Roadside foraging- Apples.

Apples- now this is something that is abundant in Maine. They are literally EVERYWHERE this season.  And while we love going to orchards and grabbing a peck or two, how we get the bulk of our apples is pretty simple. 

We ride up and down old county roads. We find a tree that has apples down around the bottom, because that means they are ripening. We stop at that tree, and Mr. Gillis gets an apple. And then we taste test it. 

If it’s good, we take a bag full and mark its location on our gps. If it’s not, we chuck the apple and get back on the road.   

Mr. Gillis on the back of the truck with our homemade fruit picker


He picks and I try it out. I have a more discerning palate as far as ripeness goes.


Big, small, red, yellow, crab… we’ll stop and try anything


 This usually turns into an all day adventure, so we treated ourselves with our favorite takeout- which we were lucky to catch open, as they were closing that day. 

Our favorite takeout, located in Linneus


I got the fried clam tenderloins and Mr. Gillis got a sub.


A little nature photography

We found some interesting places, some looked like they might even be old apple orchards.   

Apples are everywhere right now.


Going places we probably shouldn’t go..


This season has been one of the best in recent memory.


 Now, we do also buy apples from local orchards, because we really believe in supporting local businesses. And in the interest of full disclosure, we buy apples from the grocery store, there’s nothing wrong with Fuji, or Braeburn or golden delicious. There is a lot wrong with the Macintosh, tho. But the majority of our apples come from this type of hunting and gathering. And a very nice lady named Carrie that gave us a whole bucket of beautiful red crab apples for jelly. 

If you want to read some really good stuff on apples and the lost heritage of the American orchard, check out John Bunker the Maine Apple guy. 

We still have some picking to do but I’ve already made and frozen apple sauce. Which is actually the topic of my next blog…. 

So until that time, have a wicked good evening. 

Garden update 09.14.15 

So I know I promised a post about apple picking, but they aren’t as ripe as we thought they were. So for now I’m going to brag about our wonderful no hands garden.

 It’s been a bountiful year here at Gillis Gardens. So far we have pounds of green beans, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries and zucchini in the freezer. We’ve canned tons of jam, pickles, relish and had a fantastic run at maple syrup. We enjoyed fresh salads and are looking forward to canning tomatoes, making sauce and salsa. We’ve had the best pepper season ever, and have dozens of assorted hot peppers drying. I’m making jalapeño poppers today- from peppers we grew!

We’ve had a long summer considering what a rough start we had this year. Winters are long and cold in Maine, but this last one seemed to hit us with a vengeance. As we turn the corner into autumn, we are reminding ourselves to enjoy the craziness of harvest- it’s already getting dark by 7:30… It really is only a hop skip and a jump til thanksgiving. 

Our zucchinis are coming in strong for now


Future poppers – recipe to follow sometime this winter I promise


These peppers are called Chocolate Bell Peppers, available thru Johnny’s Select Seeds


Another shot of our Chocolate Peppers- they turn brown as they ripen


This is one of our hot peppers- I think they look like little red lipsticks


Just one of our Serrano Pepper plants.


Oops! We really don’t like letting our zucchinis get this big, but what can you do?


A few onions- we only planted a small bed of yellows this year.


We only got the one watermelon to make it this year, but for no effort we’re happy.


One of our three cantalopes


A record year for our delicata honey boat squash.


We use marigolds to deter pests like potato beetles. Plus they’re a pretty addition to the garden.


Our days haul- peppers, squash, cucumbers, onions


The tomatoes we’ve picked over the last couple days.


These beauties will be the subject of a later post


Well I’ve got zucchini to shred and freeze, cucumbers to cut for more pickles, and a baby, house, chickens and kitty to care for. 


Izzybug and Pepperkitty

My next post is all about apples! We’ll probably my next 4 posts, actually. Apples are a big deal in this house. 

So until that time, have a wicked good day.

Putting the vanilla in… Pickles?

You might have to suspend belief in all that is pickling recipes in order to follow me on this. But suspend you must and following me is recommended because these pickles are NOT to be missed. 

I cannot claim credit for this recipe. I found it online at a garden forum about 5 years ago. The forum itself was even older then that. It was a discussion about lemon cucumbers, which at that point, was my newest obsession. Everyone was throwing out recipes that were for pickles and relishes… They were troubleshooting about the best way to grow them in order to get the most out of their bushes… It was a lemon cuke lovers meeting of minds and it was amazing. 

