Monday, 29 August 2011

Gone Tomato Pickin'

Thank You Jack and Bon Voyage

Not too much will get posted this week. Mr. Ferdzy's Aunt is here from San Francisco, which means I won't do much cooking because she didn't really come to visit us, she came to visit our fresh tomatoes, which need more heat to grow than San Francisco can provide, so she doesn't otherwise get them. Let's just say the timing of this visit was very carefully planned.

Tomatoes with cottage cheese, tomatoes with bread and mayonnaise, tomatoes with salt. Leftover tomato slices eaten over the kitchen sink. I think she's eaten a cob of corn, a few potatoes and some of the green beans. There was a little chard at dinner. She's crazy for wild blueberries, and raves about Ontario peaches. But these are just distractions until I can haul in another ripe tomato from the garden. I've tried to tempt her with some melon, but she got mesmerized by a tomato instead, so maybe tomorrow.

All I can say is this is a great week to not do much cooking, but to go off and eat great big piles of fresh raw or lightly cooked Ontario vegetables and fruit. I suggest you do it too. See you next week.

p.s. Tomatoes in the picture are Persimmon (top left), Djena Lee (toppish right), Banana Legs (long yellow, slightly lower right), Great White (the mid-sized yellow at middle left; a small specimen) and a handful of Jaune Flammé (scattered around the lower left).

Friday, 26 August 2011

Gnadenfeld Melons

Gnadenfeld Melon
We've only been growing melons for a couple of years, but we've been finding them a challenge. Most of them take a long time to ripen, and our season is just not quite long enough. We are in a micro-climate that gives us plenty of frost-free days, but that's not enough. Melons need heat. That's why I was so excited to read this description in the Heritage Harvest website:

"I am very pleased to be able to offer this excellent variety to my customers! This melon has been grown in Gnadenfeld, Manitoba for generations and is named after its place of origin. One of the earliest, most productive and sweetest melons that I have ever tasted! I cannot say enough about this excellent find. The small melons have deep orange fragrant flesh and are produced in abundance. A must for short season areas. (60-65 days) RARE."
So we duly got some seed from Heritage Harvest*, and planted it, and Lo! It germinated! Which has been something of a problem for us with melon seed. It's often pretty iffy. We planted out our little seedlings in their peat pots (melons don't like to have their roots disturbed) into good compost-enriched soil when the weather warranted it. Weeded a bit; watered a bit. Mulched with grass clippings. And for the last couple weeks we've been eating MELONS! Lots of melons! Delicious, ripe, perfumey melons! It's amazing.

In addition to being trouble-free, fine-tasting melons, it's easy to tell when they are ripe, which is not always the case with melons either. The smooth skin under the bumpy melon veins turns from beige to light greeny-yellow. You can smell them, too.

Damn Those Voles
Unfortunately we are not the only ones who can smell them. Our two plants produced 8 or 9 melons thus far (I don't think there will be many, if any, more) but 2 of them got eaten, probably by voles. We have had to set up a trapline by the sole remaining melon, and I check it daily. This is war! I'm not sharing my melons. Well, okay, I am, but I really don't want to.

Next year? We will plant more. I will probably start some a little earlier, under hoop houses. A lot of people plant melons through black plastic, although we've always been a bit more laissez-faire than that. These are so quick to ripen that I'm not sure that's really necessary, although it probably doesn't hurt either.

Next year we will probably also trellis the melons. They did fine just lying on the ground (protected a little by that grass-clipping mulch) but hopefully it will take the voles a little longer to find them if they are up in the air. These are small enough melons that I think they will trellis quite well. I'd say one melon is generally about 4 servings. I suspect their size is the trade-off from being so early and so sweet - something had to give. Size is fine with me; it's actually an excellent size for a two-person household.

*My impression is that no-one else has this melon. Sorry to be flogging something so obscure, but really, I've never had such success with melons and I just have to recommend them.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Balsamic Beans

Oh dear, I feel so bad. Beans again. But the garden is still churning them out, and I still have to find something to do with them. Next year, much fewer beans! Still liked this though.

