Southwestern Chow-chow and Red Chile Corn Broth (2 ways to preserve corn)

20180821_153940 It is corn season!  I have put up two large bags of sweet corn from a farm ten minutes from here.  My neighbor came over on her lunch break for some coffee and I put her to work.  She had never shucked corn before but as we sipped our coffee she laughed as we removed corn worms and pieces of corn silk fell on her nicely pressed clothes.  Many hands make light work.  The more folks learn that those activities of old that take more time actually create a sense of peace of mind and calm that cannot be duplicated on social media, the more our generations will begin picking up a sewing needle, canning, and calling friends over to make soap.

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I put up ten pints of basic corn, ten pints of cinnamon sugar corn, and seven half-pints of Southwestern chow-chow.  “What is that?” you ask.  I have no idea, I made it up.  You see, I was going to make Amish chow-chow, apparently also a southern favorite, and went to following a recipe (not my strong point).  I had green peppers.  Then it called for red peppers, except my peppers haven’t turned red yet, but I did have a poblano and an Anaheim green chili in the garden.  So those went in instead.  I don’t love a lot of onion so I cut that amount down sharply.  No garlic?  Now, now, we must have garlic.  Three cloves.  By the time I was done I had a corn relish indeed, and it smelled heavenly, but it was made from a southwestern garden and it shows!

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Southwestern Relish (Chow-chow)

4 cups of corn

2 large green peppers, diced

2 poblano or green chili peppers, diced

1/8-1/4 cup of red onion, diced

3 stalks of celery, diced

3 cloves of garlic, minced

3/4 cup of sugar

1 Tbsp sea salt

1 Tbsp smoked salt (optional)

1 Tbsp mustard powder

1 ts celery salt

1/2 ts of turmeric

2 cups of apple cider vinegar

Put everything but the corn in a good sized pan and boil for 5 minutes.  Add the corn and boil another 5 minutes.  Pour into 1/2 pints or pint jars leaving 3/4 inch headspace.  Clean rims, replace warm lids.  Water bath boil (in any old pot with water covering jars) for 15 minutes plus 1 minute per 1000 ft above sea level (I live at 4500 ft so I just round up to an extra 5 minutes.)  Makes 8 pints.

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Now we have a pile of corn cobs sky high on the counter.  The chickens love them but there is more to do to them before the chickies get ’em.  I already made several pints of plain, good, clear corn broth for soups and cooking throughout the winter but I want something in the root cellar with a little spunk.  So, I made several quarts of red chile corn broth.  And it is simple enough.

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Red Chile Corn Broth- Just pile up a large stew pot with corn cobs, onion, celery, a head of garlic, an onion, and a good helping of dried chili (red or green).  Add a bit of salt and pepper (you’ll add more seasoning as you cook with it so you don’t need much).  Fill it with water and simmer it for 2 hours.  Then ladle it into clean, warm quart jars leaving 1 inch headspace.  Clean the rim and replace the lid.  Pressure can for 25 minutes.  (10 pounds of pressure for most folks, all the weights for us high altituders.)

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Mama mia!  This is when I need an army of friends to help me clean up this kitchen!

 

Farmgirl Gardening Series (Knee High by 4th of July)

“Here we go corn, here we go!” clap clap “Here we go corn, here we go!” stomp stomp.  My cheerleading days come in handy around here.  The corn is indeed up to my knee.  The sweet corn will likely make it before the season ends!  Some of the popcorn is up to Maryjane’s knee and I don’t think that counts, but we will keep cheering and watering and see what happens.

I did not ever thin the carrots.  I meant to, I really did.  I reached down and pulled one of the thousands of seedlings and out came a tiny little carrot.  I dusted the dirt off and ate the sweet the little thing and decided I rather like baby carrots and wandered off to the next task.  In season this week is the end of the mustard, kale, lettuce, arugula, collards, and herbs.

Just like when kids go from being little ones and one year in junior high shoot up taller than dad, the plants will do the same.  They are ten year olds right now, just cute and new but in the next four weeks we will see them jump up and start coming into their own.

