{ Archive for the ‘fruit and vegetable gardening’ Category }

Carrots and memories

It’s time to dig the carrots, which means Grandpa is on my mind, as he often is. I think it’s time you met him properly.

Yes, he took this picture himself, with a timer. Don't ask me how Mr. Spry got into position in time.

Hi, Grandpa, circa 1985! Great pants, by the way. Meet the Canadian Gardening community circa 2012. I was just telling all of them that I am thinking about you, because I am pulling up carrots. I didn’t thin very well this year, so there’s lots of tiny ones, like the ones you used to give me as you thinned. Do you remember me following you down the rows, waiting patiently as you trimmed the tops with your pocket knife and brushed the soil off? There was nothing like the taste of those little carrots.

I study this picture of you more than you might imagine, hoping to distill some of your knowledge from the little hints it contains: boards laid down to protect the soil and tiny seedlings, the hoses laid out in straight lines. What are the plants I can see? What was the chicken wire for? And what were you painting when you decorated those shoes?

I wish I’d had more time with you, to enjoy you and to learn from you, but here we are. And anyway, I think most of what you’d have wanted to teach me is right in those straight rows, plain as that mischevious smile, and deep down in the taste of those carrots.

I’m pulling carrots today, and though I am annoyed with myself for not thinning earlier and letting the stork’s bill get the upper hand, I still have a smile, because you’re around. And I’ve got a couple of little girls following me, munching away just like I did.

What to do with zucchini-shaped bounty

A friend recently posted on her Facebook: “Anyone who wants zucchini, come and get it. I have lots.”

I wanted to post back–but didn’t–”I’ll come get some of yours if you come get some of mine.”

Let the jokes, jibes, and ring-and-run deposits begin.

But for all the groans about its proliferious growth and size, zucchini is a great vegetable. No, really. I mean it. I’m not being sarcastic at all. It’s got next to no saturated fat, cholesterol, or sodium, but chock full of good stuffs like minerals, vitamins, and dietary fibre. It fills you up quick and takes on the flavour of whatever it’s cooked with, so it’s great for stretching out meals.

But, dang it all, you’ve got to eat that stuff almost constantly to keep up with it when you convince yourself every year that six plants will be about right. (Next year, I SWEAR, I will only have two.) I have tried slicing, blanching, and freezing it, as well as drying it to add to soups and such, both with marginal results. (The exception: shredded it holds up well enough for baking.)

It really is best fresh, that’s all there is to it. And it’s best picked early. Tiny baby zucchini 3-5 inches long tossed in a salad are just lovely, prime 8-12 inch squash are ideal for most other uses. If you see one this size, pick it now. Really. If you leave it, thinking to return at supper time to prepare it, it may have gained 5 inches. Do not turn your back.

In the event you end up with some oversized specimens, do not despair. You can peel them, core them, and shred the remaining flesh for quick breads (or the lovely marmalade included below). I also like to split them lengthwise, core them, and lay the halves on a baking sheet to receive fillings of almost any kind (ground beef and mushroom soup is a stupidly easy one). Throw it in the oven for 45 minutes or so, sprinkle with cheese, and dinner is served.

Not that there is a lack of zucchini recipes out there, but here’s a few more ideas I personally endorse (being quite experienced at getting rid of this stuff):

-add it to chilli, minestrone, spaghetti sauce, lasagne, taco filling even, sliced, shredded, or pureed, depending on preference or how sneaky you are trying to be.

-As a side dish, zucchini pairs nicely with carrots and baby onions. Steam and toss with a little butter, dill, and rosemary. Or try tossing slices or wedges with an equal amount of similarly chopped tomatoes and roasting them. Serve sprinkled with mozzarella or Jack cheese.

-If you like sautéed onions with your steak, add some mushrooms and zucchini too. Don’t forget the pepper.

-Grill zucchini strips and red, yellow, and green pepper strips that have been tossed with olive oil, garlic, oregano and thyme. About 15 minutes will do. Serve over Caesar salad.

-Quick breads hide zucchini very well. Recipes for brownies and spice-type cakes abound, but this is my favourite as it is a little less sinful but still feels like a treat. My kids know these just as “chocolate muffins”. Insert mad-genius laughter here.

3/4 cup butter or margarine

3/4 cup applesauce

1 cup white sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 cup plain yogurt

3/4 cup cocoa powder

2 1/2 cups flour (I use half white, half whole wheat)

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

2 cups grated zucchini

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Beat together first 5 ingredients until light and creamy. Add the yogurt and cocoa powder and beat until smooth. Stir in remaining ingredients except zucchini until just combined, then fold in the zucchini. Fill muffin cups, and bake 25 minutes. Nutella is the perfect topping. But that kind of goes without saying, doesn’t it? Makes 20-24 muffins.

