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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Oh, Sweet-Scented Orchard Blossoms! Selecting & Growing Fruit Trees at Walker Farm with Zeke Goodband…

April 29th, 2012 § 2

Apple Blossoms at Scott Farm in Dummerston, Vermont

The Sweet Scent of Spring: Filling My Hands with Fragrant Apple Blossom Petals as They Fall from the Trees

A Inspirational, Springtime Stroll through the Heirloom Apple Orchard at Scott Farm in Vermont

Many gardeners dream of an orchard filled with homegrown peaches, plums, pears, quince, cherries and apples, fresh for the picking. Fruit trees make wonderful additions to the home landscape, and given proper selection and care, they will provide both beauty and sustenance to the gardener for many years. Spring is the best time of year to plant young fruit trees, and I’m often asked to incorporate them into my garden designs. It’s important for all gardeners —including professionals— to refresh and supplement their horticultural knowledge from year to year, and stay on top of trends. So over the weekend, I joined an eager audience of backyard gardeners at Walker Farm in Dummerston, Vermont, to listen to our local fruit tree expert and orchardist extraordinaire, Zeke Goodband of Scott Farm, share his tips on selecting, growing and pruning fruit trees. I always learn something new from Zeke, and here’s a bit of what he had to offer by way of advice on choosing and caring for young trees in the home orchard…

Orchardist Zeke Goodband demonstrates proper technique for staking young, semi-dwarf fruit trees in the first two years after planting. Pointing out the need for care when strapping trees to stakes, in order avoid damaging the living cambium layer of the tree, Zeke explains that wire, twine and rope may cut through this important layer of bark. Never tie directly to the tree. Zeke recommends using soft, pliant material —such as cloth or rubber— to create a sling around the bark, in order to protect the tree when anchoring and tying it to stakes.

The most important step to take when planting fruit trees —whether an entire backyard orchard or a single specimen tree in the garden— is to properly assess the site. Fruit trees of all kinds require full sun and excellent drainage. In order for trees to flower and develop fruit, they need light from sunrise to sunset throughout the growing season. A little bit of shade in early morning or late afternoon is acceptable —though not optimal— for fruit trees, but a half day of sun or full shade will not provide fruit trees with the conditions they need to grow and produce fruit. In addition, keep in mind that all fruit trees are intolerant of wet soil. So before you get your heart set on a backyard filled with apples and peaches, explore your site with a shovel. Is it poorly drained? If so, choose another site. When the roots of fruit trees sit in wet soil, the tree will slowly decline and eventually die. Equally important, be sure to provide your fruit trees with plenty of room to grow. Even though many modern fruit trees are referred to as semi-dwarf, they still need to be positioned at least 10′ from buildings and other objects, and 15-20′ from other trees. This is important. In order to grow and flourish —and avoid diseases— trees need ample sunlight and airflow.

Another site issue worth considering when planting fruit trees is the presence of wildlife. Deer can cause a tremendous amount of damage to unprotected fruit trees —both to fruit and branches in all seasons— so if deer are common guests to your property, building a fence —at least 8′ tall— is advisable to protect your home orchard. Apple trees are particularly vulnerable to deer browse. For a single tree or small grouping, a more economical, shorter fence may be used to surround and protect the trees.

Zeke discusses some of the differences between the cherry tree varieties available at Walker Farm, and talks about how to select, and care for young trees after planting

Once a site has been carefully chosen, fruit trees may be ordered bare-root —from an online source or mail-order catalog— or they may be purchased in pots at local orchards, nurseries and garden centers, where they may be hand-selected. Walker Farm sells many kinds of beautiful, hardy fruit trees —apples, cherries, peaches, plums and pears, to name a few— and most are three years old. Peaches begin to provide fruit at a very young age, and although they are short-lived (Zeke suggests re-planting peaches every 10 years or so), they are quick to provide a sweet reward; making them a great choice for that first tree.

