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

June 24th, 2010 § 3 comments § permalink

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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From Verdant Shades to Violet Hues: The Potager is Beginning to Look Beautiful, Bountiful and Very, Very Veggie…

June 18th, 2010 § 7 comments § permalink

Beautiful Broccoli © 2010 Michaela at TGE…

Every morning now, when I stroll through the vegetable garden on my early rounds -coffee in hand and pets in tow- I am astonished by how much the summer crops have grown in just one short month since planting. And no matter how groggy, or harried, or pressured I may feel on any given day, the garden never fails to both invigorate and calm me; stimulating my senses, and soothing my mind. The potager is planted for utility, and of course there are always chores, but like all gardens, it is also a wonderful place for rest and relaxation. Vegetables are beautiful, especially when viewed up close in the early light of day, covered in dew. Everywhere I look, there are radiant reds, vibrant violets and deeply saturated blue-green hues. Getting up close and personal with your garden is a great idea for many reasons. And as I go through the potager each morning, pulling tiny weeds and removing pests from plants, I am also richly rewarded with fresh scents, tasty nibbles, buzzing bees and the sweet sound of birds. Hey – why can’t the practical also be the luxurious? I think it’s all in how you look at things…

Red Leaf Lettuce © 2010 Michaela at TGE…

Sage Blossoms © 2010 Michaela at TGE

Snow Pea Blossom from the Second Sowing © 2010 Michaela at TGE…

Antago Lettuce © 2010 Michaela at TGE…

Sage Leaves © 2010 Michaela at TGE

Green Leaf Lettuce © 2010 Michaela at TGE…

Edible Flowers – Red and Purple Pansies © Michaela at TGE

The Western Corner of the Vegetable Garden in Early-Mid June…

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

June 12th, 2010 § 6 comments § permalink

Strawberry Shortcake with Homemade Butter Biscuits…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freshly Washed Strawberries from the Garden…

Strawberry Shortcake

Ingredients (Serves 6)

4           Cups washed and sliced strawberries – plus extra for garnish

1           Tbs sugar, (adjust to tartness of berries)

1           Pint whipping cream

1/2       Tsp vanilla

Fresh mint leaves for garnish (optional)

Biscuits

2            Cups flour

2 1/2     Tsp baking powder

1            Tsp salt

6            Tbs unsalted, chilled butter, plus extra for serving

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

Directions:

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

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.

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

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

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

Dallas on DVD !!!

Dynasty on DVD !!!

Article and almost all photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

Photos of Messy Michaela by an Anonymous Accomplice

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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Mother’s Day Brunch? Garden Fresh Ingredients & Ina Garten’s Chive Rissoto Cakes Help to Make it Special…

May 8th, 2010 § 4 comments § permalink

Do you love breakfast in bed? I sure do, and when I was growing up, sometimes my sister and I would serve it to our mom as an unexpected treat – especially on Mother’s Day. Part of what made it so special was the ritual of harvesting fresh flowers and herbs from the garden, and arranging them in petite bouquets on a tray filled with fresh squeezed orange juice and homemade treats like eggs over-easy, French toast or homemade muffins. There’s something about enjoying a decadent meal, without leaving the comfort of warm covers, that can make a girl feel really special. And every mom deserves to feel like a queen on Mother’s Day…

The herbs in my potager are overflowing their boundaries this year; mainly due to the unseasonably warm temperatures we are having in the Northeast. With all of the extra chives on hand, I decided to give Ina Garten’s Chive Rissoto Cakes a try; substituting them for the usual potatoes with my eggs for brunch. Not surprisingly, I was once again blown away by Ina’s ability to turn a few simple ingredients into a knock-out dish. This rice cake recipe will definitely be added to my regular brunch -and dinner- rotation. I think the flavor and texture of these cakes make them the perfect accompaniment to almost any main course -especially fish or shrimp-  or simple light meal, such as a garden salad.

I wish I could cook something special for my sister tomorrow, since this is her first Mother’s Day with baby Morgan, but we are many hours apart, and I will be working the holiday this year. Hopefully, I will be able to make it up to them on a more leisurely weekend. Someday, I will show my nephew how to arrange a special tray, like the one pictured above, for his mom. I know she would love it.

