Summer Surprises

My suburban yard isn’t a typical suburban property, because I don’t  have just “manicured” spaces, but also have natural, brushy areas and woods. Because of this, we get more surprises than we would if we had a more conventional-type yard. Of course, surprises are somethin’ any “outdoor” girl learns to expect, and this season’s had no shortage of ’em…good, bad, sweet, savory and downright hilarious!

This year’s best surprise: the bumper crop of  nature’s candy… wild raspberries! When we first moved into our home almost two decades ago, our property had many blackberry bushes. Picking buckets of berries reminds me of my childhood in Texas, when Dad’s ranch was covered in wild blackberries. However, about ten years ago my bushes suffered an unfortunate landscaping accident, never quite recovering from an overzealous weed-whacking.  We later started noticing wild raspberries popping up, mostly on the side of the driveway. One year, while snow-plowing, my hubby hit a patch of ice going downhill, sliding off the driveway!  Thankfully he wasn’t hurt, but he took out most of the raspberries. It’s taken some time for the bushes to come back. To get a good crop, you need just the right amount of rain and sun.  Too much of either will result in small or no berries.  This year, we’ve been blessed with lots of plump, juicy raspberries.

Good surprise!

We pick berries everyday as they ripen.  They’re only around a short window of time.

One morning’s bounty…

Raspberry Jam!

I’ve been babying my veggie garden, and just about every inch of usable space has somethin’ growing.  I planted everything using organic seeds, and my friend Susan gave me nine additional different varieties of heirloom tomato plants, as well.  Last week, I was horrified to find little pests covering my tomato plants, eating the leaves!

Bad surprise!

Luckily, I knew what to do, and mixed two cups water, two tablespoons of vegetable oil, one clove of minced garlic, and two tablespoons of non-toxic, natural, coconut-based dish soap in a spray bottle, misting the plants once.  It did the trick, and the plants are flowering and producing fruit. The trick to handling life’s little garden surprises is to catch them early, and be prepared.

Finding an unexpected sunflower my daughter planted from seed  pop up…good surprise!  Finding it eaten by deer the next morning…not so good.

My squash are also prolific this year.  When two different friends mentioned I should be frying the blossoms, I figured I must be missin’ out on something! So one night for dinner, I decided to experiment with blossoms as a side dish. To get squash, one must have both male and female blossoms.  Eating only the male blossoms does not hurt the plants nor does it keep the plants from getting squash, as the female blossoms are the ones that produce.  The male blossoms are the flowers on the long, tall stems; females are blossoms close to the base of the plant with squash.

Male squash blossoms are on the longer stems.

Female squash blossoms are closer to the base of the plant on shorter stems, and produce the squash.

To prepare my new dish, I washed all the blossoms, picking out the stigma portion in the middle.  I dredged each blossom in whisked egg, then bread crumbs, followed by milk, and lastly flour mixed with a little salt, pepper and garlic powder. I sauteed them in olive oil, with a sprinkling of both fresh traditional  basil leaves and Thai basil leaves from a plant my new friend and fellow farmgirl sister, Kim Yates, gave me.  The blossoms only need fry a few seconds each side, before draining on a towel-lined plate before serving. Garnish with shaved fresh Parmesan cheese.  They turned out OH-BOY-DELICIOUS, and are a side dish I’ll be making summers to come!

Savory Surprise!

More natural landscaping means more of nature’s critters, big and small. Last week, on an errand run, my daughter and I were in the car, about to enter the busy freeway.  As we started up the ramp, my daughter shrieked.  Apparently, we had a hitchhiker: a large, pale tree frog, with long, sinewy legs and a yellow belly.  He was hanging on for dear life at the bottom of my daughter’s window, his front suction-cup legs the only thing coming between him and a gruesome death, back legs already loose and flapping in the wind.  Can you imagine the shock of the driver behind me, should he fly into their windshield? I told my daughter I could not be distracted and had to keep my eyes on the road, but that she might be able to roll the window down and grab the frog before he could no longer hold on.  Carefully and quickly, she rolled the window down and grabbed it.  It almost looked relieved in her hand. (Wouldn’t you)? We still had errands to run, so as we ran in and out of three stores, Audrey kept her little friend in the only thing we could find in the car: my husband’s commuter cup.  One of the cashiers did look at us funny when our frog friend stuck a long, sticky arm through the sip-portion of the lid…

Back at home, we let the stowaway go under the big hostas of a favorite “tree-frog tree”, and laughed at our adventure.

