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Previously in Patti's Garden

September 23, 2004

It's the first full day of Autumn - bright, golden, glorious. We've been busy filling bottles with our bumper crop of chile and cayenne peppers to make Aceto Diablo Chile Pepper Vinegar, which is now back in stock. Out in the upper garden, Lara is picking more of the jalapenos (it's their 3rd picking), and Ralph is bringing in the pumpkins.

It's been an incredible summer for peppers and tomatoes. We've been buried under an avalanche of tomatoes in what Ralph calls "the 100-year-flood" of tomatoes. We've put up more than 200 jars of Herb and Garlic Pizza Sauce, and cases of quarts of tomatoes for soups and sauces that we'll live on all winter. When I returned home late on Tuesday after a farmers' market the air was full of the rich aroma of tomatoes and bay, basil, oregano and garlic Ralph had been simmering on the stove.

All of the varieties we grew this year did extremely well. My favorite is still Enchantment, a deep-red plum tomato with wonderful complexity of acid and sweet flavors. Our trials, the Italian heirloom San Marzano Redorta and the Polish heirloom Polish Liguisa were impressive as well. Many of them weighed more than a half pound and they were meaty and virtually seedless. Ralph had staked every other plant and Lara wove twine between the stakes to support the plants which really thrived in this system. I credit the ample rain and sunny site with the success this year too. I know that in some locations farmers had trouble with tomato blight. Our soil is so sandy and our site so sunny that for us, the rain was a gift, not a hindrance.

The three varieties of Italian peppers are having a banner year too. The Giant Marconi seems to be the winner. The plants are prolific, the fruit huge and wonderfully sweet. The Italias came on first but produced less fruit overall than the Giant Marconi. Their flavor, though, is excellent. The Corno di Toros are coming on last; in fact, they're only now beginning to redden. Although the plants are loaded and I expect to harvest many, I probably won't grow them again because they come in so late.

These wonderful Italian peppers are the foundation for our newest preserve, "The Mad Hatter's Pepper Preserve." We've run about four experiments in the kitchen, changing the recipe a bit each time to come up with something which we think is really good. For years people have asked us to make a pepper jelly, and I always explained that I couldn't find any recipe that didn't use pectin and I didn't want to start using the stuff now. I also didn't like the sweetness of a typical pepper jelly or the gummy texture that the added pectin gives it. I finally had an insight (in the bathtub, no less) and we used that technique in the first experiment. Although we used less sugar than in a conventional pepper jelly recipe, the first experiment was too sweet and not spicy enough for us.

As we refined the recipe, we switched from cider vinegar to a wonderful red wine vinegar which we infused with lemon basil. We also increased the proportion of chile peppers (jalapenos, cayennes and chiles) to Italian peppers. The result is a preserve whose flavor is a complex blend of pepper flavors with a spritely layer of lemon basil and perfect zip. As with all our preserves, the texture is softer than a conventional jelly or jam, but it will hold its own on a cracker with or without cream cheese, and is really wonderful with chicken and shrimp, either as a condiment or a coating. (Our friends have been testing our experimental batches and have provided these recipe hints. I'll try to get some into the next newsletter. My favorite used the pepper preserve with pistachios as a coating for shrimp.) Look for The Mad Hatter's Pepper Preserve to be available mid-October.

The Autumn raspberries are just coming on. The crop looks the best of any I've ever seen. Ralph and Peter built a new greenhouse structure over them from which we'll drape plastic to protect the fruit once frost threatens. The frame is really beautiful, built of wood rather than metal pipes. The top is gambrel-shaped, like a barn. That will get the first of the plastic. As the temperatures dip further, he'll drape plastic over the sides as well.

Now that the frame is in place, I'm sure we'll have a long, warm autumn, free from frost until the last date imaginable.

The last time the greenhouse structure protected our autumn raspberries late into the season we picked our last berries on the day that the people elected Al Gore president. That night we had a hard frost and then all hell broke loose. This year I plan to be picking raspberries on the glorious autumn day that John Kerry is elected in a landslide. And the Red Sox will win the World Series. Believe it.

Patti

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