I read thru the pages of that forum like your average rabid canner. It didn’t take long and I had found it. The recipe. The one I just HAD to try. And I am going to do the right thing and pass it on. 

If you don’t believe me, make a half batch or even less. This brine covered 4 quarts plus 8 pints worth of cucumbers with some left over. That’s a lot of pickles to make if you’re unsure. But if you like the idea of a sweet pickle with lots of flavor punched in, this is it. Take a flying leap. 

French Vanilla Pickles

  • A big bowl of small pickling cukes. 
  • 9 cups sugar
  • 8 cups white vinegar 
  • 1 Tbsp canning salt
  • 1 Tbsp whole cloves
  • 1 Tbsp pickling spice
  • 1/4 cup vanilla
  • 1/4 lemon juice
  • 2 to 4 cinnamon sticks per jar 
  • 3/4 tsp alum per pint, 1 1/2 tsp per quart

As always, the best pickles begin with clean, firm cucumbers

First things first – clean your cucumbers thoroughly. I use my soft veggie brush and cold water. 

For extra crispness, put cut cucumbers on an ice bath in your fridge for a few hours


Get a large bowl and put a whole tray of ice in the bottom. Once I cut the cukes into smaller pieces they’ll go into the fridge on an ice bath for at least 5 hours. 

Goodbye blossom butt and stem


Trim the ends of  each cucumber. Then cut the cucumber into quarters. 

Cut the small ones into quarters for a mini treat


I cut the larger ones in half lengthwise before cutting those pieces into quarters. 

These are all acceptable sizes for pickling lemon cucumbers


Anything larger then the cucumbers picture above are chicken food in this household.

The large ones can be cut in half first for smaller pickle bites


These little guys make great snacks at family gatherings


Once you’ve got the cucumbers all cut up and on ice, seriously put them in the fridge and leave them alone for a while. After you’ve given them their ice bath, you’ll want to give them another quick rinse with cold water. 

Maybe I’m odd but that is such a pretty sight to me


Now you’ll need a large pot for this brine, the recipe makes a lot. 

Supplies are gathered!

On a medium heat, combine the 9 cups sugar, 8 cups white vinegar, 1/4 cup lemon juice (1/2 a jumbo lemon), 1/4 vanilla and 1 tbsp of canning salt. . 

Yes you really do need that much vanilla and lemon juice.


Mix this well, but be aware that it will stay cloudy for awhile. 

We use this tea holder for our spices. Some of the leafy stuff escapes, but not much


Next, in either a tea ball like ours or some cheesecloth, put the 1 Tbsp of cloves and 1 tbsp of pickling spices. Drop this into the brine mixture right from the get go. 

The sugar dissolves as it gets closer to its boiling point


Keep this going on medium heat, stirring pretty much constantly. Because of the high sugar content it will scorch quickly, so keep an eye on it. 

Getting closer to the boil


Once it gets to a boil, keep it there for five minutes. 

While its boiling is a good time to pack your jars and relax your lids. Remember, relax your lids in simmering water, not boiling. If the water is to hot, it can actually ruin the rubber seal.

For every pint, we use 2 cinnamon sticks, as many cucumber pieces as I can squeeze in and 3/4 tsp alum. In every quart we use 4 cinnamon sticks and 1  1/2 tsp alum. 

Our pickle packing station

Once the jars are all packed and the brine has boiled for 5 minutes, it’s time to fill them with the liquid. After all your jars have been filled, cover with your lids, secure with your rims and process in your hot water bath canner for 5 minutes. 
After the jars come out of the water bath canner, set them on a towel, covered with another towel for 24 hours. If any don’t seal, put them in the fridge. 

I like to let my pickles stew in their juices for at least a month before eating. My dad usually waits 2 or 3 days. My way makes for more flavor saturation, my dad’s way means yea pickles. 

So that’s that for this blog. We still have lots of pickles to make, but now it’s apple season here in Maine. And that is what’s going on for next time. It’s time for another Maine adventure, and it’s about to get real. Real foragie. Because we don’t pay for apples. Nope, we go Apple hunting. 

But that’s for next time. 

Until then, have a wicked good day. 

Who doesn’t love a pickle?

