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Gardeners' Dirt: Merry Christmas from the garden

By By Mary McCurdy - Victoria County Master Gardener Edited by Charla Borchers Leon
Dec. 22, 2011 at 6:22 a.m.

Gifts can be put in something as simple as a gift bag or in a more elaborate basket. This one includes pickled okra, dill pickles and squash pickles.  You may also want to include the vegetable seed like a special variety of okra in a separate container or plastic bag in the basket.

EASY STRAWBERRY FIG PRESERVES

From Master Gardener Linda Denker

6 cups ripe figs, peeled and mashed 6 cups sugar 2 (6-oz.) or 4 (3-oz.) boxes of strawberry Jell-O

Combine all ingredients in a pot large enough to allow for boiling. After bringing to a rolling boil, cook for 20 minutes. Pour into clean, hot jars and seal with lids. This will make five pints.

ROASTED PECANS

From Virginia McCurdy

Place pecan halves in a zipper storage bag. Add about 11/2 Tbsp. cooking oil, about 2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce and 1/2 Tbsp. seasoning salt. Add table salt to your own taste.

Close bag, and shake well until all pecans are evenly coated. Place on cookie sheet so the pecans lay flat. Bake at 200 degrees stirring and turning every 15 minutes until golden brown on both sides. The roasting takes about 1 hour. They will crisp as they cool.

Gifts For a Gardener

Gardening books Subscriptions to gardening magazines (VCMGA makes a small profit if you subscribe to Texas Gardener Magazine through our organization.) Gift cards and certificates to local nurseries (These are not impersonal gifts . and you will be helping local businesses who support VCMGA all year.)

It's so rewarding to share gifts from the garden, and particularly at this time of sharing and caring.

Pickled okra, squash

When I retired after teaching in the elementary grades for 30 years, one of the first things I did was to become a master gardener.

I also began making the dill pickles that I had watched my mother put up years ago. Everyone seemed to like them, and they made nice gifts.

When my husband asked if we couldn't pickle okra using the same recipe, a new favorite was born. So, if you have a dill pickle recipe that you love to use, try substituting okra for the cucumbers.

When my daughter was expecting her first child and not feeling very well, she asked if I knew how to make the squash pickles that she remembered her grandma making. I didn't, but a friend gave me a bread and butter pickle recipe and told me to substitute yellow squash for the cucumbers.

After eating most of a small jar, the expectant mom deemed them just like Grandma's. Because squash pickles are a little unusual, they really make a special gift.

Tomato, pepper salsa

This past summer, we produced a bounty of tomatoes and peppers, so I decided to try homemade salsa for the first time. Everyone has enjoyed it, but I must say that each batch turned out slightly different. Salsa with a bag of chips makes a quick and fun gift.

Winter vegetables, pecans and more

Anyone fortunate enough to have a winter garden knows those tasty vegetables make wonderful gifts for those of us who are buying all of our veggies at the supermarket.

Pecans, shelled or unshelled, are a welcomed gift to those of us who do not have pecan trees. I've included a recipe for roasted pecans that my mother-in-law used to make. My husband has perfected the recipe now, and I must say, the only problem is that you can't stop eating them once you've started.

The possibilities of gifts from the garden are endless - homemade wine, special seeds that were saved, herb butters and oils, cookies made with herbs, as well as jellies and jams.

VCMGA Cookbook

The recipe for strawberry fig preserves that is included in this article is in the Victoria County Master Gardener cookbook available from any master gardener for $15. This delightful book is filled with gardening tips, as well as our favorite recipes, and, of course, it makes a wonderful gift.

Cheese grater herb garden

Another unique gift idea is one that brings a little garden inside. Caroline Boatman, of Primavera Interior Landscapes of Houston, demonstrated at the recent fall gardening symposium how to make an herb garden in an upside-down cheese grater that will fit perfectly in a kitchen window sill. The handle will have to be cut off unless you are lucky enough to find an antique one like I did that didn't have a handle.

I also saw one for sale in a local store with a plastic handle, which would be easy to remove.

Boatman suggested always saving those pieces of styrofoam that come as packing because you will need to cut a piece and wedge it down into the grater to make it leak proof.

Before you plant the herbs, line the grater with heavy black plastic and moss, which comes in many varieties.

Container plants

Another good gift idea for any time of year is a mixed basket of plants. Instead of just a plant in a pot, Boatman gave ideas about how to combine different plants into one container.

She said to think outside the box when choosing containers. They don't necessarily have to be waterproof, but can be lined with heavy black plastic.

The plants don't have to be planted inside - just put the pots down inside the container and cover with moss.

I tried this with some Thanksgiving baskets and the results were great. I could hear her saying that if the pots didn't fit easily, just cram them in there. She was right.

Gifts beyond Christmas

So do you have all of your Christmas gifts bought and wrapped? There's still time for a gift to say "Happy New Year" or looking farther down the road, you can remember that special valentine with something homemade.

You didn't have a garden this past year or didn't do any canning? Well, now is the time to start planning your spring garden and gathering those recipes.

Gift of education

If you have any questions, now or in 2012, please call a master gardener, as we are about educating the public in the area of horticulture.

We hope that we have already helped you in some way from one-on-one conversations with you, information from our plant sales, a "Lunch and Learn" program or one of our "Dirt" articles - or with something beautiful or fragrant that you have experienced in our Victoria Educational Gardens at Victoria Regional Airport. The garden is our gift to you, so please come out and visit anytime.

Victoria County Master Gardeners wish all of our friends and supporters in Victoria and surrounding counties a very Merry Christmas from our hearts and gardens to yours.

The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or vcmga@vicad.com, or comment on this column VictoriaAdvocate.com.

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