Dilly Dallying in the Pickled Beans: An Intro to Canning with Jennifer Audette

July 28th, 2012 § 7

Delicious Dilly Beans

Dilly Beans: Easy Entrance to the World of Canning      Guest Author - Jennifer Audette

Here in New England, a moment exists each growing season when the stars align and your local farmstand, farmer’s market or (if you’re really amazing), own garden suddenly has all the necessary ingredients for the first batch of Dilly Beans. I have the fortune of working in the ‘stand at Walker Farm in Dummerston, VT and this past Thursday it happened. On Wednesday, the fantastic field crew picked seven bushels of beans and then four more the following day.  That means beans coming out our ears for a few days. The first, shy harvest of red chilies appeared in a small bowl, bouquets of dill heads made my mouth water in anticipation of eating pickled things and the garlic has been harvested and waiting patiently for several weeks now.  It’s time to pickle those beans!

As a kid, I spent a lot of time helping my Mom can things like peaches, pears and applesauce. I was a master of slipping skins from blanched peaches; sliding the glistening, sunrise-colored orbs into a mild vinegar bath to keep them from discoloring.  In the autumn, I looked forward to the smell of warm, cooked apples wafting up to meet me as I managed the Foley Food Mill from my perch on the stool. My mom’s palate tends toward the sweet; she’s been known to sprinkle sugar on salad greens deemed too bitter. She doesn’t do hot peppers or vinegar in large quantity and she’s only recently discovered the joys of garlic. Dilly Beans were not part of my childhood canning experience.  But I crave the savory world more than I crave the sweet world and so several years ago, after my Mom had set me up with all the paraphernalia for canning, I found the recipe for Dilly Beans in the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving and entered my very own world of canning…

Slender, Verdant Beauties, Await Morning Harvest

Home Grown Herbs & Spices: Hard Neck Garlic, Chili Peppers & Dill

Freshly Harvested, Washed & Trimmed Haricots Verts from the Potager

This is where I’m supposed to give you a nice tutorial about making Dilly Beans; a specific recipe, step-by-step instructions and such. Unfortunately, I’m not that kind of person. I’m not very good at specifics and I almost never following directions exactly and I certainly don’t do anything the same way twice. But, if you were here with me, I would be happy to show you how I do it. Side by side, you would help me find eight wide-mouth pint jars in the storage space under the stairs, wiping away cobwebs and hoping no mice scurried out.  You would fill the dishpan with hot, soapy water and then wash the jars, the brand new lids and the old screw caps. Together we would wait a long, long time for the half-full kettle of water to come to a boil, discovering while we waited that I didn’t have enough white vinegar for the recipe. I would send you to the store for that.  Thanks, it’s so nice to have a helper!

I’d want to show you how I organize my workspace so that the jars are being sterilized in the large pot of water on the left front burner, the lids are simmering for 10 minutes (not boiling!) in their own separate pan on a back burner and the pickling liquid is simmering on the other front burner.  We’d remove one jar at a time from the hot water and pack them with the beans I’d prepared the night before (washed and trimmed), garlic cloves, chili peppers and dill. We’d fill the jars to a ¼” from the top with the hot pickling solution, remove any bubbles, wipe the top, slap on a lid and load each one into the canner basket.  Likely, there are much better ways to go about packing jars with garlic, chilies, dill and beans. I’m not very good at it and it takes me way longer than it seems like it should. (Maybe if you were here you would have come up with a more efficient way to stuff all those beans into jars!)  But eventually, all 4 pounds of beans and spices would be nestled into jars and lowered into the canning pot. Once we reached a rolling boil, we’d set the timer for 10 minutes. Tick, tick, tick….ding! After a short rest, we’d use the super-cool jar tongs to remove them from the hot water. Then we’d high-five and tell the cat to clean up the mess while we sat out on the porch toasting our efforts with a cool beverage. I’d give you your very own copy of the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving and you’d eagerly look through it for your next canning project (balsamic caramelized onions, sweet and spicy pepper relish, bread and butter pickles, tomato sauce, tomatillo salsa, hot peppers for sandwiches, barbecue sauce), knowing how easy it is to preserve the summer’s bounty, once you learn the ropes.

Dilly Beans

Dilly Bean ingredient list*

Ingredients to be Evenly Distributed in Each Jar:

4 pounds green beans, washed and trimmed

8 cloves of garlic

8 small red chilies

8 dill heads

Pickling Solution:

5 cups white vinegar

5 cups water

½ cup pickling salt

*For all the important canning safety basics and full recipe with directions, please take the time to locate a good book from the canning canon and do your homework.  The previously mentioned Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving is a very approachable, easy-to-use introduction, full of inspiring recipes. It’s a reasonable $9 or so and you might even find it at your local hardware store along with all the necessary canning supplies. Have fun!

 Today’s guest blogger, the multi-talented writer Jennifer Audette, is author of the always entertaining and often humorous Cozy Toes Blogspot. When not experimenting with canning, baking, cooking, horticulture, entomology or other scientific pursuits, Jennifer can also be found hiking, making music, writing and delivering smiles to her very fortunate friends.

Thank you Jen! xo

Some Great Resources for Learning to Safely Preserve the Harvest…

Putting Food By

Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving with 400 Delicious and Creative Recipes

How to Store Your Garden Produce

Tips for Growing and Harvesting Tasty Green Beans

Haricots verts —or French-style filet beans— are slender, deep green and very flavorful. All beans should be picked frequently in mid-summer —daily when hot— to insure they don’t go to seed. For best flavor and texture, harvest beans when they are no thicker than the diameter of a pencil. As with most crops, I think it’s best to pick beans very early in the morning, before the heat of the day. Marigold and Summer Savory —believed to improve the growth of bush beans and deter beetles— are fantastic companion plants for haricots verts. Enrich soil with well rotted compost and provide plants with regular foliar feeding (applying liquid fertilizer to leaves in a spray or shower) of Neptune’s Harvest or fish emulsion to insure strong, healthy plants and a beautiful, tasty crop. Always wash beans thoroughly when harvesting, especially after applying fish emulsion or any fertilizer. Green beans provide their best yield during the first three weeks of harvest. With this in mind, I like to succession plant this crop for a steady supply of tender young beans straight through the killing frost.

Dilly Beans: Easy Entrance to the World of Canning ⓒ 2012 Jennifer Audette. Photographs ⓒ 2012 Jennifer Audette and Michaela Medina for The Gardener’s Eden, as noted. 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 use photographs without permission. Thank you! 

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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!

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Designing an Enchanting Edible Garden And a Workshop for Vegetable Lovers…

May 10th, 2011 § 4

My Backyard Potager – An Edible Oasis in Mid-July

Like a butterfly flitting about the garden before deciding where to settle, I found myself drifting in and out of greenhouses and garden centers last weekend, ogling possible additions to my backyard potager. I couldn’t help but notice that the aisles of my favorite farm stand and local nurseries are filling up with annuals, perennial herbs, vegetable starts, berry bushes and fruit trees. Ah yes, it’s that time of year again. Time to plant the vegetable garden!

There are so many things I love about growing my own produce, but my favorite summertime pleasure has to be settling into a comfy garden chair at the end of the day —glass of chilled white wine in hand and dinner fixings in a basket at my feet— as I watch the golden rays of late afternoon sun illuminate the beautiful flowers, fruit and vegetables in my potager. Of course the best part of edible gardening is doing just that —eating it! And by mid-June, I needn’t make a special trip to the grocery store to create a gourmet meal. Everything I need for a great breakfast, lunch or dinner is growing in my own backyard. On sunny days, I often enjoy alfresco meals in the garden itself, overlooking the beautiful vine-covered fence and swaying sunflowers…

Heavenly Blue Morning Glories are Attractive to People and Pollinators Alike!

An Alfresco Lunch – Last Summer in my Sun-Drenched Garden

Calendula Blossoms Not Only Add Beauty to a Garden, But Also Attract Beneficial Insects and Deter Undesirable Pests…

Heirloom Tomatoes Begin to Produce in July and Continue through October

Working in a Beautifully Designed Vegetable Garden is a Treat for All Senses

I Plant Sunflowers Partly for Decorative Reasons, But Also Because They Provide Food for Birds, Bees and Other Beneficial Garden Guests

Pathways Edged with Herbs are Beautiful and Fragrant Additions to the Potager. Why Not Make the Walk to the Vegetable Garden as Lovely as the Destination?

I’ll be presenting a free seminar on the art and science of vegetable gardening this Saturday, May 14th at Walker Farm, together with owner and organic farmer Jack Manix. We’ll both be discussing a wide range of edible gardening topics. The seminar will begin at 10am with Jack covering the basics of organic vegetable gardening. Jack will review the practical side of growing your own produce; with topics ranging from soil chemistry and compost, to pest management, specialty crops and succession planting. There will be plenty of opportunity to ask questions and have a look around the farm. Then after a brief tour of the fields, I will pick up where Jack leaves off; discussing ways in which you can make your vegetable garden a beautiful, welcoming multi-use space for your family, friends and other garden guests; like birds and beneficial insects. We’ll talk about edible, living walls and other fences, raised beds and borders, vertical structures and vines, bird, bat and toad houses, companion flowers and herbs, plus all the little details that will make your time in the garden less work and more pleasure.

