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Make a Cooking Wreath from Herbs

Copyright©Jim Long 2013

Herbs and pruners are all you need to make a wreath.

I wrote about this craft thing I used to do with groups of visitors, back in the 1990s for The Herb Companion magazine. Seems like a lot of herb groups around the country liked the idea and made lots to sell, so I'm reprinting it again here. It's pretty simple, a wreath woven together out of cooking herbs. I used to sell them in little cellophane bags with a couple of recipes attached. To use the wreath, you simply started a pot of soup or stew boiling and about 15 minutes before the end of the cooking, you simply drop the entire wreath into the pot for seasoning. The flavor is delicious!
Step 1
Step 1, pick a long sprig of rosemary. New, this year's growth is best simply because heavier wood is more likely to break than to bend. You can use any of the following to work into your wreath, all with good flavor: Rosemary, Thyme (any variety), Sage, Garlic chives, Chives (leaves and/or flowers), Oregano, Basil, Lavender (flower spikes), Hyssop, Parsley and Lemongrass (even if it's already brown it still have flavor).
Step 2, bending the sprigs to weave.
To begin your wreath, choose a nice, long sprig of hyssop or rosemary and bend it into a circle, twisting the ends around each other. Hold in place with your thumb and forefinger while you wrap another sprig of a different herb in the other direction (or tie the ends together temporarily with plain white string).

You want to weave each sprig in the opposite direction of the first so they hold each other in place. Don’t get discouraged, it gets easier as you work. (You may want to make several on your first try to get the hang of it).

Step 2, Weave each of the herbs into your wreath, using only the stems and leaves, no string. Tuck ends under and over an earlier sprig and keep adding more. You want to end up with a wreath that is about four inches across, or smaller. Use lemongrass or garlic chives as the last herb, wrapping  it around like a ribbon and tucking each end under another sprig to hold it in place.
Step 3, finishing.
Step 3, When your wreath is finished, trim off any extra ends that are sticking out and put the wreathes in a dark place, like a pantry, on paper and let them dry until crisp.
Attach a string and a recipe if you wish and your cooking wreath is ready to give to a friend.

To use the wreath, remove the string and drop into an already boiling pot of soup or stew. It’s best to add the wreath during the last fifteen or twenty minutes of cooking (this is true of adding any herbs, fresh or dried; add them too soon and the cooking removes the flavors, so add herbs in the last minutes of cooking for the best flavor).
2 finished wreathes; attach a recipe to give as a gift.

Recipes to choose from for attaching to the wreath:

Autumn Herb Wreath Chicken Soup

2 1/2 quarts water
2 chicken breasts
1 stalk celery, diced
1/2 cup diced onion
2 carrots, peeled, sliced
The entire cooking wreath
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
Dash salt and pepper, to taste
*Optional: 1/4 cup brown rice, rinsed

Bring water to a boil and add the chicken and vegetables. Cook until the chicken is tender, about 20 minutes, remove chicken and dice, then add back to the soup. Add the optional rice and reduce heat to a simmer, cooking 10-15 minutes. When you add the rice/pasta, also remove the ribbon from the cooking wreath and add the wreath to the pot of simmering soup. Simmer until rice is done, remove wreath and serve.

Vegetarian Herb Wreath Soup

A vegetarian friend would receive this recipe card attach to their cooking wreath:
2 1/2 quarts water or vegetable broth
Bring water to a boil and add an assortment of your favorite diced vegetables: celery, potato, carrots, a turnip, some cabbage, onion, garlic, 1 slice ginger, etc. about 3 cups total.
*Optional 1/4 cup brown rice, rinsed

Simmer vegetables and rice until tender, about 15-18 minutes. Add the cooking wreath (with the ribbon removed) after 10 minutes of cooking, and continue cooking until rice is tender. Remove the wreath and serve.

Three little cooking wreathes, before ribbons and recipes.


Kale, a Healthy Addition to Meals

Three kale varieties in the Bear Creek Farm gardens.
Kale is a very healthful greens plant with lots of benefits. It has taken me a good while to actually like kale, but over time I've come to really enjoy this leafy plant. I've been experimenting with new ways to use kale, and my recipe for kale stuffing and kale and pear salad are listed below. We had both last night for supper and I have to admit, both were darned good!

