Try Asparagus Beans This Year!

It’s time to buy seeds for this coming spring, so let me tell you about one of my favorites…

My mother has been growing the most wonderful asparagus “yard long” green beans for a few years now.  Last year I asked her to save some seeds for me so that I might try growing the bean myself.   My mother got her bean seeds from her sister, my Aunt Sue, who got her seeds from an on-line seed company.

Asparagus beans

These are the blossoms of the Asparagus Yardlong green bean. They seem to always come in twos and are gorgeous!

On the Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds website, they have one called Chinese Green Noodle Bean that looked similar, but not exactly like my beans. On the Johnny’s Seeds website they have some called Gita, which are again pretty close, but not exactly the same. Over at Park Seed, they have one called Orient Wonder Yardlong, and at Mary’s Heirloom Seeds there is a Chinese Red Noodle Bean.  Check it out HERE.  I can’t wait to try that one out!

Asparagus yard long beans

These plants grow tall, so prepare!

My Aunt Sue got hers from Burpee, and they are called Asparagus Yardlong pole beans. I prefer to grow only organic, non-GMO, heirloom plants, and was glad to see that these were, indeed heirloom!

Most long beans are of the vigna unguiculata subsp. sesquipedalis.  Sesquipedalis in Latin means “foot and a half long”, and this subspecies which arrived in the United States via Asia is characterized by unusually long pods, which lead to the common names of yardlong bean, asparagus bean and Chinese long-bean.

The plant is a different genus from the common bean, but like the common bean, is a vigorous climbing annual. It’s actually a variety of cowpea!  When I was doing some research on the long bean, I read that the plant will attract many pollinators including ants and yellowjackets. In fact, my plants had lots of ants, and I mistakenly had tried getting rid of them with a home made solution of olive oil, dish soap and jalapeno pepper juice! That was a classic hand-to-forehead moment. 🙂 In hindsight, the ants weren’t doing any harm (they weren’t farming aphids on the plant), so next year I will just leave them alone to pollinate.

Chinese yard long beans

This is one of the beans, about halfway grown. When ready to harvest, they are about 14-18 inches long (not really a yard long) and a little less in diameter than a #2 pencil. You can see the purple at the end of the bean, which fades a bit as the bean matures.

The pods on my long bean plant hung in groups of two.  My mother showed me how to harvest the beans, cutting the bean off the plant at the top of the actual bean, because the plant will set more beans on the same stem if it isn’t damaged by harvesting!  My plants were a bit slow to get started, and I will assume that’s because I don’t live in a subtropical climate, which is where these beans originated. Also, I didn’t amend the soil much where I planted them (I have some serious mountain clay) and only gave them a bit of fertilizer, but once the plants started to flower and produce pods – hoooeee – I got a lotta beans!

Chinese asparagus beans

Not quite a yard, but these beans are really quite long!

 

Chinese Asparagus Green Beans

Cut the beans to fit into a wide mouth mason jar with about 1 inch head space, pack vertically, then pour in a vinaigrette. After a few days in the refrigerator they are delicious! Add a few jalapeno peppers for a spicy treat!

Just five or six bean pods make a side meal for Ray and I.  They are really good when marinated (just about any marinade is great) and thrown on the barbeque grill.  The best part is that they are so long, one rarely falls through the grates!  The beans are also excellent in a stir fry.  They are virtually stringless but stay fairly crisp and crunchy when boiled, barbequed, baked, etc..  Throw them in beef stew or roast them with tomatoes, peppers and onions – yum-o!

To preserve them, I think canning (jarring) is best. I also like cutting them long enough to fit into pint sized canning jars, pouring in a vinaigrette, and letting them steep in the fridge for a few days.  Mmmmm…  just like pickled green beans, but still with a nice crunch! Blanching and then freezing them makes them a bit mushy, though palatable.  I would like to try dehydrating the beans, but this season’s crop is pretty much done, so I will have to wait to try this next year.

Once the blossoms are pollinated, they turn yellow and then drop off. Here you can see two baby long beans - aren't they cute?

