Reaping Garden’s Bounty

Reader Contribution by Lois Hoffman
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It’s that time of year again, when you walk outside and all the scents from the garden blend together in one enticing aroma. I love it. What I don’t love is that, no matter how much you stagger planting different vegetables, they all ripen at the same time.

We have always eaten fresh from the garden and eaten fruits and vegetables in season. First of all, that is when everything is freshest and, thanks to the law of supply and demand, everything is less expensive when it is more plentiful. It always amazes me when I see people buying produce out of season, like buying asparagus in stores now or watermelon in the middle of winter. First of all, the price is outrageous, and secondly, the flavor is compromised because the produce has been in transit and/or warehoused too long.

I much prefer to just eat in season. Our ancestors knew this simple rule all too well. They foraged for berries, gathered seeds and nuts, and hunted wildlife when it was the right season. OK, we are not quite that primitive — our foraging is usually going to Farmers Markets — but you get the drift: eat fresh whenever you can.

Old family recipes that use summer’s offerings are the best. However, every year I come across a few new dishes from family and friends that are keepers. Here are a few:

My mom made the best corn relish. We always had a truck garden, and our staples were potatoes and corn that we sold along the side of the road. Even though people would place orders for bushels at a time, there was always plenty for us to preserve and use in various ways. This is one treat we got from the corn patch that has been tucked away for too long, until I recently ran across it in my recipe box.

• 12 ears of corn
• 1 head of cabbage
• 3 medium onions
• 1-1/2 cups sweet green pepper
• 1/2 cup sweet red pepper
• 1 tablespoon celery seed
• 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
• 2 cups sugar
• 1 quart vinegar
• 1 tablespoon ground mustard
• 2 tablespoons salt
• approx. 1/4 cup cornstarch to thicken

1. Combine all ingredients except corn and cornstarch. Cook on medium-low heat until cabbage is tender.

2. Mix cornstarch and water, and thicken to desired consistency. Add corn.

3. Either freeze for later use, or can.

My friend Lois makes the most refreshing summer salad, and almost better than the flavor is its ease in preparation. It is called Capraiso salad.

(Number of ingredients depends entirely on how much you want to make.)

• whole tomatoes
• block of mozzarella cheese
• some fresh basil
• olive oil
• salt and pepper

1. Slice fresh tomatoes about 1/2 inch thick. Alternate the slices in a circle on a platter.

2. Slice fresh mozzarella cheese about 1/2 inch thick and lay atop the tomato slices.

3. Sprinkle fresh basil over all. Drizzle olive oil and salt and pepper over all.

It’s that simple!

Fried cabbage. I thought it was just a given that everyone would enjoy this dish, but it surprises me how few people have actually tried it. When most people think of cabbage, they think of slaw or sauerkraut. However, this is made with bacon, and everyone knows that bacon makes everything better. Again, it is so simple.

• 1/2 pound bacon
• head of cabbage
• salt and pepper

1. Snip bacon into bite-sized pieces and toss in hot skillet sprayed with cooking spray.

2. Depending on the size of the head of cabbage, slice between 1/2 to 3/4 of the cabbage over the bacon.

3. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

4. Saute, stirring often, until crisp and tender.

Green beans and sausage supper. This dish does not officially have a name — at least I have not heard of one yet for it — even though most country folks in Indiana call this a staple when summer veggies are in season. The other thing is there are no measurements here, but the flavor is great, especially the more often it is warmed up.

(You can vary the amounts of each ingredient according to individual taste.)

• new potatoes
• green beans
• onions
• smoked sausage
• salt and pepper

1. Place the four ingredients into a saucepan or crockpot and cook until tender.

2. Add salt and pepper when done.

Who doesn’t like a good salsa and chips?  Made from scratch is always best, but considering the time factor, Mrs. Wages seasoning packets offer up a pretty tasty salsa in a short amount of time. It comes in mild and hot versions to please all palettes.

• 6 pounds fresh tomatoes
• 1 Mrs. Wages Salsa Seasoning packet
• approx. 3/4 cup cider vinegar (to taste)

1. Dice fresh tomatoes.

2. Combine tomatoes with seasoning packet and cider vinegar in a pot.

3. Bring ingredients to a bioil, then simmer for 20 minutes and place in containers.

There are sometimes many different versions of old tried-and-true recipes. Pickled beets (and the pickled eggs that come later in the beet juice) have always been a family favorite. I didn’t realize how many folks enjoyed these until I started handing some jars out. I also didn’t realize how many different “tweaks” to the recipe there were. Some put cinnamon sticks in, some add cloves, and some add more spices. It’s all what you grew up eating.

There are countless ways to use the garden’s bounty. Everyone has their favorite recipes, but don’t be afraid to try new ones.  You may discover new taste sensations that will become family favorites.

Photo by Lois Hoffman

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