Here's what I served for supper last evening. It's flounder baked with kale and cornbread stuffing. Next to that on the plate is a kale and pear salad.
Flounder baked with kale and cornbread stuffing.
Start with 1/2 cup chopped celery and 1/4 cup chopped onion. I added 1/8 cup of zucchini squash and sauted all of that in 2 tablespoons of olive oil. After about 7 minutes and while still cooking, I added 1 1/2 cups chopped, fresh kale and let that wilt. I added 2 cups of cornbread cubes, some poultry seasoning (sage and thyme) and simmered that until the cornbread cubes had absorbed the liquid. I piled it atop the founder and baked it for 15 minutes at 350 degrees F.

Kale Salad
The kale salad was just as healthy and also quite easy. I used 2 cups of coarsely chopped kale (any variety, all kale is good). I added one fresh pear, cut in pieces, 1/4 cup seedless grapes cut in half, 2 tablespoons toasted sunflower seeds (or raw, both will work fine). The dressing was simply 3 tablespoons of yogurt - I had blackberry yogurt on hand, but any favorite yogurt works. The flavors were great, we had a healthy, filling meal and I'll make this again.

For Thanksgiving I'm going to add both chopped kale and zucchini squash to my stuffing. It cuts down on the carbohydrates, adds good flavor and gives a healthy boost to an otherwise bready stuffing. Click here to see my kale soup recipe (it's actually not mine, I learned it from Jim & Robbins Hail at Bear Creek Farm). It is outstanding and really easy, too. Here's kale to your good health.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Oh, and if you want the best pumpkin pie recipe, and our special seasoning, click here. Anne's Pumpkin Pie Seasoning is the best flavored seasoning we've ever found, and Anne gave us her very special pumpkin pie recipe - much better than that recipe on the side of the pumpkin pie can!


Squash Frittata, Beet Cake

Dennis, Betty, Josh and Art (checking  his email).
A newspaper editor came to the garden this summer for an interview. He asked me why I garden. "You've been doing this every year for most of your life, so don't you get tired of doing the same thing over and over?" I tried to explain no two seasons are ever the same, every year is a new challenge and every year I try new varieties, different vegetables and herbs. Not being a gardener, I don't think he ever quite understood. But the primary reason I garden is what you see above, getting to share what I grow and produce with good friends over pleasant meals. These folks are all friends from Hawaii, we always look forward to their visits and they love good food, so cooking from the garden is always a pleasure.
Fresh from the garden, directly to the kitchen.
Betty especially likes beets, fixed any way they can be fixed, so we had steamed beet greens with balsamic vinegar, buttered beets with orange juice and a beet cake (along with grilled salmon, and a squash fritta).

Frittata, grilled salmon, beet greens and beets, not especially pretty, but tasted good.
Here's the frittata recipe.
Squash Frittata
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
  • 1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 2-3 medium zucchini (or young patty pan squash), in 1/4 inch slices
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 4 eggs, beaten
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Heat oil in a saucepan. Add onion and garlic and saute until soft. Add turmeric and zucchini, add a dash of salt and pepper and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in flour and baking soda and cool briefly.
Mix in the beaten eggs with the zucchini and pour into a greased 9" x 13" casserole pan and bake until set, about 25 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes before cutting into serving sizes.
Apple pie - how did the crust get that way??

Beet cake. A leaf and powdered sugar created the design on the cake.
 For dessert we had either beet cake or apple pie so of course everyone had a small piece of each one. Here's the beet cake recipe, not mine, I was given the recipe by herb friends at Round Top, TX and I've made some adjustments to it over the years.
Beet Cake
  • 1 15 oz. can of beets (not pickled, just plain, canned beets)
  • 1 1/2 cups flour (I use 1 cup unbleached flour and 1/2 cup whole wheat flour)
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups sugar (I use 1 1/2 cups granulated stevia or Truvia and 1/2 cup sugar)
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons dry ginger
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated fresh ginger
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup nuts, chopped (I used pecans or walnuts)
  • 3/4 cup coconut
Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a food processor, empty the entire can of beets, juice and all. Blend it well. Combine the rest of the ingredients except for the chopped nuts, mixing well. Fold in the chopped nuts and coconut. Pour into a 9 x 13, oiled and floured baking pan (or 2 round cake pans). Bake until a knife inserted comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes. Let cool. Serve with real whipped cream. Or, if using 2 round cake pans, use this filling between the layers:

