Friday, 22 July 2016

Gooseberry Chutney; and a Few Words About Gooseberry Jam

Somewhat to my surprise, we got a good crop of gooseberries this year. It's a surprise because we have abandoned the gooseberry patch to weeds, and have neither pruned nor watered them in quite some time. The berries were on the small side, which made them annoying (and time consuming) to top and tail, which alas is something you must do with gooseberries. Also those bushes are prickly. Still, we got enough to make a batch of chutney and a batch of jam.

The jam was a pretty straightforward formula of 2 parts berries to 1 part sugar. I had 5 cups berries and added the juice of 1/2 lemon and a bit of the grated rind to them along with the sugar. I also put 2 tablespoons of water in the pan to keep the sugar moist until the gooseberries started to break down. It took about 20 minutes boiling before it was ready to bottle up, which is about standard in my experience.

As usual this is less sugar than most jam recipes call for, but more than I use for most fruits. Gooseberries are sour though and you should also pick them a tad on the early side - when they start to show some colour but before they fall off the bloody bush/the birds eat them.

It took me most of my free time in a day (4 to 6 hours I would say) to top and tail my 8 cups of gooseberries. This means breaking or snipping off both the stem and the little brown spike they have on the other end. Both will do bad things to the texture of whatever you are making with your gooseberries. I have to say I would really like to find a variety of gooseberry with much bigger berries to make this chore less tedious, but good luck in this country. The English have lots, but we cannot have them. *Presses nose to the window of the internet.*

I think this would go well with pork or chicken. Turkey would be good or any poultry really. Goose, in case you couldn't tell, is traditional, as are oily fish like mackerel. We don't get mackerel here but I would serve it with salmon or trout. I'd certainly give it a go with lamb. Really, I think about the only meat I would not serve it with is beef and I could very well be wrong about that. 

7 125-ml jars
50 minutes prep time

Gooseberry Chutney with Chicken

3 cups prepared gooseberries
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup vinegar
2 tablespoons very finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 to 6 green cardamom pods
8 to 10 allspice berries

Top and tail the gooseberries.Put the jars into a large pot or canner (with a rack so they are not in contact with the bottom of the pot). Bring them to a boil. Boil 10 minutes.

When the water is starting to steam, put all the remaining ingredients into a large heavy-bottomed pot or jam kettle. Bring to a boil and boil until thick, about 20 minutes. Stir frequently.

Put the lids and rims on to boil in a pot of water. Boil according to manufacturers directions; 1 minute. 

Empty the jars back into the pot of boiling water and fill them with the prepared chutney. Wipe the rims of the jars with a bit of paper towel dipped in the boiling water, and seal them with the prepared lids and metal rims. Return them to the pot of boiling water for 5 minutes. Remove and set them on a board to cool and seal. Label and keep in a cool, dark spot; refrigerate once open.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Beet Salad with Berries & Nuts

All my favourite salads have fruit and nuts! This one has raspberries - I  used the black caps growing by our back deck, but any kind of raspberry will be fine. They contrasted very nicely with our slightly pale beets. I found the beets cooked very quickly perhaps because they were so nice and fresh. Walnuts add a nice crunch.

I will make this again in September, when the blackberries are ready and see how it is with them... can't see how it won't be good. 

8 servings
40 minutes to cook the beets
20 minutes to finish the salad

Cook the Beets:
6 to 8 medium beets

Trim the stems from the beets and put them in a pot with water to cover. Bring to a boil and boil gently for 30 to 40 minutes until tender. Rinse in cold water until cool. Peel them and cut them into dice.

Make the Dressing:
the juice of 1 medium orange
2 teaspoons honey
1/2 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
3 tablespoons sunflower oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Mix the orange juice, honey, ginger, sunflower oil, salt, and pepper in a small bowl or jar. Stir well to dissolve the honey. 