Happy Mother’s Day to all of the Mothers out there. Enjoy your day. Thank you for the love and care you give to your children all over the world…

A fragrant bouquet of Viburnum ‘Anne Russell’ makes a lovely centerpiece if you decide to dine at the table… (raku vase by Richard Foye)

Chive Risotto Cakes

From: Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics

Ingredients:

1             cup Arborio rice

4             quarts fresh, cold water

1/2         cup plain, Greek-style yogurt (or sub. sour cream)

2             extra large eggs at room temp

3             tbs freshly minced chives

1 1/2      cups grated Fontina cheese, (or sub. 5 oz Gruyere)

1/2          tsp fresh ground black pepper

1 3/4       tsp Kosher salt

3/4          cup Japanese panko/ dried bread flakes, (or sub dried bread crumbs)

Good quality olive oil

Directions:

In a large pot, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil, add 1/2 tsp salt and Arborio rice. Cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally until the grains of rice are soft. Drain and run rice under gold water in a sieve until cooled. Drain and set aside.

While the rice is cooking, mix yogurt, cheese, eggs, chives, pepper and 1 1/4 tsp salt in a medium sized bowl.

Add the cooled rice to the yogurt mixture and and thoroughly combine ingredients.  Wrap the bowl in plastic and refrigerate for a minimum of 2 hours until the mixture is firm.

When you are ready to begin preparing for your meal, preheat an oven to 250 degrees. Spread the dried bread flakes, (or crumbs), in a working dish or bowl with low sides. Form rice balls from the mixture using a large spoon or ice cream scoop.

Using a patting motion, flatten the balls into round patties approximately 3/4″ thick, (about 3″ diameter). Place a half dozen or so patties into the bread flakes and turn to coat both sides. Heat 3 tbs of oil in a skillet set to medium-low heat.  Add the patties to the hot oil and cook 3 minutes or so on each side until golden brown. Cook in batches and add to a heat-safe dish in a warm oven.

Patties may be kept warm in an oven for a half an hour or so, and should be served hot. Try them with eggs and a special mimosa for Mother’s Day Brunch, or with dinner anytime. The patties may be made and refrigerated in advance.

Travel back to this post to find my favorite Mimosa recipe...

Time to Relax Mom …

From Ina Garten’s Endlessly Inspirational: Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics

Fresh flowers from the garden…

And chives from the spring potager…

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Words and Pictures copyright 2010 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 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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A Coffee Break with Kick! Lee Bailey’s Sour Cream Corn Bread with Onions, Cheddar and Optional Hot Peppers…

April 12th, 2010 § 9 comments § permalink

Lee Bailey’s Sour Cream and Cheddar Corn Bread with Onions – Photo © 2010 Michaela at TGE

Oochie, Owie, Yowie. Those are my  biceps, triceps and trapezoids speaking. They have been getting quite the workout. Gardening can be physically intense, and I work up a serious appetite raking, dragging debris and edging my client’s gardens. I also have very little free time to cook these days, (this post should have gone up yesterday, but I ran into a bit of a sanfu entering information into TurboTax on Sunday, and well, Uncle Sam must come first). On the weekends, when I’m not working, I try to make a few hearty things in the kitchen to carry me through the week.

I am a big fan of all Southern cooking -OK, who isn’t?- and I am especially fond of Lee Bailey’s country-style recipes. Cornbread has always been one of my favorite comfort foods, but although I think it’s fabulous drizzled with honey, I don’t like for the bread itself to be sweet! I prefer to to taste the flavor of real corn -very forward in this recipe- and I am picky about a moist, springy texture. One of the things that makes cornbread special is its versatility. Sure, you can make it plain and simple -without the onions or peppers I mention here- but you can also really jazz it up with fresh things from the garden. Depending upon my main course, I might add chives, sweet onions, garlic, sweet or hot peppers, and just about anything else that strikes my fancy. Sweet onions -such a rewarding crop to grow- are one of my favorite additions. It will be sometime before I have ripe, hot peppers in my garden, but they also add a special kick to this recipe – especially if you are cooking Cajun or Tex-Mex. I will be talking more about gourmet peppers, and other potager-delights in the coming weeks.

The recipe below is taken from Lee Bailey’s Country Weekends. If the gorgeous photographs of al-fresco meals in various outdoor settings don’t inspire you, the recipes and menus surely will. Although Lee’s beautiful book has gone out of print, I believe it can still be found online, both new and used. I received my copy as graduation/first-housewarming gift in the 90’s, (from a fabulous foodie-friend), and I still think it’s a wonderful book worth seeking out.

