February 19th, 2011 §
Arugula in the Hoophouse, January
Let’s start out with a bit of honesty, shall we? The four season harvest isn’t for wimps. Winter gardening —growing plants in temperatures below freezing to sub-zero, beneath plastic sheeting— isn’t a natural act. And although I enjoy a good game of woman vs. wild, sometimes winter gets to be a bit much around here. Shoveling decks, terraces, walkways and woodpiles is a lot of work. And now that I’ve added potager path-clearing and hoophouse roof-raking to the list, I’ve created quite a snow-removal burden. So why do it? Because the taste of fresh arugula and the smell of damp earth on a cold February day is —as the people at Mastercard say— priceless. And I think a jump-start to the short, northern growing season is worth a little extra work (OK, so it’s a lot of extra work).
Look at that delicious earth! Would you believe this photo was taken just yesterday…
Inside this unheated hoophouse the smell of sweet, springtime soil fills the moist air!
Raking out hoophouse soil to prepare for late winter crop sowing
Over the past three years —cooking more at home and experimenting in my kitchen— I’ve become more and more interested in four-season vegetable gardening. And although I haven’t made the leap to a heated greenhouse yet, I’ve found that with proper timing, I can keep some crops going in my hoophouses year round. Greens sown in late fall will germinate and then continue to grow (albeit much more slowly) throughout the short, cold days of winter. Tender crops are out of the question of course, but tasty root vegetables sown in early autumn can be harvested from cold houses straight into the new year. Seedlings require light to grow —10-12 hours of daylight is a good rule of thumb— so the sowing of seed is suspended during the weeks leading up to —and about a month and a half after– the winter solstice. But come late January, February and March —when the days are getting longer, and sunlight is getting stronger — I can begin sowing cold-hardy, late winter crops in my unheated hoophouses, for early spring harvest. Yesterday I planted a variety of greens in house #3 (arugula, chard, spinach, lettuce and mesclun mix), and I pulled spent crops and turned soil in house #1 to prepare for more planting (carrots, radishes and other crops) on my next free afternoon. If you are interested in learning more about the four-season harvest and winter vegetable gardening, I highly recommend Eliot Coleman’s books. And if you’d like to build a hoophouse of your own this spring (I now have four, with three currently in use) click here for basic plans. I’m hoping to upgrade to a larger, walk-in cold house this year.
Hoophouses protecting early fall-sown crops in late December, just before the snow (automatic back vents help moderate temperatures)
Sowing crops in hoophouse #3: Mid-February
Gardening in winter is all about science, but it sure feels like magic when you can reach your hand into sweet, sun-warmed earth on a cold and windy day. And it’s even more spectacular when you’re enjoying your own salad greens and root vegetables —harvested from an icy, snow-covered garden— at dinner in January and February. Winter pasta with fresh arugula, root-cellared onions and olive-oil preserved, sun-dried tomatoes —all from the garden— now that is priceless…
Arugula harvested from the hoophouse
Pasta with freshly harvested arugula — plus caramelized onions, braided & stored in the root cellar and sun-dried tomatoes, preserved in olive oil— all from the garden…
Here’s the potager, with house #1 and #2 buried by nearly 3′ of snow and ice. I still can’t believe they didn’t collapse. And yes, I shoveled them out all by myself. Sadly, Alfred hasn’t left Batman for me yet. I can’t figure out why…
Mountains of shoveling…
Followed by more shoveling…
And bringing in wood…
But who wouldn’t appreciate the beauty that makes it all worthwhile…
Article and photos ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden
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August 26th, 2010 §
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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August 15th, 2010 §
A Sweet Onion Braid – Drying on a Late Summer Day
Warm, dry air and sparkling blue skies; here in Vermont, these are the first golden days of late summer bliss. As I swing in my big, old hammock —surrounded by the meadow-song of crickets and chattering finches— my mind drifts to nothing more important than the thought of spicy gazpacho and homemade crackers for lunch. Mmm… Gazpacho – one of my summertime favorites. I love the flavor of fresh, pungent onions, herbs and garden-ripe tomatoes. And speaking of onions, with the nights growing cooler —filled with showers of shooting stars— and the days growing shorter, it’s time to think about digging up those tasty bulbs and putting some up for winter…
Wondering when to pull? You can begin to harvest when most of the tops have flopped…
I’ve been harvesting baskets of onions from my potager this week; taking advantage of the long, dry spell to cure them on the sunny terrace. (Click here to read more about growing and harvesting onions, and find my favorite French Onion Soup recipe in a post from last year) Cippolini, Walla Walla and Ailsa Craig —sweet members of the Allium cepa species— are my favorite garden onions. Because these mild onions are poor candidates for long-term, winter storage, I braid them and hang them in my kitchen and basement for immediate and continued use throughout late summer and fall (pungent, globe-type onions in red, white and yellow are the best long-term, winter-keepers in my root cellar). Shallots, garlic and onions are all easy to braid, and I find this short-term method of storage to be both practical and aesthetically pleasing in my kitchen…