4 servings
20 minutes prep time - plus cooling time

Balsamic Beans
500 grams (1 pound) green or wax beans
1 small shallot
1 clove of garlic
3 tablespoons sunflower seed oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
fresh black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons finely minced parsley

Wash, trim and slice the beans, and cook them in boiling water for 5 minutes.

While the beans cook, peel and mince the garlic and shallot. Heat one tablespoon of the oil in a small skillet, and sauté the shallot for just a minute, then add the garlic and sauté for a minute more. Add the vineger, sugar and salt, and let boil up.

Drain the beans and put them in a bowl. Pour the boiling mixture over them, and add the remainder of the oil. Mix well. Let cool to room temperature, then add the parsley, washed and finely minced.

Last year at this time I made Pear Jelly with Blueberries.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Scrambled Eggs with Tomatillos

We tried to grow tomatillos last year but we failed. A shocking statement, I know. Tomatillos are essentially weeds. However, I am sure that the virus we had in our pepper bed right next to them affected them badly, even though they didn't show the characteristic twisted leaves of the peppers. They just completely failed to thrive.

It's a completely different story this year. We planted 4 tomatillo plants, and they are currently loaded with fruit and we are up to our eyeballs in tomatillos. Good thing they keep quite well, as I will need some time to figure out what to do with them all.

In the meantime, this was a quick, easy and tasty thing to make with them. I didn't actually cook the eggs and vegetables separately, but next time I will take the few moments needed to do that. The eggs come out much more attractive that way.

2 to 3 servings
20 minutes prep time

Scrambled Eggs with Tomatillos
6 extra-large eggs
salt & pepper
1/4 red pepper
2 cups chopped tomatillos (8 to 16)
1 or 2 green onions
3 or 4 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil, or a bit more

Break the eggs into a bowl, and beat with a fork. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Wash, destem and deseed the pepper, and chop it into smallish pieces. Remove the husks from the tomatillos, and cut out the stem. Cut them into slices, then chop the slices slightly. Wash, trim and chop the green onion. Peel and mince the garlic.

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the tomatillos and red pepper, and sauté for 4 or minutes, until noticeably softened. Add the onion, and cook for a minute or so more. Add the garlic, and cook for just another minute. Remove the vegetables from the pan, making sure it is fairly clean.

It may be necessary to add a little more oil. Reduce the heat to medium and pour in the beaten eggs. Cook until just set, stirring to break them up and prevent them from browning. When they are almost done, add the vegetables back in, and mix gently. Serve as soon as the vegetables are heated through.

Last year at this time I made Cabbage & Cheese Curds with Tomato & Tamari and also a Bacon-Cilantro -Tomato Sandwich.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Strawberry - Banana Sorbet

I've made versions of this simple, all-fruit sorbet before, with raspberries and peaches and with sour cherries and apricots. You can add a little sugar if you feel it needs it, but really just the fruit is usually sweet enough by itself.

Strawberries are not really in season right now, but maybe you froze some earlier, or if not, maybe you will be lucky and find some of the day-neutral strawberries that continue to produce through the summer at a farmers market.

6 to 8 servings
15 minutes prep time, plus time to freeze

Strawberry-Banana Sorbet
1 quart (4 cups) strawberries
2 large bananas

Wash and hull the strawberries, and spread them on a tray to freeze. Freeze until solidly frozen.

The bananas should be nicely ripe. They can be frozen whole, with the peels on, or peeled and frozen.

Once the fruit is frozen, let it sit out of the freezer for 10 minutes (I know, I know) then put it into a food processor. Obviously, if you left the peel on the bananas they should be peeled first. Cut off the ends, and cut a slit from end to end. It should come off fairly easily. At any rate, cut the bananas into chunks before putting them in the food processor.

Process the fruit until very smoothly blended, probably about 5 minutes. Stop and scrape down the sides regularly.

That's it! Serve at once, or put the sorbet into a container to return to the freezer. If it is left in the freezer for any length of time, it will likely need to be tempered in the fridge for 10 or 15 minutes before serving.