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Lee Bailey’s Sour Cream Corn Bread with Onions and Cheddar Cheese

Ingredients:

2/3 c       Safflower oil

2             Eggs, gently beaten

8oz         Greek style Sour Cream (low fat is OK, full fat is heaven)

16oz       Creamed corn, (homemade is best, but canned will work)

1 1/2 c    Yellow cornmeal

2tsp        Baking powder

1tsp         Salt

1c            Extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated

1              Medium size sweet onion, grated

2              Finely chopped hot peppers, such as jalapeños, (optional, and awesome)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°. Butter an 8 or 9″ pan. Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl and set aside. In another bowl, mix together the oil, eggs, sour cream and creamed corn. Mix the grated onion, (and optional jalapeno), into the wet ingredients. Quickly mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. The batter will be a little lumpy and clumpy – that is good. Pour half the batter into the pan and sprinkle 3/4 cup of cheddar cheese on top. Then pour in the remaining batter. Top with the leftover 1/4 cup of cheddar cheese. Bake 45 minutes and cool for 10 minutes before cutting into wedges. This is best served hot, and don’t refrigerate it or it will ruin the texture…

And Hooo Wee. Try it with hot peppers, such as Jalapeños or Heirloom Hungarians, for an incredible kick !

Last year’s hot peppers, (including heirloom Hungarians), on my terrace in August

2009 Onion Harvest

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Words and Pictures copyright 2010 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 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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Is It Time Yet? Getting a Jump-Start on the Vegetable Growing Season………. {Plus a Special Anniversary Give-Away}

April 7th, 2010 § 18 comments § permalink

Herbs and vegetables acclimating to conditions in the great outdoors before planting. A process known as “hardening off”…

Well here we are in early April, and it’s finally almost-but not-quite-growing-season. What, you say, is she talking about? Why, haven’t you heard of almost-but-not-quite-growing-season? You see, this is the time of year when people start to go a little crazy in cold climate gardens. They load up the back of the car with six packs of warm-weather plants from the local greenhouse, and when they bring them home, sometimes they take unnecessary risks. If frost isn’t an issue in your area, then you have little to worry about. However in the Northern regions of the country, new gardeners can be easily seduced by a week of warm weather in early April; tempted to plant out their tender crops too soon. Just the other day, while talking with my friend Daisy at Walker Farm, I mentioned that I’d overheard some folks planning to till their soil and plant the vegetable garden. Daisy, who is an amazing horticulturalist specializing in greenhouse growing and plant propagation, noted the same thing: it seems that the unseasonably warm weather in New England is tempting some gardeners to plant out the sunflowers. Whoa there partner! Check on your last frost-date before turning those little seedlings out into the cold world! Over the years, I have learned to bite my tongue when it comes to handing out unsolicited advice to strangers. But there are no strangers here! And I must be direct with new gardeners, coming to The Gardener’s Eden for a bit of advice. Perhaps you live in a warmer climate, south of zone 7, and if so, you can probably afford ignore my worry-warting, (somewhat anyway). But if not, given the gardening frenzy developing out there, I feel I should issue a warning: please be patient and don’t plant warm weather crops too soon!

Getting a jump-start on the growing season is smart gardening practice in cold climates. However, it’s important to be prepared and protect both your plants and your soil. If you have mulched your vegetable beds, and/or covered them with black plastic, your soil will likely be warm and dry by now and you may begin adding compost and other amendments, and perhaps planting cool-weather crops like spinach. But first, scoop up a handful of soil and check on its moisture content. When you squeeze it, does it form a wet, mushy ball? If so, wait until the dirt just holds its shape when pressed, but then breaks apart into a texture resembling crumbly chocolate cake when you let go. If you till and turn your garden while the earth is still wet and mushy, you will risk compacting your soil. It’s best to wait till things dry out a bit more. Covering your soil with IRT, (infra-red transmitting), plastic will help warm and dry your soil and keep down weeds – so if you are impatient, this is a product worth investing in for quicker results. It’s also important for the soil to warm up enough for seed to germinate. For cool crops, like peas, spinach and radishes, this date is quite early, (as soon as soil is workable), but for other crops, such as cucumbers and squash, it’s important to wait until the last frost date. A soil thermometer is an inexpensive tool, and a worthwhile addition to your garden tote. Use it to match soil temps to the guidelines on the back of seed packets, or charts available online, (see below for more)…

