Saturday, 29 May 2010

I Have Not Fallen Off the Face of the Earth

My father and his partner were here for a long weekend, a visit which overlapped with me coming down with a nasty cold. The tide of snot is starting to recede, and my brain is starting to function again, so who knows; I may post something of substance in the upcoming week.

In the mean time, I leave you with this picture of another visitor we had this week. It's a midland painted turtle. We offered it some lettuce but it did not eat it and eventually wandered off. It seemed to have a definite plan in mind. Wish I could say the same.

We think another turtle laid some eggs in one of our flower beds; at least there are narrow dragging marks, and a carefully dug depression. Having seen other turtle tracks I would have said it was a snake, except no snakes have ever dug a hole that I have heard of... it would be, to say the least, surprising. We will leave that spot unplanted and see if anything happens.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Beet & Radish Salad

Last years roots with this years roots go well together. What can I say? It's a nice, easy salad.

4 servings
20 minutes prep time - plus time to cook & cool the beet & chill salad

1 large beet
12 to 16 red radishes, slivered
1 stalk celery, chopped fine
1 green onion

¼ cup yogurt or sour cream
the juice of ½ lemon
½ teaspoon mustard or horseradish
salt & pepper

Cook the beet, either by boiling it for about 40 minutes or by wrapping it in foil and roasting it at 350°F for about 40 minutes. Let it cool, then peel and grate it.

Wash and trim the radishes and cut them into slivers. Wash and trim the celery and green onion, and chop them.

Whisk together the yogurt or sour cream, the lemon juice, the mustard or horseradish, and a bit of salt and pepper. Toss with the vegetables. You can serve it at once but a half hour or so in the fridge will help the flavours blend.

Last year at this time I made Pea Shoots & Green Onions and Chocolate Ganach Frosting. Um, not together. Seperately.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Spicy Indian Style Mushrooms

Hey look; I cooked something. This is a rich and tasty dish with a bit of a kick from the cayenne. You can serve it as a main dish with rice, in which case it should provide 4 servings, or as a side dish where it will go considerably further. Also, watch the cayenne. At 1/4 teaspoon it will be medium-spicy; at half a teaspoon it will have a much stronger bite.

4 to 8 servings
45 minutes - 45 minutes prep time

Indian Style Mushrooms
500 grams (1 pound) button mushrooms
1 large onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic (2 cloves)
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
1/4 cup poppy seeds
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup water
1/4 cup smooth peanut butter
1/3 cup plain yogurt

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Clean the mushrooms, trimming off any dark stem ends. Cut them in halves or quarters if they are large.

Peel and chop the onion fairly finely. Peel and mince the garlic, and peel and grate or finely mince the ginger.

Heat the oil in a large skillet, and sauté the onion until soft and showing signs of colour. Add the poppy seeds and cook for a minute longer. Add the mushrooms and cook for several minutes, turning them every so often until they are browned and cooked down.

Add the cayenne and turmeric, and sauté for just a minute more. Be careful; the cayenne may cause choking fumes if it cooks too long before you add the water. So, add the water and mix well once the cayenne and turmerichave been well mixed in.

Once the water is blended in, add the peanut butter and continue cooking and stirring to dissolve and work in the peanut butter. Season with the salt. Mix in the yogurt, and when the mixture is smooth and heated through, remove the mushrooms to a serving dish and garnish with the chopped cilantro. Serve at once.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Another Garden Report

Because really, that's about all I've been doing for the last week, and about all I expect to be doing for the next week. It's garden crunch time.

This is what most of my morning looks like, at least the hose-nozzle part. Not all the beds have burlap on them; only the carrots and celery to keep their tiny, tiny seeds shaded and damp as they -hopefully - germinate. For people with a yard full of Queen Anne's lace, we sure do have a hard time getting any carrots to germinate.

We still have those last 2 beds to dig... other things just keep popping up on the to-do list before them. Not for much longer though; we want to plant them in about a week so I will have to get cracking on them. They will get the eggplants and chiles in one bed and melons and squash in the other.

This is our lettuce bed. Not impressive, is it? There is lettuce in there. Some. Not doing much. There are definitely plants we can grow well in this garden, and plants we can't, and it looks like lettuce is going to be a "can't". The spinach in the next bed is doing quite well though.

We planted the tomatoes a few days back. Yes, that's early, but we put them under the movable hoop houses so we can pull a plastic blanket over them and keep them warm at night. They are settling in nicely and looking very happy. They were definitely getting a bit leggy and yellow in their pots.

