Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Blog Challenge-Sweet Annie

A few days ago I presented a challenge to the Blogsters list at Yahoo. The challenge was to blog everything they knew about Sweet Annie, 'Artemisia annua' and provide a picture. The goal is to get them writing and creating a blog that they would enjoy presenting to the public at large. Most of these women are business owners and most own their own business or partner with others to create an unique niche. Some of these women are a little timid while the others jumped right in and completed their challenge. Might be the reward of receiving a handmade Sweet Annie wreath that is motivating them....Whatever it might be I am humbled by a group of women who pretty much started their businesses from scratch with very little money and for some, very little support from their families. Circle around several years later and these women have successful businesses, happy families and full lives all centering around their love of herbs. Please visit our links section here on our blog and on our website, Possum Creek Herb Farm, and visit the links of these very important women.

Now, on to our challenge....I fell in love with Sweet Annie about twenty years ago when someone gave me a wreath that she made from a patch she was growing. She told me with a smile to shake the wreath over an area on the ground where I wanted the Sweet Annie to grow. I followed her instructions and to my amazement I had several little Sweet Annie plants growing the following spring. Ferny green and sweetly scented (not for the allergic) the Sweet Annie grew and grew like Jack's beanstalk until I had towering trees. As the summer passed into fall the Sweet Annie changed to a bright golden yellow green with little seeds along all of the branches. As September waned and October color began taking over the gardens, the "trees" changed to a russet gold and became almost powdery. I knew it was ready for wreath making and for other projects I had only seen in magazines or in upscale herb shops. I promise that I will blog how to create one of these wreaths very soon, but I wanted to show you what can truly be done with what most people consider a "weed" in their gardens. These wreaths pictured were done last year for two upscale garden centers and for a wedding. NOTE: sorry gals, these are not one of the wreaths for the blog challenge reward. :)

You may notice that the wreaths' base is a darker green. These wreaths were done in August while the Sweet Annie was still in its "green" state. During this state it is easier to work with for those whose nose cannot handle the dust Sweet Annie creates. Misting with water or working with the Sweet Annie while the dew is still on it helps somewhat. A beautiful wreath can last forever if taken care of. Keep out of sunlight, away from moisture and heat and gently blow the dust off with a hair dryer all helps preserve the beauty. And remember, shake your wreath over a spot on the ground for next year's new plants....and the year after.....and the year after that.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Soup's On

Cooler weather calls for comfort foods. And in our family homemade soup tops the list.

This recipe has been refined over the years with some changes to the ingredients, but the one constant is fresh herbs. If you don't have access to fresh herbs then dried is fine. Just use a little less.

Sage Sausage Soup

In a large crockpot or soup kettle add the following:

One large onion and one clove of garlic (more if you desire)

One ring of smoked sausage or sausage of your choice

40 ounces of fresh tomato juice and tomato quarters

Bring this to a slow boil in order for the sausage to cook all the way through. Then, turn down the heat to a simmer or low on the crockpot.

Simmer for several hours.

Add two medium size potatoes, peeled and cut into small chunks.

Add one can of pinto or kidney beans (leftovers work very well).

Add two carrots chopped into small pieces

At this point decide if more broth is needed. If so, add about a cup or two of more tomato juice or water.

Add a large handful of chopped herbs with sage being the focal point. We like to add lovage, sage, a tad of rosemary, basil, and parsley.

Simmer for another half hour (while the cornbread is rising in the oven)


Tuesday, September 04, 2007

You say "tomato" I say "tomAHto"

Ah, Fall. My favorite time of the year. Harvesting is in full swing if, unlike me, you were lucky enough to get your tomatoes to grow this year. We are in a third year drought that has devastated the gardens sending tomato consumers to the farmers markets, roadside stands and sneaking into their neighbor's tomato patch for the juicy fruit. Tomato sauces, tomato pies, chili, spaghetti, canned and frozen. We have been putting "them by" as we say here in the south for winter's soups and stews.

I thought you might enjoy a few recipes for that abundance of tomato harvest. Even a green tomato recipe for those of you who can't bear to wait. :)

Green Tomato Chutney

Yield: 4 half-pints if you're canning

3 pounds green tomatoes, cored and chopped

1 pound sweet green peppers, cored, seeded and chopped

1 pound apples, cored and chopped

1 pound onions, chopped finely

1 cup raisins

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 fresh red or green hot pepper, cored, seeded and minced

1 pint tarragon vinegar (recipe to follow make ahead)

2 cups packed light brown sugar

1 tablespoon non-iodized salt

1 teaspoon ground cumin seeds

1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Combine all ingredients in a heavy-bottomed, nonreactive pot. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring frequently. Follow standard pressure canner method of preserving if so desired.

Tomato Dressing

Can be served over salad greens or raw veggies

2/3 cup tomato juice

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 basil sherry vinegar (recipe to follow)

2 tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes, minced

2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped fine

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Whisk all ingredients together in a nonreactive bowl. Cover and refrigerate for one hour before using to allow flavors to blend. Store in a tightly covered jar in the refrigerator.

Herb Vinegar

Yield: One cup

10-20 sprigs of any favorite herb such as tarragon, basil, rosemary, chive or mint

1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns, whole

1 cup white wine vinegar (white vinegar can also be used as long as it is 5% acidity)

Rinse and dry herbs. Bruise all the herbs with a wooden spoon and place in sterilized container such as a jar. Add vinegar and seal. Store is cool, dark place for at least three weeks. Strain into decorative bottles. Store in a cool, dark place and use within four months.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

A Little Rain

Finally, finally, finally we had a little rain today. Nothing much to write home about, but enough to "lay down the dust" as we say here in the south and to cool the temps slightly. Those of you who are living in this part of the country knows how miserable it has been for weeks on end. The drought and heat are costing millions of dollars in damages to farmers and nursery owners. Water is being trucked in to fill farmers' ponds, by the local volunteer fire departments, so the cattle can have some water. Schools are letting out early and curtailing sports practices until later in the day just so kids do not have to be outside. I pity the construction guys making a living in this heat. Someone said the other day that "being in the heat was like walking in slow motion through hot mud." I couldn't agree more.

Hopefully the weather is starting to cool down to more predictable temps and allow us to plant some new perennials and replace some herbs lost this summer. Hardy perennials such as rosemary, sage, chive, lavender, echinacea, and thymes can all be planted in the fall. Doing this ensures the plants get several months of cool to spread out their roots before the heat of summer comes back around again.