Sweet Potatoes

There is more to sweet potatoes than a casserole topped with marshmallows.

Do you like sweet potatoes?

Most people think of sweet potatoes only at Thanksgiving. Baked in a casserole with loads of brown sugar, butter and marshmallows melted on top. Although that is a delicious dish reminscent of warmth and family, if that is the only time you are eating sweet potatoes, you are missing out. Sweet potatoes are a delicious, colorful and nutrient rich powerhouse any time of year.

Culivation of sweet potatoes originated in the tropics thousands of years ago. The consistent warm and humid weather provides ideal growing conditions. As humans began to travel the world, they took this vegetable with them and created new varieties.

Even those this relative of the morning glory is a tropical plant if you pay attention to the weather, you can grow them quite well in the 6a zone of Central Illinois. The most prevalent variety and what we grow here at the farm is Beauregard. This variety produces a tuber with dark orange flesh.

Harvest and Storage

As you might imagine with their tropical history, sweet potatoes must be dug before the first frost. If you experience a light frost, it will kill the vines and you should dig the potatoes as soon as possible.

After digging, lay out the potatoes to cure in a warm humid location. This improves the storage capability and makes them sweeter. After two weeks of curing, brush off remaining dirt and store as you would white potatoes.

We have discovered that even though this is the way to prepare for longer term storage, the potatoes are sweet and delicious fresh from the garden.

Preparation

Beauregard sweet potatoes have a smooth creamy flesh when cooked. They are sweet with no additional sugar added. Try cutting into bite size chunks and steaming until tender. Or drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and roast in a 425º oven until done and the edges are carmelized. Most recently I added steamed sweet potatoes in a ramen noodle bowl along with carrot strips fresh from the garden.

Sweet potatoes go beyond a delicious dish. They are good for you with rich stores of beta-carotene, Vitamin C, fiber and other nutrients.

Think about sweet potatoes next time you want to add some color to your plate.

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Sunshine Mary

Are you tired of tomatoes yet? We are not.

It is nearly October and the tomato season is not over. Yes, the tomatoes are smaller and fewer, but it is still possible to have a warm, fresh tomato straight from the garden. It seems the yellow and orange ones are more prevalent now so it is time to concoct a recipe for those.

Sunshine Mary

A Bloody Mary made with all yellow tomatoes becomes a Sunshine Mary. This version is made with freshly juiced tomatoes. A freshly juiced tomato drink has a different flavor than either our home canned Bloody Mary mix or a store bought mix.

The Recipe

Makes 2 drinks.

4 medium yellow tomatoes

2 small hot peppers

1 stalk celery

1/2 lemon

1 Tbsp horseradish

4 ounces gin or vodka

Salt and pepper to taste

Celery sticks and olives for garnish

Using an electric juicer, juice the tomatoes, hot peppers, celery and lemon. Mix thoroughly and add horseradish, salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with olives and celery stalk. For a nice spicy rim on the glass, spread 2 teaspoons of your favorite steak seasoning on a saucer. Dip the edge of the glass in lemon juice, then on the steak seasoning to coat the rim.

You can leave out the alcohol and have a delicious, healthful drink.

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Home Preserving

Home Canned Green Beans and Tomato Juice

Do you remember when people talked about “putting things by”? 

Perhaps this is just our own vernacular, but to us it means to preserve food for the future.

Garden goodness in Central Illinois doesn’t last forever. We eat fresh vegetables from the garden during the growing season, but what about winter? Do we resort to buying everything at a big box store?

No. We make the most of what we have and preserve for future needs. 

Depending on the vegetable, we can, freeze or dehydrate. The tomato sauce post is an example of preparing a sauce that freezes well. Green beans and tomato juice typically go in the canner.

Green Beans

Canning is actually a misnomer. Home canning is not in “cans” at all. Glass jars with two-piece lids in pint and quart size cover our needs for shelf stable “home canned” items. 

Although home canning is not complicated, below are a few pointers to ensure a high quality and safe product.

Home Preserving Tips 

—Follow a tested recipe from a reputable source. Not every recipe on the internet can be trusted. Your best bet is to get a Ball Canning book or use your state home extension website.

—Know your vegetables. Low acid foods must be canned under pressure, while high acid foods can be processed in a water bath canner. Use the correct process for the vegetable you are preserving.

—Use only new flat lids to ensure a successful seal. Bands and jars in good condition can be re-used.

—Before using a pressure canner, (unless it is brand new) have the lid tested for proper working condition at your local home extension office. 

Home preserving does require some effort, but the reward of home grown vegetables all year long is worth it.

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Fall Garlic Planting

Hardneck Garlic Bulbs

Walk into any decent Italian restaurant and take a deep breath. That warm spicy aroma tingling your nose is quite likely garlic. The incomparable deep flavor makes Italian dishes renowned, but also enhances any number of other recipes.

You can bring this culinary delight into your own kitchen through bulbs of garlic purchased at a box store, often imported from China, but why do that when garlic is so easy to grow?

If you are interested in growing your own garlic, now is the time to order. It is somewhat counter-intuitive, but garlic is one of those plants designed to spend winter nestled in the cold earth. 

How to Choose Garlic

There are two basic types of garlic and a number of varieties within those types. Like any other plant, the specific varieties have different advantages in terms of flavor, storage, etc.

Hard Neck Garlic

These bulbs of garlic are different from the kind you normally find available in the store. The bulb forms a hard center stem that grows up through the bulb to support the leaves. When you open the bulb, there are typically 6 or 8 cloves of garlic around this center stem. The cloves are full and large. Varieties include Music, Bogatyr, and German Red.

Soft Neck Garlic

This garlic does not form the hard center stem. Softer leaves shoot out of the middle and many cloves form around this center. The outer cloves are reasonably sized with smaller ones near the center. Even the outer cloves do not attain the size of the hard neck types mentioned above. Varieties include Inchelium Red and Burgundy.

Soft neck garlic can be stored in braids by leaving the stems attached and braiding decoratively to hang.

Planting

After you receive your garlic bulbs, either through a mail order supplier or somewhere local, do not remove the papery outer cover. Store the bulbs in a cool, dry place until ready to plant, then peel off the outer covering and separate the cloves, leaving each clove cloaked in its paper cover. 

Choose a sunny location that is well drained with rich soil.  You will need 6-8 inches of space per plant. Push each clove into the soil approximately 2 inches deep with the pointed end up. Cover with soil and mulch.

In Central Illinois, mid-October is a typical planting time, with harvest the following June.

If you have questions about planting garlic or any of the other crops grown at Five Feline Farm, you can contact us through social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) or email. In the meantime, be sure to check out our online Mercantile for other available products.