Category Archives: Recipes

The Merry Old Month of Tomato

The crush of the harvest is a problem, but one of my favorites. In a good year, time turns in on itself and an extra month overlaps May and June, called Tomato. We’re having a whopping Tomato month this year, which is good because last year’s never really materialized.

Wash In Cold Water With Like Colors - Air DrySeven stout plants grew from the seed I’ve been saving eight or nine years now, stuck in fertile dirt that hadn’t seen a garden in a long while. As a bonus, at least the top couple of inches of soil probably were sanitized by a very hot fire that ripped through our old garage almost a year ago. Maybe that helped keep the wilt viruses off of the plants this year, I don’t know. The plants grew wide and tall, and once they hit about 7 feet and started to lean, I loosely bound their stems together with twine and secured them to heavy wooden trellises behind them to the north. The plants probably would be 10 to 12 feet tall if they were growing straight up.

So far these seven plants have produced many dozens of large, really tasty beefsteak-type fruit. Enough that I’ve made several batches of salsa, several caprese plates, innumerable slices on sandwhiches, salads and popped raw into my mouth, a large glass dishful of roasted ones for use with fresh shrimp, plenty to give away, and so far three batches of a really good fresh sauce I’ve just learned to make. Today I prepared 14 large tomatoes and put them on two cookie sheets in the freezer. After they’ve been in there a few hours, I’ll transfer them to freezer bags and use them in the winter. Still there are more on the window sills, on top of the freezer and the washing machine.

Good Beefsteak Tomatoes Are Meaty With Small Seed CavatiesI wish I could have them fresh for slicing the rest of the summer and fall, but they spoil fairly quickly if you don’t use them – so into the freezer they go, or another batch of this:

Fresh Tomato Sauce
→ 4 pounds ripe tomatoes, washed, sliced into eight wedges and squeezed gently to remove the seeds and some of the juice
→ 12 leaves of fresh basil, chopped
→ 1 Tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped fine
→ 1 medium sweet onion, cut in half
→ 2-4 garlic cloves, smashed and minced
→ olive oil
→ salt and pepper to taste

Pour just enough olive oil into a heavy, deep pan to cover the bottom. Heat the oil with the burner on medium, then add the oregano and the garlic and stir until the garlic begins to yellow. Slice half of the onion and add it to the pot, stirring for a few minutes until it turns golden.

Stir in the tomato wedges and raise the heat a bit. Mash them down with a potato masher. Add a few pinches of salt and ground pepper, then stir the tomatoes. Allow them to boil, then turn the heat down and simmer them for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Allow the tomatoes to cool a little, then pour them into a blender or food processor (you may need to do it in two batches). Blend until smooth.

Add another couple of tablespoons of olive oil to your pot, and while it’s heating, chop the other half-onion very fine, then cook it until golden. Pour the tomato sauce from the blender back into the pot, and add the basil. Simmer 15-25 minutes, or until the sauce thickens up. Adjust seasonings to your liking.

This should make enough sauce for two 16-ounce packages of pasta. You can double the recipe if you like. Freeze whatever sauce you don’t plan on using right away.

Also posted in Country Life, Food, Garden

Beef Bites Back

Burgers Coming UpSince we’ve begun grinding our own sausage and hamburger, I’ve been paying closer attention to certain cuts of meat that never really caught my eye that much in the past, namely beef chuck roasts and steaks, and pork shoulder or so-called Boston butt. Both the beef and pork cuts come from the animals’ shoulders, and both contain between 20% and 30% fat – perfect for burgers and sausage.

In the past, those cuts also have been known for their low price. However, as I have been learning, that has changed. I’ve been able to find deals on boneless pork shoulder from between $1.89 to $2.39 a pound at various grocers. But boneless chuck roast or chuck steaks are running above $4.50 a pound, with deals going for $3.59 – $3.79. That seems high to me.

And it turns out, it is high (for the feedlot beef you’re stuck with if you buy from grocery stores, and of course grass-fed, custom-slaughtered beef would be much higher).

According to data from the USDA, beef prices now are at or near record high prices, and they are forecast to rise another 3% to 4% over 2014.

This really should’ve been no surprise to me, if only I would have connected the dots from my farm neighbor’s pasture to Kroger’s meat market.

The neighbor behind my little Lavaca County farm runs cattle (as we say) on a main pasture of about 100 acres. But for the past couple years, it’s seemed as if the grass stopped growing, and the fields just look mostly like brownish stubble. It’s the drought. It got so bad last year that a band of his cows managed to break through the fence to get to my hayfield for some good eats for a change.

My neighbor has had to pay a lot of money to supplement his cattle’s feed, including buying hay that he’d be able to provide for himself if the rains were sufficient, which they are not.

As go the cattle fortunes of my neighbors, so go the fortunes of Texas in general, and the beef fortunes of the whole U.S., because Lavaca County is the biggest beef-producing county in the state, and Texas is the biggest beef-producing state in the union. There were about 68,000 head of cattle in Lavaca Cunty in 2012 – 50,000 more bovines than human county residents. But by the end of 2013, the total cattle herd was just 60,000. Ranchers had to sell off part of their herds because there just wasn’t enough forage due to the drought.

That’s been happening to herds across Texas and most of the rest of the large cattle states, to the extend that now, according to The Associated Press, there are fewer cattle on U.S. pastures than at any time since 1951.

So even if it starts raining hard for the next three months and my neighbor is prompted to keep more cows to birth more calves, it’ll be a long while before that translates into beef prices us peasants might consider “reasonable.”

