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Dispatches From Whitcomb Street

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Posts tagged garden:

garden 2011

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I’m counting down to the frost-free date for our region (May 15! So late!) and getting some plants going. The lettuces and peas are planted already.

This year I’m planning to grow -

Greens: arugula, endive (Zidane), baby bok choy (Ching Chiang), a mini-butterhead lettuce (Tennis Ball), a loose leaf green lettuce (Winter Density) and chard (Five Color Silverbeet).

Vegetables: radishes (French Breakfast), early bush peas (Green Arrow and Progress No. 9), vining peas (Tall Telephone), pole beans (Romano), pickling cucumbers (Homemade Pickles and Parisian Pickling for gherkins), and eating cucumbers (Poona Kheera).

Tomatoes: an early tomato (Stupice), a hybrid that always does well for us and saves the day if nothing else works (Celebrity), a grape that did well last year and gave us lots of tomatoes for drying (Juliet), a paste tomato (Martino’s Roma), and a big fat sexy tomato (Black Krim).

We’ll cycle out radishes for cucumbers and plant beans in with the peas once the season gets going.

Come on, spring!garden

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It’s getting to be ridiculous with the pie and the cake. This is a pear pie with walnuts sweetened with maple syrup.

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More tomatoes - it feels like the season is finally getting going. This is a costoluto-type, from a seed saved from a farmer’s market tomato last summer. They’re very pretty.

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And the cucumbers are coming in. I’m going to try to catch them at the small 2-inch stage - it’s crazy how fast they grow. The blossoms hang on for what seems like forever, and then suddenly the fruit becomes giant in a day.

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Happy family.

Garden Log

Half a pound of Juliets, and lots of Romas look ripe.

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Laura brought us nearly fourteen pounds of apples from her tree. They are tart, hard little green apples with a spreading blush. 

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Some became apple butter - four and a half pounds cooked down to five cups. I am drying the rest for pies.

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T ate popcorn for dinner. I ate a sloppy little sandwich - coppa, provolone, tomatoes, oil and vinegar.

Apple Butter

Apple butter is the best. Proportions always depend on the particular characteristics of your apples. Taste and taste again.

Wash four-ish pounds of mixed cooking apples (I sorted the slightly manky ones for butter, so I used more knowing most of them would need some surgery). Chop roughly, peels, cores, and all, discarding soft or wormy bits. Combine in a stockpot with water to cover and a few glugs of apple cider vinegar (depending on the tartness of the fruit). Bring to a boil and then lower to a summer for half an hour or so until the fruit is very, very soft.

Run through a food mill or china cap. Return the puree to a windsor saucepan or a very deep skillet - something with a lot of surface area to encourage evaporation. Add 1/4 sugar for each cup of purée to begin with - and as much ground clove, cinnamon, allspice, cardamom, etc. as you like. The grated zest of a lemon is nice, too. Remember that every flavor will be concentrated in the finished product.

Cook over very low heat, stirring and scraping the bottom often, or over medium low heat, stirring and scraping constantly. Add sugar as necessary. The butter will become very thick and smooth as the water evaporates - it’s ready when a tablespoon on a plate retains its shape and sheds no liquid.

Pack into hot, sterilized jars and process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.

Garden Log

I picked two pounds of Romas and another two pounds of beans yesterday. A quarter pound of San Marzanos that went into the dryer. And I thinned the beets.
 

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Frisée aux lardons, cheerfully referred to around here as “bacon salad”. Beautiful little grissini-ish breadsticks T baked, with rosemary and parm. Yum.

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I’ve been pickling, too. From left: Carrots, with rosemary and lemon; halved Santa Fe peppers with a bay leaf and garlic; romano beans with peppers and coriander; another jar of romano beans with rosemary and lemon, too. I use the same simple brine proportions again and again - one part white vinegar, one part water, a little cider vinegar for flavor, salt, a little sugar.

Garden Log

A half pound of Juliets and a quarter pound of San Marzanos went into the dryer. I picked another two pounds of beans, some of which became pickles. The beets need thinning. And we’re starting to harvest whole heads of frisée to clear out room for the arugula.

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Garden catch-up day. I blanched off and froze three pounds of beans. And I finally started harvesting big bundles of chard to freeze - two pounds, today.