Sweet Onion Style…
Many readers of this blog are long-time gardeners and cooks, with years of experience growing and storing produce. But for those of you who are new to putting food by —or with curious, young gardeners-in-training— onion braids are a great, creative way to begin preparing a pantry of stored produce. I start the process by gently pulling onions from the garden during a clear-weather stretch (carefully loosening them from the soil by rocking the earth with a fork positioned at least 6-8″ from the bulbs), dry-curing them on my terrace (or, if rain is in the forecast, spread out on newspaper in a protected porch or shed) for a week. As the onions dry, I gently turn, brush and shake them to remove dirt (be careful not to bruise the tender flesh). While the tops of the onions are still green and pliant, I gather bunches in groups of 6-12 for braiding. The smaller onions (especially the coin-like Cippolini) look particularly attractive in long braids with 12 or more bulbs per chain. The larger onions —such as the Walla Walla— need a bit more room, so I braid these bulbs in groups of 6-8…
Start with three onions…
Are you familiar with the classic French braid? My hair is quite long, and I often wear it pulled back in this manner when I am working. Braiding onions is quite like French braiding hair. The chain starts out like a normal braid, (see photo above) with three onions layered one on top of the other. A slight tapered angle looks nice, varying the start lengths, but this is a subtle detail and it isn’t necessary for beginners. Begin by making one braid chain from the onion greens as you would with hair, yarn or rope. Simply pull greens from the outside edge, holding them at the center to make an ‘x’, alternating sides as you go. If your onions are very large, you may want to make two or three links before you begin to add more onions…
Add onions as you go – alternating sides, just as you would with a French braid…
Now here is where the process begins to resemble the French braids that girls use to tie back their hair. Do you remember how you pull sections of hair from alternate side of the head, adding them to the main braid as you go? The same method applies when you are braiding onions or any other bulb. When you bring the onion greens toward the center to make an ‘x’, add another onion (as shown in the photo below. Hold this in place with the fingers of one hand as you bring greens from the other side, making the usual cross at the center. Once you have one link (or more or larger onions), repeat the process on the other side. To make your braid attractive, keep your link pattern even as you go…
Spacing can be one onion per link, or skip a link or two if onions are very large…
You can make your onion braids as long as you want, that part is up to you. Once you have reached your desired length, it will be easier to tie the onions with twine if you make a few links with greens only and hold the end together tightly. Once you have the hang of it, you can simply tie the onions at the base if you like, without adding extra links. That is a creative decision. You can also make your braids from different varieties of onions, or add bits of dried herbs. It’s all up to you…
Stop the braid when you have reached the desired hanging length. I usually aim for 8-12 onions per braid, depending on variety and size…
I tie the ends of my braids with garden twine. You can also use recycled rubber bands…
Tie the end of the chain tightly with twine, ribbon, string or looped rubber bands. Hold the chain by the greens and give it a good shake to be sure it’s solid and to remove any loose dirt. Hang the onions in a dry, sunny spot for another week or so to continue curing. Then bring them indoors to store in your kitchen for immediate use, or in a cool, dry spot (floor joists in cellars work well). Onions can also be stored in a cool, dark, dry place in baskets or woven bins (for airflow) once they are dry cured and their greens are removed…
The Braided Onions – Tied and Ready for Storage…
Cippolini Onion Braid – This storage method works for all kinds of onions, and for garlic as well…
Cippolini Onion Harvest and Braiding…
I think braided onions, garlic and shallots look beautiful hanging from the beams in my timber-frame home. As the harvest season continues, herbs and dried flowers will join the onion braids hanging in my kitchen, bringing wonderful, warm and pungent smells, earthy colors and attractive textures to the room. Even if you don’t grow your own onions, you can make braids for your kitchen by asking a local farmer to sell you uncured bulbs with greens attached. And, some markets sell cured onions in braids or bunches at the early part of the season. Be aware that because kitchens tend to get hot and steamy, unless you plan to use your onions and garlic immediately —and regularly— it’s best to store them out of the kitchen, in a cool, dark place.
Cippolini Onions Hanging from a Beam in the Kitchen… Ready for Roasting!
Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE
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January 16th, 2010 §
Oven Roasted Fingerling Potatoes with Fresh Herbs and Parmesan in an oven-table baking dish by Emile Henry…
Look a little tempting? I confess I just finished off my second bowl of fingerlings about an hour ago. Mmmm. Delicious. As you may remember, last week I touched on the subject of gourmet potatoes in my post on potato leek soup. My country-neighbors, the Millers, operate a small greenhouse called The Old Schoolhouse Plantery where they grow and sell rare conservatory plants, annuals, herbs and gourmet vegetable starts. John also sells his organic produce at the local farmer’s market. Throughout the winter, his booth is a popular place to find gourmet root vegetables – particularly potatoes. This past spring, upon John’s recommendation, I grew a few gourmet potatoes from seed purchased at Ronnigers Potato Farm, and they were the tastiest spuds I have ever eaten. I tell you, there is nothing like the reward of a delicious crop to motivate a gardener to keep on planting. After cooking a few dishes with gourmet fingerling potatoes, I am convinced that an entire corner of my potager should be dedicated to these tubers. I tried oven roasting some fingerlings with an olive oil/parmesan coating today, (pictured in the baking dish above), and they were lip-smacking good!
This year, I am planning to add many more gourmet potatoes to my potager; including ‘rose fin apple’ fingerlings and other colorful varieties, such ‘all blue’ and ‘purple viking’. Although winter has only just arrived, I am already thinking about this year’s seed order. Seed potatoes are planted in the garden when the soil temperature reaches approximately 45 ° F, (7° C). Usually, the soil reaches this temperature by mid-spring here; about three weeks before the last frost-date. If you live in a warmer climate, potatoes may go in by late winter, (check zone maps and potato seed catalogs for specific location planting times). When plotting out your vegetable garden, remember to rotate your crops each year. To avoid disease and confuse pests, it’s best never to plant potatoes in last-year’s tomato bed. Marigold, bush beans, corn and cabbage are a few good potato companions. But again, in order to avoid insect pests and diseases, locate crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and pumpkins in the opposite corner of your garden as they are not good companions for potatoes. Many gardeners start potatoes in shallow trenches and then ‘hill’ them as they grow. I will go over this method and the straw-mulching hill method as we get closer to planting time.
Right now I am obsessively thinking about all the delicious gourmet potato varieties I want to grow and how much room I can devote to this versatile crop. Seed potatoes are planted approximately one foot apart, so they take up some space in the garden. Last season, I had great success with the ‘Desiree’. This is a beautiful pink-skinned potato with yellow flesh; one that stores well and holds its texture when cooked. Easy to grow, this popular European-gourmet potato is resistant to many diseases, including blights. Of course the fingerling varieties have definitely become favorites. When it comes to flavor and cooking texture, (especially when pureed in soups), it’s hard to beat the ‘Rose Finn Apple’ fingerling potato, (pictured in this post). ‘LaRatte’ is another great gourmet potato, with firm texture and a unique, nutty flavor. Both of these varieties are on my shopping list.
If you haven’t tried growing gourmet fingerlings, you may want to give them some space in your kitchen garden this year. Perhaps you’ve never tasted these delicious potatoes? Well then… I encourage you to pick some up at your local winter farmer’s market – I think you will quickly come to understand what all the fuss is about…
‘Rose Finn Apple’ Fingerling Potatoes from Ronniger’s – before and after a scrub down with a bristle brush…
Ronnigers Potato Farm Online
Oven Roasted Fingerling Potatoes with Parmesan and Fresh Herbs
(serves 4, double recipe to increase quantities as you like)
2 lb Fingerling potatoes, washed and cut in half lengthwise
1/4 c Olive oil
1/4 c All purpose flour
1/4 c Reggiano parmesan cheese, grated
1 tsp Sea salt, fresh ground or regular table salt
1 tsp Black pepper, fresh ground
sprigs Fresh rosemary and thyme, a few sprigs to taste
(try this with a clove of garlic and other herbs if you like)
Preheat oven, (rack toward the top), to 475 degrees fahrenheit.
In a small glass bowl, (or in a large plastic bag), measure in olive oil, flour and parmesan. Add salt and pepper. Stir or shake to mix well.
In a large bowl, toss cut fingerlings with 1 tbs olive oil to lightly coat. Add dry mix to the large bowl, (or add potatoes to the large plastic bag), and toss with hands, (or shake bag). Be sure the potatoes are thoroughly and evenly coated.
Coat an oven-to-table baking dish with the remaining olive oil and arrange the potatoes cut -side up. Sprinkle with fresh rosemary and thyme.
Roast for approximately 15 minutes, Turn the potatoes and roast for approximately 15 more minutes more. Turn one last time and roast until crisp and golden brown, (approximately 10-15 more minutes).
Cool dish for a few minutes, garnish with a few more sprigs of herbs and serve hot with a tablespoon of sour cream if you like.