This years garden has been an amazing adventure in the hands off approach. My dear husband put the plants in the ground, laid out weed fabric and hay. Then he weeded out some rows once a few weeks after planting. Otherwise, we’ve just been to busy to do anything else until the last few weeks. And the last few weeks have been harvesting and processing green beans, zucchini, peppers, and now CUCUMBERS! 

I say this with capital letters because it means, PICKLES! Also worthy of capital letters. 

Today’s recipe is for Dill Pickles. We had a lot of different size cukes, so we are doing spears and sandwich slices. 

We also have a mix of Boston picklers and lemon cucumbers. If you haven’t ever had a lemon cucumber, you need to find some. Just make sure they are small. Like the diameter of a quarter to half dollar, no more. And white to light yellow in color. Not dark yellow. They get very seedy and very bitter once the get any larger. But if you get them small and yellow, they are sweet and firm – great for pickles and eating fresh.

Here’s a link to a Maine seed company that we love. When we go to the MOFGA Common Grounds Fair in a few weeks they’ll have some wonderful displays. 

This recipe yielded 8 quarts. We ended up with 4 jars of spears, 3 jars of slices and one jar of mixed. We don’t waste a pickle oppurtunity in this house. 

Dill & Garlic Pickles

  • 10 cups water
  • 6 cup vinegar
  • Lots of Fresh dill enough for a good 2 to 3 large fronds per jar
  • 1 clove of fresh garlic, per jar- cut in half 
  • 2/3 cup Canning salt
  • 4-6 Black peppercorns per jar
  • 1/2 tsp alum per jar
  • Optional – 1 tsp mustard seed per jar 
  • A big old bowl full of pickling cukes of your choice

So early in the day, is when you want to cut up your cucumbers. This is so you can ice bath them for a few hours before pickling them. It’s an old wives tip, to supposedly help keep the cukes crisp threw the canning process. We don’t know if it helps or not because we always do it. Better to be crisp, then soggy in our opinion. 

These are Lemon Cucumbers, we love them but you have to pick them small.

I make sure to always use a nice sharp paring knife to cut up pickles. For sandwich slices, cut off the blossom end. Then just keep cutting slices in your desired thickness. I cut my slices fairly thick. I like the crunch. 

We’ve got two cuts we’re doing today for dill pickles. I love dill slices on a cold turkey sandwich, but spears go nice with meals.

When cutting spears, first cut off the blossoms and stem ends. Then, cut the cucumber in half lengthways. Now, placing the cucumber cut sides down on the board slice it in half, lengthways again. Take each of those quarters, and slice them in half lengthways one more time, leaving you with 8 spears. 

To make the brine, simply grab your large pot and mix together the water, vinegar and canning salt. Get this to a boil on medium heat, stirring occasionally. This mixture doesn’t take long to boil so you want to get your quart jars, rims and lids cleaned and sanatized pretty quickly. Also, don’t forget to get your lids relaxed in some simmering water. 

We got our fresh dill destemmed, our garlic cloves cleaned and halved and our spices ready and waiting

Now it’s time to take one of your nice warm, sanatized quart jars and pack it full.First goes in the dill, garlic halves, peppercorns and if you’re feeling plucky, the mustard seed. Now, pack those jars full of cucumber slices. And when you think you couldn’t possibly fit another, try anyway. Just don’t let any stick up above the fill line. It’s important that your brine cover the entire cucumber. 

Put your dill, garlic, peppercorns and, if you want, mustard seed.

Once your jars are all packed full of your spices, herbs and cukes, it’s time for your pickle crimping agent. We use Alum, but I know other pickle crisps work just as well. We just have a readily available source of cheap alum. 

Packed tight with some alum sprinkled on top.

Since Mr. Gillis and I can together, one of us fills the jars with pickles, while the other one fills it with brine, and covers it. If you were working by yourself, I would recommend filling your jars with all your spices and cuckes first and then doing your brine. But really, do what is comfortable for you. Pickling should be fun… Hot, sweaty, work-like fun, but fun. 

I love how the lemon cucumber looks up against the glass.

Now that all your jars are filled with your cucumbers, brine and spices, and are all closed up, it’s time to process them in your hot water bath canner for 5 minutes. When the timer goes off, pull the jars out, set them on a towel and leave them alone for 24 hours. 

After your waiting period is over, if any of your lids didn’t seal, store in the fridge. Otherwise these pickles should sit for at least  a month before eating, even tho that doesn’t stop my dad from digging right in. 


