Friday, 9 October 2015

Cauliflower with Mushrooms & Garlic

I do like pan-cooked cauliflower, and mushrooms, and garlic... so here they all are, along with paprika, which I also like very much. Yeah, I liked this, is what I am saying. Why not? It was good.

I used a plain paprika but only because I didn't actually have anything with more of a nip to it in the cupboard. Otherwise I would have used that, and liked it too. Smoked paprika would work well here, I think. 

4 to 6 servings
50 minutes - 30 minutes prep time. 

1 medium (1 kilogram; 2 pounds) cauliflower
250 grams (1/2 pound) oyster or button mushrooms
4 to 6 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon sweet or hot Hungarian or Spanish paprika
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup chopped parsley to garnish

Trim the cauliflower, wash it, and cut it into bite-sized florets. Clean and trim the mushrooms, and slice or chop them into smaller pieces. Peel and mince the garlic.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, and add the cauliflower along with enough water to just cover the bottom of the pan. Cook, stirring frequently, until the cauliflower is about half done and the water has evaporated - add a little more if it is gone before the cauliflower is to your liking.

Once the water has evaporated, add the mushrooms. Continue cooking and stirring, until the mushrooms and cauliflower are starting to brown and break up a bit. Turn down the heat just a little and mix in the garlic, paprika, and salt, and continue cooking and stirring for a minute or two more until everything is nicely cooked. and combined. Turn it out quickly onto a serving plate - don't let the garlic scorch - and garnish it with parsley.

Last year at this time I made Eggplant with Anchovies.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Spiced Maple Poached Pears

So simple! So delicious! It seems like nowadays the hard part is finding the pears, even around here, surrounded as we are by orchards. But persevere - these are well worth while. 

6 to 8 servings
15 minutes prep time - 45 minutes total

6 to 8 small (1 kilogram; 2 pounds) bosc or Bartlett pears
2 cups water
1/2 cup maple syrup
4 to 6 pods green cardamom
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
OR 1 6" cinnamon stick
1/4 of a nutmeg, finely grated
2 or 3 tablespoons sherry or rum
OR 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Use ripe but firm pears. Peel them, cut them in half, and remove the cores. (If you want to be fancy, and your pears cooperate, you can leave them whole, excavating the cores from the bottom with a vegetable peeler.) Place them gently in a 2 quart pot, and add all the remaining ingredients except the sherry or rum (or vanilla).

Bring to a simmer and simmer steadily for 20 to 30 minutes,  until the pears are just tender. (But check them after 10 minutes - if they are very ripe they may cook faster.) Add the sherry or rum (or vanilla) and let cool. 

Serve as they are, or over pancakes, waffles, sponge or pound cake, custard, cream, yogurt, or cottage cheese, or whatever else seems good to you.

Last year at this time I made Mushroom & Cauliflower Macaroni & Cheese.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Farmers' Long Beans

Back in the winter of 2014 I mentioned that I planned to order some seeds for this variety from William Dam. I did order them, but they did not actually make it out into the garden last year. This year I made a little room for them, and I'm glad I did.

I planted them very late, around the 1st of July, as they went into one of the beds in which we grew early determinate green peas for freezing, after the peas were over. Just about the time (late August) when the heat was causing our regular green beans to really slow down, they started to produce, and they went right through September producing very well. These are advertised by William Dam as being cold-tolerant, which I believe they are, for this species of bean.

Long beans, also known as yard long beans, and asparagus beans are from a different species (vigna unguiculata subsp. sesquipedalis) than are the usual green and yellow beans grown around here (phaseolus vulgaris). They are really a tropical plant and until recently there were not any good northern adapted varieties. That is why their cold tolerance is emphasized by William Dam, but it is equally important to the Ontario grower that they are very heat tolerant as well, and will continue to set beans at temperatures that will leave all your common beans dropping their blossoms in despair. They are fast growing, and the beans are indeed much longer than common beans, although half-yard long beans would be a more accurate description.

Long beans are related to other southern beans; cow peas, black eyed peas, crowder peas, and less closely to mung and azuki beans. As the references to peas suggests, these are generally smaller beans than most common beans, sometimes much smaller. I am growing an Italian member of this family, Fagiolini di Trasimeno, and have had a fair bit of trouble to get them adapted to our long summer days. The Farmers Long beans don't seem to have this trouble, which is excellent. I grew a variety called Red Noodle a few years back, and it too had difficulties with the day length. I persisted with it for a few years, and it seemed to be improving, but eventually I gave up because I didn't love the flavour and the beans, while a beautiful purple when raw, turned so dark as to be almost black when cooked and did not look very appealing to me.

These ones seem to have no difficulty with day-length, and the flavour is excellent. Many people think long beans are better tasting than regular green beans, and I have to admit, I could be convinced. They are a bit different in flavour from regular beans, but probably not much more difference than you get between varieties of regular beans. Their length and delicate width make them very nice for working with in the kitchen.

