Decorating with Herbs, Step Stone Patterns and More Rhubarb & Strawberry Recipes

Here is my sun shining down on my flower.

Here we are just about in the middle of June… how the days fly. The other day Kyle & Ethan were planting another 50 pounds of Yukon potato seeds… I walked down the row punching the holes in the plastic where they were to plant… Suddenly I saw this big, bossy and majestic dragonfly… He lives here at The Garden Gate Farm… he sports an iridescent blue jacket and flits about like he doesn’t have a care in the world. I love to watch them fly about… whip over this way and then dart over that way.  They are by far my favorite insect. I quick pointed him out to the boys and we watched awhile as he showed off.  I truly believe that God always sends me one because He knows how special they are too me.  We also had another ‘not so majestic’ flying critter that day~ this one though was darting through my house and I was screaming running out the door~ A Bat!  Oh how I hate bats… now don’t get me wrong, I love bats outside for all the wonderful things they do~ like eating all those pesky mosquitoes and moths~ but not inside.  I have to say it has been awhile since we had one… remember we live in the country and this really is part of life! But awhile later we were all standing in the kitchen when a beautiful Ruby Throated Hummingbird female was hovering right in my big picture window looking right on in… She seemed to be looking in and being thankful she was out… she was in the midst of my red climbing rose bush canes that dance in front of the window.  Yes we live in the county and we get lot’s of flyin’ things. 

Well here are some ideas on making walk ways and fanciful ways to have your step stones add that special touch! Also enjoy some more ideas on how to incorporate Herbs in your entertaining along with four more yummy recipes for rhubarb and strawberries!  Enjoy friends…

I love Garden Paths… they add such an interesting element to any yard or garden.  Here are a couple photos of two of mine.  You can create any type of design using them. I used slate in my pergola walkway laid in pea stone.  At the entrance I put regular round step stones to keep the pea stone from rolling out.  I used plastic ground cover first, then laid the slate and then added the pea stone and swept it evenly to fill in around the slate.  As you are walking and then turn to go into one of our hoop houses I took some extra pieces of the slate and created two patterns~ one is a flower and the other a sun (photo).  You can do whatever you dream of!

Here is my pergola walkway.  There are Sweet Autumn Clematis along
with climbing roses. 
I have mentioned often how much I enjoy entertaining and decorating for the event.  It is quite easy to incorporate herbs into the affair… here are a few tips on how! 
*Consider using pale natural fabrics such as un-dyed linen.  This allows the herbs to hold center stage rather than having a too busy pattern.
*As with the linens, choose plain or understated china, flatware and glassware that will not upstage the greenery. 
*Of course every table needs a centerpiece- don’t make your bouquets with just flowers, add herbs… they add delicate texture, such as with Dill leaves or fennel. Try adding geranium leaves, flowering Cinnamon Basil or any purple basil… so beautiful.  Arrange the herbs loosely; think about how they grow in the garden and let them ramble across the table.  Herbs wilt very easily so be sure to give them lots of water and right away after harvesting! 
*Keep a bowl of freshly torn herbs such as basil, mint, tarragon, cilantro, and flat leaved parsley is an attractive detail- it allows your guests to help themselves to sprinkle on their food and drinks.
*Mix watermelon- red and yellow if you know an Heirloom gardener, a cantaloupe and a honey dew; Using a melon baller, fill individual desert cups with the melon, put a fresh sprig of mint on top of each.
*Adorn each place setting with an herbal napkin ring~ use a long sprig of rosemary or summer savory, fold around the napkin and tie with a piece of ribbon, twine or jute- whichever fits your theme better, place on plate.
*Write the names of your guests on copper or aluminum plant tags and put them in miniature Terra cotta plant pots filled with fresh herbs~ place at each plate~ what a statement!
*Use Lemon balm or another long stemmed herb like lavender to create easily woven lattice pattern place mats.  When a hot plate is placed on the mat, a delicious aroma is released~ not to mention it is just beautiful.
*Make your ice water extra special by putting leaves of borage and mint with cucumber slices  in your water pitchers.
*Coriander flowers impart a delicate flavor to pepper and salt.  Simply add several in your salt & pepper containers~ little salt & pepper bowls make it even prettier.

Rhubarb and now strawberries… now we can really get cooking!  Try these yummy treats for an added spice in life!