Turning green sand, leaves and compost into recently uncovered raised beds. To the right, wire mesh for snow peas is embedded into the mounded soil…

It’s always important to test your soil’s pH and nutrient levels in spring, and again in fall. If you need some information about testing your soil, click back here to my post on the subject from last year. The best time to amend garden soil is in the fall, but if you need to adjust your pH, get on that right away, as it takes awhile for the soil’s natural chemistry to adjust! Adding compost, and perhaps green sand, (a natural soil conditioner), is the first thing you will want to do when your soil is friable. Deep, loose soil is key to growing good produce – particularly root crops. Using a garden fork, work compost into the top layer of soil, loosening the layers with a rocking motion as you go. When your soil is thoroughly dry, turn it again  – ideally with both a shovel and a fork-  removing any rocks and/or weeds. When you have prepared the soil to your satisfaction, rake it over smoothly and let it rest and warm….

Turning in compost and edging the raised mounds…

If your have been gardening for awhile, you likely have some activity going on in the garden already. In my own garden, some perennial herbs, garlic greens and cold-crop seeds are already emerging. After pulling back mulch this weekend, I was pleased to see that the sorrel, (Rumex acetosa) , is looking -and tasting- fine! New green growth is showing on the chives, mesclun greens are popping up everywhere I look, and the ‘Spanish Roja’, ‘Music’, ‘German Red’ and ‘Continental’ garlic -planted last fall- are all off to a good start. Crops in the hoop-houses are about to be re-sown, and I am just now planting my spring snow peas, (hoop-houses and row-covers are two excellent choices for protecting early season crops). Some gardeners start peas very early, but I have discovered that seed started in early April catches up very quickly with peas started in March, with no delay in harvest. Earlier sowing wasn’t possible this year due to the wet weather, but peas are a fast-growing and reliable crop to plant throughout spring. I like to sow a few rows in succession, insuring a steady supply of peas throughout the spring and early summer.

I will be writing much more about vegetable gardening as the growing season progresses. But for now, my best advice is to start slowly. Test and amend your soil as soon as it is friable. Check your seed packets for optimum soil temperature, and sow when the soil consistently reaches this level. Be sure to harden off seedlings, (in a protected outdoor place during the daytime), of all kinds before transplanting. Need help with last frost dates? Seed Planting Dates? Check with the Old Farmer’s Almanac online. The Almanac is a great resource for all growing region…

Uncovering sorrel, protected by leaf mulch, in the herb garden

Emerging Mesclun Mix…

Spanish Roja Garlic emerging in the raised beds, with a new layer of compost added…

Beautiful emerging mesclun mix on a rainy day…

Presenting The Gardener’s Eden Anniversary Give-Away # 1

The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible (10th Anniversary Edition)

I’m a professional gardener, so I need to have an extensive library of horticultural titles on hand, from the simple to the complex. And, as the result of my workshops and coaching work, I recommend many books to gardeners throughout the year. But there is one vegetable gardening book I recommend above all others: Edward C. Smith’s The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible is simply written, scientifically sound, and beautifully organized. This is the perfect book for vegetable gardeners of all levels. If you don’t own one, I suggest you flip through a copy at your local bookstore – it’s a gem. And at the end of this month, one lucky reader will receive a complimentary copy of the new, 10th Anniversary edition of this vegetable gardening classic from The Gardener’s Eden! Today and every Wednesday though out the month of April, in honor of our first anniversary, The Gardener’s Eden will be giving away a special gift to one reader. In order to enter, correctly answer the question below in the comment section of this article. Be sure to post your answer prior to the 12:00 pm Eastern Time cut-off. Only one entry per reader, per give-away please. The winner will be chosen at random from all of the correct entries received, and will be notified by email. Gift recipients will also be announced both here on the blog and on our Facebook Page. So now…

The first question is, (this is an easy one): What is the name of Michaela’s garden? In order to enter the contest, please post your answer in comments here on the blog, (not on the Facebook page). All email addresses will remain unpublished and kept in complete confidence. Your email will only be used to notify you if you have won. Good Luck!

