this year. We saw the first fall colors in August, and even in early November many trees are holding gorgeous yellow, orange, and red leaves. Between Lewisburg (home) and Ithaca (my dad’s home), I’ve taken many detours onto country roads to capture hillsides, valleys, and stands of trees. I hope you enjoy the sampling in this post.
On the east side of route 13 south of Ithaca stands a well-weathered barn near a wooded hillside. I’ve stopped along the road several times to capture photos.
An unlikely exit off of route 15 in northern Pennsylvania got me onto a side road with views to the north, east, and south. Here I aimed across route 15 to the northeast, capturing a small splash of autumn color in the foreground, and a sea of changing trees stretching to a row of windmills on a distant ridge.
While blatant autumn flare draws my attention, subtle fall colors also get me jazzed. An ancient oak flexing in the woods above Cayuga Lake provides engaging counterpoint to the blaze of colors peeking out from behind.
Trees naturally change colors and textures in autumn, and farm fields change along with them. The margins between crops produce visual interest, and the juxtaposition of human-tall, cylindrical hay bales add whimsy. Over the years I’ve photographed almost as many of these giant bales as I have tomato blossoms.
One of my favorite autumn scenes emerges after the first serious frost of the season: cucurbit vines die and shrivel to the ground within hours leaving pumpkins high and dry. Usually by this point there’s not much demand for pumpkins; I shot this scene just three days before Halloween. These orange globes will probably feed someone’s hogs.
I’ve had a terrific harvest of purple jalapeno peppers, though I let most of the peppers ripen to bright red rather than picking them purple. Serious cold in the next two days will quite likely end the pepper season.
October 22, 2013 is nearly done and I’m only now writing my Post Produce post. Life continues to be crazy with periodic travels to Ithaca, but it’s crazier still as the end of gardening season approaches.
Sadly, my tomato plants succumbed to late blight and I lost at least a bushel of tomatoes. While that happened, I harvested and froze beans from my garden, bought grapes from the farmers’ market to make jelly, froze locally-grown sweet corn, canned “bread & butter pickle” pears, put up a few jars of tomato sauce (from tomatoes that hadn’t yet developed blight blemishes), bought tomatoes from a local farmer to make salsa, and seriously enjoyed my pepper harvest.
Peppers Going Strong
My pepper plants have struggled through a rather cool growing season. Still, they’ve managed to grow a reasonable amount of ripe fruit.
I harvested seeds from sweet Italian peppers I’d bought last year at a farmers’ market. I gave away most of the seeds, but started several for myself and grew three plants. Those plants have been prolific, and the peppers are perfect.
To assure I’d have a full batch of red pepper relish to give my mother-in-law, I bought a dozen red bell peppers at a farm market. At the same time, I harvested eight perfectly orange bell peppers from my garden. My mother-in-law gets nine 4oz jars of red pepper relish, and I’ve put away six jars of orange pepper relish. I also made bean salad dressing from the same peppers.
I harvested about a dozen sweet Italian peppers and used most of them in salsa: canned 34 8oz jars of the stuff. I also used about eight red-ripe jalapeno peppers in the salsa.
There are quite a few more peppers to harvest, and nighttime temperatures are pushing into the low 30s this week. I’ll probably harvest the remaining peppers, and there are lots of lima beans I’ll need to pick, ready-or-not.
Now You Post Produce!
What are you harvesting from your kitchen garden? Post about it on your own blog. Then find the linky widget at the end of this post and create a link to your Post Produce post.
Success with orange bell peppers this year has me thinking of growing a bell pepper rainbow next season. I’ll have to do some research: how many colors of bell peppers are available?
My poblano pepper plants have been slow out of the gates. There are some large, green fruits on them (finally), but there are far more new blossoms. These, I’m afraid, will be disappointed by frost within a few weeks.
I’m late again with my Garden Bloggers Bloom Day post. Thought I’d be driving to Ithaca yesterday after dropping my son at college. Along the way I realized there were too many things unfinished at home… but by then it was too late to capture images for my Bloom Day post.
Today, I toured my small kitchen garden and found stuff happening that simply isn’t normal for mid October. There’s plenty of harvesting still to come, but that’s not unusual. What’s crazy is the enthusiasm my plants are showing for warm weather. Except for lettuce, pak choi, and sweet potatoes, all my vegetable plants are in bloom as are several of my herbs. Pretty sure in most Octobers I’m nursing the last few bits through occasional frosts and writing about blooming ornamental and wild flowers. From the weather forecasts, there’ll be no nursing necessary this year.
