Picking a Peck of Peppers!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Bird Pepper Crop: Bird Back 40

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
Did Peter Piper pick a peck of pickled peppers?
If Peter Piper Picked a peck of pickled peppers,
Where's the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?

Go ahead and say that five times fast! C'mon now! I "double-dog-dare" you to do it!

WARNING! Mouthwatering recipes ahead. Better bring a BIB to this blog posting -- because it's literally bursting with late summer goodness.

Yeah, yeah I know. The calendar on the wall reads "summer fun ends at Labor Day, son." But -- technically? We've got another ten days or so before Autumn, 2011 officially kicks in (September 23rd to be exact). Until then? I'm enjoying my summertime bounty!

California Wonder: Yellow Bell Pepper
Besides -- the weather hasn't exactly slacked off in terms of heat now has it? The heirloom tomato crops have mostly delivered a large summer crop and new fruit is already forming at the top for a much-hoped-for fall delivery. The wife that is Venus and I will enjoy fresh garden tomatoes until November if Mother Nature is in that giving sort of mood.

One crop that is indeed late this year -- but welcome just the same -- is all things PEPPERS! From Bell Peppers to Jalapeno Hot Mamas -- the Bird pepper crop is indeed "busting out" this September. It's been a long time coming -- but welcome just the same.

Like most backyard crops? Nothing really compares to a pepper harvested straight from the backyard garden. It is literally bursting with a sweet and tender juice -- and the Jalapeno peppers are at the point where they will burn the skin off your lips if you're not careful.

Mucho Nacho Jalapeno Pepper
At least -- it does seem that way.

Venus and I are somewhat partial to the Jalapeno peppers because they have a wide variety of uses in so many different summertime dishes. Fajitas aren't fajitas -- unless you got a finely sliced n' diced jalapeno pepper in the mix. Salsa isn't salsa without the bite of a Mucho Nacho Jalapeno. And nothing goes better with a big bowl of Chicken Pho (pronounced "fu" as in "fun") than a carefully sliced Purple Jalapeno.

Plus -- as noted in this blog before -- it is the only hot pepper that I know of that retains that famous heat after boiling on a stove with other ingredients for a good 30-minutes to one hour. The mighty orange Habanero turns into pipsqueak status after cooking, as do a number of other "hot" peppers that are somewhat hotter than the Jalapeno on the "burn your lips off" scientific scale.

Purple Jalapeno Pepper
So, we be partial to Jalapeno peppers. Not just one bush of them either -- but three. What we don't use in fresh cooking this year can be canned for later use. Yes, even the Jalapeno retains some heat after canning. It's not quite as strong, but it does deliver a welcome jolt in the dead of winter.

Safe to say that Venus are using peppers in just about every dish we cook this month. Besides the already mentioned Fajitas, there's the asian-inspired Green Pepper Beef. The Betty Crocker Cookbook offering of Southwest Chicken Soup is one of the best in the land IF you're using fresh red bell peppers, and plain old scrambled eggs are just boring unless it's scrambled with some sliced and diced Ancho (aka Poblano) peppers.

Peppers are make quite the meal offered raw. There's nothing quite like a summer plate of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers tossed with a little red wine vinegar, salt and pepper to taste and a dusting of fresh or dried oregano.

Ancho or Poblano Peppers
I'm hungry already!

Venus and usually go a little overboard with our pepper plantings -- and this year is no different. We do depend on them a lot for canning efforts. Our Roasted Garlic, Pepper and Heirloom Tomato Salsa, for example, relies upon anywhere from four to six cups of roasted and fresh peppers. Canned tomato sauce is kinda boring unless you zip it up a bit with a Jalapeno or two. Get the idea?

Therefore -- it isn't all that uncommon to find anywhere from 10-15 odd and assorted pepper plants growing in the Bird Back 40. That includes the aforementioned Jalapeno peppers (three different varieties), the California Wonders (Red, Yellow, Green), Big Bertha (Purple) and usually one or two unique offerings. This year? It's the Paprika pepper -- which Venus and I will dry in some safe spot in the garage and grind into fresh paprika pepper.

Big Bertha Bell Pepper (Purple)
Who needs to blow $4 or $5 at the store for a small jar of overprocessed paprika when you can get something better at home for FREE? The numbers add up for me.

And now -- as I promised -- some pepper recipes that WILL make you drool. Remember, I warned you. Don't blame me if your computer keyboard suddenly shorts out!

SOUTHWEST CHICKEN SOUP (Betty Crocker Cookbook offering)

2 large red bell peppers
1 whole chicken breast (about 3/4 pound), skinned and boned
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro (we use a tad more)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup cubed jicama

Bill's Note: Like most Betty Crocker recipes, the seasonings are catered to blander tastes. We usually double up on spices.

Red California Wonder Bell Pepper
Set your oven control to broil. Place bell peppers on rack of broiler pan with tops about 5 inches from heat. Broil peppers, turning occasionally, until skin is blistered and evenly browned (do not burn!). Remove peppers to a brown paper bag, seal tightly. Let peppers stand 20-30 minutes.

Place chicken on rack in broiler pan. Place broiler pan so top of chicken is 5 to 7 inches from heat. Broil chicken 15 minutes, turning once, until juices run clear. Cut into quarter inch strips.

Pare peppers (remove skin and seeds, but do NOT run under water). Discard skin and seeds. Place peppers and onion in blender or food processor and blend and process until smooth.

Heat pepper mixture, chicken broth, lime juice, cilantro, salt, pepper and garlic to boiling in two quart saucepan. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in reserved chicken and jicama. Heat until hot.