Once your fruit trees arrive to their new home, how well they are cared for will determine your success and future yield. Bare root trees will need to be planted soon after they arrive. If you must wait, be sure to keep the trees in a cool, dark place (such as the box in which they arrived). Soak the roots briefly —while digging the holes— and settle them in with a long, slow drink of water after planting (a 5 gallon bucket of water with small hole for steady drip works well). When planting fruit trees —bare root or potted— Zeke discourages improving the subsoil with compost or manure. The goal is to get the trees to settle in; spreading their roots beyond the planting hole. If the soil is over-enriched, the roots of the tree will likely remain confined to the planting hole, instead of spreading out and properly anchoring the tree. When planting a potted tree, dig the hole slightly bigger than the container and back-fill with the same soil. When settling the tree into the hole, be sure to leave the graft-union —looks like a knobby elbow— exposed 2-4″ above the soil, and then back-fill completely —avoiding air pockets— tamping the soil very lightly with your foot when complete. There’s no need to fertilize or add compost as top dressing until the tree leafs out. Once it does, fertilizer (10-10-10) or compost may be sprinkled around the root area and lightly worked in. Young trees do like nitrogen for the first 3-4 years (and peaches grow and fruit best when given nitrogen every year, throughout their lifetime) but never feed your trees after the 4th of July (and always avoid using tree spikes. Zeke really dislikes these —as do I— because in seasons with dry springs and wet falls, they neglect feeding when needed and then provide it at the worst possible time: when trees need to go dormant). In order to discourage pests and eliminate root competition, it’s very, very important to keep the root area of fruit trees clear of weeds and grass. So, a layer of mulch (2-3 inches at the base), plus regular weed patrol, is a good idea.

Voles and string trimmers —both of which damage the tender cambium layer of bark— are the enemy of young fruit trees. Protect your trees by creating 18″ high, circular wire cages from hardware cloth. Avoid use of plastic tree-wraps, as they harbor harmful pests, including borers. Hardware cloth (made from 1/4″ metal mesh), settled into the ground surrounding the tree, is what Zeke recommends to protect young trees from girdling by hungry rodents and/or nicks from unwieldy lawn crews. You may recall my mention of wire tubes for protecting ornamental trees in winter. The construction of hardware-mesh protection for fruit trees is quite similar (click here for previous post).

Young, semi-dwarf trees should also be supported with stakes for the first couple of years (fully dwarf trees should be supported throughout their lifetimes). Be sure to use a non-binding and non-chafing sling when strapping the tree to the stakes. Never use wire or twine —which may cut through the tender, outer bark— and avoid tying twine directly around the tree. Rubber or canvas slings, secured to the stakes with twine, work well to support young trees and prevent them from toppling or rocking in the wind.

Zeke demonstrates fruit thinning on a peach tree  —to one peach every 6″ or so— and explains the importance of this technique. Failure to thin heavy crops of fruit may result in broken branches or limbs and poor fruit production the following season

When selecting young trees, buy early in the season from a reputable orchard, nursery or garden center, and always have a careful look at the entire tree, including the root zone (lift gently at the base and slide the rootball from the pot to insure a healthy, non-pot-bound tree). Also, have a look at the leaves, bark and the basic structure of the tree. Does it look healthy; free of wilted or skeletonized leaves? Avoid bringing trouble home to your garden, and once planted, keep a regular look-out for tent caterpillars and other pests by checking on your trees, and supplying water if necessary, every few days.

Zeke demonstrates how vertically-inclined branches on this pear tree are trained to a more horizontal shape through tying techniques