* In order to provide each reader with an equal chance to win, your comment/ entry will not appear until 4/8*

Entry Deadline is Midnight, Eastern Time, 4/7/10

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

March 31st, 2010 § 11 comments § permalink

A Rhapsody in Blue 

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

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

Vaccinium corymbosum autumn color

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

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

Fresh washed blueberries from the garden

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

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

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

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

Blueberry-Lemon Bread with Lemon Syrup (or muffins)


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

2          cups all-purpose flour

1          teaspoon baking powder

1          teaspoon baking soda

1/4       teaspoon salt

1/4       cup sugar

2          eggs

1 1/4   cup sour cream

1/4      cup melted butter

1          tablespoon fresh lemon zest

2          cups of fresh or frozen blueberries

Lemon Syrup:

1/2      cup fresh squeezed lemon juice

1/2      cup of sugar

4          tablespoons water

Directions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mixy, mixy…

 For further inspiration, there’s always…

Gershwin: Rhapsody In Blue/An American In Paris

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

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Think Spring: It’s Time to Start Sowing Early Kitchen Garden Seeds …

February 5th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

The kitchen garden at Ferncliff, late May 2009 …

It’s always exciting when the first boxes of vegetable, herb and flower seed begin to arrive in the mail. I know, I know. I am a bit like a little kid – but I have to check the mail every day to see if there is something waiting for me in that big metal box at the foot of the hill. The Johnny’s package from Maine always arrives first, then Botanical Interests from Colorado, and then Renee’s Garden Seeds way out in California, (hello California, I miss you!).  The first thing I do is open the box and just pour over all the pretty envelopes. I have to get that part out of my system. Then I begin grouping the seeds in order of sowing. Since I will start the onions, leeks and herbs in a week or so, those will be bundled together in the front. The cabbage, broccoli and other cold-hardy crops will be started in waves. Some will go into the hoop houses and some will be started indoors this year beneath grow lights. Oh, so much potential. I can’t wait.

First seed packets arriving …

There will be much to do and talk about in the coming weeks. For now, I just want to go over some very basic information for new gardeners, especially for those starting their own seeds for the first time. Many seed companies also have tutorials on their sites, and I recommend you visit those pages as well. The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible by Ed Smith is an excellent resource for new gardeners, and a good reference book for more experienced green-thumbs…

Photo © Tim Geiss

1. Sort through your seeds: Check the back of the packets for planting information. Some seeds are best started indoors, (such as onions, leeks, tomatoes, peppers, etc), especially in cold climates, and some seeds are best direct-sown, (such as peas, beets, carrots, radish, etc). If you have left over seed from last fall, you can use those seed this spring. I have left over spinach and broccoli raab to use before I open the new packs later this year. Check expiration dates. You can and should try older seeds if you have them, but be aware that if your seeds haven’t been stored properly, (cool, dry, dark location), you may not have as much success with germination.

2. Gather free-draining containers and trays: You can buy starter cells, peat-pots or plastic cells online or at your local garden center if you like, but this isn’t absolutely necessary. Seeds can be started in empty milk and egg cartons, sliced up paper towel and toilet paper rolls, homemade newspaper pots, (more on this later), and recycled, (sterilized), six packs from garden centers. Starting seed need not be expensive or difficult. The most important thing is good drainage, so be sure to poke holes in whatever ‘pots’ you create from recycled materials. I absolutely encourage you to experiment with containers! I like to set my free draining pots in plastic or metal trays to catch water and provide moisture.

3. Purchase good quality, organic seed starting mix: It’s possible to make your own mix, of course, but if you are just starting out, I am going to suggest that you buy a good quality, well-drained  seed starting medium from a local garden center. This isn’t expensive, and starter soil is very important. Do not use regular potting soil, as it is too heavy, (doesn’t drain well), and will reduce your germination and success rate.

4. Time your starting: Look at the last frost date for your area and count the weeks back. If you live in New England, you will be starting things like onions, leeks and cabbage this month. If you live in a slightly warmer climate, you may be starting tomatoes and peppers this month. I like to use the Farmer’s Almanac online as a resource for last-frost date.

5. Get started with planting:  Begin by filling your cells with moist starter mix. I like to moisten the mix first and then put it into the starter pots. This way, I won’t be washing the delicate seeds out when I add water. Read the seed packet to get the proper planting depth, especially if this is your first time starting seeds. I like to plant 2-3 seeds per cell, filling all the cells in my flats, and then I cover them, (but don’t smother, loosely cover above the soil), with clear plastic. You needn’t purchase special covers to do this, but it can be helpful. In cold, drafty homes a heating pad is very helpful to maintain the 70 degree temperature recommended for most seed germination.  Some seeds will germinate in a matter of days, and some will take weeks, (again, check the back of your packets). Be sure to keep those cells moist, but not soggy.

