Monday, July 30, 2012

A Prettier Cousin of the Black-Eyed Pea

On a whim Ashley planted pink-eyed peas in our summer garden. One of the several varieties of field peas/cowpeas, pink-eyed peas are cousins to the more commonly known black-eyed peas; however, for connoisseurs of  of field peas, pink-eyed peas have more flavor (I haven't reached that level of judgement). This was a really interesting plant to watch grow. Apparently they do best in sandy, well-drained soil (which we have) and like lots of sun. They grow in bush form--no need to stake them--and the best part is you know the peas are ready when the hulls turn purple. 

The hulls themselves are long, about 6 inches, and the peas inside are light green with pink eyes. What a pretty combination!

Our little harvester likes to eat them raw (of course). I wouldn't recommend this but he always prefers to eat food right from the garden. 

Shelling the peas by hand takes a lot of work. Ashley and I plowed through a 3 gallon bucket in an hour--and were rewarded with ONE very full quart bag, which I froze for later use.

I used some of our pink-eyed peas in the succotash I made this week. Other options I've read about are making a pea salad (sometimes known as Texas or cowboy caviar) and hummus (this recipe is for black-eyed pea hummus, which I've made, and pink-eyes can easily be substituted). 

To read more about this variety of peas, visit the Purple Hull Pea Festival's web site. Don't you love when a small town has a festival for a food that many people don't even know exists? Around here we have the Okra Strut and the Peanut Party, along with a more common Peach Festival. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012


The South Carolina heat doesn't stop our garden from growing (thanks to our well irrigation) and some very determined pink-eyed peas and okra.
I'll write later about the pink-eyed peas because this post is reserved for the belles of the ball--our okra!

Our okra is definitely bountiful--I usually harvest it in the morning and the evening. 

Generally we like to pick young, tender pods (less than 4 inches). While we've been eating a lot of fresh okra (grilled, steamed, roasted), I've also frozen some for our winter. 

There's a debate online about whether or not you need to blanch foods before placing them in the freezer. So far we have blanched our spinach, broccoli, corn, and green beans. But I'm jumping off that bandwagon for okra and following my route from last year--simply cutting up the okra and flash freezing it (loving my freezer!). 

Then I bag it for later use (most likely for succotash). 

My favorite way to eat okra this summer is pan-roasted on the stovetop. I got this recipe from the Lee Brothers Simple Fresh Southern cookbook. It's easy and healthy--slice your okra into rounds, place into a skillet (I used my grandma's cast iron pan), and cook over medium high heat. No oil. Just DRY. Turn the okra as it starts to brown and then remove from the pan. Add salt if you wish and enjoy. My boys eat handfuls of these "croutons". Yum!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Pumpkins in July

Celebrating Christmas in July always sounds fun. But what's even more fun is harvesting (volunteer) pumpkins in July! Last fall we threw out the remains and seeds of a pie pumpkin into our woods. Low and behold, the seeds sprouted and grew us a nice vine with three lovely pumpkins in JULY! Since it's not fall, I really didn't feel like making any pumpkin products so I decided to roast them instead. 

I read several different opinions about how to roast pumpkins online and settled with the cutting in half, removing the seeds, and roasting at 375 degrees for around an hour. Note the aluminum foil I used to line the pan--don't bother with it. The pumpkins' juice ran underneath the foil and I had to wash the pan anyway. 

After about 1 hr, the pumpkins were soft enough to use a spoon to scoop out their flesh. 

 I then processed the pumpkin in a food processor and then drained it to remove extra juice (some folks online thought this improved the quality of frozen pumpkin--we'll see). 

I packed the pumpkin puree, 1 cup per bag to make it easy to use in recipes. And then placed it in my lovely chest freezer!

And that leftover juice? I'll put it into a smoothie for the boys to amp up the nutrients of our summer snack. 

We are growing jack-o-lantern pumpkins to share with family and friends in front of our house. We put the seeds in the ground a little late for South Carolina but they're doing well so far. This is the first time we've used the groundcover to keep the weeds under control.  

Sunday, July 15, 2012

"Look at that BIIIIG one!"

It's tomato time here on our hill. Ashley and I haven't had much success in the past with tomatoes (aside from the "Patio Tomato" variety that we used in containers at our old house) so we really weren't expecting much this year. If anything, we thought the plants might be attacked by tomato worms like last year and we could show the boys their green guts (ewww!). 