Thus, if you must buy feedlot meat (and at this point, I still do) my advice is to forget the beef and go for the cheap pork shoulder. At half the price of its equivalent in beef, you’d have to consider it a bargain. Plus it’s more versatile than chuck. Not only can you make all manner of sausages out of it, you can toss it in the smoker, and turn it into awesome pulled pork (although granted, this can take 12 hours).

Or, you can make a Mexican version of pulled pork, which is much easier and really tasty:

Easy Yucatan Pork

→ 3-4 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into three or four semi-equal pieces
→ 2-3 tablespoons achiote paste, which can be found at grocery stores all over Texas, or you can make your own
→ 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
→ the juice of two limes
→ 2 cups of orange juice
→ 1 large sweet onion, sliced thin
→ 2 large garlic cloves, minced
→ salt and pepper to taste

→ Place the pork pieces in a large crock-pot
→ Combine the achiote paste, olive oil, lime juice and a little salt in a small bowl. Use the back of a fork to work the achiote paste into the liquid. Watch for splashes, because the red paste can stain.
→ Pour the contents from the bowl over the meat. Turn the meat to make sure all sides are coated with the achiote mixture.
→ Turn the crock-pot on low and cook for 8 hours if you have the time, or on high for 4 hours if you’re in a “hurry.”
→ Sprinkle the garlic over the meat. Pour the orange juice over everything. Lay the onion slices on top. Close the crock-pot lid and wait. When a knife slides through the meat almost like butter, it’s done.

You can shred some up and serve it with chopped tomatoes or sliced hot peppers or avocados or onions marinated in lime juice, all rolled up in warm corn tortillas. Or just ladle some up over rice. Simple, easy, good enough to help wean you away from expensive beef.

Also posted in Family Math, Farm, Food


When Life Gives You LemonsI’ve had to pick more lemons than I can immediately use, because the tree is so full of fruit that many of the branches were bent all the way to the ground. So many lemons. Yesterday I preserved my first jarful of the season – cut about six of the big Meyer lemons into quarters, almost, leaving them attached at one end, then pour salt inside each, then press them down into the jar, then fill to the top with juice from another two or three lemons. After a couple of weeks in a dark corner on the counter, I’ll refrigerate them and they’ll be ready to use. It’s the rind you’re preserving. And you can mince it up and add it to any dish for a great citrus zing.

Then there are these Aji Limon pepper plants that won’t stop producing. The chilies are yellow and narrow and about an inch and a half long. And pretty hot, with a fruity aftertaste some describe as lemony. I’ve been harvesting a *lot* of them. After making a nice jar of hot sauce and a lot of salsa, I still seemed to have as many as when I started.

As luck would have it, I learned from the Google box that you can combine these peppers with Meyer lemons and make some damn fine hot pepper jelly. So I did:

Aji Lemon Jelly

Hot Pepper HarvestIngredients:
→ Two bell peppers or three sweet frying peppers, finely chopped (I used Argentina heirloom Aconcagua peppers)
→ A dozen Aji Limon peppers, seeds and membranes removed, minced (and you might want to wear kitchen gloves while handling these bad boys, or else be very careful who and what you touch with your hot-pepper fingers)
→ Juice of three lemons, or 1.5 cups of juice (if you don’t have that much juice, you can add white vinegar to get the full 1.5 cups)
→ Zest of two lemons
→ 6.5 cups of sugar
→ 1 tsp. of butter
→ I packet of standard fruit pectin
→ 7-9 glass one-pint canning jars, with lid rings and tops

Wash the jars and lids. Simmer the jars in a canner or large pot of hot water, and put the lid rings and tops in a smaller pan of simmering water.

Stir the sweet and hot peppers, the lemon zest and the juice into a large pan and turn the heat on high. Stir the mixture and allow it to reach a full rolling boil. Add the butter to keep the foaming down.

Stir in the pouch of pectin, wait for the ingredients to reach a full rolling boil again and allow it to boil for exactly one more minute, then remove from heat.

Skim off any foam and then ladle the hot jelly into the pint jars, filling them to within an eighth of an inch of the top. Use a damp paper towel to wipe any excess jelly off of the jar, then put a top on the jar and screw the lid ring on snugly. Once all the jars are full, put them back into the canner or large pot, make sure the water is deep enough that they are at least an inch under the surface, and then bring to a gentle boil. Boil the jars for 10 minutes, and you’re done.

Use tongs to lift the jars out of the hot water and onto a rack or cutting board. Within a minute or less, you should hear a clicking sound come from each jar as the tops seal. At this point the jelly may appear to be very runny, but as it cools off in the jars, the pectin should cause it to thicken nicely.

My first batch gave me about 6 and a half pints of jelly. I sealed up and saved six jars and used the extra half-pint for immediate taste-testing. Wonderful, hot and sweet, and with a pretty good color, too.

There’s no reason you couldn’t use the same recipe with serranos or other similar-sized hot chilies. However, if you have habaneros, try using just 3-4 peppers, not a dozen, or you might hurt yourself and your breakfast guests.

Also posted in Food, Fruit, Garden

Easter Beets

Morning Beet PatrolHere’s the answer to the question Do beets grow in South Texas? These are some of the second harvest of a couple rows we planted in January. Next year, more rows starting in November.

A few weeks ago we roasted some individually wrapped in aluminum foil and drizzled with olive oil, then served with crumbled bacon and onions over steamed beet greens, accented by a vinaigrette dressing. They were delicious.

Disclosure: The next day after you eat them, they make you pee pink.

Also posted in Garden