We are still snacking on last years pickles while these go hang out for a few months.

There it is, our dill pickle recipe. It’s pretty simple, but we think that it really highlights the dill flavor. 

With such a large cucumber harvest we’ve already done a bread and butter pickle, a sweet chili relish and these pickles. Tonight, we make a special recipe that we cannot take credit for. I’ve read that it’s an old French recipe… It is a lemon cucumber recipe but we’ve used regular picklers. 

All I know is that it is a different, but delightful pickle. And it’s my next blog post- but you’ll have to wait till then to find out.  

Until that time, have a wicked good day. 

    If you give a girl a zucchini, she makes a loaf of bread….

    Give this girl a garden full of them and she’ll have zucchini bread all year long. 

    The trick to keeping your gardens abundant zucchini harvest is to freeze it. But, unfortunately, it’s not as if you can just stick whole zucchinis in the freezer and walk away. Nope. You need to shred those suckers down. 

    My favorite zucchini recipe only requires one cup of shredded zucchini, so I will be freezing my summer squash in one cup portions. I use my handy 1.25 cup Tupperware containers. This will give our shredded squash room to expand as it freezes.

    For this project, get together the following

    • As much zucchini as you, your Tupperware and your freezer can handle at once. These six yeilded 7 cups of shredded squash.
    • Your one cup, freezer safe, comes with a lid, containers.
    • A large bowl
    • A cheese grater that has a small shred option
    • A one cup measuring cup.

      Supplies have been gathered

      First things first, get you zucchinis super clean. You don’t skin these before shredding, so be sure to clean them very well under cold water with a soft bristled veggie brush. We got this one at Walmart years ago and it’s perfect for delicately skinned veggies.

      I use a soft bristled brush to keep from skinning up the zucs


      Next, cut off the blossom end of you squash. 

      Using a paring knife, cut off the blossom end… or as Mr.Gillis and I call it, The Butt


      Now, shred that zucchini! I like this grater because the small holes are jagged all around, which makes it great for breaking down seeds and skin.

      This is zucchini number 1 down, and it only took about 3 minutes.


      Now, once you’ve shredded your squash, start ladling one cup into each of your freezer containers.  I love these little Rubbermaid ones. Well, I love all my Rubbermaid, so it’s a matter of partiality.

      I dont worry about getting exactly one cup- as close as possible is good enough


      Once the zucchini is in the freezer container, cover it tightly and tap it gently so it’s nice and compacted. Air bubbles are not your friend.

      Make sure to leave room for expansion as it freezes


      Three cups of shredded zucchini, ready to become squashsicles

      Make room in your freezer and let them sit for at least 24 hours. I’ve gone as far as 48 hours before. 

      This is my second round of freezing zucchini

       Once the squash is completely frozen, it’s time to get your Tupperware back by bagging it. If all you have is zip locks, that will be fine short term. But I cannot stress enough how amazing a food saver system is. We found ours for really cheap but we’d easily invest in one at full price knowing now how much money it’s saved us. 

      Behold, the squashsicle


      When you pull the Tupperware out, the covers might be kinda stuck. A quick fix for this is a bowl of slightly warm water. Dip the container in real quick. Not only will the top come right off, the squashsicle will slid right out as well. 

      Just dunk it in the water real quickly. Any longer then a few seconds and you’ll start melting your hard work.


      The top will pop right off at this point


      Slid your frozen zucchini, container and all right into your freezer bag.

      I find it easier to deals with if I put the container in right side up, and then flip the bag. I tap the Tupperware and the block falls right out. 

      Place your frozen zucchini in your freezer bag right side up


      Flip over the entire bag.


      Carefully remove the tupperware container


      Get the container out of the bag and close it up. With our food saver sealed bags we’ve kept frozen zucchini shreds for up to the next planting season. 

      Our trusty food saver, hard at work.


      One cup of perfectly shredded zucchini, frozen and ready to store for months in our chest freezer


      So far we’ve frozen and stored 14 cups of zucchini. In the middle of a cold Maine winter, it’s amazing to grab a block of this stuff, thaw it out over night in the fridge and make fresh zucchini bread. It’s a little bit of the harvest, in the middle of the grey. 

      Well that’s it- the key to keep all that extra zucchini that your neighbors won’t take anymore.

      Until next time, have a wicked good evening.