Last year at this time I made Pizza-Style Zucchini and Chocolate Icebox Cake with Raspberries and ranted about the quality of whipping cream nowadays.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Grandma Nellie's Yellow Mushroom Beans & Wood's Early (Prolific) Scallop Squash

Wood's Early Pattypan (Scallop) Squash with Grandma Nellie's Yellow Mushroom BeansHere are two very unusual vegetables, and an advertisement for growing your own. You are very unlikely to find these for sale!

Grandma Nellie's Yellow Mushroom Beans:

Grandma Nellie's Yellow Mushroom Beans (hereinafter refered to as "Grandma Nellie's") were brought to Saskatchewan from Russia in the early 20th century. In 1952, seeds were given to Nellie Chernoff, who grew them until 1988, when her granddaughter took over growing them. (information is from Heritage Harvest). I've been seeing them listed around a few places in the last couple of years and they sounded intriguing enough to try.

These are a pole bean, and like all our other pole beans they have grown long and tall, and produced like billy-o. They are the only pole bean where we are NOT crying, "Hold! Enough!", but that is only because we didn't get a lot of seeds to plant. They are just as prolific as any of our pole beans. They are also very popular around here, and why wouldn't they be? They remain tender until they are quite large, they are an attractive shade of yellow with green spots glowing through, even more so when cooked, and finally they really and truly have a flavour reminiscent of both beans and mushrooms! They're delicious!

Like all pole beans, Grandma Nellie's must be planted once the soil warms up towards the end of May or early June and they need good support. They begin to produce in about 75 days. After that you just pick, and pick and pick... until frost, probably, although they do seem to produce beans in waves every few days.

They've been pretty tolerant of the yellow bean mosaic virus we've had in the garden this year, although they are starting to show a few signs of being stressed by it. They aren't the best for resistance to it, but they are not the worst either. We can't complain. They've produced a lot of truly unique and wonderful beans. We will grow them again next year for sure.

Wood's Early (Prolific) Pattypan or Scallop Squash:

There are a fair number of pattypan squash around, but many of the ones for sale now are hybrids. I don't know why; none have been quite as good as this one, in my opinion. Wood's Early, or Prolific, as I've also seen it listed, was introduced in 1899 by T. W. Woods & Sons of Richmond, Virginia.

This has been a great squash for us. I've seen this one listed as both Wood's Early and Wood's Prolific, but whatever you want to call it, it's as easy and trouble-free as any other summer squash and starts producing in about 50 days.

These squash are best fairly young and tender, but we've been letting them get up to 4" or 5" across, and they've still been delicate and not seedy. They have a lovely mild flavour, and excellent texture. They are very attractive, with their space-ship shape and light greeny-white colour. Keep them picked, and they should keep going until frost.

They do need to be cut with scissors. The bushes are a little prickly, and the shape makes them not too easy to get at. Mind you, the same can be said about zucchini in general.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Cocoa Zucchini Loaf

Yes, it's zucchini season. Yes, we are getting more than we can eat. Yes, we are trying our best to use them up. So yes, I guess this was inevitable. It's a classic thing to do with too many zucchini after all.

Most recipes for Zucchini Loaf call for too much sugar and not enough zucchini. I have attempted to fix that little problem. Actually, I think the loaf could take even more zucchini than I used. I will have to try it again to see... such a pity.

2 loaves
1 hour 20 minutes - 20 minutes prep time

Cocoa Zucchini Loaf

2/3 cup mild vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
3 extra-large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 cups grated zucchini
3 cups soft whole wheat flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cocoa

Butter 2 standard loaf pans, or line them with parchment paper, and set aside. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a good-sized mixing bowl, mix together the oil and sugar. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla extract. Grate the zucchini and set it aside.

Measure the flour, baking powder, salt and cocoa, and sift them into the bowl with the sugar and eggs. Add the zucchini, and mix just until well blended.

Divide the batter evenly between the 2 prepared loaf pans. Bake for about 1 hour, until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the loaves comes out clean.

