Marmot Sighting Trumps the Tomatoes, Eggplants, Peppers, Melons and Pickling!

News flash! I was writing about the weekend of food processing I’ve been doing when Dave took a mini break from the fields and was standing in the family room looking towards the orchard when he said, “What kind of an animal is that in the orchard?” I looked out and saw something that was moving low to the ground and looked like a beaver with a long, bushy tail. Of course, despite the fact that I had stuff simmering away on the stove top, I dashed out into the back with my cell phone for a camera. That was my first mistake…I should have gotten my telephoto.  So I approached this critter as it was meandering across the orchard. He was the size of a very large tabby, only low to the ground. He was not horrified of my presence but he did seem to scuttle along far enough ahead of me that it was difficult to get a photo. He did stop at one point and sat up on his hind legs and munched some grass while he looked around. I followed him to the northeast corner of the fence line and he climbed the fence and sat on the post top briefly before scampering down and away. I went back to my hot stove and it wasn’t until Tom and Joan Moore came over that we got out the pictures. Tom gets credit for correctly identifying what I saw as a Marmot. Of course, a quick visit to the computer tells me all I would ever want to know about the genus marmota! Ground Hogs are also sometimes called Marmots but this one really looked like the images I see on-line that are of marmots. Although it would not seem to be naturalized in this area of the country, marmots are also kept as pets and this one could have gotten loose??? Here is my fuzzy pic. If you look closely, you can see he is sitting up, looking towards me. One more animal to watch out for at night!IMG_4944

Joan and Tom were returning some items I had lent them for a party at their house last night. Some of the things they returned were these flower arrangements. Joan and I picked some of my hydrangeas and added euonymus branches to my square vases. This reminds me I should pick these more often! Joan could not keep them in her house since they are poisonous for her cats. IMG_4948

Well, we had another odd weather week to report for the summer of 2013. It was rather mild here most of the week with overcast skies and threats of rain nearly every day but the rain did not really have much impact since when it did arrive, it was very light and nearly unmeasurable. We were outside of the weather pattern that was south of us which brought devastating and deadly rains to so many communities in Southern Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas and Nebraska.  Sorry to be wishing for rain when they had so much more than their share! So, we continued to water but also had very little sunshine or warmth. One day last week I was harvesting at 5pm while wearing a cotton sweater on top of my shirt and was quite comfortable!

My hectic work week kept me from processing any veggies this week other than what we managed to eat for dinners and to share with family. With a steady harvest continuing, this means I’m behind at this point and all those veggies are staring me in the face, threatening to go south, if I don’t attack with gusto.

And that is exactly what I was determined to do first thing this weekend…attack! Items begging for my immediate attention were Cucumbers, Tomatoes, Eggplants and Peppers. I started with the tomatoes since they have been patiently waiting in their appointed slots in the laundry room sorting area since they cannot be refrigerated. We were fortunate to have been able to find some nice homes for some of them this week. Besides using them ourselves in all three meals every day, (BLT for breakfast, sliced on sandwiches at noon and roasted or in salads for dinners) we have shared them with family and friends who have enthusiastically made Israeli Salad (Lisa Portnoff), Marinated Veggie Salad (Kathy Bussmann), and Garden Salsa (Mary Francis Hebron). We also had folks who took delivery of our precious cherry tomatoes for snacking! What could be easier or more healthy! This is one day’s picking!IMG_4782

Despite eating and sharing tomatoes last week with several camps, I had 30 pounds that were ready for processing yesterday and many more waiting for my attention today. I started out with the most ripe and cut them up to make some pasta sauce. If you remember, last week I made plain tomato sauce but we use a lot of pasta sauce in many different recipes during the winter, so this was my goal today. I cut up about half of what was on hand.

IMG_4904I then cooked them down while sauteing the veggies I was going to add. This time it was onion, green peppers, mushrooms and garlic.

