Driving down back roads this week my Dad and I came across the strangest sight- hundreds of frogs lining the sides of the road, all just sitting there in the sun. Why were the frogs crossing the road? I have no idea.

 

 

My love of books began very early in life. I learned to read at age 4 and quickly moved from The Three Little Pigs (which left me terrified of a big bad wolf that I was certain lurked outside my window at night) to Encyclopedia Brown, and by first grade National Velvet. My parents had two black bookcases on either side of the wood stove which heated our house and it was just a few years before my book collection claimed an entire bookcase. Most of my friends lost TV privileges or had to go to bed early when they got into trouble. Not me. I loved to read so much that the most effective form of punishment was to take away books. Dropping an “Oh sh*t” in earshot of my father after throwing a gutter ball at my second grade birthday party landed me with a two week book restriction. Pure misery!

 

 

You may have noticed that the recipes slowed down a bit around here in July and August. You may also have noticed that the few which appeared were for things such as homemade dill pickles and a lemony frozen yogurt. Now either of these things could simply indicate a busy summer and an overactive garden, both of which were true. However, the real reason lies in a different realm.

 

 

We spent Labor Day camping in Spearfish Canyon which is in the Black Hills of South Dakota. This beautiful canyon is one of my favorite places to visit with gorgeous views of the craggy canyon rim and a cold clear creek running through the trees. Wildlife is abundant with hard to catch trout swimming in the creek and ponds. We even spotted a juvenile mountain lion a few hundred yards from our campsite!

 

 

One of the benefits of living in the Midwest is that from July through September you can find corn on almost every street corner. Pickup trucks pulled along the side of the road advertise “1 Dozen Ears – $5″. If you stop you will surely be offered a taste of the sweetest corn summer has to offer. Each year we look forward to eating our weight in gold kernels, enjoying corn simply steamed, grilled with lime juice, and even putting some up for the winter in the form of maque choux.

 

 

As I write this the sky is grey and half the cottonwood leaves have given up, leaving their limbed perch and floating downward to rest on the ground. Yet the garden has not quite relinquished summer to the cooler nights and northern winds. A last round of tomatoes and peppers are hanging on the vines, soaking up scattered sunshine and the final warm days of the year. While the sweaters are calling from the back of my closet I’m not quite ready to trade my flip flops for fuzzy slippers. In a last hurrah of summer I am taking the tomatoes and peppers and turning them into the quintessential summer soup- gazpacho.

 

 

A field of purple coneflowers sway in the evening light in the test gardens at Seed Savers Exchange.

 

 

After a summer hiatus it is time to get back into the swing of The Daring Kitchen challenges. The official line for this month is: The September 2010 Daring Cooks’ challenge was hosted by John of Eat4Fun. John chose to challenge The Daring Cooks to learn about food preservation, mainly in the form of canning and freezing. He challenged everyone to make a recipe and preserve it. John’s source for food preservation information was from The National Center for Home Food Preservation.

Apple Butter. Two little words that invoke vivid memories of the first month of school and a kitchen filled with the scent of warm apples and cinnamon. Each fall when the apple trees near my childhood home filled with ripe fruit, my mom would quickly follow her famous apple cake with a big batch of apple butter. I never understood that apple butter didn’t actually contain real butter. The smooth decadent texture will have any kid convinced that mom has temporarily forgotten her judicious butter rules and is allowing a free for all in which you can slather apple butter on anything you like. I would beg for apple butter on my peanut butter and honey sandwiches and would take nothing else to school for lunch until it was gone.

 

 

Two years ago I finished reading Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal Vegetable Miracle. A fascinating and humorous account of her family’s year long experiment growing and raising their own food, it makes even the blackest thumb dream of turning green. At the back of the book was a short list of resources and on that list was an organization called Seed Savers Exchange located in Decorah, Iowa. Curious as to what type of seed organization was located in my part of the country I hopped online and quickly got lost in the gorgeous photographs and unique descriptions of over 13,000 different varieties of heirloom vegetables and flowers available to order and plant. I ordered a few packets of tomato and lettuce seeds and watched as they grew. The beauty and flavor of heirloom vegetables got underneath my skin and before I knew it I became a member of Seed Savers (only $40 a year) and even gave a membership to my Dad for Christmas. (Dozens of varieties are available for anyone to order online but by becoming a member you get access to the full 13,000.) Fast forward two years later and I was driving across Iowa with Mr. B and my parents en route to the weekend long Seed Savers Exchange Annual Camp Out.

 

 

This is the second year I have grown these giant beauties. Another heirloom variety from Seed Savers, these plants produce tomatoes that weigh in at 2-3lbs each. Full of juice and impossibly sweet my favorite way to eat a Gold Medal tomato is to cut it in large thick slices and sprinkle flaky gray sea salt on top. The warm summer tomato flavor is so delicious I have been known to eat an entire tomato for lunch. Mr. B prefers a meatier beefsteak variety but I like a tomato that drips juice down my chin!

 

 

 

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