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The gardens look beautiful.  Each person’s plot their own, filled with their favorites, the bunny rather enjoying the buffet.  Shh, I told him I wouldn’t tell on him!

Next week, compost tea and fall crops (already!), see you ’round the garden!

Farmgirl Gardening Series Week 9 (weeds, water, and radishes galore!)

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Well we barely kept it watered this week, didn’t thin the carrots, and the weeds are moving in, but just like housework, the garden work will wait for us!

The plants are now getting big enough that we can wield a hoe to combat blankets of overnight weeds.  There is still some hand weeding involved too.  Try to do one area each day.  Some weeds will try to look like a vegetable.  Take care not to weed out your corn!  Crab grass looks like corn when it’s coming up.  Corn has more rounded leaves.  If in doubt, leave it, you can figure it out in a few days!

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Some of the wild roses had to come out to make room for the green beans!

We hand water.  20 seconds in a four foot span is 2 inches of water.  Ideal for proper growth.  It will be nearly dry tomorrow!  While hand watering you can also see which seeds didn’t germinate (I don’t think I will buy that brand of seeds that I got from the garden center again, none of them came up) and see what weeds are sneaking in, how many rabbits visited, what bugs are there (hello cricket!  goodbye red ants!), and how everything is coming along.  We have found that this is the most economical and environmentally friendly way to water.  You use far less.  Drip systems, just like sprinkler systems break, get holes in them, and waste water.  Hand watering puts you in control and only things get watered that need it and how much they need it.

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We did receive a pleasant surprise!  Lisa sprouted a sweet potato in her kitchen.  She gave me the orb with its lovely shoots cascading everywhere.  I very nearly kept it in the shop as a house plant, it was so beautiful!  I separated the shoots and planted them along the trellis.  Sweet potatoes are not easy and not commonly grown in Colorado but it was worth a shot!  The beautiful leaves and stems shriveled as the roots took hold.  Low and behold, there are the leaves coming back!

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This week Maryjane and I just enjoyed the garden.  That is what is it there for.  Sit and relax.  Right now we have radishes coming out of our ears because I get to missing them so much that I get crazy planting and every single seed germinates, I swear, and then after a few dozen radishes, we are done.  That is when they really start growing!

Here is our favorite way to eat them: Butter crackers, place sliced radishes on top, sprinkle with smoked salt.  Delicious!

Our garden is doing pretty fine this year.  This week we will thin plants and cheer the corn on.  They need to be knee high by 4th of July!

New Year’s Resolutions (writing them down to manifest)

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Did you spend some time yesterday deciding what you want in the new year?  We must be specific, you know.  Write down a few things that you really would like to manifest and create this coming year.

Now why do you want that?  Really think about that.

I wanted to go back to school.  Teaching license, free school, four years, guaranteed job.  I could homeschool Maryjane and make a difference in children’s lives.  Great, but why?  Out of fear.  I read an article (click here to read) about a young woman who chose to plant corn over going to Harvard.  The simple ways of life have gone away with the idea that the corporate and socialized world is the only the way to survive.  When really taking care of the Earth and those around us is a far more valiant task.  I wanted to school because I am afraid of remaining poor.  I do not want to work in a common core setting or even for someone else.  As my shop gathers speed I look around and see that my place in among my herbs, my plants, my community, my garden, and encouraging everyone I encounter.

What I really want to manifest is  a farm.  If my shop could manifest itself out of nothing in a just a few weeks, couldn’t a farm do the same thing?

Do you want to manifest something because your peers expect you to?  because someone wants you to?  Do you have a passion for what you are manifesting?  If you can talk about it with a smile on your face and a can’t wait attitude then write it on the resolutions sheet.  We’re going to make some great things happen this year.  I want to plant corn.