Rhubarb Strawberry Sauce

3-4 cups 1 inch rhubarb pieces
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 tsp. salt
2 cup halved strawberries, de-stemmed
2 Tbsp. butter

1. Bring rhubarb, sugar, water & salt to a boil; Reduce heat and cook 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.; add strawberries and cook 3-5 more minutes, or until rhubarb is tender.
2. Remove from heat and add butter.
Serve sauce warm or cold over ice cream, angel food cake, pudding or baked custard.

Rhubarb Upside- Down Cake


2 Tbsp. butter
1 cup brown sugar
2 cup diced rhubarb
1/4 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
2 cup flour
2 1/2 tsp.; baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup milk

1. Melt 2 tbsp. butter in a 9×9 inch cake pan; add brown sugar and rhubarb; cream together butter and sugar; add the eggs and beat.
2. Combine the dry ingredients and add alternately with the milk.
3. Pour over rhubarb and bake at 3765 degrees fro 40-45 minutes.
4. Turn upside- down on plate to serve.

Rhubarb Strawberry Pie


1 1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup quick cooking tapioca or flour
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
3 cup diced rhubarb
2 cup fresh strawberries, sliced
1/8 tsp. almond extract
pastry for a double crust pie
1 Tbsp. butter

1. Combine sugar, tapioca and nutmeg; add rhubarb and strawberries; add extract.
2. Mix gently and let stand 10-15 minutes to blend flavors; Pour mixture into an unbaked 9 inch pie shell; dot with butter.
3. Cover with top crust; cut slits into the top crust; seal with flute edges of pie crust.
4. Bake at 350 degree’s for 40-45 minutes until fruit bubbles and pie is golden.

Rhubarb Jam


2 1/2 lb.s rhubarb
1 cup water
6 1/2 cups sugar
1 box fruit pectin
1/2 tsp. butter
2-3 drops red food coloring (optional)

1.  Finely chop rhubarb; do not peel.
2. Place in a 4 quart saucepan; add water and bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover and simmer 2 minutes or until rhubarb is soft.
3. Measure 4 1/2 cups  into a 6-8 quart saucepan; measure sugar into a separate bowl.
4. Stir pectin into rhubarb; add butter; bring to a full rolling boil on high heat, stirring constantly; remove from heat; skim foam; add coloring now if going to.
5. Ladle quickly into six 1 cup prepared jars, leaving 1/8 inch head space.
6. Process in a boiling water caner 10 minutes.

Happy Day,
Jean

         

Tussie Mussies Made Simple, Putting Up Rhubarb, Rhubarb Crisp and Rhubarb Punch!

Yummy Rhubarb Crisp!
Well here we are getting fired up about the garden and all that she will bear for us… spring, summer, fall and winter… each holds a different gift for the individual.  Most people are not aware of the extended growing capabilities that we now have available in more northern climates, such as mine here in the thumb of Michigan.  We have some cold winters but with heated and unheated greenhouses, high tunnels and/ or hoop houses the posibilities are quite amazing.  No we can’t grow tomatoes, they need a certain amount of sunlight to bear that vine ripened flavorful tomato.  I don’t believe in hydroponics and wouldn’t eat anything grown that way on purpose… read the labels friends, you’d be surprised at what you’re eating during the winter months.  I believe, but don’t totally practice eating ‘in season’… my family likes banana’s and oranges and we buy them in the winter. I do realize that eating local and in season are wonderful and right things, but, we are a bit spoiled. With all the preserving and root cellaring we do we have pretty much every thing we could want out of the garden all winter long and right on through spring until it all starts coming in fresh again.  With our hoop houses we can have fresh greens and lettuces all winter long… like I said we are spoiled! Which brings me to helping you put up some rhubarb and giving you recipes on how to use it in and out ‘of season’… enjoy!