To find out more about Rosalind Creasy’s Edible Landscaping or purchase a copy, click here

I hope you’ll join us this Saturday, May 14th at beautiful Walker Farm (click here for details and to save your seat) but until then —or if you live too far away to make it— I have a few beautiful and inspirational books on edible gardening to recommend. Rosalind Creasy’s Edible Landscaping (pictured above) is a great book, just chock full of gorgeous garden design photos and practical, inspirational ideas. I mentioned it in this post (here) earlier this year and I still highly recommend it. And landscape designer Jennifer Bartley —who will be speaking on Contemporary Kitchen Garden Design in Wilmington, Vermont on June 24th at the Sixteenth Annual North Hill Symposium —- author of one of my favorite potager design books Designing the New Kitchen Garden, has just released another beautiful and informative title, The Kitchen Gardener’s Handbook, from Timber Press.

Jennifer Bartley’s The Kitchen Gardener’s Handbook

I’ll be writing much more about creating enchanting edible gardens in the coming weeks. And, if beautiful and productive vegetable gardens appeal to your senses, you may want to revisit my potager page at the left (click here) and past-posts; including The Art of French Vegetable Gardening (click here) and Dreaming of Springtime’s Sweet Veggies: Planning a Lush, Welcoming Potager.

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Gardening Seminars at Walker Farm are Free and Open to the Public. The Gardener’s Eden received no compensation, of any kind, for editorial mention of businesses or products in this post.

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 (including Amazon.com book links and Terrain Garden & Home). 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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Here Comes the Sun, Doo’n Doo Doo: Gettin’ Started with Seed Starting…

February 10th, 2011 § 3

On your mark, get set…

Twenty degrees fahrenheit. Ow… That’s nippy! Yes, the outside temperature still says ‘winter’ loud-and-clear, but the good new is that the days are getting longer, and the sunlight is getting stronger. That means it’s just about time to get a jump on the growing season by starting seed indoors. At this time of year in Vermont, I’m already sowing chives, onions and hardy herbs indoors. Cold crops like lettuce, spinach and arugula are now growing within the spring-like climate created by the hoop houses in my vegetable garden (click here for more information on how to build your own). I’m looking forward to an even more productive potager this year, with more home-grown gourmet vegetables started from seed.

Why start seed indoors when you can just pick up vegetable six-packs in early spring at the garden center? Well, first of all, it needn’t be either/or. Even though I still buy organically-grown vegetable starts from Walker Farm (by the dozen), I have plenty of reasons to start some seed here at home. Starting seed indoors gives me a jump on the growing season; allowing me to plant certain crops outdoors, and harvest before the local garden centers even open. When I start my own seed, I also have the option of experimenting with unusual, gourmet vegetable crops. Seed catalogs (and Seed Saving exchanges) offer far more variety than any local greenhouse can possibly supply (see sidebar and links below for some sources). And if you don’t have an organic grower nearby, starting your own plants from seed insures that your produce will be raised to your own high standards: you control the quality right from the start. Although there is an initial investment in grow lights and other gardening supplies, starting your own seed indoors can save quite a bit of money over the long haul. But the best part? I get to see the entire, magnificent process of life right from the beginning. If you have children, this is a great opportunity for teaching, and a wonderful experience to share.

A fine-textured medium (growing mix) is essential for seed starting. Regular potting soil is too heavy, and won’t drain efficiently. Buy or make your own seed starting mix for best results.

Seed Starting Basics

*

Start your new plants the right way: Purchase fresh seed from a reliable, organic source, near your region. Seed collected close to your own geographic area tends to perform best. Farmers in my area (New England), almost always buy their seed from New England sources. And although I do buy seed from elsewhere (some from as far away as California) I purchase the bulk of my vegetable seed packets from suppliers in nearby Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont. And when choosing germinating mix, remember to always use an organic seed-starter with very fine, loose particles. Never use regular potting soil to germinate seeds. Why? It’s much heavier and it won’t drain well. Seedlings need moist, but not water-logged soil.

Select your containers and trays: Many garden centers and online suppliers have plastic or peat cell-packs available for purchase. These packs are handy, because they usually come with plastic tops to keep the starter mix moist while seeds germinate. But, you can always use plastic wrap for ths purpose if you make/recycle containers. Some of my gardening friends like to make their own biodegradable starter pots from newspaper. You can also recycle old plastic six-packs or other containers, but you must sterilize those reused pots properly with warm, soapy water and a bit of disinfectant (bleach) to prevent the spread of disease. You will also need leak-proof trays to place beneath the seeds, in order to water them from the bottom (prevents washing the tiny seeds to the side of the pots and/or disturbing delicate roots). Whatever you choose to use, get everything ready —in one place— before you start.

Set up grow lights: While it’s true that you can start seed in a brightly lit window (I do this with some windowsill herbs) you will get much better results (stronger root systems, stems and overall growth) if you use grow-lights positioned close to the seed trays. You can use regular florescent shop-lights, or you can purchase grow-lights (available at many garden centers and online suppliers). If you are serious about starting seed indoors (or growing tropical houseplants) grow lights are a great investment. If you already own grow-lights, clean them and check bulbs and timers before you start your seed. Most vegetable seeds do not require heat-pads for germination. But it’s always a good idea to check the back of seed packets before you start, to be clear on requirements. Grow lights work best when they are raised up as the seedlings develop, keeping them close to (but not touching) the leaves. Crafty gardeners can try to construct their own systems, but grow-light systems —either floor or table mounted— can be purchased at all price points. Aim for durable, quality construction – with stands built to last.

Quality grow lights (like the one above, from Gardener’s Supply Company) are a great investment if you are serious about getting a jump-start on the growing season.

Time your starts: Check the back of your seed packets for the number of days to germination, and the start date. Usually the packet will list the start date by referencing the number of weeks prior to the last frost date. Do you know your last frost date? Check with your local USDA cooperative extension service (click here for interactive map) or, the awesome, easy-to-use table for common vegetable start dates on The Farmer’s Almanac website (Just enter your city and state in the pace provided – love the Farmer’s Almanac)! If you live in zone 4 or 5, February is a good time to start onions, leeks, chives, celery and hardy herbs. Later this month (or early March) you can begin cool-season crops like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbages and brussels sprouts. Unless you are located in zone 7 or warmer, wait to start warm-season crops (like tomatoes, peppers and eggplant) until mid to late March, or even early April.

Moisten the starter mix and fill containers: One the best ways to insure that your seedlings have plenty of moisture is to soak your germinating mix overnight prior to planting. I like to wet the mix in a big tub the night before planting; adding enough warm water to make it damp, but not soupy. I know the starter medium is ready to use when all of the water is absorbed and the mixture is moist like a fresh cupcake, but not wet and gloppy like mashed potatoes. If you try to form a ball it should crumble apart, but still feel moist to the touch (just like natural garden soil at planting time, remember how great that smells?)

Hello baby!

Plant your seeds in the containers: Plant two to three seeds per cell (you will thin the plants later) Not sure of how deep to plant? The back of the seed packet should list planting depth. But if it doesn’t, aim to plant the seed three times as deep as it is large (measuring by diameter).

Cover the seeds and wait for germination: Once all the seeds are planted and set in their trays, cover them with the plastic tops, or loosely with plastic wrap (to contain moisture and raise humidity) and place them in a 60-75 degree (fahrenheit) room. Be sure that the catch trays are filled with water, and check the seed starts daily to insure that the soil remains moist. A plastic spray-misting bottle can be useful in the early stages of seed starting to insure that the surface of soil remains moist. Seed trays can be placed beneath grow lights, but you won’t need to turn them on until the seeds pop out of the soil. Again, unless the seed requires warmer germination temperatures (or if you are starting plants in a cool/dark spot like a cellar) you won’t need heating pads for the trays.

Sunflowers are an exciting and easy crop for youngsters to grow in recycled milk cartons. But wait a bit longer on this crop. February is too soon to start sunflowers in New England…

Light up their life: As soon as the seeds germinate, they’ll need at least 12 hours of light per day (and for many vegetables 14-18 hours is even better) In these northern parts, this is where grow-lights come in. Remembering to turn lights on-and-off can be tricky at first, and an inexpensive timer can really be your best work-buddy!

Feed me Seymour!: Once the seedlings have a set of “true” leaves (as opposed to the tiny seed leaves, which emerge first), give them their first meal: a bit of dilute, organic fertilizer (I use a very weak fish emulsion solution, diluted in water).

Biodegradable pots allow room for root development, and can be popped right into the soil (no struggling to remove tiny plants without damage!)

Transition time: Once spring closes in, seedlings will begin to really take off. As certain young plants grow, they will need thinning and perhaps later, transplanting to larger pots before being “hardened off” (process of bringing seed outdoors for short periods of time to adjust to outside temperatures and light). We’ll talk more about this process later. In meantime, If you are starting many seeds, it’s also wise to invest in a fan for air circulation. Check with some of the seed supply sources linked here for more information, or visit your local garden center. It’s also helpful to have some larger sized pots and regular potting soil on hand for later. Peat pots (or other biodegradable containers) are particularly good for the purpose of transplanting, because they can be placed directly into the soil. This reduces root-disturbance and makes for a swifter, stress-free transition into garden soil.

And although we are all anxious to get back out in the sweet earth, resist the urge to rush tender plants into a cold garden. Unless you have hoop houses, row covers, cloches or other protection for your crops, it’s too risky to push them out before the recommended date (again refer to the links at the top of this post). I’ll be writing more about the process of seed starting over the coming weeks and months.

For more information and seed sources, please visit previous posts, linked here!

Here comes the sun! It may still be a little early for most vegetable starts, but growing windowsill herbs (like chives and cilantro) is fun and easy anytime…

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

Product images are the property of linked online retailers.