I can't seem to find any reference to these other than the William Dam site. The name is sufficiently bland and generic as to make internet searching difficult, but while there are no doubt many other strains of long bean out there, only William Dam seeds to have this specific variety. The describe it as having been bred in Taiwan.  Agro Haitai have 5 different long beans, including Red Noodle, but none that seem to be the same as this one. They have a bush version if you wish to avoid trellising, but I suspect for best quality beans trellising is very desirable, and at any rate Farmers Long is long not only in the beans but in the plant - they will need very good support.

I did not have enough of these to freeze, so I cannot say how they will do if frozen.

Plant these, preferably not as late as I did, but with other heat lovers such as tomatoes, peppers and melons - June 1st would be the ideal date around here. As noted, good trellising will be required. The beans seem quite easy and disease resistant, in particular they have shown no signs of the anthracnose I have had in the garden the last few seasons (none of my vigna have). Like most beans, fertilizing should not be required. Steady amounts of water can do nothing but good, although they seemed moderately tolerant to intermittent water once they were growing well. 

Friday, 2 October 2015

An Organic Potato Seed Production and Potato Breeding Day at Duane Falk`s Farm

On Tuesday, Mr Ferdzy and I went to an afternoon workshop on potato breeding and potato seed production sponsored by the Ecological Farmers of Ontario and The Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security. It was held at the farm of Duane Falk, near Hillsburgh. About 10 enthusiastic and waterproof people attended.

As a "backyard breeder" I was interested to see that this major project in developing new varieties of potatoes suitable for medium to large scale (mechanized) organic growing actually requires a relatively small amount of space. The garden above is where Duane grows the parents of his seed lines, and the potatoes being grown out from their seeds. Parents are in one row (originally two rows but one came up when his grain projects in the next section were harvested) on the right hand side.

Duane Falk (centre, holding the white umbrella) is a very interesting fellow. Originally from a farm in Montana, he acquired a PhD at the University of Guelph on the subject of wheat breeding. He began his career in New Zealand, where he spent 4 years working with barley breeding. Ultimately his career brought him back to Guelph, where he continued working with barley and wheat. In 1999 he bought this farm, and 4 years ago he retired to it. The farm consists of 85 acres, some of it in bush, much of it now in hay. He knew when he bought the farm that it would be good for potatoes, as he found an old horse-drawn potato harvester in a fencerow. When he pulled it out, he found it was still working, and he used it for several years. Currently, he has 4 small field plots he uses for his work with potatoes, with a fifth being developed this year.

Through his work at Guelph, Duane came to know Gary Johnston, the man who developed the Yukon Gold potato, amongst a number of others, including the excellent but never fully commercialized Ruby Gold. Today Yukon Gold is the second most popular potato in the world, only after the Russet Burbank. Gary Johnston continued to breed potatoes in his backyard after he retired from Agriculture Canada, and eventually Duane inherited his personal breeding collection. For a few years, Duane continued to work with this material on a hobby basis.

In 2014, the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security asked him if he knew anyone who could start a potato breeding program. The person he knew... was himself (I should think so!) They pay him a much more modest salary than the University of Guelph, and make sure he can attend all the potato breeding events that he needs. Anything released by this project will belong to the organic growers who will be doing the actual selection and evaluation, and likely be in the public domain, unlike most potato breeding efforts.

Mind you, Duane compared potato breeding to buying lottery tickets. At what point, he mused, do probabilities become so small that they are effectively zero? Both lottery ticket purchases and potato breeding efforts fall into that category, he concluded. I conclude that he doesn't buy lottery tickets but he does breed potatoes... well human beings just aren't completely rational, it's true.

Here he is holding a few lottery tickets, I mean potato seed balls, which contain true seed. As I've noted before, they look like miniature unripe tomatoes or maybe eggplants, to both of which potatoes are related. Duane commented that a good clump of large seed balls are probably self-fertilized, while when a plant produces few and small seed balls, the odds that it has been out crossed go up. Both are likely to be useful, as even self-fertilized potatoes may contain quite a lot of diversity. Duane doesn't usually attempt to make manual crosses, although in some special circumstances this may be necessary. He lets the bees do it and takes pot luck. The first trait Duane is looking for is fertility. You can`t breed plants if your parent material is infertile, and that is currently the case with a lot of potato varieties.

Duane prepares his potato seed by whizzing a few preferably rather soft and squishy seed balls in a bullet blender with some water and a pinch of dirt, the bacteria from which help break down the gelatinous seed coatings which may inhibit germination. The mixture is left to ferment for a week or so, then rinsed clean and dried on paper coffee filters, then stored in paper envelopes. He soaks them for an hour before planting them.

A note for anyone wanting to try this at home - now is the time to collect your seed balls and get planting. Duane says that the mini tubers resulting from the first planting need 4 to 6 months cold treatment before being planted out again, so if you want them to be going out next June you will need to get going as soon as possible so they can spend late winter and spring in the fridge.