6. Provide light: Once you see seeds germinating, you want to immediately place the trays beneath fluorescent/full-spectrum light bulbs. The light will need to be within a couple of inches of the seedlings, or the seedlings will grow long and spindly as they reach for the light. The grow-lights should be raised as the plants grow, keeping the light source very close. Many gardeners purchase special grow lights, but once again, this isn’t necessary. I know very successful home gardeners using shop lights or other home-built contraptions, but please be safe. Lights can be left on 24 hours, and because many fires start electrically, I encourage you to use caution.

7. Water: Again, keep the seedlings moist, but not soggy. By placing your seed containers in trays, as I mentioned above, you can water from the bottom by adding water to the tray, reducing the risk of water-logging and wash-outs as the seedlings grow.

8. Fertilize: When seedlings develop their first real leaves, as opposed to the little, itty bitty leaves you see when the plants emerge from the soil, you can begin giving the seedlings an organic starter fertilizer or weak fish-emulsion mix. Look for either of these products in a local garden center.

9. Provide air circulation: Two things will be necessary as plants grow. First, thin your seedlings. Look for the strongest seedling in each cell and then with clean, sharp scissors, cut off the one or two other seedlings right down to the soil line. Be careful, but be ruthless! This thinning will reduce competition and improve air-flow. And speaking of airflow, it may help to have a small fan nearby and run this for at least a few hours every day. Air circulation is very important for reducing the spread of fungus.

Whew. Well, that ought to get you started! I will continue with tips for transplanting and hardening off in another week or so. But for now… enjoy looking over and reading those beautiful packets and all the promise they hold. Get familiar with your seeds – it will make you a better gardener !

Some of my favorites from last fall: Renee’s Garden Seeds – Long Standing Spinach and Broccoli Raab…

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All content in this article, (with noted exceptions), is © 2010 The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved.

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Greeting the Wolf Moon on a Chilly January Night with Warm, Creamy Garlic and Potato Soup…

January 31st, 2010 § 3 comments § permalink

Creamy Garlic and Potato Soup with Fresh Herbs

Watching the full moon rise is something of a ritual for me. I note the waxing and waning lunar cycle on my calendar and I pay close attention to the forecast as the moon grows full. Lunar myths and legends have always fascinated me, and I usually to refer to the monthly moon by its name. Although April’s Pink Moon and Autumn’s Harvest Moon tend to be my favorites, I am also quite fond of January’s full, Wolf Moon. When the weather is clear in mid-winter, as it has been for the past few days, evenings in Vermont can be spectacularly beautiful. Sub zero temperatures may be difficult to bear, but they also create some amazing atmospheric conditions. With a warm bowl of soup and a dramatic celestial show on the horizon, I’ve come to embrace and even enjoy my cold nights on the mountain…

January’s Full Wolf Moon

Dried Grass and Staghorn Sumac on a late afternoon in January

Cinnamon colored remnants in sparkling snow at sunset

Creamy Garlic and Potato Soup with Fresh Herbs

(makes approximately 4 quarts of soup)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup garlic cloves, (about 12 cloves), peeled and chopped to a paste in a food processor
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 5 cups vegetable stock or chicken broth
  • 2 cups milk (2% or whole, as you prefer)
  • 1 cup of heavy cream (optional – you may sub all 2% milk for low fat diets)
  • 6 cups peeled and cubed yukon gold potatoes
  • 4 whole, fresh sage leaves, (plus extra for garnish)
  • 2 whole bay leaves
  • 2 tsp fresh chopped thyme, (plus extra for garnish)
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 tsp fresh ground pepper

Directions:

  1. Heat oil in a large stock/soup pot over low heat. Add the garlic paste and carefully cook until the paste begins to turn gold, stirring constantly. Add in the vegetable/chicken broth and bring the mixture to a boil.
  2. Reduce heat, add herbs and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the potatoes and simmer for 20-30 more minutes.
  3. Scoop out the bay and sage leaves, and carefully pour batches of the hot soup into a blender, (do not overfill the blender!). Puree each batch until smooth and return to the saucepan. Simmer the soup for 15 minutes. Add milk and cream and simmer for another 20 – 30 minutes.
  4. Pour the soup into bowls, and garnish with fresh thyme and sage leaves. Serve with a side of fresh, crusty bread.

