organic food

Spring foraging and Ramp Sliders

Easter weekend has over the years become a Ramp Feast. ( Ramps are wild onions that grow for only short period of time in the Appalachian Mountains every spring.) This year we struggled to get out into the woods. Cold, rain and snow every weekend made the prospect of taking Christopher foraging a little unpleasant. So we finally got to head out for Morels (a wild mushroom) and ramps this weekend and were surprised with both.

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Cleaned wild ramps ready for cooking

We have missed Morel season the last two years and have come home empty-handed but this weekend we found several and ended up with a few pounds of ramps from a family friends property. This was also our first real trip to the woods with Doc our puppy coonhound. What an adventure we had and what a wonderful lunch the ramps and mushrooms turned into.

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Morel and Pheasant tail mushrooms washed and ready to eat.

Our morning started with a rather long walk into the woods to find the right conditions for Morels and along the way I spotted some wonderful spring sights.

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Red Buds blooming lighting up the dark forest with the bright pink flowers.

 

 

After a few hours in the woods we had our bags were full and empty tummies. It was time to make a lunch with some of our treasures. I made hamburger sliders with sautéed ramps and mixed cheeses. It was fast, easy and delicious.

I used Kings Hawiian sweet dinner rolls for a bun and good quality ground beef. Making about 6 sliders from a pound of beef. The magic ingredient was the wine sautéed ramps. I took about 10 ramps cleaned and sliced them very thin and added them to a skillet with one teaspoon bacon grease, wilting the greens down. When the greens wilted I add 1/8 cup to 1/4 cup Marsala Wine and reduced the heat and simmer with salt and pepper for about 8 to 10 minutes. While the ramps simmered I made and cooked the burgers and topped them with a Colby/ Jack shredded cheese mixture. Assembled it all on a dinner roll with a little mayo and topped with two heaping spoonfuls of wine soaked ramps.  What a pleasure it was to eat and what a joy to make again.

Happy Spring Foraging to all of You!

 

Ramps with bacon grease and Marasal wine

Sliced Ramps with Marsala wine carmelized in bacon grease.

Ramp and Cheese Sliders spring wild food

Wine soaked ramp and cheese slider on a Kings Hawaiian dinner roll.

Categories: Appalachina Mountains, cheese, Easter, Foraging, Mushrooms, organic food, ramps, Ramps, snacks | Tags: , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Celebrate Easter with Trout and Ramps .

It is official spring has come to the Mountain State. Trout and Ramp Season has begone and I am getting excited for the first skillet full of the wild food that is traditional in West Virginia.  My husband’s family have enjoyed fresh trout and ramps for generations. As far back as the family story can remember. The family enjoyed the freedom of the Mountains where tiny speckled fish and ramps are always a part of the celebration spring.

Brookie3_Handy

Brook Trout by Mat Hardy from Trout Unlimited

Often my husband and his father would take off in the middle of April for a trout fishing trip with hopes of also gathering a burlap sack of ramps. The farther from civilization they drove the smaller the trout got and the larger the ramps grew. So off on some deserted logging road on a mountain top, where a small stream started, my father-in-law and husband would be found fishing. The tiny native trout with copper skin and bright orange spots are fighters like anything that lives so far into the mountains.Making an almost freezing morning exciting as the two would wade the stream looking for ramps along the way.

Field of wild growing Ramps

Field of wild growing ramps

When the noon day sun would finally reach the steam at the bottom of the holler they were fishing the two would break for lunch. The two eating pepperoni rolls off the tail gate of an old truck, they would talk about if the fishing was good enough to spend more time in the water or if it was time to trade the fishing poles for a ramp hoes. Neither father or son would want to leave the peacefulness of the rushing spring water but they knew more treasures waited for them on the mountainsides.

