In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
Capture seeds from bolted lettuce with paper (not plastic) bags.
It's All About Harvesting
Keep vegetables picked often, even if you don't plan to use that day's harvest immediately. Vegetables that aren't harvested soon enough will produce a chemical that inhibits further blossoming. Check plants at least every other day during the summer. Harvest beans, cucumbers, squash, and tomatoes at least every other day to encourage further production.
Metal cans speed ripening and sweetening of melons by concentrating the sun's warmth and transferring it to the melons. Place ripening melons onto upside down aluminum pie pans or cans to keep them off the damp soil. The reflected heat and light will help them ripen evenly and sooner than when they are shaded by foliage.
Pinch back herbs to encourage branching and use the clippings either fresh or dried. Their flavor is at its peak just before they flower. Harvest them early in the morning after the dew has dried but before the day becomes warm and the fragrant oils dissipate. If you can smell them, it's too late; wait till the next day.
Dry and store whole herb plants by using drawstring net bags from store-bought apples, onions, and potatoes. Draw the string closed, and hang the bags on hooks. The netting allows air circulation but contains most dry crumbled pieces if the bag is bumped.
And Saving Some For Later!
Preserve peppers as soon as they're harvested. Quick-freeze them by slicing or dicing the whole peppers, spreading the pieces on a cookie sheet and freezing them. Pack the frozen pieces into larger containers, and use the pieces as desired. They will lose their crispness when they've thawed, but they're fine for recipes to be cooked.
To dry chili peppers, pick them when they're deep red and hang them in a sunny place until they're brittle. To dry other types of peppers, cut the larger ones in half or into pieces or slit smaller-sized whole ones. Dry them until they're brittle. Store dried peppers in moisture- and vapor-proof containers in a cool, dry, dark place.
The rich "tomatoey" flavor and aroma of raw tomatoes is the greatest when the tomatoes are left at room temperature and eaten just after being cut. Refrigeration kills the fragrance. If you must store tomatoes in the refrigerator for several days before using them, harvest them early in the day, when they are still cool from overnight and are less sensitive to chilling injury--that disappointing flavorless mushiness.
Freeze whole tomatoes for cooking later. After slight thawing, cut out the core, and squeeze from the blossom end. The pulp will emerge easily and can be used in any recipe. Quick, thick tomato sauce can be achieved with little cooking. Puree whole, unpeeled tomatoes and freeze the pulp in a narrow-topped container such as a plastic water jug. As it freezes, the clear liquid in the juice will separate and rise to the top of the container. When you're ready to make the sauce, remove the cap and turn the container upside down in a bowl to defrost. The clear liquid will melt before the pulp does, and the longer you allow the liquid to drain, the thicker the sauce remaining in the jug will get. Use this nutrient-rich clear liquid as a soup base.
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