Thursday, October 16, 2014

Indomitable Zucchini

Gadzukes plant still producing as of 14 October
I can’t believe it’s mid-October and I’m still picking zucchini, especially considering the fact that the plants look pretty much like they’ve been run over several times by a small truck. I thought they’d give up the ghost weeks ago.  The spaghetti squash, which produced beautifully this year, looked the same –mildewed and borer-ridden – and turned up their toes in early September (though I still have several awaiting cooking and quick-made sauces on the porch) and the Black Knight zucchini, likewise bit the dust in about the first week in September.  But the zukes, at least the Gadzukes variety, takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’. Astonishing.

Last week's Gadzukes zucchini
This is what most of the plant looks like, and yet...
Collapsed in the middle where they originally sprang from the ground, the vines continued to send out puny looking stems to sprawl along the paths. Each time I figured they were done for, I’d go out, thinking: It’s time to rid the garden of these unsightly diseased things and discover that they’d sent out some new little green shoot, some newly flouncing green leaves and beneath the leaves, healthy-looking blossoms followed in a week or so, by healthy, pickable fruits. So, while we haven’t had the proverbial deluge of zukes that people make such fun of (and which I don’t get – who would wanted lotsa shredded zucchini in the freezer for winter soups and latke?), we have had a sufficiency, which is good enough.

Yesterday, I picked a surprisingly healthy zuke about 14 inches long and brought it in to make zucchini latkes for supper. With the Gadzukes zukes I’d picked last week I made the fabulous summer squash gratin with salas verde, whose recipe I got from Food 52 (link below) – and of course, forgot to photo it when it came beautifully bubbling out of the oven. Instead we dug in. I remembered to photo it the second day when I had it for supper again. (How I loved leftovers!). The latkes, yes, you guessed it, no photos there either, but the recipe follows, a great way to end the summer produce and tender herb season since we’re about to lose all that great basil. But I’m a believer in making hay while the sun shines – or zuke latkes while the herbs hold out. Whichever.

That’s one of the great things about gardening – just when you think you know something, can predict what’s going to happen, you’re brought up short and reminded that we’re dealing with living things, and living things can always surprise you. The perfect metaphor for life among human beings as well.
Simply sautéed zukes and onions

They make a nice side dish with grilled shrimp and avocado

Zucchini Latkes with Chipotle Sauce
2 medium zucchini, grated
¼ cup grated onion
2 serrano peppers, finely chopped (seeds removed if you like less heat)
¼ cup finely chopped sweet pepper
1 cup fresh chopped herbs, any you fancy- I usually use lots of lime basil, lemon basil, cilantro, oregano, parsley, a little dill and a single sage leaf
1 tblsp Adobo seasoning
freshly ground pepper
1-2 tsp chili powder
½ tsp cumin
1-2 tsp paprika (Spanish, sweet, or smoked paprika are all nice in this)
1/3 cup flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 large or 2 small eggs
For sauce:
Mix ½ cup mayonnaise with 2-3 finely chopped tinned chipotles in adobo sauce (along with some of the adobo sauce), a squeeze of tomato paste from the tube or a teaspoon of tomato paste from a tin, and the juice of half a lime.
3 tblsp canola or other frying oil.
Chop herbs and peppers and grate the onion then grate the zucchini last to keep it from getting watery. Mix the vegetables, herbs, and seasonings together. Add the flour and baking powder with a fork to mix it well, but quickly so you don’t build up the gluten in the flour. Beat eggs a little (like for scrambled) then add and mix in so you have something like a thick, veg-filled batter. Heat oil until shimmering hot in a frying pan. (I use my grandmother’s old iron skillet). With a dessert spoon or tablespoon, carefully add a big mound of zucchini batter to the pan, and gently pat it down into a pancake. Repeat. Fry on medium-high heat until golden brown on one side and starting to puff, flip over and cook until puffed and golden brown on the second side. Remove and drain on paper towels.

Serve with a dollop of sauce on top.

