Category Archives: Garden

Herbed Fig Lemon Jam

The figs are ripe here at the ranch again. I hate it. But I love it. Why? Because I don’t like figs. I don’t like to eat them, I don’t like to pick them and I don’t like to waste them. So I force myself out to the fig trees, battling star thistles and rattlesnakes, and pick until I am covered in itchy fig sap and bleeding from thistle pokes, just for the sake of jam.

Garden fresh!

Garden fresh!

When jam and jelly get involved, I love it! Figs make awesome preserves, jam and pickles and they are free!!!! I usually make 3 or 4 different fig recipes a year. My friends love figs, so I know what everyone is getting for Christmas! I needed to expand my recipe collection this year and since I still had meyer lemons, this was the perfect recipe to try! I actually ate this jam and *gasp* kinda liked it even with the figs! The thyme adds something different, which I liked a great deal.

Herbed Fig Lemon Jam

3 pounds figs
1 meyer lemon
4 cups sugar
¼ lemon juice
2 cups water
Thyme springs

Boiling jam. It smells so good!

Boiling jam. It smells so good!

Cut figs into chunks. I like a good variety of big and little, I think it gives it a nice consistency. Carefully cut the lemon into quarters, removing seeds and proceed to cut the quarters crosswise. Mix the figs, lemon and sugar into a large saucepan. Add lemon juice and water. Bring to a boil without stirring. (It’s so hard!!! I know.)

Let cool to room temperature, place a lid on your pan and chill overnight to 12 hours. Bring mixture back to a boil until the lemon is translucent and the mixture has thickened. Add thyme sprigs to mixture and continue boiling until the mixture can pass the frozen plate test. When it does skim foam and discard thyme sprigs.

Fill sterilized jars until 1/4 inch headspace and process in a boiling water for 10 minutes.

A very nice snack!

A very nice snack!

Also try:

Balsamic Figs

Fig Jam 

Fig Preserves 

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Pickled Mission Figs


We have several mission fig trees growing wild on the ranch. As a little kid, I spent a massive amount of time climbing and hanging out in the huge, cool fig tree canopies. I have lovely memories of my cousins coming over and playing with me as well, so figs always remind me of that. And pig enemas, but that is for a different post.img_5199

Around the first of August, when the main crop of missions ripen, I get to picking and canning. I’m not a fan of eating figs because of the pig thing I mentioned above, but I enjoy picking them because it reminds me of being a kid. Plus anything I can grow or glean needs to be canned or pickled, because it does.

Last summer I tried this recipe and everyone loved it. I was told these figs were great as a snack, with charcuterie, on salads, etc. I made them again this year just to compliment my charcuterie plates and so I could blog the recipe for you.

 Pickled Mission Figs *

  • 4 quarts firm, ripe figs
  • 5 cups sugar, divided
  • 2 quarts water
  • 3 cups cider vinegar
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 tablespoon whole allspice
  • 1 tablespoon whole cloves
  • 1 star anise (optional)
  • 1 vanilla bean (optional)
Figs soaking in their hot water bath.

Figs soaking in their hot water bath.

Boil water and pour over figs, let stand until cool. Combine 3 cups of sugar and 2 quarts of water and heat until the sugar dissolves. And the figs and gently cook for 30 minutes.  Add 2 cups sugar and vinegar. Tie spices (except for the vanilla bean just thrown that right in with the figs after you slice it open) in a spice bag and add to the figs. Simmer for about an hour.

Despite the hot vinegar, this does smell good.

Despite the hot vinegar, this does smell good.

Cover the figs and let stand in a cool place for 12-24 hours.  Bring back up to a simmer. Pack the figs into sterilized pint or quart jars. leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Process 15 minutes in boiling-water canner.

Pickled figs

Pickled figs

 

You might also want to try:

Homemade Balsamic Figs

Pickled Figs 

Mrs. Little’s Pickled Figs

*based on the Ball Blue Canning Book recipe

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Wordless Wednesday: Romanesco 

  

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Rhubarb-Strawberry Jam

When I was a little girl, my Parents would always tell me to leave our rhubarb plant alone, because it was really poisonous and it could kill me. Soon after, my Mom would serve some sort of rhubarb dessert. It confused me to no end, why my Parents would eat a poisonous dessert on purpose!

