Garden maiden_ peppers stuff holly with excitement – the times_ life

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Holly Hughes GARDEN MAIDEN: Peppers stuff Holly with excitement

Our sweet pepper cultivars range size, color, shape and flavor covering the desires for pickled peppers, salad peppers and full-size colorful peppers suitable for baking as stuffed peppers.

You’re never going to believe what is getting me excited today — stuffed peppers.

And not just any stuffed peppers. Homegrown, thick-walled, mom-made dinner-stuffed peppers-on-a-cold-windy-rainy-day-at-the-end-of-the


season-when-all-the-peppers-melted-with-the-frost-last-week stuffed peppers.

Enough said. But, of course, I will elaborate.

These few peppers are sort of my prize of this season, and so the back story swells my enthusiasm perhaps as much as the simple aforementioned comforts.

First, it is a shock there were any peppers at all to pick that night before the first heavy frost. You see, peppers were my tricksters this year.

From the very start. They were like a colicky child, giving me grief from birth. Not just one type, but three of the six varieties I had started, as if some mystic pepper banshee had fogged the makeshift basement greenhouse from the moment the pencil tip poked them into the moistened seed starter mix. One tray turned bright yellow. Yes, the whole plant. Ironically, they were named Golden Wonder, so I just amused myself insisting the particular tray needed a reminder of who they were since overwatering was not the culprit and soil nourishment was seemingly up to par.

I just kept smirking in hopeful song while their neighbors in the next tray and across the way stayed Lilliputian for weeks on end as if empathizing with the Golden Wonders that eventually greened up several weeks later. Yet all that attention didn’t amount to much result since they were evicted from the safety of their sultry dungeon a bit too soon, then left in a holding cage for another three weeks as we begged for the flood waters to recede. All this amounts to total shock. So the very fact that we produced a single pepper measures as a miracle in and of itself in my book.

It didn’t get much better in their adolescence, either. Timing is everything. Once we finally got them into the ground, the heat simmered down, water dried up, mold set in and we got maybe three picks from our 200-plus plants in the field.

But this particular coven of plants was nestled between two tomato fence lines, safely tucked away from our bounding pup, zealously showing off his strength in stride to the invisible squirrels he seemed to be chasing through the place.

They had been gifted to me as potted up strong, striving plants the very day I gave last rites to a shriveling tray of Medusa pepper seedlings. And when I planted them, I did not intend to keep them all for myself. But as the other varieties picked up and recovered superbly once they dug their roots into the earth and Joel hauled in an extra bucket of compost, I decided these were just for me.

And on these 12 plants — 11 actually, since the bounding pup did scathe the leader at the end of the row — about 20 of the blooms set fruit. I thought I’d let them all turn red, but most of them would hardly grow.

The first few, almost large enough ones to eat, didn’t even make it to the house, since it seemed logical to simply snack on them between weeding rows of string beans. The next several maturing peppers showed that wickedly, sunken greyish beige consequence of wet earth early on. Long slices of the crunchy sides were again immediately devoured after a dip in some rich bleu cheese dressing. So, finally, as the season comes to an end, I spy three large peppers that finally are bigger than my palm.

For weeks, I had imagined a special dinner with my love, of stuffing them with his specialty sausage and ground beef meat loaf, whole garlic cloves and some burgundy opal basil leaves then covering them in roasted Cherokee Purple tomatoes he so loved last season.

But as fate would have it, Jack Frost bit up the basil, liquefied the maters and certainly drained any ambition to cook, so I graciously relinquished my season-long gourmet chef’s daydream to Mom’s home cooking this time around.

And I am so glad I did, because they were the best stuffed peppers I’ve ever eaten. And the one left over made a great lunch the next day, sprinkled with fresh grated parmesean atop some pan-fried eggplant (also gifted to me from a neighbor’s garden!)

Most assuredly, the greatest satisfaction of the meal was realizing how long it took to “make” this meal. How faith, love, sweat equity and trust began this recipe way back in our cold, wet spring. And how our whole family, even the dog who finally learned to listen, contributed to a hearty meal of mom’s delicious stuffed garden peppers and simple boiled brussels sprouts.

Enjoy!

Here is the best recipe we can muster up, since Mom and I rarely cook by numbers.

Garden Stuffed Peppers

4 large peppers

1 pound ground beef

1 1/2 cups rice

2 teaspoons oregano

1 teaspoon parsley flakes

Salt/pepper to taste

1 large onion, carmelized

32 ounces diced tomatoes

8 ounces tomato sauce

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup brown sugar

Dice onion, sautee in pan until brown and carmelized.

In mixing bowl, combine ground beef, rice and carmelized onions, parsley, Italian seasoning and any other spices you enjoy. Fresh basil, a sprig of rosemary, chopped chives, slivers of garlic are a few options.

For the peppers, select boxy peppers that will hold the beef mixture well and still hold up to the cook time. This is why this recipe was so amazing. These particular peppers (I inherited them, so don’t ask the variety!!) are excellent for stuffed peppers. When these we baked for more than an hour, the pepper was still al dente. For you newbies, that means it wasn’t baked down to a mushy green veil wrapped around a meatball. It was still a tasty garden pepper.

To prepare peppers, soak in a sink of water with 1 cup apple cider vinegar for 15 minutes (a good way to clean all garden fresh veggies). Slice off the tops, then remove seeds from inside. You can put the tops back on to cook if you want, so don’t compost them just yet.

If you have a jar of garden tomato sauce, skip these next steps and go for the goodness of homemade sauce. Otherwise, combine diced tomatoes, tomato sauce and brown sugar in a mixing bowl until brown sugar dissolves in tomato mixture.

Spread one layer of the tomato mixture into a deep baking dish that will fit all the peppers. Stuff each pepper with ground beef and rice mixture. Arrange stuffed peppers in the baking dish then pour over remaining tomato sauce mixture.

Cover dish with foil and bake in a 350-degree Fahrenheit oven for 45 to 50 minutes. Remove from oven and pull back foil to be sure ground beef appears cooked. If longer cook time is preferred, check every eight to 10 minutes to keep from drying out.

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