Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Pineapple Salsa with Fish Peppers

Last year's pickled fish peppers
Fish peppers, reputed to be the favorite of Thomas Jefferson, one of our Founding Gardeners, are just about the right amount of hot for our tastes.  I pickle them in cider vinegar and whenever I want a little heat but not too much in winter, I pull out a couple to put onto green salads, in tuna, quesadillas, whatever. They're good fresh in fresh tomato salsa and gazpacho.  I also put them in pineapple salsa, a recipe I adapted from Gourmet Cookbook, which suggests it as a companion to grilled jerk chicken.  You can also substitute fresh mango or peach for the tinned pineapple.

Pineapple Salsa

1 15-oz tin crush pineapple in its own juice, drained (save the juice for a cocktail or breakfast or to pour into oatmeal/cranberry bars when you make them)
2-3 fish peppers, either fresh or pickled, any color though the red are pretty against the yellow    pineapple
2 tblsp chopped fresh cilantro
1-2 tsp Adobo ( a dry condiment in any grocery store)
3 tblsp fresh lime juice
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp paprika either Spanish sweet or smoked
1/4 tsp cumin
3 scallions, sliced thin

Mix all and let sit for an hour or overnight and serve with jerk chicken, fish tacos, grilled salmon....etc.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Making Lemon Pepper Relish

Lemon Peppers ripening on a potted plant

  I grow lemon peppers – aji limon – by the cartload (kinda) because 1) I depend on them for bean soup (preserved in sherry – add 2 peppers per 3-quart pot of soup) and 2) – and more important – our son, Matt, spends the weekend with us at the end of summer, doing some project on our old house, and uses a boatload to make lemon pepper relish.

Lemon peppers are not hybrid so you can save the seed and have it come true (i.e. produce the same fruits) the following year, something our friend, Theresa Mycek, manager of Colchester CSA has been doing since I first gave her a packet of seeds several years ago. The lemon peppers are about as hot as jalapenos (which is about 5,000 Scoville units) but taste different from a jalapeno.  They have a distinctive lemony-smoky flavor that adds wonderfully to a host of things, including the jerk chicken we put on the grill last night and served with pineapple salsa (made with our own fish peppers), which absolutely makes the dish*. Lemon peppers are also beautiful, hanging from the thigh-high bush like lemon-colored Christmas ornaments. I plant way more than I need because of Matt’s annual lemon pepper relish production, and because they produce so beautifully at the end of the summer when the rest of the summer vegetables are winding down or have collapsed altogether.

We put lemon pepper relish on fish tacos. Matt probably puts it on everything -- scrambled eggs, quesadillas, minestrone, pudding whatever -- but of course his capsaicin capacity way outstrips ours. The relish, which is predominantly ground fresh peppers simmered with seasonings, is a big hit of aji limon with each demi-teaspoon. As a result, we use it sparingly, so can take a year to get through a 10-pounce jar of the stuff whereas Matt goes through about 2 quarts a year.  Having said that, he loves to share so has been trying to figure out a balance between maintaining the character of the peppers and not assaulting the taste buds of his family and friends.

Matt with our 10-ounce jar of lemon pepper relish
“I like it really hot, but I want to share it with other people who will really enjoy it and see how awesome it is,” he laughs.

A food processor is a huge help in the production.  He de-stems piles of fresh-picked peppers, then grinds them whole with big chunks of fresh whole garlic.   That goes into the pot to simmer with a big splash of white vinegar. He then processes plenty of fresh squeezed lime juice and fresh cilantro together, adds a fair lick of Kosher salt, then adds that to the pot and simmers it for about 40 minutes. When sufficiently simmered, it goes into sterilized jars for processing. This year, he used way more garlic than in previous years – big bulbs of fresh hardneck roja that he got from Theresa. He’s been playing with the recipe (he’s a handful of this, pinch of that kinda cook), for a couple of years now.  I haven’t tasted it yet, but it smelled fabulous.  Fish tacos here we come.
Jelly jar for us and Theresa, pints for Matt

*The recipe for jerk chicken and its marinade along with pineapple salsa is in the Gourmet Cookbook. We think it’s something really special, especially when you sit outside with friends by the grill and have laughter and conversation over an end-of-season margarita before you sit down to the meal.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Lima Beans for Breakfast

