Monday, April 25, 2016

Growing a Garden: What to Do With Your Bounty (Recipe Included!)

We've done it, dear readers! We've made it through April, traditionally one of the wackiest weather months of springtime. The worst of winter's frigidity is behind us and we can finally take a long, lasting look at campfires, tank tops, and of course, our gardens.

We've talked about it all in this series - planning our gardens, some of our very best garden helpers, and even what to do while we wait for seedlings to sprout. We've gone from seed to sprout to outdoor living tapestry and soon, very soon, our plants will reward our efforts with a bountiful harvest.

Now if you're anything like me, you have visions of homemade soups and pies, fresh salads everyday, and hand-stirred sauces all summer. I remember the first time I planted my garden.....the minute the seeds were in I immediately started daydreaming about how fantastic life was gonna be when I didn't need to buy groceries. I predicted my garden would produce enough to feed me and my girls from May to October.

That, I quickly learned, is not the way a garden works. Unlike JenDreamland, tomatoes don't pop off the vine for months at a time. They all ripen at once, fast and furious, filling your counters and shelves and baskets and buckets. An avalanche of tomatoes. Tomatoes for days. Tomato parades.

If this is your first year gardening, be prepared to truly be blown away by how short a particular vegetable is actually "in season." Most of us are truly privileged to have 24/7 produce access in our grocery stores - but that is not the real world. Such year-round veggie and fruit access comes at a huge cost, mostly in terms of non-renewable resources like fuel, farmers, community, and our ozone layer....and this is why I garden, you see. I want to stop needing the grocery store completely.

But that means learning how to manage my harvest and preparing for an overabundance of one or two particular vegetables every few weeks.

Preservation is awesome and a necessary part of stashing away your fruits and veggies - you can extend your harvest by making big batches of your tomato sauce, for example, and then freezing or canning it for consumption later. I talk about food preservation at length in my Self Sufficiency series - you can check out my very best preservation tips here in my "5 Final Tips" post and here in my Self-Sufficiency with Food post. I'm also completely gaga about canning my own bone broth. This stuff barely lasts a season at my house because when winter hits, all I want is to make soups, soups, and more soups.

But hands-down, my absolute #1 primo favorite star-player numero uno harvest management technique?

Eat it.

EAT your food!

We talked in the very beginning of this series about how important it is to grow foods you love to eat.....well, this is why! When the harvest comes in, you need to love the food you created because you'll be eating it with every meal, every day, until the harvest has ended and moved on to another one of your veggies or fruits.

Have an abundance of cucumbers? Make sure every single meal has a cucumber involved. Snack on cucumbers. Add cucumbers to drinks and smoothies. Fill your belly with the fruit of the season and get full on food from your own backyard! This was the way of our ancestors and of farmers everywhere before the invention of refrigeration changed our world. When it was pepper season, that's what you ate...weeks and weeks of peppers. Each plant's harvesting season was once as important to life and mind and body and soul as Christmas or springtime - you looked forward to it, relished it, waited with bated breath for the day when your table would again be covered in strawberries.

I was originally incredibly intimidated by this theory of eating according to these food seasons. In-season-only produce from my garden or from farmers around me? On TOP of organic and truly natural and not covered, coated, or mixed with other ingredients? It was overwhelming. How could I make spinach palatable for my kiddos? How many recipes could I actually find for apples or corn? When were my plants supposed to be ready for harvest, anyway? What if nothing was ready for harvest until September?

Valid concerns, right? Let me address....well.....myself.

This past Christmas I was gifted an amazing book called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. In it she beautifully and creatively describes the natural progression of our yearly harvests *cue Forrest Gump voice* in a way that I can understand them. Check this out.

The order in which our garden will mature and be ready for harvest follows the order in which a plant (any plant) grows.

Let me explain. Picture a crabapple tree, mkay? Picture this progression of events:

1. Her branches start each spring with little leaves.
2. The leaves are soon accompanied by pink flower heads.
3. Soft fruits start to bud.
4. The soft fruits start to grow and ripen into tart orbs.
5. The fruits grow large, hard, and mature (giggity) before falling away.
6. The tree begins to dedicate her energy to her roots, saving up nutrients for the winter.

Now take that image and overlap it with your garden.

What are the first things to grow on the tree? The leaves. What types of plants are grown for their edible leaves? Spinach. Kale. Lettuce. And wouldn't you know it.....these are the first plants ready for harvest each and every year. Leafy plants. Leaves emerge first and are therefore the first to mature. Early springtime is leaf time. Get your dinner menus ready for leafy greens!