The prepared seed looks much like tomato seeds, but is smaller. Duane's is also much browner than mine has ever turned out; I think because he treats his rougher with a pinch of dirt in the processing and a longish ferment.

Seeds are grown out in flats of 32 cells, in a mixture of sterile seed starter and turface. A major local potato grower is going to allow him to store these flats overwinter in his facility for cold treatment, which will reduce the work of managing them quite a bit.

Here, Duane is talking about some of the things that make a good potato. This one is already showing some problems. The tubers are attached to the plant by rather long stolons, which will make hilling and harvesting the potatoes difficult. Conversely, if the stolons are too short, the resulting potatoes will be jammed together at the base of the stem, and are likely to be misshapen.

The list of requirements in a new potato is very long: plant growth habit both above and below ground specifically to be amenable to mechanized farming, resistance to pests and diseases, high tuber production, size and shape of tubers including eye conformation (they need to be neither deep nor with protruberant "eyebrows"), tuber quality (different uses do have different requirements) and storage qualities. Flavour? Yes, that's on the list somewhere.

It is also important that the potatoes be edible. Duane told us a hair-raising story of a variety developed in the U.S. in the 1960s, Lenape. It was a fine chipper with excellent pest resistance. Gary Johnston grew some at the University of Guelph, and one day he took a few home and ate them for dinner (and nothing else - his wife was away and he was batching it). He got very sick, although he made it in to work the next day where he complained about how ill he had been the night before. The thing about working at a university is that you get to complain to some very educated people. One of his listeners was a toxicologist, who asked some pertinent questions and determined that the potatoes were the problem. They were sent for testing, and found to be very high in glycoalkaloids. Potato plants generally are high in them, but usually they are confined to the leaves and stems and other green portions of the plant. (This is why you should not eat potatoes that have been exposed to the light and turned green.)  Through this unlikely but ultimately fortunate set of circumstances, Lenape was withdrawn from circulation - after certainly having killed some of it's unlucky consumers - and now all potatoes must be tested for glycoalkaloids before being registered as new varieties.

New varieties are generally developed by growing out seeds, but there are other possibilities. Here Duane holds three potatoes; the first being Ruby Gold. At one point he found a Ruby Gold with a section that had mutated, and had a light pink skin with red eyes. He saved that section and planted it out. It too threw out another sport, mildly different again. Oddly, this last one is up to 20% more productive than the original Ruby Gold.  While these potatoes are distinctly different from Ruby Gold, they cannot be registered (by Duane) as new varieties, as they are too closely derived from Ruby Gold, the intellectual property rights to which are held by the University of Guelph. There is, however, no reason he cannot collect seeds from these plants and  use them in his breeding work.

On the table you see the progression of growing potatoes from seed. From right to left, you see the (usually) single mini-tuber produced by growing out a true potato seed. When that tuber is planted, it produces a certain amount of tubers, which are stored in red net bags to keep them together. Four of these are planted out the next year, and the results stored in a yellow net bag. Next, 20 of those tubers are planted out, and the year after that a full row 30 metres in length. Selection against defects is practiced at each step and only the best are saved for further evaluation. Assuming that a potato has not been discarded for one reason or another during this process - with each step taking a year - the results will be distributed for multi-location trials. Only a small percentage of the potatoes will make it that far.

Next, we went out into the field and Duane dug up some plants - this one looks rather nice: numerous tubers and clean, even though blight killed the leaves. Many of them have been visited by potato late blight, resistance to which is one of the most important things any breeding program will be looking for. It's not as easy to identify as you might think; just because a potato plant does not die when exposed to it does not mean it has the kind of resistance breeders want. All potatoes are moderately resistant to it until they reach the stage where the plant is flowering and tubers are forming. A plant that is still green now is more likely to be late in breaking dormancy and/or forming tubers than to be resistant to blight.

While complete resistance to blight would be ideal, even partial resistance can be helpful. Blight may just kill the leaves, leaving the stems still relatively healthy. This is useful resistance, as the potatoes may still finish ripening and the potatoes may stay sound. Less resistant plants will have the stems die too, and completely unresistant plants will have the potatoes rot in storage as the tubers are also affected by the fungus. This was the case for most of the potatoes grown in Ireland at the time of the famines of the 1840s. 

Duane says the above plant is the kind of plant that many organic farmers tell him they want, because it is low and spreading and will suppress weeds. The problem though, is that it is very unsuited to mechanical hilling and harvesting, because that spreading foliage will be hacked to bits. Duane is looking for short, upright but densely foliated plants.

These rows of seedling potatoes were planted out quite closely, with the tubers about 8 to 10 inches apart. Many have already died down, others are just coming up now. Those ones are essentially selecting themselves out of the project, needless to say.