Finally, after several uncharacteristic refusals of dessert someone explained to me that once the rhubarb was cleaned of it’s green leaf and cooked, it ceased to be poisonous. Good to know.

Rhubarb is so pretty

Rhubarb is so pretty

As an adult I’ve fallen in love with jam and jelly making. There is something wonderful about being able to preserve the bounty of your garden all year long. One of my absolute, hands-down, most popular jams is strawberry-rhubarb. Both rhubarb and strawberries thrive in my little corner of California, so during certain times of the year, I am almost guaranteed to have all the ingredients right outside my door!

Rhubarb-Strawberry Jam

2 cups pureed strawberries

2 cups chopped rhubarb

1 package powdered pectin

¼ cups store bought lemon juice

5 ½ cups sugar

This makes me think of spring!

This makes me think of spring!

Combine the first four ingredients in a large saucepan and bring to boil over high heat. Add the sugar, stirring constantly until dissolved. Return to a boil and boil hard for 1 minute. Remove from heat, skim foam and ladle hot jam into sterilized hot jars, leaving an ¼ inch headspace. Adjust caps and process 10 minutes in a boiling water canner.

This makes excellent gifts and is breathtaking during the middle of winter! Your friends will love you!

This makes excellent gifts and is breathtaking during the middle of winter! Your friends will love you!

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Monsanto: Evil Empire or Sustainable Ag Company?

In certain circles it’s still trendy to attack or insinuate Monsanto is this giant, faceless, company hell bent on world destruction and/or take-over (take your pick).  This stance always puzzles me. My personal experience with them has been the complete opposite. (Also for the record, Monsanto is not that giant, Whole Foods and Monsanto are pretty close in size)

For the third time in so many years, I have been able to tour their facility in Woodland, California. Each time has been different, and quite frankly, eye opening. I have walked away from these tours with a whole new appreciation for what the company does and what it stands for.

I got to take peppers home. This pleased me to no end.

I got to take peppers home. This pleased me to no end.

Most people are under the misconception that all Monsanto produces are GMO crops. But in actuality they breed over 20 (non GMO) crops. There is much misunderstanding and fear when it comes to our food supply these days. More often than not, it seems like companies will use fear and our ignorance to sell us a product. I can’t stand that. I appreciate Monsanto opening their doors to me, multiple times. Despite the negative press and online movements that urges me to boycott them and sign petitions against them, they have been continually transparent and welcoming to me.

Monsanto has made it a point to urge bloggers, journalists, farmers, and even average consumers to engage with them! In fact the company’s chief technology officer, Dr. Robert T. Fraley has invited celebrity activists like Susan Sarandon to St. Louis! Since I love to stand on my soapbox and preach about transparency, this is something I appreciate!

My tour group learning about tomatoes.

My tour group learning about tomatoes.

This trip was my favorite. A small group that included bloggers, teachers, and scientists were all invited to spend the day learning about and touring the Woodland Monsanto Farm. We spent about half the day out in the field speaking with their growers and seeing beautiful produce! The next part was learning about how to set up a food tasting and participating in a melon tasting.

Janice Person was our host. I’ve known Janice for years now. We met on twitter and eventually met in real life -she has even been out to the ranch!

I loved this trip because, I love interacting with the plant growers and breeders. These experts were literally outstanding in their fields, ready to share their knowledge with us and answer our questions. My inner gardener was deeply pleased and I’m going to highlight my favorite things for you below!

 

The Field

So much fame in this picture! Terry the Pepper man! I was a whisper star-stuck!

So much fame in this picture! Terry the Pepper man! I was a whisper star-stuck!

We started with peppers. Terry Berke was our pepper expert. He also is the man that breed the Nacho Jalapeno plant, which is currently in my garden and my favorite. I had a huge fan girl moment. Terry taught me that peppers need lots of Nitrogen, something I have been neglecting. He also mentioned that peppers use the Scoville Scale to measure their heat. Peppers are my current garden obsession, I’ve been growing, canning, pickling and fermenting them all summer. I loved the pepper portion of our tour and was sad to move on. Since I was gifted with so many peppers, I had to can some! So look forward to that recipe being posted soon!