Creating a Three Sisters Garden (anywhere)

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I am the self proclaimed queen of putting in a garden anywhere.  At our last house the sandy, gravelly, ant hill of a driveway became a lush corn field and herb spiral.  The front yard became a three sisters garden.  The side yard held myriads of delicious orbs and buckets held treasures of vegetables as well.  Here at our new rented farm we didn’t have a place to put the pumpkin patch.  Lordy, how can we be Pumpkin Hollow Farm without pumpkins?  There is a 650 square foot garden fenced in for all of our seeds to set up shop.  We have pots.  But we love the look of a 3 sisters garden and we needed space for it.  Corn, pumpkins, and beans are staples around this place!  And a pumpkin festival!  The side yard caught my attention.  The long swath of spiky prairie grass, conveniently mown down to look like city grass, beckoned.

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A view from the house. I will like it much more with pumpkins lazily drifting about instead of snow!

Old ways die hard.  I spent the winter reading, learning, taking online classes, studying with magnanimous passion. I was going to make this new farm a Permaculture one.  But when I got ready to plant I realized that prepping a half-acre garden for this was not in the cards.  I would have had to have had this crazy pumpkin plan last fall and laid down cardboard, finished compost, et cetera.  Now, as I stared at the thick prairie grass, I knew I waited too long and would instinctually head back to what I know.

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I have had this piece of gardening equipment for as long as I remember.  It has gone through bolts to hold it together but this has carried me garden to garden with ease.  My small arms were apparently meant to do more baby holding and decorating than heavy work so good thing I have a good looking farmer and “The Claw”!  That’s really what it is called.  Geez, I haven’t seen one of these in stores in forever.  Do they still make them?  If so, people, get one!  It made quick work of prepping 250 square feet between the two of us.

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Three sisters is a phrase out of history, a gardening technique employed by Native Americans.  The original companion planting.  The corn was imperative to make corn meal, it grew tall and strong and acted as a trellis for beans, a very important protein source.  The squash was full of vitamins and immunity and spread its trails along the ground beneath the plants shielding the soil from weeds and the hot sun.

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Hard to see in the photo but after we took out the top few inches of soil/weed carpet we laid our pattern. Squash seed…six inches…bean…two inches…corn…two inches…bean…six inches…squash.  The trench planting will come in handy this summer since the Almanac predicts it hot and dry around these parts.  Planting in a trench helps store moisture, protects from the wind, and is easy to water.  Just fill the trench with two inches from the hose.  Mulching in between established plants keeps weeds down and lessens water needs.

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Then I throw handfuls of organic gardening soil or potting soil over the seeds, about half an inch.  I planted Jack be Littles, sweet corn, and Bolito beans in one row.  White butternut squash, black Cherokee Trail beans, and red sweet corn in another.  The combinations can be creative for color and pantry needs.  I even planted watermelon and cantaloupe at the ends of the rows.

A sample photo of a Three Sisters garden.

A sample photo of a Three Sisters garden.

The three sisters garden can be grown anywhere.  Even on my friends’ top floor balcony!  Plant in deep buckets, in the front yard, or many side yards are perfect for this project.  I did not amend the soil.  All I did was add packaged soil over it.  I will add compost later in the season.  The three sisters garden loves water so trenches and swales work well.  In history we unearth fine gardening techniques and beautiful food producing spaces.  Happy Planting!

The New Farm (starting from scratch)

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I always have good intentions.  I spent the winter learning everything I could about Permaculture and how to incorporate it into our new farm.  I was on fire about it!  The inner garden we did not dig.  We piled on six inches of straw.  To plant I opened up part of the straw along rows to fill in with organic garden soil and plant in that.  The beds will stay well mulched.  The new garden soil will be covered around the plants as soon as they are up and strong.  Eventually the whole garden will settle in and each year we will just add new layers of soiled straw and leaves and let the years work themselves into great soil.

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I saved boxes all winter and threw them into the garden.  Once they were all broken down they sure didn’t cover much space between the beds.  The weeds are peeking around it.  I would need a lot more boxes, and a box cutter to cut them to size, and a lot more patience.  More straw, I think, is the answer for the remaining paths (that is my answer to everything).