These are some plants from crosses with a northern Chilean variety. In theory, they offer some valuable genetic material, but in practise, potatoes are very day-length sensitive plants. These ones have only just started to flower and form tubers in response to the recent equinox. That's far too late here in Canada, and few flowers and no seeds were produced. Also, they are throwing out numerous very long stolons and just starting to form tubers; as noted, not a trait commercial potato breeders are looking for. Unless Duane can induce these to produce seed, and that seed shows some amenity to adapting to long northern summer days, this will be a genetic dead end for him. He suspects that although potatoes originated in northern Chile and Peru, most European (and now North American) varieties came out of southern Chile and Argentina, where they had already adapted to long day growing seasons.

Duane examines another potato. He has quite a number of Latvian varieties, and in fact he handed out some seed balls from one of them, called Imanta. (Yessss! Score!) Other varieties specifically mentioned include Agria, Island Sunshine, Chieftan, Dark Red Chieftan (apparently no resemblance to Chieftan) Atlantic, a Texas bred russet variety, Kennebec, and a traditional purple skinned variety from the Madeleine Islands, which I coveted something awful. Duane has had access through his professional contacts with a wide range of potato growers both professional and amateur, and has collected some amazing material. He mentioned a wild potato with hairy leaves and stems, which have resistance to leaf hoppers and other insects. I was a bit surprised to hear how much of a problem leaf-hoppers can be, and that much of the insecticides used on potatoes are directed against them specifically. Potato bugs are the other big one; them I know about. My neighbours breeding project is pesticide-resistant potato bugs. Duane deals with potato bugs the same way I do: regular hand picking. That won`t work for commercial growers though, so he is also looking for plants with resistance to potato bugs, possibly ones that don't taste as good to the bugs so they go elsewhere for lunch. There are differences among varieties for this trait.

When we were finished in primary seed grow-out garden, Duane hauled us off to the field representing one of the next stages, where the full rows of potatoes were being grown.

Here his girlfriend, Vita Gaike, had started a fire and roasted some potatoes for us, in the Latvian harvest tradition (she`s a Latvian barley breeder herself). The potatoes were from his Ruby Gold mutations (Ruby Gold White A, to be precise), and they were delicious and just the thing on a cool rainy afternoon.

Once we were done, Duane fielded some questions. Someone asked about low-glycemic potatoes, and I was interested to hear that it depends more on how potatoes are cooked and served than on the variety. Cold potatoes are lower on the index, as are larger pieces. So potato salad is low on the glycemic index while hot fluffy mashed potatoes are (alas) very high.

Here`s a view of the second potato field, with the bonfire, his harvester, and his storage shed in the distance.

The potatoes harvested here will go on to the 7 or 8 organic farm participants across Canada (half of them in the Prairies) who have agreed to trial them. Duane is hoping that as the project progresses they will find more people willing and able to trial potatoes.

Thanks very much to Duane and Vita for an excellent and informative afternoon. We really enjoyed it, and learned some very helpful ideas for our potato grow-outs. For further information, Duane recommended two books, The Complete Book of Potatoes (de Jong, Sieczka, and de Jong), and The Lost Art of Potato Breeding by my hero, Rebsie Fairholm. I think I shall have to get them. 

Wednesday, 30 September 2015


Curtido is deceptively simple salad from El Salvador, and when served with pupusas it forms part of the national dish of that country. In its homeland, it is generally made with pineapple vinegar, but apple cider vinegar makes a very good substitute.

Pupusas, in case you are unfamiliar with them, are like a thick tortilla (although the cornmeal used is a little different) stuffed with meat, beans, or cheese. Unfortunately, I can't get the right cornmeal for them here. It's okay though; curtido is easy and very convenient, because unlike most salads it will keep in the fridge for quite a while and provide a quick vegetable accompaniment to sandwiches and other meals. We mostly eat it with sandwiches but it goes anywhere cole-slaw would, and with a bit more panache.

I put 2 Jalapeños in mine, and that was fine for the first 2 days. It got stronger as it sat though, and by the end of the week this was pretty hot stuff. The longer you think it is going to take you to eat the curtido, the less Jalapeño you should put in. Unless you like pretty hot stuff. I do, but there is a limit and by the end of the week we had passed it.

As I was looking at recipes for curtido, I noticed a number of people are treating it as sauerkraut and giving it a full ferment. I'm going to try that, and I will report back once I have some results.

12 to 18 servings
40 minutes prep time,  plus 2 days sitting

6 cups finely shredded cabbage
3 cups grated carrots (2 medium)
1 1/2 cups sliced onion (1 medium)
1 or 2 Jalapeño peppers
1 tablespoon dried rubbed oregano
1 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups water

Wash, trim, and finely shred the cabbage. Peel and grate the carrots. Peel and cut the onion in half, then cut it into thin slices, so you have half rings. Remove the stem and seeds of the Jalapeño, and mince it finely.

Put the vegetables into a large bowl as you work, and when they are all cut, add the oregano and salt. With clean hands, massage the oregano and salt into the vegetables, until they are well mixed and look a little wilted.

