5 Kitchen & Garden Things I Learned Last Year & 5 I Want to Learn This Year

1.  The best use of a dehydrator is cherry tomatoes. 
No matter what other things I dry: herbs, fruit, other veggies, the thing we always wish we had more of is dehydrated tomatoes.  And since cherry tomatoes don't make great sauce and the plants are amazingly productive for such a long time during the summer we just keep the dehydrator full with halved cherry tomatoes August until frost.

2.  Freezing fruit purees to make jam in the winter was a slick idea.  I actually enjoyed steaming up the kitchen with the boiling water canner in December.  And they were ready just in time to be gifts.  Next year I might do the same thing with juice for jellies.

3.  Counter-clamp-on, food strainer/saucer was a useful thrift store find. 
I was borrowing a Sqeezo from The Farm to put up crushed tomatoes, but now I have my own.  Instead of blanching to remove the tomato skin and then using a paring knife to take out the blossom end, and then food milling to remove the seeds; with this little contraption I can just throw whole, fresh tomatoes into the hopper and crank them through and they emerge as crushed tomatoes.  They are ready to can or be boiled down for spaghetti or pizza sauce.  If you are processing a lot of tomatoes (I do about 200-300lbs a summer) a food strainer/saucer is a useful investment.  Perhaps even something a group of canners could invest in together.  I hear it is also good for pureeing fruits and berries.  Check ebay or farm estate sales to get a hold of the older but still excellent models for decent prices.

4.  Order potatoes early.
I failed at that last year, waiting until I should have been planting in May to try and find the intensely color red and blue potato varieties I wanted was not wise.  I tried to buy them online only to get emails that they were actually sold out. This year I'm putting in my order by the end of February.

5.  Don't let winter squash freeze.  
I thought I was so clever using some of my homegrown acorn and delicata squash in my outdoor display this fall.  Only I completely forgot to bring them in before we had a hard freeze.  When Jeff finally did bring them in they were frozen solid.  As they thawed in our unheated guestroom/root-cellar (don't you want to come visit us?) they turned soft and then molded.  What a waste to spend all that time planting, tending and harvesting only to lose them do to negligence.

    Lessons learned!

    What to Learn Next

    In 2014 I plan to keep on growing and learning.  There is always more, it seems.  I remember being impatient with learning and how long it took to acquire a new skill in my early twenties.  Now, in my early thirties I just start and don't worry about how long a skill takes to learn.  Or perhaps I'm just better rested?  Nope, with an 18-month-old in the house, that's not it.

    1.  Learn how to use a pressure cooker to can low-acid food.
    My new cooker is actually on the stove right now with four quarts of chicken stock rattling around.  I'm a little leery of the potential to blow-up or scald people that pressure canner has; that's why it took me so long to get one.  However, I like the idea of not having to defrost stock, chickpeas, black beans, soup and all that.  Also I have a small chest freezer and it seems like I am always almost out of space.  My goal is to get all the stock and beans out of my chest freezer by summer so I can fill the space with greens, fruit, pesto, chicken, pork and beef.

    2.  Try growing broccoli.  
    Oddly I've never grown broccoli myself.  The low yield is what has held me back in the past, but I would like to try it.  I will probably start slow with just three plants or so.

    (Image from JoyfulToddler.com)

    3.  Grow a garden Tee-pee for JuneBug.  
    I have seen so many cute pictures of tee-pee frames with beans or peas or flowering vines growing up them.  It will give our two-year-old a spot to call her own in the garden and hopefully a shelter from the sun during the hottest parts of the summer.  I'm thinking yard-long beans would be a fun plant to grow.  I saw these Chinese Red Noodle Beans in a Johnny's Selected Seed catalog and I think they might be just the thing.  

    (Photo from realfoodrn.com)

    4.  Make my own gummies.  
    There are recipes all over Pinterest right now.  I even bought the gelatin at the bulk food store awhile back.  Gummy candies are some of my favorite treats but all the artificial color and flavor makes me wary.  If I make them I can control what's in them and maybe even convince myself they are healthy.

    5. Have a baby.  
    That's right we are going for a second.  I guess I don't really have much to do at this point other than go along for the ride.  I'm into my second trimester and he or she should arrive in June. Hopefully I can get most of the veggies planted before baby.

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