Celebrating the Swan Song of Summer: Grilled Peaches with Blue Cheese, Caramelized Onions & Pecans . . .

September 22nd, 2013 Comments Off

Grilled Peaches stuffed with Blue Cheese, Caramelized Onions and Pecans with Balsamic Glaze - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com Grilled Peaches with Blue Cheese, Caramelized Onions, Toasted Pecans & Balsamic Glaze

Gloria Peaches at Scott Farm Orchard - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.comGloria Peaches at Scott Farm Orchard, Vermont. According to Scott Farm orchard manager, Zeke Goodband, these beautiful, sweet, firm-fleshed peaches are the perfect choice for grilling and roasting!

Scott Farm Peaches in a Bowl - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.comBeautiful Scott Farm Peaches, Almost too Good to Eat

Oh summer, summer, summer . . .Where have you gone? As I sit here in my garden chair —surveying the red-tipped Viburnum leaves and orange-tinted Flame Grass— once again I marvel at the quick passage of time. In just a few short hours, autumn will officially begin in the Northern Hemisphere, (20:44 UTC or 4:44 pm ET). Much as I love the fall —always my favorite season— this year I feel more than a touch of melancholy as I let sweet summer go.

Hydrangea paniculata 'Limelight' in Autumn - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com Blushing Limelight Hydrangea (H. paniculata ‘Limelight’) in the Garden this Morning

Canada Geese and Harvest Moon - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com  Canada Geese Slip Away by the Light of the Full Harvest Moon

Miscanthus sinensis 'Morning Light' in late summer - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com Morning Light Maiden Grass Dances in the Cool Breeze (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’)

Although this has been a rather cool and rainy season, the months were also filled with warm riches and delights; kayaking on the river, a trip to Block Island, Christmas-in-July fireworks, a picnic in the orchard at Scott Farm, milestone family birthdays, and exciting projects at work. This has also been a year of culinary exploration and adventures thanks to delightful produce from my kitchen garden and fruit from nearby farms.

Swan Song of Summer - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com The Swan Song of Summer 

Recently, after picking up fresh, late-season peaches from Zeke Goodband at Scott Farm, in Dummerston, Vermont, I decided to experiment with savory recipes featuring this delightful fruit. Grilling peaches has always been a favorite late-summer pastime, and after sampling a delicious appetizer of blue cheese, caramelized onion and pecan stuffed peaches at Magpie Restaurant in nearby Greenfield, Massachusetts, I decided to give the idea a whirl. Simple to prepare and delicious as an appetizer or side dish, these grilled, stuffed peaches are the perfect way to say farewell to summertime.

So as we listen to the swan-song of summer —crickets in the meadow and bluejays in the scrub— here’s a touch of sweetness to send the gentle season on her way . . .

Grilled and Stuffed Peaches on Platter with Balsamic Glaze - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com

Grilled Peaches with Blue Cheese, Caramelized Onions, Toasted Pecans & Balsamic Glaze

 Appetizer or Light Side for Six

Ingredients

6 Large Gloria Peaches (sliced in half & pitted, skin on)

1/8 cup Pecans (toasted, chopped fine)

1 small, sweet onion, caramelized and chopped fine

1/4 cup Crumbled Blue Cheese (or more)

Salt to taste

Butter for Grilling

Balsamic Glaze for Drizzling Platter

Grilling Peaches - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com

Method

Caramelize onions, chop/toast pecans, and crumble high-quality blue cheese in advance. Mix the three ingredients together in a small bowl and salt lightly to taste. Set aside.

Slice and pit peaches. Scoop out center neatly to make a bit of room for stuffing if pits are small, and set aside on a platter for grilling. If grilling over flame, brush peaches with melted butter and set on medium-hot grill, away from direct flame. If grilling indoors (Foreman grill or the like), heat the grill and then rub with butter. Grill the peaches until fragrant and soft, but still firm. Remove from heat and fill each peach with a tablespoon or more of stuffing. Arrange on platter and drizzle with balsamic glaze. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Grilled, Stuffed Peaches with Blue Cheese, Caramelized Onions, Pecans and Balsamic Glaze - Michaela Medina Harlow - thegardenerseden.com Grilled, Stuffed Peaches Make a Great Appetizer or Side Dish with Other Grilled Foods. Serve Warm or at Room Temperature.

Photography & Text ⓒ Michaela Medina Harlow/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

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Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison, Plus a Springtime-Fresh Garden Recipe: Peas with Baked Ricotta & Breadcrumbs

April 23rd, 2013 § 6

Madi_Vegetable LiteracyVegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison

As organic vegetable gardeners, we know how important it is to become familiar with the various plant families and to develop an understanding of how they relate to one another in the garden. Botanical knowledge is key to avoiding many pests, diseases and cultural problems. Having recently reviewed the topics of crop rotation, companion planting and intercropping in the organic vegetable garden —Kitchen Garden Planning, Part One, followed by Kitchen Garden Planning, Part Two— now seems like the perfect opportunity to discuss how this same botanical knowledge can guide creative use of homegrown produce in your kitchen.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been devouring Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy, sent to me for review by publisher, Ten Speed Press. One of the most highly-regarded vegetarian cooks of our time, Deborah Madison is author of eleven cookbooks. In her most recent title, Madison explores the relationship between botany and cooking, and how that knowledge can serve us as we prepare produce in our kitchens. A new gardener herself, the author takes a down-to-earth approach; with stories and observations that will be both familiar and inspirational to those who, like Madison, are just beginning to grow their own food. More experienced green thumbs will be delighted by new botanical discoveries and unexpected, creative ways to use the fruits of their labor.

Late_Spring_Potager_michaela_thegardenerseden  Nothing will improve your culinary skills faster than growing fresh produce in your own backyard, and learning how to use those edible flowers, fruits, vegetables and herbs, creatively in your kitchen

New gardeners will quickly observe that some natural companions in their potagers —tomatoes and basil or garlic and potatoes, for example— are also delightful partners in recipes. In fact, the joy of experimenting with garden fresh ingredients in the kitchen is often what leads a gardener’s hands to soil in the first place. By learning the ways in which edible plants relate to one another, a gardener can become a more versatile and confident cook. Out of onions, spinach or some other key ingredient and need a quick substitute? Looking for a way to jazz up a simple plate of carrots, but haven’t a clue what might work with them? With a bit of coaching from Madison, gardeners may find the creative answers to these culinary challenges, right in the backyard vegetable patch!

Filled with delicious, vegetarian recipes and gorgeous, full-color photographs, Vegetable Literacy is as beautiful to behold as it is delightful to read. Chapters in this cookbook are divided by plant families (Apiacea, Lamiacea, Asteraceae, Brassicaceae, etc.). In addition to 300-plus recipes, the author has included a chef’s notes about her favorite varieties of each edible plant, as well as interesting and useful botanical details for gardeners. I’ve flagged a number of dishes to try with my early crops, but the one featured below, “Peas with Baked Ricotta and Breadcrumbs”, simply couldn’t wait. Although it’s a bit early here in Vermont for garden-fresh peas, I did try this recipe with some of last fall’s bounty (stored in my freezer), and was thrilled with the result. I can’t wait to enjoy this comforting dish again; only next time, with the incomparable flavor of hand-shucked peas, plucked straight from my garden . . .

Peas with Baked Ricotta Peas with Baked Ricotta & Breadcrumbs from Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy. Photo © 2013 Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton

Peas with Baked Ricotta and Bread Crumbs

A light supper for 2

Olive oil

1 cup high-quality ricotta cheese, such as hand-dipped
full-fat ricotta

2 to 3 tablespoons fresh bread crumbs

4 teaspoons butter

2 large shallots or 1/2 small onion, finely diced (about 1/3 cup)

5 small sage leaves, minced (about 11/2 teaspoons)

11/2 pounds pod peas, shucked (about 1 cup)

Grated zest of 1 lemon

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Chunk of Parmesan cheese, for grating

Heat the oven to 375°F. Lightly oil a small baking dish; a round Spanish earthenware dish about 6 inches across is perfect for this amount.

If your ricotta is wet and milky, drain it first by putting it in a colander and pressing out the excess liquid. Pack the ricotta into the dish, drizzle a little olive oil over the surface, and bake 20 minutes or until the cheese has begun to set and brown on top. Cover the surface with the bread crumbs and continue to bake until the bread crumbs are browned and crisp, another 10 minutes. (The amount of time it takes for ricotta cheese to bake until set can vary tremendously, so it may well take longer than the times given here, especially if it wasn’t drained.)

When the cheese is finished baking, heat the butter in a small skillet over medium heat. When the butter foams, add the shallots and sage and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the peas, 1/2 cup water, and the lemon zest. Simmer until the peas are bright green and tender; the time will vary, but it should be 3 to 5 minutes. Whatever you do, don’t let them turn gray. Season with salt and a little freshly ground pepper, not too much.

Divide the ricotta between 2 plates. Spoon the peas over the cheese. Grate some Parmesan over all and enjoy while warm.

With Pasta: Cook 1 cup or so pasta shells in boiling, salted water. Drain and toss them with the peas, cooked as above, and then with the ricotta. The peas nestle in the pasta, like little green pearls.

 >
Reprinted with permission from Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison. Copyright © 2013 by Deborah Madison. Photographs © 2013 Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.

All Other Photography & Text ⓒ Michaela Medina Harlow/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

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Caramel-Drizzled, Spiced Coffee Cake, Daylight Savings & Winter’s Last Hurrah

March 9th, 2013 § 5

Caramel Drizzled Coffee Cake ⓒ 2013 michaela medina - thegardenerseden.com Caramel-Drizzled Coffee Cake Takes the Edge Off a Winter Storm

Late winter snow storms are real heart-breakers. And it seems that, no matter how many times we’re hit by an early March ‘weather event’, I’m always caught by surprise. Songbirds are returning, buds are swelling on trees, and clocks are about to spring forward to daylight savings time (p.s. Don’t forget to move clocks ahead an hour before you turn in tonight, as DST starts 3/10/13).

It’s just starting to feel like a new season, and then. . .  It hits. A wet, heavy snowstorm. Doesn’t seem quite fair!

At times like these, I usually feel the need to bake something to lift my weary spirits and give me energy to dig out; something warm and golden and just a little bit gooey. What to do? I scanned the kitchen and my eyes focused in on my Finca Rosa Blanca coffee beans, sitting on the countertop. Mmmm. That’s it! Something like . . .