Last year at this time I made Gazpacho... with zucchini.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Envol Potatoes

Envol Potatoes

When we visited Pinehaven Farm last fall, we didn't take much notice of this potato. John Wood didn't mention them and we didn't ask about them. It wasn't until we were making up a list of potatoes to grow this year that we thought we ought to have an early one. This was the earliest on his list, so we asked for it.

Envol is a recent potato, bred by Les Buissons Research Centre in Quebec in 1987, and registered in 1999. I'm looking at the local white potatoes available in the grocery store right now though, and I'm pretty sure they're Envol. They appeared right around the time we dug ours. It seems to have become very popular very quickly.

This is an absolutely typical, even archtypical potato; the tubers varied in size but many of them were a nice large size, with very white flesh with a light brown skin, a dry, floury texture and classic potato flavour when cooked. Eyes are shallow, making them smooth and easy to peel, although the skins are thin and unobtrusive. I've been leaving them on.

You're going to see this potato around a lot because of its agricultural qualities as much as its culinary qualities. It's one of the earliest potatoes I've seen, ready in 70 days from planting. We planted about 2 pounds and harvested 18 pounds; not bad at all given how early it was. Envol is supposed to store very well. It's unlikely we'll have any to store though, because we are enjoying them very much.

It sounds like Envol is The Almost Perfect Potato, but alas, it seems that its disease-resistance is average to poor. However, it's worth noting that we have a few Colorado potato beetles in the garden this year, but they didn't get near Envol because they were harvested before the beetles even showed up. That's one way to beat them! By planting Envol early you can avoid many of the problems with disease which don't really tend to pile up until later in the summer.

We actually dug our Envol on day 69 from planting. For about a week it was clear that the plants were dying down, and once they started to go they went fairly quickly. We could have left them for another week or two, I suppose. One thing to note about Envol is that it was bred in a fairly cool northern climate. That has its advantages for us Canadians, but it is also not too tolerant to extreme heat and drought. We kept ours well watered and they did fine, but it is undoubtedly important to do that during periods of drought, otherwise they may die down prematurely leaving a smaller crop.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Eggplant, Potato, Bean & Pepper Stir-Fry

Okay, the green beans are slowing down; really, they are. And other things are producing too. Our first eggplants, for instance!

This was inspired by some of the dishes a Malaysian-Chinese room-mate of mine used to make. He used potatoes more as a vegetable, while I had always used them as a starch. He would have served something like this with rice for sure, although I served it as-is with some pan-fried fish on the side. Every single veggie is from our garden, which is always a thrill when that happens.

This isn't exactly a stir-fry since it doesn't happen very quickly, but I don't know what you would call it. Close enough for me.

4 servings
40 minutes prep time

Eggplant Potato Green Bean Red Pepper and Onion Stir-Fry
Prepare the Veggies:
450 grams (1 pound) potatoes
250 grams ( 1/2 pound) green beans
250 grams (1/2 pound or 2 large) long Chinese eggplants
1 large onion
1 large red pepper

Wash the potatoes and cut them into chunks. Put them in a pot with water to cover, and bring them to a boil. Boil for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile wash, trim and chop the beans. Wash and trim the eggplants, and cut them into 1 cm wide slices. Cut the slices in half if they are large. Peel and chop the onion coarsely. Wash, trim, deseed and chop the red pepper into bite-sized pieces.

When the potatoes have boiled for 10 minutes, put the green beans in a colander, and drain the water from the potatoes over them to blanch them, but keep the potatoes in the pot so they are separate from each other. Rinse them both in cold water, and drain again.

Make the Sauce:
1 tablespoon peeled, minced ginger
4-5 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

2 teaspoons arrowroot or corn starch
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
3 tablepsoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon Sucanat or dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper flakes

The ginger and garlic don't exactly go into the sauce; peel them and mince them and set them aside.

Mix the remaining ingredients in a small bowl.

Finish the Dish:
3 to 4 tablespoons mild vegetable oil

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a very large skillet. Add the potatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minute until they are lightly browned.