Tom fishing on a cold Easter Morning

Tom fishing in a stream in Pendleton County, West Virginia

 

The team would drag themselves up the steep banks of the mountains with a short-handled hoe, looking for clumps of green in the otherwise brown forest floor. If ramps were spotted, one would yell out to the other in the other wise silent woods and the digging would start. Gathering just enough of the bulbs for the family and leaving many to spread out the seeds of future plants.By late afternoon the two would shimmy back down the mossy covered banks to the truck. Fresh fish would be in the cooler chilling, topped with a sack of muddy ramps. The two would ride the bumpy road back home for a fest of fresh spring foods.These foods were almost impossible to get any other time of the year and the deep joy of finally being free from the winter always made the meals more pleasant.

Often the first dinner that we fix of ramps is meatless. Not for any reason other than it seems fitting that such an early spring meal would have also been meatless for  generations of homesteaders of this land. They would have enjoyed a meal of fresh ramps with brown beans, cornbread and maybe if their storage was good fried potatoes. Our ancestors would have celebrated that fresh greens had to grown again and life had returned to the hills they called home.Ramps brown beans and fried potatoes cornbread

So as my family celebrates Easter weekend, I am not only thinking of my Savior and his miraculous life, I am thinking of countless generations of West Virginians who have come before me. I am thinking of the blessings and bounty of another spring and of how to share its traditions and stories with the next generation. How a fish and a sticky bulb were not a trendy food but a way of life for the mountain people of Appalachia and how I can keep the spirit of thankfulness alive.

Happy Easter my friends enjoy Spring !

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Appalachian Mountains, Corn bread, country cooking, Country life, Easter, fishing, Homestead, ramps, Ramps, trout | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Foraging spring greens and weeds

A friend sent this to me on Face Book just a few days ago. It makes me wonder how many of us really understand how foraging can help control evasive plants. It also made me want to share this with any one who likes foraging for greens. Wild Garlic Mustard is found growing almost everywhere in the Eastern US and can be cooked and eaten like any other bitter green. Another green that is problematic in our area and across the south is Stinging Nettle.  Hardy and fast spreading by seed if given the right  growing conditions these plants crowed out natural flowers and plants . Animals do not like the smell or taste of the Garlic Mustard or Stinging Nettle so they are not controlled by the environmental conditions .

Garlic Mustard Pull flyer

Forest Service Garlic Mustard flyer

 

 

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Wild Mustard in Bloom

If you are in the West Virginia area and have time to help with this problem and enjoy the outdoors and cooking free wild food we could use your help. My family hopes to attend one of these pulling dates and make a nice side dish of Garlic Mustard Cakes when we get home.A dish made from boiled greens drained to remove bitterness, eggs for a binder and Italian bread crumbs fried in brown butter.

April and May is prime pulling time before the plants start to seed and West Virginia could use all the pickers we can find. We are allowed to take home as much of the Garlic Mustard as we wish but they would love for us to remove some of the plants also. For ideas on how to cook the wild greens  follow this link Cooking Mustard Garlic. Hope to see you in the woods picking this spring.

 

 

 

Categories: Appalachian Mountains, community service, country cooking, Foraging, Monongahela National Forest, organic food, regional food, Uncategorized, West Virginia, wild greens | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

I am Thankful for Pumpkin Pie!

I know, I am late…. Thanksgiving day is usually a very quite and reflective time for me. The boys hunt and I cook and everyone gets together for dinner around 5:30 and we spend the rest of the evening watching the little ones play and  talk shop. So I usually have the day to myself, and Tom the turkey, but some how this year it just did not happen. One reason was the new bread maker that I received as a birthday present earlier this month.  I will be posting what I made yesterday once I have mastered ” dinner rolls”  they tasted great but looked a little funny.

So, like most people I just ran out of time to share that I am thankful for Pumpkin Pie. 

Yes, I know it sounds a little childish but pumpkin pie is really what I was thankful for this year and I will tell you why.

It all started with a my husband Tom… He really is my hero in life and on my Barnwood Builder episode. He helped me till a small garden at the other house that we were living in last summer. In that garden Tom and Christopher help me plant 3 pumpkin seeds. From those seeds grew 13 pumpkins, I think, if I can remember correctly.