Caramel-Drizzled Coffee Cake

(ingredients for one 10-inch tube cake or two smaller cakes)

1/2 lb (2 sticks) of butter at room temperature

1 cup of granulated sugar

3 eggs at room temperature

2 1/2 cups of all purpose flour

2 teaspoons of baking powder

1 teaspoon of baking soda

1 teaspoon of salt

3/4 cup sour cream or plain, Greek yogurt (full fat or 2%)

1/4 cup espresso or very strongly brewed French roast coffee, cooled*

5 teaspoons vanilla extract (or rum for a twist)

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Caramel Topping

1/2 cup brown sugar (packed)

1/4 cup Greek yogurt or sour cream

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Method

This is a very simple cake, but first, make yourself some espresso or some very strong French roast coffee to wake yourself up. Then, set aside 1/4 cup of espresso/coffee to cool and preheat your oven to 350° fahrenheit. Butter and flour a 10″ tube or Bundt pan (you can also use other shapes and types of pans of similar size, or make two cakes in 8″ spring-form pans, as I did for the photo). Now go gather your ingredients.

In a large bowl, blend the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg together with a fork. In a small bowl, combine the sour cream or Greek yogurt with the espresso (or coffee) and 5 teaspoons of vanilla, and set aside. In a large mixing bowl (I use a stand mixer), beat the butter for a few seconds, add in the sugar and beat a minute or two. Add in three eggs at room temperature and beat until the mixture is creamy and smooth. Very slowly, combine the dry ingredients to the large mixing bowl, and beat until smooth. Add in the sour cream or yogurt/coffee/vanilla mix and beat the mixture a bit longer.

Pour the cake batter into the buttered/floured pan, stick it into the oven and set your timer to bake for 45-50 minutes. It’s done when the top is golden colored and a stick pulls out clean from the center of the cake. When done, let rest for 5 or 10 minutes and then remove the cake form/invert to cool. Flip the cake onto a serving platter. Now, at this point, I like to prick little holes in the cake with a stick or fork so that some of the caramel drizzle gets inside. That’s up to you.

To make the caramel drizzle: combine the brown sugar, yogurt and vanilla in a small bowl and stir well until blended. Set aside until cake is cooled and then drizzle over to your heart’s content (and set some aside for sinfully delicious dipping).

*If you’d rather not add coffee (even decaf?), you can omit this ingredient and instead use one full cup of yogurt or sour cream in the main cake.

Snow-Covered Nest ⓒ 2013 michaela medina - thegardenerseden.com

Now, if you’re like me, you hate waiting, so you go outside to shovel while your cake bakes. This gives you the heart to clear snow from the roof, which has slid down and piled atop the already snow-covered terrace and drifted into the walkways. Finish that off, then come in, drizzle the coffee cake, have a thick slice, and then go back out to clear the pathways, cars, truck, tractor and utility areas. Meanwhile, your partner-in-crime plows and pushes back snowbanks, while troubleshooting a stalling engine on the ’86 Chevy. Winter sure is a lot of work!

I recently read that shoveling snow by hand burns something like 400 calories (or more) per hour. Of course, the heavier the snow  the harder you work, and the more calories you burn. Oh, and don’t worry, this probably won’t be the last work out you get before spring. Keep that shovel ready. You’re gonna need a LOT of coffee cake to clear the nest!

Snowy, Sunlit Viburnum trilobum ⓒ 2013 michaela medina - thegardenersedenFrosted Viburnum trilobum Along the Sunlit Walkway

Lavender Hills ⓒ 2013 michaela medina - thegardenerseden.com To the Southwest: Warm, Lavender Hills

March Sunset in the Garden After the Storm ⓒ 2013 michaela medina - thegardenerseden.com Sunset in the Northwest Gardens, After the Storm

Photography and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links. A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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Bavarian Purple, Spanish Roja & More: Selecting & Planting Gourmet Garlic …

October 24th, 2011 § 2

Gorgeous, Gourmet Garlic! Bulbs, Clockwise from Top of Ceramic Bowl: German White, Russian Red, Bavarian Purple & Spanish Roja. On Table: Two Heads of Doc’s German & One Each of German Red & Music. In Basket: A Combination of All Garlic Varieties, Plus Continental.

Creatures of the night, beware: I grow garlic! Garlic and onion braids hang from the wooden beams of my kitchen, and they inhabit colorful ceramic keepers on my shelves. I have garlic galore planted in my garden, squirreled away for winter use upon shelves in paper bags and hanging from floor joists in my cellar. Vampires dare not kiss me, for I cook with this delightfully stinky herb most every night.

Every autumn, I plant many varieties of cold hardy, hardneck garlic in my potager (hardneck garlic is the best choice for climates with long, cold winters). It’s a good idea to purchase garlic grown close to your own home (this insures the hardiest selections for your climate and local growing conditions), and traditionally, each October, I visit the annual Garlic & Arts Festival in nearby North Orange, Massachusetts, to select a few more gourmet bulbs for my garden. One of my all-time favorite garlic varieties, which I finally found at the festival a few years ago, is Spanish Roja (a rocambole hardneck garlic). This beautifully colored, hot and spicy selection possesses a true garlic flavor and easy-to-peel cloves, making it one of the most popular —and sometimes hard to find— bulbs at market. This zesty variety and others —including German Red, Bavarian Purple and Russian Red—-  tend  to be my favorite types for roasting and cooking. But I also love the milder varieties of garlic —including smokey, medium heat Continental— for salad dressing, salsa, cold pasta and other recipes calling for raw cloves, and for use in subtler dishes.

Garlic Bulbs are Harvested in Late Summer, When the Tops Yellow, Wither and Flop (Also True for Onions). Once Lifted from the Earth with a Garden Fork, Excess Soil is Shaken from the Bulbs as They ‘Cure’ for Two Weeks in a Warm, Dry Place.

Many hard neck garlic varieties (including rocambole, porcelain and striped) store beautifully in cool, dark, dry conditions. Porcelain garlic bulbs, such as German White and Music, are exceptionally good selections for long-term (up to 9 months under optimal conditions) storage. Russian Red, another good-sized porcelain hardneck variety, is also a top-notch keeper. I hang garlic braids in my kitchen and always have a few bulbs on hand in ceramic keepers, but most of my garlic is stored on shelves in a cool (approximately 55 degrees) part of my dark, dry cellar. After harvest and curing (for more detail, see previous post by clicking here) I like to store my garlic bulbs in braids (click here for my popular onion/garlic braiding tutorial with step-by-step photos) and in loosely folded, brown paper bags (this provides ample air circulation). I mark the name of the variety on the outside for quick reference. Some bulbs return to the garden every autumn, and the rest remain in stock on my shelves for winter and springtime use.

Preparing to Plant Garlic: Breaking a Basket of Large, Firm, Hard Neck Bulbs into Cloves

Mid-autumn is the best time to plant hardneck garlic in my climate. Each year I rotate my crop; preparing a new garlic bed with fresh compost in late September. Selecting large, firm bulbs from my crop, I carefully separate the cloves and prepare tags for each variety. On a cool, dry October day, I plant each clove approximately 2″ deep and 4-6″ apart (space wider for big, porcelain bulbs like Music). Mulching is very important in cold climates like Vermont. I use throughly rotted compost and clean straw or ground oak leaves for a nice thick mulch. Read more about garlic planting, and find a link back to removing and using garlic scapes, in my previous post “A Thousand Mothers Set Into Earth” by clicking here.

Of Course the Best Part of Growing Garlic is Eating It! Click Here for a Delicious Garlic and Potato Soup Recipe

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photos, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions) are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links. A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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Sampling Sweet Heirloom Treasures … Apple Tasting at Scott Farm Orchard

October 20th, 2011 § 4

The Golden Light of Harvest Season at Scott Farm Orchard in Vermont

If a rose is a rose is a rose, does it then follow that an apple is an apple is an apple? Of course —except in the most simplistic of senses— neither statement is true. Each of these closely related species —both of which belong to the family Rosaceae— is tremendously complex; with a fascinating variety of forms, habits, flowers and fruits. Like many gardeners, I’ve long considered adding fruit trees to my landscape and many heirloom apples top the list of this most-wanted species. But with so many fruit trees to choose from, how will I decide which varieties to grow? There are apples for cooking and baking, apples for cider, jam and sauce, and there are even apples for floral arrangements, crafts and decorating. Of course, there are also oh-so-many apples perfect just for eating, and is there anything more delicious than a bite of crisp, tart apple on a cool autumn day? I decided to consult with a true, heirloom apple expert, who also happens to be a local friend …

Heirloom Apples at Sunset: Scott Farm Orchard

Earlier this month, I was invited to local, historic Scott Farm Orchard in Vermont for a private, heirloom apple tasting tour with orchard manager and apple expert, Ezekiel Goodband.  This is harvest season, and with apples to pack, cider to press, guests to greet and a farm business to run, Zeke Goodband has hardly a minute to spare. Yet my kind and knowledgable friend took time out of his very busy day to share some of his favorite heirloom fruits and bits of their fascinating histories. Below is a small sampling, and descriptions of the many treasures I took home from my stroll through gloriously beautiful Scott Farm Orchard

Black Gilliflower or Sheep’s Nose Apple: this beautifully colored, fragrant apple is one of my tasting favorites. When I took my first bite, Zeke advised me to look for the flavor of clove. And indeed, the sweet, floral flesh is followed by just a hint of spice at the end. This old, New England apple dates back to the early 1800s and it is wonderful both for cooking and baking or eating fresh, straight from the hand. I like it with a good, sharp cheddar cheese

Heirloom Winesap: amid all the green foliage and golden light, this pretty red apple really stood out in the trees. The Winesap is an American apple dating back to the early 1800s. Named for its wine-like flavor, this juicy red fruit with golden flesh is incredibly fragrant; with floral notes and a hint of spice. Tart flavor is nicely balanced with sweetness, making this a perfect choice for cooking (excellent for sauce, butter and puree), baking, cider making and eating out of hand

Lady Apples: this variety is the oldest of the heirlooms still in cultivation today. Known for their blushing, delicate beauty, clusters of Lady Apples often appear in autumn flower arrangements and wreaths. Of course I can’t imagine wasting a bite! This apple may be small, but it carries an intense, bright flavor. Try popping a couple in your pocket for a snack on your next autumn hike, or arrange slices amongst whole fruits on a platter of cheese as a beautiful appetizer

Heirloom Golden Russet Apples: this gorgeous gem from New York state dates back to the mid 1800s. The Golden Russet is crisp and flavorful; often called the ‘champagne’ of cider apples, it’s also delicious cooked in apple butter, sauce, puree and for baked goods. Rumor has it this variety makes a wonderful hard cider as well

Pinova: According to Zeke, extraordinary beauty and complex flavor makes the Pinova a favorite apple during tastings at Scott Farm. And without a doubt, an apple laden Pinova is truly a sight to behold. The photo simply can not do the color justice (and then there is the annoying lack of click-and-sniff on the screen!). Originating in Germany, this crisp apple posesses a perfect balance of tart and sweet. It’s a fine choice for baking and for eating out of hand.