Article and noted photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent.

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Joyful New Beginnings: Bright-Green Herb Seedlings Emerging from the Soil…

February 3rd, 2011 § 1

Seedlings in the Morning Sun:  Johnny’s Herb Disks in the Windowsill Garden (Coriandrum sativum)

Lately, the weather in here in Vermont has been a bit challenging (to say the least). Even we native New Englanders start to groan when back-to-back blizzards deliver multiple feet of snow and there’s nowhere left to pile it! Three feet, four feet? With all of the blowing and drifting and snowbanks everywhere, I’ve lost track of the total accumulation here on my hilltop. Let’s just say that you now enter the house through white tunnels. Enough said…

Coriander (Cilantro) Seedlings Emerge from Johnny’s Herb Disks in the Windowsill Garden (Coriandrum sativum)

If you live in a northern climate like I do, then you are probably beginning to tire of the big storms and the endless shoveling, and you may be wondering if spring will ever come again. Yes, yes she will. I promise. And while we gardeners are waiting, there are a few things we can start to do. If you live in zone 4 or 5, you will want to start gathering your seeds and checking on start dates. Over the next couple of weeks, you can begin setting up grow lights (full spectrum), and sow onions, leeks, celery and hardy herbs indoors (for tips on starting onions & leeks visit this post here)…

Pots brushed with Primary Colors Add Life to the Kitchen Countertop

Of course, round ’bout February, most kids will be starting to get stir crazy indoors. Plus, those mid-winter vacations are coming up soon… Aren’t they? This simple project is the perfect way to introduce seed-starting to little gardeners and to help keep those tiny hands occupied. Even if you don’t have children, these seed disks make starting herbs indoors simple and quick. I love fresh cilantro (coriander) leaves in my guacamole and I use lots of fresh basil, and other herbs in my kitchen. So last year, I decided to give Johnny’s Seeds pre-prepared herb disks a try, to see how they would work in clay pots. And the results: totally fun and easy project!

Seed starting disks from Johnny’s Seeds fit perfectly inside these brightly painted, 6″ tall clay pots

All you need to do is purchase seed-starting soil (a well-drained medium with super-fine soil particles) and fill appropriately sized pots near-full with the mix. Moisten the soil thoroughly and lay a seed disk atop the soil (pots with a 4.5″ diameter at the top work perfectly for Johnny’s Seed disks). Cover the disk with soil to the recommended depth (varies depending upon the plant – check instructions of the back of each packet) and moisten again. Line your herbs up in a brightly lit window, water regularly with a fine mister and wait.

Depending upon the kind of herbs you grow, within a few day to a couple of weeks, you should begin to see bright green seedlings emerge. Be patient, though! Some herbs take quite a bit of time to germinate. Parsley seedlings, for example, can take a month to emerge. Once the seedlings have popped through the soil, keep the herbs moist, but not soggy. Be sure the pots are located in a warm spot with good light and air circulation. One the first set of true leaves appear (as opposed to the tiny seed leaves) you will want to mix up a weak solution of organic fertilizer (I use fish emulsion), and feed your herbs every-other-week. Rotate the pots once a week to keep seedlings growing straight, as opposed to leaning toward the light. For best results, you want to start your seeds beneath full-spectrum grow lights (keep the light source very close to the plants and raise it as the seedlings grow). The nice part of using prepared disks is that the seeds come pre-spaced. Of course you can always start seed without disks; planting them in trays filled with starter soil mixture. If you do this, you can thin the seedlings of herbs and vegetables later on (see photo below).

I will be writing much more about starting seeds indoors and out over the coming months, so stay tuned and think spring!

Is there anything more hopeful or uplifting than fresh green seedlings emerging from damp soil?

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Article and Photographs are copyright 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, with noted exceptions, is the property of The Gardener’s Eden Online Journal, and my not be used or reproduced without express written permission.

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A Twilight Walk Along the Wintry River And Hearty, Potato-Cheddar Soup…

January 30th, 2011 Comments Off

Winter is Soup Season: A Bowl of Potato-Cheddar Really Warms the Spirits

“The Dead of Winter”. I spent a good part of yesterday ruminating on this phrase. Is winter really dead? I suppose it might seem that way if you spend all of your time indoors. But if you are curious, and bundle yourself up properly, it’s easy to find signs of life –even in January. A walk along the river yesterday afternoon revealed green-tinted leaf-buds, browsing rabbits and flocks of noisy ducks. Reflective waterways are always gorgeous places to enjoy the beauty of sunset. And even in the chill of winter’s twilight, I choose to linger along the shoreline, basking in the pink-tinted afterglow…

Mallard Ducks Swim Along the Pink River at Sunset

Birch Against a Winter Sky

Mallards Gathered Along the Snowy Shoreline at Sunset

Of course it helps to cozy up beside the wood stove after a romp through the snow, and nothing beats a hearty bowl of potato-cheddar soup for warming the bones and spirits. I love soups and make a big pot at least once a week during the winter months. I think the key to great soups is always in the base stock, and this old family recipe is my hands-down favorite. Use good, flavorful potatoes and the best homemade stock (chicken or long-simmered vegetable). I always add a cup of rich beer (an amber style brew or dark, sweet beer) and fresh herbs to my potato cheddar, and a very fine quality local cheese. With a pot of soup waiting back home on the stove, I never seem to mind the cold weather…

Winter Walks are Nicer with Thoughts of Warm Potato-Cheddar Soup

Favorite Potato- Cheddar Soup

Ingredients (makes 6-8 servings):

5          Cups homemade chicken or vegetable broth

1          Cup high-quality amber ale or porter beer

3          Tablespoons butter

1          Cup chopped onion

3          Cloves garlic, chopped

1          Tablespoon freshly chopped sage

1          Tablespoon freshly chopped thyme

2          Bay leaves

3          Lbs potatoes, peeled & diced (I like flavorful golds for this soup)

Kosher salt to taste (about a teaspoon)

Freshly ground black pepper to taste (at least a teaspoon or more)

2          Cups grated, sharp cheddar cheese (I use Grafton VT cheddar)

Sour cream for serving

Freshly chopped chives for garnish (or sub other herb)

Directions:

Pour homemade broth and beer into a large stock pot and simmer over very low heat. Meanwhile, heat a sauté pan on medium-low and add butter. When melted raise the heat to medium and add the onions and sautee for 10 minutes, until translucent. Add the garlic, sage and thyme and reduce the heat. Cook for several minutes to release flavors and then remove from heat. Add the onions and herbs to the stock pot, grind in freshly ground black pepper and add salt to taste, and toss the bay leaves on top. Cover the broth and continue simmering on low heat.

While the broth is simmering, wash, peel and dice the potatoes. Slowly add the potatoes to the broth, raise the heat slightly and cook for 20 minutes or until the potatoes can be pierced with a fork. Do not boil the soup. Remove from the heat. Fit a food processor with the metal blade and process the soup in small batches (or puree in very small batches in a blender). Be very careful when handling hot soup, and never fill the processor or blender beyond the max liquid line or you will be scalded! You can process the entire pot of soup for a very smooth texture, or leave half unprocessed for a chunkier soup.

Add all of the soup back to the pot and simmer. Now is the time to check texture and consistency. If the soup seems to thick, add a bit more broth or beer. When the soup is at the desired thickness, add the cheddar cheese and stir over medium low heat to blend and melt.

Once the cheese is melted, Remove from heat. Serve hot with a dollop of sour cream and a garnish of freshly chopped chives.

***

Mallards on the River at Twilight

The Shoreline’s Pink Afterglow

Time to Head Home…

And Cozy-Up Beside the Fire

***

Article and Photographs are ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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The Delights of a Cozy Winter Kitchen: Warm Oven, Fragrant Herbs & Freshly Baked Focaccia with Onion & Rosemary

January 11th, 2011 § 1

Freshly Baked Slices of Focaccia with Rosemary and Onion

Rosemary Blossoming in my Kitchen

There’s just something about cold, wintry weather that makes a girl want to bake… Know what I mean? Yes it’s nippy outside, but here in the house, things sure are warm and cozy. The wood stove is popping and cracking and the kitchen oven is hot, hot, hot! When I know that I’m going to have a busy day, I try to get up extra early in order to prepare something ahead of time for lunch and dinner. And just yesterday, while flipping through my new copy of Jerry Traunfeld’s The Herbal Kitchen over morning coffee, I was inspired to harvest some rosemary from my indoor herb garden for fresh-baked focaccia…

Sunlight, Shining Like Crazy in My Kitchen

In addition to this herbal cookbook, I received two wonderful kitchen gifts for Christmas this year. I love to listen to music while I’m cooking, but my audio system was really old and cranky, and the speakers wired in the kitchen had become so scratchy that I rarely turned them on. Well, lucky me! This year, one of my gifts was a Bose SoundDock system –and it’s amazing. Now I can listen to music again in my kitchen –every single day!

My other favorite gift is ‘Rosie’. See that gorgeous, red, KitchenAid stand mixer in the photo below? Mmm hmm. That’s Rosie, and she’s all mine. I am so excited! See, I’ve never owned a stand mixer before (yes, I know, I can hear the foodies gasping audibly). Well, there’s an explanation of course. Although I love to cook, until recently I haven’t been much of a baker. But two years ago, I was bitten by the bread-baking bug when I discovered Jim Lahey’s no-knead method, (see the post about it, and recipe here). And since then —particularly while experimenting with Rose Levy Beranbaum’s bread, pie and cake recipes— I’ve been having much more fun with my oven.