Monsanto had super efficient drip watering systems. Again, this made me so very happy.

Monsanto had super efficient drip watering systems. Again, this made me so very happy.

We moved on to Bill Johnson, the squash breeder. Bill changed my squash growing game. I learned that “if you don’t harvest, you don’t get to harvest” squash, meaning if you let your squash plants grow into baseball bat sized squash, it is going to affect the rest of your harvest. This is why my zucchini plants are all screwed up now! I wasn’t home and didn’t harvest!

Bill in his squash - he taught me my new favorite word, puduncle!

Bill in his squash – he taught me my new favorite word, peduncle!

Squash farmers have a short window for everything (remember this is coming from a cattle rancher), the female flowers only bloom once for four hours! That’s such a small window to be fertilized! They must be harvested quickly too (as we learned above).

We got lovely infusion water bottles, which we all promptly put watermelon in!

We got lovely infusion water bottles, which we all promptly put watermelon in!

Watermelons were next. Samples were given, my favorite, by far, was called Summer Breeze. We spoke at length about watermelon pollination, how they breed seedless melons, and how to pick a good one (look for a yellow spot or “belly”).

I loved learning about watermelon breeding! It was soooo very different from cattle breeding!

I loved learning about watermelon breeding! It was soooo very different from cattle breeding!

The one common theme that was constantly mentioned by all of the plant breeders was how different regions (or countries) demand different varieties of produce (check out this watermelon infographic for an excellent overview). Monsanto works very, very hard fulfilling consumer demand. For example, what American’s look for in a jalapeno is not the same as what Mexican’s look for and they breed accordingly. This totally makes so much sense to me, as food is such a major part of cultures, and every culture has it’s own tastes and preferences.

Just look at those beautiful peduncles! (The peduncle is a stem that connects the fruit to the plant)

Just look at those beautiful peduncles! (The peduncle is a stem that connects the fruit to the plant)

Allan Krivanek and fresh market tomatoes were next on our tour. Fresh market tomatoes are the kind you buy in a store. Processing tomatoes (we also have a lot of those in my area), are used to make ketchup and sauce. It was fascinating to learn how and taste the differences in tomatoes!

My friend Shannon (she lived on the ranch during college!) and I got to take melons home too!

My friend Shannon (she lived on the ranch during college!) and I got to take melons home too!

The Tasting

After we spent time in the field we headed back inside for lunch and Dr. Chow-Ming Lee. We got to have lunch with all of the employees of this location. Yes, that’s right, they turned me loose on everyone. This is when I got to visit with some of the other guests. I met Maria from Fitness Reloaded, Danyelle from The Cubicle Chick and Sarah from The House that Ag Built . I love these opportunities because I get exposed to blogs and writers that normally would not be on my radar.

A proper melon tasting!

A proper melon tasting!

After our lunch we got to meet Dr. Lee. Let me tell you, if he ever decides he doesn’t want to be a sensory and tasting expert, he could easily be a comedian. I have never been so entertained  during a powerpoint in my life.

Dr. Lee administered a taste test for us. We got to sample different types of melon and compare our results with the rest of our group. I’m pretty sure I could do that for a living, it was super fun. After that we learned how to perform a proper taste test. This is relevant to me because I am a big fan of taste tests and do them often with my pork and beef. Now I can perform tastes tests with better accuracy!

 

The End

In addition to all the amazing produce I got to take home, Monsanto did provide paid travel for this tour. And the most badass watermelon knife you've ever seen!

In addition to all the amazing produce I got to take home, Monsanto did provide paid travel for this tour. And the most badass watermelon knife you’ve ever seen!

Our day was almost complete after our melon experience. We had one more questions and answer session before we went home. We did cover more topics, and hopefully I will write a blog post about those too. Every time I have been able to tour this facility I leave in shock and awe. I learn so much, I get so excited about the future of my industry! Monsanto gets a bad rap from its critics, and that is unfortunate. If they could put the hearsay and fallacies aside and take the time to explore and learn for themselves, I know their world would be far less terrifying, mine has been.

