It’s Time for Some Pickling and Jamming

Fall seems to be rushing in here in Minnesota, which is all the more reason to preserve some of the garden harvest for enjoying over the winter.

This past weekend, I spent some time pickling and jamming, using vegetables from my own garden and a few I bought at the farmers’ market. Here’s the round up with links to all the recipes:

Pickled onions, bread and butter pickles, yellow tomato jam and a stray bottle of pickled red cabbage.
Pickled onions, bread and butter pickles, yellow tomato jam and a stray bottle of pickled red cabbage.

I’ve never pickled onions before, but both my Chicago daughter and our Northern Gardener Kitchen Garden columnist Rhonda Hayes tell me that they are all the rage on tacos, pulled pork and other foods that need a bit of zing. I had good luck this year growing these onions from Seed Savers Exchange. The mixture is super tart, but just right to brighten up a meaty sandwich.

I had half a head of red cabbage left from a salad I made so I decided to pickle that as well using the same method, but adding some raw ginger to the container. Ginger is a great companion to cabbage, adding a little heat to an otherwise bland vegetable.

Of course, I had to make a batch of Grandma Lahr’s Bread and Butter Pickles. Minnesotans like a sweeter pickle and these have just the right sweet-tart blend. I grew up eating these alongside a tuna or meat sandwich — yum!

Finally, I made a batch of this Yellow Tomato Jam, a sweet way to preserve the harvest. To me, this jam is like the first taste of fall because it has some of the spices of fall. If you like your tomatoes sweet, you may want to try this  recipe for a tomato peach pie!

The preserving is just starting here — my raspberries are ripening fast so I’ll be picking, freezing and eating them daily, and I have bunches of herbs to make into pesto and a sauce I call salty herb blend, which is great for putting in soups or on meats.

What are you preserving this fall (oops) summer?

Dairy-Free Basil Gelato

Dairy free basil gelato -- lime, coconut, basil, yum.
Dairy free basil gelato — lime, coconut, basil, yum.

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Julie introduced me to Basil Gelato, a creamy, delicious mix of milk, cream, eggs and sugar flavored with lots of whirled up basil from the garden. You can read the recipe through the Notes from Northern Gardener blog. The one problem with the gelato was the color was just a bit too close to Army green for my taste.

I wanted to play with the recipe and also see if I could make a version that was dairy free for all my lactose-intolerant friends and relatives. Since the original recipe called for cream, the natural dairy-free replacement was coconut milk. I tempered that with some almond milk and added lime because coconut, basil and lime go so well together in Thai foods. To deal with the color issue, I decided to steep the basil in the ice-cream base rather than whirl it in a blender. The result is just slightly green and totally delicious.

Dairy-Free Basil Gelato


1 can (13.6 ounces) coconut milk (NOT low-fat)

1 cup almond milk (****See 2018 update below)

4 egg yolks

3/4 cup sugar, divided

1 tsp vanilla

pinch of salt

2 cups basil leaves

1 lime (used for zest and juice)


Rinse and dry the basil leaves and set aside. In a sauce pan, mix the coconut and almond milks and 1/2 cup sugar and set them on a low heat to warm. In a bowl, mix the four egg yolks, vanilla, salt and 1/4 cup sugar and beat with a whisk (or a mixer) until they are lighter in color and thickened slightly. When the milk mixture begins to steam, ladle about 1/4 cup at a time into the egg yolk mixture to bring the temperature up slightly. After about three ladles, you can add the eggs to the milks and continue to cook the custard, stirring regularly. After about 8 minutes, the mixture will be thickened slightly. Remove from heat and add the basil leaves. Let the mixture steep for at least 30 minutes as the gelato base cools.

When it is cooler, add the zest and juice of a lime. Then strain the mixture through a mesh strainer to remove the basil leaves. Place the mixture in the refrigerator to cool even more. If you have an ice cream maker, get it out and set it up. When the mixture is cool, add it and process until you have gelato. If you do not have an ice cream maker (I don’t), pour the cooled mixture into an 8×8 inch pan that you have lined with parchment paper or wax paper. Put it in the freezer and take it out every 30 minutes and stir it up to mix the icy bits around. In about two hours, it will be frozen and close to ice cream texture. You can cover the pan with plastic wrap and keep it in the freezer until it’s time to serve.  When you serve it, set it out on the counter for about 10 minutes to thaw before scooping.

This would be great as dessert after any spicy meal.


****2018 Update: Since I originally developed this recipe, almond milk has become extremely popular. Some almond milks separate when heated — at least they do for me. The almond milks that work best in this recipe are those sold in the store on the grocery shelves, not in the refrigerator case. If your custard mixture separates, you can pull the mixture together a bit after straining it by stirring before freezing or adding additional uncooked product (such as whipped cream or non-dairy whipped topic to pull it together) or replacing the almond milk with additional coconut milk or regular dairy milk (whole or half and half would work best.)


Making a Lemony, Minty Iced Tea

apple mint
This is a pretty and beautifully aromatic mint.

This spring, I bought some apple-mint plants at Ecogardens in Northfield. This is one of the prettiest mints I’ve grown and the flavor adds so much zest to beverages. Much of this summer I have been “mojito-ing” my iced teas, by muddling the apple-mint with sugar and then adding some lime juice. It’s an instant pickup in the middle of the day.

Sunday, I decided to try something different, making a minty iced tea with hints of passionflower and ginger. It’s incredibly easy to do and provides a great excuse to drink iced tea out of a mason jar.

lemon mint passion tea
The color is wonderful, but it tastes even better.