Meet Rosie: My Christmas Present & New Kitchen Playmate

Of course I’ve always used fresh herbs in my cooking, so it only seemed natural to involve them in bread baking. During the winter months, I grow herbs indoors both on the kitchen windowsill and in larger pots beside the glass French doors. Many of my potted, culinary herbs are located right outside on the kitchen terrace during summer, so they make just a tiny hop inside before the hard freeze in October. In addition to rosemary, I overwinter sage, thyme, mint and chives in my kitchen. I also start fresh pots of basil, parsley, cilantro and other herbs on my windowsills. During the dark, cold months, I reduce watering and hold off on fertilizing my overwintering herbs until late March or early April. Then —when outdoor temperatures begin to stabilize in May— I slowly acclimate my herbs to the great outdoors by setting them out on the terrace during the daytime and bringing them back in —and/or covering them up— at night.

Rosemary has a reputation for being a fussy houseplant, but I’ve never had much trouble with it. I think the key is to give it a bright, sunny location with plenty of air circulation, and to keep the well-drained potting soil on the drier side of moist. I have three rosemary plants indoors: one on the kitchen counter, and one on either side of the French doors. I remember being told —quite a long time ago, because I can’t remember the source of my information— that rosemary plants dislike drafts. But based on my own experience, I have to disagree. My kitchen doors are constantly being opened and closed to bring in firewood, and the rosemary plants on either side of the door look fantastic. In fact, they seem much happier than the rosemary on the counter (I need to repot that plant later this month) and are currently blooming their heads off.

Rosemary Blooming by the Door

Two Great Books for Herb-Gardening Cooks: The Herbal Kitchen & The Herb Society of America’s Essential Guide to Growing and Cooking With Herbs

Cippolini Onion Braid

Freshly harvested herbs are wonderful in breads; particularly focaccia. To create the quick bread featured in The Herbal Kitchen cookbook, I used rosemary and some of my braided cippolini onions (see my post on braiding onions here). If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can also make this bread in a food processor or even by hand. The stand mixer just makes it fast and easy. As far as the recipe goes, other than a last minute addition of parmesan cheese, I pretty much stuck to what was printed. But of course with focaccia you can add many different kinds of herbs, olives, tomatoes, etc. I did alter the method slightly, as I prefer Rose Beranbaum’s fold-over technique for herbed focaccia. When the herbs and cheese are placed just under a thin flap of dough —as opposed to spread over the top of the loaf— they remain moist and un-scorched, while the top of the bread turns golden brown. Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Bread Bible is a fantastic resource for home bakers, as is her website/blog linked here. And on a cold winter day, a warm, herb-filled bread is just delicious…

Rosemary & Onion Focaccia

Rosemary & Onion Focaccia

Ingredients:

1 1/2          Teaspoons dry yeast

1 1/2          Cups warm water

1                 Teaspoon fine salt

6                 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 1/2           Cups all-purpose flour

1                  Large onion sliced (or 2-3 med. cippolini onions)

3                  Tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh rosemary

1/4               Cup freshly grated Reggiano Parmesan cheese (optional)

3/4              Teaspoon kosher salt

Directions:

Attach the dough hook to a stand mixer. Add the warm water to the mixing bowl and sprinkle the yeast on top. Wait a couple of minutes and stir to dissolve. Stir in 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 teaspoon of fine salt. Turn the machine on low and slowly add the flour through the mixing chute. Mix on low speed for a couple of minutes, and then knead on medium speed for 5 minutes. The dough will look sticky. Stop the machine and remove the bowl from the mixer. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap, and set aside in a warm location to rise for at least one hour (more is good —Rose recommends a 3 or 4 hour initial rise—but fast sometimes must do, and in this case I think  well).

Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a skillet and cook the onions on medium heat for about 3 minutes. They will be slightly under-cooked. Add the rosemary and cook one minute longer. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

When you are ready to prepare the focaccia, preheat the oven to 450 degrees fahrenheit. The oven should heat up for at least an hour. On a lightly floured surface turn out the dough and sprinkle lightly with a bit more flour. Roughly shape the dough into a rectangle. There are two ways to assemble:

1.Herbs on top method: At this point you can coat the top with olive oil, press and poke to form indentations and sprinkle with the onions, herbs and cheese. With this fast method, you simply cover and let the focaccia rise for at least one hour before baking. If you do this, skip ahead to the last step, or try the fold-over, flap-top method…

In the fold-over method, the herbs, onions and cheese are covered up, just beneath a thin flap of dough.

2. Fold-over method: With a rolling pin, roll one long edge of the rectangle outward to form a thin piece of dough, equal in width to the rectangle loaf. This will be an over-flap for the herbs. Now spread the herbs, onions and cheese on top of the thick rectangle, and cover with the thin flap; as if you are closing a book. Roll the top of the loaf with a rolling pin until the bits of herbs are visible beneath the dough. Press at the top of the loaf with your finger tip to form indentations. Some of the herbs may press through, and some will be just visible beneath the surface. Brush off any wayward herbs and cover the loaf with a towel and let it rise for at least 1 hour (or more).

Last step: When your focaccia is ready to bake: Transfer the loaf to a parchment paper lined pizza peel (or lined cookie sheet) and brush or drizzle the top lightly with oil. Sprinkle the surface with kosher salt and slide the bread into the oven. I use a pizza stone when I make bread in my oven. Bake for approximately 30 – 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow the bread to cool before slicing and serving.

***

Article and Photographs are ⓒ Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent.

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Marking Time’s Passage in the Garden: Beautiful & Practical Journals…

December 2nd, 2010 § 3

Keeping a permanent record of your garden is one of the keys to horticultural success! I keep records for both my vegetable plot and my ornamental gardens

December 2010. It’s hard to believe that another year is drawing to a close, isn’t it? While flipping through my garden journal last week, I couldn’t help but marvel at how different the weather and crops were in 2010, compared to 2009. I just started a new section in my blank book to record observations on my winter vegetable garden (crops grown beneath hoop houses as well as horticultural pursuits indoors), and to make plans for spring 2011 planting.

Keeping a permanent record of your garden is one of the keys to horticultural success -and it’s also fun! I have a practical garden calendar/record (day-runner type with 3-ring binder and handy pockets for seeds and tags) where I keep dated notes on seed sowing and vegetable/fruit harvests, crop rotation maps, location records/photos, pest notes, fertilizing reminders and so on. But I also have a more traditional free-form journal (pictured above and just below) for thoughts, observations and sketches. This is the time of year when I usually order new inserts for my three-ring binder garden calendar/record and replace my free-form journal if necessary. Sure, I keep notes on my laptop and iPhone too, but I enjoy the process of sketching and writing with pen on paper.  And over time, I have learned the hard way that electronics, mud and water aren’t really the best of companions.

Planning 2011 Seed Order (Botanical Interests 2011 Seed Catalog)

In addition to laying out next year’s vegetable garden —rotating crops helps prevent repeat insect infestations and diseases— I’m also planning what varieties to plant based on past seasons. I have limited space in my potager, and I want to get a head start on orders before companies sell out of the choicest seeds. The Botanical Interests 2011 seed catalog arrived in my mailbox last week, and I have been circling items to order both for holiday gifts and for my own spring garden. My journal is helpful with this planning and ordering process, because I have written down which varieties of vegetables and herbs performed well in my garden, which did not, and which varieties I would like to try based on friends’ success. Every year, some companies discontinue seeds and others offer new varieties. So, as seed catalogs arrive, I scan lists to see where I can find and order my favorites (or, make a note to save my own seed when possible).

Garden Journal, Leather Cover Exterior (refill annually with a separate 5 1/2″ x 8 1/2″ calendar/journal)

A durable and beautiful garden journal makes a great gift for a new gardener —or any gardener not currently keeping one— particularly if it’s personalized with a few favorite seed packets, photos, notes, web-links, or even a gift certificate to a local garden center or online retailer, like Gardener’s Supply Company. If you —or the gardener you are shopping for— have a large garden, then consider a 3-ring binder type of journal cover and fill it with a calendar/notebook. A beautiful leather journal cover can be re-used from year to year, and makes a great gift. There are literally hundreds of notebooks, calendars and covers to choose from, but when you are shopping for a horticultural journal, keep in mind that for most serious gardeners, an easy-to-clean cover in leather or vinyl is really essential. Replaceable annual-calendar inserts make sense, as do extra plastic pockets. I like the day-timer style garden journals because they are flexible and can be used/filled anyway you like. Mine is the ring-binder type with plastic pockets and zip-lock pouches for seeds, tags, business cards, etc.

Garden Journal, Leather Cover Interior (free form style will fit any kind of notebook within the size constraints. This one has useful pockets for plant tags and seed packets)

This Garden Journal Leather Cover is nearly identical to the one directly above it, but it has a handy metal binder for loose leaf paper, calendar inserts and additional plastic pockets. I prefer this kind of journal for my day-to-day record keeping in the garden, because it keeps everything together. If I need to add more plastic pockets, I just swing by a local office supply store and match the stock to my binder.

Pretty, Simple and Inexpensive: Blossom Journal (Magnetic Closure). I’d choose this type of journal for a more meditative garden-writer or someonealready in possession of a task-oriented horticultural binder.

If the gardener you are shopping for tends more toward free-form record keeping or simple journaling, then a blank book would be a good choice. This type of journal is usually less expensive than zippered, three-ring-binder calendar/journals. A good, heavy cover is still important, although choosing a blank book with a pretty botanical theme seems right. I just ordered two journals (the one just above and below) as gifts. Will I keep one for myself? Hmmmmmmm….