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

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is copyright The Gardener’s Eden, and may not be used or reproduced without express written consent. Please do not repost or republish photographs 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…

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Lovely, Luminous Leaves: Potager Purples, Reds and Rainbow Bright Lights…

January 29th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

Stained Glass Lettuce

Though the wind is howling and the temperature has dropped into the single digits, visions of sun-drenched gardens and glowing vegetables colored my sweet dreams last night. The first box of seed arrived from Botanical Interests this week, and more orders from around the country are on the way. Although I won’t be starting garden plants indoors for another month or so, sorting through the beautifully illustrated packages of ‘Bloomsdale’ spinach, ‘Five Color Silverbeet’ Swiss chard, and ‘Red Winter’ kale from Botanical Interests reminded me of a particularly glorious day late last summer, when brilliant low light turned all the leaves in my potager to stained glass.

Vegetable gardens are tempting and delicious of course, but they can also be simply beautiful to behold. Let your mind wander a bit as you chisel through the ice on your windshield. Think of the brilliant colors of summer; the endless combinations of hues and textures for the dinner plate as well as the garden path. Join me in my not-quite February, fantasy garden tour at ladybug level. Glorious green spinach. Purple cabbage. Red Rumple lettuce. Heirloom nasturtiums and Bright Lights Swiss chard. Mmmm… can you taste the color yet? It won’t be long. Soon you can plant your own rainbow…

Saturated Spikes

Luminous Leafy

Backlit Botanical Beauty

Neon in the Afternoon

Technicolor Cabbage

Fuchsia Fantasy

Tangerine Tunnel

Living Flame

The Sour Yellow Swirl

Vibrant Veining

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

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is copyright The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without express written consent. Please do not republish or post images or text excerpts without permission. 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…

Thank you !

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What’s Up Doc? Waskilly Seeds and a Recipe for Velvety Baked Carrots…

January 23rd, 2010 § 7 comments § permalink

Baked Velvet Carrots

Beautiful Bolero …

Flat leaf Italian parsley from the windowsill herb garden…

Sliced Bolero Carrots…

We all know that old Elmer Fudd thinks Bugs Bunny is a terribly, waskilly wabbit. But frankly I think Elmer has it wrong. I think it’s Bugs Bunny’s carrot that’s a bit waskilly – at least as a seed. Itsy bitsy, teeny weeny carrot seeds are notoriously difficult to sow. Tiny, fine and lighter than a feather, it’s easy to lose track of those little devils. They stick to the packet; slip through your fingers; blow down your shirt; and before you know it they are spilling all over the ground. Waskilly Kawits. Unfortunately, if you want beautifully shaped, full size carrots, then seed spacing is pretty darn important. But you know, I’m also fairly sure that I’m not the only gardener to lose track of how many carrot seeds have fallen into the soil, and how close they ended up being planted together. To solve the spacing problem, some gardeners broadcast seed with sand or coffee grounds. Other gardeners have showed me how they create elaborately folded paper contraptions. And a few frugal New England gardeners I know have ended up breaking down and buying pre-seeded carrot tape. Me? Oh I am stubborn. I usually struggle through the planting and then, weeks later, I test my patience by thinning seedlings with a pair of scissors on a buggy day. But there is another, fully-organic, OMRI approved solution: pelleted seeds. This year I am going to give them a go…

Pelleted carrot seeds with radishes, (photo courtesy of The Old School House Plantery)

Never heard of pelleted, (or pelletized), seeds? Well, they are just regular old seeds, coated with an organic substance, (usually an inert material like starch), that makes them easier to see and handle. The coating is sort of like the dusty, crusty stuff on the outside of a chocolate truffle, (sorry chocoholics, I didn’t mean to do that to you). If you are planning on planting a vegetable garden with kids, or if you have less-than-steady hands, or less-than perfect eyesight, (or, err,  less-than saintly patience, like me), pelletized seeds can come in very handy. I just ordered up pelleted Bolero, Mokum and Sugarsnax carrot seed from Johnny’s Seeds yesterday. I also chose a few packs of pelleted lettuce seed, since I find them a bit waskilly as well. Johnny’s Seeds is a wonderful employee-owned company in the great state of Maine, and they carry a wide variety of organic, heirloom and gourmet vegetables. I order many of my unusual vegetable seeds from Johnny’s Seeds and the other great online companies, including Renee’s Garden Seeds and Botanical Interests, listed in the sidebar at right under “seeds”. I have found that each company usually has some special variety I want, (such as the pelleted seeds from Johnny’s), so I always end up spreading my orders around the country a bit. And this year, I notice seeds are selling out faster than usual, so it’s always helpful to have a few reliable sources.

