Monday, March 19, 2012

New Focus

Believe it or not, I think I starting to repeat myself and running out of things to say so I thought I would change my focus a little bit.  It will still be lessons I have learned, but since I learned how to cook from my mom, grandma and friends of different cultures, I thought that maybe I would start sharing some cooking lessons if you are interested.  Because food and family go with happiness it is a natural direction for me to go.  I have written a cook book for my grandchildren called From the Ground Up - My Garden to My Table.  It is a little about things I have grown and how I grow them, the history, little life stories, and recipes using the bounty from my gardens.  The last chapter is sharing family recipes.  I hope you enjoy my new postings.

Today I will begin with just the forward and a sample of the first chapter.

Forward and Dedication

I am writing this gardening/cookbook for my grandchildren so they might share my love of gardening and cooking.  In that, I am also dedicating it to all of my grandchildren.  I have also added small stories throughout the book along with some of my favorite recipes and information how to grow things that I have grown in the past. 

I don’t pretend to be a master gardener or even a good gardener.  It is an attempt to show you how simple it is to grow your own produce and bring it to your table.  This book is to share information on what I have learned.

Most of my favorite memories involve family, friends, and food.  They seem to go hand and hand.  We share from our gardens and tables when we come together.  When we gather, we get upset with each other if someone does not bring their standard cover dish or dessert.  We give names of the person who has prepared the dish in honor of their specialty such as Dion’s pulled pork, Tony’s tators and fried chicken, Mom’s chicken and noodles, and Betty’s banana bread and cream cheese dessert.

I recently was given copies of two recipes that belonged to my Grandma Gombert.  One was in her own hand and the other was in my mother’s own hand (see page 72 and last chapter of this book for family recipes).  I treasure these and am adding copies of them to this work even though the recipe may not fit with the theme of this book. My love of genealogy makes me want to share my grandmother’s hand written recipe for future generations and food my family has enjoyed when we came together.    Please add your own recipes and stories to this and pass on to your children.  Happy gardening and cooking. 

I love you very much!


Is there anything better than the first tomato from your garden?  The flavor is nothing like that thick skinned tomato you buy from the store.  And you grew it.  At first you want to just eat them plain like an apple or sliced, but soon you have more than you can eat and start sharing with friends and family.  That makes them even more special.  Then everyone has enough and you need to can them or make sauces.  You can sit and look at your canned tomatoes with pride all winter knowing you grew them.  What a treasure to bring to your table. 
It is believed the  first domesticated tomato was a little yellow fruit,  grown by the Aztecs of Central America.  It grew wild in Peru in South America (like a weed) several thousands of years before making its way to Central America.
Early explorers first transferred the small yellow tomato to Europe.   Early discussion of the tomato in European literature appeared in 1544 and was called the golden apple.
The tomato has been hybridized into red and orange varieties.  By the 1700s tomatoes were used in making soups.  The tomato came to America also in the 1700s.  Thomas Jefferson served tomatoes at his table. 
Names of heirloom tomatoes have continued to reflect their own history: ‘Polish’ is said to have been smuggled into the US on the back of a postage stamp in the late 1800s; ‘First Pick’ was  grown by generations of the Baptiste family in Reims, France; ‘Besser’ came from Freiburg Germany; ‘Amish Paste’ has been cultivated in Pennsylvania since 1870; ‘Jeff Davis’ a cultivar from Alabama honored the Confederacy; and ‘Ace’ was introduced by the Campbell Soup Company in 1953.
Lycopene found in tomatoes is an anti-oxidant, which protects against cancer-causing free radicals.  Many studies confirm people who eat large amounts of tomatoes experience a reduced risk of cancer.  Tomatoes rank 16th among all fruits and vegetables as a source of vitamin A, 13th in vitamin C, with significant amounts of lycopene, beta-carotene, magnesium, niacin, iron, phosphorus, potassium, riboflavin, sodium, and thiamine. A medium tomato has 25 calories. 