Wagon full of sliver moon pumpkins 2014

Wagon full of sliver moon pumpkins 2014

Christopher and Cody picking pumpkins and Paige on the way with the wagon

Christopher and Cody picking pumpkins and Paige on the way with the wagon

Then after a long summer I was so thankful that Cody my older son and my granddaughter Paige and daughter-in-law Jamie were able to come help us harvest everything in the garden including the pumpkins. It took hours to bring in everything that grow well that year. We had sweet potatoes to dig, pumpkins to pull and tomatoes and peppers every where. The baskets were full,the wagon was full and I had a lot of work getting these pumpkins ready to eat.

Home grown white pumpkin carved for Halloween 2014

Home grown white pumpkin carved for Halloween 2014

I aged the pumpkins in the cool of our porch until Halloween came. I had my foot surgery just days before Halloween and I was off my feet when the holiday rolled in.  Again Tom help me out with the most important Halloween tradition of  carving at least one of our pumpkins.  Christopher and Tom spent one evening craving a couple of pumpkins and decorating the porch with them. I was so Thankful to see them and see the smiling face on my little Christopher’s face when he lighted them up.

bowel of pumpkin pie filling made in 2014

bowel of pumpkin pie filling made in 2014

From the rest of the pumpkins I made pie filling. So in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving I cooked and canned most of those pumpkins. The house smelled wonderful for days as I roasted on the first day and pureed the next. Finally I cooked and added spices to the mixture and put it in the jars with love. Thankful that Christopher had a school to go to and Tom had a job to work at, as the huge mess in my kitchen grew. 2 days and 6 hours later the jars sealed and I have jars of home-made pumpkin pie filling.

New House in Buckhannon, WV

New House in Buckhannon, WV

Then after moving our family over the long cold winter,we  stared working on the house.  I am so thankful for our new home. This was my first Thanksgiving in my new to me kitchen and the first time I drug out the good dishes and glasses in years. It was a wonderful reason to take out a jar of that pumpkin pie filling and make a pie to celebrate.

home made pies pumpkin and mock mincemeat

home-made pies pumpkin and mock mincemeat

Finally, I am thankful for every person who sat at my table, for every opportunity I have to spend time with them. I am thankful for those who are missing this year and the ones that are in heaven. I am thankful for the money to buy the meal we ate and most of all I am thankful for pumpkins and pies.

4 generations of the Powers family together for Tom birthday 2014

4 generations of the Powers family together for Tom birthday 2014.

Categories: Buckhannon West Virginia, canning, Christopher, Cody, Country life, foot surgery, gardening, Paige, pumkin puree', pumpkin, pumpkins, Thanksgiving | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Apple Cider Vinegar Made from Scraps of Home Made Apple Sauce.

Apple sauce, apple butter, apple jelly and apple cider vinegar are things I try to make for my family every fall. I try very hard to forage my apples to use in these recipes. I hate to see one of my friends let a tree full of healthy organic apples go to waste. So every summer I start looking around at who has apples that they do not use and try to remember to ask them if I can have them. This summer I was a little unsure of where I was going to get my apples. We moved and I did know to many people who had apple trees in our new area. I remembered a huge apple tree at my favorite public library. Why not ask the librarian of the Lewis Bennett Library  what they were going to do with some of the apples…. it couldn’t hurt to ask right?

So after asking the  head Librarian Karen about the apples, she said no one had asked for the apples and most of the time the apples just fell and made a huge mess on the library side-walk. She let me have as many of the apples as I wanted. The tree is well over 100 years old and they do nothing to maintain the tree so they are again chemical free, of unknown species and cost me nothing, a perfect fit for my foraging personality.

front of Louis Bennett Library

front of Louis Bennett Library the tree is in the right of this photo three stories tall and full of apples

So after a couple of hours with my apple picker in the yard of this historical mansion I had filled my buckets with about 70 pounds of a soft yellow-green apples.

one 18 gallon tub and one 8 gallon wash tub full of apples about 70 pounds

one 18 gallon tub and one 8 gallon wash tub full of apples about 70 pounds

Most people call these deer apples and never plan to use them at home but let the deer enjoy them.Today I was able to make 6 quarts of apple sauce from 8 pounds of these little apples.( I have a DIY post about how to make  Home Made Apple Sauce here) They made a very nice sweet apple sauce so I am guessing they are a golden delicious type of apple developed in Clay County West Virginia around the time the house was built.