After fielding some pest-management questions, Zeke went on to demonstrate formative pruning and tying techniques for training young fruit trees for best production. Pollination of fruit trees by honeybees and other insects is very important, and although many fruit trees are cross-pollinated by wide variety of local, flowering trees, Zeke points out that planting fruit trees in multiple usually gives the best results in terms of fruit production. Getting young, upright trees to flower and produce  —particularly upright pear, plum and apple trees— can be a challenge. To encourage fruit production —which takes place on horizontal branches— Zeke demonstrated how vertical limbs are gently trained in a more horizontal or angled position and tied down. This technique can be used with the more upright varieties of pears, apples, plums, peaches and other fruit trees, to encourage a more horizontally-tiered shape. If you have ever trained a climbing rose to flower (using horizontal fan shape) you will be familiar with this concept. Some trees have a naturally open, horizontally-branching framework and require little tying or pruning to produce fruit. For example, the Japanese ‘Shiro’ plum (Prunus ‘Shiro’) has a lovely, open shape; making it aesthetically pleasing as an ornamental and productive as an edible. In addition to tying, Zeke explained the process of thinning apple blossoms from the average of five per cluster to one or two blossoms per cluster. What about pruning? Zeke advises that over-pruning young fruit trees is a mistake. Other than correcting tight crotch angles and removing competing leaders —or other obvious problems like rubbing or broken branches— avoid pruning fruit trees for the first few years. Later on in the life of your fruit tree, prune trees during winter dormancy to keep the shape low, open and horizontally branching, as well as to remove diseased or seasonally damaged wood.

Zeke demonstrates how he would prune this young Honey Crisp apple tree; selecting a strong, central leader and removing a competing, vertical branch

If a gardener is hoping to harvest fruit in the near future, adding a few early-to-bear peach and pear trees would be a great place to start. Walker Farm had several varieties of each on hand; including golden ‘Bartlett’ pears and north-hardy, sweet and juicy ‘Redhaven’ peaches. Zeke  discussed some of the best varieties of cherries for our area, noting that trees producing tart fruits —such as ‘Danube’ and ‘Montmorency’— do better than the sweet cherry varieties this far north. But he quickly dispelled the myth that hardy fruit trees grown locally will do better than those grown outside of this region. Because fruit tree varieties are genetically identical, and grafted upon rootstock, a tree raised in Washington (hardy to your zone) has as good a chance of survival as one grafted and raised up the road. Still, I plan to shop for fruit trees locally to take advantage of the expert advice given by lifelong farmers like Zeke Goodband and Jack Manix. An experienced, successful farmer’s words-of-wisdom —and quick wit— are worth their weight in gold.

Thank you to Zeke Goodband for an incredible seminar, and to Walker Farm for sponsoring a spring’s worth of Saturday morning gardening seminars, free to the public! (Click here for information on upcoming seminars, and register to save your seat)

To read more about Zeke Goodband & his work at Scott Farm Orchard, click here and explore my previous posts (including recipe posts).

 Autumn Apple Harvest at Scott Farm in Vermont

Heirloom Apple Treasures

And of Course, the Best Part of Fruit Trees is … Experimenting in the Kitchen with Orchard-Fresh, Heirloom Fruit! Click here for French Apple Cake Recipe 

Resources for the Home Orchard …

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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October Orchard Dreaming …

October 8th, 2011 Comments Off

Scott Farm Orchard at Twilight with October’s Waxing Hunter Moon

Autumn is apple season in New England, and come October, there’s no place I’d rather be than in an orchard, dreaming. Lucky gal that I am, last week, Ezekiel Goodband —orchardist at Historic Scott Farm in Dummerston, Vermont— took time out of his very busy day to stroll through row upon row of heirloom apple trees with me; sharing some of the sweet delights of the harvest. I’ll be posting more articles and images from my autumn orchard visits over the coming weeks, but in meantime, you may want to check out previous Scott Farm Orchard posts from seasons past. For descriptions and photos of the farm and its heirloom apples, click here. And for orchard-blossom-gazing, click here for a Scott Farm photo essay from this past spring. Of course when it comes to apple orchards, the best time to visit is during the harvest season. Should you find yourself wandering through the hills of southern Vermont this fall, be sure to stop in and visit this gorgeous, historic farm for rare and exquisite heirloom fruit, delicious, fresh-pressed cider, orchard honey, sweet preserves and delightful baked goods. Scott Farm will be hosting Heirloom Apple Day this Sunday, October 9th, and free apple tastings are scheduled at 10am, 12pm and 2pm. For more information, see the Scott Farm website by clicking here.