Leftover Squash gratin with salsa verde -SO much better than it looks here!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Get in touch with the land and stir up some memories

Guest post by Kurt Jacobson

If you were fortunate enough to have a relative that owned a farm when you were growing up you know that farms are special places. I had an aunt and uncle in Sikeston, Missouri whose farm I visited two or three times as a youngster. Driving Uncle Charles’s tractor on that Sikeston farm was one of the highlights of my life at age 9. These days I volunteer at Wilbur’s Farm in Kingsville, Maryland about once per week on a journey that takes me back to those days on the farm in Sikeston. The wonder and beauty of growing your own food on a real farm is priceless, even if it is hard work. There are many memorable events in our lives, but when you grow your own food you are setting yourself apart from the masses of people who will never know this skill. What a great feeling when you watch seeds you planted come up out of the ground alive and well. Even better is when you put vegetables from those seeds on your table feeling the intense satisfaction of being the source of your own food. Not to mention you are in control of what goes into your food. You get to make the choice to add or not to add chemicals.

Out at Wilbur’s Farm they are not certified organic, but they don’t use chemicals in growing their produce either. I was thrilled when they let me use one row of perfectly good soil to grow a crop of nearly organic heirloom Strawberry Popcorn I bought from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. I planted it the oldfashioned way on my hands and knees. With a row approximately one hundred and fifty feet long I planted 480 seeds. It was thrilling to see the little corn babies sprout up back in early June, and grow to five feet tall or more. When the bugs attacked my crop I handpicked the beetles for a week and a half plopping them in a jar of soapy water until the insect war was under control. Then I waited another three weeks until it was time to pick a few ears to dry and test. The big day finally arrived in mid-September to pop the first batch of homegrown popcorn. It popped up great in cute little cloud like bits with their red speckled centers. It was a perfect consistency and very tasty with the Lawrey’s Seasoning salt and dried Porcini mushroom powder I sprinkled on it. I might even grow it again next year?!!

They grew delicata squash this year at Wilbur’s and much to my surprise almost no one bought it. People didn’t know what it was or how to cook it. I have been buying and cooking delicata squash for about ten years and it’s one of my favorites. It stores well and cooks up great in a variety of dishes.

Here’s what I found on about delicata squash:
Delicata squash (Cucurbita pepo var. pepo 'Delicata') is a winter squash with distinctive longitudinal dark green stripes on a yellow or cream colored background and sweet, orange-yellow flesh. It is also known as the peanut squash, Bohemian squash, or sweet potato squash. Although considered a winter squash, delicata squash belongs to the same species as all types of summer squash known in the U.S.A. (including pattypan squash, zucchini and yellow crookneck squash).

What Wikipedia didn’t say is how great this cucumber shaped squash tastes. I like to make soup with it, salads and bake it with garlic, olive oil and sage for one of the tastiest squash you will ever eat. It cooks up fairly quickly and is easier than butternut squash when it comes to preparing it. You just cut about a half an inch off each end, and then split it lengthwise. Then scoop out the seeds with a spoon and it’s ready for whatever recipe you have for it. Don’t forget to clean and roast the seeds as they are delicious tool. The folks at Wilbur’s have gifted me most of their crop of Delicata so I have been experimenting with it often, but share with you my favorite recipe. You can also find more delicate
squash recipes on my website.

Oven Roasted Delicata Squash

1 Delicata Squash
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
1 tablespoon minced fresh sage
salt and pepper to taste
1 fresh jalapeño chopped, optional
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Wash squash then cut lengthwise. Scrape seeds out of each half with a spoon and reserve.
  • Cut squash into 1/2 inch semi-circle slices.
  • In a mixing bowl combine squash, oil, jalapeño and garlic then spread out on a baking sheet pan.
  • Bake for twenty-five minutes then remove from oven and sprinkle sage and stir in well.
  • Continue baking for ten to fifteen more minutes or until tender, but not overcooked.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Last of the Summer Beans

French and Italian bean beds in August
I’m only slightly late with this post, especially since now that the evenings are cooler, I’m looking at a yellowed bunch of bean plants. But since I see that beans are still on offer in the farmers’ markets (though not for much longer unless I miss my guess), I thought I’d send out a bean homage along with a nod to the departing tender annual herbs.

I had gotten enough from the first planting of French beans in early summer to freeze a bunch using my husband’s vacuum packer, which I’ve only this year made friends with. It does a fabulous job of keeping them frost-free in the freezer. (Gary, who is intimately acquainted with the machine vacuum-packed bunches of them for me last year, which is how I know). Usually, I neglect to seed anything in the garden for late summer and fall. The weather’s often so miserable in mid-summer, and I’m so fed up and tired of the whole enterprise, that I tend to ignore the window of opportunity for planting late summer and fall produce. But this year, it was so nice I actually stuck some more things in the ground.

