My Favorite Gazpacho

I returned from a week-long trip to find my vegetable garden laden with tomatoes, cucumbers, string beans, green bell peppers, and okra. I brought all the produce inside, dumped it on the kitchen counter and tried to get inspired to clean and prep all of it; I knew once I got started, I’d be in the kitchen for the rest of the day … A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

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Abundant summer harvests call for big recipes, and I have three go-to’s: ratatouille, gazpacho, and marinara sauce. Since there were no eggplants or zucchini, ratatouille was out. Gazpacho and marinara sauce were in. I made both!

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My tried and true gazpacho recipe comes from Open-House Cookbook, by Sarah Leah Chase, published in 1987 to instant acclaim. Over the years, I have found my own way to streamline the vegetable prep work, and, thanks to my mother, who also made this recipe and used Bloody Mary mix to spice it up, I use spicy vegetable juice instead of plain.

Ingredients:
Makes 6 quarts

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2 cups of freshly made breadcrumbs made from crusty bread
1-ounce garlic cloves, about 3-5 cloves depending on size
Juice of one lemon, about 3 tablespoons
2 bunches green onions
3  8 inch cucumbers
5 sweet bell peppers in different colors (I like to use green, yellow and orange)
8 pounds of tomatoes, about 10 large
46 ounces spicy vegetable juice
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
5 tablespoons extra virgin, first cold-pressed, olive oil
4 teaspoons sea salt
1½ teaspoons freshly ground pepper, add more as desired

Instructions:
In the instructions that follow, I’m going to show you how to prep each vegetable. Find a large bowl that will hold 8 quarts of chopped vegetables.

1) Prep Bread, Garlic, and Lemon Juice Mixture: 
-Make 2 cups of homemade breadcrumbs using the method described in Mom’s Meatloaf. Five or six slices of crusty bread should suffice.
-Juice the lemon as shown in the Ricotta and Lemon Cookie recipe.
-Peel the garlic cloves. I used three large cloves. If you are using medium to small cloves, you’ll need all five.  Always remember that uncooked garlic can quickly overpower a recipe, so be careful — you can always add more garlic to your recipe later as you adjust your spices.

Pulse garlic cloves in food processor until minced, add the breadcrumbs and lemon juice. You want the mixture to become pasty, so process it for about 10 seconds.

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2) Prep green onions:
Wash, cut roots off and trim off the top third of stems. Chop stems into 2-inch segments so they will fit nicely into the food processor bowl. If you put produce in the processing bowl uncut, they won’t chop evenly, and you’ll find yourself practically puréeing food to get everything chopped to a consistent size. Pulse green onions until they look like the photo below and then add to your large container.

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3) Prep Cucumbers:
Cut off ends and peel. Cut into long quarters. I always taste a homegrown cucumber before adding it to a recipe because sometimes, if the cucumber went through a dry spell while growing, it can taste bitter. If the cucumber tastes at all bitter, throw it in the compost. Remove seeds by quartering and using a paring knife to remove the “triangle” tip of seeds from each strip. Chop into 2-inch chunks before processing. Once processed, add to large container.

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4) Prep Sweet Bell Peppers:
I had a lot of small green peppers in my garden and used them, plus two colorful peppers I bought at the grocery store. To prep peppers: cut in half vertically, and remove core, seeds, and extra white pith. Chop into 2-inch chunks for even processing in the food processor. Add to the large container.

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5) How to Seed and Prep Tomatoes:
Over the years, I have learned there is no reason to peel the skin off tomatoes. I do, however, remove the seeds. This is easily accomplished by cutting the tomato in half horizontally and using your finger to scoop the seeds out.

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Use a paring knife to remove the stem and white core. Cut into 2″ chunks to process evenly. Pulse in batches. Add to the large container. If you are using homegrown tomatoes, don’t use any that have been pecked by birds or otherwise have skin that is not intact. Save imperfect tomatoes for cooking.  Tomatoes with white mold, ooze, or that have been partially eaten by squirrels go in the compost! (That last sentence is for my husband.)

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Photos of the bowl as it filled up …

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Food, Glorious Food!

