Aside from spending time with my family, there’s nothing I like to do better than talk to folks about cooking. This week I’m answering your questions about summer garden fruits and vegetables since our gardens are runnin’ wild right now with them! Keep sending in your cookin’ questions and every couple of weeks, I’ll answer the ones that most people are asking about. Maybe you’ll even see your name here!
I’m from way up North, and haven’t tried okra before. How would you describe the flavor?
By Jennifer M. from Portland, ME
Hey Jennifer! Some days during the hot Savannah Summer, I wish I lived up near you! First of all, I think Okra must taste just like heaven because I love it so much! Describing it, I would say it’s flavor is similar to an eggplant with a bit of artichoke and asparagus thrown in for good measure. It has a rich earthy flavor and when picked at just the right time it can even seem a little sweet. I do hope you try some. Here are a couple of starter recipes you might enjoy. Okra Laced Hoecakes, Cajun Tempura Okra with Scallion Dipping Sauce, Pickled Okra and The Lady and Sons Okra and Tomatoes. Let me know how you like them Jennifer!
I want to can some of the tomatoes from my garden and your Canned Tomato recipe calls for blanching them and removing the skins first. I have NEVER blanched anything! How long do I boil (?) the tomatoes??
By Pat Goldmann
Pat, you are going to be so happy come November when you pop open a jar of your fresh tomatoes to make a sauce, soup or stew. Blanching is easy, so don’t be intimidated. It’s actually kind of magical! Get a large stockpot of water boiling and have another large mixing bowl of ice water (we call this an ice bath) ready. Wash your tomatoes and using a paring knife, cut a small “X” at the base of each tomato just through the skin. Drop the tomatoes in the boiling water for about 15 seconds. Remove them (I like to use a large spider) and immediately pop them into the ice water. This will stop the tomatoes from cooking further. Remove from the ice water and peel off the skins starting from the “X” at the base. Magic!
Paula, what is the difference between pickling cucumbers and regular salad/burpless cucumbers? Can they both be used for making pickles?
By Darlene D. from Higbee, MO
I get asked this question a lot Darlene so don’t feel alone. I learned all of my pickling savvy from my Aunt Peggy who I have crowned the Pickling Princess! Pickling cucumbers usually have a thinner skin than the salad varieties. The thinner skin allows for the brine solution to better penetrate the skin and get into the meat of the cucumber which will give you a crisper and more flavor packed pickle. They are usually short and squat and a dark green color at the stem that fades to lighter green/yellow at the blossom end. As a general rule, salad cucumber varieties don’t make outstanding pickles except for relishes or bread and butter pickles where you would want a softer texture. Either way, it’s important to always start with a fresh crisp cucumber that is not soft or overripe.
My garden is popping at the seams with pickling cucumbers and I want to make pickles for the first time. In your recipe for Icebox Bread and Butter Pickles you don’t specify what type of vinegar to use. Do you have a preference? Thanks!! They sound great!!
By Jan Johnson
Jan, I think it’s just a matter of your personal taste. For the most part, I use cider vinegar because I like the flavor. I have a friend who only uses white vinegar. Since you have so many cucumbers, why don’t you try a recipe with cider vinegar and one using white vinegar. Have fun with it and do a blind taste test with your family and friends. See which version they like better and make it your signature recipe!
Paula, I planted a large herb garden this year. I loved your article on How To: Dry Herbs. Can I also freeze them? If so, how do I do it?
By Sharon N. from Atlanta, GA
Congratulations Sharon! Herbs are probably the most gratifying things I grow in my own garden next to my pear trees. I try to encourage everyone to have fresh herbs growing. Even in a small space like a window sill, you can have a few pots planted. Or plant one big pot out on a balcony or front porch. The answer to your question is YES! There are actually a few different methods for freezing herbs (like processing them up with water, stock or oil and freezing in ice cube trays. This way is great if you are using them in soups or stews.) but this is the way I normally do it, it’s basically the same way I freeze fresh berries. First of all, I pick the best looking herbs from my garden. I wash them and pat them dry. Then, I line a sheet tray (or any tray that will fit in my freezer) with wax paper and lay the herbs on it and freeze them over night. The next day, I remove them from the tray and place them in a freezer bag (don’t forget to label the bag) and suck the excess air out with a straw. Then back in the freezer they go until I’m ready to use them. I’ve found freezing herbs this way keeps the herbs texture and pungency intact for several months.
Hey Miss Paula! I have an abundance of green bell peppers from my garden, but I want to make your Stuffed Red Peppers recipe. Can I substitute the green for the red? What’s the difference in bell peppers?
By Scott P. Fort Worth, TX
A man who gardens! Scott you are dream! Most people don’t know that the various colored bell peppers (green, yellow, orange and red) all come from the same plant. The difference is their maturity. Green bell peppers are those harvested before they are fully ripe. If they were allowed to stay on the vine, they would go through the various color stages of ripening and in turn sweetening. Orange and yellow bell peppers are more mature than those green and I think they taste a bit more fruity. Red bell peppers are more mature than the green, yellow and orange. They are packed with almost eleven times more beta-carotene than the green ones and taste so sweet to me. Scott, did you know that sweet paprika is made from red bell peppers? To answer your question –YES! My recipe for stuffed red bell peppers is equally good using a green pepper…just not as sweet.