Saturday, January 9, 2010

Gardening, canning, how the season ended

My first year with a full garden was 2009. Before that I'd had a single bed (mostly spinach) at my flat in London, and started with one good bed (tomatoes, salad greens) at the Green Tenancy here in Toronto. This year I expanded it to four beds totalling about 400 square feet.

A lot of things worked well. I gave a preliminary report here, and since then have, obviously, finished the final harvest.

One of the biggest hits were the purple carrots, shown above. My son loves bringing them to school for lunch, cut into "coins." The other kids don't know quite what to make of them. They're lower-yield than some other varieties, but I harvested several pounds of carrots and gave lots away.


At the end of the season, I began canning and freezing. This is all new territory to me. I blanched and froze a big bag of royal purple beans, and a mountain of beet greens. I meant to do the chard, but kept eating it up until the first snowfall killed it off. Chard, I must say, is extremely hardy and it survived many frosts, some light and some pretty heavy. Good thing I like the stuff.

Local fruit is also a wonder of late summer. Because Toronto is close to the Niagara Peninsula, there's an abundance of inexpensive, fresh and delicious tender fruit in late summer. The baskets are often too big for my son and I to get through in short order, so canning makes sense.

First came the currants. Graham and I stopped at a farm fruit stand on the way home from visiting his grandparents one day, and he was curious about the red currants. We bought a basked. They were, not surprisingly, rather tart. So I made jam. Currant jam is delicious and deliciously simple. Currants are high in natural pectin, so all it takes is the addition of water and sugar. A basket, however, yielded only two small jars of jam. They're a sticky fruit to deal with, and a lot of labour for a low yield. All the same, it was good enough that I'll do it again next year.

Then came a great buy on late-season strawberries (lots are grown around here) and, my personal favourite, peach season. I followed a recipe that claimed added pectin would not be required. That was simply untrue. I now have six jars of peach jam that is delicious, but a bit runny for use on toast. I added a bit of pectin to the strawberries, but clearly not enough, and the consistency is similar to that of the peach jam. Not perfect, but very yummy and, as it turns out, versatile, as they work adequately on bread, but superbly as an ice cream topping.

I also canned peaches, pears and beets. The pears went well, and look like they'll be good for compotes. The peaches should have been riper, and seem to mostly be firmer than I'd like. I'll try making a peach crumble this week and see how it goes.

Beets normally thrill me. But this season they came out strangely shaped and often fibrous, and with odd colours, sometimes white. I don't know what happened. I canned about 3 L of them (boiled, then packed in vinegar). I'll open a jar this week and see. They look pretty enough, though.

Now winter is here and I'm indoors. I did some winterizing, have finished a couple of end tables I built last year, and am ready to get on with new projects. Check back soon for new Green Tenant projects, tips and updates on some ongoing projects.

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