Fish Pepper, An Heirloom Pepper

This one is ready to eat.

Some like it hot…  I am one of those who like a little heat in their food.  However, I do not like to be in pain- you can have too much of a good thing.  I do love Tabasco peppers in vinegar to sprinkle on my greens or my peas and I wanted to make my own when I figured out how easy it is to preserve peppers and herbs in vinegars.

I had read an article about fish peppers, a pepper native to the Caribbean and common in fish dishes of that area.  A gentleman up North had been growing them with seed that came from his grandfather.  The peppers are pretty and can come multicolored.  So, when placing my seed order this year I decided to give these a try.  I am so glad I did!  They germinated easily and grew great.  Because I don’t eat a lot of hot peppers and only one of my kids likes spicy food, I planted only four plants in my garden. Four was plenty, these plants really produce!

A Fish Pepper plant loaded up with peppers.

Each pepper is only about 2 inches long, not very big.  However, they pack a lot into that little package.  These peppers are hot, but with a deep warmth and sweetness.  Even my kids who don’t like things too hot have commented that this was a different kind of heat and they liked it.  It took only two peppers with seeds removed to warm up a pound of pinto beans cooked in the crock-pot.  I am hooked on these little beauties.
I have decided to use these in vinegar in place of the Tabasco peppers and see how it goes.  I find it hard to believe that this wouldn’t taste good considering how great a flavor these peppers posses.

 To save the seeds, wait to pick until they turn red and shrivel up just a bit.  Then you can split them open and save the seeds.  Allow the seeds to dry completely- I usually put them in a small bowl on the window sill.  Then store them in a cool dry place until ready to plant next spring.  Being an Heirloom variety, you can save these seeds and get the same wonderful peppers next summer.

Like most peppers, as it matures it will turn red and orange.

I ordered my seeds from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.  This link will take you to the page with information about the Fish Pepper:
Try some in your garden next year, you will be glad you did!


Oh How I HATE Snakes

Nasty Chicken snake killed in the hen house

I suppose everyone has at least one irrational fear, mine is snakes.  Now I understand that given the fact that some snakes are poisonous and can make you terribly sick if not dead, some might not consider a fear of snakes irrational.  But, if you had ever witnessed my reactions to ANY snake you would agree, my fear is irrational.  Irrational and hysterical to any onlookers.

This spring and summer have been extremely difficult for my nerves.  A loose count puts us at having killed or seen over 15 snakes.  Now, most of these have been non-venomous rat and chicken snakes.  Not deadly, the chicks, eggs, and chickens would, however; consider these guys deadly, but not us humans.  Unless you count the damage that you do to your self trying to get away.  The last chicken snake was killed last night with a egg in its mouth while attempting to strangle the chicken that it had wrapped up in its coils.  Man, I am glad that my husband and my kids will handle these things.

This snake is over 5 &1/2 feet long.

Yes, you read that right.  My kids kill snakes and I let them.  Cheyenne is the one most commonly running after the offender with a gun, but Savannah has killed her share.  Jonathan has got his licks in too, under the supervision of his father- I am not that hysterical. With this many snakes trying to live on our farm, there is plenty of shooting to go around.  Most of the snakes in the chicken house have been huge.  The copperheads that have been seen or killed have been considerably smaller-but they are the dangerous ones. The sheer size of rat and chicken snakes will scare the devil out of lots of people.

Cheyenne, my snake killer

But even the tiniest snakes can send me packing.  While cleaning up a junk pile, Tony found a tiny garden snake.  He caught it for Jonathan, who loves snakes and always wants to bring them inside.  I have let him a couple of times but they always escape and that is another story all together.  So, Jonathan has the little fellow in his hand and turned around.  In doing so when her turned his hand was pointing towards to me with its little snake head facing right at me.  Its crazy, but my chest seized up and my breathing stopped while my heart rate went crazy.  This is what makes me say this fear is irrational, the snake was harmless and tiny but it still scared me spit-less.