Apple-Laden Branches: Scott Farm Orchard Contains More Than 70 Different Varieties of Ecologically Grown Heirloom Apples 

Heirloom Apple Trees at Scott Farm Orchard

Color, Fragrance, Flavor and Texture: A Stroll Through the Orchard is a Delight for All of the Senses

Vernacular Beauty: The Barns at Scott Farm

Crates Loaded with Freshly Harvested Heirloom Apples from the Hilltop Orchard at Scott Farm

Glass Windows Reflect a Gorgeous, October Sky

The Working Buildings at Historic Scott Farm Orchard in Vermont

Historic Orchard Buildings, Surrounded by Hills and Running Water …

The Orchard Provides a Perfect Setting for a Late Afternoon, Alfresco Snack

The Waxing Hunter Moon Rising Above Scott Farm at Twilight

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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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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Plow & Hearth

A Stroll Through the Blossom-Laden Apple Trees & Petal-Strewn Paths … Scott Farm & Springtime in Vermont

May 19th, 2011 § 4

The Gardener on a Rainy Day Stroll Though the Blossom-Filled Orchard at Beautiful Scott Farm in Southern Vermont

Delicate, Pink-Tinted Heirloom Apple Blossoms Perfume the Damp Air

The Orchard and Misty Mountain View at Scott Farm

A busy, wet morning gave way to a brief window of opportunity between showers. With a list of errands and a calendar jam-packed with appointments and responsibilities, there’s little time to spare. Still, the moment of spring is brief, and I couldn’t resist the siren song of a favorite place, calling to me from the shrouded hills above the highway. Make time, she whispered, make time…

Scott Farm Orchard. A spontaneous stroll through petal-strewn, verdant paths in May. Fog and mist draped hills, heavy air perfumed by heavenly-scented apple blossoms; this orchard is a magical place in any season, but I find it particularly enchanting in the vernal {and later, autumnal} months. And so, showered by sparkling raindrops and cascading flower petals, I found myself lost for a blissful hour in springtime’s sweet, seductive company…

Peak Beauty: Pink Buds and Fragrant Flowers Still Bloom Amongst Fallen Petals

Apple Petal Puddles

Pink-Tinted Perfection

Some readers may recall my previous post on historic Scott Farm in autumn, with photographs of orchardist Ezekiel Goodband’s heirloom apples along side his historic and poetic descriptions of their origin, color, fragrance and flavor. Later used in a slide show and article on heirloom apples, “What’s Driving Our Favorite Fruit Into Decline”, written by Gary Nabhan for Grist.com (click here to visit Grist), the story “Original Sin?…” remains one of the most popular posts on this blog. I’ll be writing more about heirloom fruit, apple trees and Scott Farm in the coming weeks, but for now, enjoy the simple beauty of this wonderfully magical place on a rainy day in May…

Apple Orchards are Beautifully Fragrant in Springtime, and Again in Autumn, When Fruit Hangs Ripe and Blushing on the Trees

Peeking Through the Branches into a Magical Forest of Blossoms

Busy Bees Work the Trees, Devoted to the Work of Their Alchemy

And the Gardener Pauses to Appreciate and Give Thanks to Her Muse…

***

Special thanks to Zeke Goodband for allowing me beyond the magical orchard gate at Scott Farm

Photos of Michaela for The Gardener’s Eden by W.B.

Article and all Other Photographs ⓒ Michaela at 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 reproduced or reposted without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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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!

***

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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I’ve Got Sunshine On A Cloudy Day… My First In-Print Gardening Article for Martha Stewart Living Magazine!