Make the Salad:
1 medium orange
6 to 8 leaves of lettuce
1 cup raspberries or blackberries
1 cup walnuts

Peel the orange and cut it into similar sized pieces. Wash and dry the lettuce leaves and use them to line a serving dish. Arrange the beet and orange cubes over the salad, and sprinkle over the raspberries and the walnuts. Drizzle the salad dressing over the salad.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Sumter Pickling Cucumber

Sumter Pickling Cucumbers

Somehow this particular variety did not come to my attention until last winter, when we were perusing the seed catalogues and saw it listed by William Dam. I see The Cottage Garden and Urban Harvest also have it. There's no romantic history, or unique flavour, shape or colour; these are just a pickling cucumber. But I have to say, I'm loving them.

They're extremely productive and apparently very disease resistant. (No problems with cucumber diseases for us so far, luckily.) They are said to take 60 to 65 days to maturity (here; even earlier in the south). We almost missed picking the first few cucumbers from them as they appeared much sooner than I was really expecting. Vines are compact, and in fact if I have any complaint about them it's that I wish they were a little rangier. I'm fairly strange that way though. Their compact size suggests that they would be a good choice for container growing.

These typically shaped pickling cucumbers (shorter, blockier, and spinier than most eating cucumbers) have a nice, dense, crisp flesh and mild flavour. We've eaten a few in salads and enjoyed them. They can get a little large and still be good. I don't think they taste quite as good raw as Early Russian, which so far is my favourite pickling cucumber for flavour, but which we have not grown for several years as they are just not reliable enough for us. Sumter on the other hand is well known for its reliability and the taste is fine. Even though it's pretty early on in the season it looks like they are going to churn them out like crazy. They should probably go for about 6 weeks.

I'll be putting up my first jar of dill pickles with these cukes today, so I can't report first hand on how they will be yet. However they are known for keeping their crisp texture as pickles.

They have been extremely tolerant of the hot, dry summer we've been having this year. (Some of my other cucumbers are having trouble setting.) Not surprising, since they were bred by W.C. Barnes of the Clemson Agricultural Experiment Station, part of Clemson University in South Carolina with some sort of input from the Asgrow Company.

They were released in 1973, which means that while they are not old enough to be considered an heirloom variety, they are certainly tried and true. They are monoecious; meaning that each plant has male and female blossoms. In other words, if you are not growing any other cucumbers you can save seeds from this variety and they will come true - a state of affairs that gets less common with more modern cucumbers. If you are not saving seed (or even if you are) these hold a nice, low-seed interior for quite a while, adding to their overall good texture.

In short, this is a very popular pickling cucumber for good reason. I'm impressed and I suspect that this will become our standard pickling cucumber.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Lentil Salad with Peas & Purslane

Lots of purslane still in the garden. Here it is in a salad with lentils and peas.

When I thinned the beets for greens the other day, there were enough with baby beets attached that I saved them and cooked them for a garnish to this salad. They are not strictly necessary, though. These are grown from seed saved from letting 3 or 4 varieties of beets flower and cross. We got about 10 years worth of seed from them, and they produce variably coloured and sized beets, but often quite large. 

4 to 6 servings
20 minutes prep time, not including cooking the lentils or beets

Cook the Lentils, Beets, & Peas:
1 cup green or brown lentils
2 1/4 cups water
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 to 12 baby beets (optional)
1 cup shelled peas

Put the lentils, water, and salt into a rice cooker and let 'em cook. Remove and let cool. This can be done up to a day ahead.

If you want some baby beets, they should be washed, stems trimmed, and boiled for 30 minutes. Let them cool; again, can be done a day ahead.

The peas should be shelled and boiled for 2 to 3 minutes then chilled in cold water. This should be done just before making the salad. 

Make the Salad:
1 cup chopped purslane leaves and stems
1 small sweet onion, with greens
1 small green, red, orange, or yellow sweet pepper
(1/4 pepper if using a bell pepper)
2 tablespoons finely minced fresh mint or dill
3 tablespoons sunflower seed oil
the juice of 1/2 lemon
salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste

Wash the purslane and pick the leaves from the stems. Chop the tender parts of the stems, and put the prepared purslane into a salad bowl with the cold cooked lentils and peas.

Peel and finely chop the onion and pepper. You may not wish to use all of the onion greens, and you may wish to salt and drain the onion bulb parts and the pepper bits for a 10 minutes or so while you prepare the rest of the salad.