 

-Zucchini Marmalade

This is an old recipe from Chris’ grandmother that has stood the test of time. I’m not that crazy about marmalade, but I love this.

Put 5 firmly packed cups peeled, grated zucchini in a heavy pot. Add the juice and grated or finely chopped rind from 2 oranges and 1 lemon, 1 small can of crushed pineapple (drained), and 5 cups white sugar. Bring slowly to a low boil, and cook until thick, stirring often. Pour into hot, sterilized jars, and process for 10 minutes to seal (or just stick them in the fridge). Makes about 5 500mL jars.

Volunteers

Things in my veggie patch are finally starting to green up after a chilly spring here in Alberta, and I when I went to check on things this is what I saw:

Lovely, healthy pea plant, right? Right. Except this is the corn patch. See it there in the front, all two-to-three inches of it?

Apparently, more pea pods than I realized made it through the winter and got dug under enough to sprout. Someone <ahem> must have also put some ripe sunflower heads in the compost, because they’re all over the place too.

Now here’s the thing. These ‘volunteer’ peas are twice the size of the ones I planted on purpose. I haven’t gotten around to planting any sunflowers yet, and the volunteers are already eight inches up. So are they weeds, to be yanked with the dandelions? Or do I let the peas climb the corn, assuming the corn (‘Speedy Sweet’) catches up to all that robust growth? The sunflowers coming up close to the broccoli might offer just enough shade to keep the brassicas happy through the hotter parts of summer. Or will the volunteers suck all the water and nutrients and compromise the things I intended to grow? I’ve tried companion planting before, with good success, but it was always… you know… on purpose.

I’m still thinking about it. And getting Jefferson Airplane in my head every time I do… but the more I think, the more I’m reminded that my intentions and Mother Nature’s should probably be meeting somewhere in the middle.

Previewing plants from President’s Choice

The annual President’s Choice Lawn & Garden Insider’s Report luncheon is a hot-ticket event for garden writers, because we get to turn our plots into trial gardens. This year, a room at the Toronto Botanical Garden was turned into a greenhouse so we could preview all the hot new plants that we’ll find at garden centres this spring. And let’s face it, most of us will make it to one of Loblaw’s parking lot nurseries at least once. Who doesn’t love buying a chicken, a Joe Fresh T-shirt and a dahlia or two in one shopping trip? Plus, I have to say their plants are always top-notch and affordable. I was able to chat with some of the growers, as well as listen to them tell the whole group of us about their breeding programs and their latest innovations.

Here are just a few of the plants I’m excited about. I’ll be including others in a “Hot plants for 2012″ piece premiering next week! Also premiering next week is the Lawn & Garden Insider’s Report. Keep an eye out for it in stores!

1. Haskap berries
To be honest, I had never heard of these little gems until Signe Langford wrote about them in her 2012 “new edibles to try” piece. Apparently they taste like a cross between a raspberry and a blueberry. Apparently you need two different varieties to get adequate pollination. I got ‘Indigo Gem’ and ‘Indigo Treat’. Excited to see how they grow–and to taste the berries!

Haskap berries

2. Brunnera Jack Frost
This will be one of my first purchases from the nursery this year. Named “perennial of the year” for 2012, brunneras are deer-resistant and shade-loving. This will be a perfect plant for the back of my lot where the tree canopy casts a giant shadow for most of the day, and where the deer enter the yard if they’re in the neighbourhood!

Brunnera 'Jack Frost'

3. Suncatcher Pink Lemonade Petunias
Last year it was the black petunia. This year, it’s all about pink lemonade. The colour on these blooms is just so unique and pretty, and they’ll contrast nicely with most other hues.

Suncatcher Pink Lemonade Petunia

4. Lanai Verbena Twister Pink
This pretty little number is so unique with its ring of miniature, two-toned blooms around a hollow centre. These will be fantastic for pots. I have a cone-shaped bamboo wall planter that I bought at the Ideal Home & Garden Show in Hamilton. I think one or two are destined to be included in it!

Lanai Verbena Twister Pink

5. PC Vegetables in a Cage
President’s Choice always has great edible plant offerings for both small and large spaces. A couple of years ago it was the upside-down, hanging tomato basket, last year it was the salad bowl garden. This year they’ve introduced vegetables all potted up with a cage around them. All you need to do is add water!

PC Vegetables in a Cage

The elusive white asparagus

On a high school trip to France, I spent a few days in Lyon, billeted by a local family. My first night at the dinner table, I was passed a plate of what looked like thick, albino asparagus. I had never seen such a thing! I don’t recall being much of a vegetable eater back then, but I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, so I put a couple on my plate. I tentatively tasted a small bite, worried that I’d hate it. But I didn’t. It was delicious, even though it was served cold—and it would be years before I’d get another taste.