Aaaand the coldframe spinach planted last fall just keeps on going. It's a little frightening, almost. My previous experience of growing spinach consists of having three puny little leaves grow and do nothing for a month or so, and then it bolts. Fall planting, in compost, in the cold frame. Sounds like something from "Clue" but, damn, it works. We'll be doing that again for sure, and looking at other things to fall plant too.

Oh, and we do have rhubarb. This is the rhubarb that we divided in the fall (3 clumps worth) with the 5 clumps we didn't get to yet right behind them. Rhubarb! Rhubarb! Rhubarb!

Oh, and that's rhubarb too. We have lots, yes. It's one of those things either you have none and pine for it or you have so much you don't know what to do with it. After all those finicky vegetables it's nice to have a plant you couldn't kill with an axe though.

Anyway, gotta go. I've still got a bed to dig today. Not the one of the last 2 veggie beds; a different one. I'll be back... someday.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Frog Soup

No frogs were harmed in the making of this soup. However "Frog soup!" is what my Mom said as I put a bowl in front of her and now I guess I can't call it anything else. In fact the green comes from ramps and fiddleheads and the little froggy heads peeping up from the soupy swamp are also fiddleheads.

Alas this is pretty much the last of the ramps for the year, at least around here. Fiddleheads should be around a little longer, but they too are moving along. Sorry as I am to see them go I will not be sad to see the weather get a little warmer. And soon, strawberries! Okay, then.

This was a nice soup but I have to admit it took too damn many pots. Not sure how to get the number down.

If you want to make it in advance and reheat it, no problem. You'll just have to also drop the reserved fiddleheads for garnishing into boiling water for a minute or two to reheat them.

3 to 4 servings
30 minutes prep time

Frog Soup with Ramps and Fiddleheads
2 large potatoes
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup cleaned and trimmed raw fiddleheads
2 bunches ramps (24 to 32)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons flour
salt & pepper to taste

Scrub the potatoes, trimming off any bad spots, and cut them into chunks. Put them in a pot with the chicken stock, and bring to a boil. Boil until the potatoes are tender.

Put the cleaned, trimmed fiddleheads into another pot with water to just cover, and bring to a boil. Boil for about 4 minutes, then drain and replace the water. Boil them for another 4 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut the white parts off from the ramps, and trim and wash them. Chop the green tops of the ramps, and set them aside for the moment.Chop the white parts finely, and sauté them in the butter until lightly browned. Add the flour, and season with salt and pepper - the amount of salt will depend on how much is in the chicken stock. I used a teaspoon, but my stock was unsalted.

When the flour is pretty much cooked onto the ramps, put them into the pot with the potatoes as they cook. Add the chopped ramp tops as well.

Drain the fiddleheads, and put 1/3 to 1/2 of them into the soup, and keep the remaing 1/2 to 2/3 aside to garnish the finished soup.

Put the soup into a blender or food-processor and blend until smooth, but do not overdo it, or the potatoes may become gummy. Reheat the soup if necessary, and serve garnished with the remaining fiddleheads.

Last year at this time I made Irish Soda Bread.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Garibaldi Biscuits; a.k.a. Sultana Biscuits, Squashed Fly Biscuits , Etc.

Do you remember these things? They used to come in a small rectangular package of several sheets of thin, perforated cookies, which you then broke along the dotted line and ate, preferably with a nice cup of tea, dunking optional. They were the perfect cookie to have with tea, being not too sweet and rather dry, apart from the hit of the rich moist raisins. They were made, I'm pretty sure, by Nabisco.They were also discontinued sometime in the '90's, to great wailing and gnashing of teeth, at least in this household.

But we can rebuild them. We have the technology. Oh, wait; I'm getting a little carried away with this blast from the past stuff. And actually, we - or at least I - can't reproduce that dry, flakey texture that the original factory-baked cookies had. But I can come up with something that's still pretty damn good. Time for a tea break. Pass the bickies.

My mother and I think the amount of raisins is perfectly fine. Mr. Ferdzy thinks they could use more. If you think you might belong to the Mr. Ferdzy school of thought, feel free to put in another quarter cup or so of them.

32 to 48 cookies
1 hour - 35 minutes prep time

Garibaldi Biscuits
2 cups soft whole wheat flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup chopped raisins
1/2 cup milk

1 1/2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon sugar

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Cut 2 pieces of parchment paper to fit 2 large cookie sheets.

Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut the butter into small chunks and cut or rub it into the flour mixture. Chop the raisins and mix them in as well.

Add the milk and stir until the mixture comes together and forms a dough. You may need to work it a bit, and press it together with your fingers; the dough should be fairly stiff and dry. However, stop mixing as soon as it comes together. This dough is somewhat like pie pastry and should be treated similarly.

Divide the dough into 2 equal portions and roll each portion out to about 1/8th of an inch thick, and in as neat a rectangle as you can manage. I trim the edges and patch it up a bit as I work to keep it neat. You may need to dust it with a little flour to keep the rolling pin from sticking.

Cut the rectangle with a pizza cutter to form smaller rectangular shapes; about 16 to 24 of them. Lift the parchment onto one of the cookie trays, and put it in the oven. Bake for 10 minutes, then brush with the glaze and return the cookie tray to the oven for 12 to 14 minutes more, until the biscuits are golden brown and quite firm.

To make the glaze, just mix the milk and sugar until the sugar is dissolved. It may help to heat the mixture in the microwave for about 10 to 20 seconds.

While the first tray of biscuits is in the oven, roll out and prepare the second tray of biscuits.

The cookies should be fairly firm when they come out of the oven, but they will continue to harden and crisp up as they cool, so don't worry if they aren't as firm as you think they ought to be. Re-cut the lines as soon as the cookies come out of the oven, unless you want to re-create the experience of breaking up the cookies as you eat them.

Last year at this time I wrote about Red Prince Apples.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Spinach with Feta & Dill

In other words, it's spanakopita without the pita; actually it's more simplified even than that, since it doesn't contain eggs. Served over rice and made a little heavy on the cheese it was our whole meal, but if you lightened up on the cheese it would make a good side dish.

I will no doubt make this again (we continue to have the most terrifyingly productive spinach patch I've ever seen) and maybe next time I will serve it over a baked potato or noodles. A fried or poached egg might be nice on the side, and would continue the spanakopita theme.

2 to 6 servings
20 minutes prep time

Spinach with Feta and Dill
6 cups spinach
4 to 6 green onions
1/4 cup chopped fresh dillweed
2 tablespoon minced fresh mint
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
1 teaspoon rubbed oregano
100 grams (4 ounces) feta cheese

Wash and drain the spinach, and chop it fairly coarsely. Put it in a large pot and cook it until it is just limp. Drain it well. Let it cool enough to handle, squeeze it dry and chop it again. This could be done in advance, if you like.

Wash, trim and chop the green onions. Wash, drain and chop the dill and mint. Cut the feta cheese into dice.

Heat the oil in a large skillet and cook the onions for several minutes. Sprinkle over the oregano, and add the dill and mint. Cook for a minute, stirring until they are evenly wilted down. Add the spinach and the feta cheese and heat through. The feta should just be starting to melt.

Last year at this time I made Portobello Mushrooms Stuffed with Goat Cheese & Asparagus (or Spinach).

Monday, 10 May 2010


Fried Onion Rings

A little while back we ate at a "Chinese" buffet - yeah, in a small Ontario town; I should know better - where I ate some of the worst onion rings I have ever had. No, scratch that. They were definitely the worst. THEY DIDN'T EVEN HAVE ONIONS IN THEM! Who ever heard of that? They were just machine-formed circles of dough with chips of what seemed like rubbery reconstituted dehydrated onion in them, fried to an attractive golden-brown in tired old oil. They were truly grim.

As sometimes happens when I eat something bad that should have been good, I become obsessed with making it myself. I also thought the sweet pink onions I've been cooking with lately would make excellent onion rings, and they do, oh yes.

These are more or less deep fried, but you can do it in a skillet with a reasonable amount of oil, so I'm actually willing to do it once in a blue moon. Strain any leftover oil into a jar and keep in the fridge. Use it for cooking things that will do with a bit of onion flavour; fried rice, sautéed vegetables and so forth. Save any leftover buttermilk and put it in mashed potatoes, but that should be done within 24 hours or so, unlike the oil which should keep for a few days.

There seems to be two schools of onion ring thought out there; either they are dipped into a proper batter and fried, or they are marinated in buttermilk then coated in flour and fried. I opted for the second school of thought and have not been sorry. The results are delectable and the coating can be relied upon to stick. A number of recipes call for the addition of herbs and/or spices to the flour but I actually like just plain flour best. Why interfere with the flavour of the lovely onions? Well okay; a little salt and pepper is good.