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6) Add Vegetable Juice and Seasonings
Add the spicy vegetable juice, the vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Adjust seasoning.
Me, to my husband: “Try this and tell me what it needs.”
Husband: “It needs a spoon and a bowl!”DSC_0011

Much later that day, after making marinara sauce and blanched string beans in vinaigrette, the kitchen was clean. All that remained was a pile of cucumbers that were going to be made into cold cucumber soup, but I ran out of steam, and my family had lost interest in cleaning up after me. Oh, and the okra, it went into the latest version of my “everything, but the kitchen sink” Shepherd’s Pie.

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Follow my photos of vegetables growing, backyard chickens hanging out, and dinner preparations on Instagram at JudysChickens.

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© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

Fall Planting Guide for Your Kitchen Garden

About 10 years ago, we had the deck on the side of our home dismantled. The contractor who did the work asked if he could have the twenty 12 x 2 x 13-foot pressure treated wood boards that had previously supported the deck floor. I didn’t know much about reclaiming used wood, but I remember thinking, If he wants it, maybe I should want it. I had him put the boards under our porch until I could figure out another use for them.

Many years later, I was looking at a barren, sunny area in my backyard and had a vision for a way to get more garden space for my vegetables — make raised beds using those old boards. I had a handyman build four 4 x 13-foot beds for me. Last summer, Jeremy Lekich, owner of Nashville Foodscapes, built two more raised beds and filled all six of them with his gorgeous, dark, chocolate-colored compost. Next, Jeremy and his team built a beautiful, simple, chicken-proof fence around the beds.

My compost bed is located behind the white picket fence in the photo above. The chickens have open access to it and it’s the first place they run to when I let them out in the morning.

Here is a photo of the same garden taken September 25, 2015

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I love the way Jeremy used inch-thick cardboard to smother and kill the crabgrass underneath the woodchip-covered paths in the new garden rather than using chemicals to do the same job. Now that I’ve become more educated by the fabulous education department of The Cumberland River Compact regarding water quality, runoff and watershed issues, I’m much more conscious about the use of chemicals that can leach into our soil and eventually into our ground water.

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On August 24, 2014, I planted a fall vegetable garden in three of the raised boxes with the intention of using hoops and agriculture cloth to protect the beds as we moved into winter. It was one big experiment and it was fun. First of all, I loved checking the garden beds every morning to see if seedlings had pushed through the dirt and unfurled their first leaves. Just knowing they were under there getting ready to pop kept me in a state of happy anticipation; I have been known to get on my hands and knees to inspect the earth in search of those first glimmers of green. Later, as it became colder in the winter, it was thrilling to go to the back garden and pick green onions and spinach from those same beds when a recipe called for them. Even with this year’s harsh winter: an early freeze in November, another one in January, and then a two-week freeze in February, many of the vegetables survived and perked up in March for an abundant spring harvest.

 

For those of you who are thinking of planting a fall/winter garden, I kept a photo journal of the project knowing a picture is worth many words. For each raised bed, I used four sequential pictures of how the plants looked as the weather temperature changed.

The raised bed series of photos were taken on 9/4, 10/9, 12/31 (taken from inside the covered garden, opposite direction), and 3/15, the day I took the protective cloth off.

Raised Bed #1, Root Vegetables
Left to Right: garlic, beets, garlic, carrots, green onions, leeks

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Garlic
Garlic cloves planted 9/15. Only about 15% of the plants survived the February freeze. The ones that survived are still forming their bulbs. In March, I added more garlic cloves. They should all be ready for harvest in August. Next year, I will mulch them with straw.

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“Colorful Beet Mix”
Seeds planted 8/24. We started snipping leaves for salads in October. None of the plants survived the February freeze. Next year, I will mulch them with straw.

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Green Onions (aka Scallions or Spring Onions)
I planted two rows of onion “sets” on 9/1 and two rows of onion seeds on 8/24 (on the right side). If you look closely, you can see the faint strands of green seedlings. Unfortunately, the young seedlings didn’t make it through the winter. We started harvesting green onions from the sets in November and continue to do so even now.

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“Kaleidoscope Carrots”
Seeds planted 8/24. Harvested through early May. The carrots had beautiful color, but were thin and not as flavorful as I had hoped.

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Leeks
Seedlings planted 9/15. Harvesting now.