The kids still laugh at the memory of when a racer came out of wood pile and hit me in the leg.  I yelped and ran across the paddock (leaving my children alone with the thing I fear the most).  They all laughed at me while Cheyenne ran to the house to get a gun.  The snake went under an old Bronco we had.  Now all the children are squatted  down peering under the Bronco ready to shoot the snake on site.  However, no one considered what buck shot and a gas tank would do when combined and I had to put a stop to the snake hunt.  Alas, the snake lived to hunt another day.  I still maintain that my response was completely sane and with the bounds of normal behavior.

I once again abandoned my child to a snake just this morning.  Cheyenne and I were cleaning up the milking parlor.  She was standing inside the parlor moving bead board and I was just outside moving trash to the burn box.  I stepped inside and grabbed a folded up tarp.  Sliding the tarp underneath a table several feet away revealed a large copperhead in the corner.  I yelped and and managed to shout “snake” as I jumped over the milking stand into the alley of the barn.  This left Cheyenne in the milking parlor with the snake in between her and the exit and she still wasn’t even certain where the snake was.  It didn’t take her long to locate it and she then sprinted to the house for a gun.  I remained in the alley, watching.  She returned quickly and after a lot poking about she located the varmint and blew a whole in the thing.  We were both jittery after that and  it was hard to concentrate on our work.  We did manage to get the milking parlor cleaned up and the lumber brought up to the house.  Just another day on the farm.

I know snakes play a vital role in our ecosystem.  For this reason, I have reigned in my reactions enough that I can leave the garden snakes alone.  Correction, I haven’t reigned in my reactions, I just don’t go get someone to kill the thing.  I move to another job in garden leaving the snake to do its business.  We do kill those snakes posing harm to our chickens and poisonous snakes in the areas where people must work.  As for the woods, snakes are free to roam and do their thing and I won’t go looking for them.

Snake testicles- In case you ever wondered.

On an interesting side note.  Jonathan had the snake from last night laid out on the porch.  I noticed these purplish little glands on its belly.  I asked, “What are these?”  Jonathan replied, “His testicles, Mom.”  Me, ” I didn’t know snakes had testicles.”  To this obviously stupid statement Jonathan replies, ” How else are they going to reproduce?”  Well, yeah, I just never thought about it, much less saw snake testicles.  Homeschooling  happens every which away around here.

For the love of Salsa!

Me & Cheyenne (drinking bubbly apple juice)
Cheyenne and I share a lot of things.  For instance, neither one of us can hide our feelings very well, what we think is telegraphed on our faces, we love taking care of our animals, we are strong willed, and we love babies.  Also, we share a love of really good Salsa.  Mexican food makes us happy and we like a little heat.  She is her mother’s daughter, with just enough of her daddy mixed in to mellow her out in a nice way.
She has been making some noise about needing to make salsa with our bountiful harvest of tomatoes.  Apparently, Cheyenne has not thought that using the tomatoes to make tomato sauce was a very wise use of those beautiful ‘maters.  A love of spaghetti is not something we share.  So, I surfed the internet for a recipe and found one that was simple and looked promising. And yesterday we got busy over some tomatoes, hot peppers, and cilantro.
The recipe was simple and we followed it up until we tasted the salsa, then we went to tinkering.  Cheyenne is really good about making notes as she improvises so we were able to recreate the same flavor this morning, as we already needed more.
Below is the recipe- our rendition, not the one from the internet.  Before putting everything in the food processor, we cored the tomatoes and scored the other ends and dropped them into boiling water for about a minute.  The tomatoes are in the boiling water just long enough for the skin to start to curl.  Then the peeling just slips off, chop the tomatoes roughly and toss in the processor.  The longer you run the food processor the finer the salsa, so if you like chunky then just pulse a few times.  Also, for thicker salsa use paste tomatoes such as roma or Illini Gold.
Cheyenne’s Fresh Salsa
2-3 medium tomatoes, stems and peelings removed (see above)
½  onion coarsely chopped
2- fish peppers seeds removed- unless you want to up the heat then leave the seeds in. (if you don’t have fish peppers, jalapeno or any other hot pepper will work.
Juice of one lime
1 cup cilantro
1 tsp salt (adjust to taste)
½ tsp of cumin
Put tomatoes, peppers & onions in food processor and pulse for about 2 minutes.  Add the rest of the ingredients and pulse till you are happy with the consistency.  Taste- if too hot add more tomatoes, if not hot enough, add more peppers.
Let set in the refrigerator for one hour to let the flavors blend- if you can wait that long, we just eat right out of the blender bowl. 

