When you grow your own fruits and vegetables, it is a special pleasure to preserve that goodness, giving your table a touch of summer sweetness, even when the snow flies.
Some of these recipes are as simple as chopping up a big bunch of fresh basil, drizzling in some olive oil… read on. And savor (and share!) the fruits of your good garden labor.
Susan’s Seaside Dilly Beans
- 6 cups water
- 1 cup Sea Salt
- 6 cups white wine vinegar
- 8 dill flowerheads
- ½ cup pickling spice
- ½ cup mustard seed
- 16 whole cloves of garlic, peeled
- Wash and trim the ends off the fresh green beans. Discard any beans that are soft or spotted. Sterilize eight jars following the home preserving instructions on the Cape Cod Extension Service’s web site (See box). For the brine, boil the water, add the Sea Salt and the white wine vinegar in a large pot, and bring to a boil.
- While the brine cooks, fill each sterilized jar with one head of washed fresh dill flowerhead, one tablespoon of pickling spice, one tablespoon of mustard seed, and two cloves garlic. The beans should be put into a standing position in the jars.
- With a soup ladle, put the hot brine into jars and follow home preserving instructions.
- Delicious served with seafood, pork, or as a side for sandwiches and salads.
Cape Sweet Pickles
- 6 pounds small zucchini or cucumbers
- 8 cups thinly sliced onions
- ½ cup Sea Salt
- 1 quart white wine vinegar
- 4 ½ cups sugar
- 1 tablespoon turmeric
- 2 tablespoons mustard seed
- 1 ½ tablespoons celery seed
- One bag ice cubes
- Wash and scrub clean zucchini or cucumbers. Leave skins on. Slice into 1/4 inch pieces and put in a large mixing bowl. Add onions, Sea Salt, and place at least two inches of ice cubes on top of vegetables. Put in a cool spot for at least three hours. Keep replenishing ice cubes.
- Make the pickling brine. In a large pot, put the white wine vinegar, the sugar, turmeric, mustard seed, and the celery seed. Bring to a boil (about 10 minutes) then add chilled vegetables and onions without the ice. Bring to a second boil.
- While the brine is cooking, sterilize the new canning jars and follow home preserve canning instructions on the Cape Cod Extension Service’s web site (See box). While this is happening, use a wide mouth funnel and put brine and vegetable mix in each jar, then follow preserving instructions.
- Use oven mitts to remove all jars and place in a cool, but not drafty, spot.
Jo’s Summer Jam
- 4 cups of crushed raspberries
- 6 ½ cups of sugar
- ½ teaspoon butter
- 1 package of fruit pectin
- Crush well-washed and dried fresh raspberries though a food mill to remove a lot of the seeds.
- Combine the berry mixture with the sugar in a six to eight quart sauce pan. Add the butter to reduce foaming. Bring the mixture to a full rolling boil over high heat, stirring frequently.
- Add one package of fruit pectin and continue to boil hard for one minute, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and skim off foam if necessary.
- Sterilize your jars according to preserving directions. Ladle the jam onto hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch of head space. Apply lids and adjust until fingertip tight. Place in canner with water one to two inches over tops of jars. Boil for 10 minutes.
Judy’s Strawberry Jam
- 2 (16 ounce) containers of strawberries, sliced (this is about 5 cups of sliced berries)
- 1 (6 ounce) container of raspberries
- 2 tablespoons of lemon juice
- 1 apple, peeled and chopped
- 1 cup of sugar
- Bring all ingredients to a full boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently.
- Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. During this time you can crush the fruit with a potato masher if you would like smaller pieces of fruit. Skim foam off the top when it develops.
- Let cool to room temperature and store in airtight containers in the refrigerator. This jam will keep in the refrigerator for three to four weeks.
Basil Lovers Pesto
- 2 cups fresh basil leaves, washed, stems removed, dried well
- 3 garlic cloves, minced or mushed with the side of a large knife
- ½ cup Parmesan cheese (fresh grated is best!)