Just as we anticipate the green asparagus season here in Ontario, Europeans await the spring window when white asparagus becomes available. My mom and I recently travelled to the south of Holland (to visit Floriade), Brussels and Dusseldorf where white asparagus season was in full swing.

At Floriade, there was a whole exhibit devoted to growing white asparagus (and preparing it)—with samples! My mom and I chatted up the sample lady, who was representing Teboza, a Dutch company that specializes in asparagus cultivation and research. Our little cup of peeled, boiled and buttered white asparagus was so delicious we vowed we’d find a restaurant that served it before our trip was over.

Opportunity knocked at Brasserie du Jaloa in Brussels, where a prix fixe menu offered white asparagus as an appetizer. Sold! I think the waiter thought my mom and I were crazy because we were so excited about it. And we weren’t disappointed. We each got four juicy stalks, covered in fresh herbs and egg salad. I know that sounds a little weird, but it all worked together! It was so incredibly delicious.

I love green asparagus season and I always get my fill of local stalks each spring. White asparagus, however, is like the Polkaroo. Some supermarkets have started to carry it, but it’s still rather elusive. Even the Canadian Food Inspection Agency doesn’t have grade standards for white asparagus. A little Google search turned up a couple of Ontario growers: Mazak Farms in St. Thomas and Janssen Produce & Specialties Inc. in Simcoe. Perhaps a little road trip is in order once the asparagus is ready sometime in May!

Are you able to find white asparagus where you live? And does anyone know why white asparagus is not more popular here in Canada?

White asparagus at Floriade. Apparently the small ones are more tender and considered restaurant-grade.

Success! We finally found white asparagus at Brasserie du Jaloa in Brussels, Belgium.

White asparagus is so popular, they make it in chocolate form, as seen here at a department store in Dusseldorf, Germany.

Residual Income

They say one sure-fire way to really get ahead financially is residual income: get something done that will continue to earn you money even when you have moved on to the next project. Like writing a bestselling novel or Top 40 hit and letting the royalties roll in while you focus on the next masterpiece. Or getting paid every time your movie reruns on TV, or dividends from investments, or a share of the profits from the well you let the oil guys dig in your back yard.

None of which have happened for me. Nor am I getting into network marketing: been there, done that, not going there again, thank you very much. But I did get a pretty sweet payoff this spring from some long forgotten work.

I’d been craving something fresh to eat, like not-from-the-grocery-store’s-cold-storage fresh, like peas or radishes straight out of the ground, but I knew they’d still be a few weeks away, at least. Just as a began to grumble, I remembered I had actually done something about this annual hankering: I planted parsnips last year! So out I went to the sleeping veggie patch with my dearly missed garden fork, moved aside some leaf-filled garbage bags, and dug in. Guess what? There they were!

I steamed some that very night, with just a bit of butter and nutmeg. Oh. My. Everything I’d been hoping for.

We’ve had three meals with parsnips, and there’s enough still in the ground for a couple more. Plus the spinach and lettuce planted in the cold frame one mild February day should almost be big enough to start doing their job in my kitchen.

It almost feels like cheating, getting fresh veggies out of the ground this early, but you better believe I’m doing parsnips again, and leeks this year too. I’m happy to do a little more work this spring. This kind of residual income is almost as good as money in the bank.

Almost.

Why does harvest time coincide with the onset of flu season?

I had a very productive weekend getting the last of the veggies out of the ground. I intended a busy week of canning, freezing, and drying, but only got as far as the canning: pickled the beets Monday and crashed on the couch with the worst flu I remember ever having. I’m coming out of the haze today, only hoping the carrots and turnips are still happy, covered, in the garage. To think I was going to leave the carrots in the garden over the winter, harvesting as needed. That would have been the better choice, had my crystal ball been working.

If some of you are wondering what to do with the end-of-season veggies at your house, I came across the USDA National Center for Home Food Preservation website, which gives specific guidelines for canning, freezing, drying, fermenting, curing… almost any type of food.

If you are more a book type, the old hippie-written Keeping the Harvest is still my go-to reference. During the growing season it rarely leaves my kitchen counter.

Cabbage, and that sense of accomplishment

With the first of the frost warnings bearing down on me, I’m in the mood for some warm comfort food. Especially if it’s made with — ahem — the first cabbage I have ever grown! Ta da! Not that cabbages are tricky, I’ve just never grown them before, and I must say, they are very satisfying and quite beautiful. I came into the house holding my lovely green prize (with only one slug hole apparent) and presented it to Chris, gushing, “Look what I made!” He was suitably impressed.

Here's a lovely red one that should be ready soon.