Whenever I visit Scott Farm, it occurs to me that in addition to their delightful fruit value, apple trees truly are some of the most lovely ornamental plants for home gardens …

When asked about fruit trees for backyard gardens, Zeke Goodband’s first advice is to grow what you like and what you will use. Beyond peaches and pears, which Zeke recommends and sells to home gardeners, there are heirloom apple trees for sale at Scott Farm as well. Some of the more suitable backyard apple tree varieties tossed about in our conversation? The reinettes and russets were first to roll off the orchardist’s tongue, followed by some specific names; including Calville Blanc, Cox Orange Pippin, Holstein and Black Oxford. When choosing apple trees, it’s important to try many varieties of fruit and research their uses, to be sure that you select the apples you like best. Of course, when it comes to doing homework, apple tasting can hardly be considered a chore! If you happen to be traveling in Vermont this fall, I highly recommend stopping in to Scott Farm for an heirloom sampler and some delicious, fresh-pressed cider.

Below are some more of my favorite heirloom apples; chosen for beauty, unique flavor and usefulness in baking or cooking. Interested in continuing your backyard orchard research? The books listed at the bottom of this post are a good place to begin furthering your education. Many thanks again to Ezekiel Goodband at Scott Farm for sharing his time, delicious fruit and orchard expertise with The Gardener’s Eden

Good things do come in small packages: meet the Lady Apple (also pictured above in the orchard) Though she may be small, this apple is one gorgeous and delicious fruit

Another diminutive treasure, the Royal Medlar apple reminds me of winter-dried rose hips. The fruit is hard when harvested, but after “bletting” (a process of ripening off the tree, on a cool, bright table for a few weeks) these tiny apples become soft, juicy and delicious. Sweet with a hint of cinnamon, this fruit is sometimes used for jelly and is also delicious roasted, or baked; especially in pies. Royal Medlar trees are quite striking, with lovely blossoms, and make fine ornamentals in the garden

In terms of baking apples, Calville Blanc d’Hiver is a culinary favorites among the heirloom varieties. This unusually shaped, blushing, golden, 15th century French apple adds wonderful flavor to cakes and tarts, and it holds its shape and texture beautifully in a hot oven. Eaten out of hand, the flavor is both tart and sweet, with hints of spice and vanilla. If you love to bake with apples, this is one you will want in your home orchard

Ashmead’s Kernel is a delightful old English variety dating back to the 1700s. This gorgeous russet fruit is used for baked goods, cooking, eating fresh and also for both fresh pressed and hard cider. The flavor is truly exquisite; a complex ride that starts off with a kick of lemon, followed by a rush of fruity wine and finishing with lingering floral notes

Another favorite with bakers, the Belle de Boskoop apple originated in the Netherlands and is a commonly used dessert apple. The slightly tart flavor and firm, crisp texture hold up exceptionally well under heat. This variety makes fantastic apple strudel as well as other sweet treats

Books for the Would-Be, Backyard Orchardist …

The Best Apples to Buy And Grow (BBG)The Best Apples to Buy and Grow (Brooklyn Botanic Garden All-Region Guide Beth Hanson

Growing Fruit RHS Harry BakerGrowing Fruit (RHS Encyclopedia of Practical Gardening Harry Baker

the Backyard Orchardist stella ottoThe Backyard Orchardist: A Complete Guide to Growing Fruit Trees in the Home Garden Stella Otto

The Apple Grower, Michael PhillipsThe Apple Grower: Guide for the Organic Orchardist Michael Phillips

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photos, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions) are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links. A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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Dorie Greenspan’s Simply Delicious French Cake with Heirloom Apples …

October 17th, 2011 § 7

Marie-Hélène’s Apple Cake from Dorie Greespan’s Wonderful Book of Recipes, Around My French Table

I awoke this past Sunday morning with a kitchen full of heirloom apples from Scott Farm Orchard and nothing more important to do than brew a pot of coffee and bake a special birthday cake. No problem, right? Well, I suppose it would have been, were I not the easily distracted type. But of course, that’s exactly how I am. First, I noticed that the light in the garden was incredible, so I had to throw on a bathrobe and tip-toe across the lawn to take a few pictures. This inevitably led to squirrel watching, alpine strawberry picking, pumpkin collecting and hydrangea blossom gathering. Then, back inside, there was a flurry of flower arranging and spontaneous tabletop decorating. You know how one thing will lead another … 

Heirloom Fruit on the Sun-Striped Kitchen Table (iPhone Photo)

Suddenly I remembered that I needed to reschedule an afternoon appointment, and so began the emails. When I glanced up —startled by a squawking trio of blue jays as they hopped about the golden foliage outside my window— I noticed it was nearly eleven o’clock. In the modern world, this sort of behavior might be diagnosed as attention deficit disorder. I call it relaxing, and it was really quite wonderful. It’s been weeks since I’ve had an unscheduled day like this —free to follow each and every whim— and I totally loved it. When I finally settled down on my kitchen stool —leafing through Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table— sunlight had warmed the tabletop, and the sweet scent of ripe fruit filled the air. What a delightful way to spend an October morning …

Beech Leaves Turning Copper (Fagus grandifolia & Tsuga canadensis)

And Blushing Hydrangea Blossoms (H. paniculata ‘Limelight’)

And Blue Jays in Golden Halesia (H. tetraptera, the Mountain Silverbell)

My friend Jennifer has been raving about Marie-Hélène’s Apple Cake —from Dorie Greespan’s wonderful book of recipes, Around My French Table— for nearly a year now. And just last week, Jen reminded me of Dorie’s recipe again when she happened to mention that she’d baked this delicious dessert to share with her husband on their anniversary. I love Dorie Greenspan’s books —as well as her fantastic blog, which you can visit by clicking here— and I’ve been wanting to give this recipe a try since  Around My French Table arrived on my doorstep last fall. But the cake specifically calls for four divers apples (Dorie’s French friend, Marie-Hélène’s way of saying different kinds), so I waited until autumn arrived again to try it with fresh, heirloom apples. And this weekend, with a special birthday cake to bake and Scott Farm apples in season, I finally found the perfect opportunity to use one Calville Blanc d’Hiver, one Belle de Boskoop, one Ashmead’s Kernel and one Bramley’s Seedling heirloom apple  …

Fruit in the Kitchen and Passing Showers in the Garden

I Love Looking Outside While I Play Around in the Kitchen. Sometimes, At This Time of Year,  I’ll Spot Foraging Turkey or a Red Fox on the Hunt, But Most of the Time, I just Admire the Autumn Colors …. 

Apple Cake, Ready for Baking!

Fresh from the Oven: Golden, Warm, Fragrant Apple Cake. I Wish Your Screen Could be Scratch and Sniff

Marie-Hélène’s Apple Cake from Dorie Greenspan’s Cookbook Around My French Table

Ingredients:

¾ cup all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder
A pinch of salt
4 large heirloom apples (different kinds)
2 large eggs
¾ cup sugar
3 tablespoons rum (dark)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
8 tablespoons melted butter, cooled

Directions:

Set oven rack to center brackets. Preheat oven to 350° F and butter an 8 or 9 inch round, spring-form pan.

In a small bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together until blended.

Peel and core four apples of different kinds, and cut them into chunks roughly 1-2″ in size.

Whisk eggs in a medium bowl until they foam. Slowly add sugar and whisk a bit longer until well blended. Add the vanilla and the rum and whisk some more. While continuing to whisk, slowly add half of the dry ingredients. When absorbed into the batter, add half the melted butter. Repeat until all butter and flour mixture are smooth and well blended. Slowly fold in the apples using a spatula. Be sure all apples are completely coated with bater.

Push the apple batter (it will be very thick) into the buttered pan,

Place the pan on the center rack and bake approximately one hour, checking the cake toward the end of the baking time. Remove when the top is golden brown, and when an inserted knife pulls clean from the cake.

Cool for five minutes, then loosen the cake from the sides of a pan with a butter knife. Slowly open the form and let the cake cool to room temperature before serving. You can use a spatula to release the bottom of the cake from the form, or use a wax string. Place a serving dish on top of the cake and carefully invert.

Serve with homemade whipped cream or ice cream.

A Delightfully Unusual, Autumn Birthday Cake

All Heirloom Apples in This Post are from Scott Farm Orchard, Vermont. Stay Tuned for More Heirloom Orchard Mania this Week, Including Heirloom Apples for Cooking and Eating, Unusual Fruit, and Recommended Fruit Trees for Home Gardens

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photos, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions) are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links. A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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Gems in the Rough: Heirloom Potatoes & Delightfully Crispy Faux French Frites {Plus Tips for Root Cellaring Your Spuds}

October 13th, 2011 § 2

Crispy Faux Frites

I confess a weakness for frites. Real frites, mind you, not the soggy, pale-yellow excuse for French fries found in fast food restaurants. I’m talking about genuine, golden-brown, warm, crispy, sea-salty, flavorful French frites. The last time I had really great French fried potatoes I was in San Francisco of all places, in a little bistro run by a real Frenchman. I ordered two helpings. Yes, of course I know that fried foods aren’t good for me, but every once in awhile I crave a little naughty luxury … Doesn’t everyone?