Quarts of home made cinnamon apple sauce

Quarts of home-made cinnamon apple sauce

collecting apple peals into bowl for vinegar making

collecting apple peals into bowl for vinegar making

To make Apple Cider Vinegar I took the peals and cores from these apples and split them between two gallon containers. I left enough room at the top to let water stand over the top of the cores and peals. The apples will begin to ferment under the water’s surface but Some mold may grow if a peal is sticking up to high.

Apple peals and cores in plastic gallon jars.

Apple peals and cores in plastic gallon jars.

Next I added 2 and 1/2 quarts of warm water that I had added 2 1/2 heaping tables spoons of white sugar to each jar. Making a 1 to 1 ratio of sugar to water. The sugar helps feed the Bactria to get a good start to the fermentation. It also adds a sweetness to the vinegar. I use most of my vinegar for cooking so I want a strong apple flavor without much sweetness. If I was drinking this everyday I would add more sugar to make to flavor more drinkable. One recipe I read had 1/2 cup of sugar per gallon. It is not necessary to use this much sugar, apples ferment quickly! Apples have a lot of  natural sugars and yeasts that ferment so well it is hard to stop raw apple juice from turning to wine and vinegar in a matter of days with out a chemical to stop the fermentation. Believe me no sugar is really needed to ferment apples, we have had a few drunk cows on the farm from eating rotten apples in the pasture,what a funny sight !

Quart jar and sugar bowel

Quart jar and sugar bowel

I added a weight to apple scraps to hold them under the water

I added a weight to apple scraps to hold them under the water

Here I am trying to keep the apples under the water surface with a small bowel to prevent mold or scum from growing around the top of the jar. I then cover the jars with cloth to prevent bugs or dust from getting into the jars. I store my jars in our laundry room. Where the temp in the summer is more constant much like a cellar. It never freezes but is never as hot as the house on a hot summer day. The best fermentation happens between 60 and 80 degrees F.

Two gallons of apple peals and cores ready to ferment

Two gallons of apple peals and cores ready to ferment

Two gallons of apple scraps on shelf ready to ferment

Two gallons of apple scraps on shelf ready to ferment

Now I wait two weeks to strain out the apple cores and peels. The fermentation will actually take several weeks and the smell of vinegar will increase as the amount of sugar decreases. At about 4 weeks the sugar should be eaten up by the bacteria that converts the sugar to alcohol than into vinegar. At this time you can filter the vinegar to make it look clear or rack it just like wine. I will filter mine with cheese cloth just to remove the large pieces of apple and return the vinegar back to the shelf for two more weeks to make sure that all the fermentation is finished at 6 weeks. If by chance you notice that the apple cider vinegar has a slimy pad floating in it (smile really big)… you have grown a “Mother” or “Scoby” that should be removed and  stored to make the next batch of ACV ( apple cider vinegar) and reduce the time for fermentation to about 4 weeks on another batch.

Apple Cider Vinegar MOTHER

Apple Cider Vinegar MOTHER

The raw ACV can at this point be bottled and kept in the refrigerator and it will be good up to 1 year. My family goes through about 1 gallon in a year so this is the amount I try to make. If you want to keep it on the shelf for easy storage then the you need to cook and bottle the ACV. The cooking process does two things. It will kill the good Bactria growing in the ACV ( pasteurizing the ACV)  but will also stabilizes it so that you can store it almost indefinitely. ACV is processed like any other canned food with sterile bottles or jars and correct processing times.

So if you are a fan of raw apple cider vinegar you can make this for pennies. I think the most expensive part would be to get containers. Most families do not use as much vinegar as we do so with just an old spaghetti sauce jar ( 1 quart size) and 3 apples you could make enough ACV for at least 6 months. It is just another way to make some thing from free healthy foraged food.

So when I finally get the 18 quarts of apple sauce finished, the 8 pints of apple butter, the 10 jelly pints of apple jelly, and the gallon of apple cider vinegar finished in 6 weeks, I will feel like I stocked my pantry well from these free ugly old deer apples that no one wanted! Here at links to my post on Slow Cooker Apple Butter and Apple Jelly they are also made with free apples and made much like this with a two for one process.