We eat chard ribs, of course, but there were so many at once after processing the leaves. I made pickles with them instead - one pint with thyme and one bread-and-butter style. Who knows?

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T made a little loaf of gruyére and chive bread with part of the white dough this cycle. So we had to make grilled cheese sandwiches on it with bacon, tomatoes, more gruyére, and a little scraping of mustard. I cracked open the lemon and rosemary beans - they’re wonderful; surprisingly crisp, grassy and cleanly acidic. I think a little less lemon peel next time, but otherwise - success!

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Pizza night, with a third of the new bread dough. With tomatoes and arugula from the garden;

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with potatoes and blue cheese;

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with roasted red peppers and sopressata;

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and flatbread-like, with parm and rosemary. We love pizza.

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I saved the peach skins and pits from canning last weekend, and made some Depression-era peach pit jelly - the skins and peels from a lug of peaches yielded six cups of juice, which cooked down to about five half-pints. The color on this jelly is wild - a deep, electric pink.

Pizza

Pizzas take notes rather than recipes.

  • We like simple pizza toppings spread with a light hand on thinly-rolled, really good crusts, kind of ersatz Neapolitan in style. We’ve used portions of wet, loose bread doughs and standard pizza doughs with extra-long ferments. It just depends.
  • We use our huge baking stones (2” thick slabs of sandstone) in an oven cranked as hot as it goes (550 F). The pizzas still take 7-8 minutes to cook.
  • We hit the crusts with garlic oil, pepper, and parm before topping them. It helps, especially with wet toppings.

Some combinations of toppings we like:

  • fresh mozzarella; tomatoes warmed in olive oil and drained; lots of parm; torn basil and arugula after it comes out of the oven.
  • slow-roasted plum tomatoes; chopped kalamata olives; goat cheese.
  • boiled and sliced waxy potatoes; mild blue cheese; red onion; sometimes pine nuts or walnuts.
  • fresh mozzarella; roasted red pepper; sopressata; red pepper flakes.
  • rounds of grilled eggplant; kalamata olives; chopped capers; fresh mozzarella.
  • caramelized onions; wilted beet greens or chard; goat cheese.

Yay, pizza!

Peach Pit Jelly

Last year’s canning detritus became peach honey, which is really just a longer-cooked, more rustic version of peach jelly. I like both, though the jelly is prettier. Both are very sweet; no-sugar pectin and adjusting the sweetening might be the way to go.

Bring peach pits and skins to a boil with enough water to cover. Simmer for half an hour or forty five minutes - long enough for all the color to come out of the peach skins. Turn into a colander lined with unbleached muslin and walk away - don’t press on the skins or pulp.

For every three cups of peach juice extracted, measure three cups of sugar and one box of pectin.

Bring the pectin and juice to a full rolling boil, stirring all the while. Stir in the sugar, bring back to a full boil, and cook for a solid minute, still stirring. The mass triples in volume at this stage; it’s better to start out with a much-too-large pot than to deal with boiled-over sugar syrup.

Take off the heat. Skim foam quickly. Pour into hot, sterilized jars and process in a boiling water bath (ten minutes for half-pint jars at a mile above sea level).

Garden Log

I picked nearly three pounds of beans yesterday. And another pound of Juliet tomatoes.
 

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A homely, home-y dinner. Chard cooked down with a ham hock; andouille sausage; cornbread baked in a cornstick pan we bought at a thrift store in Pratt, Kansas. Pepper vinegar. I fried out the rind from the ham and made cracklings to put on top, because I’m crazy.

Peach canning, part II: T shot a little timelapse video of the whole production.

Peach canning

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I love late summer. A lightly-cooked ratatouille; frenched romano beans with a loose tapenade-ish relish of chopped kalamatas, capers, and lemon; frisée from the garden with goat cheese and pine nuts; good new bread baked by T earlier in the day to sop up runny juices. Ahhhhh.

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The romanos are turning out to be quite prolific, despite their toppled-over trellis. We’re collecting more than we can eat, so - pickled beans, one jar with lemon and rosemary and the other with lemon and coriander. Both spicy. They are sort of an experiment - we’ll see.

