Friday, August 29, 2008

sweet & simple cucumber recipe from mom

once i ran out and purchased the ingredients, i was able to quickly and easily prepare this recipe and mom was correct, i couldn't stop eating it - yum!

excerpt from an email from my mom:

My favorite way to eat them now is sliced into a pretty Chinese bowl with a bit of thinly sliced scallion, a tablespoon or more of rice wine vinegar (the seasoned one because it is sweet and salty), a drop or two of toasted sesame oil, a sprinkling of black and white sesame seeds, and a few grinds of black pepper. So delicious... You can't stop eating it.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

cool as a cucumber

my first homegrown cucumber was cool, crisp, sweet, and oh-so-attractive (see above). this cucumber traveled a long hard road before making it to my cutting board today. at times i wasn't sure my sad little plants would ever bear fruit. the first problem was the pair of blue jays that would swoop down onto the bed and try to take the little seedlings away with them. chris and i fixed that problem with some bamboo, twine, and a little bird netting. but there were more bumps in the road...the seedlings were refusing to grow up, they were so very small for what seemed an eternity, then they looked a bit yellow, then a bit limp. i remained patient and optimistic as i watered them regularly, added some more compost around the base of the plants, and crossed my fingers. the cucumber vines are now bright green and sprawling. and today, hiding beneath some of those bright green (and prickly) leaves, i uncovered this little gem - fantasic!

when i recall the backyard vegetable garden of my childhood i think of our little cucumbers and the pickles my mom made with them. i'll definitely follow in mom's footsteps and be experimenting with some cucumber pickles of my own, but i must wait until i have more than one small cucumber. my time will come, soon i'm sure.

the cucumber is one of my favorite vegetables. it's VERY versatile, eaten in many cultures, and it tastes great without any prep - just slice and eat...done. i have always thought of the cucumber as a vegetable, but since it has an enclosed seed and develops from a flower, it is technically a fruit. as i understand, the term "vegetable" is not scientific and the usage of the word is subjective, so, for now, i'll continue to think of these green little guys as veggies.

i'll leave you with a lovely poem that i found today. it was written by a girl named Alysha. it seems there was a poetry competition and the children were asked to write a poem about a vegetable. Alysha, who must also think of the cucumber as a veggie, responded with this poem. you can read more vegetable poems writtem by children here:
poetry zone

Cool Cucumber
by Alysha Bhatti (aged 8)

Cucumber with noodles
Pizza or rice.
Even on its own
Cucumber tastes nice.

Cucumber in chutney
With yogurt and spice
Diced or grated
Or in a slice.

Cucumber with prawn
Cucumber with fish
Cucumber is the king
Of every salad dish.

Cucumber for hunger,
Cucumber for thirst
In this competition
Cucumber comes first.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The biggest surprise (updated)

I can say, without a doubt, that lettuces have been the biggest surprise for me in the garden. Lettuces never made the mental list of some-day crops that we had been maintaining over the last few years. When Steve Quirt, our local extension practitioner, brought a flat of baby lettuce to his seed-saving lecture in June, I was lukewarm on Denise's idea to take them home.

Granted, Steve's lecture on saving seed was eye-opening. I had no idea how such a thing worked with lettuce, and I had no idea how many varieties of lettuce there were. Steve has been growing lettuce in our area for almost thirty years and he pretty much seems to be growing his own cultivars now. His lecture piqued my interest in lettuce a little more...but not even really to a simmer.

Over the last two months we had our first crop of mesclun fail (planted too late) and our second crop of butter lettuces (planted too late, perhaps not enough sun) has puttered along. We obtained the seeds for both of these crops from mail-order sources. I haven't given up on our second crop, but I can't say they have been a success either.

Meanwhile, the lettuces we got from Steve were slowly moving along, growing bit by bit. We attributed this to planting them in the wrong season and the hot weather. However, the weather cooled off a couple weeks ago and Steve's lettuces got to eating size. We know that lettuces tend to bolt if exposed to prolonged hot weather so we thought we should just try some in case we ended up losing the crop.

It was excellent. (I'm kicking myself for not photographing the pea, mint, lemon, pecorino salad we made Friday night with it.) But the most interesting surprise was how fast it grew back in. I noticed this while hand-watering* this weekend and immediately called Denise over to see it. I am still blown away every time I walk by it.

Below there are two photographs that show the lettuce we harvested this Friday in the foreground and lettuces we harvested a week ago Friday in the background. We have been harvesting lettuces by snipping the leaves about an inch and a half from the base. Denise learned that the lettuces actually grow from the bottom (seems obvious enough I suppose) and if you look at the photos carefully you can see that the tips of the re-grown lettuces are flat where they were snipped.