Photographs and Article copyright 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden
All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced for any purpose without prior written consent. Please do not republish images or text excerpts without permission. Inspired by something you see here ? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…
Thank you ! Michaela
January 10th, 2010 §
Potato Leek Soup
Brrr is certainly the word. It’s really cold here in the northeast. I keep hearing rumors of rising temperatures, but so far they are just that – rumors. I take comfort in the fact that there’s a good snow-cover insulating the garden, and inside, my wood stove is cranking out some serious BTUs. But just to be sure I keep the chill at bay, I have made a big pot of potato leek soup to keep me warm. Mmmm. Isn’t it wonderful how a simmering pot of soup fills the entire house with fragrance ? Oh how I love that. Potato leek soup is particularly aromatic and earthy – just the thing on a grey day. Plus this year, everything in this soup comes from the garden, and there is a kind of comfort coming from that as well.
2009 was a great year for growing leeks. It may not have been a great year for most other things – but it was definitely a leek year. Rain. Rain. Rain. Well, it’s a good thing that leeks love moisture. They grow best in a cooling trench filled with rich, but well-drained soil, (it’s almost impossible to over-water and overfeed them). They are truly one of my favorite crops, and because they store well in wooden boxes of damp sand , (in a cellar is best with temp. range 32-42 F), they can be enjoyed all winter, (it’s best to keep leeks away from other vegetables in the root cellar, as they produce a strong, overpowering odor).
When I bring leeks up from the cellar, (or when digging them to eat straight from the garden), I take care to wash them thoroughly in a sink filled with cool water. It’s important to get rid of all the sand, so I soak them first and rinse between the layers, (with the dark green ends pointing down). For this particular recipe, the dark parts are chopped off. After cutting, I rinse them one more time. No one likes sand in their soup !
Potato leek soup can be made with many different kinds of potatoes, from everyday white to gourmet gold. I used some of the smallish white potatoes I have on hand in the root cellar, (an unmarked variety from Agway), but I am going to be planting some more interesting varieties from Ronnigers in the coming season. My country-neighbors, the Millers, have been educating me about gourmet potatoes, (they are British, and they know their roots!). The more flavorful the potato, the better the soup ! And speaking of flavor – fresh herbs make all the difference in home cooking, and having them close-by insures that they will be used daily. I grow parsley in the hoop-house year-round, and I keep thyme going on the kitchen windowsill. A few herbs also make for a pretty garnish in the bowl.
The recipe below is one from a stained and curled-up card in my box. I’ve also noticed a few variations online recently. One from David Lebovitz looks particularly delightful, as does an older post from Elise Bauer on her blog, Simply Recipes. Lebovitz’s soup is sophisticated and smooth, and Bauer’s is hearty and chunky, (both of these sites are great resources for home cooks). My own recipe lies somewhere between the two.
So it may be cold outside, but I have the antidote here on the stove. Soup is definitely ON !
Potato Leek Soup
Ingredients (serves 6 – 8 ):
3-4 Leeks – dark green ends cut off, (washed thoroughly to remove sand),
cut lengthwise and chopped, ( light white to light green parts), very coarsely.
3 tbs Butter
2 c Water
2 c Vegetable or chicken stock (homemade is best)
2 lbs Potatoes, washed, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch or smaller pieces
2 Bay leaves
2 tsp Fresh thyme, washed and chopped fine (plus extra for garnish )
2 tbs Fresh parsley, washed and chopped fine
1 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Fresh ground white pepper
1/8 tsp Sriracha,(“rooster”), hot chili sauce, (or sub tabasco )
1tsp Per bowl, creme fraiche , (or thick sour cream), for serving
In a good size stock pot, melt 3 tbs of butter. Add leeks, salt and pepper and cook on low heat for approximately 10 minutes. Watch the leeks carefully, and do not let them brown !
Add water, vegetable or chicken stock, potatoes and bay leaves. Cover and simmer for 25 – 30 minutes or until potatoes are soft all the way through, (check with a fork).
Remove bay leaves and carefully puree 3/4 of the soup in a blender, (not a food processor). You will need to do this in two batches or you risk burning yourself with an over-filled blender. Return the pureed soup to the pot. If you prefer a completely smooth soup, then puree the entire batch. I like some potato chunks. Add herbs and Sriracha sauce. Taste and adjust seasonings. Continue simmering for at least 10 – 15 minutes.
Serve warm in bowls garnished with a dollop of creme fraiche and sprigs of fresh thyme.
Fresh thyme from the windowsill garden
Leeks and potatoes, washed and cut…
The Secret Ingredient…
The antidote to Brrr: Mmmm!