Once the blossoms are pollinated, they turn yellow and then drop off. Here you can see two baby long beans – aren’t they cute?  See the buds between the beans?  If you carefully cut the first beans when harvesting just right below the top of the actual bean, you won’t disturb the buds, and more beans will develop!

If you have room in your garden, you should certainly try some long beans.  The kids love growing them! Be aware, however, that the beans are not only long, but the plant itself is “long” also!

Yard long green beans

Be prepared to either harvest with a ladder, or have room to let the bean plant fold over. You could even let this grow up and over an arbor and harvest from below!

The bean plant grows very, very tall – at least 10 to 12 feet tall!  To handle this, let them get about 6-8 feet tall, let them crawl over the top of something (strings? Wire? Another trellis?) and then down the other side.  If you can walk under the plant, it makes finding and harvesting the beans easier.

Oh, and those beans you didn’t see on the vine until they have matured beyond fresh eating?  Harvest the pods, let the beans dry out completely, and they can be cooked just like any other dried bean.  Delicious!

I plan to grow these beans again this next spring.  Although mine were a bit slow to get started, I harvested some of the beans after they were fully matured, so that I could save the bean for planting again.  Hopefully, if I select the best beans from the best plants year after year, they will acclimate to my elevation, climate and soil conditions, and my harvests will get better and better!

So…   while you are perusing your seed catalogs this winter, consider the long bean (or asparagus bean, yard long bean, etc.).  You won’t be sorry!0001

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Using The WHOLE Orange!

recipe for orange peel and chocolate candy

We had the most marvelous navel orange tree at our home in the valley.  We planted the tree soon after we moved in and enjoyed it’s wonderful, healthful fruit ever since. That is, until we had to leave it behind when we sold our home so that we could move up to our new homestead.

We eat oranges for dessert with dark chocolate…

A bite of orange.  A bite of chocolate.  Repeat.  Good thing mandarins are just as good this way, because we were able to move our potted mandarin up to our new homestead.

How to candy orange peelA while ago I followed a recipe for candied orange peels that I found in a wonderful book called 1/4 acre farm. They were absolutely devine!  The orange peels ended up with a wonderful chewy texture and were beautifully translucent.  Really, you have to try this!  I was so proud of the fact that we were actually using the whole orange!

But then I made those candied orange peels again yesterday, and when the candy was done, I kept thinking about how good they smelled and how my fingers got so slippery when I was scraping the pith from the orange peel oil.

Orange oil.

Wait…      ORANGE OIL!

I wondered – if I saved the water that the orange peels were gently boiled in, would there be any orange oil floating on the top when it cooled down?  I had to try it, which meant I had to make another batch of candied orange peels.  Ah Shucks.  😉

But, instead of dumping the water the peels were boiled in (the orange peels are boiled in water 3 times), I saved it all in a large pan.  When the water has cooled enough to handle, I used a funnel and poured the water into a large glass bottle, like these…

Brewing Fermented Sweet Tea

I bought the front two, clear bottles at IKEA. The darker bottle in the rear was purchased at a craft brewery nearby.  Just flipping the bale and slowly decanting the water seemed to work just fine.

When filled to the brim, I inverted the bottle, and carefully placed it upside down into the refrigerator.  Why?  Oil and water separate – especially when chilled.  After a few hours of chilling, I slowly (very slowly), without inverting the bottle, let the water trickle out of the bottom.  My thought was that oil generally floats, so if I let the water out of the bottom, the oil would be left on the top.  I stopped decanting the water when there was about an inch or so left in the bottle.  Then I poured in more water and followed the same procedure. Once I had done this with all the boiled water, I could definitely see a sheen of oil on the top of the water.

Yes indeedy, I had orange peel oil!

I poured the oil with the last bit of water into another smaller amber colored bottle for storage.  Since this bottle had a dropper, I got rid of more of the water by sucking out from under the oil layer – remember, oil floats!  This is what I ended up with before sucking all of the water out from underneath:

How to make your own orange oil

can you see it… right there in the middle of the jar? Orange Oil! Wahoo!