Cream Cheese Filling
  • 1 (3 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • 1/3 cup butter, softened
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons milk
In a medium bowl, blend the cream cheese, butter. Gradually mix in the powdered sugar, vanilla and milk, mixing well. Spread on bottom layer of cake, then add the top layer. Let set up for an hour or so before serving. The cake can be made ahead and frozen, then thawed before serving.

Beet cake doesn't need frosting, just some real whipped cream on top.


Outstanding Green Tomato Pickles

Ozarks Gardening
Copyright 2013, Jim Long

Green Tomato Pickles

We’re at the end of the tomato growing season with lots of green tomatoes on hand.  There are several choices about what to do with the tomatoes before cold weather arrives.

You could wrap them individually with newspaper and put them in a box where they’ll ripen slowly over the next few months. A drawback to this method is you have to unwrap every tomato to see if it’s ripening. You could use my method and leave them on the windowsill over the sink, unwrapped, where they will ripen slowly and provide tomatoes right up to the Holidays. Or, you could make a batch or two of fish house green tomato pickles. Here’s my recipe, it’s easy, quick and provides a batch of outstanding green tomato pickles.
Quartered tomatoes.

Fish House Green Tomato Pickles

2 quarts quartered green tomatoes
2 large onions, chopped or sliced
1/3 cup chopped hot peppers
1/3 cup chopped sweet red bell peppers
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons salt
3 cups white vinegar
1 teaspoon celery seed
1/4 teaspoon yellow mustard seed

Combine ingredients in a large cooking pan and bring to a boil. Let simmer for about 5 minutes. Ladle into hot, sterile jars, wipe lip edge of jars, screw on hot, new jar rings and flats and finger-tighten. Place jars into a boiling water bath, with at least 1 inch of water above the jar lids. Bring to a boil and keep slowly boiling for 15 minutes (for pints, 10 minutes for half-pints; if you are above 1,000 ft. elevation, increase processing time accordingly). Remove and cool on a towel. Don't tinker with the lids, they will seal in 30 minutes or so. Let cool overnight then label and store in the pantry. These are best after the flavors have matured, about 2 weeks or more, and will keep for one to two years in the pantry.
Fish House Green Tomato Pickles, ready for winter.


Salsa for Canning

Ozarks Gardening
Copyright 2013, Jim Long

Canning Salsa

This week I’ve been canning salsa. Like nearly every other gardener I’ve talked to this summer, I’ve had a lot of split and damaged tomatoes from the earlier rains. I don’t want to waste the tomatoes so I cut out the damage and turn the good parts into salsa. Over the years I’ve tried a lot of canned salsa recipes and this one has become my favorite. Using 2 jalapenos gives a mild sauce, 4 makes a medium and for a hotter sauce, use 5-6 jalapenos.

8 cups, peeled and quartered tomatoes
1 large yellow onion, sliced
8-10 cloves garlic, peeled
2-4 jalapeno peppers, seeded and sliced
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1 tablespoon salt
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup fresh lime juice

Combine the ingredients in a food processor and coarsely chop everything. Pour that into a cooking pot and bring to a simmer, about 10 minutes. Pour hot salsa into hot pint jars, leaving about 1/2 inch headspace. Seal jars with two-piece lids and process in boiling water for 15 minutes. Makes 4-5 pints.

If you want a simple fresh salsa, you might like this one.
Basic Fresh Salsa

3-4 medium sized tomatoes, chopped (about 3 cups)
4-5 green onions, chopped
1/2 cup red or yellow bell pepper, diced
Juice of 1 lime
3 tablespoons freshly-chopped cilantro
1/2 (or 1 whole for hotter) jalapeno, seeded and diced fine
2 garlic cloves, diced
1/2 teaspoon salt

Combine ingredients and refrigerate for an hour before serving with chips.

Visit my website to see my books which have lots more of my recipes and gardening information. Happy gardening!