January 20th, 2011 § 9

Enjoying the Fruits of my Labor in Martha Stewart Living Magazine

Some moments are worth celebrating with friends! My first gardening article for Martha Stewart Living —“Sunshine in a Pot”— has just been published in both print and electronic format. Savor the sweet moment with me and pick up a copy of February’s Martha Stewart Living Magazine or download the iPad App— it’s a beautiful issue…

Martha Stewart Living Magazine – Subscription via Amazon

Johnny Miller’s gorgeous photographs set the sunny mood for my citrus-growing article; filled with all of the horticultural information, online resources and cultural tips you’ll need to get started with these rewarding plants. Martha Stewart Living iPad edition also contains wonderful citrus recipes; including Meyer lemon butter, lemon pine-nut tart and Meyer lemon coffee cake.

A Splash of Sunny Color and Lively, Citrus Flavor Brightens Grey Mid-Winter Days and Helps Chase Away the Blues…

Imagine waking up to the scent of citrus blossoms; their sweet, delicate fragrance perfuming the air. Picture yourself stepping through the door and into the next room; plucking a plump, juicy lemon, glowing orange or shimmering lime from the branches of your own tiny citrus tree…

Slice a bit of fresh lemon for your morning tea. Close your eyes and breathe deep. Instantly, the fragrance transports you: grey clouds and dingy snowbanks disappear as you are whisked away to a sunny Mediterranean terrace; sampling a zesty lemon granita as the vespas fly by…

Have an Apple iPad ?
If you do, click to download Martha Stewart Living Digital Magazine and Mobile Apps

The pulp: “Sunshine in a Pot” contains all of the sweet, cultural details you need to succeed with homegrown citrus. Also inside this issue of MSLiving: discover the southern charm of Camellias in a feature gardening article by Stacey Hirvella —with dreamy photographs by Ngoc Minh Ngo— along with the always delicious recipes, fantastic decor and fabulous crafting ideas you know and love.

The beautiful sea-green glazed mug in this post is by Virginia Wyoming

Special thank you to Stacey Hirvella and Miranda Van Gelder

***

Article and Photos (excepting links from Martha Stewart Living) ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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The Strawberry Shortcake Facial – A (Mostly-True) Country Girl Story, Where Dallas, Dynasty and Falcon Crest Meet Fruit Mush. Plus, a Really Great Recipe for Strawberry Shortcake. I Swear…

June 12th, 2010 § 6

Strawberry Shortcake with Homemade Butter Biscuits…

I grew up in a strawberry patch. Yes, I mean that literally. My family grew and sold organic berries, and when I was a kid, my sister and I spent many hours in the strawberry fields picking and tending the crops. Once you’re a grownup, this sounds pretty idyllic. However for a couple of kids, it’s kind of boring to pick berries for hours and hours on a beautiful summer day. You have to use your imagination to break up the monotony. And since my sister and I were always pretty inventive, we found plenty of creative ways to entertain ourselves…

If you’ve ever grown strawberries -or spent time picking them on hazy summer days- you know that there is a point in late June when the berries ripen so quickly, that you can’t keep up with the harvest. Add humid weather -which we often get in New England- and a few days of steady rain, and soon all of the over-ripe berries start rotting right on the plants. My dad instructed us to pick off these mushy, often slimy berries, to protect the rest of the crops from mold. And sometimes, after a particularly wet week, we would have as many throw-away berries as market-worthy fruits. Usually we would fling these slimy rejects as far away as we could; aiming for distant trees, clanging tin pie plates, wooden stakes or the odd scarecrow. Sometimes, we would collect the mushy berries and pile them on rocks for hungry chipmunks, or toss them into the meadow for birds. But then we got another idea…

This was the 1980’s and, as country kids, we were pretty fascinated with the glam city-culture beyond our reach.  T.V. Shows like Dallas, Dynasty and Falcon Crest, mostly airing past our bedtime -though our mom was pretty lenient about those kinds of things- were populated with sexy characters who sauntered around in puffy-shoulder pads, silky robes and high heeled mules. Talk about another world. Things like sports cars, cocktail parties, private jets, exotic spas, pedicures and facials were a big part of those fictitious women’s lives. In fact, much of their scheming seemed to take place during conversations on their boudoir telephones, while (unbeknownst to their male love-interests) goopy masks of one sort or another were smeared upon their pouty pusses. At the time, our mom was also into beauty treatments, though her’s didn’t come in Borghese or Chanel jars like those we saw on Alexis Carrington’s dresser. My mother of course made her own facial concoctions from what we thought to be truly gross ingredients; mostly things you would eat -but usually not in combination- like yogurt, eggs, cucumbers and lemon juice. Definitely NOT glam. But somehow, we must have been influenced…