I know if I had a small distiller, I would be able to get a lot more oil out of the orange peel, and I also need to experiment with different methods of extracting the oil.  I am also going to see if it makes a difference whether I separate the water and oil when it is still hot, or let it get cold first. Then, I want to see if I can do the same thing with our lemon and mandarin trees!

What will I do with my orange soap made from turkey fatoil? Make orange scented soap!  Or my version of lip balm! Or orange scented beeswax candles!  Or…  well…  you get the picture.  

The best part?  I KNOW this is organic oil because the peels came from my tree which we do not spray! We already miss that tree, since right now is the time the oranges are beginning to ripen. Hopefully, someday, if we can build a walipini, we will again be able to plant another orange tree.

Have you extracted oil from orange peels?  Do you have a better method you would like to share?

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My Garden Thief!

Who stole my sunflowers?

You can see one of our Italian honeybees right in the middle of this beautiful sunflower. Sunflowers are so pretty, aren't they?

You can see one of our Italian honeybees right in the middle of this beautiful sunflower. Sunflowers are so pretty, aren’t they?

I had six beautiful large heads of sunflowers growing in my orchard.  The bees were enjoying them, I was enjoying them, and I had the perfect recipe lined up to use the seeds. Then, one night, the largest sunflower disappeared.

Harrumph…  🙁

Well, I never…

Do you see something missing here?

Hmmmm…   something seems to be missing.

Do you see how it looks like the top of the stalk has been chewed off?  That was the first piece of evidence I saw.

who stole my sunflowers 4Then, throughout the orchard in no less than six separate spots, I found piles of cracked seeds. Strange that the thief would move from spot to spot to eat the seeds, but then (of course) there may have been more than one culprit!

It’s a real shame because I have a really neat recipe I couldn’t wait to try out using the sunflower seeds.  I was going to use the honey from my beehive, with ground almond flour from my almond trees, along with chopped toasted almonds, dehydrated apricots and cherries from my orchard.

I was going to use egg whites from my neighbor’s chickens (we will be getting ours next year) and some pine nuts from, well, pine trees!  We are surrounded by Sugar Pines and if we can get to the cones before the squirrels do, the nuts are mighty fine!

I found this recipe many years ago when our homestead was just a dream.   I didn’t write down the name of the book, so I can’t give credit to anyone.  Sorry.  Then, in my shortsightedness I didn’t write down specific amounts either – just ingredients.  What was I thinking? So, this recipe will have to end up as another one of my experiments. Apparently, however, the base of the bar was to be made with frothy egg whites into which almond flour is folded, then poured into the base of a rimmed cookie sheet and baked  for some amount of time. I would assume about 8-10 minutes – just to get it to set.  A mixture of chopped dried fruits, seeds (my missing sunflower seeds), chopped nuts and honey is spread on the base, then baked for another amount of time until done.

Doesn’t that sound good?  The best part is that I will be able to produce every single ingredient called for in these delicious (I think) and nutritious bars!  I may even add pumpkin seeds to the mix.  For a different variety, wouldn’t dried apple and pear chunks be good with toasted walnuts?  Maybe even acorn flour!  Yum.  I can’t wait to try this, but alas, I have no sunflower seeds.

Speaking of squirrels…who stole my sunflowers 8

I think this may have been our thief.  We have lots of them in our trees.  In fact, our neighbor lady (who recently moved) fed them!  I know this isn’t a great picture, but the silly things won’t stay still for a photo!  😉

 

However, this may have been the culprit…

Steller's Jay

Did this Steller’s Jay eat my sunflowers?

The Blue Jays have been hanging around a lot lately.  We have had a terrible drought here in California and it seems our bee waterer may be one of the only sources of water around for all the forest critters to slake their thirst. Sometimes they go through more than a gallon of water every day!

Nonetheless, I would assume the bird would have just landed on the stalk, eaten the seeds and dropped the shells below the plant.  Besides, chewing the entire seed head off the stalk would have been difficult for a Steller’s Jay. Since there are no shells directly below the plant, and Jays don’t have teeth, I don’t think the culprit was the Jay.