On the last day in July I gently prepped a couple of short beds that had held hard neck garlic, which was planted last fall and which I had harvested in the beginning of July. Once they were prepped (I stuff a fork in and loosened the ground a little and pulled out whatever weeds were there) I poked in the rest of the packet of French green beans, some 3-year-old Italian bean seeds and about 40 calypso beans. I even managed to cover the row. (I was so proud of myself for having been THAT organized) So the birds wouldn't plucked the seeds back out and, once they germinated the rabbits wouldn't chomp off the little seed leaves . (The ingrates! We’re surrounded by other culinary options for them, but NO! It has to be my garden!) 

Fling ingredients into a skillet, sauté and you've got lunch!
We didn’t have any rain to speak of in August, so once a week I splooshed a 5-gallon bucket of water drawn from the rain barrels over each bed. Because they were drinking in rain water, and because the ground was warm, (and I’m convinced because I love them and chatted encouragingly to them whenever I came past), they came up much faster than in spring. I was picking beans by the gallon by the second week in September –about 45 days from seeding instead of the predicted 55 days.

The tomatoes, which this year had been a whole lot less than stellar, were nonetheless still producing, as were the tender herbs.  As a result, I had several lunches and suppers of green beans sautéed with chopped onion, tomatoes, Cuban basil, a small-leafed spicy basil that roots in water readily, garlic and prosciutto. Fling it all into a skillet with a little olive oil, stir it around a bit, and Bob’s your uncle (or in regular parlance, you have a meal!).

Next thing I’m waiting for, aside from the blankety-blank rabbits to stop munching down my fall peas and pak choi, is the calypso beans, which should be dry enough to shell out in another 3-4 weeks. We store them in a lidded mason jar in the pantry. They’re great steeped in some beef bullion and garlic, then turned into a salad with smoked olive oil, sweet onions and chives or basil – or whatever other herb suits your fancy and comes readily to hand.  
All done. Great for supper with a glad of red vino.

After that, we’ll fall back (yes, go ahead and groan) on the larder, feeling incredibly virtuous and making plans for next year’s garden, God willing and the creek don’t rise.

Monday, September 29, 2014

This year's best veggies

The year is not over yet in the Derwood Demo Garden - we hope to keep producing well into the fall and even winter, and to add quite a bit to our current total of 1471 pounds donated to Manna Food Center (well over twice last year's total). But the end of September is a good time to sit back a little and assess what worked well and what didn't.

I consulted with co-veggie-leader Robin Ritterhoff and Super-Intern Bill Newman about what the best performing vegetables of the year were, and here's a partial list of things we thought extraordinary, with the emphasis on what we hadn't grown before.

photo by Darlene Nicholson
Ground Cherries. I had never successfully grown these little sweet bites of goodness before, but Robin had, and she said both at home and in the demo garden they had a fantastic year. They are a member of the nightshade family, and the fruits grow in little husks as do tomatillos, but the taste is quite different. Mm.

We also grew another nightshade family member called Wonderberry or Sunberry, a plant developed by Luther Burbank in the early 20th century, which resembles some of its more poisonous relatives (I had to keep defending it against well-meaning weeders) and produces small black berries that should make good jam if you grew enough plants. We only had one, so we snacked; some of us liked the taste and some thought it was unpleasant. This is the sort of plant that needs to come with a warning NOT to assume similar fruit is edible - know where your seeds came from! - but it's worth trying if you like novelties.

Tomatoes. Now, the DDG tomato patch did very poorly on the whole this year - some combination of stressed plants and compacted soil, plus disease - but there were exceptions, and my own patch in the community garden did very well. I've already reviewed Indigo Apple, but its sister plant from Wild Boar Farms, Indigo Blue Berries, was a late starter at the demo garden but caught up fast and is still going strong.

The unripe fruits are startlingly all-blue and shiny, and then develop some red color as they ripen.

They have a pleasant taste with a good balance of sweet and acid. Robin says they crack much less easily than Sungold, and look fantastic in a salad with those favorite sweet orange tomatoes.

Other tomatoes that have done well for me this year include the prolific, large-fruited sauce tomato Polish Linguisa (its only fault being that the green fruits fall off spontaneously if you so much as threaten to touch them, so I've had a lot of indoor ripeners through the season), and the modest-sized green-and-red Gypsy, which provided lovely flavor and bountiful harvests. I've also had some delicious Brandywines and Abruzzos, but those aren't new to me. I was less than thrilled with Isis Candy Cherry, which spoiled easily, and unfortunately my Aunt Ruby's German Green plant was shadowed by an enormous volunteer sunflower that I couldn't bring myself to pull out (but the one at the DDG produced some nice-tasting green fruits).