4 servings
20 minutes - plus 24 hours to marinate

Onion Rings

1 or 2 large mild onions ( I used a sweet pink onion)
1 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup white flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 cup mild vegetable oil to fry

Peel the onion and slice it into even, 1/4 inch slices horizontally, so that the slices will separate into rings. Put them into a container and pour the buttermilk over them, lifting and turning them so that they are well coated. Seal them well and store in the fridge overnight to 24 hours. Use two onions if you only want to use the largest rings, and save all the smaller rings (about half of the total onion mass) for other purposes.

Mix the flour, salt & pepper in a shallow bowl. Mix the onions gently but well in the buttermilk again, making sure all are well-coated. Using a fork, lift a few at a time into the dish of flour, and turn them until they are well coated in the flour. Set the coated rings aside on a plate until you are ready to fry. You can stack them up, but carefully; making sure they don't stick to each other.

Heat the oven to 300°F, and put in a heat-proof dish to hold the finished onion rings and keep them hot.

Heat the oil in a large skillet until hot over medium-high heat. Add an onion ring to test it, and when it begins to sizzle well, add more onion rings to fill the pan without crowding it. Fry the onion rings for 3 or 4 minutes in total each, turning them to brown them on both sides. When they are browned on both sides, lift them out with a slotted spoon, and put them in the oven to keep hot. Add more rings to the pan, and continue cooking until all are done.

Blot the hot onion rings briefly on paper towel, and serve at once.

Last year at this time I made Pasta with Cheddar, Cream & Spring Veggies.

Friday, 7 May 2010

A Visit to Nor-Cliff Farms

When we headed down to the Niagara Peninsula last Tuesday the other place we went, besides Grimo Nut Nursery was to Nor-Cliff Farms. Nor-Cliff is not your average farm.

Here's one of their "fields". Yes, it's basically the edge of a bog; the Wainfleet bog to be precise. The locals were amused when "folks from the city" bought this farm, but in fact they knew what they were doing - their crop is fiddleheads. Fiddleheads, for those unfamiliar with them, are a traditional foraged spring-time treat in eastern Canada. They are the tightly curled frond buds of the Osterich fern (matteuccia struthiopteris), which grows in damp, somewhat shaded places. They were gratefully gathered by first nations tribes and then by settlers to eastern Canada as one of the first green vegetables of spring, and they are still very popular especially in New Brunswick and Quebec.

Another view of the "farmland". I was given a tour by Nina DiLorenzo, one of the partners who own NorCliff Farms, who told me that they farm 40 acres of fiddleheads here. (Nick Secord, the main partner was in Quebec for the harvest.) This is a newish venture, started in 2007, and only a small part of NorCliff farms operations. Most of their fiddleheads are wild harvested in New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario, from land they lease and own, and they have a freezing plant in Asbestos, Quebec. This is their first attempt at actually growing fiddleheads deliberately, although NorCliff Farms has been harvesting and selling fiddleheads since 1974.

The fiddleheads shown above and below are at the right stage to be picked. They start as tight, hard brown nubbins in a circle around the crown of the plant, and as they rise they begin to loosen and unfurl. They should be picked when they have risen a little, but are still quite tightly furled and are a bright fresh green. Because they start so early in the spring, frost damage must be watched for and avoided. Once the leaves begin to unfold, the fronds are too mature to eat. The fiddleheads are not cut off, but carefully broken off to minimize oxidization.

More fiddleheads ready to pick. Only about a third of the fiddleheads should be picked from the plant, in order to keep the plant healthy. Nina recounted how they hired people to plant the young ferns by the bag, with instructions that they should be planted out in rows, as with most crops. They later discovered, to their dismay, that many of them had been shoved into the ground in large clumps. It all worked out though; it turns out that fiddleheads are gregarious and much prefer to grow that way. The tight clumps of ferns will also keep other plants from encroaching much on their territory.

These ostrich ferns were in the garden of the house and were well past the stage for picking. You can get some idea of what large and attractive ferns they will be during the summer season, and you can see some of the dried fronds from last year as well.

