Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Canning Crispy Deli Style Claussen Pickles

These are MY Favorite Pickles!!!

Please remind me to not skip growing pickling cucumbers ever again!! The reason they make such great pickles is because the seeds are very tiny and the skins are a little tougher than a lot of other types. This keeps them much crunchier and the flavor is perfect!

This is an older post from me that I thought needed a little updating. I actually use a pinch of Stevia to replace the tiny bit of sugar that went in the original recipe. You might find me doing this a lot with many of my recipes. :)

My new Heritage Green Vintage Mason Jars

With the fact that I still actually have fresh dill growing in our hot Texas garden and I even have some of our garlic left that we grew last fall makes this recipe all the yummier.

The problem is I have to wait at least 7 to 10 days before they are good and ready to eat! But that's okay, these are so easy to make because they go straight to the refrigerator. 

I hope you've saved some nice big pickle jars to make some of your own. If not just use some good old fashion wide mouth quart canning jars.

I'm excited, because I just got the Heritage Green Vintage Mason Jars. I thought they might make my pickles a little prettier. The important thing is to make sure you have the space in your fridge for the jars. I had to clean mine out, HA!! That's right...and not a huge surprise that it needed it too!

If for some crazy reason you have never eaten a deli style pickle...just know this...they make the most excellent pickle to go with a homemade sandwich. And since I love making my own bread, especially my French Sesame Buns, a healthy hearty sandwich makes a delicious meal with an excellent pickle..


For The Brine
(I've broken this down for you, so if you need more brine just increase the amount you are making) Remember the brine will stay good in the refrigerator for a long time to be used later as well. So if you end up making to much its really not a problem. You may also chose to use Canning Salt, but I say why? when your making kosher pickles!
3 Parts Distilled Water, 1 Part 5% white distilled vinegar and 2 Tbsp. of Kosher Salt

For The Spices and The Goodies. 
This list is for quart size measurements that would be placed in a single quart size jar. If you are using larger jars for your pickles, just adjust it accordingly.

1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 tsp. fresh peppercorns
1/4 tsp. fresh mustard seed
1/4 tsp. whole allspice, or 1/8 tsp. ground allspice
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 dill seed head, include some weed and some stems (dill seed alone can be substituted) 
A pinch of turmeric
1/4 tsp. sugar
Pickling Cucumbers, small whole or larger halved or quartered


Combine the ingredients for the brine and bring to a boil. Be sure to use a non reactive type of pot for this. Something like a stainless steel or enameled pot works great.

Put all the spices and goodies in your jar or jars. Fill them tight with your pickling cucumbers. Make sure to leave at least 1/2 inch head space from the top of the jar. Pour your hot brine into the jars. Wipe the rims and put on the lids. Let cool to room temperature before placing in the refrigerator. The pickles will keep for up to 8 to 11 weeks in the fridge. Ours never last that long and I bet they will keep much longer than this!

To get your pretty Heritage Green Mason Jars, take a peek in my Homestead and Garden Store. I have them in both Pints and Quart sizes. Just use the link at the top of this page. Click on Jars and Bottles: Canning & Preserving and go to pages 22 through 24!

Happy Gardening!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Making of Wildflower Mulch

Small Larkspur Patch Makes A Whole Lot of Mulch!

The reasons for letting many Wildflowers, Herbs and many other crops naturalize in the garden, is not just for all the beneficial insects and pollinators they feed and attract. It is a completely natural way to complete the cycle of needs for the organic gardener. We are giving back to the earth what it requires, improving the soil and mulching our garden.

Before the Wildflowers went to seed

Once Wildflowers seed out they lose their beauty as they begin to fade. But I have enjoyed them so very much. They have fed hoards of butterflies, bees and birds. 

The next step is easy and very rewarding. Once to seed we simply lay them all down into a nice thick mat. Underneath were Canna Lilies and Cape Honeysuckle patiently awaiting their day in the sun.

Next we bring in wheelbarrows full of compost and spread it directly over the Wildflower Mulch where the new beds are to be formed. Leaving only the mat of Wildflowers for the path that will keep the unwanted weeds at bay.

We then plant all the way down the garden path with Peppers, Eggplants and Beans.A few Heirloom Marigolds and Zinnias were added as well for a spot of extra color.

Once everything is planted, we then come in with a nice heavy organic hardwood mulch that is free of harmful dyes and chemicals. 

All that is left to do is to give it all a good soaking and let nature do the rest.

Soon we will feast our eyes on many more beneficial insects and wildlife as we wait for some lovely organic garden produce to fill our kitchen.

When spring returns the following year, the entire process will begin again. Loads of beautiful Wildflowers for you and them!