Perfect Sweet Pickles

Copyright.Jim Long.2013

This has been a good cucumber-growing year. I make these pickles every 2 or 3 years, a necessary ingredient in tuna salad, potato salad and deviled eggs. It’s a recipe that’s been in my family at least 4 generations. It's my Grandma Harper's Sweet Pickle recipe.

8-12 medium-sized cucumbers (about 8 inches long)
Wash cucumbers and be sure to cut off the blossom end; it contains an enzyme that may cause the pickles to become soft. Cut it off and discard about 1/4 inch of the blossom end.
Be sure to cut off the blossom end.

Place washed cucumbers in a stone jar (or stainless or enamel pan) large enough to hold the cucumbers submerged in water. Bring enough water to cover the cukes, to a boil, and pour that over the cucumbers, covering completely. Put a plate on the cucumbers to weight it down to hold the cucumbers under the water.
Cucumbers, ready for plate to hold them down.

The following day, pour off the water, bring fresh water to boil and cover the cucumbers again, also weighing down to hold them under the water. Repeat this process of drain, rinse and pour boiling water, for 4 successive mornings).
Cut-up cukes, ready for vinegar mixture.

On the 5th day, drain off the water and rinse the cucumbers. Rinse out the container, too. Cut the cucumbers into slices or chunks and put those back into the container. Over that pour the following:

8 cups sugar
4 cups apple cider vinegar
5 tablespoons pickling salt (not table salt)
2 tablespoons mixed pickling spices, available at the grocery store

Bring this mixture to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Pour this boiling mixture over the cut-up cucumbers in the container, replace the plate to hold the pickles down in the mixture. Leave this for 2 to 4 days before you can them. Process in a boiling water bath. (Consult the Ball Blue Book for processing times based on size of jars you’re using).

Visit my garden blog, as well, for more stories and recipes:
The finished sweet pickles, ready for the pantry. They'll keep 3-4 years easily.


Kale Soup

I learned about kale soup from Jim and Robbins Hail at Bear Creek Farm. Since kale is good for us - lots of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, etc., they had been trying to eat more. I've only recently come to like kale and this recipe is outstanding, I think. It freezes well, too, just leave out the milk or cream and add it after you thaw out the soup.

Kale Soup
Half a paper grocery sack full of fresh kale leaves
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 medium yellow onion, sliced or diced
1 cup half and half
2 cups whole or reduced fat milk
Chicken broth
Salt and Pepper to taste
2 teaspoons Tabasco or favorite hot sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil

1 - Heat the olive oil in a small pan. Add the onion and garlic and saute until just barely tender. Set aside.

2 - Fill a medium to large stockpot about half full of water and bring to a boil. Add the kale leaves and simmer for about 10 minutes. Drain, reserving some of the water.

3 - Working in batches, puree the kale, garlic and onion, along with some of the reserved water until smooth. Pour back into the stockpot.

4 - Add 4 cups chicken broth, along with the milk and half and half. Bring to a slow simmer.
5 - Add the hot sauce and salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with a bit of real cream, or just as it is. This makes a delicious soup for winter or summer. This makes about a half gallon of soup.

For my Kale Casserole recipe, click here.


Elderberry Recipes

Elderberry Syrup
1 1/2 cups freshly-picked berries (or substitute 3/4 cup dried organic berries)
3 1/4 cups water
1 1/4 cups honey - raw, local honey if available
1 3-inch cinnamon stick
3-4 whole cloves
1 large piece candied ginger (or substitute 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger)

1 - Combine everything but the honey and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and slowly simmer for about 25 minutes.
2 - Using a potato masher, crush the berries and set aside to cool for several hours.
3 - Strain, discarding solids, then add the honey and mix to dissolve.
This makes approximately 4 cups of syrup and can be stored in the refrigerator for about 8 weeks. This can also be frozen in ice cube trays for longer storage and taken out as needed.

Elderberry tincture from the store is made with alcohol, which is the accepted method of preserving most tinctures. You can also make a non-alcohol based tincture using this recipe.

Elderberry Tincture with Glycerin

Vegetable glycerin is available at many health foods stores.