Above is a package of Nor-Cliff Farms frozen fiddleheads, so they are available all year. However, from mid April to early June is the prime time for fresh fiddleheads. They are picked in widely seperate places depending on the point in the season. I got a glimpse of the logistical problems involved in ensuring a smooth supply of fiddleheads the day I was there, as Nina scrambled to find a replacement truck to pick up the harvested fiddleheads for one which had cancelled. It must all be a little ad-hoc as the harvest moves around so much. Still, you will find fresh fiddleheads in many Canadian grocery stores at this time of year, as you could since 1974 when Nick Secord got started, somewhat by accident. He wanted to go fishing on a rather exclusive river; his friend, who owned a local Dominion store could get him there. In exchange, he wanted fiddleheads for his grocery store. Nick started supplying Dominion, and the rest is history. I used to shop at Dominion, and it's amusing to think that I was buying Nick and Nina's fiddleheads years ago.

So, once you have some fiddleheads, what should you do with them? You should definitely cook them. They have a delicate yet distinctive flavour and are excellent served simply steamed of boiled for 8-10 minutes, and topped with a dab of butter. If you boil them, it's best to change the water after a few minutes. The water they cook in will turn brown; that's normal and caused by their iron content, but the cooked fiddleheads should be tender and still bright green. Be sure to remove any of the papery brown membrane that may cling to the fiddleheads before cooking. Also, the stems may have darkened (oxidized) at the broken ends and should just be trimmed to remove this. Keep them stored in icy cold water in the fridge. They will keep for up to 2 weeks this way, if freshly picked. Don't forget to check under "fiddleheads" in the side index for recipes. There's only two there at the moment, but more should show up this spring.

Fiddleheads were once regarded as an excellent spring tonic, and they should be still; they contain twice the antioxidants of blueberries, as much vitamin C as spinach, and are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. Like most vegetables, they are low in sodium and high in fibre. This information comes from recent research by the Atlantic Food & Horticulture Research Centre in Nova Scotia, where more research into fiddleheads nutritional profile are underway.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Pizza with Asparagus, Fiddleheads, Mushrooms & Ramps

I've been craving pizza lately, so I drafted Mr. Ferdzy and we made 6 batches of the dough recipe below. We froze most of the dough as I figure it's actually fairly quick to put together a pizza once you have the dough ready - you just have to remember to take it out at least a day ahead of time - and they will make good meals on days we do a lot of gardening.

This one was Spring on a slice, and we just loved it, and ate the whole thing between us in one sitting. Yeah, pigs. Oink. The ramps were just perfect, but it all went together beautifully. You could use all asparagus or all fiddleheads for the greens if you like; just double the one not being eliminated. Morels would be the trendy mushroom to use, but my lifetime record for foraging/finding them for sale is 1*/0, so I just used button mushrooms, and they were fine.

4 to 6 servings
Dough: 15 to 20 minutes prep, 2 hours to rise
To Finish: 30 to 40 minutes prep, 20 minutes to bake and rest
Allow 2 1/2 hours to complete

Pizza with Asparagus Fiddleheads Mushrooms and Ramps
Make the Dough:
1 cup warm filtered water
2 teaspoons fast acting yeast
1 1/3 cups hard white wheat or spelt flour
1 cup whole wheat flour (I used Red Fife)
1/3 cup gluten flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive or sunflower seed oil
a little more whole wheat flour if needed

The water should be just warm, not hot. Sprinkle the yeast over it and let the yeast dissolve and foam for 5 or 10 minutes as you prepare the other ingredients.

Mix the remaining ingredients, except the oil, in a mixing bowl. When the yeast is ready, remove about 1/3 of the flour mixture to clean counter or board. Mix the yeast, water and oil into the remaining flour. Turn the mixture out onto the floured board and knead for 4 to 6 minutes, until all the flour is incorporated and the dough is smooth and elastic. You may need to sprinkle a little more flour over the dough and counter as you knead if the dough is too sticky.

Put the dough into a clean, oiled bowl and cover it with a clean tea-towel. Let the dough rise for about 1 hour in a warm place. It can also be put in a clean plastic bag and kept in the fridge for up to 48 hours if desired.

Lightly oil a 16" perforated pizza pan. Press the dough out to a flat disc on a 16" perforated pie plate. It should pretty much cover the plate evenly. Start from the middle, and work your way out, keeping it even and trying to flatten it, rather than stretch it. Let it rise for about an hour again.