Sauteed lima beans for breakfast
I didn't grow limas. I've never had luck with them, but my friend and neighbor, Amy Chance McGee, who is also one half of  Sisters by Chance caterers, does. She brought me a bagful one afternoon that she had even shelled -- "It's something I like to do," she told me graciously -- while I was working in the office. I sat the bag on my desk and as I worked, picked out the smallest, sweetest beans to eat raw (which reminded me of Emily Dickenson's poem about the bird eating the angleworm raw, but fresh young limas are much more yummy, I'm convinced). The next morning, I sauteed the rest of them in olive oil with a crushed clove of fresh hardneck Music garlic (which I did grow) with salt and pepper and ate them for breakfast and lunch. Who says breakfast is for what we in this country have somehow decided is 'breakfast food'?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Tigger Melon

From Armenia, this heirloom seed is a member of the cucumis melo var. inodorus like the honeydew.  Very fragrant with a firm texture, these one pound melons are often confused because of their colors with the Rich Sweetness 123 - which weighs only ¼ of pound- and the Plum Granny (Queen Ann) melon – very small oval shape.

Tigger melons take a while to get to maturity (+80 days), but once the melons started coming, the plant really produced (and is still producing today).  It’s easy to know when the melons were ready to pick because they turn red/yellow (from green) and fall off the vine.  They will continue to ripen once picked, as opposed to muskmelon –aka cantaloupe in the USA.

We found the Tigger melon to have a sweeter taste when we allowed them to ripen a few more days before using them.  They can be stored in the fridge up to 2 weeks.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Unearthing sweet potatoes

I am done with growing sweet potatoes in raised beds.  Here is a very bad photograph to explain why.

The vague white-colored object at the bottom is one of my North Carolina White sweet potatoes, which formed below the level of the raised bed edge (about a foot down) and under it.  I had to pry it out with a soil knife while keeping all the loose soil from falling back into the hole.

Today I was just digging a few sweet potatoes for dinner.  It's going to be some kind of fun getting the whole crop out.  Oh well - my raised beds are falling apart anyway, so I might as well dismantle them while harvesting.

Here's today's bounty:

To the far left is one skinny All Purple sweet potato.  As with NC White (which you can see just above it), the tubers form deep in the soil at the end of long roots, so I'll really have to dig to find them.  Luckily, my orange Ginseng sweet potatoes are of the type where the tubers cluster around the base of the plant, so I managed to snag a bunch of those pretty easily.  Today's advice: know the growing habits of your sweet potatoes before trying to plant them in raised beds.  Long-rooted types: probably not such a great plan.

At the Derwood demo garden, we plant sweet potatoes inside an oval cage of hardware cloth, which is placed in a six-inch trench and then filled with loose soil to about 15 inches high.  This protects the sweet potatoes from voles and mice.  It also means that when the initial digging is done inside the cage (at the Harvest Festival, October 6!) we can remove the cage and explore the area thoroughly for stragglers.  Surprise harvest: always nice, at least when it's easy to find.

I'm glad to see I actually have sweet potatoes, since some critter got into my garden in August and ate all the vines, and I was worried the plants wouldn't have the energy to form tubers.  The vines have grown back now, so I'll have sweet potato greens to harvest and cook as well.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Bagged or kaolin clay coated apples vs. BMSB

Growing apples is rewarding but it has its challenges.  After many years of waiting, our two trees (Grimes golden and Jonathan) finally reached full production last year - the year the brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB) found them.   The usual method of controlling disease and pests on apples tree is to use a lengthy list of fungicides and pesticides, but none of that will deter the BMSB’s open buffet.   This summer we tried a different strategy: use of physical barriers to stop the culprit.

Using a row cover on an apple tree is not a practical solution.  Using liquid or dust copper as a fungicide and a BMSB repellant can be a good idea, except that our Grimes golden can have a bad reaction called russeting[1].  The two other options were to bag the apples on the trees or spray with kaolin clay powder.  Fearing the cost of the clay, we gave a shot with the bags (thanks to Washington Post/Times for a daily supply).  But we reconsidered the clay and decided to use it starting from mid-July until harvest time.

Now, the post-harvest report.

The stalks on the Grimes golden are longer and weaker than those on Jonathan, and for this reason we lost at least 25% of Grimes’ bagged apples, plus a lot more of the no-bagged apples due to the squirrel’s playing in the branches, thinking the apples were black walnut fruits.  On Jonathan, only a handful of bagged apples were lost, and few overall were lost to squirrels.  (We can only speculate that the squirrels liked the Grimes because they were yellow (walnut-colored), and Jonathan were red.)  In short, despite the up-front time, the result of bagging the apples was excellent on both trees.  The fruits looked great (with just the occasional blemish), and they were very sweet.