Mince the mint or dill and add it to the bowl with the oil, lemon  juice, salt and pepper, and whatever portion of the onion greens you wish to use. Rinse and drain well the onion and pepper, and add them to the salad as well. Toss and serve, garnished with the peeled baby beets if you like.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Chilean Style Beet (or Other) Greens

Whenever I see the combination of hard boiled eggs, olives, and raisins, I immediately think the dish must be Chilean. In fact the combination came to Chile from Spain, and can be found in a number of dishes from the Caribbean, and Central and South America; wherever the Spanish were. On reflection it occurred to me that the Spanish got this combination from the Moors; this kind of sweet-salty combination is still common in Moroccan cooking and indeed throughout the Arab world.

This is substantial enough to be a light vegetarian main dish, with the addition of some bread and butter. I think it would be very good piled on toast. If you put in 2 eggs instead of 4 on the other hand, it would not be too substantial to be a side dish to something else.

My skillet is cast iron and to my dismay it discoloured the eggs; if  you have a skillet that isn't cast iron I suggest you use it for this. And yes! My beets are now thinned.

2 servings as a main dish
4 to 6 servings as a side dish
30 minutes prep time

Beet Greens with Eggs, Olives, and Raisins

Boil the Eggs & Prepare the Greens:
4 large eggs
8 cups beet greens (or Swiss chard, or spinach, or kale)

Put the eggs into a pot and cover them with water. Bring them to a boil and boil for one minute, then turn off the heat and leave them covered for 10 minutes. Rinse in cold water until cool, and peel them. Cut them into slices.

While the eggs cook, wash and pick over the greens, discarding any bad bits or tough stems. Chop them coarsely.

Finish the Dish:
2 or 3 cloves of garlic
1/3 cup raisins
1/3 cup chopped olives
1/3 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
1 tablespoon sunflower seed or olive oil
1/8 to 1/2 teaspoon hot ground or flaked chile pepper
salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

This dish cooks very fast; have everything measured and ready to go before you start cooking, so peel and chop the garlic and put it in a little bowl with the raisins, olives, and pumpkin seeds.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the drained but not completely dry greens, and cook, stirring, until wilted - just a minute or so. Add the garlic, raisins, olives, and pumpkin seeds and mix in well. Continue cooking until the greens are almost done - just a couple of minutes. Season them with salt, pepper, and a bit of chile pepper; don't overdo it. Scatter the eggs gently over the greens and gently lift the greens over them to combine them. The less you can stir them, the better they will hold together. Let them heat through for a couple of minutes, then transfer the contents of the pan to your serving dish.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Cucumber & Purslane Salad

Edible weeds, the best kind! Purslane (portulaca oleracea) is supposed to be a nutritional powerhouse, and I recall that when I visited Soiled Reputation farm a few years back, Antony John told a story about how once, when he was giving a tour to some local farmers, one of them asked (exhibiting a certain level of disdain) what Antony did about all of his purslane weeds? Antony, without batting an eye, promptly replied that he put them in plastic bags and sold them for $20 a pound.

Good work, Antony! In spite of this purslane has never really been on my radar as something to eat. However last year, or was it the year before, we had an outbreak of purslane in the carrots, and it's been around ever since, to some degree. This is a hot dry summer, the kind purslane likes, so I'm definitely noticing some in the beds. Since we just pulled in our first cucumbers as well, I decided to put them together in a salad.

So how does it taste? Tart and lemony is the usual description, as well as a little mucilaginous in texture. I found the texture fine, and I have to admit I put in so many other herbs along with the cucumber that the purslane flavour was pretty retiring. You could leave out the herbs if you like, though. I would have thought that you want to get them before they flower, but apparently the flowers are quite edible too. I'm pretty sure you do want to get them before they go to seed, but there's a dilemma... well, if you wipe out all your wild purslane, apparently you can buy seeds for larger more tender strains of it.