Categories: apple butter, apple cider vinger, apple sauce, Apples, fermentation, Foraging, Lewis Bennett Library, organic food | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Seed Shopping with Seed Savers Exchange

Tom and I have decided to try to have a totally Heirloom garden this year. We want to join the Seed Savers Exchange to save Heirloom , untreated, Non hybrid, Non- GMO seeds. So with a new garden and new seeds comes new challenges. We do raise our garden in an organic way so saving heirloom seed just makes sense. This is the process that my aunt, uncle and grand  parents  used to raise their gardens.They raised a crop, saved the best seeds and planted again, simple, direct and generally easy if the crop was healthy. This process does not work very well  with Hybrids. Have you ever tried to grow a fruit tree from seed at the grocery store? Have you ever tried to grow an acorn squash and gotten some other kind of squash from the seeds you collected… I bet you have!

Carnival squash... maybe ? seeds from store bough acorn squash hybrid

Carnival squash… maybe ? seeds from store bough acorn squash hybrid

The above photo is of an experiment Christopher and I did two summers ago. If you find the most wonderful vegetable, and want to grow it from seeds that you save, will you eventually grow what the parent crop was? The answer is No in most cases… and this is proof that Hybrids are not reliable in self-sustaining gardening. This is the result of growing a seed from a Hybrid Acorn squash from a Kroger grocery store. I understand that in this case the “Squash” needs more water to grow to a bigger size but I am thinking that this is not growing an acorn squash at all but a pumpkin crossed with an acorn squash.

I am looking harder at what I want to accomplish with my garden. First, I want to feed my family healthier food. Second, I want to learn better ways to become a self-reliant person. Third, I want to be able to reseed my garden if that time comes that I need to or that I want to. Seriously, I think that it is really wonderful that if I save seeds I can share them with others who also like the plants I grow and they too will have their own means to feed them selves without ever having to go to a manufacture to get food seeds or be left with seeds that do not produce.I also like the idea of seed sharing and  the history around some seeds. At the Seed Savers Exchange you are able to get the history of every seed in the catalog. Really cool stuff here if you like to know about where you food really comes from.  Here is a typical page in the catalog.

Bean pages of Seed Savers Catalog

Bean pages of Seed Savers Catalog

So today I am in the process of making a list of the plants and seeds I want to grow in the new garden. I have Sweet potato roots ( from stock that is 40 years old) from last year stored away and ready to sprout for this years garden. I will start them in my window in about two weeks. I want acorn squash that actually grows acorn squash, lots of pole beans (snap and dry), cantaloupe, watermelon, tomatoes, peppers (hot and sweet), brussels sprouts,cabbage, pumpkin and parsnips. I think that will get me through this year with a small new garden.

My husband is the one who encourages all of this craziness and is the one who also thinks we should join in some of the seed conservation. So I will become a member and start to save mostly pepper and bean seeds this year. With help from Heritage Farm  and their seed saving tutorials and classes I will donate back some of my seeds and store some for our families future use. Then share them with my friends and family and hope to keep at least one seed alive for the future. (I think I am seeing a trend here look up My Brothers gift of Memories and see why)

Again for more information on the Seed Saver Exchange and how it all works visit their website and look at the large verity of flowers, vegetables and apple trees these people are trying to save and share for future generations.

Seed Savers Exchange.

Categories: family health, gardening, heirlooms, Non-GMO, organic food, Preserving, pumpkin, Seed Savers Exchange, seeds, Sweet Potato | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

5 Reasons to Plant Silver Moon White Pumpkins in the Garden Next Year.

carved white pumpkins for Halloween

carved white pumpkins for Halloween

This year is the first time I have had any success growing pumpkins and just for the fun of it we chose to plant white ones just to add some fun to our Halloween display. It was a bumper crop and here are my five top reasons I will plant these pumpkins again next year. They met and surpassed all of my exceptions for home-grown pumpkins.