I’m not really sure of how it all started. Maybe it was our mom’s idea, or maybe it was something we came up with. Maybe it was an accident, and maybe it was on purpose. Anyway, one hot afternoon, certainly following some drama, a handful of smashed berries ended up on someone’s face. And then another handful… And another… And another… Until our faces were completely covered in mushy strawberry goo. Of course this reduced us to gut-splitting giggles, and we thought it was all pretty hysterical -and outrageous – but somehow we decided it was also very, very glam. This ‘spa treatment’ came to be known as the ‘strawberry shortcake facial’, and it was all the rage that summer in the field. Yes, I know we weren’t the first -and definitely won’t be the last- kids to smear strawberry mush on our faces… But it sure is a sweet summer memory…

Strawberries are still my favorite fruit, and although my berry patch is quite small when compared to the one I grew up with, I do grow several different varieties in my garden. This year the early-bearing crops are fruiting a bit ahead of schedule, and even the alpine strawberries are beginning to turn red. Strawberries are easy to grow, and I will be posting more on the subject soon. But if you are just starting a patch for yourself, you may want to skip ahead and check out the post “Strawberry (and Blueberry and Raspberry and Kiwi) Fields Forever” I wrote for B&N’s Garden Variety earlier this week, featuring a review of Barbara Bowling’s great guide to raising small fruit, The Berry Growers Companion.

As soon as they are ripe, the first thing I always make with my fresh strawberries is shortcake. To me, this treat signals the unofficial start of summer. And to this day, whenever I pluck ruby ripe berries in the field, and slice them to make strawberry shortcake -my favorite summertime dessert- I think of my sister and our glamorous fresh-fruit facials. And you want to know a secret? Sometimes, when I am by myself, I still sneak a bit of the strawberry shortcake mash on my face as a special ‘treatment’. Truth be told, on rainy days, I might even do it while scheming on the phone. Hey, it’s like I always say: who says a gardener can’t be glamorous… ?

Freshly Washed Strawberries from the Garden…

Strawberry Shortcake

Ingredients (Serves 6)

4           Cups washed and sliced strawberries – plus extra for garnish

1           Tbs sugar, (adjust to tartness of berries)

1           Pint whipping cream

1/2       Tsp vanilla

Fresh mint leaves for garnish (optional)

Biscuits

2            Cups flour

2 1/2     Tsp baking powder

1            Tsp salt

6            Tbs unsalted, chilled butter, plus extra for serving

3/4         Cup whole milk (plus extra for brushing biscuits)

Directions:

In order to get a juicy bowl of shortcake, you need to start at least an hour ahead. I don’t hull freshly picked berries, but if you prefer to do this, hull right before you slice them, or they will dry out. Wash and pick over the berries, and slice them, (not too thin… gross), into a bowl. Mash about 1/3-1/2 of them, but don’t turn the whole bowl into mush, (again, gross). Add sugar, tasting as you go, then cover the bowl and refrigerate for an hour or so. You can whip the cream and vanilla ahead of time too, if you like, and refrigerate. Some people prefer sugar in their whipped cream. I like mine unsweetened in this instance, to create a contrast between the tart/sweet berries and the vanilla-tinted cream.

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.

In a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients together well. Cut the butter into thin slices, (about 10), and mix into the dry ingredients with a pastry blender. Work the dough until it’s crumbly and resembles cornmeal. Add the milk and quickly mix it together, blending well. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead it just a bit.

Roll the dough out 1/2 inch thick and cut into 3 inch round discs with a cookie cutter or pastry form. You should end up with about 8 biscuits. Place the biscuits on an unbuttered cookie sheet and brush with milk.