1/3 cup soy sauce
¼ cup beef broth
2 tbsp dark brown sugar
¾ pound top round steak, thinly sliced (I use ground turkey)
1tsp light Sesame Oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp Ginger
2 tsp Curry Powder
2-3 green or red bell peppers, seeded and cut into strips

Green or Red Pepper Beef Anyone?
Mix soy sauce, beef broth, brown sugar, minced garlic, ginger and curry powder together and set aside.

Stir fry beef strips or ground turkey with sesame oil until cooked. Add peppers and stir fry until crisp tender. Add reserved sauce and top to coat. Serve over hot rice.

NOTE: At one time this recipe also called for cornstarch to thicken the sauce. I HATE cornstarch, so I left it out. But you're free to add it right back in again (blech!).

Where Have I BEEN???

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Whole Heirloom Tomatoes & Garlic Dill Pickles
That is one good question. Cause when three solid weeks pass without Bill Bird so much as touching the blog that is Sacramento Vegetable Gardening -- one goes through a withdrawl of sorts. Not that I haven't thought about it -- boy have I! But -- you see -- time is the problem.

As you can tell from the photo to the immediate right -- we've certainly found our time to put the summer backyard produce to good use. There are quarts and quarts of whole heirloom tomatoes for winter time use. Venus and I just finished up on our latest project this past weekend -- 19 pints of lip-smacking tomato sauce infused with fresh herbs like sage, thyme, basil, oregano, basil -- plus a Jalapeno pepper or two.

Heirloom Tomato Sauce Infused with Fresh Herbs
Oh -- and that doesn't include the 20-odd pints of fresh Roasted Garlic, Pepper and Heirloom Tomato Salsa. That's a Bird Family tradition!

But with two demanding jobs to hold down, five of the brattiest cats known to mankind -- plus a spoiled rotten dog (Ultimate Digging Machine) -- and four different homes to care for -- well -- that thing called "free time" is at a premium.

Speaking of which -- anyone interested in renting a fine home? Gardening boxes and not one -- but TWO loaded orange trees to boot -- included? Leave a note for me at the bottom of the blog. The fresh citrus comes with the house. Think of it as a "bonus."

Despite the demands upon our free time -- it hasn't stopped us from enjoying all of the Bird Back 40 bounty that summer has to offer. It hasn't stopped a couple of marauding mockingbirds either -- and now I fully understand why they call them "mockingbirds." The name is well deserved.

Fresh Fruit Harvest!
Let's be honest here, shall we? This has been one fine summer. I wish I'd been able to write it about it more often. From heirloom tomatoes on the vine, bell peppers by the boatload, two different types of eggplant, three varieties of squash, a nice selection of corn-on-the-cob and some surprising fresh fruit deliveries -- life has been good indeed.

One of the best harvests came just a few weeks ago -- and based upon what came ripe from our young fruit trees this year -- we'll be expecting a lot more of this in years to come. We've been building up the fruit tree and bush offerings in the Bird Back 40 in the hopes that it would produce a real backyard "fruit salad." And as you can tell -- we came close.

Table Grape Vines: Bird Back 40
This is the second year of production for the eight table grape vines that frame in the six main 4X8 foot raised beds in the backyard garden. Those aren't the only beds we have in the Bird Back 40 -- but it's clearly the main growing area. It's where you will find a multitude of heirloom tomato offerings -- Asian Baby Corn -- four or five different varieties of basil and we usually devote at least one bed to all things Bush Beans.

I knew from the outset that I was going to get some production off the eight table grape vines that the wife that is Venus and I planted during the 2010 bare root season. Little did I know -- however -- that the mockingbirds would savor the vast majority of the crop. Despite the addition of Scare Tape, a Scare Crow and netting -- nothing would stop two very determined birds from stealing the vast majority of the Bird table grape crop.

Mental note: I need to spend this winter building a better mousetrap!

Arctic Jay White Nectarines & O'Henry Peaches!
But I'll tell you something about mockingbirds. They are not the most perfect of thieves. In other words, they left a smattering of Fiesta, Muscat and Diamond grapes behind. Add a smattering of table grapes to the last of the white nectarines, some tree-ripened O'Henry Peaches and a selection of strawberries and you've got yourself something special.

It's a fruit salad from your own backyard!

And there's nothing quite like the zest and zing from tree or vine-ripened fruit that some straight from your own backyard. Sure -- you can purchase the same thing in your local supermarket or perhaps a Sacramento Certified Farmer's Market. But it's just not going to compare from the selection of truly ripe, sweet, soft and fruit selections from the backyard.

Fresh Fruit Salad Anyone?
About the only thing missing this year from the Bird Back 40? A fresh selection of watermelon and cantaloupe. It's the one crop -- the one and only crop I might add -- that failed to produce this year. Make a mental note of this children: Do not plant watermelon and cantaloupe seeds in the same area as pumpkin seeds. The end result is -- you get lots of pumpkins and little else.

But we'll write about pumpkins next month. Lord knows -- we have enough to supply the general neighborhood this year. I see a slice or two of pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread and all things pumpkin in my nearby and immediate future. Give the wife that is Venus a pumpkin and she'll turn it into something that will make your taste buds quiver with excitement.

Home-Grown Table Grapes
But for now? The grapes are still producing. The mockingbirds are long gone (thank goodness) and a nice crop of Red Flame grapes are just about ready. Like just about every fruit offering in the Bird Back 40 -- the harvest is a tad late this year.

But there is a nice harvest to come just the same.