As for the clay, despite that our trees are “dwarf” trees, they are 18’ tall, making it hard to reach the top with the tank sprayer. Still, the kaolin clay powder did the job by keeping the BMSB out of the fruits.  They were spotted on the trees in August but they didn’t damage the fruits covered with clay.  The only damage we saw on the fruits on both trees occurred in June before the start of the clay program and/or on the areas of the trees where the sprayer could not reach (the treetops or areas of dense foliage).

On a surprising note, after the base coverage –a minimum of two back-to-back sprays in a short interval –  little use of kaolin clay was needed to keep the fruits covered.  Even 1” of rain did not wash away all the coverage on the fruit.  It was easier to keep the clay on Jonathan’s fruits and leaves than Grimes; however, because of its tendency to have a denser canopy, Jonathan was harder to cover all the fruits, making them more prone to BMSB damage.  Note that having not all fruits on a tree covered with clay can be a good thing.  Overuse can result in harm to beneficial insects and a surge in red mites.  For the backyard gardener, leaving some unsprayed areas of the trees should help keep a natural balance.  In the end, the fruits covered with clay were, despite a late start, mostly good looking, and about the same size as their bagged counterparts.  Also, brushing off the clay before use was not difficult at all.

Was all this worth the effort?  YES!!!!!  Less pesticide was used and we have nice, pristine bagged apples to eat fresh as well as quick-to-prepare clay-covered apples for baking.

In short, the wife is happy and we have pie.

[1] see product label too for warning.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Tomato Patch: Should I take a hint—or two or three?

Heavy with seeds or
staring at weeds?
Our thermometer read 54°F early this morning—a refreshing temperature for sleeping with open windows—but also a hint to central Maryland gardeners that fall is coming with a “first fall frost” sometime in October. 

The cool temperature also reminded me to keep tomatoes picked as they ripen because prolonged temperatures below 55° will turn them mushy—just as they turn when we put them for a few days in our 38° refrigerators.

The brisk morning temperature isn’t the only hint of fall in our gardens.  The bright faces of sunflowers have faded and now heavy with seeds the heads seemingly glare at Amish Paste tomatoes that need picking—or are they staring at weeds that need hoeing?

Throughout the Tomato Patch, early blight is working its way up tomato vines, killing leaf after leaf, even on supposedly blight-resistant cultivars such as Juliet Hybrid, one of our favorites.  Powdery mildew and other leaf diseases have decimated our zucchini and Pic-N-Pic summer squash, so I’ve pulled the plants so adjacent strawberry plants can get a good dose of September sun.  After harvesting and eating or giving away buckets of squash, I’ll not miss the squash one bit.  Nearby, unpicked Red Sails lettuce has bolted and displays delicate yellow flowers—and leaves of a Short ‘n Sweet carrot plant are waist high and threaten to bloom.

Bolted lettuce and carrots decide to bloom
And the brightest spot in the Tomato Patch?  Yellow Plum tomatoes still beam like happy faces, and I cannot ignore the last few Celebrity and Amish Paste tomatoes that will make great last-of-season sandwiches and sauce with “real” tomato flavor—just like it used to be and still is for backyard gardeners.

But the chill in the air sparks a thought beyond “last pickings.”  I need to get serious about cleaning out the dead stuff.

Brown marmorated stink bugs and a variety of other insects may think the collapsed squash leaves will make great overwintering quarter.  And I think it “best gardening practice” to cart away the mildew- and blight-damaged squash and tomato plants rather than letting them lie overwinter to encourage disease outbreaks next year.

Two thumbs up!  Fall is in the air!  Now it’s time to use those thumbs to get a grip on my hoe and pitchfork and clean up this year’s garden refuse.

Yellow Plum tomatoes occupy a happy corner of the Tomato Patch

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Hibiscus sabdariffa

One of our favorite plants this year at the Derwood Demo Garden is Hibiscus sabdariffa, or roselle hibiscus (or sorrel, sour-leaf, flor de Jamaica, and many other names).  It is an Old World plant (Africa and Asia) that is also grown extensively in the West Indies.  In its natural warm habitat, it can be a woody shrub, but here it's grown as an annual.  I started the seeds inside in March and by July it was over two feet tall.