Finish the Pizza:
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon rubbed oregano
1 cup light cream (I used 5%)

4 to 6 asparagus spears
1 cup fresh fiddleheads
1 small bunch (10 to 14) ramps
6 to 8 button or other mushrooms
250 to 375 grams (1/2 to 3/4 pound) mozzerella cheese

Put the butter, flour, salt and seasonings in a small pot and cook together until thick and pasty over medium heat. Reduce the heat, and stir in the cream a little at a time, to make a smooth lump-free sauce. Continue cooking, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens. Set it aside and cool it slightly as you prepare the other toppings.

Wash and trim the asparagus, and cut each spear in half lengthwise. Wash the fiddleheads, removing any of the brown papery membrane which may cling to them. Trim off any darkened stem ends. Blanch them for 2 minutes, then rinse in cold water to stop them cooking any further, and drain well.

Wash and trim the ramps, and chop them finely. Clean and trim the mushrooms, and slice them. Grate the cheese.

Preheat the oven to 475°F.

Spread the sauce evenly over the pizza, and arrange the mushroom pieces evenly over it. Sprinkle about 2/3 of the cheese evenly over the pizza, then arrange the asparagus pieces and fiddleheads over it. Sprinkle over the chopped ramps, and the remaining cheese.

Bake for 15 minutes until the cheese is browned in spots. Let rest for 5 minutes before cutting and serving.

Last year at this time I made Blue Cheese Salad Dressing.

*Not one pound. That's one. One mushroom. Yeah, not impressive.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

A Visit to Grimo Nut Nursery

Last Tuesday we drove down to Niagara-On-The-Lake, to pick up some nut trees we had ordered from Grimo Nut Nursery. Grimo is pretty much the only nut nursery in Ontario. They have been around since the 1970's. They also sell the nuts they grow; again I don't know of any other significant source in Ontario.

Our trees were waiting for us in a dark, damp barn that smelled richly of earth. The trees are dug and kept cool and dark for a brief period of time in the spring until they are shipped or picked up - April is the month to plant your nut trees.

Young trees in their bins wait to be sorted and picked up.

The area around the house is a bit of an arboretum, with labelled specimens of many of the trees they sell. This one is a paw-paw; admittedly not a nut tree. (The Grimo family does grow a few fruit trees - we bought 2 quinces and a mulberry as well.) However, they are a fascinating fruit tree of the Carolinian forest, with fruit that has been compared to bananas and mangos. They are also the only member of their family that grows north of the tropics. (We got two, although ours look more like sticks at the moment.) You can see the bell-shaped flower buds just opening up in the tree above.

This is an American chestnut hybrid, which is dying of chestnut blight. The Grimos are working on developing and selling American chestnut trees with blight resistance. They are philosophical about the presence of blight in their orchards, since it lets them know if their trees are truly resistant, as opposed to just lucky. We ordered our trees a couple of months ago, but we were still too late to order any grafted American chestnuts. A lot of people are interested in them, as they are reputed to be a very tasty nut, and were once one of the most important forest trees in North America before almost all of them died of blight in the first half of the 20th century. We'll have to try again next year.

The farm is a long, narrow piece of land between two fields of grapes. The first half or so is dedicated to growing small trees to be sold.

We walked back to the orchard, where the fully-grown trees were just beginning to bud. It was a rather stark but beautiful spot, with the regularly spaced trees branching up into a blue, blue sky. Not as spectacular as the peach orchards in full bloom we had passed on the way, but it filled me with a peaceful feeling, like being in Meeting.

It was strange to see how the grafted trees had grown. They all had a two-tone look, but in some the graft had stayed low to the ground, and in others it had risen to above head height.

A view back through the orchard towards the house and barns.

Spring is a busy time in an orchard; in addition to all the orders which must be gotten ready to go out, there's pruning and grafting to be done.

Branches of trees selected for nut quality are cut and grafted onto rooted branches of trees selected for hardiness. They are kept in plastic tubes to keep them growing straight.

Some of the grafted "trees" with the plastic tubes in the background.

A tree in the "arboretum" explains a bit about the difference between grafted and seedling trees.

Before we left we stopped into the garage of the house which doubles as a shop to sell their nuts. Yes, of course we bought some! The prices were really quite reasonable, I thought. They can also be ordered by mail.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Pink Onion & Potato Soup

If you read my post about sweet pink onions, you may remember that Frank Schroyens, who grows them here in Ontario, recommended them for soup. Here is my interpretion of the soup he described. I have to say it was quite delicious, and the leftovers have, if anything, improved with standing a day or two. Like vichysoise, which it resembles, I suspect it would be good cold. (I particularly suspect this because I licked out the storage container before putting it in the dishwasher. Yum.)