Well imagine my delight when I stumbled upon Patricia Wells’ recipe for Fake Frites while flipping through her wonderful cookbook, At Home in Provence. Ordinarily I wouldn’t trust a recipe for fake anything; especially fake French anything. But here I find the Patricia Wells — Patricia Wells! — advising a method for no-fry French frites. Of course, I had to give it a try …

Potatoes Fresh From the Earth (Left to Right: Adirondack Red, Bintje, Peruvian Purple, Rose Gold, Yukon Gold, Rose Finn Apple Fingerling and La Ratte French Fingerling)

Although the instructions are simple as usual, Wells is very particular about both method and ingredients in order to achieve gourmet results. According to Wells, steaming is key to the faux-fried, crispiness of the frites, as it creates a starchy, textural coating on the surface of the potato. While it’s true that Idaho russets can be used here, for making the most flavorful fake frites, Wells’ top potato choices are Charlotte, La Ratte (fingerlings) or Bintje. And lucky me, I just happen to have a bumper crop of gourmet and heirloom potatoes this year; jewel like spuds in every imaginable flavor and texture. Given their petite shape and size —similar to fries even before cutting— I decided to try the La Ratte fingerlings first …

La Ratte Fingerlings: Freshly Washed, Roughly Peeled and Coarse-Cut for Faux Frites (Also On My Countertop: Peruvian Purple, Yukon Gold, Rose Gold, Rose Finn Apple Fingerling, and Ozette Fingerling Potatoes in Colander)

Look Like the Real Thing, Now Don’t They?

Crispy and Delicous as Traditional French Fries, But Much Healthier: Faux Frites

Faux French Frites

(Based on Patricia Wells’ recipe from her cookbook, At Home in Provence)

Ingredients:

2 lbs baking potatoes. Charlotte, La Ratte, Bintje or Idaho Russet

2-3  Tbs extra-virgin olive oil

Fine Sea Salt

Directions:

Preheat oven to 500° F (260° C)

The original recipe suggests peeling and cutting the potatoes into thick fries, approximately 3/4″ thick and 3″ long. This is easy with fingerling potatoes like La Rattes. However, I decided to coarsely peel about half of the potatoes, leaving some of the skin on for a rustic texture and flavor. You can make them either way.

Steam the prepared potatoes (covered) over simmering water for approximately 10-12 minutes. It’s very important that you steam, not boil, in order to create a starchy texture on the surface of the potatoes. Be careful not to overcook. Test the potatoes with a knife and remove from heat as soon a sharp blade can puncture the flesh and pull away easily.

Place the steamed potatoes in a large bowl and gently toss while drizzling with the extra virgin olive oil.

Using a slotted spoon, arrange the potatoes  in a single layer on a non-stick baking sheet. Be sure to spread them well, so they bake evenly.

Bake at 500 degrees fahrenheit for approximately 20 minutes, turning the potatoes (a wooden spatula works well) every 5 minutes or so to insure even browning. Remove when the potatoes are dark gold with brown edges, and very crispy.

Season to taste with sea salt while turning on the hot pan and serve immediately; solo or with your favorite burger or other french-fry-friendly meal.

Harvesting Gourmet and Heirloom Potato Varieties from My Potager

Tips for Harvesting and Storing Homegrown Potatoes

There’s nothing quite like the flavor and texture of freshly-harvested, homegrown potatoes. Once you taste the first, new potatoes —pulled straight from the earth and steamed or boiled in your kitchen— you’ll never be satisfied with grocery store-bought spuds again. Potatoes are a relatively simple crop to grow (click back to this previous post for favorite online places to order potatoes). I plant my potatoes in early spring, about two weeks before the last frost —or as soon as the soil is dry and ready to be worked— using the simple, old-fashioned hilling method with clean straw mulch to conserve moisture and keep down weeds. I begin harvesting new potatoes from a few plants as soon as they begin to bloom; usually late spring or early summer (click here for a post on harvesting new potatoes and a frittata recipe) From then on —growing a wide variety with a range of maturity dates— I enjoy freshly dug potatoes straight through the frost.

About two weeks after the potato plants senesce —the point at which the top growth naturally withers and dies back to the ground— the main crop is ready  to harvest. It is then that I begin to carefully dig —pushing down into the earth well beyond the hill and gently lifting in an upward motion toward the hill— with a garden fork or shovel. If I am harvesting potatoes to cook immediately, or over the next few days, then I simply brush off the dirt and wash them. If I am harvesting for long term storage, I dig on a clear, sunny morning and toss the potatoes up onto the topsoil, allowing them to dry out a bit as I work. I then backtrack and carefully go over the potatoes; brushing off the earth while sorting and selecting damage-free tubers for root cellaring. Storage potatoes are placed in wood crates or harvest baskets and loosely covered with cardboard; then taken to a well-ventilated, dry room for a few days to “cure” (room temp of 55-65 degrees is good). The crates are then placed on shelves in a dark, dry root cellar for long term keeping. Green potatoes, and any with insect damage, are tossed aside or sent to compost. Any tubers I’ve accidentally nicked or cut during harvest are placed in a basket to use right away. Never wash potatoes intended for long-term storage, simply brush off the excess dirt while curing.

Some potatoes store better than others, with many of the later-maturing varieties keeping for up to six months when cellared between 35-40° F. Always store potatoes in a cool, dry, dark place to prevent greening (green indicates the presence of solanine, which is a toxin). The stairs of a cellar bulkhead, a non-freezing woodshed or other outbuildings can sometimes provide good alternative space for storing vegetables if you don’t have a root cellar. But remember never to store fruits and vegetables in garages or any place where fuels, or equipment containing fuels or chemicals, are kept. Avoid storing apples near potatoes. In general, the later a potato variety matures, the better it will store. Some less-common potatoes with excellent long-term storage value include Bintje, All-Blue, Ozette, Charlotte.

La Ratte and Rose Finn Apple Fingerlings are Good Medium-Long Term Keepers. Remember, Do Not Wash Storage Potatoes Until You Intend to Use Them.

Freshly Dug Potatoes (Adirondack Red, Rose Gold and a Variety of Fingerlings) in My Potager

Once Washed, Potatoes Should be Used Right Away (Shown here: La Ratte and Rose Finn Apple Fingerlings)

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Cool Inspiration for Hot Summer Days: Beautiful Cookbooks & Delicious Dinners from the Garden …

July 28th, 2011 Comments Off

Hot day, Cool Dinner: Pasta with Arugula, Cherry Tomatoes, Basil and Garlic

Although I don’t consider myself anything more than an average home cook, experimenting in the kitchen certainly is one of my favorite pastimes. And in mid-summer —when my potager is filled with the best produce of the season— it’s a delight to stroll down the garden path and fill a basket with fresh ingredients for breakfast, lunch or dinner. I especially love going out and trying a new dish at a favorite restaurant — and later, trying to replicate it at home. I’m a bit of a culinary voyeur, and I follow many food blogs (see right side bar) and delight in beautiful cookbooks, filled with simple, seasonal recipes.

Sometimes, when I have time for a leisurely lunch at home on my terrace, I will kick off my shoes and spend an hour browsing cookbooks in search of dinnertime inspiration. Currently, the books at the top of my stack include David Tannis’ Heart of the Artichoke  and A Platter of Figs, Rose Elliot’s New Complete Vegetarian, Patricia Wells’ At Home in Provence, Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table and Phaidon’s beautiful Recipes from an Italian Summer. The recipe below –a favorites on hot, humid days– was adapted from one I found in the New York Times; a repost from two years ago. Hard to believe so many summer days have passed since I last shared it here. What are  your favorite recipes from the garden?  Do you have any cookbooks or resources you’d like to share with other readers? I’m always looking for new kitchen inspiration, and eager to put my garden-fresh produce to good use!

Mid Day Inspiration: Browsing Cookbooks Beneath the Shade Trees

Lunchtime Garden Harvest (Matt’s Wild, Sungold and Black Cherry tomatoes from the garden)

Pasta With Cherry Tomatoes and Fresh Arugula

(Adapted from Martha Rose Shulman‘s original recipe for The New York Times)

1 pint cherry tomatoes (halved, or if larger, quartered) Matt’s Wild, Sungold, Etc.

1 plump, fresh garlic clove, minced (more to taste)

Salt to taste (try coarse sea salt or fleur de sel)

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1 cup arugula leaves, chopped coarsely

1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3/4 pound fusille or farfalle pasta

1/4 cup freshly grated Reggiano Parmesan cheese, (more to taste)

Combine the cherry tomatoes, garlic, salt, balsamic vinegar, arugula, basil, and olive oil in a large bowl. Set aside at room temperature for at least 15 minutes. Taste the mixture and adjust seasonings accordingly.

While the mixture rests and flavors blend, bring a large pot of water to boil. Add a salt and cook the pasta al dente, (still firm to the bite). Drain the pasta, and toss with the tomatoes. While the pasta is still hot, sprinkle with parmesan cheese, and serve.

Serves 4 as a light dinner or first course.

Drying Garlic on the Terrace

Summer Squash and Blossoms in the Potager

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Summertime Brunch from the Potager: New Potato, Snow Pea & Mint Frittata With Delightfully Lemony Mayonnaise …

July 2nd, 2011 § 2

Summertime Brunch from the Potager: New Potato, Snow Pea & Mint Frittata with Lemony Mayonnaise

July is a month of abundance in my kitchen garden. After months of hard work come the blissful rewards: a walk down the potager path at this time of year is like a trip to a private farmers market. New potatoes, peas, fresh herbs of every kind, strawberries, raspberries, early blueberries, edible flowers, garlic scapes, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, tender young onions, and the list goes on. With so much fresh produce to choose from, you might imagine that my meals are endlessly varied. But with a busy work schedule and a long list of garden chores, I sometimes get stuck in a lazy cooking rut. Pasta, pasta, pasta … Ho hum. Thank goodness for great cookbooks and beautiful food blogs! Some people have stacks of paperback novels or a loaded Kindle beside their bed. Me? I have cookbooks and bookmarked food sites. Funny, I always seem to wake up hungry.