But then I actually turned it into supper the next day. There’s something really fulfilling about that. If you’ve never grown food, please try it. (You can sign up for the Seed to Supper newsletter, too.)

So the supper I turned my wonderful Brassica into was cabbage rolls. I’m not classically trained in the art, but I love them, especially if it involves as little work as this recipe does. I’d be sorely tempted to eat the whole pan myself if it weren’t for the… consequences…

LAZY MAN’S CABBAGE ROLLS

Serves 6

1 pound (500 g) ground beef
1 1/2 cups (375 mL) chopped onions
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 cans (10 oz./284 mL each) tomato soup
2 cups (500 mL) water
1 cup (250 mL) long grain rice
1 teaspoon (5 mL) chicken or beef bouillon mix
1/4 teaspoon (1 mL) freshly ground pepper
1/8 teaspoon (0.5 mL) cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon (0.5 mL) nutmeg
1/2 green cabbage, chopped (or 6 cups (1.5 L)coleslaw mix)
sour cream for serving

Brown beef, onions, and garlic over medium heat about 7 to 10 minutes, stirring to break up meat. (Use oil if needed.) Drain off any excess fat.

Stir in next 8 ingredients (tomato sauce through nutmeg). Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for a few minutes.

Sprinkle half of cabbage over bottom of a greased 9 x 13 inch baking dish.

Spoon half of beef mixture over top and spread evenly. Sprinkle with remaining cabbage.

Spread remaining beef mixture over top. Bake, covered, at 350 F (170 C) for 1 1/2 hours or until bubbly and heated through.

Serve with sour cream. Really. I don’t care if you’re on a diet, it’s required.

Give ground cherries lots of room to grow

Lately, I’ve been stepping out onto my patio to collect about 20 to 30 small lanterns off the ground below two large planters. These are my ground cherries and they’re producing wonderfully–but they also like to tease me, I think.

Inevitably, every time I’m finished collecting all the ripe fruit from the ground, I am just stepping inside when I hear another “plop!”

I turn around to see another freshly dropped lantern, go back and pick it up, then head back inside.

Finally, I close the door and I don’t dare look closely behind me for fear one of my two plants is wobbling its branches trying to shake more fruit free.

I decided to grow two ground cherry plants this year after trying the little golden fruits for the first time last year. I ordered Aunt Molly’s Organic Ground Cherry seeds from Veseys and started them indoors in the spring. They grew quickly, but I was worried because the stems were very thin and flimsy. They grew tall quickly, then started to lean over.

Unripe ground cherry in its husk on the plant

However, as soon as I moved them into bigger pots outside, they took off and became really sturdy. Their stems are thicker than a tomato plant’s and they actually didn’t grow much taller, just wider.

I wasn’t sure what size of pot to use, so I experimented. In my early research, I learned that ground cherries can take over a garden if some stray seeds make it through to the next year, so I wanted to grow in pots to avoid having to rip out plants in the future. Plus, growing in pots on my deck meant that I’d be able to see all the lanterns easily and they wouldn’t be sitting on wet soil or grass before being collected.

Ripe ground cherries in their husks

My large planter is a 20-inch round pot (and about 18 inches deep). Its plant grew to have a span of over 50 inches.

My smaller pot was about half as big and the plant grew accordingly. Even its fruit was slightly smaller.

Next year I’ll definitely grow in the larger sized pots, although I’m almost not even sure I need two plants –my large ground cherry plant has produced hundreds of fruits.

Time to make some ground cherry pie, I think!

Ripe ground cherries ready to eat

Bring your appetite to the fifth annual Picnic at the Brick Works

Want to eat your way through the 12 regions of Ontario without the huge gas bill? Head to the Evergreen Brick Works Sunday, October 2 (from noon to 4) for the Picnic at the Brick Works. Last year’s event featured delicacies from 72 Ontario producers and 72 chefs. You can see all of this year’s participants—producers, chefs, restaurants and beverage suppliers—on the website. And I’ve included some mouthwatering photos from last year below. The price of your ticket ($120 general admission) gives you access to all of them! The proceeds from the event “will ensure farmers and producers are paid fairly for their labour. For Evergreen, proceeds will fund children’s food gardens and cooking workshops. For Slow Food Toronto, the funds support learning gardens, and connect consumers to local, sustainable food producers.”

If you’re in Toronto or the GTA, I have 4 pairs of tickets to give away. To enter, simply leave a comment below. You can tell us what you’re excited to try or simply say: “I’m hungry.” Four responses will be selected at random September 26, 2011.

Contest closes September 26, 2011 at 12pm EST. Open to all residents of Canada, except those in Quebec. Not open to any Transcontinental Media employees, their families, or any other persons with whom they reside.

Good luck!

The Cheese Boutique

Sampling the wares of one of the participants

Frank / Thorpe's Organics

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