Purslane Plant

 Makes 2 to 4 servings
15 minutes prep time, not including foraging

Cucumber & Purslane Salad

1 1/2 tablespoons sunflower seed oil
1 1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon finely minced parsley
1 tablespoon finely minced chives
1/2 tablespoon finely minced mint leaves
1/2 tablespoon finely minced dill leaves
1 small or 1/2 large cucumber
1 cup picked or chopped purslane leaves and stems

In a small mixing bowl, mix the oil, vinegar, mustard, salt, and pepper. Wash and dry the herbs, and mince them finely. Add them to the bowl. Wash the cucumber and trim the ends; you can peel it if you like, or not. I usually compromise and pare off about half of the skin. Cut it in quarters lengthwise, then cut each quarter in slices.

Wash the purslane very well in cold water. The leaves and much of the stems should be tender and usable, but the stems will get tough as they approach the roots. Cut the roots off with about an inch of the stems, or a little more if they seem tough. Pick the leaves from the stems, and chop the tender stems. Add the leaves and stems with the cucumbers to the salad bowl, and mix well.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Minestrone di Piselli

Nonstop peas for the next 2 weeks! Although we did pick our first zucchini, so other things are coming.

This was a thoroughly delightful light but filling soup, and it didn't take long to make either. Like most broth and noodle soups though, it needs to be eaten promptly; leftovers don't keep well.

4 servings
30 minutes prep time

Minestrone di Piselli or Summer Pea Soup

Blanch the Tomatoes; Cook the Pasta:
2 medium greenhouse tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon salt
100 grams small soup pasta

Bring a small (1 quart) pot of water to a boil. Blanch the tomatoes for 1 minute, then lift them out (keep the water boiling) and rinse them in cold water. Add the salt and pasta to the boiling water and cook until 2 minutes short of done, according to the instructions on the packet. Drain well. Rinse in cool water if the soup is not ready for them yet.

Meanwhile, peel and chop the tomatoes. Set them aside. Psst! Your peas, called for below, must be shelled by now as well.

Make the Soup:
3 to 4 garlic scapes
5 to 6 button mushrooms
1 medium zucchini
8 to 12 large basil leaves
1 tablespoon olive or sunflower oil
3 cups unsalted chicken or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons very finely grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup shelled peas (1 quart before shelling)
1 cup snap or snow peas, or a mix of the two

Wash and trim the tough ends from the garlic scapes. Cut them into small pieces, about the size of the shelled peas. Clean the mushrooms and slice them first one way and then the other, to form little logs. Wash and trim the zucchini, cut it in quarters lengthwise, and then into slices. Wash the basil, roll it into a cigar shape, and cut it into thin strips.

Heat the oil in the bottom of a larger (2 quart)  heavy-bottomed pot. Add the garlic scapes, mushrooms, and zucchini, and cook, stirring regularly, for several minutes until softened and slightly browned. Add half of the basil, mix it in for a minute then add the diced peeled tomatoes. Again, cook for a minute or two, stirring regularly.

Add the chicken or vegetable stock, and bring it up to a simmer. Season with the Parmesan, and salt and pepper to taste. The cheese can be omitted; in that case you will need a bit more salt. When the soup has simmered for several minutes, add the peas, both shelled and snow or snap, along with the well drained pasta, and cook for another 3 minutes.

Serve the soup with the remaining shredded basil leaves sprinkled over top of it. 

Monday, 4 July 2016

New Potatoes with Garlic Scapes & Parsley

When we pulled our finished early peas, we had a lot of potato plants left which were growing up amongst them as weeds, as the bed had been planted with potatoes last year. We always miss a bunch, and up they come. We dug them out, and a good few of them were Envol* and had set usable sized potatoes already. Enough to make this dish, which will win no beauty contests but which was really delicious. It takes 2 pots, for which I apologize, but I do think the results are worth it. 

4 servings
30 minutes prep time

250 grams (1/2 pound) new potatoes
1/2 cup parsley
4 garlic scapes
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Wash and trim the potatoes; if they are uneven in size cut the larger ones in halves or quarters to match the smaller ones in size. Put them in a pot with water to cover. Bring them to a boil and boil them  until they are tender; 15 to 20 minutes.

Wash the parsley and garlic scapes. Trim the tough thin end from the garlic scapes and cut them into inch-long pieces. Put them in a food processor with the parsley and process until finely chopped.