First they were very prolific. I planted only one hill of the Silver Moon Hybrid pumpkins, with only three seeds. I purchased the seeds from a Henry Field’s catalog 4 years ago. Sadly these seeds had been in storage for all those years. From those(to old to use) seeds I ended up with two healthy plants and ended up with 12 pumpkins.We were shocked and over joyed that most of the pumpkins were actually carving size ( 5 to 10 pounds) and I ended up with only two that were so small I could not even make them into pie filling.

white pumpkin on vine in garden

white pumpkin on vine in garden

The second and main reason I planted the pumpkins was how beautiful they are when carved. They range in color from snow-white to a pale green with white stripes. So for carving we chose to use the brightest white ones. As you can see from the above photo the pumpkins are white on the outside but have bright orange pulp with a wonderful green rind and when lit they are just so wonderful to look at indoors and out.

inside view of a Silver Moon Hybrid pumpkin

inside view of a Silver Moon Hybrid pumpkin

The next best reason to plant these pumpkins is, no matter their size, have very thick pulp. Making these very easy to turn into puree’ and pie filling. I only got to process 4 pumpkins before my foot that is still recovering from surgery said that I was standing to long. So With just 4 pumpkins I was able to get 10 quarts of pie filling that I will be using next week for Thanksgiving dinner.

10 jars of home made pumpkin pie filling

10 jars of home-made pumpkin pie filling

The fourth reason I like these pumpkins over the average orange ones is for storage value. They are a short squat pumpkin much more akin to a squash shape. So when storming them I could actually stack the pumpkins on top of each other on a shelf. That is never going to happen with a large round orange pumpkin.They also have less of an air space inside making them less prone to rot.

wagon full of white sliver moon pumpkins

wagon full of white sliver moon pumpkins

 

Then finally they have seeds, not for planting (being hybrids) but for eating. These pumpkins have a wonderful snow-white seed that are large for a 5 -6 pound pumpkin. They are thickly packed into the small cavity in the thick pulp. I was so surprised that we roasted several batches with salt and cinnamon sugar for a nice snack.

seeds hiding in the thick pulp of a small white pumkin

seeds hiding in the thick pulp of a small white pumpkin

It has been so much fun trying out new seeds in the garden and letting my sons enjoy every part of the activity. I can’t wait to serve a home-grown chemical free pumpkin pie to my family and friends this year at Thanks Giving. This is one seed that I will plant again and again, just to see the joy on Christopher’s face when Tom helps him carve his very own pumpkin.

Tom and Christopher with a home grown Jack-o-Lantern

Tom and Christopher with a home-grown Jack-o-Lantern

Categories: canning, food storage, Jack-O-Lanters, organic food, Pie, pumkin puree', pumpkin, Thanksgiving, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Surprise! That is not a cantaloupe.

Have any of you with gardens planted what you thought was one seed and ended up with some thing different. This happens at my house every few years when I by plants already started . I have even bought two trees that had incorrect labels. Both times I was trying to buy  Bartlett Pear trees and ended up with ornamental Pears that had no fruit.  So why should it surprise me that I ordered cantaloupe seeds from a reputable see catalog and got a surprise.

Honey Dew Melon ??

Honey Dew Melon ??

My husband was the one to notice that the skin of  our cantaloupe was not the heavily netted skin that you would expect. That was when we though we had something different and that was about two weeks ago. Now as you can see we have a wonderful green Honey Dew to enjoy with dinner tonight.

Surprise Honey Dew salad

Surprise Honey Dew salad

I have often wondered how people who collect, store and sell seeds keep all of them organised. So this kind of mix up does not happen. I have even experienced wild cross-pollination of pepper plants. Turning my sweet bells into a hot bell mix. Not that we were complaining because we always raise both and eat lots of peppers but this melon mix up was an out right mistake of identity.

So as summer comes to a close and my garden is still full to the rim with fruits and vegetables of all shapes and sizes I just wonder if my water melons will be yellow instead of red and if my sweet potatoes with be blue instead of orange… It might just happen because my pumpkins are white and my Cantaloupe is now a Honey Dew.