Happy Gardening!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Summer Savory: Health Benefits in the Southern Garden

I think summer savory is one of those herbs that many folks haven't tried. Many have never heard of it. After growing some a few years back, we've found ourselves hooked on it. 

Maybe getting hooked might be one of the reasons it is known as the "Herb of Love."

I just didn't grow enough that first year! I saved what I could by drying it. My main purpose at that time was to use it in cooking. 

We cook and eat a lot of beans. Pintos, White Beans, Black Beans and really, whatever Bean we can grow! Summer Savory has this delicate way of completely changing a pot of beans into a whole new experience. 

Once you've tried it you simply cannot get enough of! It is absolutely Delicious with a light peppery flavor.

These days, I make sure I grow tons of it. My favorite places to plant it is all in and around my bean plants. Not only is summer savory great to eat in a pot of beans, the herb is actually a companion to beans in the garden.

The summer savory helps improve the flavor of your beans immensely, by growing next to them. It also helps repel insects away from your bean plants, like the bean beetle. It's said to help improve the overall growth of bean plants. It's a companion to onions and garlic too.

I've come a long ways with this herb in using it in the kitchen. These days, I love it with so many things. Adding it to my salads, salad dressings, soups, stews and sauces. 

I've found it awesome to add to marinates for my Poultry and Fish dishes. And of course you know how I love to make bread! This herb is wonderful in my herbal baguettes!

I'm just beginning to learn of the health benefits that come with eating summer savory. More than that, I've discovered its benefits by adding it to tea.

I've listed just a few of Summer Savory's health benefits up above. For more details you might want to visit the website Nutrition-And-You

Happy Gardening!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Poor Man Rich Man Canna Lilies Of The South

Sometimes you just never know the hidden treasures that can be found in what is considered a lowly poor man's plant to be found in many southern landscapes.

This is one plant that a person can dig up and toss out and it won't die. I know, because before I discovered its value I did a whole lot of tossing.
When you really get your eyes opened to the simpler aspects of what is considered valuable for growing a healthy organic garden ecosystem, you begin to notice the obvious more often. For some of us it takes a little longer to see it. A perfect example of this is me.
The most important thing every garden needs first and foremost is healthy thriving soil. Every time I dug up the Cannas Rhizomes I noticed what a beautiful texture the soil was where they were growing. 
In the Houston and surrounding areas we are prone to have a whole lot of hard clay soil and more time than not you hit clay very quickly once you dig your shovel in the ground. This is very true on our existing property. It can be very hard to work and takes an enormous amount of organic matter to make a simple garden bed. 

Luckily there are many plants and trees that will tolerate a certain amount of clay soil. The problems are that with clay soil you ultimately have very poor drainage and root systems get bound up with no place to go because the ground it to hard..Basically one is trying to grow in muck when it's wet and stone when it is dry.

What the rhizomes of Cannas contain is very high levels of starch enzymes. What these enzymes do for the soil is create soil aeration that reduces soil compaction. In other words the soil becomes a soft loose loam that is perfect for growing most garden vegetables, herbs and flowers.

What you will find throughout our garden is clumps of Cannas growing here and there. You will see flowers blooming brightly of either yellow or orange. Other common colors for Cannas are red or white as well. 

In each clump beneath the soil are starch filled enzymes amending the soil structure naturally and healthy micro-organisms teaming in the soft loam.

The Canna areas are also harboring my Anole Lizards, Toads, Garden snakes and spiders that create the perfect habitat for them. These beneficial preditors will protect my garden from harmful pests.

 This simply is not the end of the story for the rich man's Cannas. By harvesting their leaves and adding them to your compost pile, the plants extracts are working to help break down your compost heap faster that most other plants will do. 

This is a perfect scenario for the winter compost pile. Because the extracts are causing natural aeration it is aiding in heating the compost up. By keeping your compost nice and hot in the winter months you will be multiplying the healthy micro-organisms that keep the compost alive.

So to sum this story up, not only do I never ever toss them out, I cherish them and nurture them and promote their growth everywhere I possibly can! It is a good time to move them around this month as they are just beginning to sprout. Place them in new areas where future plans are to be made for new garden beds. Your soil will get a head start to health and in the end you will not need to purchase or add quite as much organic matter.

Happy Gardening!