I’ve been working extra long hours, so this weekend I’ve planned slower starts. And after spending a bit of time exploring Rose Elliot’s New Complete Vegetarian —a beautiful book with green and white cloth-bound cover, maroon-colored satin ribbon, and gorgeous photography— I knew exactly how I wanted to spend at least one of my weekend mornings. My potato patch has been blossoming for a couple of weeks now —signaling the start of baby potato season— and fresh snow peas are practically pulling down their vines. Hmm. All the ingredients for a new potato, snow pea and mint frittata …

New Potato, Snow Pea and Mint Frittata

The Hint of Lemon in this Homemade Mayonnaise Makes a Delightful Compliment to the Sweet Flavor of Snow Peas

Summertime Magic with Freshly Brewed Ice Coffee from the French Press

Surprised that I still have snow peas? This is part of my second crop, and the young vines are just starting to produce baskets of sweet, tender pea pods. If you’ve been following this blog for awhile, you may remember last summer’s post on succession planting (click here to read my “Love Me Two Times Baby” post). For a continuous supply of fresh produce, sowing seed and planting new vegetable starts is an ongoing, spring through autumn process in my kitchen garden. Certain crops —like spinach, beets, broccoli rabe and peas— prefer cooler soil temperatures for best germination, and other crops —such as green beans, cucumbers and summer squash— require warm soil to get a good start. Timing is everything in the vegetable garden, and because I am so busy, I need to jot seed-sowing and harvesting reminders in my calendar; lest I forget to plant and run out of fresh produce!

The second round of snow peas —sown in May— are just now maturing in the potager

Gently unearthing new, Adirondack Red potatoes from the garden

New potatoes are another one of my favorite, early summer vegetables. Many early-season potato varieties begin to bloom approximately 60 days after planting. Flowering is a good indication that new potatoes —those flavorful baby spuds that command such a premium at the market— have begun to form. Harvest these young jewels carefully –always by hand– fishing about the outside of earthen hills and pulling just a few potatoes from each plant. Of course, if you have an large potato patch (I think I over-did it this year, myself), you can harvest entire plants while the potatoes are small, if you wish. When sneaking just a few spuds early, be sure to carefully re-mound the soil or straw mulch around the potato plant, and save the main crop for harvest later on in the season. I like to stagger my potato plantings so that tender, flavorful, new potatoes are an option later in the season as well.

This patch of potatoes was planted in late April & for the past few weeks, several varieties have been blooming and producing flavorful new spuds!

Flowering is a good indication that new Romanze potatoes are ready for harvest from this plant

Baby Romanze, Desiree & Adirondack Red Potatoes —gently unearthed from the edge of each hill— are both beautiful and tasty

Freshly Harvested, Tender Snow Peas in July

Fresh snow peas, mint and new potatoes (Adirondack Red, Romanze and Desiree) from the kitchen garden to the table…

Summertime Frittata with New Potatoes, Snow Peas, Mint And Lemony Mayonnaise

Adapted from Rose Elliot’s New Complete Vegetarian

Ingredients (Four Small Servings, Easily Doubled):

3/4 lb (350 g) new potatoes (Adirondack Reds remain colorful, even after cooking)

1    tablespoon of butter

1    small onion, sliced

2    oz (62 g) snow peas (or fresh/frozen baby peas)

1    tablespoon fresh, chopped mint

salt & freshly ground pepper

4    farm-fresh, organic eggs

1    oz (25 g) fresh grated Reggiano Parmesan Cheese

lemon mayonnaise (see below) for serving

Directions:

Slice the potatoes thinly and boil in a small pot of water for approximately 8 minutes. Do not overcook! Drain and set aside to cool.

Preheat oven to broil setting.

Melt butter on medium-low heat in an 8″ oven-proof frying pan (or frittata pan). Cook onion slices in the butter 8-10 minutes (do not brown). Add snow peas and turn off the heat (toss and allow the peas to cook in the radiant heat of the pan).

In a medium sized bowl, mix potatoes, mint; adding salt and pepper to taste. Add this mixture to the pan and toss ingredients well. Pat everything into an even layer.

In a small bowl, lightly whisk eggs together with a bit of salt and pepper. Pour the mixture into the frying pan, evenly distributing the liquid over the vegetables. Shake the pan a bit to be sure the egg mixture reaches sides and bottom. Sprinkle the top with an even layer of cheese.

Turn the burner back on and cook for 5-7 minutes, or until egg at sides of pan appears to have set (shake lightly). When eggs seem to be setting, place the pan under the broiler for approximately 5-8 minutes, cooking until just golden brown. Watch carefully!

Remove the frittata from the oven and allow the pan to cool for several minutes. Loosen edges and bottom of the frittata from the pan with a silicone or rubber spatula. Place a full size dinner plate over the pan and, while holding both together tightly,  in one smooth move, invert. Place a serving plate over the dinner plate and repeat the process (this will allow you to serve the frittata, browned-side up).

Cool slightly and serve with Rose Elliot’s lemony mayonnaise*

*To make lemony mayonnaise: Measure 1/4 cup of regular mayonnaise (homemade is best but store bought works too) into a bowl. Add 1 tsp of grated lemon rind and 2-6 tsp fresh squeezed lemon juice (use more or less lemon to suit your personal taste). Whisk together and add a bit of salt and pepper. Chill.

Placed Beneath a Protective Mesh Dome, the Frittata Cools while Ice Coffee is Sipped Beneath the Shade of the Mountain Silverbell Tree (Halesia tetraptera)

Savoring the Flavor of Summertime

I love no grocery-store-trip, summertime meals from my garden!

Gunmetal Glaze Tableware is by California Artist Aletha Soulé

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links. A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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A Warm Welcome to Sultry Summer …

June 21st, 2011 Comments Off

A Warm Welcome to Summertime with Pyrotechnic Flower Bouquets

Summer begins today at 1:16 pm EDT, and I’m welcoming her with open arms. After a long, cold winter followed by a wet, drizzly spring, I’m more than ready for hot and hazy, hammock days and sultry summer evenings. There are so many things to love about summer: picnics in the afternoon before a night filled with fireworks, leisurely days spent skimming stones on the river, strawberry shortcake for supper and picking homegrown tomatoes straight off the vine to eat with juice running down your chin, dancing barefoot on the terrace to Cachao with a chilled glass of sangria, and dining al fresco beneath a canopy of stars…

What are some of your favorite summertime pleasures?

Romantic Weekend Picnics
Cool Dips on Hot, Hazy Days
And Strawberry Shortcake for Supper (click here for recipe)
Afternoons Filled with Music and Al Fresco Dining on the Terrace
And Cool Sangria on Sultry Evenings (click here for my not-so secret-anymore recipe)

Here’s To Summer, My Friends … Cheers!
xo Michaela

Words & Photographs ⓒ Michaela Medina – The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reposted, reproduced or reused in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Strawberries & Homemade Granola: Fresh Fraises des Bois for Breakfast …

June 9th, 2011 § 1

Fresh Picked Alpine Strawberries or Fraises des Bois (Fragaria vesca) & Homemade Granola

One of the best things about June —besides peonies— is fresh picked strawberries from the garden. I have a small but productive patch of fraises des bois (Fragaria vesca) —better known as alpine strawberries— in my potager (click here for more information about this wonderful berry). And right now, the alpine strawberry plants are producing so many plump, juicy fruits, I hardly miss the few that I know Mr. Catbird is snatching. For the past few days, I’ve been strolling down to the kitchen garden at dawn to fill a basket with these sweet, ruby red beauties for my breakfast. I love them tossed on top of homemade granola in the morning, and later —if it’s hot— they are wonderful mashed up in a strawberry mojito (click here for recipe) or a strawberry flirt (click here for that little number). Alpine strawberries are easy to grow in patio pots or window boxes; making them the perfect fruit for container gardeners.

The still, early morning hours are ideal for pulling a few weeds and watching butterflies. This week I spotted a viceroy (which looks like a miniature monarch), several painted ladies and more tiger swallowtail butterflies. All of the pollinators seem drawn to the chives and sage in particular, but also to the recently planted cosmos, calendula and ageratum. Which reminds me, I need to get back over to Walker Farm. I have a little extra space around the fence line, and I aim to fill it with more fresh flowers for cutting!

Alpine Strawberries (Fragaria vesca) and My New Red Chair

Alpine Strawberries (Fragaria vesca) are the Sweetest of June Treasures

Top Two Photos: Viceroy Butterfly.  Above: Chives for Butterflies, Bees & Me

In winter, I like to add raisins and other dried fruits to my granola. But in summer, I think fresh berries are the way to go. So at this time of year, I prefer a honey-nut granola recipe to complement the tart taste of fresh fruit. The blend below is based on a simple recipe from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking, which I discovered while reading Adam Roberts’ very funny food blog, The Amateur Gourmet. This is a fun recipe to make with kids, because the granola turns out best when you mix it with your hands!

Alpine Strawberry (Fragaria vesca)

Cultivated Alpine Strawberries (Fragaria vesca) are Larger Than Truly Wild Fruit but Smaller Than Standard, Cultivated Varieties

Honey-Nut Granola with Fresh Alpine Strawberries

Ingredients: (makes about 3 1/2 cups, multiply and add twists, as you like)

2          cups rolled oats

1          tsp cinnamon

1          tsp salt

3 1/2   tablespoons vegetable oil

1/4      cup honey, plus extra for drizzling

1/4      cup brown sugar

1         tsp vanilla extract

1         cup (+/-) of lightly chopped nuts (cashews, macadamia, etc)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325° Fahrenheit. Select a large baking sheet (or cookie sheet) and line with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, mix together the vegetable oil, brown sugar, honey, vanilla with a fork or whisk. Set aside.

Mix oats, nuts, cinnamon and salt together in a large bowl.

Pour the liquid mixture over the dry ingredients and combine. The best method for even coverage is to use your hands.

Spread the mixture out over the parchment-lined baking sheet.

Bake 10 minutes, remove pan and drizzle with a little more honey. Turn the granola with a spatula. Return to oven for another 5 – 10 minutes. Watch carefully, as it’s easy to burn. Remove from oven and turn the granola again. If the mixture looks less than golden brown, return to oven for another 5 minutes. Remove the granola from oven and allow it to cool completely.

Serve with fresh berries and milk or yogurt, and a drizzle of golden honey on top. Store extra granola in an airtight canister (it keeps well for a couple of weeks, if it lasts that long).