*What are tussie mussies you say… or you are saying quaintly how you haven’t heard that term in ages… either way, it is a far cuter word than ‘bouquet’… Brief history on them… from reading I have discovered they apparently originated in Elizabethan England and people carried and sniffed them around to help disguise the dreadful stench of London’s streets. They are made with aromatic flowers and herbs such as lavender, rosemary, and rue, which were believed to be protection from the plaque and other diseases.  They were also believed to help cleanse the air of a house where sickness was. By the time of the Victorian era they had become ‘highly stylized nosegays’, (I like that word too), and had ‘become a favorite way to send messages to friends and lovers’.  They also were used in bridal bouquets, they were both pretty and practical.  So now that you know how these adorable little things came to be lets get into the fun of making them and learning the meanings behind particular herbs and flowers.
During my discovery on tussie mussies I learned the meanings and sentiments that go behind many herbs and flowers that I as an avid gardener never knew… yes I know red roses mean love but no I didn’t know that basil has a double meaning, it can symbolize both love and hate.  I am sure that some of these little gestures or as said ‘notes’ could have caused some serious ‘oop’s, that’s not what I meant’ moments.  So here are some interesting meanings behind those much loved blossoms and herbs…
*Lemon balm is for sympathy
*chervil represents sincerity
*rue conveys disdain
*parsley represents festivity
*rosebuds are of course for love… although different colors mean different things… more on that another day
*violets stand for modesty
*basil can represent as mentioned above both love and hate… be careful on who you send that one to!

A standard bridal tussie mussie was very symbolic… here is what would have typically been included in one…

*rose for love
*rosemary for remembrance
*mint for purity
*thyme for courage
*lily of the valley was for the return of happiness
*lavender gave luck… although it also represents mistrust, ummm..

How to make a tussie mussie…
The American Museum in Bath, England gives instructions in a museum booklet for creating them.
You can make tussie mussies with fresh herbs and flowers with dried materials.  A fresh t.m. can be dried with its charm and fragrance intact if you’re careful to use only those fresh ingredients that dry easily; lavender, thyme, mint, rosemary, and southerwood, for example.  Use as many sweet smelling herbs as possible, and try to include herbs with contrasting colors and leaf shapes.  These simple guidelines will yield a traditional tussie mussie.
1. Start with a fresh rose, still in bud, or a few sprigs of a flowering herb like sage.  Surround the rose or flowering herb with a circle of green leafed herb, preferably one like southerwood that has rather finely cut leaves.  Tie the stems together with a piece of string or knitting wool.
2. Add another circle of a fragrant herb, and tie again.  Repeat this process- varying the colors and leaf shapes from row or row and using flowering herbs like mint or marjoram if you have them on hand- until the tussie mussie is the size you want.  Make the last circle with a large leaved herb such as lamb’s ear or rose geranium.
3.  For a formal effect, create a collar for the nosegay by cutting a small hole in the center of a paper doily and slipping it over the stems.  Tie the finished tussie mussie with a ribbon to hold the doily in place
… now you have the means to make and give adorable messages using your blossoms and herbs! 

  *(information taken and adapted from “Herbs; Gardens, Decorations, and Recipes, by Emelie Tolley and Chris Mead; Clarkson N. Potter, Ind./Publishers, 1985)

Rhubarb is a spring treat that you either love or hate… there is no gray area with this tangy, mouth puckering fruit.  Asparagus and rhubarb are two of the first home grown things, other than lettuce & greens from the hoop houses that we get to feast on after winters long silence of green stuff.  My family all enjoys rhubarb in any desert, pie or preserves… Mix em’ up with yummy strawberries and they are more manageable.  Rhubarb is extremely easy to store for winter and takes no more time then to pick, clean and cut.  We cut the pieces into 1 inch chunks and then toss them either in one gallon ice cream buckets or freezer bags; freeze fir up to 1 year.  Enjoy your favorite treats year round.  One thing many people fail to realize is that you can eat rhubarb all summer as well… just be careful not to harvest after it has gone to seed.  Once the seed heads have dried and died back, simply cut back and then enjoy some fresh stalks, just don’t pick it to much… slow and easy during the summer and fall.  Be sure to water it during dry spells to keep the new stalks coming on.  Here are some easy and yummy treats to enjoy this spring time treat! One other thing to remember when harvesting rhubarb is to always leave at least one third of the plants stalks so it will be strong and can replenish itself.

Here are a couple favorite’s around the Smith house…

Rhubarb Crisp

    6 c Rhubarb cut into 1” pieces
1 1/2 c sugar
6 tbsp  flour
1 c brown sugar
1 c oatmeal
3/4 c flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 c melted butter

   1. Combine first 3 ingredients, toss and place in 9×13 pan.
2. Combine remaining ingredients and sprinkle over Rhubarb.

3. Bake @ 375 for 40 –45 minutes.
4. Serve warm with Vanilla Ice Cream.

Rhubarb Punch…

4 c diced rhubarb
4 c water
2 c sugar
1/2 c orange juice
1/3 c lemon juice
2 liters clear soda– sprite, ginerale, etc.