Five minutes before the potatoes are done, put the butter in a small pot and bring it up to a simmer. Simmer it for a few minutes, until it browns. Add the parsley and garlic scapes, the vinegar, salt, and pepper. Mix well and keep on the heat for another minute or so to wilt the parsley and garlic scapes.

Meanwhile, the potatoes should be done. Drain them but keep them in the pot and return them to the stove. Scrape the herb and butter mixture over them, and mix well. Keep mixing until the mixture is well distributed and any liquid in it is absorbed by the potatoes. Serve 'em up!

*And one lonely Red Thumb.

Friday, 1 July 2016

Strawberry Poke Sponge Cake

I thought I would make a fancy strawberry cake thing this season, since I haven't done that in a while. The phrase "strawberry poke cake" rose up from the swamp of my mind, and when I examined it via Google I realized it was generally the sort of "cooking" that Grandma did in her latter years. I have her little cooking notebook, and I can tell you she got all excited about cake mix and a packet of Jell-o.

No. No, no, no.

But an actual cake, with actual ingredients: yes, good. In my research I stumbled upon the Norwegian Bl√łtkake, to which this recipe owes much. That cake is usually multiple layers high, but I kept the simplicity of the North American poke cake, and kept mine in a single layer.

Since it's been a while since I did a fancy cake thing, I made some errors. I forgot how quickly sponge cakes overbake, and overbaked mine. Not desperately; it was just a tad drier than it ought to have been. If I had soaked it thoroughly with the stewed strawberries, it would have been no biggie, but I made my second error by thickening the strawberries too much, and they just sat on top rather than really soaking in. After we ate the first couple of pieces I broke out a jar of Rumtopf that someone had given me and applied it vigourously, and we choked it down. Gosh, it was sad. The things I do for this blog. I really should have made another cake to confirm that the corrections I have made to the instructions are, well, correct; but I'm not that dedicated to this blog.

I noticed a lot of the Bl√łtkake recipes call for potato starch as the flour ingredient. I added a bit of arrowroot, which still keeps it gluten free, and if you refrain from dousing it in whipped cream then this is also a dairy free sponge cake recipe. Should you want one. 

12 to 16 servings
1 hour - 20 minutes prep time

Strawberry Poke Sponge Cake

Mix the Dry Ingredients & Prepare to Bake:
1 cup potato starch
1/4 cup arrowroot
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Measure and mix the above ingredients; it's easiest to do this right in a 2 cup measuring cup.

Line a 9" x 13" cake pan with parchment paper, bottom and sides. Just crease firm folds into the paper in the corners; once the batter is in it will hold it in place. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Beat the Egg Whites:
the whites of 6 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Separate the eggs into 2 mixing bowls; the whites going into a larger one as all the ingredients will ultimately join them; the yolks in a slightly smaller one.

Add the cream of tartar to  the egg whites and beat them until stiff.

Finish Making the Cake:
the yolks of 6 large eggs
1 cup sugar
the finely grated zest of 1 lemon
the juice of 1 lemon

To the bowl with the yolks add the sugar, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Beat them until very light and fluffy - no need to clean the beater if you have beaten the egg whites already.

Fold the dry ingredients and the egg yolk mixture alternately into the beaten egg whites; the dry ingredients go in in 3 parts and the egg yolk mix in 2 parts; so dry, wet, dry, wet, dry. Fold gently and keep the mixture as light as possible while incorporating everything so it is well combined.

Gently scrape the very light batter into the prepared cake pan and smooth it out. Bake at 350°F 30 to 35 minutes, until the cake is golden brown on top and springs back when lightly touched. Do not overbake!

Let the cake cool and place it on the plate from which it is to be served. 

Add the Strawberries:
4 cups strawberries
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup cold water
2 tablespoons arrowroot

Wash and hull the berries. Put them in a large pot with the remaining ingredients. Mash them with a potato masher. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring constantly, until soft and thickened. I just kept stirring/mashing with the potato masher; worked well.

Use the blunt end of a chopstick to poke holes all over the cake. Pour/spread the strawberry topping evenly over the top of the cake.

