Sunday, January 29, 2012

Winter garden in SoCal

While most of the country is mired in rain or snow, it's gardening season here in SoCal.  I finally found some time to get out in the garden this afternoon, planting garlic and shallots.  I have a bunch more cool season stuff to plant , but it will have to wait for next weekend.

While I was outside, I decided to take a few pictures.  Here's a winter tour of my backyard:

My peach tree is blooming!  We got this tree last year, free from our favorite nursery.  Yes, you read that right--free!  It had some wind damage, so they were going to throw it out but gave it to us instead.  Isn't it pretty all dressed up in pink and white?  Too bad there aren't debutante balls for trees :-)

Blooming peach tree

And here are a couple of closeups of its frilly finery:
Peach blossoms

Peach blossom up close

While the peach tree is blooming, the citrus trees are bearing!  Navel oranges, anyone?
Yummy oranges ready for picking

Now for some more flowers.  First, a sunflower planted by a helpful bird.  There's something wonderful about a sunflower blooming in January!
Sunflower, planted by a helpful bird

Our house's previous owners planted this Cup of Gold Vine along a pathway in our backyard.  It must be at least 20 years old, and it blooms from January to about April.  The blossoms are really cool looking; see?
Cup of Gold Vine blossom

Last spring I planted nasturtiums in my vegetable beds, and they reseeded for some winter color.  I love it when plants plant themselves!

And finally, here's another plant that reseeded itself -- borage:
Blooming borage

This is the second generation, and there are some third-generation seedlings too (you can see some in the lower right corner of the photo).  Three seasons of borage!  Now if I just knew what to do with the stuff...

So there you go - winter gardening in SoCal.  There's something wonderful about being able to dig in the dirt in January without needing hip waders.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

New yumminess: persimmon jam

While the rest of the country was watching parades and football games, I spent yesterday making jam from a big batch of persimmons given to me by a coworker.  This was my first time making persimmon jam, but I think I'm in love.  It's heavenly!

It also required some research.  If you Google "persimmon jam recipes," you'll find lots, but nearly all of them end with, "ladle into jars and seal according to manufacturer's directions."  There's nothing about processing them, and since I don't want to give my family botulism, I don't do unprocessed jams.  There are a few freezer jam recipes out there too, but my freezer is full of pureed pumpkin (more on that in another post), so that wasn't high on my list either.  Finally, after an hour or so of digging, I found an old article from Sunset on preserving persimmons, and the mystery was solved.  [Update 10/11/12: this link is broken, but I found what I think is the same article here]  Apparently, the astringent varieties can't be cooked very long, or they become bitter, so canned jams aren't an option.  Fortunately for me, my giant pile o' persimmons were all Fuyu, a nonastringent variety that can be cooked.  So I was back in the jam business.

I followed the recipe in the Sunset article, using powdered pectin (the recipe calls for either liquid or powdered).  I had some trouble with the "skim off foam" step though.  The entire pan of jam was foamy!  I tried skimming off a layer, but it didn't seem to make any difference.  The results were delicious, but the contents of the jars look a little foamy, and there's a clear jelly at the bottom.  Next time (and, in the immortal words of Joe Elliott, there will be a next time) I'll try liquid pectin to see if that improves the consistency and appearance.  I don't think anything could improve the taste, though.  Persimmon jam is my new favorite jam.  Yum!