Growing Tomatoes

Growing fresh tomatoes is one of the true joys of the vegetable gardener. But tomatoes can suffer from all kinds of diseases and pest. Problems growing tomatoes are often the result of weather conditions. This is something that is out of the gardener’s control. However, if you know your area is prone to a certain disease, you should look for varieties that are listed as resistant.
Tomato diseases are rarely fatal, if the proper management is employed. It is important to catch any tomato disease early, before it spreads to all of your tomato plants and possibly other plants in the same family, such as potatoes, eggplants and peppers.
My Story

Each year when I get ready to plant my garden, I make a trip to Pecks in Cedar Rapids to buy my heirloom tomato plants.  Now that I have been introduced to heirlooms, there is no going back.  The flavor can’t be beat.  The hybrids have been so over developed that the taste is gone and the skins so thick that there is no comparison between the heirloom and the hybrids.  Store bought tomatoes are picked green, shipped, and ripen while in transit losing all of the nutritional value.  I’ll take the home grown heirloom every time.  Each year I try a different one and can’t say that I like anyone better than another.  They all have something wonderful about them.  If I had to pick one, it would be the Golden because it has so few seeds and is all delicious meat.   I always get at least a couple of red tomatoes but I like to get the gold, yellow, and purple.  Try planting heirlooms and see if I’m not right.  Make sure you share your bounty with friends and family or the food bank.
Heirloom tomatoes from my garden


Fresh Tomato Soup Recipe
8 large tomatoes
1 clove garlic
3 red onions
2 sticks celery
1 carrot
1 bay leaf
2 pieces of bacon ( optional )
Salt, pepper, virgin olive oil.

Dice everything up finely. Heat oil in a thick bottomed pan, add onion, garlic, carrot, celery and bacon, cook until it just starts to color, then add the tomatoes and bay leaf and cook for 15 minutes (take out bay leaf), puree in a blender and strain, add salt, pepper, and a little olive oil to taste. If it’s too thick you can add a little water, tomato juice, or stock to adjust. 

Cream of Tomato and Basil Soup
Basic fresh tomato soup recipe above but mix thru 1 cup of finely chopped basil leaves and 1 cup of cream leave to cool for three hours as this allows the basil flavor to penetrate the soup; then reheat and serve.
Tomato and Bacon Soup
Basic fresh tomato soup but use 6 rashers of bacon when making the soup, finely dice another 4 rashers and fry off in a separate pan until they are crisp, drain on a paper towel and use to garnish the soup.
Green Tomato Soup with Ham

2 tablespoons butter
4 to 6 ounces country ham or smoked ham, diced
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups chicken broth
8 medium green tomatoes, peeled and chopped
2 medium red tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeds and stem removed, finely minced
1/4 teaspoon celery salt
dash Tabasco sauce, optional
salt and pepper, to taste

Heat butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat; add ham, onion, and garlic. Sauté, stirring, until onion is tender. Add chicken broth, chopped green and red tomatoes, and minced jalapeno pepper. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes.

Working in batches, pulse in a blender or food processor until almost smooth. Pour back into the saucepan and add celery salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Taste and add salt and pepper and Tabasco sauce, as desired. Serves 4 to 6.

Fried Green Tomatoes

4 to 6 green tomatoes
Salt and pepper
Cornmeal and/or flour (I prefer flour, but you can also do a 50/50 of both)
Bacon grease or vegetable oil (I prefer bacon grease if I have it.  That's my grandma Lindley in me)

Slice the tomatoes into 1/4 - 1/2-inch slices. Salt and pepper them to taste. Dip in meal or flour and fry in hot grease or oil about 3 minutes or until golden on bottom. Gently turn and fry the other side.

My Story

You can also turn the fried green tomato into an appetizer by topping with a pizza sauce and fresh mozzarella cheese. After you have fried the tomatoes, cover with the sauce and cheese and put under a broiler to melt the cheese.  I had this at a place called Fried Green Tomatoes in Galena, Illinois.  They have moved now but it was in the old county care facility or what was once called the “Poor Farm”.  I shared this experience and wonderful memory with mom and we really enjoyed it.  Fried Green Tomatoes is now located in down town Galena.  

Enjoy.  Be happy and may God bless you and yours.  

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