So the logical moral to the story is that seeds / crops that have grown well in this climate, in fact in this case, were developed in this climate, will do best. We're looking forward to harvesting Steve's crop as long as possible into the fall, letting it go to seed, and planting a whole lot more of it next year.

-- Chris

* Hand-watering. We've been getting some grief from some of our friends for not putting in drip irrigation. usually this comes after we say something like "I'd love to attend your baby shower/birthday party/wedding but I have to water my tomatoes." OK, that's an exaggeration, but it is not an overstatement to say that growing food without irrigation can put a bit of a cramp on your social life. Which is fine with us. That, and we're cheap. Especially on rented land. Add in that we didn't exactly know what we were doing when we laid out the beds, and irrigation is kind of ruled out for us.

But I have been reading more and more that indicates that hand-watering is the way to go for several reasons, but the most interesting one to me is that it forces you to slow down and spend time with your plants on a regular basis. You notice little things (like lettuce re-growth) and you learn about how your plants grow in a way you never would if you let a nanny raise your kids. Oops, I mixed metaphors there. But I stand by my opinion.

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Saturday, August 9, 2008

Starting Over

Over the last few weeks we've been swimming in blackberries, plums, beets, shelling peas, beans, and summer squash. We've also been falling in love with growing (and re-growing) lettuces. The lettuce story is a whole other blog post.

Denise made a count the other day and I think she figured out we are growing something like FIFTY-FOUR different varieties of vegetables. Wow. I really don't know how that happened.


...that's a lie. I know exactly how it happened, cause this we added five new varieties, all five of which were unplanned. Our neighbor, Ruth, continues to bring us things she thinks
we'd like to plant. In the case of leeks, two types of potatoes, and fennel - she's right.
In the case of cilantro...not so much. For me. But I have to say that it is always interesting to see how things grow.

I think if I took the time to think about it, I could probably list another five that came from Ruth, and another five or so came from community seed / plant exchanges in town. That's how we ended up with Oca. (The middle plant in the picture above). That's how we ended up with the lettuces that will be the star of the next blog post.

It's almost like we're the pet rescue shelter for vegetable plants and seeds...we've just been suckers for anything new, because it is really interesting to watch them grow. (Two varieties of newly planted potatoes above.)

But don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining, and I also can't quite lay the blame outside the household. The final pictures, below, are of the newest major addition to the garden, a 4’ x 12’ bed, our first non-raised bed, that I dug out, gopher-proofed, and cultivated about a month ago. Yes, a month ago. The bed is composed of two varieties of beans, four squashes, and one watermelon. (We have planted two of the "three sisters," and we cut down some New Zealand Flax from Ruth's garden to stand in for corn as the vertical supports for the beans.) This bed is also our first experiment with using straw as a mulch...and so far so good. And we like the way it looks as well.

So… back to the title. We have seen the end of some of our earliest crops (radishes, carrots, and beets) and we can see the end of several more coming. So over the next few weeks we'll continue to do more planting, scheming, digging, and planting. And if the past is any indicator of the future...we'll be proud foster parents of some new transplants as well. Here's to seventy-five varieties.


Link to more about the three sisters -

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

still knee-deep in plums!

Why is it called “canning” if we are putting food in jars?

according to Intercourse Canning Company:
In 1795 Napoleon offered money to anyone who could find a way to preserve foods for his troops. Nicholas Appert of France found a way to preserve food in jars sterilized and sealed with pitch and had a vacuum-packing plant by 1804. This process was a military "secret" but by 1810 Peter Durand of England had a patent for tin-plated iron to use in "canning." Canned rations were on the field at the Battle of Waterloo.

In 1812 a small plant in New York produced hermetically sealed oysters, meats, fruits, and vegetables in cans. Durand introduced his can to America in 1818. Henry Evans patented a machine that made the tin cans increasing production from 5-6 cans to 50-60 cans per hour.

In 1858 American John Mason invented the now famous glass jar for home canning. By the 1860s the process time had dropped from six hours to 30 minutes, making canned foods commonplace. In the heating process the sterilization destroys bacteria and enzymes that can cause spoiling, and the seal prevents new air or other organisms from entering.

what have we canned in the test kitchen?
  • mixed garden plum w/garam masala preserves* (we've tried this one on bread and butter, toast, w/ cheese and toasted baguette slices, and on lamb chops)
  • santa rosa plum w/rosemary preserves (excellent on french toast!)
  • yellow garden plum w/ginger & clove preserves (tastes like peaches)
  • garden plum chutney (waiting 3 weeks to allow it to mellow)
  • garden plum w/vanilla bean preserves (tastes like raspberries)
  • pickled garden plums (cooling off as i type...)

*noted in Can't take credit for them...

i need a nap.