Categories: gardening, Homestead, Honey Dew Melon, organic food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

My five year old learns about growing sweet potatoes and other garden plants

Tom tilling Christophers' Garden

Tom tilling Christopher’s  Garden

I have been a home gardener off and on for years. My gardens have ranged in size from a few feet to almost a quarter of an acre. This year we have a small plot that is more for my 5 years olds’ entertainment then to stock a pantry for the winter. It is a family garden that will help provide us with fresh organic food and really isn’t that whole the point. Family time with a 5-year-old does not need  fancy toys just plain out-door fun. The fun starts with digging in the dirt, looking for worms, counting plants, looking for blooms and watering with a tiny watering can. It is all part of the wonderful learning that happens in a garden. Lucky for me, I have good friends who like to share their love of gardening. This year they wanted to share their sweet potato slips with Christopher. I was not really planing to have a garden with sweet potatoes this year but boy am I glad that Tom took a look at these wonderful plants and said “Yea, we can make room.”

Sweet Potato slips ready to plant

Sweet Potato slips ready to plant

So without much of a plan this was what Christopher, Tom and I thought we wanted in a garden this year.We have planted 10 tomato plants, 13 pepper plants of 4 different verities, a bunch of beets, pickling cucumbers,  pumpkins, water melon, cantaloupe, parsnips, green beans and those surprise sweet potatoes. Every thing but the parsnips and green beans fit in our little space. We limited the number of seeds and plants so we could grow many things and not a lot of any one thing. Toms family is famous for growing a garden twice this size for just green beans and another three times this big for potatoes. We on the other hand want to not only freeze some of this fresh produce, but let Christopher learn about a lot of different plants so he will be able to grow some for himself in the future. The wonderful thing we will get to teach Christopher about sweet potatoes is that as long as you have one sweet potato you have the ability to raise at least 15 to 20 more plants the following spring. Like the eyes that grow on a russet or yukon gold potato you can reproduce many plants from one potato. My Friends Ken and Sylvia started a couple of sweet potatoes by saving nice healthy unblemished potatoes from the previous year. They then take the potatoes that they have stored in the cellar and run three nails about 1/2 way through the root to suspended in a jar of  rain water. As you can see the root is  half in the water and half out of the top of a canning jar. They let them sit in a sunny window for the next three months and this is what they get. This is a photo of what is left after they had removed about 15 shoots for Christopher and a few for another friend. The plant will continue to send out more shoots over the next month and they will plant them in their garden.

Photo of sprouted sweet potatoes in window

Photo of sprouted sweet potatoes in window

Sweet potatoes are wonderful for children to raise because they are super easy to grow, they are bug and disease resistant. They are a plant the roots and leave them alone kind of project. Then the fun really begins when he will be able to dig up his own sweet potato and eat it for dinner that evening. The wait is about 90 days or until the first frost. We planted our sweet potatoes in my opinion to close together. Ken recommends at least 12 inches apart and mine as you can see from the photo have been in the ground about 30 days and they are about 10 inches a part and I would have planted them more like 16 inches apart but they seem ok at this point. The vines will grow a couple of feet each way and get bushy as the summer passes. The time to harvest is when the leaves begin to yellow and or you have a good frost. Then dig away with a four tine garden fork and let the kids load up a wagon or several baskets.

young sweet potato plants

young sweet potato plants

Once you have the potatoes you have to make plans to store them. Most people store them in a root cellar or basement. I actually plan to can most of the extras we have but will store a few for fall use. Before storing the potatoes they need time to cure and get a leathery skin to protect them from the bumps and dings of storage, this takes about 10 to 14 days at about 75-80 degrees. I will place the unwashed roots in a cardboard box on our back porch for about a week and turn them so the air reaches all of the roots before wrapping them in news paper and putting them in our cool, dark basement for the winter. At the end of summer I am going to do a post about canning these wonderful nutritious vegetables  and how we make sweet potato casserole made from our own garden grown veggies . In the mean time Christopher and I will be tilling dirt around these guys as they grow. I am not sure if I should mulch them yet as we have had a very wet ( almost soggy) start to summer and I am afraid if I try to keep more moisture in the ground we will just kill the plants from too much water. Time will tell if we need more water or not.  Lets just see what Christopher learns when we get this little project finished up. sweet_potato