1 cup vegetable glycerin
1 cup water
1/2 pound dried elderberries

1 - Place the dried elderberries in a quart glass jar and pour the glycerin over the berries. Place a lid on the jar and keep it in a cool, dark place such as the pantry for 6 weeks. Gently shake the jar daily to keep the berries from settling.
2 - Strain the mixture through a colander or cheesecloth, squeezing out all of the liquid from the berries. This can be stored in the pantry in an air-tight container, or in the refrigerator, for 5-6 months. It makes about 2 cups. Most people use 4 teaspoons daily at the first signs of cold or flu.

Pense Nursery
Mountainburg, AR; (479) 369-2494

Elderberry Varieties from Cuttings:
River Hills Harvest,
Hartville, MO
Terry Durham (573) 999-3034

Dried elderberries:
Mountain Rose Herbs;
Horizon Herbs;

Elder Cream Organic Skin Salve
Evening Shade Farm, Osceola, MO
Cindy Parker: (417) 282-6985


Rosemary Chocolate Chip Cookies

The kids gave me a personalized stool, with Renee's Seed packets on top.
If you've been following my blog, you know I'm a fan of kids garden projects, and I've been working with one in particular, the Health, Wellness and Environmental Studies Elementary Gardens, in Jonesboro, Arkansas. If you use the Search button on this blog, and look under "school garden," you will find previous stories and photos. (You can help this school by visiting my website and clicking on the button, "Buy Seeds, Help Kids.") Renee Shepherd at is generously donating 25 cents of every dollar you spend buying seed, to this remarkable school. Click here for details, or from my home page of my website. This week I drove to the school for the honor of doing 2 classes with the kids, one with the  4th grade, one with the 5th grade. (You can also follow the school on FaceBook, just look for HWES school on FB search; they'd appreciate it if you "Like" them).
Boys making tortilla chips with chili powder.
The goal was to teach the kids how to use some of the herbs from their school garden. They'd picked rosemary for the cookies, chives and mint for the salsa, and one of their hens had provided eggs. The tortilla chips are simple: spray tortillas with a tiny bit of oil, sprinkle with chili powder, cut in strips and bake until crisp.
Ingredients from the school garden.
I can't talk without using my hands and we were discussing something really important but I don't remember what it was. While the kids worked on snipping and cutting and prepping, I mixed the cookie dough. Our cookies for the day were Rosemary-Orange Chocolate Chip.

You may not realize it but children's taste buds aren't fully developed like adults, so the taste of something like rosemary isn't something kids are drawn to. Kids primarily can taste sweet, sour, salty and bitter until they're in their teens or later. But if you introduce them to a flavor like rosemary, with another flavor with it - chocolate for instance, it is more pleasant for their tastes. So each of the children tasted a chocolate chip with a rosemary leaf

That's Melinda Smith, below, who teaches, organizes and oversees the garden, writes grants and everything else to keep the garden going and teachers involved.

Melinda demonstrating the safe use of knives.
These girls squeezed lots of lime juice for the Green Grape Salsa.
Once we had all the ingredients - green seedless grapes, lime juice, poblano pepper, mint, chives and diced green onion, I whirred it up in my handy little salsa maker.

The tortilla chips came out of the oven in time for the kids to all taste the Green Grape Salsa (from my book, Salsas, from Apple to Zucchini). Almost every child liked the salsa (and we made enough to take to the Craighead County Master Gardeners where I spoke that evening).

A favorable review from one of the 5th graders.
Recipe for Rosemary-Orange Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 sticks (1/2 cup) butter, softened
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 cups flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
Grated peel from 1 orange

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
1 - Mix flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl and set aside
2 - Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla in large mixer bowl until creamy.
3 - Add eggs and beat.
4 - Add flour mixture, stirring well.
5 - Stir in chocolate pieces, rosemary and orange peel.
6 - Drop by rounded tablespoon onto baking sheets.
7 - Bake for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.
Rosemary-Orange Chocolate Chip Cookies ready to bake.
It's fascinating to see kids excited about learning. This is a remarkable school, with some of the most creative and amazing teachers. Every trip I make to the school, 12 hours round trip, I come back saying if school had been that way when I was a kid, I would have loved school!
Great helpers, it was a fun day.