Friday, May 9, 2014

How To Grow Loofah Sponge Gourds

Basket of Loofah By Pamela Kimsey
I often think on our Native Americans and all the uses they had for different types of gourds. Gourds date back centuries throughout the world. Most of them require warm and even tropical growing conditions from countries such as Africa, South American, Asia and India just to name a few. So how did so many types arrive in North America for the Indians to use?
I recently discovered some interesting facts about gourds. It is said that a gourd such as the bottle neck can actually float for up to two years in the ocean without damaging the seeds. I’ve seen photos since I was a young girl of the Native Americans using gourds for everything from spoons, containers, bowls and various vessels.
The Loofah Gourd (Luffa, spp.) is said to have originated from Asia or India. Being only familiar with the sponges as a bath and beauty product for exfoliating the skin, I am only now beginning to discover for myself all the uses and possibilities of this sponge gourd.
The sponge is basically the fibrous material found inside the fruit of the gourd once it is dried. The fibers seem to be tightly woven, strong and very sturdy. What I found even more interesting is how naturally soft they feel when I squeeze them. This makes them great for use in the kitchen as non abrasive scouring pads when cleaning.
I also see vast possibilities using the Loofah in some interesting and useful craft projects. Possibly even as a tool for straining and filtering things from water to oils. Only time shall tell as I continue my discoveries of such a natural and eco-friendly resource as it continue to grow it in the  garden.

Loofah on the vine

Growing Requirements

The Loofah requires a long growing season to reach maturity. They can take anywhere from 120 to 180 days to become ripe and begin to dry. One vine alone can produce up to a dozen sponges. My first and longest fruit measured in at 16 inches long, but it is said they can reach up to 24 inches in length and 3 1/2 inches in diameter.
The gourds are very heavy when growing, so require a sturdy trellis. I grew mine just as I would my cucumbers.They loved our sandy soil that is rich in organic and composted matter. Be sure to plan on growing them where they will not touch the ground. This can cause them to become moldy and begin to rot.


Once they begin to dry however you notice them becoming much lighter when lifting. The outer shell begins to turn yellow as it ripens. In many climates they will dry just fine right on the vine as the skin turns brown. But I must warn in highly humid climates such as ours they can begin to turn moldy, so they should not be left outdoors in wet conditions.

Saving Seeds

Each loofah sponge contained a mountain of seeds. One thing good for seed savers to know is that the loofah will not cross pollinate with other species in the Cucurbitaceae family, such as pumpkins, cucumbers, melons and squash. But after some investigation I discovered that there are at least four different varieties of Loofah and they will cross pollinate within themselves.


After the Loofah is completely dried the papery shell is quite easily peeled off to reveal the sponge inside. While most commercial growers soak the sponges in a chlorine bleach solution to turn them whiter and kill any bacteria, I haven’t found it to be necessary when dried properly. If I were to soak them, I would suggest using a mild herbal vinegar solution which is much more appealing. Many herbs have natural anti bacteria properties as does vinegar and citrus peels.
Happy Gardening!


Monday, May 5, 2014

Backyard Biodiversity For Beginners Part 2 - Soil

The fluttering of a butterfly's wings can effect climate changes on the other side of the planet. ~ Paul Erlich

Beginning our quest in achieving backyard biodiversity was really a matter of simple science. I pondered on this a bit as my 3 yr. old grandson was asking me questions in the garden. 

It's as simple as our 4 basic elements for growing a garden. The sun, the soil, the water and the seed.

Our first step will always be building the foundation. Which for the garden the foundation is the soil. 

You may have been using chemicals and want to change to living a more sustainable and healthy organic lifestyle. Or perhaps you may just be starting out on your first try at gardening.

We must begin with building a soil that is alive with living organisms. 

Keep in mind that if you have been using chemicals and pesticides you will most likely be missing most of the vital elements in your soil.

Depending on the applications, traces of some chemicals can remain in your soil for years. You may consider having your soil tested before growing edible vegetation.

We must begin somewhere and the easiest way to understand how to create diversity is to picture a natural forest. Since we are making healthy soil we will concentrate on the forest floor itself. 

Depending on your area and what materials are available to you will determine what your forest floor will consist of. As you can see in our diagrams the trees provide most of the forest floor by falling leaves.

In the forest you have a natural canopy that provides all the nutrients for the soil. 

Ideally we want to create a natural canopy in our backyards. It is always a good idea to plant native trees and shrubs that would naturally grow in your area. This natural canopy would not just provide you with rich organic soil that is teaming with life, but also a natural habitat for wildlife as well. 

For your forest floor you need a whole lot of organic matter. Begin your compost pile. Rake leaves and gather grass clippings and pile it up. Save your produce kitchen scraps as well as eggshells, coffee and tea scraps and bury them in the pile. 

I usually pour my kitchen scraps at the bottom of the pile and then rake down some leaves to cover it up. 