The roselle flower looks a lot like that of okra; they're in the same plant family, Malvaceae.  One of the useful parts of the plant is the flower bud:

which is picked when about an inch long and completely red.  To make a simple nutritious infusion, use 2-3 buds per measured cup of water, and simmer the buds in the water for about ten minutes until the water is a rich red.  You can drink this tea hot or cold, and add herbs to it for variety.  The commercially sold Red Zinger tea has roselle hibiscus as its base.

MG Millicent Lawrence told me how roselle or "sorrel" is used in Jamaica for a winter drink (alcoholic).  Here's her recipe:

Jamaican Sorrel

Ingredients (makes about 2-3 pints of liquid)

1 cup dried sorrel buds
2 Tbs grated ginger (no need to peel)
5 cups boiling water
10-20 allspice (pimento) berries.  If the allspice berries are large (pea size) use the lower amount
rum and sugar to taste
wine (optional)

Place the sorrel, ginger, and allspice in a large container and pour in the boiling water.  Cover and let steep overnight.  Strain through cheesecloth or a fine meshed sieve to remove all solids.  Add a little rum to preserve and sugar to sweeten, and wine if desired.  Pour into a glass bottle and refrigerate.  The end product should be a rich ruby-colored spicy beverage.

You could also use fresh buds for this, but you'd need much more than a cup, and you'd need to infuse them, not just pour boiling water on.  Dried sorrel or flor de Jamaica can be found at Hispanic groceries.

credit Barbara Dunn
This aerial shot of the demo garden was taken from a kite flown by the indefatigable MG Barbara Dunn.

You can see our fat patch of roselle hibiscus next to the blue-green coiled hose.  There are perhaps seven plants in there - I can't remember now - and the patch is about seven feet long.

Here's a closeup of the pretty leaves - look, no bug damage!  And it turns out the leaves are edible as well.  I'd read this but hadn't tried them, and then a very nice Burmese-American visitor to our garden saw the plant and recognized it and asked for some leaves to show us how it was cooked - and the next week we got a dish with "sour leaf" and bamboo shoots to sample.

I took some home that night and cooked them, but I won't post the recipe because I'm still working on it.  The leaves have a strong sour taste that needs to be complemented with other tastes, and the Indian spices I used weren't strong enough to do the trick.  I ought to have properly caramelized the onions, too.

Here's a shot of my dinner, accompanied by a glass of roselle infusion.  I served the roselle greens on a chickpea flour pancake (recipe here, from a delightful food blog).

So give roselle a try in your vegetable or flower patch next year!  The seeds are available from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and other sources (more next year, I expect, since this is a hot plant in the food gardening world right now).

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Semi-Last Haricots Verts

About a gallon of fresh-picked haricots verts 

Just picked a gallon of haricots verts (French for skinny green beans) and yanked up the plants as I went along.  It was time.  It’s about the fourth picking off of them, the plants are being attacked by several things --slugs, virus, BMSB’s and what looks like a tiny version of the Mexican bean beetle  (maybe it’s tiny to stay in tune wi’ zee tiny leetle green beans!). Anyhoo, I’m sick of picking, have been freezing some, eating more, and the Ha’ogen melons and long-neck pumpkins want to overrun the space, so, as I said, it was time.

I love green beans and look forward to them fresh each summer. Beet and bean salad with mustard and balsamic dressing, chopped into vegetable soup, au gratin with shallots, onions and gruyere, green bean and tuna salad, as one of many vegetables in Ecuadorean fanesca soup with milk and peanut butter (there’s a great recipe in Rodale’s Garden-Fresh Cooking), or wrapped in a bit of tin foil with a piece of fish (haddock, whatever) with garlic, tomatoes, onions herbs and maybe a splash of white whine and shoved into the oven for about 25-35 minutes. 

The quickest and easiest way to do green beans this time of year is to sautéed them quickly in olive oil with chopped onions, halved cherry tomatoes, fresh lime basil or oregano or parsley or a combination of all three, some fresh garlic, salt and pepper and a splash of red wine. It’s superb as a hot side dish with grilled chicken or fish and even better (at least I think so) the day after as a cold salad.

Sautee'd haricots, cherry tomatoes, garlic and onions for salad
I've still got another patch of haricots verts in another spot, but they're looking pretty peaked and I'm hoping that this weekend I can muster enough energy to plant something for the fall -- I've got packets of dinosaur kale, watermelon radish, and arugula.