Pack them into a very clean litre canning jar - either sterilize it as  you would for canning, or have it come right out of the dishwasher - using some sort of blunt instrument. If you have a tamper for making sauerkraut, excellent. I used the pestle from my mortar and pestle. At any rate, pack it in there. You will likely have more than will fit into a litre jar, in which case, put the excess into another, smaller, jar in the same way.

Mix the vinegar and water, and pour it into the jars over the vegetables. Close them up with clean (but re-used is fine) lids and rims. Put them in a dark, room-temperature spot. I put mine under the sink. They should be on a bit of newspaper, in case they leak. Leave them to ferment for 2 days.

At that point, the curtido will be ready to serve. Keep it in the fridge at this point. It should keep for up to 2 weeks without any problem, although mine was certainly eaten before then.

Last year was pretty sparse for posts too, but around this time I made Peppers Stuffed with Lamb & Feta.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Update, Personal & Garden

Well, here it is the end of September and the garden is looking pretty tired and sad. Seems appropriate; that's how I'm feeling these days myself.

About a month ago, my father had a fall. The nursing home didn't think it was too serious at first. He was in a lot of pain, but he was able to stand and walk. However, after a few days, he started to lose the ability to do so. To make a long story short, he had cracked a vertebrae and it was pressing on the spinal column, and he is now a paraplegic. Such have been the last year and a half, that when I heard this my first thought was "well, that's another damned thing." At first he was in a lot of pain but that seems to be receding and he seems to adjusting okay.

I am very fortunate that he is in the nursing home and they are taking excellent care of him, and that we live in a country where such matters are dealt with, financially and otherwise, as a matter of course. Still, I have to say that ever since this has happened I have not been sleeping well and have a lot of trouble being motivated to do anything. Which is where this blog comes in, or as I'm sure anyone still reading has noticed, doesn't come in. However, I am making an effort to try to get back to some sort of normal life so I am trying to get started again.

The above bed is our melon bed; it produced fairly well but has been mostly finished off by some sort of mildew or fungus. 

This has been an excellent summer, weatherwise. It has been consistently warm but not obnoxiously hot, and rain has come fairly regularly, requiring only a few weeks of watering. Now it is getting cooler and we have the sweet potatoes and peanuts covered to get every bit of growth out of them that we can. They'll need to be harvested soon, though.

Our carrots - mostly French heirloom varieties - did amazingly well this year, as did our onions, which have already died down and are now residing in our cold room. Beets are still in the ground, but most of the potatoes have been harvested. 

I'm writing this up as we can the last of the tomatoes. There are a a few still out there, mostly not looking too healthy or not quite ripe yet. There's a few more tomato sandwiches left in this season, but it is winding down rapidly. The plants look very sparse as this has been a bumper year for the septoria leaf spot. However, production was excellent and we have more canned sauce and tomatoes than we expected.

We grew out 4 kinds of leeks this year. We will try them all, and select the best of each to go to seed next year, letting them all cross. The kinds are Giant Musselburgh, Inegol (our Turkish leek), Bandit (a Dutch variety from William Dam) and Verdonnet, a Swiss variety. 

We tried to avoid planting too much squash this year, but we seem to have oodles anyway. I'm hoping it is better than last year, when we got lots of squash but thanks to the cool, rainy weather it was all a bit watery and tasteless. Like the melons, the plants all collapsed last week with some kind of mildew or fungus, but the squash are pretty much ripe so it is okay.

Oh, that's why we have so much squash. They ate the cabbage bed! In spite of which, the cabbages are doing quite well. I'll be making lots of sauerkraut in the next week or two.

Beans are winding down. We got plenty to freeze, but after the hot spell at the end of August they kind of stopped producing much, and I kind of stopped remembering to check them, so the fresh beans are mostly over. There's going to be lots of dry ones though, if I can get around to processing them.

The zucchini are winding down, with the cooler nights and growth of mildew. Pretty standard for this time of year. I'm not too sorry; we had ridiculous amounts of zucchini. We have planted tons of it the last few years and gotten very little, thanks to swarms of cucumber beetles and squash bugs. This year the cucumber beetles were present in not too massive quantities and we didn't even see any squash bugs. I don't get it, but I am not complaining!

Behind them, we have the last section of potatoes to dig up. In the other bed it's our watermelon mass-crossing project. Melons in general were a little on the small side, but ripened a good 3 weeks earlier than last year. I suspect that's mostly down to better weather but again, no complaints! There have been some interesting crosses too. 

We do grow a few flowers and the zinnias in particular have been fab this year!

Here is our first assessable result of trying to grow some potatoes from seeds. I would say that the 4 potatoes on the left (top and bottom) are the offspring of Russian Blue; a prodigious producer of seedballs.