Tree of Life Leather Journal (lined)

***

Please note: The Gardener’s Eden is not an affiliate of Botanical Interest Seeds, but Michaela is a long-time, happy customer!

Article and Photos (Excepting Linked Product Photos) are ⓒ Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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Shelter Me: Keeping the Kitchen Garden Warm and Productive as Temps Drop…

October 11th, 2010 § 3

Basil and Calendula cozy up beneath a misty dome in my garden…

The first frost of autumn sparkled on my lawn when I awoke Saturday morning. And although it wasn’t a true ‘killing-frost’ —the morning glories slipped right through Jack’s chilly hands— a few things were nipped here and there in my potager. Most of my tender crops are now covered with hoop-house cold-frames —mainly tomatoes, peppers, basil and other herbs— and later, the cool-season crops like spinach and lettuce will be covered as well…

Tomatoes, ripening inside the hoop-house cold-frame in October, are safe from Old Jack Frost

Beneath greenhouse-grade plastic, purple and green basil, tomatoes and other herbs are protected from chilly nights, and given a ripening-boost during the day

I will be enjoying these ‘Lemon Boy’ tomatoes soon —not fried and not green (though that IS an excellent way to use them up!)

Last year I posted a tutorial on building hoop-house style cold frames, and if you have a free afternoon and some basic carpentry tools, I encourage you to give them a try (click to here to see tutorial post). I now have four hoop-houses in use, and although these miniature-greenhouses are unheated, they actually get quite toasty inside during the day, and the temperatures stay well-above freezing overnight. To keep things from getting too hot, the temperature inside each of my hoop-houses is moderated with a easy-to-install, automatic back-vent. Of course later in the autumn, unless I provide supplemental heat, these tomatoes will eventually succumb to overnight cold. But other crops —including lettuce, spinach, arugula, kale, chard and broccoli— can make it straight through the Winter Solstice in an unheated hoop-house (and even beyond in some years)!

There are many other ways to extend the vegetable growing season in cold climates, and I will continue posting ideas on how to stretch that post-frost ‘Indian Summer’ for as long as possible. Also, keep in mind that even if you don’t fancy the idea of a building project yourself, you can easily purchase cold frames, kits and other garden shelters from companies like Gardener’s Supply Company online.

Have you had a killin’ frost in your area? Do you try to keep things going past the freeze?

Sungold and bright red cherry tomatoes will continue to ripen beneath the plastic, well past the hard-frost

A hoop-house protects tender vegetables in my fall vegetable garden, while cold-weather crops remain uncovered.

Still Glorious – ‘Heavenly Blue’ Morning Glories in the Potager, October 11th

***

Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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Mellow Yellow: Lovely Lindera Benzoin, North American Native Spicebush…

September 27th, 2010 § 1

Lindera benzoin (Spicebush) in front of the Secret Garden wall at Ferncliff (see complete plant list below)

The question comes up every September in my garden. The meter-reader, oil delivery driver and countless guests have asked: “What’s that bright yellow shrub over there by the wall… The one covered with birds and red berries?” When I ask, “Have you heard of Lindera benzoin, North American spicebush?”, the answer is invariably ‘no’. And no matter how many times I make the introduction, it’s always surprising to me that this gorgeous shrub isn’t more widely known and used in the landscape. Spicebush’s season-spanning, informal beauty makes her the perfect choice for naturalizing along woodland boundaries and in countless other transitional situations. But as you can see from the photo above, this native plant also works beautifully in a mixed-border; with other trees, shrubs, bulbs and perennials.

Lindera benzoin, autumn leaf detail

The show begins in first weeks of April, when the spicebush’s lightly-fragrant, lemon-yellow blossoms begin to open on the dreariest of days. These early flowers are an important source of nectar to pollinating insects —including native and honey bees—and a welcome sight to my winter-weary eyes. The specimen pictured above — in front of the stone wall surrounding the Secret Garden— has developed a round, mounded shape in full sun (I prune very lightly after the early spring blossoms fade). Lindera benzoin will also tolerate light shade, and the groupings here at the edge of the native forest have developed a more open, but graceful habit. After the early flowers fade, attractive, blue-green foliage (the leaves have a delightfully spicy, masculine fragrance when crushed, and can be used to make tea, herbal sachets or potpourri) makes a fine backdrop for other players in front of the perennial border.

Lindera benzoin at Fercliff in late September (planted here with Juniperus chinensis ‘Sargentii’ and Ilex verticillata ‘Red Sprite’)

As pretty and uplifting as this shrub is when blossoming in April, come September, spicebush really turns things up a notch in the garden when its foliage shifts from cool green to brilliant, lemon-gold. The female plants (this species is dioecious and a male must be planted nearby for the female to produce fruit), with their bright red berries (edible/substitute for allspice), are especially fetching in autumn; attracting birds from the nearby forest by the dozen. Combinations with other showy, autumn shrubs and trees —such as bold red viburnum (particluarly V.bodnatense and V. trilobum), dogwood, witch hazel, and red vein enkianthus— are always gorgeous. And rich purple or deep-blue blossoms —including monkshood (Aconitum) and asters in autumn, and glory-of-the-snow (Chinodoxa), crocus and grape hyacinth (Muscari) in spring— make lovely, perennial and bulb pairings with spicebush on either end of the growing season as well. Conifers, particularly deep green hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) and blue spruce cultivars (Picea pungens) also provide a striking contrast to luminous Lindera benzoin, both in texture and color. And keep in mind the design possibilities of deep violet foliage when choosing a spot for spicebush. Dark, burgundy shrubs, including Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’, P. opulifolius ‘Summer Wine’ and Cotinus ‘Royal Purple’, really bring out the golden hues in Lindera benzoin; as do perennials like purple fountain grass (Pennisetum rubrum) and Sedum ‘Matrona’ or S. ‘Purple Emperor’. In a shadier situation, try spicebush in combination with the purple foliage of Heuchera cultiavars (like ‘Plum Pudding’ and ‘Palace Purple’) or perhaps Actaea racemosa (aka Cimicifuga racemosa ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ or ‘Brunette’).

Lindera benzoin provides a luminous, gold backdrop for other autumn colors (here with Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’)

Hardy in zones 4-9, Lindera benzoin is a native of N. America from the north into Canada and on south to Florida; into midwestern Michigan and Kansas, and southwest to moderate climate zones of Texas. As a landscaping plant, spicebush is relatively trouble-free in the garden or naturalized settings; forming a mound-shaped shrub (6-12′ high and wide) when planted in a sunny location. In the shade the shrub tends to form a more open shape (a bit like Amelanchier); absolutely lovely, though subtle, when in bloom. Lindera benzoin prefers even soil-moisture (dry conditions make for a scruffy looking specimen) with cooling mulch about the root-zone (helpful to preserve even soil temperature and moisture)

Perhaps you’re already acquainted with lovely Lindera. If so, remember to pass on the good word. Mid to late fall is a great time to add shrubs to the landscape (see related post here). This native plant is an important part of our natural, North American habitat, and a significant source of food for insects (bees and butterfly larvae) and birds. But it seems to me that the spring blossoms, red fruit and glorious, golden, autumn color of Lindera benzoin provide all the promotional material any plant could ever need…

North American Native Spice Bush (Lindera benzoin) – Shown here at Ferncliff with Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’ (and in the background Cornus kousa, Ilex verticillata and Juniperus chubebsus ‘Sargentii’, seed pod remnants of Rudbeckia. And to the left Fothergilla major ‘Mt Airy’ and various Sedum)

Lindera benzoin bloom  Photo is via PIWO (CreativeCommons license Flickr)

***

Article and photos (one exception as noted) are ⓒ Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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Preserving the Harvest: Fresh-Frozen Herbs in Oil, Butter, Broth or Water…

August 26th, 2010 § 51

Frozen Herb Cubes with Olive Oil: Photographs Copyright Michaela Medina – thegardenerseden.com

At six o’clock this morning, I was rather annoyed to be awakened by a gang of squawking bluejays. But when I rose, I discovered a beautiful rainbow on the western horizon. Suddenly, I found myself feeling more than grateful for the wake-up call from the noisy, blue boys in my ‘hood. The rain has ended for now, and the morning sun is warm on the terrace, where I have set up my office for the day. But before I start work on plant lists for a garden design I’m working on, I have a neat garden project to share with you. Inclement weather kept me indoors early this week, providing me with a bit of free time and the opportunity to freeze fresh herb-cubes for winter. This project is simple and fun; easy as making fruit-pops and a great way to teach children about preserving food from the garden. If you also make a few juice pops at the same time —to reward the little helping hands— so much the better!

Fresh Herbs from the Garden

Begin by gathering empty ice cube trays (or egg cups or small freezer molds), zip-lock or other storage bags, and bundles of fresh herbs from the garden. Bring the herbs inside, and as you wash, dry and pick through the leaves, think about how you might like to use them over the coming months. Do you make lots of soup in winter? Set aside a few bundles of your favorite soup herbs. These can be frozen in cubes of room-temperature water, vegetable broth or chicken/beef bouillon. Do you like to fry or roast with herbs? Bundles of your favorite cooking herbs can be preserved by freezing them in vegetable oil (I like to use light olive oil for high-temp pan frying). If you like to use herb butters or herb-infused oils for bread dipping, you can freeze them in butter (softened or melted over very low heat and cooled a bit) or in extra virgin olive oil, to pull out of the freezer later and enjoy at room temperature all winter long.