Other plants worthy of mention include spring-grown heirloom kales Lark's Tongue and Hanover Salad - it was a great year for kale and other greens in general, due to lower temperatures and lack of harlequin bugs - and Dixie Speckled Butterpea bush lima beans, which produced a large crop all at once in late August. I've tried pole limas at the DDG before with no luck, because the frost hit before they'd matured, so bush limas seem to be the way to go. Next year is GIEI's Year of the Bean, so expect plenty more of these!

We also produced some lovely Cranberry Beans, which were grown out to dry stage and then cooked to share at a GIEI meeting. Unfortunately they turn a uniform brown when boiled instead of maintaining the gorgeous variegation, but the taste is meaty and excellent.

Since this is the Year of Cucurbits, I have to share our great (and unusual) successes in that realm, due largely to lack of the usual pests rather than to any innovative strategies in combating them (there's always next year). We had more cucumbers than ever before; I wish I could tell you which varieties did best, but they grew over each other so avidly I couldn't tell one vine from the next. The vegetable garden grew some lovely gourds by accident, and the children's garden grew many more on purpose.

We even had melons, which usually don't do well for us: some little Savor Charentais and some Sweet Granite muskmelons (some of which were supposed to be bitter gourd but got mislabeled, oh well). Thanks to Bill's impulse buy at an Asian market, we've had prolific Mao Gwa fuzzy gourds, which cook up nicely once you've removed the hairs, and we still have winter squash coming along. And of course the mouse melons did splendidly.

photo by Darlene Nicholson
We also managed to produce a watermelon in a container: this is the relatively new Sugar Pot cultivar. Okay, only one small watermelon, but it's nice to know you can do it.

The real stars (and donation weight providers) have been the summer squash, especially our stalwart Tromboncino (climbing up and overwhelming its large trellis). Several ground-dwelling relatives produced well also, but all other zucchini were put to shame by lovely and delicious (even at, ahem, rather excessive sizes) Costata Romanesco, which is the variety I'll turn to in preference from now on.

Here are its scallop-edged slices brightening up a stir-fry: firm, meaty, and pretty too. Despite the plants having developed powdery mildew in August, it's still producing squash, if not quite as exuberantly as earlier in the season.

photo by Darlene Nicholson

And in root vegetable land, I'll mention our fingerling potatoes, which turned out really more like hands than fingers.

Please share your favorite varieties of the year in the comments!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Quick and easy tomato-sweet potato sauce

Polish Linguisa tomato shaped like a penguin. Because.
My tomatoes are close to being finished for the season, but until recently we were being occasionally overwhelmed by the production of only eight plants (or really five, because three never amounted to much) and after I got back from a trip I found myself with many ripe tomatoes and no time to make tomato sauce the long-cooking way - and needed something to put on the ravioli! So here was my quick solution:

Tomato Sweet-Potato Sauce

You can vary the amount of sauce produced depending on how many tomatoes you want to use up. I started with about 5 medium-sized tomatoes and one sweet potato.

Trim any unripe or nasty bits off the tomatoes (no need to peel) and cut them into quarters or eighths depending on size. Paste-type tomatoes, or other solid-fleshed ones, work better for this, but whatever you have will do fine. It works best to scoop out some of the seeds and watery pulp, but you don't need to get it all. (I have generally been letting cut tomatoes sit in a colander over a bowl and mushing them down a bit to extract juice - which can be saved for other purposes - but didn't bother with that this time.) Put the tomato pieces into a blender and puree.

Cook the sweet potato(es) - 5 minutes in the microwave will do it for all but the largest (make sure to pierce with a fork first). Scrape out the flesh and add it to the blender, then puree that too.

The resulting sauce was thick enough for me to use without further cooking down, but if yours is thin, put it into a pot and cook it on the stove for a while until it's thicker. Season as desired (salt and pepper, oregano, thyme, etc.) and then use as a pasta sauce or however you want. I cooked some vegetables separately and then added the sauce, and used it on top of vegetable-and-cheese-stuffed ravioli. Nice red-orange color and sweet-tart taste!