It seems likely that within two weeks we’ll get some serious overnight cold. Heck, on October 29 two years ago we had heavy snow–frost in early-to-mid October isn’t unusual. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the flowers and I’ll harvest food as it becomes ready. I hope you enjoy the flowers as well.
The purple jalapeno plants are in full bloom, and they’re covered with fruits! I used a few red-ripe fruits from them in salsa I canned this week. As always, purple jalapeno blossoms are gorgeous.
I post a lot of photos of tomato blossoms, but rarely in mid-October. This blossom has more than just pushed the limit of the growing season; it has emerged on a plant being consumed by late blight. The last three weeks have seen a dreadful end to my tomato crop; at least a bushel of fruits have developed lesions.
The butternut vines weren’t impressive this year. I remember only two squashes forming and both are small. While there are still blossoms on the plants, all are male flowers; there’s no threat of emergent babies dying with the first frost.
In my experience, winter squash vines never produce enough female flowers. So, I was especially sad to discover female blossoms of both neck pumpkin and fairytale squash varieties so late in the season. I hand-pollinated these, but it seems unlikely they’ll have time to develop into useable fruit.
It has been about three weeks since I last harvested from my bush bean plants. A few flowers have emerged, but if the plants were planning a second harvest, their planning was bad: No way will beans develop from these flowers before the first killing frost.
Several times in this blog I’ve lauded the yellow French filet beans I planted this year. The vines continue to produce, though the beans aren’t growing as large now as they did a month ago. There are still plenty of blossoms.
By far the most deluded of my kitchen garden plants are my King of the Garden lima beans. Had I known what overachievers these are, I’d have planted them back in late May. There are well over a thousand pods, most not ready to harvest. There are also well over a thousand blossoms. From blossom to mature bean has been very slow, so I’ll need to be happy harvesting only the 1,000 pods already set on the vines.
Here’s a useful gardening tip: find a group of people that shares your enthusiasm and participate with them. My first group of gardening friends happened to be online when I started blogging about gardening. I found them mostly on Twitter and some through their blogs.
Later, I joined the Garden Writers Association (GWA) because many of my online gardening friends are members, and I write quite a bit about gardening. Some of my favorite gardeners are in GWA and I always enjoy attending seminars, conferences, and garden tours with them.
Happy Birthday with GWA
This has been an awkward year: my dad moved out of our family home of 52 years, and I’ve spent an enormous amount of time in Ithaca, NY clearing out the house and helping my dad settle into his new apartment. Happily, in February I broke away from the house and attended a GWA training seminar in Allentown.
I never would have expected it, but when I attended a GWA seminar on my birthday, some of my gardening friends gave me this very appropriate coffee mug.
That seminar happened to fall on my Birthday. At a party afterward, some of my GWA friends gave me a coffee mug that gives me a lift every time I use it. I’m sure I haven’t thanked them enough and I’m writing about it now because I just treated myself to hot chocolate from the mug.
This has me thinking about all the great people I’ve met through my gardening activities. I learn a lot from them, and I look forward to seeing them when the opportunities arise. (Online I’ve “met” a few people in England and Australia I’d love to visit some time.) When your family and your generic friends roll their eyes and question your gardening passion, it’s great to know people who completely understand.
Get some gardening friends. You’re welcome.
Want your own Vegetable Garden Quick Start mug? You can buy one at Cafe Press. Please help support my blog by purchasing through this link: Quick Start Mug.
A late-night snack of plain yogurt dressed with homemade sour cherry jam is healthful and delicious. Get the most out of your home vegetable gardening by learning to preserve.
As I sat down to write this month about what you can grow, I set up a bowl of plain, probiotic yogurt with a generous dollop of homemade sour cherry jam. I’ve enough homemade jam and jelly in my larder for all the cooking I might do: baking thumbprint cookies, making salad dressings and marinades, flavoring yogurt and cottage cheese, stuffing brie… I’ll also give away about 60 half-pint jars as gifts.
But messy as it is, my larder holds much more than jam and jelly. There are jars of grape drink, sweet corn, pickles, pineapple, applesauce, barbeque sauce, red pepper relish, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, beans, salsa, and various fruit syrups as well. I haven’t canned enough to free me from grocery shopping, but many meals draw from the larder assuring I know exactly what goes into the food I prepare.