Separating Fresh Herb Leaves for Simple Frozen Oil Cubes

Tear or chop the herbs into small pieces or individual leaves, depending upon how you plan to use them at a later date. Next, load ice cube trays, egg cups or other freezer molds with the clipped herbs. You can separate individual herbs into molds or you can mix them in combinations you frequently use together. I make both individual herb cubes and various combinations. I started with olive-oil cubes for pan-frying this time. Once my compartments were filled with herbs, I began filling the cubes with oil, topping each herb mold with one or two tablespoons of light (frying) olive oil. Then I made herb cups with melted butter and extra virgin olive oil. Finally I put away large quantities of herbs preserved in vegetable broth (you can use any kind of broth) and water (for herb tea and soup).

Simple Cubes of  Olive Oil with Fresh Basil and Olive Oil with Fresh Rosemary – Ready to Stick in the Freezer

Once the molds are filled, freeze them overnight. You may wish to make a note of the herb content and oil/water measurement in each tray. Once frozen, it can be tricky to identify the herbs. I do freeze in batches and make notes to avoid confusion later. Once removed from the freezer, pop the cubes from the trays and slip them into labeled plastic bags. I write the name(s) of the herbs, the fluid measurement, and the date on my bags. Then, I store them flat in the freezer (they should remain in separate units, unless they melt – so work quickly!). Now, you can enjoy fresh herbs in your cooking all winter long, at a fraction of the market cost!

After Freezing for 24 Hours – Remove the Cubes from the Trays and Separate into Labeled Ziplock Bags. Store Flat in the Freezer.

There are many ways to preserve and store your garden produce. This particular method of freezing herbs has been around for a long time —my mother and grandmother used to preserve them in this way— and it works very well. If you are interested in learning more about how to preserve your garden produce, I highly recommend the two books pictured and linked below, which I reviewed for Barnes & Noble’s Garden Variety Blog in June (click here to read the post on B&N, where you can also purchase either book). Both titles contain new & old ideas —freezing, drying, root-cellaring and more— for preserving the harvest.

Buy How to Store Your Garden Produce from Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble

Buy Putting Food By at Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble

An Early Morning Visit to the Potager – Gathering Herbs and Edible Flowers for Lunch

Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela Medina – The Gardener’s Eden

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Golden Days of Summer Gazpacho… Celebrate the Queen of August Gardens: Glorious, Sweet, Juicy Tomatoes…

August 20th, 2010 § 6

Golden Days of Summer Gazpacho

Oh, sweet, sweet tomato. All winter long, how I long for you; how I pine for your sun-ripened sweetness and juicy flesh. Oh how I worship your delicious flavor. And now, in the mid-August heat, I kneel at your humble earthen alter. With toes stretched out in warm, golden straw and red stains streaming down my arms, I welcome you, Queen of the Vegetable Garden. Late summer afternoons—August and September— these are the halcyon days of the tomato; the cherry, the beefsteak, the roma and the heirloom. So now, at long last, let the feasting begin.

Can you imagine life without the tomato? It seems impossible that this spectacular fruit —now regarded as one of the healthiest, natural foods— was once thought to be poisonous. Rich in vitamins and minerals —as well as antioxidants, including of course, lycopene— tomatoes are one of the sweetest health foods around. This year has been a great growing year for tomatoes in the northeast. And although some areas have reported a repeat of last year’s late blight problems, most farms and home gardens in this area seem to have been spared.

Cherry Tomato ⓒ Tim Geiss @ poltergeiss.com

Cherry Tomatoes ⓒ Tim Geiss @ poltergeiss.com

Sliced Tomato ⓒ Tim Geiss at poltergeiss.com

There are many ways to enjoy fresh, juicy, ripe tomatoes. But when the heat is on and the sun is high, there’s no better way to cool off than with a bowl of chilled gazpacho. Variations on this summertime classic abound, and everyone seems to have a favorite twist to the basic tomato-onion-vinegar base.

My version? Well, I happen to be in love with yellow and orange tomatoes right now. And, I like a sweet, pureed base of sungold cherry tomatoes for my gazpacho. Of course, you can use any tomatoes you like, and tweak the ingredients as you see fit – it’s part of the fun, really. And when you’ve had your fill of this zesty summer-soup, be sure to freeze some for later. You’ll be glad you did…

Golden Days of Summer Gazpacho

Ingredients: Serves Six

2          Cups very ripe Sungold cherry tomatoes (this recipe works with red tomatoes too – use what you have)

3          Large tomatoes (I used orange and golden-yellow, heirloom type)

1          Bell pepper (red, green or somewhere between) minced

1          Average cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped fine

1          Spanish onion, peeled and very finely minced

2          Cloves garlic, peeled and chopped (but not too fine or it will overpower the other flavors)

2          Tbs. fresh, finely chopped Italian parsley

2          Tbs. fresh, finely chopped cilantro

2          Tbs. excellent-quality, artisan, white wine vinegar

1          Lemon, juiced

1          Lime, juiced

1/4      Cup extra virgin olive oil

1          Tsp. honey (or more, to taste)

Dash   Sriracha or Tobasco sauce

Kosher salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Sungold and Sweet Cherry 100 Tomatoes, Cucumber and Bell Pepper

Directions:

Combine 2 large tomatoes and 2 cups of cherry tomatoes in a blender and blend. Remove and strain the tomato juice through a chinois or fine mesh sieve. Set aside. Seed and coarsely chop the remaining tomato,; peel, seed and chop the cucumber and pepper. Peel and finely chop the onion. Peel and chop the garlic, taking care not to chop too fine (or it will overpower the flavor of the gazpacho). Chop the parsley and the cilantro. Toss all of the vegetables into the tomato puree. At this point, if you prefer a smooth gazpacho, you may puree all the ingredients in a blender. Everyone has their own texture preferences. I like to see and taste whole bits of cucumber and tomato in my gazpacho.

Squeeze one lemon and one lime and strain the juice through a sieve into the vegetable mixture. Stir and slowly add  2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar and 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil. Add a dash of Sriracha chili sauce or Tobasco, and sprinkle in Kosher salt & freshly ground pepper. Taste as you go, adding more seasonings to balance flavors. Tomato acidity and sweetness varies tremendously. If the soup seems a bit sharp, try adding another tsp of honey to sweeten the flavor. If too sweet, skip the honey and add a bit more vinegar.

Chill, covered, for 2 hours. Taste again and adjust seasonings as necessary.

Serve well chilled with a dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt, a garnish of fresh cilantro leaves and a piece of crusty bread.

Straining the fresh tomato puree through a sieve…

Add vegetables: chop and mince to the texture you prefer – or puree the entire soup, if you like. I prefer some texture…

Golden Days of Summer Gazpacho… Ready for Chillin’

The summer meadow border, en route to the vegetable garden, bathed in morning light…

Sungold Cherry Tomatoes – The Sweetest Jewels of Summer…

Savoring the Halcyon Days with Golden Days of Summer Gazpacho…

***

Special thanks to Tim Geiss for his beautiful tomato photos – See more of Tim’s work at poltergeiss.com

Article and all other photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!


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***

Savoring Summer: Harvesting and Drying The Garden’s Finest Herbal Treasures…

August 19th, 2010 § 4

Drying Herbs in the Stairwell

One of the great pleasures of living in New England is, of course, the seasons. The natural world operates on a distinct schedule here, and all life flows along with it at a steady pace. On these late August days, the song of the hermit thrush —an ever-present twilight melody enjoyed throughout summer— begins to fade as flocks of songbirds gather for migration before the full moon. And the sun, shifting position and setting earlier each day on the horizon, glimmers low and gold in the trees now. Although the noontime hours of late summer can be quite hot, and evenings are still spent bare-shouldered, it won’t be long before downy quilts and lavender-scented sweaters are pulled from closet shelves.

August is a month of preserving; of putting up and setting things by. Jars of jam and pickled produce form neat rows in the cupboards, and my freezer is packed wall-to-wall with summertime’s bounty. This is the time of year when my voluptuous herb garden literally spills from its neatly-edged confines. Borders? Fiddle-dee-dee, the mint seems to say, as it runs wildly wherever it may. But I never mind a bit of excess in the garden -it’s so nice to have plenty to spare. Mint, rosemary, basil, thyme, lavender and lemon verbena; their scents perfume my fingers and fill the cellar stairwell with beautiful fragrance. …

Freshly-harvested basil – Tied with twine for drying…

Basil and Mint Bundles

With dry air and scant rain, August is a great month to begin harvesting and drying herbs for winter. In the coming months, I will be grateful for a hint of summertime’s pleasures in warm cups of tea and fragrant breakfast scones. Drying herbs is simple and economical; an easy way to trim your monthly grocery budget and add flavor to daily meals. Have a look at the price of dried, organic basil next time you visit a grocery store. If you need a bit of convincing before bundling up the harvest and making room in your rafters, that little bit of sticker-shock should do the trick.