Ever-Bearing Alpine Strawberries/Fraises des Bois (Fragaria vesca) Produce Delicious Fruit All Summer Long

Succession Sowing of Seed and Planting of Vegetable Starts Continues All Summer Long to Insure a Steady Supply of Greens, Root Vegetables and Fall Crops

Looking Past the Garlic Greens, Peppers, Bean Pole and Into the Heart of the Potager

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links (including Amazon.com book links). A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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A Visual Feast: Beautiful, Edible Flowers

May 23rd, 2011 § 1

Pansies (Viola × wittrockiana) are lovely atop cakes, in salads and especially when floating in cocktails…

Or Cocktails, Like this Sunset Mangotini (click here for recipe)

(Viola × wittrockiana ‘Matrix Purple’)

Candied rose petals, lavender ice cream, hibiscus tea, chocolate cupcakes laced with violets; some flowers are more than a visual feast, they’re actually good enough to eat. It’s fun to decorate food with colorful blossoms, and it always feels a bit naughty too —eating something so pretty— when I pull the tiny flowers off a slice of cake and gobble them down. “Don’t eat the daisies“, they say… But that’s part of the fun, now isn’t it?

I grow flowers in my potager for a wide variety of reasons —to support pollinators, provide fresh bouquets for the table, and add beauty to the vegetable patch— but one of the best reasons to grow flowers in the kitchen garden, is to eat them! I enjoy spicy nasturtium and chive blossoms in salads, scarlet runner bean and rosemary flowers in soup, and many other blooming beauties as both ingredient and garnish to dishes from spring to fall…

Bright Orange Calendula Brightens this Garlic Scape Pesto (click here for recipe)

Nasturtiums Add Bold Color and Spicy Flavor to Salads

Fresh From the Potager: Nasturtium, Lettuce and Radishes Make a Colorful Salad with Zing

Never tried eating a flower? Think again. Broccoli and cauliflower are two of the most popular edible buds! Some other, commonly consumed edible flowers include nasturtium, dandelion, violets and pansies, geranium (Pelargonium spp), daylily, squash blossoms, calendula, chamomile, lavender, chive, mint, sage blossoms and of course rose petals. But many other flowers can be grown and used in a wide variety of dishes. Try citrusy bee balm (Monarda didyma), fruity red bud (Cercis canadensis) and apple blossoms, spicy anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), fresh red clover and scarlet runner beans.

Thinking of adding a row of potager posies to your backyard garden? If you’ve never grown edible flowers before, I’d recommend stopping at an organic nursery or farm stand in your area to shop for plants. Do a bit of research before you collect your six packs and ask a knowledgable staff member at your local garden center for a bit of guidance. Two of my favorite edible flower gardening resources in print —by Cathy Wilkinson Barash and Rosalind Creasy— are listed below. Both books contain great cultural and culinary information; including recipes and tips for storage!

Edible Flowers: Desserts & Drinks by Cathy Wilkinson Barash

The Edible Flower Garden by Rosalind Creasy

And although it should be common sense, I must emphasize that not all blossoms and buds should be consumed. In fact, some flowers —and many berries, leaves, roots and sometimes entire plants— are quite toxic. So, never eat a flower or any plant unless you can positively identify —with 100% certainty— that it’s safe for human consumption. If you have very small children frequenting your garden, or as members of your family or household, never grow anything toxic in your potager. In fact, I recommend  that all gardening adults keep a copy of the Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants in an easy to locate place. If you are growing your own food, it’s always a good idea to become familiar with both edible and inedible plants, and it’s never wise to grow anything poisonous around small children.

The Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants

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Rainy Day Musings & Beautiful Colors… Sauteed Beet Greens with Caramelized Onions, Balsamic Vinegar and Pine Nuts

May 15th, 2011 § 4

Sauteed Beet Greens with Caramelized Onions and Balsamic Vinegar

Rainy days, slow and soft. With deadlines looming and a long list of chores to complete; must confess I feel a twinge of guilt when allowing myself an afternoon of luxury in the middle of a busy season. But it sure feels good. The sound of acoustic guitar plays along with percussive showers on my tin roof. There’s no where to go, and there’s nothing I can do. Fresh beet leaves from the garden —in brilliant, gemstone colors— inspire a late lunch of fresh greens, crusty homemade bread and good, red wine. Sweet surrender…

Nature Provides the Busy Gardener with a Day of Rest

Springtime greens —saturated in brilliant hues— are beautiful, both in the potager and on the plate. I’ve been working in gardens all my life and yet I am still astonished by all of the gem-like colors emerging from earth at this time of year. Ruby and rainbow chard, red-stalked rhubarb, fuchsia veined beet greens; impossible beauty all around.

I love sauteed baby greens of most any kind, but beet greens are truly a favorite. When thinning rows, I like to toss the tiny beet leaves in a salad. But when larger, they are delicious steamed or quickly blanched and sauteed with a bit of olive oil and garlic. Today, looking to jazz this favorite side dish up for lunch, I decided to combine my fresh beet greens with caramelized onions and reduced balsamic vinegar. Just look at the colors…

Sauteed Beet Greens: A Treasure Trove of Edible, Gemstones

Sauteed Beet Greens with Balsamic Vinegar, Caramelized Onions & Toasted Pine Nuts

Ingredients:

1          Pound Beet Greens

1          Tablespoon Butter

1          Cup chopped sweet onion

1          Garlic clove, minced

1/4      Cup Artisan Quality Balsamic Vinegar

1/2      Cup Water

1/4      Cup toasted pine nuts (optional)

Fresh ground pepper and salt to taste

Directions:

Freshly harvest and wash beet greens thoroughly. I like to use a three rinse method. Drain and chop leaves into pieces. If your beet greens are fresh, young and tender, you can leave most of the stems attached. Otherwise, remove and chop the stems separately and set aside.

Heat one tablespoon of butter in a large skillet on medium heat. Add the onion, spreading evenly across the skillet. Reduce heat to low and allow onions to cook slowly, occasionally stirring, for about 30 minutes (until soft and golden brown). Add 1/4 cup of artisan quality balsamic vinegar and continue cooking onions and reducing vinegar on low heat for another 20-30 minutes. Raise heat back up to medium, and add garlic. Cook for a another couple of minutes. Add 1/2 cup of water and raise heat to high. Bring the liquid to a boil while stirring and scraping to loosen bits of sticky onion from the bottom of the pan.

If your greens are all very tender, add them all at once. If the beet stems are thicker, add them to the pan first and cook for a couple of minutes before adding the chopped leaves. Toss everything together in the skillet, and reduce the heat. Cover and cook on low heat for 5 – 10 minutes. Be careful not to overcook (a visual, not to mention culinary crime)! The fresher the greens, the less cooking time you need.

Remove from heat and toss with optional pine nuts. Place the greens in a shallow serving bowl. Allow the greens to cool a bit before serving. This recipe is great alone, or it can be used in pasta or even on pizza.

If you are a meat eater, I highly recommend Elise Bauer’s version of this dish: sauteed beet greens with bacon. Like many of Elise’s recipes, this one gets rave reviews from the omnivores in my life. If you aren’t familiar with Simply Recipes, visit Elise and find her tasty spin on sauteed beet greens here (click for link).

Potager Beauty: The Beet Leaf

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Gunmetal Glaze Bowl by California Artist Aletha Soulé

Article and all photographs are copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved. All content on this site (with noted exceptions) is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used, reproduced or reposted elsewhere without written consent.

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Spring Brunch from the Kitchen Garden: Shirred Eggs with Shiitake & Arugula …

April 30th, 2011 § 6

Shirred Eggs with Homegrown Shiitake Mushrooms & Garden-Fresh Arugula

I’ve always been a breakfast person. French toast, waffles, eggs, potatoes, pancakes; I enjoy them all. Sometimes, in fact, I would like them all at once. Because of my love affair with breakfast foods, I have developed some pretty liberal ideas about when they should be served. Brunch is a great idea of course, but I also happen to think huevos rancheros make a fine dinner. And those restaurants with the round-the-clock breakfast menus? Those are some of my favorite places.

During the growing season, my work day usually starts before sunrise. I love the early hours, but they seem to go by too fast. Often, I’m juggling a couple of different jobs, scrambling to get things done here in the office or out in my garden, and running off to appointments with landscape design clients. I don’t have time to sit down for a leisurely morning meal. So when I have a free weekend or morning off,  I treasure the opportunity to create an old fashioned breakfast or relaxing brunch. And at this time of year, I especially enjoy cooking with fresh, early-spring produce —mushrooms, arugula and fiddleheads— from the garden and surrounding forest.

Shiitake Mushrooms Emerging in the Woodland Garden at Ferncliff

The woodland mushroom garden began as a small experiment here, but has since blossomed into a full-blown production. There are so many mushrooms popping up right now, that it’s probably time to start selling them. Shiitake mushrooms are surprisingly easy to grow, and early-spring or autumn is the best time to begin a mushroom garden of your own. Wonderful when harvested fresh in spring and fall, shiitake can also be air-dried and stored for later use (soaked in water or wine they are easily reconstituted for use in myriad recipes; including soups, sauces, pasta and rice dishes). If you are interested in how shiitake are grown, travel back to last year’s post —by clicking here— for a step-by-step tutorial on the process. Of course, I have plenty of space for full-sized mushroom logs here. But if you enjoy cooking and eating mushrooms, growing them is within the realm of possibility for any gardener; even one with very little, or no outdoor space. Small, pre-inoculated mushroom logs can even be purchased online (in season) from retailers like Gardener’s Supply Company and Terrain. There’s nothing like the taste of fresh mushrooms, and with the cost gourmet food items like shiitake, it’s really worth your while to start growing your own!

After Great Success with the First Dozen Shiitake Logs – The Mushroom Garden Grew Again Last Fall

This Morning’s Crop

Another Favorite, Seasonal Crop: Ostrich Fern Fiddleheads (learn more about fiddleheads, and find a recipe for a fiddlehead omelette, by clicking here)

With a basket full of fresh shiitake and fiddleheads from the forest –and of course baby arugula from the kitchen garden— I had plenty of delicious produce for my late-morning breakfast today. I decided to save the fiddleheads for tomorrow’s omelette, and made shirred eggs with shiitake, arugula, cheddar cheese and cream. Shirred eggs —baked in ramekins or muffin tins— make a delicious meal; perfect for entertaining a crowd at brunch. And with Mother’s Day coming up next weekend, I thought I’d share this recipe and give you a chance to practice before you making it for company (once you taste this delicious combination of flavors, you will definitely want to share). Earthy shiitake have a wonderful, rich flavor that works well with the fresh zing of baby arugula. But if you don’t have access to your own or locally grown shiitake (yet) you can substitute a different mushroom or vegetable of choice . Have access to freshly foraged fiddleheads? Perhaps you’d like to try the Ferncliff Fiddlehead Omelette, which I featured last spring in this post ( click here ).