Carrots are a cook’s kitchen staple. The foundation of many stocks, carrots also add color, sweetness and vitamins to everything from salads, appetizers and soups to savory baked dishes, casseroles and breads. And can you imagine life without carrot cake and cream cheese frosting? For such a rewarding crop, carrots are remarkably easy to grow in the garden. These bright colored veggies aren’t fussy, but they do like very deep, loose, compost-rich soil. So if you have rocky loam, you might have better luck with carrots if you raise your beds with mounds or planters. Many gardeners use radishes as companions for carrots to mark the row, and to help break the crusty soil. Of course it also helps to keep the soil evenly moist during germination, (but be sure not to overwater carrots during the growing season). During the hot summer, carrots will benefit from a layer of mulch; keeping their roots cool and their tops warm enhances flavor. I also like to shade carrot roots by planting them between rows of leafy lettuce, spinach and/or chard. If you sow a fast maturing variety in the early part of the season, (when soil temps reach a consistent 60° F), and then plant a second crop when the soil is warm enough to plant tomatoes, (70-75°), you can harvest carrots all year long, (and for those of us with frozen tundra, carrots will also store well in root cellars, layered in damp sand).

Hungry yet? There’s nothing like a serving of bright orange, velvety carrots to remind me of summer’s sweetness, and I truly love this rich, savory old recipe. Brilliantly colored baked carrots are the perfect side dish for a potato-vegetable gratin or a roasted or baked pretty-much-anything. Mmmmm. Sweet Bolero, my lovely carrot, you don’t seem quite so rascally now….

Greene on Greens

Velvety Baked Carrots

(an oldie but a goodie, from Bert Greene’s Greene on Greens cookbook)

Ingredients (serves 4-6 as a side dish):

3 1/2 c       homemade vegetable stock or chicken broth

1 pound     peeled carrots cut in half lengthwise

3 Tbs         unsalted butter

3 Tbs         all-purpose flour

1/2 c          heavy cream

1/8 tsp       ground allspice

1/8 tsp       fresh grated nutmeg

dash          Sriracha hot chili sauce, (or other pepper sauce)

to taste      salt

to taste      fresh ground pepper

1/4 c          fresh bread crumbs

2 Tbs         fresh chopped parsley

1 Tbs         grated Reggiano Parmesan cheese

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350° F. Wash and peel carrots, and slice them in half lengthwise, (more if they are particularly large). In a medium saucepan, bring 3 1/2 cups of vegetable, (or chicken), broth to a boil.  Slowly add the carrots and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook the carrots, uncovered, until they are soft. Test with a fork after 25 minutes. Drain the carrots over a bowl, reserving the broth. Place the carrots in a separate bowl and mash, (lightly with a potato masher), until smooth but still attractively textured. Set aside.

Return the saucepan to the stove and melt 2 Tbs. of butter over medium-low heat. Stir in the flour and cook, continuously stirring, for a couple of minutes. Add 1 cup of the reserved cooking stock and whisk together while brining the mix to a boil. Reduce the heat to low. Add the nutmeg, allspice, pepper sauce. Whisk in 1/2 cup of cream. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove the mixture from the heat and combine with the mashed carrots. Pour into a buttered, shallow baking dish and set aside.

In a small skillet, melt the remaining butter over medium heat. Add the bread crumbs and stir into the butter, cooking and turning until golden brown. Remove from the heat and add in the chopped parsley. Sprinkle the bread crumbs evenly over the carrots and top with grated Parmesan cheese.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the topping is bubbling.

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All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden, and may not be used or reproduced without express written consent. Please do not use photographs or text excerpts without permission, (see contact at left). 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 !

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Gourmet Gardening: Seed Potatoes – Plus an Easy Recipe for Oven Roasted Fingerlings with Fresh Herbs and Parmesan Cheese…

January 16th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

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

Ingredients:

(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)

Directions:

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.


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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

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