Yeah - right outside my window! Sneaky little thief!

Yeah – right outside my window! Sneaky little thief!

The evidence speaks for itself –

Mr and Mrs Squirrel enjoy sunflower seeds!

I am glad that right now I don’t have to feed myself and my family completely on what my dear hubby and I grow and raise here on our fledgling homestead. I would like to be food self-sufficient soon, however, and if TEOTWAWKI happens (as many people think it will) we will need to protect our food sources more carefully.  So, the squirrels gave us a valuable lesson today. (Um – thank you?)  We need to protect our permanent garden much better than we have protected the temporary garden we have set up in our orchard.

If we plan to be self-sufficient when it comes to fruits and vegetables, nuts and herbs, we must build our permanent vegetable garden like a fortress and reinforce our orchard!  The garden will have metal fencing at least 7 feet high (so my tall hubby Ray can walk upright in the garden) with a metal roof (chicken wire?) over the top, and at least 1 foot deep into the ground to prevent tunneling critters.  This should keep out the squirrels and Jays.  It sounds like a lot of work, but I believe at this point it will be an absolute necessity!

Especially after we found jack rabbits in our compost pile!

How do you keep critters out of your vegetables?

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Sourdough Pasta

pasta made from sourdough starter

A bowl of chicken and rustic sourdough noodle soup with a side of buttered sourdough bread. It doesn’t get much better than this, folks!

Pasta has always been my “go-to” favorite for an easy, quick meal.  Of course, that was when I purchased the pasta, pasta sauce, the meat or cheese (or both) and spices!  Now that I know better and have more time, I have started canning my own pasta sauce, grinding my own beef and even growing and dehydrating my own spices!  Naturally, I also make my own pasta.  A couple of months ago I began experimenting with sourdough, and when I found a recipe on Cultures for Health for making sourdough pasta, I was all in!

how to make sourdough noodles

This is fresh out-of-the-refrigerator, hungry sourdough. Do you see that brownish liquid? That means this starter is HUNGRY!

My sourdough starter has performed very well.  When I first told people I wanted to try sourdough, I was given all kinds of dire warnings about how I would have to bake every week or the starter would die.  Well, I can tell you now from experience that I don’t have to make something with the starter every week – it hibernates just fine while in the refrigerator!  All I really have to do is feed it by stirring in some flour and water once a week, set it back in the fridge, and all is well! I even forgot it for a few weeks, but once fed and out of the fridge, it perked up just fine! 😀

how to make noodles out of sourdough starter

This is my expanding supply of sourdough starter, warm, fed and very, very happy!

Now that I have been experimenting with the sourdough starter for a while, when I plan a sourdough baking day, I make it worth my time!  Instead of throwing away half the sourdough (oh no) and feeding the rest, then repeating every 8-12 hours for at least three feedings, I save all of the sourdough and feed it all!  That way, I can make a lot of stuff with the sourdough!

pizza crust made from sourdough

This is the first batch of sourdough pizza crusts ready for the oven.

This last week I made a bunch (eight, to be specific, but who’s counting!) of sourdough pizza crusts, shaped into rectangles (it fits better on my baking sheets and in the freezer) and partially cooked them before I froze them for future meals. Sourdough pizza is really delicious!

Then I made some bread.  You can see this post on some of the first sourdough bread I made.  The olive and parmesan loaf is wonderful!  On this most recent epic sourdough day, I tried adding Italian flavoring to one loaf – oregano, basil and garlic – and it was really, REALLY good!  I will do that again!

♪♫♪♪ O sole mio ♫♪♫♫

So, let’s see – two loafs of bread, eight pizza crusts…   lots of sourdough starter left!

Hmmm…

Now what…

That’s when I went to the Cultures for Health website and saw it…   Pasta!