- 1/2 cup olive oil (extra virgin)
- 1/3 cup pine nuts or chopped walnuts
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Put a few handfuls of the basil in with the pine nuts or walnuts and pulse a few times in a food processor. Add the garlic, pulse a few times more.
- Pour in the olive oil slowly, a few tablespoons at a time. Stop to scrape down the sides of the food processor with a rubber spatula. Add the grated cheese (unless you are going to freeze the pesto) and pulse again until blended. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Do this in batches—it’s a messy job, but worth it!
- To put in ice cup trays for freezing in small portions, spoon the pesto into a sandwich plastic baggy. Cut a corner out of the bag, and squeeze a good amount into each cube. Covering each cube with a little more olive oil helps keep the cubes green, (reducing oxidation) but the pesto will still taste like summer, even if it’s not that beautiful green!
Fresh February Tomatoes
- 2-3 pounds fresh tomatoes
- Five cups water
- Ice cubes
- Wash the tomatoes well. Boil half the water in a sauce pan. Put the rest of the water in a steel bowl with ice cubes.
- When the water is really boiling, drop in several of the tomatoes and boil until each one’s skin splits. Take out with a fork and plunge into the ice water. A minute or so later, peel off all the skin.
- If you wish, you can cut the tomato in half and scoop out all the seeds with your finger or a small spoon.
- Freeze the tomatoes in a plastic container. Great mixed with chopped basil, fresh parsley and olive oil for bruschetta, or as a simple, summer sweet addition to tomato sauces, soups, etc.
There is something so elemental about vegetable gardening, putting a simple seed in the ground, watering and watching over it until one day a tiny green sprout appears. I can still remember the excitement I felt when I planted a row of radishes in my first vegetable garden. One of the easiest, quickest vegetables to grow, the sprouts popped up, flourished in no time at all and soon plump red radishes formed, perfect for salads.
I planted that first vegetable garden when I was around 30, in a small space beside our house on the Mount Hope Bay. I was lucky enough to inherit the garden from a previous organic gardener who had prepared the soil really well, removing all the sod and New England stones, digging down several feet, and adding lots of well-rotted manure and organic matter to the soil.
Gardening by the salt water is a gift—vegetable plants seem to love the warm moist air. That first year, besides the radishes, I grew several different kinds of lettuce, fat Early Girl and Better Boy tomatoes, sturdy basil—I even had some pretty good peppers. With our two small children, I used to spend hours in the garden. I was hooked, as were my children, who used to love helping me weed, rake, plant, and especially water, the garden. I thought vegetable gardening was a breeze.
I soon learned that in addition to patience, gardening can teach you humility. My next vegetable garden was in a field behind our new home in Central Massachusetts. As soon as we moved in, I started dreaming of my huge new garden, even envisioning perfect swaying rows of corn.Perhaps I should have listened to the man in his 80s, a devoted gardener, who had grown up in our house, tilled gardens there for decades, and who had a 1930s degree from the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at UMASS Amherst.
“Well, you can try,” said Fred, a lean New Englander with a strong handshake. “I never had much luck getting anything to grow there—except gourds. Everyone loved my gourds for their Thanksgiving tables. It’s pretty wet back there and you really can’t plant to August, but give it a try.”
Still in my early 30s, I believed I could get anything to grow anywhere if I tried hard enough, so I forged ahead. Our helpful neighbor plowed and tilled the field with his tractor, my small son seated beside him, watching the dark earth appear in beautiful orderly rows like magic. The garden looked so fertile, as if anything could grow there. We excitedly planted row after row of corn, tomatoes, peppers, and squash.
It was a disaster. The corn plants were spindly and collapsed. The tomato plants rotted. I think we had a few puny zucchini, most of which got eaten by a huge healthy woodchuck that lived in the woods behind us. Sick at heart, I faced the fact that Fred was right. The soil in the field was very wet, full of clay, and terrible for growing anything but gourds that only flourished because by August, the soil had dried out enough for germination.