Ah...but our tomatoes are producing beautiful fruits this summer so we have more to show. So far the best producers have been the Early Girl (below, on the left) and the Pink Brandywine heirloom (that whopper on the right) varities. Speaking of whoppers, our son who picks EVERYTHING noticed that huge one and kept saying,  "Look at that BIIIIIIG one!" He likes to clarify sizes of front loader tires, pieces of food, etc and his favorite is always something that is big. He's right with this weighed more than 1.5 lbs and is probably at least 2 cups of tomato. 

Aren't they lovely? We picked them right before they were fully ripe to make sure we didn't lose them to pests (or before their skins cracked in the heat). 

Our zucchini plants continue to produce (I shredded up 6 zucchini the other morning and froze them...will use for muffins in the fall and winter). And notice our okra! We're getting ready to be hit with an onslaught of okra and we're excited!

My older son loves to take pictures with my camera. I really liked these two that he took of the front porch. Our house looks great decorated for 4th of July. 

There are lots of ways to use tomatoes. Some of my favorites are on sandwiches, in bruschetta mixes (mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, olive oil, salt and balsamic vinegar), and as a topping on grilled pizzas. Since tonight was Sunday night, Ashley was home to watch the boys while I tackled grilling pizzas (this takes undivided attention on my part). I loosely follow Mark Bittman's guide to grilling pizzas but use dough purchased from Publix (my favorite local grocery store). 

The key to grilling pizzas is dividing your grill into zones. Notice in the picture below the right side of my grill has no food on it--that's the side where I have the burner turned to high. The left two burners are turned to low.

 A brief description of how I grill pizzas: 
  1. Shape your dough. 
  2. Place on cookie sheets that you have brushed with olive oil--this greases the dough and prevents it from sticking to the grill.
  3. Place the dough (no toppings yet) on the side of the grill where the burners are on low.
  4. Cook the dough until it starts to firm up and has grill marks on one side.
  5. Flip the dough, cook until it is golden brown (I usually get all of my pizzas to this point and then begin the topping adventure).
  6. Once all of your dough is cooked, top as you please. Keep your toppings to a minimum and make sure everything is already cooked BEFORE you place them on the pizzas (such as meat, grilled veggies, etc). My favorite pizza has a pesto base, topped with fresh tomatoes and mozzarella (and then basil once you remove it from the grill). You can close the top of the grill at this point to melt the cheese--or you can take your pizzas inside or place under the broiler in your oven. 


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

You Say Potato...I say Tomato?

In the classic film, Shall We Dance, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers sing Gershwin's "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off." Remember? You like po-TAY-toes and I like po-TAH-toes?  

That song immediately popped into my head the other night when Ashley found a potato (we say po-TAY-toh here at Okra Hill) plant with what we thought was a tomato on top. We pulled the potatoes up a long time ago so finding this plant was a surprise to start with!

How crazy...Did we have some garden miracle on our hands? Did I need to call Clemson Extension Service or the Making It Grow show? 

As it turns out, we don't have a miracle or even something that unusual...The small cherry tomato-type fruit on the plant is actually the fruit of a potato plant. You can read more here if you're interested (I was!). The bottom line is don't eat the little green "tomato" on the potato plant because it is toxic to humans. I'll be going out tomorrow to pick it off so our picker isn't harvesting it for his garden snack. On a side note, we did enjoy our first two figs today on our small tree near the chicken barn. YUM!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Mounds of Melons

Ashley planted watermelon and cantaloupe seeds in the old tractor tires around our garden. They're flourishing. Case in point, one of the vines is even sneaking into the garden barn!

I've been seeing all sorts of recipes using watermelon (watermelon granita, grilled watermelon, watermelon salad). We'll be able to try some soon, I hope. Right now we're enjoying the watermelons from our farmer's market (just cut up in the fridge). 

The cantaloupes are coming right along, too. 

And the volunteer watermelons that are in front of our house are expanding daily. We actually picked one last Saturday (we thought it was huge) but it wasn't ripe. 

Besides the human consumers of watermelons on our hill, we have two lively goats who also like this summer fruit. Notice the vine growing in the pen behind Waylon. 

These guys have healed from their castration a few weeks ago and are back to their crazy antics of chasing after each other and crying for us every time we come out the front door or get out of the car. They seem really happy with their new pen (we are, too) and have been earning their keep by munching on the underbrush. Thanks, guys!

They really are funny guys. Ashley said he's not interested in trying the grilled watermelon but he suggested that Ziggy might like it after finding him happily munching through one of their watermelons.