Categories: family fun, gardening, organic food, Sweet Potato | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

Cream of Potato, Wild Ramp and Ham soup

For anyone who loves spring in Appalachia there is nothing more defining in the spring then the smelly Ramp. A wild onion that many of us in the hills love and look forward too every year. The traditional way to cook a Ramp is to chop up the greens and all, frying it in bacon grease until soft and serve it with the traditional brown beans( pinto usually) corn bread and fried potatoes. I love this just like any hillbilly, but on occasion, I like to use ramps more like garlic and bring out more of their subtle  flavor. I came up with this recipe last spring  after we had a large amount of ham left over after Easter. Ramps are at the peak of their short month-long season during this time of the year and we loved this to use up left overs. I have other posts about Ramps if you want more recipe ideas.

Cream of Potato Ramp and Ham soupe

Cream of Potato Ramp and Ham soup

washed, roots removed and ready to eat

washed, roots removed and ready to eat

These are ramps that we forage for and then clean and freeze every spring for summer and fall use. Sadly, they never make it to winter because our family likes to eat them to much. So here is another way to eat a small bunch of ramps without using all the greens. A great way to use up wilted ones or some with out the green stems.

 

Ramps and Potatos

Ramps and Potatoes

 

This very simple soup is ready in about 30 minutes and produces about 6 servings..

Cream of Potato,Ramp and Ham soup

1/2 stick of butter

1 cup chopped ramp bulbs and 6 to 8 ramps with tops chopped fine

2 gloves or garlic minced

4 cups water

3 chicken bouillon cubes

5 med potatoes

1 1/2 cups left over smoked ham

3/4 cup instant potato flakes

1 can condensed milk or 8 0z of whipping cream

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon parsley flakes

1 teaspoon celery flakes

salt and pepper to taste

 

 

I started with 5 med white potatoes peeled and diced into medium-sized chucks and about 1 cup ramp bulbs and about 6 ramps with tops and about 1 1/2 cups diced ham. Make sure that the ramps get well washed to remove any hidden dirt and chop them fine. They are hard like garlic so mince well to make sure they soften quickly.

melt 1/2 stick butter in the bottom of a 5 or 6 quart stock pot add minced ramps with tops and garlic and season with about a table-spoon salt and a dash of pepper. Saute until soft and aromatic about 5 minutes. Add 4 cups water, 3 bouillon cubes and chunks of potato simmer with Bay leaf about 20 minutes. Until the crisp edges of the potatoes begin to soften into the stock. Then add parsley and celery flakes and about 1 to 2 cups diced smoked ham. The soup appears to have a light green cast to it at this point.

ramps, stock and potatoes simmering

ramps, stock and potatoes simmering

 

Simmer again for about five minutes and then add 1 can condensed milk and about 3/4 cup potato flakes (you can substitute cream here, I usually always have canned milk on hand so I use it). This will thicken the soup and make it creamy without losing all the texture of the potato chucks in the soup. Make sure the potatoes are soft all the way through at this point, try to stab a chuck with a fork. The potatoes should fall apart or smash when stabbed, if not, continue to simmer for several more minutes. Remove the bay leaf and allow to cool and thicken. I wait about 8 to 10 minutes to thicken the soup.If it still seems to thin, add a few more tablespoons of instant potatoes and add more pepper if needed. Once you add the milk the color appears more of  a light tan with the green floating in the soup. Beware, if you add to many greens to the soup it will turn a wonderful grass-green color. I made a batch this way and a couple of my friends felt put off by green soup, so you may want to limit that amount of greens you add.

soup with condensed milk added

soup with condensed milk added

 

This soup also brings out he aroma of the ramps so if you are not completely used to the smell of roasting garlic or of fresh ramps you may not find the aroma of this soup appealing. Our family on the other hand looks forward to the smelly little guys and knows that with that scent comes a wonderful taste of spring. I hope you enjoy and eat more Ramps.

Field of wild growing ramps

Field of wild growing ramps

 

Categories: country cooking, Foraging, Ham, ramps, Ramps, soup | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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