I grow herbs in my potager amongst the vegetables, on my terrace in containers, and throughout the ornamental gardens as well. Once the morning dew has dried —usually by 10am— I head outside with harvest baskets to gather whatever tempts my eye. Some days, I focus on aromatic herbs for cooking; including basil, rosemary, thyme and mint. But I also keep other uses in mind; gathering lavender, bergamot and hyssop for scenting oils, soaps, and sachets. Dried bundles of artemisia, tansy, Queen Anne’s lace, goldenrod and other herbs are also useful for wreaths, swags and dried flower arrangements. Once the cellar stairwell and loft are filled —mostly with herbs for teas and cooking— I string clothesline in my dry cellar to hang bunches of herbs, protecting them from dust with loose paper bag ‘hoods’…

Herbs in the Potager

Keep potted herbs attractive by frequently pruning. More than you need? Try drying bundles to use in recipes —including soup and salad dressing— throughout the winter…

Once I’ve collected herbs, I spread them out on the terrace and pick them over; stripping lower leaves and forming small bundles. I like to use natural twine to tie the herbs together, but I will use recycled rubber-bands as well; particularly for large bouquets of flowering herbs. Once bundled up, I hang the herbs in a dry, dark place. When they have completely dry-cured, I will strip the leaves from the stems and store the herbs in tightly sealed jars (clear is fine for closed cupboards – use dark glass if storing herbs in brightly-lit spaces). Although I try to harvest most culinary herbs before flowering —for best flavor— I do allow some herbs to blossom, in order to provide pollen for bees and other beneficial insects in my garden. Flowering herbs make great companion plants in the potager…

Bundles of herbs are picked over and thinned, then bound together with twine…

Harvesting Herbs in Late Morning, After the Dew Has Throughly Dried

Sorting and Bundling Herbs in My Kitchen

Some sage is left to flower in the potager. Other plants are kept tightly pruned through regular harvests…

Rosemary is a beautiful, as well as a useful herb. I like keeping aromatic herbs near my door, where I brush against them as I come and go. Here, I can quickly snip bits to flavor teas, salad dressings or garnish cocktails…

And as wonderful as dried herbs are in winter, there’s nothing quite like the flavor of fresh rosemary and basil —is there? I keep pots of herbs just outside my kitchen door all summer long, where I can easily access them if I need to add a sprig to a special sauce or evening cocktail. Come late autumn, I will bring the potted rosemary inside to my windowsill, and in late September, I will begin sowing flats of basil to grow indoors beneath lights.

Yes, I enjoy thinking ahead to the coming seasons, but I’ve never been much of a pleasure-delayer at heart. I believe that being prepared for the future should never detract from the importance of the present moment. From lemon-mint sun tea and caprese salad with fresh basil at lunchtime to ice-cold mojitos and herb-infused ice cream enjoyed by the light of the moon; savor the rich tastes and sweet smells of the season while you can…

Lemon-Mint Sun Tea (Click Here for Post and Recipe)

Mentha piperita (Peppermint flowering in the garden)

Cuban Mint Julep (aka the mojito) – Click here for recipe and story

Some great herb gardening resources to give as gifts, add to a wish-list or purchase for your own horticultural and culinary bookshelves…

Gardening with Herbs by Emelie Tolley and Chris Mead

The Herbal Kitchen by Jerry Traunfeld

Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs

***

Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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August Abundance: Notes from the Kitchen Garden…

August 12th, 2010 § 3

My Summertime Kitchen

Mid August is always a busy month in the kitchen garden. Abundant cucumbers, summer squash, beans, tomatoes, peppers, herbs and onions must be harvested and put up —frozen, dried, pickled and/or canned— at the peak of freshness. Late summer chores in the potager include watering —especially during this extended dry spell we are experiencing in New England— weeding, monitoring and managing pests, succession sowing for short-season fall crops, and of course, daily harvests. Some of my stand-out crops this year include cippolini and sweet onions, garlic, shiitake mushrooms, romanesco broccoli, arugula, cucumbers, and finally —after last season’s meager crop and fears about late blight— gorgeous, fruitful tomatoes. Read more about the highlighted crops by clicking on each to return to a previous blog-post.

If you haven’t already done so, it’s a good idea to make notes for next year; jotting down harvest dates, this season’s plant successes and failures, troublesome pests and current plant family locations to assist you with next year’s crop rotation. Carrots look stunted or forked? Maybe it’s a good time to raise your beds, giving them more root-room. Lush growth in your garden but little or no produce? It could be time to test your soil pH and fertility. Plants petering out? Sow some quick turn-around crops like lettuce, arugula, beets, peas and beans for a fall harvest. If you live in a cold climate, now may be a good time to begin constructing hoop-houses to protect your crops from frost and extend the growing season (see post on hoop house construction here). If you are making your own compost, be sure to turn it regularly, keeping content balanced with layers of fresh ‘green’ kitchen scraps and pulled garden plants, dry (such as straw and paper) and brown (mature compost).

And busy as we gardeners tend to be in August, I like to slow myself down by pulling out the camera and taking a close look at the beautiful colors, textures and shapes in my late summer potager. Here are some highlights from my morning garden walk and daily harvest…

Romanesco Broccoli in the Potager

Sungold Cherry Tomatoes Ripening in the Garden

The Beautiful Edibles – Nasturtium and Pansies in the Potager

Ripening Butternut Squash Along the Kitchen Garden Fence

Cippolini Onions at Harvest

Yellow Summer Squash and Haricots Verts

Red Hot Chili Peppers in August

Morning Glories Along the Potager Fence

Orange Blossom and Early Girl Tomatoes in August

Basically Beautiful – Orange Blossom and Basil Salad

Garlic Harvest – Hard Neck Music, Continental & Doc’s German Garlic Drying on the Terrace

Haricots Verts, Calendula, Tomatoes, Arugula, Nasturtiums and Alpine Strawberries Bask in the Late Summer Sun

Blanching and Freezing Haricots Verts from the Kitchen Garden

Shiitake Mushrooms Harvested from the Mushroom Garden in my Forest (See Tutorial Post Here)

Ruby Red Chard in the Potager

Summertime Herb Harvest – Rosemary, Thyme, Sage and Mint

An Armful of Fresh-Cut Flowers Makes for a Different Kind of Treat in the Jar

Late Summer Abundance in the Potager

Late Summer Chaos in My Kitchen (read about building this homemade kitchen island here)

Gourmet Potatoes, Chard, Cucumbers, and Nasturtiums in the Potager

***

Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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The Art of French Vegetable Gardening in Honor of La Fête Nationale…

July 14th, 2010 § 5

A Country-Casual Potager from The Art of French Vegetable Gardening by Louisa Jones with photographs by Gilles Le Scanff & Joelle Caroline Mayer

A Formal French Garden of Culinary Herbs, Fruits and Vegetables featured in The Art of French Vegetable Gardening (image ⓒ Gilles Le Scanff & Joelle Caroline Mayer)

In remembering La Fête Nationale (Bastille Day), my attention has turned to the French and their spectacularly stylish potagers. Louisa Jones’ The Art of French Vegetable Gardening, with extraordinary photographs by Gilles Le Scanff & Joelle Caroline Mayer, was given to me as a gift nearly ten years ago. Although it is currently out-of-print, to this day it remains one of the most inspirational books on kitchen garden design that I have ever seen. The French have an instinctive way with herbs, vegetables and fruit trees, designing beautiful, edible gardens that are so much more than practical. When planning my own kitchen garden, my goal was to create a welcoming place, where I would eagerly stroll on a hot summer day. By luring frequent visits, a garden is likely to remain well-tended, with weeding and watering chores becoming part of the daily routine. If you can find a copy of Jones’ book, I highly recommend it.

Companion planting with edible flowers and herbs is a great way to make the kitchen garden attractive both to beneficial insects and human visitors alike. Add a bench or a table to encourage prolonged visits or impromptu meals in the potager. Emelie Tolley and Chris Mead’s stunning Gardening with Herbs is another favorite title, absolutely bursting with European edible-garden style. One of my favorite images from the book, the thyme seat shown below, is but one of the book’s many great ideas for luring guests to the potager. Great kitchen garden design need not be expensive, but it does take a bit of creative thinking and resourcefulness. Keep on the look-out for recyclable furniture and containers to repurpose, or if you are particularly ambitious and crafty, visit Ana White’s Knock-Off Wood for some fantastic outdoor furniture plans and get to work building your own raised beds, planters and benches. I find my kitchen garden always performs best and is enjoyed to it’s fullest potential, when I am spending a great deal of time there. A beautifully designed space makes that easy to do…

A Pretty Destination Makes Everyday Gardening Chores a Pleasure. Inspiration from The Art of French Vegetable Gardening

Inspirational Places Lure Visitors into the Garden with a Place to Rest and Enjoy a Drink or an Alfresco Meal…

Fruit Trees, Arbors and Aromatic, Clipped Hedges Lend Structure to French Kitchen Gardens, While Ever Changing Arrangements of Pretty Pots and Herbs add Artful Accents. Images above ⓒ Le Scanff & Mayer from Louisa Jone’s beautiful, The Art of French Vegetable Gardening

An Aromatic Thyme Seat – Design Featured in Gardening with Herbs by Emelie Tolley and Chris Mead

***

The Art of French Vegetable Gardening by Louisa Jones
-out of print but available used-

Gardening with Herbs by Emelie Tolley and Chris Mead

The Nasturtium Seat in My Potager ⓒ Michaela at TGE

***

Article and photographs of Ferncliff © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All other photography excerpts included in review are copyright as noted and linked below the images.

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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Celebrating Fourth of July Weekend: Garden-Fresh Strawberry-Mint Mojitos & Flowers Exploding in the Night Sky…

July 2nd, 2010 § 5

Strawberry-Mint Mojitos – One of the Summer Garden’s Greatest Pleasures !   Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

An explosive ‘bouquet’ in the night sky ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Look at those great big sparklers! Oh yes, I do love a little pyrotechnic excitement now and again – don’t you? In honor of America’s birthday, I’m going out to see fireworks tonight, and –goofy gal that I am– I’m pretty excited about it. To me, fireworks look like gigantic, technicolor flowers, exploding in the night sky. Wouldn’t you agree? Well, I know not everyone will get what I’m driving at here, so I put together a few daytime vs nighttime kabooms and kablams (photos below) for a bit of comparison. Even hand-held sparklers look like flowers to me; so much so, in fact, they seem like the perfect fizzy bridal bouquet (well, I do suppose you would have to wear a flame-retardent gown, and say your vows pretty fast – now wouldn’t you?).