After interacting with the employees of Monsanto all day, talking to them about their families (some have single sons!!!), and seeing their passion about their jobs and the plants they are breeding, I wanted to apply for a job! I enjoyed my time there immensely, my garden will certainly benefit from it and so will my readers. Again, if you are on the fence about this company, let’s chat about it. I feel like there are so many “unfacts” out there, it can be hard to cut through all the bullshit sometimes, and that is why I work so hard and spend so much time doing fields trips like this.

*I received a travel stipend for this tour (it covered my gas from Indian Valley to Woodland and back). I also received a crapton of veggies. However, may I just note that this did not sway my opinion in any way, that would take pigs!

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CropLife America: Green Thumb Challenge

Green Thumb Challenge_Logo With Text_FOR WEB 6.10.15-01

Last year I had the pleasure to go back to Washington DC and be apart of CropLife America’s 2014 Policy Conference. It was an incredible experience and I walked away with so much respect for this organization. When I heard they are supporting the Food Recovery Network (you guys know how I feel about food waste) by asking people to use social media and show their “green thumbs” – I was even more impressed with CropLife.

My favorite "selfie" from my trip.

My favorite “selfie” from my trip.

CropLife America is holding a social media initiative called the Green Thumb Challenge. They are asking those of us who support all forms of sustainable farming methods and U.S. farmers (and ranchers!) to tweet  @CropLifeAmerica, a simple picture of your green thumb, why you support agriculture. Make sure you use the #GreenThumbContest to enter!

I stole this picture from CropLife America because it was the only one of me on stage!

I stole this picture from CropLife America because it was the only one of me on stage!

Now this is the cool part for every submission on twitter they receive “CLA will donate $1 to the Food Recovery Network.” This is an organization “that unites students on college campuses to fight waste by donating the surplus unsold food from their colleges and donating it to hungry Americans.”

CropLife America is willing to donate up to $10,000 to this organization. Think how much food that would save and how many hungry people that would help. In addition to that donation they are also offering a pretty cool prize to the “best” green thumb – an Apple watch!

My very first entry! This was after a day of working calves so I was very dirty and stinky!

My very first entry! This was after a day of working calves so I was very dirty and stinky!

Again, all you need to do to enter is tweet to  @CropLifeAmerica a picture of your green thumb, tell them why you support ag and use the hashtag #GreenThumbContest. Easy peasy! Go here for complete rules and guidelines  www.croplifeamerica.org/green-thumb-challenge.

Please support this wonderful initiative!

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Pickled Garlic

Neighbor Pete brought me a big box of freshly harvested garlic a few weeks ago. I love garlic and use it in most meals when I can. One of my favorite things ever is to roast it in the oven or on the BBQ and eat it on good french bread. However, neighbor Pete brought me more garlic than I could use in a reasonable amount of time. So I had to get creative – I had to can it.

My huge ass box of delicious fresh garlic.

My huge ass box of delicious fresh garlic.

This is a super easy recipe! And so so so good! I could probably eat a jar of this myself without a problem.

Pickled Garlic 

6 cups peeled garlic cloves (do yourself a favor and buy the pre-peeled ones at Costco)
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon canning salt
3 cups 5% vinegar
bay leaves

Peeled garlic. By hand. Such a pain. But so worth it in the end!

Peeled garlic. By hand. Such a pain. But so worth it in the end!

Peeling this much fresh garlic is not fun. I tried all the tricks, shaking it in the bowl, using that special garlic tube – nothing worked as well as peeling it by hand. After peeling 6 cups of garlic cloves by hand, I was not amused and my nails hurt!!! Just buy the pre-peeled stuff, trust me.

Yum.

Yum.

Mix the sugar, salt and vinegar in a saucepan and bring it to a boil. Once you have your cloves peeled blanch them in boiling water for 1 minute. Pack your hot garlic into your sterilized, hot half pint jars with a bay leaf. Ladle the hot vinegar mixture over the garlic and leave ¼ inch headspace. Adjust your lids and process in a water canner for 10 minutes.

I almost ate this whole jar in one sitting. It's so mild and sweet! One of my favorite things!