Shirred Eggs with Shiitake Mushrooms, Arugula, Cheese & Cream

An original recipe from my own kitchen

Ingredients (Makes 12, average muffin-tin sized baked eggs):

12          Fresh, medium-sized, organic eggs

3            Cups baby arugula leaves, freshly washed

3/4        Cup shiitake mushrooms washed & chopped into bite size pieces

3/4        Cup heavy cream (optional)

3/4        Cup cheddar cheese, grated

Softened butter for tins or ramekins

Fresh ground black pepper & salt to taste

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325°  Fahrenheit

Generously butter 12 ramekins or 12 regular size muffin tins. At bottom of each container, add one tablespoon chopped shiitake mushrooms, approximately one tablespoon baby arugula leaves (torn into bits if necessary) and 1/2 tablespoon of cheddar cheese. Pat ingredients to settle them in, and (optional) add one tablespoon of heavy cream. Carefully crack each egg over the top of the other ingredients. Place ramekins or muffin tins into the hot oven.

 

Bake at 325 F for 10 minutes or until the eggs are just starting to set. Remove from oven and sprinkle each egg with 1/2 tablespoon of cheese. Return to the heat for approximately 2 – 3 more minutes or until cheese is melted.

Meanwhile, arrange a nest of arugula greens on each plate.

Remove tins/ramekins from the oven and gently scoop each shirred egg from its container with a rubber spatula or large spoon (it helps to loosen each container around the edge with the tip of a rubber spatula or butter knife).  Settle each egg atop a bed of greens and garnish with a few arugula leaves, freshly ground black pepper & salt to taste. Serve warm.

These shirred eggs are wonderful with a fresh-squeezed minneola mimosa (click here or on the photo below for recipe)

Minneola Mimosa

You may also enjoy the Ferncliff Fiddlehead Omelette (click here or on photo below for the recipe and more about fiddleheads)

Ferncliff Fiddlehead Omelette

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Article and all photographs are copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used, reproduced or reposted elsewhere without written consent. Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links here. A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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Early Spring’s Sweetest Things…

March 30th, 2011 § 8

The New Sugar Shack at Deer Ridge Farm in Guilford, Vermont

Spring, oh spring, where are you? You certainly are a bit coquettish this year; teasing us with early catkins on willow, then snapping us with a sharp, cold sting. Yes, Spring has been withholding many early-season pleasures here in New England, but she always shows us just a bit of sweetness at this time of year in the form of maple syrup. Cold nights and warm days are part of the swing-season magic responsible for sap production here in the Northeast. And this year —with the chilly weather lingering a bit longer than usual— the maple sugaring season has been starting, stopping and sputtering along. Some days it’s too cold for sluggish sap to run —buckets sit frozen on trees— but on warmer days, the percussive sound of drips echoing along the road makes my morning walk something of a maple dance. And I think it’s always fun to end an early spring walk with a hot stack of fresh blueberry pancakes or lemony French toast, smothered in sweet maple syrup. Yum…

Though less efficient than modern methods of sap collecting, the classic tin sap-buckets are still my aesthetic favorite

The Scenic, Seasonal View Along the Road in My Neighborhood

This sugar maple has three buckets. What’s the largest number you’ve ever seen on a tree?

Though I have participated in the maple syrup-making process many times, I don’t boil sap here at my place in Vermont. However, locally made maple syrup is one of my favorite sweet treats, and since many of my friends and neighbors produce and sell maple products every year, I have access to some of the best syrup in the world. In fact, driving up and down the mucky roads in Vermont and elsewhere in the Northeast this month, it’s impossible to go far without seeing the familiar, early-spring sights of tin buckets hanging from maple trees (Acer saccharum) and steaming sugar shacks. Here are a few photos of the maple-syrup-making process, which I shot at local Deer Ridge Farm over the past couple of weeks (many thanks to Jerry Smith for allowing me in to the sugar shack during this busy season). Learn more about how maple syrup and other products are made from maple tree sap at the official Vemont Maple Syrup website, and for more links and resources on sugaring season in Vermont, be sure to check out this excellent post at the lovely Traveling Near and Far blog.

The heat necessary to boil maple sap down, creating sweet syrup, is usually generated by a wood burning stove or furnace

Jerry Smith of Deer Ridge Farm in Guilford, Vermont is Busy at Work, Boiling Sap He Collected from Local Sugar Maples

Sweet-scented steam fills the air inside the Deer Ridge Farm sugar shack

It takes an average of 40 gallons of sap to make just one gallon of maple syrup*. Just imagine how much time & work goes into that sweet topping, next time you take a bite of your Sunday pancake, waffle, pop-over, French toast or a sip of your Sugar Moon cocktail!

Maple Syrup is My Favorite Breakfast Topping, and I Particularly Love it on Lemony French Toast (click here for recipe)

My Sugar Moon Cocktail (click here for recipe) is Made with Locally Produced Maple Syrup

Blueberry Breakfast Popover (click here for recipe) is Absolutely Delicious with Fresh Maple Syrup

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Special thanks to Jerry Smith and Deer Ridge Farm. Maple products and other produce from Deer Ridge Farm may be found at the Brattleboro Farmers Market (click here for more information).

*Thank you also to Traveling Near and Far for links, resources and fun facts!

Article and photographs are copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used, reproduced or reposted elsewhere without written consent.

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The Scent of Homemade Bread on a Honey Drizzled Morning…

February 26th, 2011 § 2

Homemade Whole Wheat Bread and Farm-Style Butter

I Keep Dried Ornamental Grass —Miscanthus sinensis cut from the Garden– In My Bedroom Through Out the Winter Months. I Love How the Feathery Plumes and Golden Curls Catch Morning’s First Light…

Of course, I also enjoy looking at ornamental grass in the garden throughout the winter. This Miscanthus sinensis ‘Strictus’ always springs back, even after the heaviest of snow and freezing rain.

I admit, it’s tempting to jump on the anti-winter bandwagon at this time of year —seems that’s all the rage right now— but I’m not going to do that today. There’s simply too much to love about the pace of late February and early March in New England to rush things along. I enjoy watching the freeze and thaw process, and subtle changes in the fields and forest surrounding my home. Slowly now, the trees are beginning to wake up; sap running on warm days and sluggishly retreating to winter slumber each night. February snow squalls are often illuminated by bright, golden sunlight and sunset’s afterglow lingers long past five o’clock on the hills. Spring is drawing nearer every day. So, I’ll enjoy the last few weeks of hibernation from the world —weekends of sleeping in before the springtime rush begins— with homemade bread and cozy fires, and moments that linger like sweet, thick honey on a spoon.

And speaking of bread and honey… Lately my favorite spin on Jim Lahey’s famous, no-knead bread —you may remember this post about no-knead rosemary bread from last year— is a rustic, whole wheat loaf; adapted slightly to taste —at the author’s suggestion— from his fabulous book, My Bread. I like whole wheat bread served warm in the morning; fresh from the oven with farm-style butter (and by the way, I love this easy, homemade, organic butter tutorial from one of my favorite blogs, Kiss My Spatula) and a drizzle of golden honey. The scent of baking bread fills my little house with a scent I can only describe as love…

The Sweet Smell of Whole Wheat Bread Fills the House with the Most Incomparably Warm and Cozy Scent. If Unconditional Love Had a Fragrance, I Think the Scent of Homemade Bread Just Might Be It…

Whole Wheat Bread

Based upon Jim Lahey’s no-knead method from his book: My Bread

Ingredients: (makes one loaf)

2               Cups all purpose flour

1               Cup all-natural, whole wheat flour

1 1/4        Tsp salt

1/2           Tsp yeast

1 1/2        Cups cool water

Olive oil for coating bowl

Cornmeal for dusting

Directions:

First Afternoon: Combine flour, yeast and salt in a large working bowl. Add 1 1/2 cups of water, (room temperature), and blend to a shaggy looking mix. Use olive oil to lightly coat a second large working bowl. Transfer the dough to the second bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm room, (70 degrees fahrenheit is ideal), for 18 hours. Bubbles at the surface of the dough signal that it is ready to rework.

Next morning: Dust the work surface with flour and place the dough in the center. Lightly flour the top of the dough. Gently fold over a couple of times. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and allow the dough to rest for 15 minutes. Once again, dust the work surface and your hands with a bit of flour and quickly shape the dough into a ball. Sprinkle a plain, smooth cotton towel with cornmeal and place the dough on center. Cover with a second cotton towel. Allow the dough to rise until double in size, (about 2 hours).

After an hour and a half of final rising: begin preheating the oven to 500 degrees fahrenheit. While preheating, place a  2 3/4 – 8 quart heavy, lidded pot (such as a classic Cast Iron Dutch Oven) in the center of the oven. Heat pot for 1/2 hour. Very carefully remove the hot container from oven with heavy mitts.

Slide dough into the hot pot and shake to evenly distribute. Cover the pot, return to the hot oven, and bake for 25 minutes. Remove the lid and continue baking for 10-15 minutes, or until golden brown. Oven temperatures will vary, so observe very carefully the first time you bake bread.

Remove bread from the oven. Roll the loaf out of the pot and cool on a wire rack. Homemade bread will stay freshest in a bread-bag, loosely wrapped or a paper bag. Wrapping a loaf of bread tightly in plastic will make the surface soft instead of crusty. It’s best to eat fresh bread the day it is baked. Smear with farm-style butter, a drizzle of pure honey and enjoy !

Late February light is different…


Promising us something a little bit softer on the other side…

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The Early Bird Catches the Arugula… And the Chard, Spinach & Lettuce too!