Bake 15 minutes, or until golden brown on top. Remove promptly. Split hot biscuits in half and place them in bowls. Spread with fresh butter. Once the butter has melted, add a generous amount of berries and whipped cream to one biscuit, then top with the other biscuit, and repeat. Garnish with fresh mint and a whole berry, and serve warm.

Dallas on DVD !!!

Dynasty on DVD !!!

Article and almost all photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

Photos of Messy Michaela by an Anonymous Accomplice

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A Rhapsody in Blue: Selecting and Planting Vaccinium corymbosum, (Highbush Blueberry), Plus a Favorite Recipe for Blueberry-Lemon Bread…

March 31st, 2010 § 11

A Rhapsody in Blue 

What would you say if I told you that I know of an amazing cold-hardy shrub, with creamy, bell-like spring flowers, glossy green leaves, brilliant fall foliage, colorful winter stems and an attractive, well-rounded form? Interested yet? It may come as a surprise that the shrub I am describing is none other than the common highbush blueberry, (Vaccinium corymbosum). Of course, the highbush blueberry is widely cultivated for its delicious fruit, but it’s often overlooked as a useful addition to ornamental gardens. Native to eastern North America, this gorgeous shrub can be found growing wild in acidic soil from central Canada all the way down to Florida, with a western range from Minnesota, south to Louisiana. Typically reaching a mature size of 8-12 feet high and wide, highbush blueberries are most commonly found in USDA zones 3-7. Although lowbush blueberries,(Vaccinium angustifolium), are also a fine and quite hardy shrub -famously grown for fruit in the state of Maine- they too are are rarely grown in ornamental gardens. This is a shame, as lowbush blueberries make a fine ground cover, producing pollinator-friendly blossoms and very sweet fruit. They also display beautiful autumn color.

If you live in a climate with lengthy cool seasons, highbush blueberries are easy to cultivate either in the vegetable garden, berry patch or mixed border. This is a relatively long-lived shrub, with few pests and diseases. When provided with the proper conditions, blueberry bushes make fantastic garden plants. Although Vaccinium corymbosum are generally trouble-free, a few growing tips will help increase berry yield and plant health…

Vaccinium corymbosum autumn color

In life, I often find that a group of diverse, mixed company creates great culture. With blueberry varieties this is especially true. When buying plants, keep in mind that for best pollination and fruit set, you should choose two different varieties of blueberry bushes that bloom at the same time. If you would like fruit throughout the season, try growing several different varieties in the same patch. When choosing plants, ask a local grower which varieties grow and produce best in your area. Some excellent early to midseason varieties include ‘Blueray’,’Duke’ and ‘Berkeley’. For later fruit try ‘Jersey Blue’ and ‘Elliot’ varieties. Again, ask your local grower for some recommendations. Remember that every variety will have a slightly different flavor.

When growing blueberries, one of the most important aspects of cultivation to consider is soil acidity. All blueberry bushes prefer a pH below 5, with an ideal range between 4.5 and 4.8. Be sure to test your soil pH with a kit. If your soil is more alkaline (even neutral is too alkaline for blueberries) you may lower the pH by adding sulfur, pine needles and/or other naturally acidic materials both to the soil and as a regular top-dressing in mulch. Blueberries are shallow-rooted plants and they require moist, but well-drained soil. Unless your garden receives at least an inch or two of rain per week, you will want to water your shrubs. The best way to keep soil moist and plants weed-free is to apply a wood chip/pine needle mulch. When planting new blueberry bushes, be sure not to plant too deeply. Keep the top of the pot level even with your existing soil, and add 1/3 peat moss to the planting mix when you backfill the dirt. Be sure to saturate the soil and peat, as well as the planting hole, with water. Do not fertilize your blueberry bushes for 2-3 months after planting. Once the plants are established, use an organic fertilizer in spring at bloom time, and again 3 weeks later while fruit is setting. Plants should not be fertilized later than this, and never in summer  or fall as the shrubs may suffer winter damage on soft wood ….