Fourth of July is one of my two favorite holidays, (think you can guess the other?), and I’m about to pack up my bag and head on down the dusty road with some treats for my evening companions. Since Mentha villosa (Cuban mint) and fresh strawberries are plentiful in the garden, I figured I might as well whip up a few fresh strawberry-mint mojitos later on tonight. But of course, I can’t leave without sharing the recipe with you.  So scroll down past the floral and pyrotechnic explosions below… ‘Till you reach the cocktail recipe. Enjoy! And do have yourself a safe and fantabulous Fourth of July…

Happy Birthday America !!  xo Michaela

Red-Orange Explosion by Day ⓒ Tim Geiss

Red-Orange Explosion by Night ⓒ Michaela at TGE…

Exploding Queen Anne’s Lace in the Garden ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Exploding Queen Anne’s Lace in the Night Sky ⓒ 2009 Michaela at TGE

Exploding Echinacea by Day ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Exploding Echinacea by Night ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Wishing All of You a Happy and Safe Independence Day!

Cheers!

Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Strawberry-Mint Mojito

Ingredients (makes one cocktail):

6-8     strawberries washed and quartered, plus extra for garnish

1-2     tsp white sugar

1/2     lime cut into quarters

4         sprigs of mint – (pinch first 3-4 sets of tender leaves and tip)                             {ideally Mentha villosa & p.s don’t stint on the mint!}

2         ounces of fine Puerto Rican white rum*

1/2     cup of cracked, not crushed, ice cubes

Club soda to top glass

Fresh picked strawberries from the garden. Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Directions:

Drop the mint into bottom of a cocktail shaker cup and crush the herbs with a muddler or the back of a wooden spoon to release the oil. Add the sugar, and squeeze in the juice of the lime wedges, next, add the strawberries and mash together well. Stir in the rum*. You can toss in the lime rinds if you like. Add the cracked ice cubes to the cup – cover and shake well. Pour the contents into a frosted glass and top with club soda. Before serving, garnish the glass with a fresh strawberry wedge and a sprig of mint. Serve.

*This drink is also fantastic without rum. You may wish to add more strawberries and a tiny bit more sugar if you are excluding the rum. Or add a touch of good quality, artificial rum flavoring instead.

Add Champagne, Prosecco or a Non-alcoholic Sparkler for a Strawberry Flirt. Click here for recipe. Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

***

Day Bloom ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Night Boom ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Bright Blasts of Dill ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Pyrotechnic Petals ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Bright Blue Bachelor Button Explosion by Day ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Electric-Blue Bachelor Button Explosion by Night ⓒ Michaela at TGE

***

Article and photographs,(with noted exception) ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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It’s Time for the Great Scape: Harvesting And Enjoying Flavorful Garlic Greens…

June 24th, 2010 § 3

Scapes forming on hard neck garlic in my potager…

Curious looking things aren’t they, the garlic scapes? In fact, whenever I look at them, I can’t help but think of ET. You do remember ET, don’t you? The friendly little alien flying around on a bicycle, trying to phone home? Of course you do. I loved that movie when I was a kid. And, who could forget such a beautiful-homely little creature? Well I think garlic scapes are a bit like ET. They are freakish, but you can’t help loving them. Look closely. Do you see a scrawny, curled little finger in there? OK, so maybe my way of looking at things is a bit odd, but I figure if you are reading this blog on a regular basis, you are getting used to it. You don’t really mind, do you?

Garlic Scape Harvest in June…

ET Phone Home...

Elliot… ?

Alright, back to the scapes. Last fall, I wrote a fairly lengthy article on how to grow garlic. And shortly after I published it, my friend John emailed, curious about why I didn’t mention garlic scapes. Well, there were two good reasons actually. Garlic scapes are a gourmet delight; found at Farmer’s Markets and specialty grocers, usually during the month of June. First of all, I wanted to wait until scapes were actually in season, so I could include a recipe for garlic scape pesto, (which I tried last summer and loved). And the second reason had to do with a matter of horticultural opinion.  As hard neck garlic, (Allium sativum) matures, it produces a straight green stalk which then forms a loop or two at the top. This loopity loop -which reminds me of ET’s finger- is the budding garlic flower; more commonly called a ‘scape’. That knobby spot is where a bulbis will form if left on the plant. Some growers remove the bulbis and sell the scapes at market. In theory, the plant’s energy is redirected toward underground bulb production. Other growers prefer to leave the bulbis intact until autumn harvest, later drying and propagating garlic from the bulbis’ themselves. I decided an experiment was called for on this one…

I enjoy eating garlic scapes. So, I usually harvest them in June. But last year I left a group standing, as a little horti-science project. I know – geek. And interestingly, I noted no difference in bulb size between the plants with bulbis left standing, and the garlic with scapes cut in June. So, there you have it, my little scientific report on garlic scapes. Others may have differing results, and I am interested to hear about their experiments. But for now, I will feel completely guiltless eating all the scapes my heart desires. And now that we are finally on the subject of eating them, I must say that one of my favorite ways to enjoy garlic scapes is in a pesto sauce. I tried several recipes last summer, and my favorite is actually a hybrid between one I found on Adam Roberts’ Amateur Gourmet and another referenced on Adam’s blog from Dorie Greenspan. I actually like the pesto with almonds, as Dorie prepares it, but I rarely have them in my house. Pine nuts are always in my cupboard, and I use them frequently in all kinds of pesto.

Garlic scapes are cut off just below the first or second set of leaves, and once harvested, can be prepared many ways. In addition to serving them in pesto, as pictured here, I also enjoy them blanched, roasted or sauteed with a bit of olive oil. If you’ve never had them… do seek these curious curlicues out at the farmer’s market. The scape season passes quickly, and it’s important to harvest them just as they form their loop-di-loops, or they become tough and bitter. Of course, if you grow your own garlic, (see super easy instructions here), then you will have a ready supply every June to enjoy in season, or freeze for later…

Garlic Scape Pesto Rotini – With a Garnish of Calendula Blossoms ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Garlic Scape Pesto

(From the collective wisdom of Dorie Greenspan and Adam of Amateur Gourmet)

Ingredients (makes 2 cups +/- of pesto):

12 Garlic Scapes, chopped fine in food processor

1/2 cup grated parmesean

1/3 cup toasted pine nuts or almonds

1/2 cup olive oil

Sea salt to taste

Rotini or spaghetti or other pasta, cooked al dente and rinsed

Directions:

Put washed scapes, cheese, pine nuts, salt and 1/4 cup of olive oil into a food processor  with a metal blade. Blend the ingredients and slowly add the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil. Taste and adjust cheese and salt to suit your preferences. If you want a very smooth pesto, blend until creamy. If you are looking for a more rustic paste, then remove from the processor when just blended.

Use immediately as an appetizer, such as a spread on warm bread, a topping or layer on pizza or lasagna, or my favorite way: mixed with rotini pasta and chilled for lunch. If you aren’t using the pesto right away, place it in an airtight container, covering the top with a sheet of plastic wrap to protect the beautiful color from oxidization. Garlic scape pesto can be refrigerated for a few days, or you can freeze it for 2 – 3 months and use it later in the summer…

Garlic Scape Pesto – The Color of Summer!

Mmm…

Curly, twirly garlic scape – a beautiful freak of nature…

ET The Extra Terrestrial on DVD


Article and Photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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Dreams on a Midsummer Night’s Eve & Fragrant Bouquets Beneath Pillows…

June 23rd, 2010 § 1

A Midsummer Night’s Bouquet for Beneath the Pillow ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

“I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,

Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,

Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,

With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine.”

- William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act ii, Scene 1

Gathering the Ingredients for a Midsummer Night’s Dream…

Tonight is Midsummer Eve, originally a pagan holiday celebrating the Summer Solstice and fertility. In Scandinavia, it is traditional for young women to gather bouquets of flowers, (herbal blossoms of seven different species, according to some sources), and place them beneath their pillows before bedtime. According to legend, if a maiden falls asleep on Midsummer Night with blossoms tucked beneath her pillow, she will dream of her future husband…

Calendula – Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz 1885, Gera, Germany

With these kinds of stakes in mind, I would suggest choosing your bouquet wisely. For sound sleep I would include fragrant valerian (Valeriana officinalis) and perhaps some other flowering, traditional mid-summer herbs; particularly mythical marigold (Calendula officinalis), lavender, (Lavandula dentata), bergamot, (Monarda didyama), sage, (Salvia officinalis), thyme, (Thymus), and of course a red rose, (Rosa) for passion – just be sure to cut off the thorns!

Blossoming, fragrant sage, (Salvia officinalis) ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

Two of the herbal flowers I’ve chosen for beneath my pillow tonight: Valeriana officinalis and Rosa de Rescht ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

Sweet Dreams Ladies…

Today is also known as St. John’s Eve. St. John is the patron saint of beekeepers! To learn more about this day in history, I recommend visiting the Writer’s Almanac June 23 page, (you will have to hit the Prev. button if you are reading this after June 23rd), with Garrison Kiellor (then click on the audio link at the top of the page).

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Article and photographs © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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