For the tea, I put three bags of Tazo passion tea (a passionflower herbal blend) and two bags of Tazo green-ginger tea in a big glass pitcher filled with water. (It holds about 10 cups of water.) I set this aside overnight to let the flavors seep into the water. I’ve been doing cold-brews of iced tea since I had a batch that got a bit too bitter from a hot brew. (Apparently hot water can scorch the leaves, especially the herbals.)

Then, I made a light simple syrup mixture of 1/4 cup of sugar with 1/2 cup of water. Mix the water and sugar and bring it to a boil. Then into the syrup, I added the zest of two small, organic lemons and about 6 mint leaves. Let this marinate for at least 20 minutes. Drain out the leaves and add the syrup to the tea along with the juice of the two small lemons. Delicious! This is a refreshing herbal tea and not too sweet.

If you like your tea sweeter, go to a 1-to-1 simple syrup mixture (1/2 cup sugar to 1/2 cup water).

What’s your favorite herb beverage?

Thai Basil NonPesto

Thai basil ready to use

Thai basil ready to useThis year I planted three kinds of basil: the sweet Genovese that is typically used for making pesto and seasoning Italian food, Thai basil and lemon basil. A week or so ago, I picked all three and made a pesto with them for pasta.

It was …. disappointing.

As I learned, Thai basil probably should not be substituted for sweet basil leaf for leaf. Its flavor is stronger, more minty. It  is, as one blog described it, the “spicier, sexier” basil. The plants themselves are gorgeous, with purple stems and a purple flower. But I hate to not use the leaves, so I did some searching around the internet for a way to preserve Thai basil. There were not a lot of recipes, but the ones I liked best used the leaves to make an Asian-inspired pesto-like condiment.

Thai Basil NonPesto

Here’s what I ended up doing: I put 3 cups of leaves in the food processor along with about 2/3 cup peanuts, the juice and zest of two limes, some salt and five big cloves of garlic. If I would have had them handy, I would have added a a couple of hot peppers. I also added a tablespoon or so of water just to get it all congealing nicely. I processed it into a paste, then divided it among four sandwhich bags, which I flattened for easy storage and froze. (I also marked the bags carefully to make sure the pesto and the nonpesto do not get mixed up.) The flavor of the nonpesto was bright and zippy.  I can see adding this to a steaming bowl of Asian soup or a noodle dish with shrimp and vegetables.

I’m still figuring what to do with my lemon basil. How do you treat these unusual herbs?

Lavender Blooms in December

French lavender blooming indoors in December.

I was really hoping this would happen when I brought in a French lavender (Lanvendula dentata) plant from outside in November. Because of the extended Indian summer we had — which now seems decades ago due to the relentless snow of the past week — this plant survived longer than expected. But, as happens with lavender, which is more suited to USDA Zone 9 than zone 4,  it did not bloom.

So, I brought it in, changed the pot, gave it a small dose of fish emulsion, and put it in the sunniest spot I have, on the counter behind my kitchen sink. It is no doubt getting considerably less sun than a heat lover like lavender would prefer, but I’m hoping to nurse it through the winter and then move the plant outdoors again. According to this herb site, French lavender does better indoors than other lavenders. It doesn’t like a lot of water so I will let it dry out between waterings. It also likes lime in its soil, so I may add some crushed egg shells from time to time.

I love the scent of lavender, which is said to have calming properties. Just run your hand over the foliage and sniff. Instant zen.

Spring Fever with Plants

Mama basil

The wonderful sunshine we’ve been having the past few days and exciting natural phenomenon like Sun-Still-Up-at-5:30 p.m, have got me itching to grow things. It’s still a little early to plant seeds here (though I’m sorely tempted), so I’ve been goofing around with my kitchen window plants.

Check out the little basil plant above. Somehow, despite meager light, I’ve managed to winter over two basil plants from last summer. I started these from seed later in the year, so they never reached maturity outdoors, and I’ve gotten an occasional leaf off of them to flavor a stew or salad. Mostly I keep them going because they remind me of summer.

Baby basil
Baby basil

A couple of weeks ago, while visiting my local big box for some lumber, I saw these gel packs in the garden section. You stick a cutting in the gel and wait for new roots to develop. I suspect this is usually used for houseplants, but what the heck. I cut a bit off one of the basils and stuck it in the gel. About a week later, these little leaves emerged, then roots! I plan to plant all three of the basils outdoors come May but for now, I’m enjoying the wonder of watching something — anything — grow!

So Many Ideas, So Little Space

Did I mention there were orchids?

Here’s the problem with going to garden events, such as those I attended this weekend: You get so many ideas that you have to think about adding more space. Maybe I’ll expand my front gardens and add one of the hardy shrub roses Kathy Zuzek recommended, such as ‘Lillian Gibson’ or ‘Harrison Yellow‘. No, wait, how about ‘Candy Oh! Vivid Red,’ a variety hybridized by David Zlesak, a young U of M educator who has written for Northern Gardener.

Wait, maybe, instead I’ll add an herb garden, filled with the three kinds of basil and Lavendula ‘Hidcote‘ in a pot and a bunch of other herbs recommended by Theresa Mieseler of Shady Acres Herb Farm. No, wait, I’m going to plant that great big annual salvia, Yvonne’s Giant, which Donald Mitchell recommends for attracting hummingbirds. And, that doesn’t take into account the enthusiastic peony and dahlia gardeners I talked with Sunday at the MSHS Plant Society Day at Gertens.

So many ideas, so little space.