Cherokee Purple- One Good Tomato

Tomatoes and other goodies from the garden

As I have said in a previous blog, this has been my first year to have really good success with growing tomatoes in  my garden.  Well, while I do enjoy all the tomatoes, there is one that really stands out as DELICIOUS!  That is the Cherokee Purple, an heirloom tomato that is said to have origins with the Cherokee Indians from Tennessee grown pre-1890.

A few summers back I got one really great tomato from a plant called “Black Krim”.  It was the best tomato I had eaten up to that point.  I wanted to grow those again but the seed catalog I was ordering from did not offer those, so I went with another purple tomato, the Cherokee.  I am so glad that I did, these have been our favorite.  And of course, being an heirloom we can save the seeds and the exact same wonderful tomato next season.

As spring went along and blossoms turned into baby fruit, I was really getting excited.  The green tomatoes just kept getting bigger- many of them getting to the size of softballs.  It was hard to wait, it seemed that all the varieties took forever to ripen!  I am sure that the length of time seemed longer than it really was, I checked them daily and you know what they say about a watched pot…

I guess due to the pitiful results of the previous season, I did not understand what kind of rambling these vines were going to do.  My staking was terribly inadequate.  The weight of the fruit caused the vines to dip down and touch the ground.  The only problem- other than being a bit difficult to get to the fruit- is that any tomatoes resting on the ground were a target for pill bugs or rolly pollies as we have always called them.  I was shocked at the amount of tomato that these little bugs can consume.

The Cherokee Puple

The first really large one that came in, was such a prize.  I sliced and all my waiting was rewarded.  Cheyenne, who is a tomato kinda gal- but only fresh ones from the garden, came in and had a slice.  Her eyes lit up and she said, “Now that is good!”  Last week, I went out to visit my grandmother and noticed quite a few tomatoes finishing up on her window sill.  I asked her if she had any Cherokee Purples and before I could finish the name she interrupted me exclaiming, “Oh My, that was such a good tomato.  Those are my favorite.”  That says a lot, grandmother is in her 80’s and gardening has always been a part of her life, so she should know what she is talking about.

I am really happy to have grown these tomatoes as seedlings for our nursery.  I am confident that anyone who bought seedlings from us was very pleased.  These will definitely be in our inventory next spring and in our gardens.  Give the Cherokee Purple a try, you will be glad you did.

Children’s Aquarium at Fair Park

Savannah showing the kids a horseshoe crab

If you are looking for a fun and educational outing for the family, I highly recommend the Children’s Aquarium at Fair Park.  In the recent years it has undergone some major renovations and the change has been great.

The touch tanks are full of sea life that you would not normally be able to see much less touch.  Horseshoe crabs, slipper lobsters, and sea anemoneas to name a few of the creatures that call the touch tank home.  There are volunteers there everyday to explain details to the kids and the adults a like.  Savannah is there on Wednesdays from noon till 4 pm.  She loves the work there and has learned a lot for herself.

The touch tank in the foyer has lots of small animals to touch and feel.  The second tank is located in the back with many cownose rays for touching, now those are something.  Shrimp or small fish can be purchased to feed the rays.  These little fellas love to eat and if you put your hand in the water, on most days,  the rays will swarm around and run under your hand.  This past Wednesday there had been a lot of school groups and the “snack” bar was sold out by 3:00.  This is unusual and when I got back there and wanted to pet them, they wouldn’t give me the time of day.  It seems they were taking a nap at the bottom of the tank, picture the family after the Thanksgiving meal and you will get the idea.