Late Summer Ratatouille

This lightly cooked, still-pretty ratatouille borrows from Julia Child’s recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, simplified with the shortcuts that height-of-season vegetables let you take - tiny Thai eggplants and small, tender summer squash need no salting. And we are not Russian aristocrats dining during the dying days of the tsars or anything, so I generally don’t feel the need to skin tomatoes.

Gather equal weights of very good paste tomatoes; small, tender summer squash (we mixed pattypan, crookneck, and zucchini); and small eggplants - we used about a pound each. Slice squash and eggplant into 3/8” slices and quarter tomatoes. Cut an onion and a red bell pepper into thin slices; chop a clove of garlic, and chop some parsley.

Warm a film of olive oil in a skillet. Brown the eggplant and squash slices lightly; salt and pepper; set aside. Add oil if necessary; turn down the heat, and sweat the onion and pepper thoroughly. Stir in the garlic and add the tomato pieces on top, cut sides down; cover and cook for five minutes. Salt and pepper; set aside.

Add a little more olive oil. Spread a third of the tomato-pepper mixture in the bottom of the skillet and add a palmful of parsley; now an eggplant layer; another third of the tomatoes and parsley; a layer of squash; finish with the last of the tomatoes. Cover and cook over low heat for fifteen minutes or so; uncover and cook for a few minutes more, just long enough for the juices to cook down to a concentrated puddle in the bottom of the pan. Scatter basil on top; eat hot, warm, or cold, with plenty of good bread.

Garden Log

A pound of beans for Bob and Jane; another pound and a half for us. A half pound of Juliets and a half pound of romas. And the arugula is getting close.
 

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Still hot. Gazpacho and a raw beet salad. Cool.

Simplest Gazpacho

Simple gazpacho is only worth making when the produce is very, very good. When the produce is lackluster, versions with tomato juice and other gussying-up ingredients are better.

Tear half a pound of stale bread into small pieces; soak in two cups of chicken broth in a big bowl. Dice and add to the bowl a pound of whole tomatoes; half a red onion; a cucumber, peeled and seeded; a red bell pepper; half a stalk of celery (you can add more later, but too much gives a grassy bitterness that won’t go away); a handful of parsley; and a handful of chives. Blend in batches to your preferred degree of chunkiness; thin with more stock and olive oil as necessary. Add at least a quarter cup of white wine vinegar and plenty of salt. Chill for several hours. Stir in very crisp, still-warm croutons just before eating.

Jar Log

I put up another pint of plum jam last night. I think I didn’t put in enough sugar - it’s a bit runny.

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Tacos, with the last of the grilled pork shredded and reheated with some stock, tomatoes, cilantro, and a rough green blender salsa of charred chiles, green tomatoes, and garlic. Crazy delicious corn salad with chipotles.

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Beautiful little crisp-crusted, chewy-crumbed white sandwich rolls, which T magically baked after I vaguely mentioned that I missed good Italian sandwiches on good bread. Sopressata, here we come.

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And a key lime pie, with candied key lime slices, because that’s how we roll.

Best Corn Salad

This really is the best corn salad. Boil corn on the cob just until it loses its raw starch taste, which depends on how fresh it is - if it’s just-picked, it would be dandy raw. Shock in ice water. Cut off the cob; stir in a little finely-diced red onion, chives, cilantro, and lots of lime juice. Mince a chipotle in adobo very, very fine, and add as much as you like along with some of the adobo sauce to the bowl. Salt and pepper. Eat out of the mixing bowl with a large spoon.

Candied Key Lime Slices

Slice key limes very thin, thinner than 1/8 inch. Bring a cup of sugar and a cup of water to a boil in a non-stick skillet. Turn down the heat, add the lime slices, and simmer quietly until the white pith is translucent, at least 30 minutes. Turn them once in a while. Cool on a rack over newspaper. There are possibilities for straining and saving the liquid, which is a citrus-y, slightly bitter simple syrup that would be nice with soda.

Garden Log

Another quarter pound of Juliets; I might start drying them this weekend. The Romas will be ready to process in another week or two, I hope. And I planted some late beets - they might not get very big before frost, but baby beet pickles sound pretty fine.

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