6 to 8 servings
40 minutes - 30 minutes prep time

Pink Onion and Potato Soup
3 large sweet pink onions
1 large leek
2 or 3 stalks of celery
6 medium (700 grams, 1 1/2 pounds) potatoes
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
1 teaspoon rubbed thyme
1/2 teaspoon celery seed, ground
1 cup light cream (I used 5%)

Peel and chop the onions, no need to do them too finely. Clean and chop the leek and the celery.

Peel the potatoes, and cut them into chunks. Put them in a large soup-pot with water to cover. Bring them to a boil and boil steadily as you sauté the other vegetables.

Heat the butter and oil in a large skillet. Sauté the onions until they begin to soften, then add the leek and celery. Continue cooking, stirring regularly, until all the vegetables are quite soft and cooked down. However, don't let them brown too much if at all. Towards the end, add all the seasonings.

Add the onions, leek and celery to the boiling potatoes. Continue cooking them until the potatoes are quite soft.

Let the soup cool somewhat before proceeding, or completely if you like. You could refrigerate it overnight at this point if you like.

When you are ready to proceed, purée the soup until very smooth. Add the cream and reheat, stirring frequently and not allowing the soup to boil.

Last year at this time I was obsessing about wedding cake, and made a Fabulous Chocolate Frosting.

Monday, 3 May 2010

A Garden Update

It's been a while since I reported on the garden; I've been too busy doing the actual gardening. In particular, our tomato, chile and eggplant seedlings ( and others) have been growing like mad, and we have been hauling them in and out according to the weather. Hopefully after next weekend, when we are expecting to get some low night-time temperatures, we can plant them out permanently. The plan is to start the first batch under the hoop-house, then move the hoop-house for next batch of even more tender plants a week or two later. Yes, there are rather a lot of them. Too damn many.

Here's the compost set up, hopefully composting away. Actually, after this photo was taken we emptied the bin in the back, and put it on a bed which will have potatoes planted into it this evening. And yes! It was real, if slightly lumpy, compost.

A closer look at the compost bins. In spite of all this composting, we need more, so we will be aquiring another manure mountain in the driveway shortly, we hope.

Here's a bed we just finished digging. You can see how dry and sandy it looks compared to the one next to it, which was treated with composted manure last year.

First batch of peas are up and looking good!

Strawberry, raspberry, asparagus and rhubarb beds all look good too... from a distance. I need to get out and weed. All this rain in the last couple days has set things growing.

Yay! First asparagus! This photo is also out of date... first asparagus is now history.

This asparagus shoot - can you even see it? - is from seed planted last year. It will be a couple of years yet before it comes up thick enough to harvest. But we're glad to see it's surviving.

Onions, garlic and shallots continue to do well.

As does the spinach in the coldframe. We've been picking it and eating it, and picking it and eating it, and it still just keeps coming. Amazing. Huge but tender leaves. From now on I will plant spinach in the fall.

This is the only remaining quarter of the veggie garden that has beds that need to be dug, and where nothing has been planted yet this spring. This is where tender, fruit-bearing vegetables will go: tomatoes, chiles, eggplants, squash, melons and cucumbers. Still, we need to get digging. Time is ticking on, and we're getting sick of hauling tomatoes around, into the sun, out of the cold and rain.

Our other big spring project besides finishing the veggie beds was to plant some trees. We ordered 11 nut and fruit trees and picked them up last week. Each one had to be given a sturdy chicken wire cage when planted to keep the deer from eating them. We saw two deer this morning when we went out to check the trees. Actually, Mr. Ferdzy is working on fencing off about half our property from the deer. He still has a long way to go, but we can see that some of the paths are growing over already as he disturbs their usual patterns of movement.

We've been able to get a lot done as it was SO DRY in April. Thank goodness we have had 2 really good, long soaking rains this last weekend. It looks like raining off and on a lot in the next two weeks which may slow us down a bit, but which is very welcome as it was SO DRY in April. We were already worrying about the well running dry and I was out there watering for about 2 hours every morning. Things were still not that happy - plants can sure tell the difference between well water and real rain, and even at 2 hours they were barely damp. The frogs have also been singing away ever since the rain.

Anyway, we are disorganized and behind; what else is new. Still, it will all get done at some point. It's still very early. Everything was about 3 weeks behind at this time last year, so I'm sure we're not as late as I feel like we are. This is plainly going to be a very different year from last year.