Because the area in which I live is considered prairie, trees are scarce here. The original farms in this area grew large fields of watermelons which are very heavy feeders. Heavy feeding crops strip the soil of all its nutrients.

They can be replaced with organic matter when farmed properly. Growing cover crops and good rotation methods are basically what is called for.  

We have had a hard crusty sand at the surface and not far below that is clay. This is not so uncommon in Texas.

I would have to believe that this land was once rich in organic healthy soil since farmers found it very productive for farming their watermelons. They sure left it in very poor condition when they were finished. 

This is why it is such an urgent matter all over the planet to go back to good sustainable farming practices. We have to put back into the earth what we take out of it. Below is a simple diagram showing how nature would put nutrients back into the soil.

Since an abundance of organic matter was not available to me here, other than our own composting, I've had to get very creative.

We've had to grow many permaculture type plants to add more organic matter to our land.

Most people rake the leaves out of their flower beds and lawns, bag them up to be carried off to the land fill. Some burn them or have someone that picks them up and carries them away. 

They find leaves to be such a nuisance, when the very thing they should be doing is leaving them in the flower beds instead of trying to replace them with some sterile mulch that seems rather pleasing to the eye for the perfect manicured landscape. 

The leaves need to be composted and put back into the earth. In a healthy ecosystem like a natural forest, sterile would not provide the nutrients in which to feed itself. Without the organic matter you will have a hard time creating your backyard biodiversity without having to constantly add fertilizers and supplements to your landscape. 

This can be done, but it is also very costly and time consuming. If needed to purchase it will be important to find a trusted source for organic materials.

If you take a deeper look into the edge of my cornfield, you will see the forest floor that we have created. You will most likely not find bare ground in any of the garden. Bare ground is what leads to pests and diseases. 

If you were to rake back the leaves a bit you will find a healthy rich soil that is loaded with life. I've also created a canopy in the corn field. The corn is my tree reaching for the sky, while pole beans climb it's trunk for support and aiding in adding nitrogen back into the soil. 

The pumpkins will climb through the forest floor seeking shelter from the hot sun as it finds shade under the corn. The pumpkins will also aid the corn as a living mulch to help retain moisture in the soil. This is the Native American system called Three Sisters. 

Much can be learned from a people that were so close to earth and acknowledged how nature worked to provide for itself. In this little ecosystem of the Three Sisters will beneficial insects and micro organisms in the soil care for the health of the plants. 

There will not be any need for chemicals or pesticides because the balance in nature takes care of itself. The materials for creating this small ecosystem cost nothing but the time and energy spent in raking and saving organic material and applying it in layers throughout the garden.

I believe when we quit trying to out smart nature and learn how perfect nature works all on its own we will soon be on the right track.

It never hurts to share with your neighbors to encourage them to have a healthy backyard. Greatly what our neighbors do will also reflect what happens in your own yard.

Happy Gardening!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Lemon Basil Strawberry Muffins

Lemon and Strawberries are the essence of summer. This recipe is not only very refreshing, but also very easy to make and with the right ingredients can be quite healthy. Lemon Basil is a fun treat to add to many dishes. It has a smell of fresh lemon drop candy that I so much enjoy while walking through the garden. As with several herbs, Lemon Basil takes part as one of my favorite aroma therapy sessions.


2 1/2 cups unbleached flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar (or try with Stevia or Xylitol)
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
Zest and juice of one lemon
1 egg (organic or farm fresh is best)
3/4 cup buttermilk
2/3 cup organic expeller pressed sunflower oil
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
4 tbsp. homemade strawberry preserves (can substitute with fresh or frozen organic strawberries) or a good quality organic strawberry preserve.
1/4 cup fresh Lemon Basil leaves (chopped) or flowers stripped from stems
1/2 to 1 cup of unsalted raw sunflower seeds (amount depends on desired crunchiness)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Rack should be in center of oven. This recipe made 20 muffins. I used baking cups in my muffin pans.

In a large bowl whisk together the egg, buttermilk, oil, lemon zest and juice and vanilla extract. Add the strawberry preserves, Lemon Basil and oil to this mixture.

In another large bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt. Whisk it to mix it well. Add in the sunflower seeds. Gently fold the wet ingredients into the dry mixture and mix only until well combined. Over mixing will cause the batter to become to tough.

Fill each baking cup almost full. Place in oven and bake for about 20 minutes. Check by inserting a toothpick. If it comes out clean they are done.

Place on a wire rack to cool.

If you don't have buttermilk you can make your own by adding one tablespoon of lemon juice or white wine vinegar to 1 cup of milk. Let it sit for about 5 minute and you will have instant buttermilk.

Happy Gardening!