Jonathan & I are sitting in front of the shark tank

Also in the back, but not a touch tank, is the shark tank.  There are several varieties of shark out there and a couple of Southern Rays.  The guys get fed every Wednesdays at 2:30.  This is fun to watch and the keepers always have a presentation for all that are watching.  There is a very tall window on the second level that makes it easy to watch the sharks swimming.  Because of all the passes the animals make in front of the window, you can see all sides of the sharks and rays, it is very cool.  Savannah really wants to swim with the sharks, but that is not allowed.

Savannah and Albert the Alligator

All the tanks and displays have been done really well.  My favorite tank indoors is the jellyfish.  It is just mesmerizing to watch them swim under that black light.  Those are just so cool- unless you encounter them while swimming in their natural habitat!  Another fun attraction is Albert the Alligator, Savannah really likes getting him out and showing him to the kids.  He is a little guy, only 18 months old, but he will bite if he can, but the handlers don’t let that happen.  So, check out the Aquarium and the rest of the museums at Fair Park, parking is free and the Park itself is very nice with lots for the kiddos to see.

Jellyfish are so cool.
All the characters from “Finding Nemo”
One of two Seahorse tanks.

Good Blue Fun

Blueberries have been getting lots of attention these days as being a superfood.  Apparently they are just bursting with lots of good things for our bodies.  These are one of my personal favorites.  I love the way the little round fruits pop between your teeth releasing all that juice onto your taste buds.  Now that’s good stuff.
Last week Tony & I went to the Berry Bush Blue Berry Farm in Ben Wheeler.  Not only are blueberries good to eat, but they are a lot of fun to pick.  Blueberry bushes mature into very tall shrubs which means that the shrub itself casts some pretty good shade making the job not so hard in the hot summer.  In this area blueberries ripen during June and July.  
At the Berry Bush, the berries are $18.00 per gallon if you buy then already picked or $12.00 per gallon you pick.  I like picking the fruit and it is a great experience for kids to see where the food they eat comes from.  When you walk into the shed by the parking lot, there are stacks of gallon size baskets so it is easy to know how much you have picked.  Tony & I each got a basket.  Of course, being who I am I started competing with him to see who could pick the most the fastest.  Tony was unaware of the contest (it’s easier to win that way) and walked over and dumped his basket into mine.  Oh well.   A few summers back we stopped at a u pick pea patch and I thoroughly thumped him and 2 kids.  Three against one and they still lost.  I attribute this pea picking skill to the summer I picked peas for my Uncle Pat who farmed around the corner from our house.  I was 12 and to this day, I still consider that the hardest work I ever did, but I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.  Blueberry picking is much easier than pea picking.
Once you have picked what you want and eaten a few (or more), you take your berries back to the shed and the sweet little lady puts them in a paper sack and you pay her the money.  Talk about easy and fun.  By the way, should you feel guilty about eating some berries, the sweet lady told us to be sure to taste the berries from the bush we were picking from to make certain they were good and sweet.  So, its ok to eat along the way making the experience all the more sweet.
Not only does Ben Wheeler have a great blueberry farm, they have a great hamburger joing.  It is located in the Exxon.  Don’t let that fool you, Sam’s makes one of the best burgers I have eaten, cooked when you order it and made from a hand patted patty.  The veggies are fresh and crisp.  You can eat you burger at the soda fountain while sitting on old fashioned bar stools- another great bit of fun for the kids.  The burger is big enough to share and is priced less than the fast food burgers that aren’t good for you. 
So check out The Berry Bush-,  and Sam’s Exxon in Ben Wheeler- you will be glad you did.  These pictures are from their website.

Heirloom Tomatoes

Lovely Tomatoes, my best harvest ever!!!

For several years I have been trying to grow tomatoes.  It would seem that this would be easy in the south.  After all, according to Shirley McLain in “Steel Magnolias” growing tomatoes is what southern women do.  For me, however, this has not been the case.