Top with the Cream & Finish:
2 to 3 cups whipping cream
2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup sugar
1 to 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups strawberries

Beat the cream with the sugar and vanilla until stiff. Spread over the cake. Two cups will cover the top with cream; 3 cups will allow you to cover the sides as well.

Wash and hull the strawberries, and use them to decorate the cake.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Haskap Vinaigrette

Haskaps are pretty much done, but I was left with a handful in the fridge after my pie-making venture. This is tart and tasty and will really make any simple mixed green salad sing. Use it on more complex salads too. 

4 to 8 servings
15 minutes prep time

Haskap Vinaigrette

1/2 cup haskap berries
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon honey
1/3 cup cold pressed sunflower seed oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Wash and pick over the haskap berries, removing any leaves or calyxes. Put them in a blender or food processor with the remaining ingredients, and process until smoothly blended. Transfer to a serving container and keep refrigerated until ready to use.

I expect this to keep in the fridge for up to a week. Toss over mixed greens, with or without fruit and nuts, or whatever salad ingredients will go with a fruity sweet-sour dressing.

Last year at this time I made Strawberry-Haskap Jam... huh. 

Monday, 27 June 2016

Drought Measures in the Garden

Here it is, almost July, and the garden is looking good! We have a certain amount of anxiety going on though, because it has been so HOT and so DRY.

We went into spring with a bit of a water deficit, due to the lack of snow over the winter. April and May managed to get enough rain to be okay, but we have not had any rain since the last time I posted, on June 6th when we got a small rainfall to alleviate what was then already a dry situation.

We get very fluctuating summers here. Hot, dry summers are not uncommon, although we have had summers where it has rained regularly and not gotten above 20°C too. They seem to go in cycles, and we were about due for a hot stinker and here we are.

Peas are looking good, up above (better than they actually are in fact). This isn't going to be a bumper year for peas. We will get a reasonable quantity, but expect the season to be short and the quality not top notch.

Our carrots are behind the times, which is a problem. Garden row cover helps keep them moist while we get them fully germinated and from tiny seedlings to, well, less tiny seedlings. As we often do, we had to do a second seeding because the first seeding had such a terrible germination rate. My expensive and hard gotten French seeds, too.

In this weather (well in any weather) they must be kept very moist at this stage. That means that it is not unusual for us to water them twice a day. As they get larger we can let up on this level of attention. It's much better if we can get them going earlier in the season before it is both dry and hot.

The carrots going to seed in the bean bed are a mixed success. One particular carrot variety overwintered very well, and there are enough carrots that they are really interfering with the beans. We think we can make this work better in the future though, by harvesting the carrots with the intention of leaving the ones to go to seed in the 2 open spaces created by the 3 rows of beans rather than higglety-pigglety.

Our Strike peas are finished and out; the Knight peas should be out within 3 days. Now we are just in the process of cleaning out the weeds before we replant with beans. On schedule for before July 1st, which is our goal. 

Mr. Ferdzy has completed digging and gravelling the long central path in our four-square garden plan. This is a milepost! Having the gravel paths make it so much easier to manoeuvre, and it also makes weeding and other maintenance much faster. Plus it's just so nice not to be under construction!

Oops, did I say it's nice not to be under construction? Mr. Ferdzy has moved on and started the final interior path (and little leg out from it) of our main bed complex. However, we have not been managing to keep that path mowed and clear, so even under construction it is more passable than it was.

Ultimately we would like to have the gravel path surround the outside of the main bed complex too, but that won't be this year. This section may not even be done this year due to an upcoming hernia operation, but right now he is enthused and whipping along. That will just leave the 2 beds next to this path which have gotten completely overgrown and need to be rehabilitated. I hope to make some more progress on them once I have the main garden weeding under control... *hollow laugh*

This is fun! It's the perennial wheat I got from Annapolis Seeds and planted last year. It was sold as Eezer, but I have since discovered the correct name is Ezeer, and it was bred by Tim Peters

In its first season it was just basically clumps of grass. This year it has formed very wheaty-looking seed heads and yeah, those seed heads are pretty much at eye-level. I didn't realize it would be quite so tall, but it's so light and airy it's fine. This could definitely be grown as an ornamental, although we're a little curious about how much it will self-seed if not harvested. Not that we really intend to find out.