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Then I looked out upon the large pumpkin patch we are creating.  It will be a Three Sisters garden complete with five different kinds of pumpkins crawling along the ground and three different heirloom beans climbing organic sweet corn stalks.  The grass is now thick and I am sadly lacking in time or cardboard boxes.  I think we will have to rototill.

The thing about Permaculture is one starts slowly.  Creating one bed at a time.  We now farm for a living.  I have a half acre of vegetables, fruit, and herbs to finish getting in.  I don’t have time to build raised beds for ridiculously long rows of pumpkins or wait six months for a lasagna garden!

I won’t be able to do the whole farm in Permaculture this year.  Some lessons are best taught over time.  Long, windy initial rows will be rototilled into the never before planted area of the yard.  I will add aged horse manure and gardening soil and plant.  I will mulch well.  We will have a good comparison between the inner no-till garden and the traditional tilled rows this year.

Next year I hope not to have to till.  I will keep working up and adding layers of compost.  This year though, we will just do what we know, pray for Mother Nature’s blessing, light the candle for San Isidro (the patron saint of farming), and enjoy all the blessings that come from our humble patch of rented land.

Thank goodness it is spring.

The Great Corn Experiment Results (and enemies of the root cellar)

Drum roll, please!  The results are in for the Great Corn Experiment! (click title to see original post)

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About a month after drying the corn, I pulled off the kernels with the side of a knife from one of the cobs and placed them in the air popper.  It took a long time but some of the kernels turned into tiny popcorn.  Most of the kernels had too much moisture content and after awhile I decided not to set the popcorn maker on fire.  The popcorn that did pop was nutty, satisfying, delicious.  I was excited to see what would happen when all the corn was sufficiently dried.

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I began to notice lines of corn kernels missing.  I was worried that the kernels were be so dry they are falling off the cob through the slats of the open container that held them and into the oblivion of the root cellar.  I moved the crate on top of the box of onions so that the kernels could fall into the box.

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Remember the cartoons where, I believe it was Mickey Mouse, would eat corn like a typewriter?  One row. Ding!  Next row.  Ding!  It looked like Mickey Mouse was in the root cellar.  I did not think that mice would eat such perfect rows before moving to the next row.  Then Eliza Doolittle caught a mouse.

This year the mouse population has exploded.  We have (surprisingly) not had many mice before now here.  First I noticed they had taken up residence in the garage and the chicken coop.  Then the front porch near the bird feeders.

At least one out of the eight cats considers herself a mouser.  Eliza is a beautiful lynx point Siamese, calico mix.  She is the youngest (5 years old) and quite lithe.  She went running by with a mouse and Shyanne hot on her heels.  It really doesn’t help me to have even one mouser when I have St. Francis living over here.  Shyanne rescued the mouse from Eliza’s grasp.  “It’s a baby!” she cooed.  She walked it around the house in her hands comforting and loving it.  Then put it outside.  Where I have no doubts it found it’s way back towards the root cellar!

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We didn’t see any mouse droppings so we brought the corn into the kitchen and decided last night test it out.  The mice had only eaten the heirloom sweet(ish) corn and had left the old varieties of Indian corn alone.  I used a lightly wet paper towel and wiped down one of the cobs and tried a knife to release the kernels.  They began to fly everywhere upon release.  Emily came and twisted one of the cobs.  Tons of beautiful multi-colored kernels showered down.  Then we smelled it.

If you have ever lived in a house that mice love, you will know just what I am talking about.  Mouse urine.  Pungent.  Doug couldn’t smell it.  But it was enough for Emily and I to abandon our project.  The chickens will love their new treat.

I know that the kernels would have made fulfilling, nutty morsels of popcorn and delicious hand ground cornmeal, but we will have to test this theory at the end of this year.

Let’s see $9 for the heirloom seeds.  Approximately four and a half months of daily watering, tending, weeding, and harvesting.  Shucking, drying, waiting.  All gone.