Cook rhubarb in water till soft. Strain through a clean cloth lined colander.  Add sugar to the liquid & bring to a boil, stirring constantly.
Add juices.  Chill.  Add soda just before serving!

Happy Day,
Jean

Rhubarb & Asparagus Growing Tips & Yummy Spring-Thyme Asparagus

Spring, asparagus, rhubarb, gardening, organizing, spring cleaning… these are all things that start happening about now in most homes.  I get this fuzzy feeling inside when the air turns warm and it gets that ‘spring’ smell… the trees start adding leaves… the grass greens and the ground feels squishy under your bare feet… this need to clean rushes ahead of me and I just want everything inside to feel like outside.  Rebirth and spring seem to go hand and hand… I love the way everything comes to life and the death and nothingness of winter fades behind and the re-juvination starts exploding all around me.  I get a rush every time I go outside and walk… and I also see all the work that needs done, the repairs, the weeding and so on.  But you know what, it’s OK because it’s spring and it just feels good!

Lets look at some of the yummy stuff popping up in the gardens and the great ways to use them. I am sure most of as children remember the rhubarb and asparagus patches and if you didn’t, then now is the perfect time to start your own and create wonderful, happy traditions in your own back yards. 
Growing Asparagus and Rhubarb are one of the easiest and most rewarding things you can grow. They will live for years serving you up fresh wholesome goodness every spring with very little care. When compared to orchards and some other wonderful, yet very labor intensive crops, these two are a breeze!  Here a few simple and easy care instructions that will pay off hundred fold for you in the years to come.
Asparagus~
*If you are starting a new patch please come see me at market where I offer 2 year old crowns and I will be happy to give you these instructions first hand. 
*If you have the option you should make all attempts at purchasing all male asparagus crowns- such as Jersey Giant or Jersey Knight.  These are all male cultivers and will offer you many more stalks of that great green stuff!
*A good guild is to plant about 25 roots per person in your household. This will give you enough to feast on and even some to freeze later.  You will need a square per root, the crowns multiply year after year and you will end up with a very nice patch that will serve you faithfully for 15 to 20 years.
*You should start with at least two year old crowns and then you can harvest on the third year.
*Use earth or sea salt each spring and sprinkle as you would your food around the plot.  This kills weeds by taking moisture and the asparagus thrives on the sodium.
*Mulch in the spring and again in the fall- mulching your plants is crucial!  Mulch with compost, straw or grass clippings in the spring; it should be any where from 4 to 6 inches in depth. It will prevent weeds from taking over the area and it helps retain moisture through the season.  Each Fall add a good cover of about 4 inches of well rotted manure and then cover with a mulch to be about 6 inches in depth.
The crowns will gladly grow up through and provide you with a bountiful crop spring after spring.  DO NOT use sawdust or bark, asparagus likes a near neutral soil level.
Rhubarb~
*Is well suited to cool climates and loves to be fed!  Each fall mulch around the base of plants with about 4-6 inches of composted manure.  Rhubarb is a heavy feeder and needs this to produce heavily.
*In the spring & fall mulch around the plants with about 6 inches of straw or grass clippings. This helps hold back the weeds and maintains moisture.
*Never cut your stalks with a knife, rather grab hold of the stalk close to the ground and carefully pull the stem out. Cutting will make the plant stem ‘bleed’ and this will make rot a more likely problem. 
*For a heavier and longer harvest, cut the flower stalks as soon as you notice them forming.  Allowing the plant to go to bloom, will tell the plant the harvest is over and make fewer stalks.
*Never harvest more than two thirds of the stalks.
*You can start harvesting stalks when stalks are about 1 to 11/2 feet tall.  Trim off the leaves which are not an edible part of the plant.  The leaves contain high levels of ‘Oxalic Acid’ and is toxic to animals and humans.

Yummy Spring Asparagus

This dish goes a long way accompaning your favorite grilled chicken or fish dish!  Let your taste buds savor the fresh spring taste, the earthy goodness that flows out of this spring treat that never seems to last long enough.

1 pound bunch of asparagus from The Garden Gate Farm, trimmed
1 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. fresh Thyme from Garden Gate
1/2 tsp. earth or sea salt

In a large iron skillet on medium heat put butter, oil, salt and thyme in, saute for 1 minute; add aspargus and saute until crisp-tender- about 10-12 minutes depending on how you like it.
Serve with your meat dish and enjoy this spring time treat while it lasts.

Happy Day,
Jean