The first year I planted tomatoes I planted Brandy-wine.  These are heralded as the best tasting tomato ever.  And they may be, but once the temps get into the 90’s they don’t set fruit very well ( you will find this in the small print in a good seed catalog).  Well, in Texas we can be in the 90’s before April says good-bye.  So, that summer the temps went high quickly and I got no tomatoes, large beautiful vines, but no tomatoes.  To this day, I can not tell you if Brandy-wine lives up to its billing or not.

The next summer, I don’t even remember what I planted, but all I got was a few little fruits.  This was quite frustrating to me since it was a desire of mine to can my own tomato sauce from tomatoes grown in my own garden.  At the rate I was going, I would be doing good to make a salad much less can many quarts of sauce.  However, I did get one Black Krim Tomato and it was the best I ever tasted.  It will be in my garden this next year.

But, hope springs eternal in a gardeners heart and the next summer I went at it hard.  I scoured the catalogs looking for varieties that would be good in high heat, mild drought conditions and so forth.  Then I planted like crazy.  Well the season I am talking about was last summer.  Hell turned on its blow dryers and a hideous western wind blew for months, no rain fell for months and the temperatures hit one hundred before May had come and gone and did not come down until the end of August.  So, the little tomato plants just didn’t stand a chance.  I did get a few tomatoes from volunteers that had come from tomatoes that we had fed to the pigs the summer before.  Think about it for a minute and you will figure it out.  I must say I felt a bit insulted at the fact that the garden snubbed all my hard work and research in favor of pig poo, but oh well at least I got a few tomatoes.

June Pink sliced up and ready for breakfast.

Now, each season may have looked like a failure in regards to my tomato aspirations, but each season I learned something to apply to the next try.  After all, I could not give up.  Because of the land on which I garden, I have to be shrewd.  My property is a very steep hill that slopes towards the North.  I have essentially a walled garden because of the 80′ trees surrounding my 2 acres.  What this means is, not all my property gets enough sun to grow heat loving veggies like eggplants, tomatoes, and peppers.  Of these, the most choosy is the tomatoes. Not only is sun exposure a problem, but the soil temperature is tricky.  The soil takes its time warming to the temps that tomatoes need to thrive do to the micro-climate I have on my place.

The soil temps is what was really getting me into trouble.  I was so excited and ready to get gardening, that I would plant seedlings as soon as possible.  However, by the time the soil temps warmed up sufficiently the seedlings would be getting stressed and then be a target for bugs.  So, I learned from the volunteers that my garden needed tomatoes planted in mid-April, this is when they came up on their own.  Left alone, plants do know when they need to come up and greet the new season.

Rambling Tomato Vines

Well, this year I choose the hottest spot on my acreage to till the tomato patch.  Due to the business of the nursery, it was easy to wait until mid-April to plant.  I mulched the seedlings immediately- I believe this is a key to successful gardening, MULCH, MULCH, MULCH!  Well, the tomatoes took their sweet time getting ripe, but I had green tomatoes on the vines very quickly.  I have been harvesting everyday now for about 2 weeks.  I am so happy.  I did not plant enough to have me canning many quarts of sauce, but I have canned 3 quarts and made many tasty dishes.

I chose 4 varieties this year.  June Pink- an early tomato, Cherokee Purple, Arkansas Traveler, and Illini Gold.  I have been very pleased with each of them.  Being Heirloom varieties, I could save seeds to grow next year and the plants are indeterminate.  This means the plants ramble much like a cucumber or pea vine, but they do not climb on their own.  Now, good supports will keep these beauties off the ground but I obviously need to work on the support things in my garden.  I have tomato plants rambling all over, but I am so happy!  The pig is happy too, I toss any tomatoes that have gone bad or been eaten too badly by bugs over the fence to her- who knows what gifts she will leave me for next year….

Homemade Tomato Sauce & Some Ripe Illini Gold & Cherokee Purple