After that, I kind of gave up on vegetable gardening, except for a few planters of patio tomatoes and some pots of basil and parsley. Instead, I tackled the old perennial gardens around our yard, planted with drifts of iris, peonies, wildflowers, and daylilies, which thrived and bloomed happily year after year. But every summer, I longed for the taste of my own fresh vegetables.When we moved to Cape Cod several years ago, my son decided that we should have a vegetable garden. Something about gardening as a toddler must have taken root in him and he is a landscape contractor now.
With his knowledge from a Stockbridge degree, he prepared the soil carefully in a somewhat neglected plot on the other side of our driveway, piling dark rich compost from a local supplier into sandy Cape soil.
At the center of the garden, he made a small decorative flower out of paving stones, brought back from a stay in New Orleans, when he helped the city replant its parks after Hurricane Katrina. In neat rows we planted some old standbys—tomatoes, lettuce, basil, and carrots. A more adventuresome gardener than I, he planted things like cilantro and arugula.
Our first garden, planted in 2008, was pretty successful. In 2009, we were devastated by the tomato blight that hit gardens all over New England, but we had arugula and cilantro galore. Last summer, the garden began to really take hold. The kale and zucchini plants exploded, taking over the beds. The Better Boy tomatoes were so plentiful I had enough to share with friends and co-workers and ended up freezing container after container, great for winter spaghetti dinners.
We had colorful “Rainbow Lights” swiss chard, tasty fat brussels sprouts, sweet cucumbers—and lots of basil and arugula, which I have discovered I cannot live without. I am still struggling with peppers and my broccoli was a disaster, but all in all, my latest vegetable garden was the most successful ever.
I hope that if I live a few more decades—say to 80 or so—I will figure out how to grow a perfect pepper. As Thomas Jefferson once said, “Although I am an old man, I am but a young gardener.” Or who knows? Maybe by then I’ll have learned that it’s okay to settle for nothing more than a harvest of gorgeous gourds for our Thanksgiving table.
When our publisher, Brian Shortsleeve, suggested that we launch Cape Cod GARDENS as a new April Cape Cod LIFE issue, I could not believe my luck. I can work in my Cape Cod garden by the hour without any sense of time. I am imagining bright red tomatoes, rows of vibrant basil, glimmering mounds of zucchini, billowing hydrangea, and perfect velvet-petaled roses as I plant, weed, and prune. I do not stop until the spring, summer, or fall sun goes down, or a blister develops on my hand, or my family and the dog wander by, wondering about a meal. Reluctantly, then, I put down my tools and turn off the story in my head. But I know I can pass through that gate again tomorrow into that imaginary world.
The same thing happens to me when I am writing . When I am writing at the office and it is going well, I do not hear phones ringing or coworkers talking. I am in whatever world I am creating and reality moves without boundaries just before a blinking cursor on my computer screen. Often, I don’t realize that the day is almost over until it starts to get dark in my office and I notice that my coworkers are heading home. This is what happens when you do not care how many hours it takes to help create a magazine with words and pictures as if it were a garden full of sight, color, and experiences so vivid that others can know it with you.
In this issue, you will see some of my garden world. Just as it is a joy for me to share this passion with you, one of the Cape’s best known garden writers, C.L.Fornari takes you through the world of growing roses, her knowledgeable words guiding you down the path to growing that perfect seaside rose. When C.L. writes about gardening, you can tell that she loves her job, too.
Our photographers move you into the natural world on Cape Cod and the Islands, their images caught in flashes of glory on these pages, so vivid that you want to reach out and touch that hot chartreuse beach grass along a wooded Nantucket path, where a gardener is following his vision of plants and stones and glimmering koi in a small pond…
I hope our very first Cape Cod GARDENS helps you shape your own garden world, perhaps with a little bit of Cape Cod and the Islands beauty from these pages in it, some bright lilies seen in this issue beside a Nantucket pond, or my favorite nasturtiums by our back door dancing in the golden light of a Cape Cod afternoon.
Susan Dewey, Associate Publisher & Editor
Nauset Marine plans a full summer season of events in celebration
of a half-century of service.