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Raised Bed #2, Greens
Left to right: many lettuce varieties, mache, and spinach

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“Mesclun Lettuce Mix”
Seeds planted 8/24. This was the first seed to germinate in my fall garden. I pretty much watched it unfurl.

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“Gourmet Blend Lettuce Mix”
2 rows of seeds planted 8/24. By 9/18 only a third of the seeds had germinated. A huge difference from the Mesclun Mix on the left in the second photo.

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On 9/22  I bought “Salad Bowl Mix” seedlings and filled in the empty spaces created by the spotty germination of the Gourmet Blend Mix. We started eating lettuce by mid-October. Surprisingly, many of the red oak leaf lettuce plants survived the hard freezes. Note to self, plant more red, oak leaf lettuce plants in the fall!

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“Bloomsdale Spinach”
2 rows of seeds planted 8/24. Only half the seeds germinated so I consolidated the two rows into one. We harvested the Bloomsdale crinkly spinach leaves all winter. The plants started to bolt May 3rd and I pulled them.

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“Hybrid Smooth Leaf Spinach” 
Seeds planted 10/2 to the right of the Bloomsdale spinach. We continue to harvest this variety now. Note those smooth leaves. Just sayin’.

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Mache (aka Corn Salad)
Seeds planted 10/2. Harvested March-April. Plants started flowering in late April and I pulled them. Mache is a good cold weather lettuce alternative.

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Raised Bed #3, Root Vegetables with Edible Tops
Left to right: Broccoli, beets, turnips, radishes

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“Sparkle” & “Champion” Radishes
Seeds planted on 8/24. The crop failed because radish seeds were planted too close to one another and a ball couldn’t form. I should have thinned them out when they were seedlings. At the time, I didn’t think thinning mattered. I’ve learned my lesson. The same problem happened with the turnips — no ball formation. The crop wasn’t a total failure because I was able to harvest greens from each plant. Yes, you can eat the tops of radishes. Some varieties taste better than others.

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“Purple Top White Globe Turnips”
Seeds planted 8/24 (on left). Started harvesting turnip greens just one month later! As mentioned above, the plant did not form a turnip ball in its root. Instead, the roots were long and thin as in the picture above.

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“Colorful Beet Mix”
Seeds planted 8/24.  None of these plants survived the freeze.

Broccoli
Seedlings planted 10/2. The broccoli did not make it through the freeze.

What I learned
-I now know which plants are the most cold-hardy: spinach, mache (corn salad), green onions, leeks, and carrots. I think the beets, kale*, and garlic could have made it, had I mulched them with straw.

– When you plant tiny seeds, such as radishes and turnips, plant them separately, each a few inches apart, OR, direct seed them haphazardly and thin them as they mature, OR, as The Barefoot Farmer suggested to me, mix them with sand and scatter them in the row.

-Kale* I had a 4th bed with kale in it that I threw a tarp over at the last minute when it turned cold. It didn’t stand a chance with the blue tarp, as the sunlight was totally occluded. This fall, I will do a better job of planning which plants I put under the protective cloths. For example, I’d like to add a few hardy herbs to the mix, such as rosemary, parsley, and sage.

-When I bought the protective cloth, I didn’t plan on the extra amount of cloth it would take to cover the ends of each “tunnel” which was about another six feet of fabric per tunnel. I covered the first two beds just fine, but ran out of fabric by the third tunnel. That last bed, the one with the broccoli, had open ends and nothing survived in it because of the draft. If you are purchasing protective cloth for the winter, remember to add extra fabric for the ends. I bought the ag cloth and hoops, as well as many of the seeds and seedlings, at Gardens of Babylon next to the Farmers Market.

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How cold was it?
Even the eggs froze!

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I harvested this basket of greens on November 12th, the night before our first hard freeze.

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Other Posts About Farming
Spring Planting Guide for Your Kitchen Garden
Family Dirt
Herb Porch Pots!
How to Make Grape Jelly (and grow the grapes)
WWMD? A Bucket of Spring Veggies as a Centerpiece
How Canola Oil is Made (from plants grown locally)
The Tobacco Barns of Trigg County

 

LET’S STAY CONNECTED!

Follow my photos of vegetables growing, backyard chickens hanging out, and dinner preparations on Instagram at JudysChickens.

Never miss a post: sign up to become a follower of the Blog.

© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.