The two pink skinned potatoes next to them are the offspring of an unknown white potato (possibly Envol, but possibly not) and either Red Thumb or Pink Fir Apple. Red Thumb seems much more likely, as Pink Fir Apple has a reputation for being sterile, but I have heard of at least one potato clone that claims it as a parent, and when we were digging up our main potatoes recently I found a seed ball attached to a stem, which was still attached to a potato, and the potato was definitely a Pink Fir Apple. It was a very small seed ball; about a quarter or less of the usual size. I have seen them in previous years, and made a point of trying to extract some seeds from them, so Pink Fir Apple is a more probably parent than would immediately seem likely. At any rate, these are the 2 potatoes I am most interested in. Not that I have tasted any of these potatoes yet, or even seen what they look like cut open. Still, those are very pretty potatoes!

The last 2 potatoes, on the far right, are not particularly interesting. They are standard white potatoes basically, and as you can see very poor producers compared to any of the others. We'll just eat them. And sneer while we do it.

Here is another breeding success, 3 years in the making! This is a cross between Golden Midget watermelon and another, unknown, watermelon. Judging by the stripes, I suspect Crimson Sweet.

Golden Midget is a watermelon that turns yellow when ripe. I like that trait, but I'd like it in a bigger watermelon. It really is a midget.

The hybrid above, I'm afraid, has retained that quality. I'd have liked to have had it ripen as early as Golden Midget, but it ripened more like Crimson Sweet, just last week. Alas. We were very pleased with the flavour, though!

But I am undismayed, because the odds of getting a cross with the golden ripening gene show up at all in the f2 generation were approximately 64 to 1. My overall odds were more like 4 to 1, because I grew quite a few more than one plant of crossed Golden Midget seed. Because the golden ripening gene is recessive, it does not show up in the f1 generation of crosses. I had to wait until this year to hope I would have one turn up.

In theory I should now get only  plants with the golden ripening gene from the seed from this melon. However, I think that applies only if it was self fertilized, and who knows? Not very likely, given the number of other potential pollen sources. Still, I intend to sow this seed heavily next year and see what happens. It's kind of exciting!

Monday, 17 August 2015

Seedy Summer Savory Pesto (with Cauliflower)

Summer savory is one of my favourite herbs of all times, as regular readers of this blog will have realized (if there are still any around). It's easy to grow, and it's delicious fresh as well as dried.

I will be yanking it all this week, as it is about to flower, and I want to get it before it does that. Most of it will be dried, but some of it went into this delicious pesto. It was lovely on cauliflower, but use it as you would any other pesto.

6 to 8 servings
20 minutes prep time

Seedy Summer Savory Pesto (with Cauliflower)

1/4 cup summer savory leaves stripped from the stems, lightly packed
1/4 cup coarsely chopped chives
1 or 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup hullless pumpkin seeds
1/3 cup cold-pressed sunflower seed oil
up to 1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
the juice of 1/2 lime
2 to 4 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese

Strip the leaves and tender tips from the summer savory, and discard the tough stems. Pick over and trim the chives (they tend to be a little ratty at this time of year), discarding any tough blossom stems. Chop them roughly. Add the herbs to the bowl of a food processor.

Peel and trim the garlic, and slice it coarsely, and add it to the food processor along with all the remaining ingredients, except the Parmesan cheese. Process until well blended, stopping and scraping down the sides several times to make sure everything is evenly blended. Stop when the pesto has the texture you like.

The sunflower and pumpkin seeds can be raw or roasted, salted or unsalted; however, if they are salted hold off adding any more until you have had a chance to taste the pesto. The finished pesto should be a little on the salty side, since it will be seasoning some other food (I assume!) but don't get too carried away. The cheese will also add some saltiness, don't forget.

Toss the finished pesto into cooked, drained cauliflower, pasta, rice or barley, along with the cheese; in general, use it wherever you would use traditional basil pesto.

Last year at this time I made Quesadillas de Flor de Calabacitas.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Green Beans à la Poutine

This is a version of my favourite mushroom gravy, with fresh ingredients since it is summer. I served this dish at a vegetarian lunch, and it was a big hit. Not nearly so bad for you as a traditional poutine, either!  You will likely want a starch with it; boiled potatoes, rice or pasta would all be good.

I'm a little vague about the number of servings, because it will depend on whether you are serving this as a vegetarian main course, or as a side dish.

Actually, when I think about it, I could make this in the winter with frozen beans and canned tomatoes. It won't be quite as perfect, but after all we do still have to eat in the winter.

4 to 8 servings
1 hour prep time

Green Beans à la Poutine

Prepare the Beans:
500 grams (1 pound) green beans

Wash and trim the green beans, and cut them into bite sized pieces. Put them in a steamer or pot with boiling water, and begin to cook them a few minutes after the shallots and mushrooms go into the skillet. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes, until done to your liking.

Make the Gravy:
1 or 2 large shallots
200 grams (6 ounces) button mushrooms
2 cups peeled, diced fresh tomato
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
1 tablespoon flour
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 cup water
2 tablespoons miso
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Peel and chop the shallots finely. Clean, trim, and dice the mushrooms. Blanche, peel, and chop the tomatoes.