Next we see flower heads. Big, bountiful flower heads. What types of veggies are compact, delicious flower heads (and also coincidentally kinda resemble....heads)? Cauliflower! Broccoli! Cabbage! I love me some cauliflower mash!

Then we see those cute, little, soft-skinned fruits start to form. Cucumbers. Zucchini. Cherries. Peas. Green beans. Strawberries.

The tree's fruit gets a little bigger and a little more mature. Peppers. Peaches. Eggplant. Grapes. Tomatoes. Corn. Summery, delicious foods - from flower to fork.

And then the fruits ripen to full maturity and their skin hardens to protect the seeds within them. Apples. Pumpkins. Melons. Dried beans.

Finally, the fruits fall away and the roots become the focus. Potatoes. Carrots. Turnips. Radishes.

The harvest cycle of your garden follows the life cycle of our plants. Isn't that the coolest thing? I am a huge, huge fan of Barbara's book. Check it out if you're interested in eating seasonally. And no I did not get paid to say that. The book is just that good.

Once I figured out how to kinda predict when my plants would harvest (or at least in which order), I needed to figure out how I was going to cook them. I love seeing those kids who bite into tomatoes like they're apples, but mine would rather donate all their toys to charity than bite into any vegetable like it's a fruit. I needed to get creative.

I have three secret weapons.

#1: Farm Fresh and Fast: This book was designed for people who sign up to receive CSA (Community Shared Agriculture) boxes. These boxes of produce often vary in content and follow the naturally, a cookbook designed with that in mind is quite priceless indeed for our situation. The authors organize every recipe according to the recipe's primary vegetable or fruit. They also break down different sauces and ways of combining spices so you become more in-tune with cooking in general and can cook on the fly when needed.

#2: The Moosewood Cookbook: The author took her real-life recipes from her real-life restaurant and hand copied them (for real) into this glorious book. She included tons of fresh recipes using healthy ingredients and easy-to-follow instructions. The sketches throughout the book make the process of cooking just that much more enjoyable. A fantastic way to create veggie-based dishes from scratch is to simply open this book up to any page. Live on the edge!

#3: Veggie Rice Skillet: This is my standby recipe for extra veggies. It is super cheap, especially if you omit the meat or use ground organic turkey instead of pork.

Jen's Veggie Rice Skillet

  • Organic brown rice (I use about 2 cups of dry rice - it comes out to about 4-5 cups of rice when cooked)
  • 1 lb of meat (I use pasture-raised, local ground pork or ground turkey)
  • Veggies of choice (My favorites include garlic, bell peppers, onions, carrots, corn, tomatoes, beans, spinach, and cauliflower)
  • Seasoned salt
  • About 2 tablespoons of butter or oil
  • Cheese! Cheddar, Parmesan, feta, whatever you'd like! (optional)
  1. Cook the rice first (it takes the longest). You can cook brown rice by adding 2 cups of water for every 1 cup of dry rice, then bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and let it cook for 40-ish minutes. Check a little rice grain to make sure it's done...when it's at that perfect texture, take the pot off the heat, cover it again, and let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes. Wa-lah! Set aside.
  2. While the rice is resting, cook the meat over medium heat. 
  3. While the meat is cooking chop your veggies up.
  4. Add your chopped veggies and your oil or butter to your meat. Let it all simmer and sizzle and get nice and soft. 
  5. Mix your rice into the meat and veggie mixture. Taste it!
  6. Add seasoned salt to your preferred level of saltiness.
  7. Remove from heat, put on some plates, add some cheese on top, and then eat it!
And with that, we're at the conclusion of our Growing a Garden series. I've truly enjoyed our journey from seed to supper table, my lovely readers. I cannot wait to hear about your gardening adventures this year and if you haven't yet taken the plunge, I hope I've inspired you to reconsider. Gardening, eating, cooking - they are the simple, but beautiful pleasures in life. I promise if you try it, Sam I Am, you will like it. 

Did you miss a Growing a Garden series post? Don't worry! Click the links below to catch up!

I would love to hear about your favorite seasonal recipe! Have you considered eating according to the seasons? What challenges have you faced? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading :)



  1. Yum! Great recipe! You could even make that a separate post with a pinnable image. As for your bounty, I always wondered what to do with that extra lettuce or cucumbers. I guess you could infuse water with it too! Glad you are enjoying the fruits of your labor! (see what I did there?)

    1. Aww thank you Kristen!! It's super delicious. And yes, water infusions or SMOOTHIES. You toss lettuce and cucumbers into a blender with some berries and you've got a delicious, fresh smoothie. You can also make cool cucumber soup, but I have yet to figure out how to do that! HA and yes, you are my favorite :) Thank you for stopping by!