Being a farmer guarantees a certain amount of crop loss, however.  Sometimes while in storage!

Harvest

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The sun came out and bounced off the crystal droplets that held fast to the plants in a great display of shimmer.  The water evaporated and the plants took a great breath of the fresh autumn air.  We headed out in sweaters with baskets to see what Mother Nature had left us.  Like Easter morning, our eyes full of wonder, searching for treasures within the rows.

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Doug deftly found the beans that we are drying for winter stews and chilies.  He filled quite a bag full.  I found rich purple and red tomatoes, bright spicy chilies, and sweet, small peppers.  Ear, after ear, after ear of corn.  The other side of the gardens yielded two gallons of Swiss chard, kale, and collard greens.  A gallon of fresh lettuce.  A bag of soybeans to eat in front of a football game boiled just right with a little sea salt and chipotle.  The last onion.  A handful of cherry tomatoes.  Spicy radishes making their second debut this year brought a spring to my step with each peppery bite.  Piles of earthy potatoes just waiting to join onions and garlic in the cast iron skillet.  And pumpkins.  I do love pumpkins.

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Through worry and work, through screwy weather and days of bliss watching the plants grow, this is truly the reward.  Seeing the rich palette of colors that start to glow and brighten the world in a majestic show.

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Happy Harvesting!

The Great Corn Experiment

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I have alternated playing American Indian and pioneer since I was a child.  I suppose I am still playing.  I have rows of the best corn I have ever grown.  Anyway, they look pretty.  We have had some issues with knowing what to do now.  Doug pulled a nice big ear off one of the stalks.  Now, mind you, you only get two ears on each stalk, so this stuff is precious commodity.

“Yuck, it’s not done.”

He went to throw it to the chickens.  I was horrified.

“Oh no, mister, you eat it.  You picked it, you eat it!”

He threw it to the chickens.

So, I asked my friend who has a very large farm how to know when the corn is ready for picking.  When the corn is full and the silks turn brown.

“Can I open it to peek?”

“Sure.”

A few days ago, my friend, Rich, pulled up to visit while I was watering outside.  He said that he had grown up on a farm and left when he was fourteen.  He hadn’t been in a corn field for many, many years.  My cute little corn field of three long rows suited him just fine though, standing there like a mesmerized eight year old.  I went to peek at an ear of corn.

“You never open the corn!”  He boomed.  “You’ll ruin it!  See,” he says, “It will start to bend off of the plant.  Then it is ready to pick.”

I merrily skipped through my corn field yesterday picking all the leaning ears.  Half were done.

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I planted three different varieties of heirloom corn.  Two of which are Indian corn.  Smoke signals is a lovely multi-colored stalk of rainbow colors.  I plan to see if I can dry it and make popcorn.  The other is called Black Aztec and is an exciting smoky color.  I plan to dry it and use as corn meal.  The third is an old variety of sweet corn.  Not as sweet as Peaches and Cream, that’s for darn sure, but tasty in its own way.  I have some ears that I am ready to dry.  I am going to place them in a wire basket in the basement “root cellar” and see if they will dry and not mold.  Am I doing this right?

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Doug and I visit old pioneer houses that have been made into museums everywhere we travel (we think of decorating ideas and what we need on our homestead while there!) and one of these places held corn on a rake-like contraption hung from the ceiling.  I suppose I could hang a regular rake from the ceiling, but I am rather tall, and likely will hit my head.  Down in the dungeon it goes in hopes of drying properly.  Then off the cobb, through my handy dandy grain grinder and into cornmeal.  Or into the pan for some sweet, old time popcorn!

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This is our practice farm, remember, so we are experimenting with different types of corn and how to be more self sufficient.  We both love corn, and corn meal, and popcorn, so we best know how to grow it (and when to harvest it!) and preserve it so that on our next homestead we will be sitting pretty with our bowls of popcorn, “real” corn field, and dried corn….maybe hanging from the ceiling.