Okay, I haven't actually said much about drought measures in the garden, have I? Here's one of them. We are acquiring 2 litre pop bottles, by fair means and foul (by drinking club soda and performing garbage night blue-bin raids). The bottoms are cut off, and the capless bottles are then planted head-down near to a plant or several, so water can be directed right to their roots, avoiding wholesale scattering of water and excess evaporation. Works quite well, but only on the larger plants. Onions, carrots, peas and beans, etc, are too small and close together. They are better watered with soaker hose laid down shortly after they come up (i.e. before they get too big to get it in without damaging them).

Once the bottles are set up we then aim to mulch the beds with wood chips. We get them for free by calling tree cutting companies, who are often happy to drop their wood chips on your driveway if they are working in your neighbourhood. It saves them  having to haul them elsewhere and dispose of them. Wood chips have their problems as a mulch - mostly they last several years, and small things struggle to come up amongst them, and also they make weeding difficult - but they really keep in moisture and cut down the number of weeds by a lot. Over time they decay and add to the fertility of the soil. We need to rake them off of beds which are to be planted with onions or carrots but that is still a lot of work saved overall.

Lawn clippings are another good source of mulch, but we learned the hard way that we should only use them until things growing in the lawn start going to seed... then we should stop, stat. We put a lot of weed seeds into some beds that way before we smartened up.

If you are my age or older and used to read garden books back in the '70s, you will know they all used to recommend that you raise your beds or at least plant things mounded up for best results. That's because all the garden books sold in Canada seemed to be actually British. We don't have their cool rainy summers for the most part so we should really be doing the opposite. When I plant anything expected to take up a square foot or more, I scoop a little valley a few inches deep and plant it in that. That will help hold the water when you water them. Those little valleys tend to fill in and need to be replaced by the pop bottles, but they really help things get established while you are working on that. 

If watering is difficult to impossible, it's best to leave more space between vegetables if you think it will be a dry season. On the other  hand, we  have found with the present and seed crops doubled up in some beds that while they dry out quicker, our watering is concentrated so this may be a reasonable strategy if watering is possible.

ADDED: After I wrote this yesterday afternoon, we got some rain! Fourteen milimetres, yee-haw - well that should take us to Thursday anyway. Better than a kick in the head with a frozen boot. 

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Haskap & Dried Apple Pie

For the first time we picked enough haskap berries to be able to make a pie. Since they are so tart, I decided I would cut them with some apples. Because they are very juicy, I thought it might help if the apples were dried.

This is the first haskap pie I have ever made, and while the results were good and were consumed with enthusiasm, there were some minor points for improvement. I did not add the sugar suggested in the recipe, just the honey, but next time I would. They really are SO SOUR.

The other problem was that it leaked all over. Bake this pie on a tray! This site notes that haskap pie may leak less if the berries are frozen then thawed. Since even with 5 haskap shrubs it took me about a week to accumulate enough berries, that may not be a bad idea. However, the pie was fine with fresh berries - just messy. I used ready-made pie crust for this, which perhaps was not quite as robust as if I had had time to make my own.

People really liked the texture of this pie as well as the flavour - mincemeat was the comparison that kept coming up. Also like mincemeat, it is rich and intensely flavoured. Smaller pieces than usual may be in order. 

8 servings
1 hour prep time; 1 hour bake time

Haskap & Dried Apple Pie

pastry for a double pie; maybe this one

60 grams (2 ounces; 1 cup) dried apples
2/3 cup honey
1/3 cup sugar, OPTIONAL
1/4 cup water
4 cups haskap berries
1/4 cup minute tapioca

Make the pastry and let it rest.

Put the apples, honey, sugar if using, and water into a pot and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 5 minutes, then cover and let cool.

While the apples cool, wash and pick over the berries. Stir them into the cooled apples, then the tapioca. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Roll out the pastry as described in the recipe, and scrape in the filling. Top with the remaining rolled out pastry, and seal it well. Cut some steam vents and bake the pie for 50 minutes to an hour, until well browned.