I won’t go through all the recipe details here, but in a nutshell you add whole wheat flour to the starter along with egg yolks, mix it up until it forms a nice ball (not much kneading necessary) and then let it sit for at least 8 hours or over night.  This allows the sourdough yeast to work it’s magic throughout the mix. I let mine rest overnight because I figured the longer it fermented, the better the dough would be for my health!  I also assumed it would be easier to roll it out, and I was right.

The next morning I was happy to see that my sourdough pasta dough had become spongy, which is a good thing. Sourdough is more digestible than standard bread and more nutritious, also. Lactic acids help neutralize the phylates in flour which can interfere with the absorption of vitamins and minerals. The acids also slow down the rate at which glucose is released into the blood-stream, lowering the bread’s glycemic index, preventing insulin spikes. They also make the gluten in flour more digestible and less likely to cause food intolerance.

Rustic sourdough noodles

I love my pasta roller! It rolls out pasta in 10 different thicknesses and does a much better job than I can do with just a regular rolling pin!

I grabbed a handful of the dough and rolled it flat with my handy-dandy pasta machine. One important note when rolling sourdough through a pasta roller – make sure both sides are floured first!  If the dough is not floured, it will stick in the roller and make an epic mess! Haha – I know this well from experience! Of course, you can roll it out by hand. Once flattened, the pasta dough goes through the noodle cutter, which you can also do by hand. Waa Laa  – sourdough pasta noodles!  (waa laa means “there it is” in redneck French)

How to make noodles from sourdough

“Necessity is the mother of invention”, or in my case, “making do”!

But then, where to hang them to dry?  My dearest has already agreed to make me a pasta drying rack (thank you in advance, sweetheart), but what do I do now? Improvise! 😀  This large container with the wooden spoons laying across actually made a decent pasta dryer!

Don’t laugh, it works!

But I didn’t stop there.  Did you expect me to?

I bought a ravioli maker last year because it looked like it would be an easy way to make a lot of raviolis.  I got it on sale at Williams-Sonoma (free shipping also!) and when it came in the mail I had to set it aside because Christmas was coming, the goose was getting fat, and I had other things to do.

Today was the day to try it out.

First, I rolled out some of the sourdough pasta dough and got it pretty thin.  Then, I laid the pasta on top of the ravioli maker after it had been floured, and gently…  oh so very gently… pushed the dough into each depression.

Sourdough ravioli

After placing the dough on top of the ravioli maker, then pressing into each depression gently, I placed the filling into each and then covered with another layer of sourdough pasta.

Hmmm.  I got a couple of tears in the dough, but was able to patch them.  Then I filled each depression with a mixture of cooked chicken, some gouda and crimini mushrooms, all diced very small to fit a good mixture into the pockets.

Making ravioli with sourdough pasta

This was Mmmm Mmmm good! A light bechamel sauce with mozarella topped the ravioli quite well!

Next, another sheet of pasta was rolled out and placed on top of the first!  Then, all I had to do was take a wooden roller (included with the ravioli maker) and roll over the top, and – presto – ravioli!

I can see how I could spend an hour making a lot of raviolis and freeze them for several meals later in the month.  After-all, once you have all the equipment out and everything is coated in a fine dust of flour 😉 , you may as well just get a bunch done!  Right?  Just remember to lay the ravioli on a parchment or waxed paper lined baking sheet and freeze for about an hour.  Once frozen, you can throw them into a freezer bag or other freezer container and they shouldn’t stick together.

How did they turn out?  Absolutely delicious!  What would I do different?  I think next time I will add a bit of sauce into the filling mixture so that it is more “full”.  The chunks of chicken and mushrooms and cheese had pockets of air between them after they were cooked.  Luckily, that didn’t effect the flavor, but I need to experiment just the same.

How to make ravioli with sourdough starter

Just for fun, I thought I would show you a few of the “fails”! Remember – flour, flour, flour!

Whew – what a day – actually almost two!  But look at what I accomplished – all done with Frank, my sourdough starter.

Frank?  Well, yes.  I name my cultures…  don’t you?  I decided to call him Frank because my specific culture is San Francisco Sourdough.  Francisco…  Frank… get it?  😀

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