Hilarious Surprise!

I’ve just come in with some more goodies from the garden, including a few more raspberries. You all know how much my daughter and  I love pie! Catch us, and my prize-winning pie recipe, in the current August/September issue of MaryJanesFarm. Thank you to all who wrote me about that article…such lovely farmgirl words!

Sweet Surprise!

Since I don’t have enough berries for jam, or time tonight to bake a pie, I’ll leave you with my cobbler recipe…

  • Two cups of fresh raspberries, blackberries, or a combination of both
  • ½ cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
  • 1 TBSP cornstarch
  • 2 TBSP butter
  • Biscuit dough

Wash and dry berries and sprinkle with sugar.  Cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.  Drain berries, reserving any liquid.  Add enough water to juice to make ½ cup liquid.  Place liquid in saucepan over medium heat and whisk in sugar and cornstarch until smooth.  Remove from heat and add berries.  Pour into baking dish.

For biscuit dough:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 TBSP sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg
  • ¼ cup cooking oil
  • ⅓ cup milk

Sift together dry ingredients. Add liquid ingredients and drop by spoonfuls over berry mixture.  Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.  Serve hot with a scoop of ice cream.

Enjoy! Leave me a comment…have you had any summer surprises lately?

  1. Sandi says:

    I would love to grow raspberries and squash and sunflowers. I do not have much of a green thumb. I’ve been dying to make stuffed squash blossoms. Yum.

    Hi Sandi!  Not sure where you are as far as region, but I didn’t always have a green thumb, either.  I think much of gardening is not only soil, water, sun, and seeds, but practice, too!  You could always start with one plant some season and see how it goes.  Good luck, and thanks so much for reading and commenting! – Nicole 

  2. CJ Armstrong says:

    Ahhh . . raspberries! Aren’t they wonderful! We don’t have any berries here on our property, but we are able to find wild red raspberries in the mountains and they are such a treat! Stir ’em up with a little Drambuie and put over ice cream . . yummmy!!
    It is such fun to read of your surprises . . thanks for sharing!
    Enjoy the rest of summer!

    Hi CJ!  Yum!  Sounds like a delicious way to serve raspberries!  Thanks for sharing!  Hope you are having a great summer, too!  Farmgirl Hugs!  -Nicole

  3. Beverly Battaglia says:

    Nicole,I loved reading this blog! The story of the little pale tree frog was so funny. I cannot wait to make your cobbler.
    I am very proud of your writing.
    Love you, Mother

    Thanks mom!  Love you too!  As for the cobbler, I was taught to cook and bake by the best – you! -Nicole

  4. Shane K Richardson says:

    This is precisely the important information I’d been searching for. Incredible blog. Very inspirational! Your posts are so good and also detailed. The links you come with are also very beneficial as well. Many thanks 🙂

  5. Carol F says:

    I live nearby (same town) and I too have been picking the wild tassel raspberries and a few blackberries. And I have the scratched up legs to prove it. Mine are way in the back out of harm’s reach of the snowblower. I freeze some so we can have raspberry pancakes in the fall.

    Hi Carol!  I like to freeze them, too.  They are something we really look forward to all year.  Raspberry pancakes sound delicious!  I like to make them into muffins, too.  Drop me a line if you’re ever looking for a local farmgirl sisterhood chapter!  Thanks for reading and commenting! -Nicole

  6. sharon says:

    Hi Nicole,

    Another fun and yummy way to use up your summer squash is to coat it in pancake batter and cook it in butter like you would a pancake. These taste delicous as a side dish with fish!

    Great story about the hitch hiker – and I loved the accompanying photos.

    Thanks, Sharon!  Oooh, I will have to try the pancake battered squash!  I’ve got a whole bunch more ready to pick!  Sounds delish!  -Nicole

  7. Norma L. Rodriguez says:

    Wild raspberries were always a favorite for my family. They were picked in one of the city’s parks (New York City) and taken home where my mother would make raspberry ices. Delicious!

    Oh, Norma, that sounds wonderful!  I will have to remember that and try to do a raspberry ice next year!  Do you have one of your mom’s recipes? Sounds refreshing. Thanks for commenting!  -Nicole

  8. Just found your link and will be following you for the adventures and recipes. Thank You. CB

    Thanks, Cynthia!  Enjoy! – Nicole

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