...Growing, Building, Cooking, Preserving, Crafting...

2006 began our urban homestead when I broke ground on a garden, which now includes perennial fruits, flowers, & many vegetable varieties. We dream of solar panels, keeping bees and hens. Until then we'll continue growing and preserving our own fruits and vegetables, building what we can for our home, cooking from scratch, and crafting most days.


Early Summer Treats

Ben looked into our fridge yesterday and said, "it must be preserving season."  When the bounty of summer hits, most weekends find us with a refrigerator bursting with bulk vegetables for canning and freezing.  I don't advise cramming too many preserving projects into one weekend, but I had a lot of produce fall into my lap recently so I had to process it quickly since I wasn't able to accommodate it all in a cooler.  As I mentioned in the last post I was working on a case of red beets.  Ben also brought home a case and a half of peaches from famed David Mas Masumoto's Family Farm in California.   I tried out our "new" food dehydrator (a request fulfilled via Milwaukee Freecycle) to dry some sliced peaches and also made peach jam.  Today I tried a new recipe for pickled beets and shredded some roasted bed to freeze for chocolate beet cake in the winter.  Aside from those case lots, a huge bowl of tart cherries landed in our hands Friday night--a friend's parents live across the alley and they always travel abroad at peak cherry season; the last two year's we've reaped the benefits of their travels--so I made cherry jam.  Whew!  With the weather in the 90s today, it wasn't ideal for heating up the kitchen with the hot water bath canner, but I don't have the luxury of a summer kitchen (yet) so I did my best to process quickly, but safely.

And when it rains, it pours.  Today I picked the first green beans from our small patch of Provider variety.  From an approximately 2 1/2'x4' section of beans last year we harvested close to 25 lbs.  This year's soil allowance is nearly the same.  I already picked 1/2 lb. of beans and they're JUST getting started.  I'll be pickling dilly beans much earlier this year.  This past week was also the beginning of wild foraging for mulberries and black raspberries.  I have found one particularly productive mulberry tree along the lakefront as well as many black raspberry bushes, which are just beginning to ripen.  I usually pick what I can, then freeze them until I get a sizable amount to make a batch of jam or to freeze a bag for winter muffins, cakes, and cobblers.

The weather we've been having this season may finally be good for tomatoes on our side of town.  Just when I decided to give up on the heirlooms and grow quicker-to-mature varieties because of the lack of hot days in past years, we may actually get enough warm weather this season.  Such is life.  I'll enjoy whatever we get.  Our melons are loving the heat as well.  I'm growing watermelon for the first time and it's 1/3 of the way up one trellis already.  I placed "pig panel" arches along our original raised bed and have cantaloupe, watermelon, pickling cukes, luffa squash, and lemon cukes growing on them.  My plan is for these trellises to create a shaded area underneath so I can still grow lettuce and mesclun mix throughout the summer.  This was an idea I got from a supplementary Better Homes and Gardens magazine called Garden Ideas and Outdoor Living, circa 1987--very "vintage" designs and adverstisments for Ortho Malathion 50 Insect Spray (it's amazing what we still didn't know just 25 years ago.)

Not only are the cultivated fruits and vegetables coming along, but the wild foods continue to thrive as well.  Tonight I made a salad with purslane, commonly seen as a weed, but actually a tasty, anti-oxidant and omega-3 fatty-acid-rich vegetable.  It grows well in the cracks between our pavers plus there's a great crop in my tomato bed this year.  I've always wanted to eat it instead of just composting it with other weeds.  As a succulent, it added a unique texture and fresh flavor to this salad.

Potato Salad with Purslane, Snap Peas, and Green Beans
Serves 8

I grabbed some of the last good snap peas from the farmers' market on Saturday and paired them with new potatoes and the first green beans from our garden.  With grilled salmon, this salad was a nice substitute for separate starch and salad.

2 lbs. new potatoes (gently washed so as not to lose the beautiful red skin)
1/2 c. extra-virgin olive oil
3 T. red wine vinegar
1/4 t. red pepper flakes
1/2 lb. snap peas, trimmed
1/2 lb. green beans, trimmed and blanched
1/4 lb. purslane, torn
1 medium white or red onion, halved and shaved
1/4 c. fresh parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
1/4 c. fresh mint leaves, coarsely chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Fill a medium saucepan with salted water, add potatoes and bring to a boil.  Cook until a knife inserted comes out easily.  Lift from pan with a slotted spoon and use the same water to blanch the green beans.  Let potatoes cool.  In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, vinegar, and pepper flakes; season with salt.  In a mixing bowl, quarter the potatoes.  Add the peas, beans, purslane, onion, and herbs.  Toss well with dressing and season to taste.  Serve with grilled fish or chicken.


  1. Ahhh...summer in the LeFort kitchen. Delicious! Glad to hear the cherries made the grade.