IMG_4915Not unlike the tomato sauce, after cooking the cored tomatoes, I put them thru the food mill and started reducing the resulting juice/pulp to a thicker sauce before adding my sauteed veggies. This takes hours to do but the results are so worth the effort. I got 6 pints this time. IMG_4940

While the sauce was reducing I eyed more than 4 pounds of green peppers in the prep kitchen fridge and washed and cut those into strips which I froze on a sheet pan before placing into ziplock bag bundles for future recipes this winter. This was very easy to do and satisfying since the processing is pretty quick and just involves deft knife work. I try to keep my knives super sharp so it is inevitable that I have cuts here and there. This is a cut I got from my knife just touching my finger! Of course I had to stop and wash and bandage before continuing.  IMG_4945

The Purple Nation, AKA the eggplants, were also rising up in protest again this week. IMG_4911I made a double batch of Eggplant Parm one night last week using my new favorite recipe/method from the Cook’s Illustrated Magazine.

IMG_4850We enjoyed several easy meals during the week of this eggplant dish and still have some to work our way thru in the fridge, but it dawned on me that these ‘cow pies’ are easy to re-heat and taste just as delish as the day they were made! So I decided to make up a bunch in advance and freeze them, pre-cooked, w/o the sauce or cheese. We like them so much that Dave says he could even eat one on a hamburger bun in place of a veggie burger! (He has come a long way from his old days of meat and potatoes!)

So, while the tomato sauce was reducing on the stove top, I added some necessary ingredients to the grocery list. Key to the list was Panko, a type of Japanese bread crumbs that are very crunchy and would be one of my ingredients in the eggplant parm.

IMG_4917I sliced up several pounds of shiny eggplants and sprinkled them with Kosher Salt and let them sit with weights to get some of the water out of the “meat”.

IMG_4912I then dredged them in flour to which I had added ground pepper. Then into beaten eggs, followed by the Panko to which I had also added ground pepper as well as freshly grated Parmesan cheese. My friend, Silvia Madeo, remarked on my earlier posting about tenderloins, that she followed a Julia Child method of dredging which followed the order of flour, egg, then crumbs. IMG_4920

This recipe did the same and I have made it with success before so I think I also like the order of dredging. Here is how these steps took place. First the flour dredging, followed by a dip in the egg bath.

IMG_4921Then after the egg,

IMG_4922a dip into the Panko IMG_4924

which includes freshly grated Parmesan cheese as well as fresh pepper.

I have adopted a left hand followed by a right hand practice which helps to keep the dredging less messy, but after 10 pounds of eggplant slices and three refills of the necessary ingredients, the fingers get a bit gloppy and the entire kitchen counter suffers from crumb-itis. Farley was pleased to find a wealth of crumbs on the floor which were inevitable, despite my carefulness. IMG_4929

Rinse and repeat about 50 times on the flour, egg, panko dip and you get this. IMG_4925

I put my sheet pans into a very hot oven to pre-heat at 425 degrees. When very hot, I added a little bit of olive oil to each hot pan and then added the eggplant slices and popped them back in the hot oven to cook.

IMG_4926 I followed the directions for turning, etc. and after about 30 minutes, I had this. IMG_4852

The outcome resulted in many, many dinners of re-heat-able cow pies! IMG_4933

While I’ve been processing the veggies, Dave has been actively harvesting. Here was yesterday’s haul. IMG_4870

To date, we have more than 600 lbs of produce with much of that weight coming from foods that retain lots of water such as cucumbers, strawberries, tomatoes and potatoes. So, I continued this morning to process more pickles. I was able to make 15 quick pints of sweet pickles this morning but ran out of vinegar and will have to send Dave on a trip ‘into town’ for supplies. IMG_4949

In the meantime, we are watching the melons grow and grow and hope we will not have to be sharing them with marmots or any other creatures! Image 9 Image 11Image 8

I’m back to the stove, processing the other half of the 30 pounds of tomatoes I mentioned before. I have lots of veggies I could roast to add to the sauce, but I’m tempted to make it into our favorite Ketchup. Tune in next time to find out the answer!

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