Heat the oil in a large skillet, and gently cook the shallots and mushrooms over medium heat until soft and very slightly browned. Add the tomatoes and mix in well; continue to cook until the tomatoes begin to disintegrate.

In the meantime, put the flour and nutritional yeast in a small bowl, and mix in enough water to make a loose paste. Add the miso and mustard, and mix until the mixture is smooth. Mix in the remaining water, a little at a time to keep a smooth sauce, until it is all in.

Add the sauce to the skillet, mixing in well, and cook until the gravy thickens; just a minute or so. 

Finish the Dish:
125 grams (1/4 pound) cheese curds

Drain the cooked beans well, and add them to the pan of gravy. Let them reheat just a minute or so, then transfer them with the gravy to a serving dish, layering them with bits of cheese curd as you go. Save enough cheese curds to give a good scattering of them over the top. Serve at once.

Last year at this time I made Quinoa Salad with Eggplant & Cucumber, and Lamb Stew with Eggplant & Peppers. This year I am still waiting for my first damn eggplant. Plants look great; they are flowering like crazy... but where are the eggplants?!

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Siskiyou Sweet Onion

We got the seeds for this onion from Hawthorn Farm, a couple years ago when we were looking for a replacement for Candy; a Monsanto hybrid. In general, we want to keep our own seeds, and although Candy was a good onion, we did not expect to be able to save seed from it (and didn't like to buy it, because Monsanto). So far, Siskiyou Sweet has made a very good replacement. We did not try them side-by-side so I am not sure how they compare for sweetness, but we have been eating Siskiyou Sweet raw on hamburgers, sandwiches, and salads, and enjoying them very much.

Siskiyou Sweet was selected out of Walla Walla, a famous sweet onion from Walla Walla county, Washington. The Walla Walla name is trademarked, and they are one of the few onions sold by the variety name, as opposed to just generically as "yellow", "red", or "Spanish" onions. Don Tipping of Siskiyou Seeds/Seven Seeds Farm worked with saving seed and selecting for better uniformity and disease and split resistance. There is a good article about him and his work at A Way to Garden.

Siskiyou Sweet belongs to the family of onions known as Spanish, which are large white onions mild enough to eat raw. In general, they are not good keepers, and Siskiyou Sweet are not known as keepers either, although I have kept them into January in our cold cellar without much sprouting.

Walla Walla onions developed out of seed brought from Corsica around 1900, by a French soldier, Peter Pieri, who settled in the area. It is somewhat unusual in being a sweet Spanish type onion well adapted to being grown in the north - most of the well-known sweet onions come from the south, as their Spanish origins might suggest.

In general, I consider sweet onions best for eating raw. They contain enough sugar that they are more inclined than regular storage onions to scorch when cooked, although if you watch them carefully you can prevent that. However, they are so mild that I don't find they provide enough flavour when cooked. Because of this, we grow these sweet onions in relatively small quantities for fresh eating from mid-summer into late fall.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Salmon or Salmon Trout with Raspberry Sauce

This was a very fast and simple dish, but rather luxurious nevertheless, what with fish and raspberries, neither of which are cheap. Definitely ideal for entertaining.

The salient thing about making this is to be sure that everything is prepared and standing by before you begin cooking, because once you begin it goes in a flash, and there is no time for fumbling around to prepare things that are not ready.

We have been eating a lot of raspberries this summer. Ours have all disappeared into a mass of weeds, but our next door neighbour has opened up a u-pick raspberry operation! We can pick 12 pints and be  home in an hour, for half the price of buying them at the market. 

6 servings
30 minutes prep time

Prepare the Sauce Ingredients:
1 teaspoon arrowroot or cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon water

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup very finely minced fresh basil
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Put the arrowroot, salt, vinegar, and water in a small bowl, and mix well. Put the remaining ingredients into another small bowl.

Cook the Fish & Sauce:
1.2 kilos (3 pounds) salmon or salmon trout fillets
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
2 cups fresh raspberries

If necessary, cut the fish into fillets and remove any bones. Place them in a steamer over a pot with just enough water to cover the bottom, and steam them for about 10 minutes, until done. Watch the water level carefully - you would like to end up with just about 1/2 cup left. If there is a little more, reduce it while you keep the cooked fish on a serving platter in a warm spot.

Working quickly, add the bowl of butter, honey, etc, to the pan of fish stock. Stir well. Still stirring, pour in the bowl with the dissolved arrowroot or cornstarch. Add 1 cup of the raspberries, and mash them into the sauce. As soon as the raspberries are mashed and the sauce is thickened, pour it over the fish fillets. Garnish with the remaining raspberries and serve at once.

Last year at this time I made Cucumbers in Crème Fraîche with Mint, and Raspberry Eton Mess.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Peas - Purple Podded Irish Twins

Clarke's Beltony Blue

Aren't those lovely!? Clarke's Beltony Blue comes from County Tyrone in Northern Ireland. At some point a Mrs Anderson donated them to the Heritage Seed Library (UK) with the information that they were grown on her great-grandfather's farm since at least 1850, and possibly as long as since 1815. Adaptive Seeds in Oregon got them from the Heritage Seed Library, and I got them from Adaptive seeds. Here we are. This is the first year I have tried these.