I almost ate this whole jar in one sitting. It’s so mild and sweet! One of my favorite things!

Give it about two weeks to cure. And that is it! So easy and so good.

 

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Recipe: Meyer Vanilla Lemonade

One of the many benefits of living in California is the citrus!!!! Because of this I have a collections of dwarf citrus trees in my front yard. I have several Meyer lemon trees because they are my favorite. Meyer lemons are a cross between a lemon and mandarin or orange. They are sweeter than your average lemon and have a thinner skin. One of my favorite things to do with these lemons is make lemonade.

Lemonade in my AgHag chalice.

Lemonade in my AgHag chalice.

Meyer-Vanilla Lemonade

6 to 7 Meyer lemons (about one cup of juice, although I prefer one cup running over)
3/4 cup vanilla sugar*
5 cups water, divided
Ice

This smells like sunshine.

This smells like sunshine.

Bring one cup of water and sugar to a boil to make a simple syrup. Remove from heat and cool. Squeeze lemons, making sure to remove the seeds.
Add cooled simple syrup, lemon juice, and water into a pitcher and mix well. Serve over ice and with a lemon slice.

*Vanilla sugar is just sugar that I keep in a jar with a few gutted vanilla beans. It’s lovely for pastries, drinks and baked goods. It has a slight vanilla flavor that really compliments most things. You could add a teaspoon of vanilla extract to the lemonade if you are using plain sugar. But I highly recommend getting a jar of vanilla sugar going for your pantry.

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Garden Hot Sauce

It was a good garden year for me. I managed to build a fence that kept the rats with horns deer out of my yarden, so I was able to grow all kinds of fun things. This year I inadvertently planted several different pepper plants. I have big peppers, little peppers, purple peppers, sweet peppers, well…..you get the idea.

This was exciting to me because for the past couple years, I’ve wanted to make my own hot sauce. I come from an area and culture (cough…hipsters….cough) that highly prize hot sauce. Sriracha and/or Tapatio are generally used with every meal, on everything. I’ve always heard how basic and easy hot sauce was to make, so I figured the time was now.

I got into fermenting kinda hardcore this summer.

I got into fermenting kinda hardcore this summer.

I selected a very basic and old recipe for my hot sauce – salt water brine.  Other than the time it takes to ferment, this recipe is super quick and easy! The downside is it does take at least a month to bubble and ferment before you can blend and eat it.

 Fermented Hot Sauce

  • 5% Brine (that is 3 TBSP of salt per 1 quart of water)
  • 1 Tablespoon mustard seed per pound of peppers
  • 1 small head of garlic per pound of peppers
  • 1 pound assorted peppers
  • Sliced onion
  • Grape leaves
See how the brine is cloudy and the peppers have lost their volume? That means it's working!

See how the brine is cloudy and the peppers have lost their volume? That means it’s working!


Place your mustard seed and peeled garlic on the bottom of your jar. Place your rough chopped peppers on top. I like to leave the crowns of the pepper on because I think it adds to the flavor. Layer a few slices of onion on top and then your grape leaf. Cover completely with your brine. You may need add a weight to keep your peppers or onion from sticking up through the water.

Cover your jar with either with a lid and ring or with a wire-bale jar.

I used wild grape leaves on top of a slice on onion to keep everything submerged in the brine.

I used wild grape leaves on top of a slice on onion to keep everything submerged in the brine.

Let your jar ferment for 4 to 5 weeks. Once your peppers are no longer crunchy and the bubbling has stopped, remove the grape leaf and drain your peppers, garlic, onion and mustard away from the brine.

The left is the leftover brine, the right is "the sauce".

The left is the leftover brine, the right is “the sauce”.

Blend your peppers in your food processor, adding the brine to reach your desired consistency. I add a whisper of vinegar and sugar to enhance the flavor. Different vinegars can add an unique finish!

I'm not going to lie - this particular sauce was too hot for me! I gave it to my friends!

I’m not going to lie – this particular sauce was too hot for me! I gave it to my friends!

That’s it! Stick it back in a jar or bottle and keep it in your fridge!

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Wordless Wednesday: Table vs Oil Olive

IMG_0433

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