Canning, Freezing, Drying, and Cold Storage
While I do a lot of canning, I employ other food-preservation methods as well. For example, this season I’ve blanched and frozen peas, three types of beans, and a whole lot of sweet corn. Soon, I’ll harvest about 15 winter squashes and roll them under a bed where they’ll keep well into next summer. And, if I stay focused, I’ll harvest a whole lot of herbs to dehydrate and refill my spice rack.
I’ve seen some amazingly tidy larders with jars in straight rows, but mine rarely looks so good. The upper shelf here holds jars I filled this season—and there are at least five more cases to add. The lower shelf holds last year’s goodies… I need to become more aggressive about using them in my cooking.
It sounds like a lot of work, but happily the work is easy. To prep produce for preserving, you wash it, pare it, pit it, and cut it up as you would were you preparing it for a meal. I plan for preserving: I plant way more than we’ll consume in-season, and put it in storage as I harvest it.
But I don’t stop with my own produce. I stock up at farmers’ markets and grocery surplus stores when produce is cheap. For example, this week I bought 50 ears of sweet corn for $10 and pressure-canned 19 pints—and when pineapple is in season (often selling then for $1 apiece) in January and February, I expect I’ll can a dozen or so pints.
Your Home Preserves
There are several compelling reasons to preserve at home:
- You extend your enjoyment of your produce garden through the winter
- You cut down on the chemical additives in your diet
- You lock in nutrients when the produce is fresh (many store-bought “fresh” veggies lose a lot of vitamins between harvest and dinner service)
- You can save money by buying produce in bulk
- You create a store of food that tastes way better than canned, frozen, and dehydrated foods available in grocery stores
If you’ve been thinking about preserving your own, but you’re experiencing some inertia, give yourself a little push. Few things are as satisfying for a kitchen gardener as filling up a larder with home-preserved goodies. You can grow that!
Want help getting started? I’ve posted several articles about home food preserving and linked to them from this blog. Click “Preserving” in the menu at the top of this page to get to the article index. I’ve also written a book that teaches the fundamentals of canning, freezing, drying, cold storage, and fermentation. You can buy a copy by clicking the book’s cover in the left sidebar of this page.
A few jars I filled in the past few weeks, from left-to-right. Bottom row, front: tomato sauce, dice orange tomatoes, diced red tomatoes, diced mixed tomatoes, and 2 more jars of tomato sauce. Top row, front: 2 jars pear jelly, 2 jars peach jelly. Second row: 2 pints sweet corn, 2 pints peach syrup, 2 pints blueberry syrup.
You Can Grow That celebrates gardening each month. The list of this month’s celebrants and links to their posts are at You Can Grow That.
Blossoms on my purple bush bean plants were delicious shades of purple—some of the richest color in the kitchen garden this year.
Purple beans are vaguely exotic and quite pretty. Until this year, I’d never gown purple beans, so it pleased me to plant a row of them next to a row of green beans. These were bush beans, in violation of an epiphany I reported several months ago regarding pea plants: plant tall varieties instead of short ones.
Climbing Beans for Older Gardeners
Back in July I explained that harvesting peas from short plants is seriously unpleasant for me… at peak harvest I ended up sitting on the ground to get the job done. Tall pea plants put most of their produce above knee level, so I didn’t need to bend much to harvest.
Well… beans come in bush and climbing varieties. The bush varieties produce within 18 inches of the ground and 3-to-6 inches is common. That means the bean harvest demands as much bending as a pea harvest does.
I loved the look of purple beans up until I dropped them into hot water; within seconds all the purple washed out of them leaving them a slightly darker shade of green than my cooked green beans.
Climbing bean plants usually don’t produce until they’ve twined seven or more feet up the trellises I provide for them. Granted, some beans form close to the ground, but most emerge well above knee level; I actually reach up to harvest the bulk of my climbing beans.
Half Purple Beans Cement the Argument
Avoiding bending is huge incentive for me to grow climbing beans, but my garden produced an unexpected crop that gives me another reason to favor tall vegetable plants over short ones. This season, along with the gorgeous purple bush beans, I harvested a whole bunch of half purple beans.
I wish the half purples had resulted from some genetic anomaly among the seeds I planted. Sadly, the half purples were the leavings of lazy rodents who dined often in my garden, but rarely finished eating the beans they started.
It was disheartening to find bean-after-bean gnawed short by what I guess was rats. Only bugs gnawed on the climbing beans. I’m done with bush beans. In all coming seasons the only beans I plant will be climbing beans.