Fresh washed blueberries from the garden

In general, when grown for fruit, highbush blueberries should have 5-10′ of spacing, (depending upon variety). But if you are planting in rows, space plants 4-5′ apart in rows with 8-10′ separation. Some growers recommend removal of flowers in the first season for a better crop the second year. This is optional. No pruning is needed in the first three years, but in the fourth season, thinning may begin during dormancy, (late winter/very early spring). Remove weak branches, and any branches restricting sunlight and airflow at the center of the shrub. If fruit is your primary goal, aim for 12 healthy, strong canes per plant. The younger wood will produce the best fruit, so choose a good mix of branches, removing older sections each year.

By following these simple tips, delicious and health fruit will soon be on the way! But beware: birds love to eat blueberries too. If you grow Vaccinium corymbosum solely for ornamental value, then maybe you will leave the fruit on these shrubs for our birds to enjoy. However, if you are growing blueberries as a crop -perhaps as a hedging plant in your potager- you must cover the shrubs from the time of fruit set ’til the point of harvest. My father always used tobacco netting on his highbush blueberries, and I tend to recommend it or the modern-day equivalent, Remay. Plastic netting is hazardous to birds and other creatures, and I find Remay or tobacco netting work as well, or better.

And now, what do you say? Shall we use up some of those plump and delicious blue fruits? Oh, of course! Why not? A couple of weeks back, I featured a favorite recipe for Blueberry Hill Hotcakes and Syrup. They are scrumptious. Over the weekend, I was feeling the blues again, (maybe it was all the rain?). So I took to the kitchen. But this time around, I whipped up my favorite blueberry-lemon bread. This versatile recipe can also be used as a muffin mix, if you’re in the mood for a tasty-treat to-go. The lemony-sugar-syrup is optional, but I find it provides an extra bit of moisture and an added kiss of sweetness – plus I love the shimmery-effect on top. And although frozen blueberries work well here… there’s nothing quite like the fresh berries we will be enjoying later in the year. On a quiet weekend morning, I’m always in the mood for a rhapsody in blue…

Blueberry-Lemon-Bread-Muffins-thegardenersedenBlueberry Lemon Bread / Muffins, photo © 2010 Michaela at TGE

Blueberry-Lemon Bread with Lemon Syrup (or muffins)


Ingredients for one loaf of bread or one dozen average sized muffins:

2          cups all-purpose flour

1          teaspoon baking powder

1          teaspoon baking soda

1/4       teaspoon salt

1/4       cup sugar

2          eggs

1 1/4   cup sour cream

1/4      cup melted butter

1          tablespoon fresh lemon zest

2          cups of fresh or frozen blueberries

Lemon Syrup:

1/2      cup fresh squeezed lemon juice

1/2      cup of sugar

4          tablespoons water

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375°. Butter one 9″ x 5″ x 3″ bread pan or two muffin tins.

To make batter: Toss flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a small bowl. In a larger bowl, combine eggs, sugar, sour cream, melted butter and lemon zest and beat until well mixed. Add dry ingredients to wet and mix until just blended. Add blueberries and stir lightly to combine.

Pour the batter into the bread pan or muffin tins, (each muffin tin should be filled to 2/3 full). Bake bread for 50 minutes to 1 hour or until top is golden brown and a wooden stick comes out clean after inserted at center. If baking muffins, 15-20 minutes in the hot oven should do the trick.

To make the optional lemon syrup: combine the ingredients in a small saucepan and boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and set aside.

After removing bread or muffins from the oven, prick the top with wooden stick, (all over for bread, or in 3 or 4 places per muffin). Drizzle the lemon-syrup slowly over the surface. Allow the lemon-bread or muffins to cool for 10 or 15 minutes before slicing or removing from the tins.

Serve warm with Earl Grey tea and fresh blueberries if they are in season. If you skip the syrup, the muffins also taste great with a bit of butter and honey.

Mixy, mixy…

 For further inspiration, there’s always…

Gershwin: Rhapsody In Blue/An American In Paris

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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