This summer Nauset Marine celebrates 50 years on Cape Cod. Read more…
Winter blankets take many shapes. There’s the warmth of our Pendleton wool, thrown over our legs and tucked under our feet, working just as hard as the woodstove to keep the heat in while we sleep. There’s the snow outside that comes and goes—covering the strawberry patch and the raspberry cane roots from December to March. There’s the extra fur the dog grows over his rump and between his paw pads, keeping him moving over ice and snow.
And over the garden, there’s a thin, sturdy layer of plastic—nothing expensive, nothing fancy—but enough to cover the crops so that in even the coldest months, they grow.
Not everyone, of course, can stand the chill. The basil and eggplants die off long before late October, when we cover the rows. The tomatoes get pulled out not long after while the green beans say their parting words, and the kitchen herbs move inside to sunny doorways and windowsills.
But the greens—the cabbage and kale and lettuce and spinach and Swiss chard and arugula—these thrive under their thin cover all winter long. We harvest the late summer plantings from Thanksgiving through March, and a new crop goes in toward the end of February. It’s hard to believe that under such a thin plastic blanket the seedlings still sprout. But they do, skyward and reaching, sure that spring is coming soon.
By early May, the beds are full again, a sea of bushy green rows.
I always over-plant—the promise of seed packets in February is too much to resist—and by mid-May, we have a full-blown greens crisis on our hands. Salads are mandatory at dinner and lunch, and on weekend mornings I sneak sautéed spinach and Swiss chard onto our plates alongside hot toast and fried eggs.
But my favorite way to eat the greens, hands down, is cooked with onions and garlic, layered with filo dough and cheese, and served as an entrée: spanakopita.
If you’ve never had spanakopita, it’s a Greek delight. It’s a savory spinach pie, or really more of a pastry, filled with eggs and ricotta and feta and greens. In the Greek countryside, rural women bulk up their spinach with leeks and Swiss chard, and in the cities fancy restaurants add kalamata olives or pine nuts.
I never do much to dress it up—with greens straight out of the garden, there’s no need for that. I just head outside in the late afternoon, down the deck stairs with colander and garden shears in hand, and start snipping my way through the spinach beds. When the colander’s full I make my way back in, and turn on the oven while I start chopping garlic and onions, chard, and spinach. By the time the sun goes down, the house fills up with the scent of pastry and herbs, rich cheese and greens, and something like spring wafts out of the oven.
It’s the sign of warmer weather I look forward to the most.
The hours pass, the sky slides from sunny to grey, and the boat rocks as southwest winds whip across Cape Cod Bay. It’s late February, and Dr. Charles “Stormy” Mayo and his six-person crew from the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies are on their fourth right whale research cruise of the season aboard a 42-foot Jarvis Newman lobster boat. It’s been hours since they’ve seen their last split-second glimpse of a whale—a massive Y-shaped tail curling as the behemoth dives beneath the surface.
For fishermen, there’s a magical tide that washes over Cape Cod and the Islands every year. The temperature notches up, and fish of all varieties rush into the warmer waters in bays, estuaries, and rivers around the Cape. There are cod, fluke, flounder, black sea bass, tautog, scup, and bluefish—and those are just some of the edible saltwater varieties—that swim in the waters around Cape Cod. But for thousands of anglers, the ultimate is the striped bass.
The pilgrims served it at the first Thanksgiving. Today, the striped bass is the most coveted recreational fish in the Commonwealth. “A striper can thrill an 8-year-old by eating a sandworm fished from a harbor jetty,” says Kevin Blinkoff, editor of the New England fishing magazine On The Water, “and do the same to an Orvis-clad adult by turning its nose up at a perfectly presented crab fly.”
Stripers, he says, “make you feel like nature has created a perfect fish, just for you.” Read more…
Paul Miskovsky has planted a garden on a cliff, set another on an island in a pond, and created several under the vast roof of the Seaport World Trade Center in Boston. But of his many horticultural designs, there may be none more enchanting than that which surrounds his own Falmouth home. Read more…