By Alice Pauser
September is upon us, and southwest gardens and farmers' markets are brimming with late-summer herbs, vegetables and fruits. We are looking to harvesting and preserving and perhaps a second crop of some of our favorites. It is time to dust off your canning equipment and look for new ways to preserve the many varieties available to us this time of year.
Plus the widespread panic of the invasion of zucchini has begun. Many of us have learned the hard way that a small family does not need 12 hills of squash.
Prune perennial herbs. . .
Now is the time to cut back some of your perennial herbs to within four to six inches of the ground. to stimulate the plants to give you another round of fresh cuttings. Among these are: chives, lovage, oregano, marjoram, lavender, French sorrel, lemon balm, winter savory, tarragon, yarrow sage, Silver King Artemisia [ornamental], chamomile, salad burnet, bee balm, all of your mint plants and French chervil.
Don't throw away the cuttings. Tie them into bundles and hang to dry. The fragrance alone is worth the effort. And save any tough stems to throw on your coals when you are grilling.
Sow some seed. . .
You can also get another harvest from some of your annual herbs and vegetables. It is a great time to seed the following: cilantro, arugula, dill, fennel, borage, caraway, leaf lettuce and spinach and mustard greens. Most of your annual herbs are starting to look a bit worn. If any of them have formed seed heads, snap the tops off, dry and save the seeds for next season. This is an especially good time to dead-head dill; otherwise you will have it coming up everywhere, including your driveway and the neighbor's yard. If any of your cilantro has formed seed heads, the plant is now in its mature stage called coriander. This spice is especially popular in Mediterranean and Asian cuisine and can be found in several baking-spice mixes. One of my favorite uses is to add a teaspoonful of coriander seed to sesame or peanut oil in a saute pan and then stir-fry cooked rice and vegetables in it.
Make some teas. . .
I hope you have been harvesting and drying chamomile flowers all season so that you can brew teas. You may wish to try these combinations for steeping. Use equal amounts of dried in the combinations:
These also make beautiful gifts when packaged in a glass jar and accompanied by a novelty tea ball.
This wonderful way to preserve herbs in vinegar can be used as a base for dressings, sauces and German potato salad. You will need a clean glass container. Take a quart of apple-cider vinegar; add in three large springs of lovage stems and leaves, a teaspoon of whole peppercorns, four apple slices and four springs of lemon thyme. Rinse and pat the herbs dry, then add all the ingredients to a clean glass container with a non-metal lid. Allow to steep at room temperature for a week. Strain and store in the refrigerator.
Late summer vegetables: Zucchini…
Roger Swain, the former host of "Victory Garden," once said that in late August and early September, people in his rural neighborhood made sure their car windows were rolled up and doors locked because if they weren't, in the morning, the cars would be filled with zucchini squash. The urban legend remains: These same people drive into the cities, leaving bags full of zucchini in unsuspecting people's doorways.
Yes, the prolific little vegetables can overwhelm you if not kept in check. If you do not pick them on a regular basis, at the end of the season, when the vines die back you will find one so large and woody you can hollow it out and use it as a canoe.
There must be a million zucchini recipes out there, 50 percent of them being variations of zucchini bread. On their own zucchini can be a little bland. But when you combine them with other vegetables and the right seasonings, they can surprise you.
Sweet corn. . .
There's nothing quite like sweet corn on the grill, the kernels bursting with flavor and dripping with butter and salt. An arteries nightmare, but who cares? You make it up in roughage. You can also boil, fry and bake with fresh corn. It is one of our most versatile veggies. I remember as a child peeling the cobs, my grandmother cutting them in half, parboiling and freezing them for a much-welcome taste of summer to be resurrected during the cold winter months.
Here are some recipes for you to enjoy:
Corn and Cilantro with Pimiento
A zesty side dish:
Heat oil in a saute pan. Add garlic and peppers and cook for 5 minutes. Add corn and salt and saute for another 5 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in cilantro and lime juice. This is even good cold the following day.
Stuffed Zucchini with Asiago Cheese and Rosemary
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place 1/2 inch of water in a 9 x 13 baking pan. Gently scoop out insides of squash, being careful to not pierce the skin, leaving a thin layer of squash on the inside. Set shells aside.
Shred, grate or finely chop the squash and mix with the creamed corn, cheese and rosemary. Fill the squash shells. Place upright in baking pan. Bake for 35-40 minutes. Drizzle a little maple syrup over the top. Serve immediately.
Alice Pauser is the owner of The Kitchen Gardener in Silver City.