February 19th, 2011 § 10

Arugula in the Hoophouse, January

Let’s start out with a bit of honesty, shall we? The four season harvest isn’t for wimps. Winter gardening  —growing plants in temperatures below freezing to sub-zero, beneath plastic sheeting— isn’t a natural act. And although I enjoy a good game of woman vs. wild, sometimes winter gets to be a bit much around here. Shoveling decks, terraces, walkways and woodpiles is a lot of work. And now that I’ve added potager path-clearing and hoophouse roof-raking to the list, I’ve created quite a snow-removal burden. So why do it? Because the taste of fresh arugula and the smell of damp earth on a cold February day is —as the people at Mastercard say— priceless. And I think a jump-start to the short, northern growing season is worth a little extra work (OK, so it’s a lot of extra work).

Look at that delicious earth! Would you believe this photo was taken just yesterday…

Inside this unheated hoophouse the smell of sweet, springtime soil fills the moist air!

Raking out hoophouse soil to prepare for late winter crop sowing

Over the past three years —cooking more at home and experimenting in my kitchen— I’ve become more and more interested in four-season vegetable gardening. And although I haven’t made the leap to a heated greenhouse yet, I’ve found that with proper timing, I can keep some crops going in my hoophouses year round. Greens sown in late fall will germinate and then continue to grow (albeit much more slowly) throughout the short, cold days of winter. Tender crops are out of the question of course, but tasty root vegetables sown in early autumn can be harvested from cold houses straight into the new year. Seedlings require light to grow —10-12 hours of daylight is a good rule of thumb— so the sowing of seed is suspended during the weeks leading up to —and about a month and a half after– the winter solstice. But come late January, February and March —when the days are getting longer, and sunlight is getting stronger — I can begin sowing cold-hardy, late winter crops in my unheated hoophouses, for early spring harvest. Yesterday I planted a variety of greens in house #3 (arugula, chard, spinach, lettuce and mesclun mix), and I pulled spent crops and turned soil in house #1 to prepare for more planting (carrots, radishes and other crops) on my next free afternoon. If you are interested in learning more about the four-season harvest and winter vegetable gardening, I highly recommend Eliot Coleman’s books. And if you’d like to build a hoophouse of your own this spring (I now have four, with three currently in use) click here for basic plans. I’m hoping to upgrade to a larger, walk-in cold house this year.

Hoophouses protecting early fall-sown crops in late December, just before the snow (automatic back vents help moderate temperatures)

Sowing crops in hoophouse #3: Mid-February

Gardening in winter is all about science, but it sure feels like magic when you can reach your hand into sweet, sun-warmed earth on a cold and windy day. And it’s even more spectacular when you’re enjoying your own salad greens and root vegetables —harvested from an icy, snow-covered garden— at dinner in January and February. Winter pasta with fresh arugula, root-cellared onions and olive-oil preserved, sun-dried tomatoes —all from the garden— now that is priceless…

Arugula harvested from the hoophouse

Pasta with freshly harvested arugula — plus caramelized onions, braided & stored in the root cellar and sun-dried tomatoes, preserved in olive oil— all from the garden…

Here’s the potager, with house #1 and #2 buried by nearly 3′ of snow and ice. I still can’t believe they didn’t collapse. And yes, I shoveled them out all by myself. Sadly, Alfred hasn’t left Batman for me yet. I can’t figure out why…

Mountains of shoveling…

Followed by more shoveling…

And bringing in wood…

But who wouldn’t appreciate the beauty that makes it all worthwhile…

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Article and photos ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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Dreaming of Springtime’s Sweet Veggies: Planning a Lush, Welcoming Potager…

February 16th, 2011 § 1

A tumbling jumble of nasturtiums creates a warm welcome for people and pollinators alike

Sweet seats! In June, the potager becomes my outdoor living/dining room

Wide pathways and mounded-earth beds give me plenty of room to work and maneuver about with carts and wheelbarrows

Winter is a wonderful season —I’m still having fun snowshoeing and enjoying quiet time indoors— but I have to admit that there’s one thing I’m really starting to miss about summer: leisure time in the vegetable garden. I love hanging out in my pretty little potager, and every morning —spring through fall— I head outside with a big cup of coffee to do a bit of weeding, watering and harvesting before work. My pets usually join me —rolling around in the warm, golden straw pathways— while I garden. Later on in the day, I often return to the potager and settle into my comfy wicker chair with a glass of wine to enjoy the sunset hour. On warm evenings, I sometimes eat my dinner in the garden; surrounded by the fragrance of sun-warmed herbs and the sound of summertime birds. Vegetable plots always grow best when they are frequently visited by the gardener’s shadow, and to me, this is no trouble at all —it’s pure bliss…

I like to try different varieties of vegetables and fruits every year. But some old-favorites make it into the potager every year. My favorite tomatoes include Early Girl, Orange Blossom, Lemon Boy, Brandywine, San Marzanos. I also love cherry tomatoes; particularly Sungold and Sweet 100s

Home grown hot peppers are both beautiful and tasty. I like to experiment with this crop too, but I always grow plenty of jalapeño, ancho and serrano chile peppers.

My diet is mainly vegetarian, and one of my favorite things about summer, is that I can completely avoid the grocery store for months (I buy my eggs and dairy products from a nearby farm stand). Growing basics, like potatoes, makes it easy to create impromptu, garden-fresh meals every day.

Now that I’ve begun sowing some early crops —herbs and onions indoors & arugula, spinach and lettuce in the unheated hoophouses— I’m really starting to get excited about the growing season ahead. I’ve ordered most of my vegetable seed —packages have already begun to arrive— and I just sent in my seed potato orders to Ronnigers and The Maine Potato Lady yesterday afternoon. Mid-late winter is a good time to begin planning and plotting out your vegetable garden on paper (1/4″ square grid paper works great for this purpose, with each standard box equalling one square foot of garden space), and to finish purchasing seed if you haven’t done so yet. Back in December, I mentioned that I enjoy the process of keeping an annual gardening journal and calendar. Not only is it fun to look back on my successes —and important to analyze failures— but my garden calendar & notes also remind me of things I want to plant (more potatoes and berries!), improvements I want to make (more vertical supports for peas, beans, melons and cucumbers, a new set of compost bins, and a garden shed!), and things I need to re-stock (like fish emulsion, twine and other supplies). Keeping a copy of what I planted —and where I planted it last year— is key to crop rotation (and avoiding pests and diseases). Drawing up a plan and listing everything out also prevents over-ordering or forgotten crops!

Building a pretty potager need not be expensive! My garden fence —pictured above— was built from saplings harvested on-site. And the wicker furniture in my garden was found —wearing a “free” sign— on the side of the road.

When laying out your garden, remember to include space for companion flowers and herbs. Although companion planting has become one of the more hotly debated horticultural topics —with some gardeners believing in its value, and others questioning the scientific proof of success— there is no doubt that flowering plants attract and support pollinating insects —like bees and butterflies— to your vegetable garden. And no matter where you stand on the companion planting issue, it’s pretty hard to argue with the horticultural value of pollinating insects and the beauty of flowers in the vegetable garden. Zinnias, sunflowers, cosmos, shasta daisies, calendula (particularly the French marigold) and nasturtiums are easy-to-grow, and all make gorgeous vegetable garden additions. In addition to planting flowers in and around my vegetables, I grow extra blooms in my potager —just for cutting. Climbers are also pretty in the vegetable garden, especially if you have a rustic fence or trellis (vertical supports are particularly useful if you have limited space). Old-time, deliciously fragrant sweet peas are best sown directly outdoors as soon as the ground can be worked, but many flowers —including climbers like morning glories— can be started indoors for earlier bloom. And if you like to decorate with dried flowers in late summer and fall —or want to make wreaths— consider growing globe amaranth (Gomphrena), love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena), Bells of Ireland (Moluccella laevis), statice (Limonium sinuatum), and other everlasting blooms in your cutting garden.

I love flowers in the vegetable garden, and fresh-cut bouquets in my house. So I grow plenty of beautiful bloomers in my potager.

I can’t imagine life without a vegetable garden. I grew up with horticulture —my family raised and sold organically grown strawberries and other produce— and teaching me how to grow my own food —and more importantly, the joy and value of gardening— is one of the greatest gifts my parents gave me. If you have children of your own, I encourage you to involve them in as much of the gardening process as possible. When planning your spring garden, order a few extra seed packets —both flowers and vegetables if you can make the room— just for your kids. Children will always remember early gardening experiences like sowing seed, and harvesting their first crop of peas. Even the smallest task —like carrying the harvest basket or looking for bugs— teaches children that their contributions matter to the family. With kids, it’s important to focus on the process of gardening —not so much the product— so that the entire experience is rewarding.

Sunflowers are a fun, easy-to-grow crop for children

Here, my friends Myriah and her daughter, Dharma, moisten seed their starting mix together

Make Gardening Come to Life: Sow Seeds, and Watch them Germinate

I plant my vegetable garden in 3′ x 8′, raised, earth-mounded beds. I try to keep enough space between the beds to comfortably maneuver around with a weeding basket and to pass through with a wheelbarrow or garden cart. This system works well for me, but I have seen many other successful vegetable growing methods. Urban gardeners may grow in pots or planters, and some suburban gardeners like to build wooden boxes to contain vegetables in the square-foot garden style, and many country gardeners simply till soil and hoe rows. There is no right or wrong way to set up your vegetable garden: experiment, do what works best for you, and enjoy the process. If you are new to gardening, it is a good idea to start small and grow your space as your confidence increases. Over the years, as I’ve become more interested in cooking and baking, my vegetable garden has doubled in size. It’s such a pleasure to create meals with beautiful, ripe, organic vegetables, grown and harvested fresh in my own backyard. This year, I plan on adding more hard-to-get, gourmet produce in my potager. I’ll be planting crops that store well in winter (like gourmet potatoes and onions, garlic, squash, carrots and beets), as well as seasonal, enjoy-at-the-moment produce like heirloom tomatoes, lemon cucumbers, and other unusual fruits and vegetables from around the world. I love eating fresh food all summer long, and by adding row-covers and unheated hoophouses to the garden, I’ve been able to extend my growing season; harvesting some produce —like root vegetables and leafy greens— year-round. I can’t wait to dig back in! This week, I’ll be posting more details about my spring garden plans, and I look forward to hearing about yours both here, and on Facebook and Twitter!

Remember fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes?

Helianthus annus ‘Autumn Beauty’ – Sunflower in my Potager

Remember the smell of the earth? It’s coming… Soon!

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Special thanks to Tim Geiss for his fantastic seed starting photos. Visit Tim’s site here.

Article and potager photos ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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