The vines grew to 6' tall, and started producing in mid-season; say about 70 days to maturity, and produced over a fairly long period of time (several weeks). The plants have lovely pink/mauve flowers, and the pods, as you see, are a rich purple, with peas of a light olive green. They were good healthy and robust growers, even considering their crowded conditions, although all the peas were produced 1 pod per node. Five to 7 peas per pod seems typical.

They turn starchy fairly quickly, and are not the sweetest of shelling peas. In fact, even when young I occasionally detected a note of bitterness to the raw peas. This seemed to disappear once they were cooked. I noticed the cooking water turned a little bluey-greyish, as if there were some purple compounds in the peas, although I could not actually see any. At their best, the texture is very smooth with a little more body than most peas, with a similarly smooth, rich flavour. I liked these better than Mr Ferdzy liked them; he did find them a bit on the starchy side. These are also a slightly faded moss green when cooked, fairly unlike most modern peas which have been bred for as dark a green as possible.

I can find no more information about their history than I have already written, but most old purple-podded peas were field peas, meant to be dried down and cooked into pea soup, aka pease pottage. I would speculate that these were selected out of some such old soup variety, and as such I am going to save any excess dried seeds I get from them and try them out as soup peas.

Carruthers' Purple Podded

All of the information regarding Clarke's Beltony Blue applies to Carruther's Purple Podded, with a few minor but significant differences. It too comes from Northern Ireland; County Down in this case. It too was donated to the Heritage Seed Library, by a gentleman by the name of Carruthers, who had acquired seed from a family gardener and grown it for 25 years before donating it. It too has roots back to the 19th century. I bought mine from Adaptive Seeds, who again got it from the Heritage Seed Library.

The physical description of the plants is essentially identical; I could not easily distinguish them if I grew them next to each other. The pods of Carruthers' are a little longer though, and more apt to contain at least 8 peas. They tend to be a little crowded, and so flattened at each side, and the pods seem a slightly deeper purple usually. I did find one plant that had 2 pods per node, so I will be saving that one as seed for sure. The two varieties are distinguishable as seeds, as the seeds are fairly different looking.

These are also a slightly better pea for eating fresh. I didn't note the bitterness I found in Clarke's Beltony Blue nearly so much, but again, they were noticeably better cooked than raw. So, overall I would rate Carruthers` Purple Podded as the better of the two peas. Unless Clarke`s Beltony Blue turns out to be uniquely wonderful as a dried soup-pea, I will grow Carruthers` again but not the Clarke`s.

Rebsie Fairholm is also a fan of Carruthers` Purple Podded peas, and I suspect her review of them has done much to give them their current modest popularity. Unfortunately, I don`t believe there is a Canadian supplier of either of these peas at this time.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Basic Waffles

My brother in law Martin is on a low-sugar, low-carb diet, and his pain is my gain. (Probably weight gain, unfortunately.) He gave me his vintage waffle iron, probably dating from the late 1940s, and I finally can make waffles again. I had a waffle iron, but the last few times I used it, the waffles came out soft and floppy, and eventually they refused to even come out at all, and I said to hell with it and threw it away.

I tried putting some berries in the batter as I made the waffles, but that was not a good idea. They stuck, even if the waffles didn't, then the bits of stuck berry scorched themselves into the subsequent waffles. You can see the bits in the picture. Not a disaster, but not recommended either. We served most of the berries raw on top, and they were much better that way.

This is a nice basic recipe, and they turned out very well. We found them surprisingly filling. I don't mean that we were stuffed, but that they kept us going until lunch time, and I don't always expect that of waffles.

12 waffles
30 minutes prep time

1 cup soft whole wheat flour
1 cup soft unbleached flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon honey
3 large eggs
2 cups buttermilk
a little oil to grease the waffle iron

Measure the 2 flours, the baking powder, and the salt, and mix them together and set them aside.

Measure the butter and honey into a heat-proof bowl or pot, and heat until they are just melted but not hot, in the microwave or on the stove as seems best to you. Let cool slightly. Put the waffle iron on to heat.

Meanwhile, beat the eggs and buttermilk together in a mixing bowl. Whisk in the butter and honey when they are no longer hot. Whisk in the flour until just blended.

Brush the hot waffle iron lightly with oil - I like a silicone brush for this - then ladle in enough batter to cover the bottom when spread carefully to the corners. Close the iron and cook until the waffle is done, about 5 minutes. This recipe fills my 3-waffle iron 4 times, making about 12 waffles, but your waffle iron may vary. You may or may not need to brush a little oil onto the waffle iron between batches; again, it will depend on your waffle iron.

Last year at this time I made Curried Devilled Eggs with Peas.