Add another tablespoon of oil, and the eggplants. Cook, stirring frequently, for another 5 minutes.

Add the onions, pepper, and green beans and a little more oil if needed, and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the ginger and garlic, stir in well then add the sauce ingredients, still stirring. As soon as the sauce thickens - in moments - remove from the heat and serve.

Last year at this time I made Peach Jelly with Mint.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Bean Soup

Mr Ferdzy: "Waiter, what is this?"
Waiter: "It's Bean Soup, sir."
Mr. Ferdzy: "I don't care what it's been, what is it now?"

A thigh-slapper from the Pleistocene

So, anyway, we had all these beans. (You may have noticed.) Fortunately, it has gotten a little cooler and they seem to be slowing down some. Meanwhile, I made soup, and lots of it. Feel free to cut this in half if you are not quite so awash in beans, and don't need to feed an army.

At this time of year you could use fresh herbs - savory would be good, but nothing wrong with the basil if you had it. I did not use green onions, as such, but the large green top from a fresh garden onion. If you like, you could chop and sauté a little garlic to be added to the soup when it is puréed.

8 to 12 servings
1 hour prep time

Bean Soup
8 cups chicken stock
2 medium-large potatoes
8 cups chopped green beans
2 large patty pan squash (or medium zucchini)
4 green onions
2 teaspoons rubbed basil
salt & pepper to taste

Put the chicken stock into a large soup pot. Scrub the potatoes, and cut them in chunks, and add them to the broth. Turn it on to cook.

Wash, trim and chop the beans. Add them to the stock when the potatoes are half cooked, and cook for another 15 minutes or so. At about the 10 minute mark, add the squash or zucchini, washed and cut in large slices. Wash and chop the green onions, and add them at about the 5 minute mark.

When all the vegetables are tender, purée the soup in blender or food processor until fairly smooth. Season with the basil, and salt and pepper to taste.

If the soup has cooled, reheat to serve.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Fruit Streusel Cake

I have made this cake a couple of times this month and it has been a big hit. It's a little understated, yet somehow very luxurious. Beautiful fresh summer fruit helps!

I've made it with peaches, as shown, but I think it's even better with blueberries. It would work with apricots, raspberries, blackberries, cherries, pears, plums, or apples. Cranberries? I might toss them with a little sugar first, as I would rhubarb, but they would work too, I'm sure. Very versatile! Very yummy!

If you want to use soft whole wheat flour in this, you can. I used approximately half whole wheat flour and half unbleached flour. If you use whole wheat flour, you should add an extra tablespoon of it; level if you use half and rounded if you use all whole wheat.

8 to 10 servings
1 hour 45 minutes - 45 minutes prep time

Peach Streusel Cake
Make the Streusel & Get Set Up:
2/3 cup flour
1/2 cup Sucanat or dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 cups diced peaches, blueberries or other fruit

Mix the flour, sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Work in the softened butter until it forms coarse crumbs, and all the mixture looks moistened. I find it easiest to use my fingers to do this.

Line the bottom of an 8" springform pan with parchment paper, and butter the sides. Your fruit should be peeled and chopped, or washed and set to drain, or otherwise appropriately prepared before proceeding further. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Make the Cake:
1 3/4 cups soft unbleached flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter
2/3 cup sugar
2 extra-large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Measure the flour and add the baking powder and salt. Set aside.

Cream the butter in a medium mixing bowl, and work in the sugar. Beat in (by hand) the eggs, one at a time. Beat in the vanilla extract.

Mix the flour into the butter mixture to form a stiff dough. Spoon the dough into the prepared pan, and scrape out the bowl with a spatula. Spread the dough, using the spatula, evenly over the bottom of the pan right to the sides.

Spread the prepared fruit evenly over the dough. It will seem like there is as much fruit as dough; that is correct. The dough will expand and the fruit will shrink, and all will be well in the cake world. Sprinkle the streusel mixture evenly over the top of the cake.

Bake the cake for 50 to 60 minutes, until it testes done when poked with a toothpick, i.e. said toothpick comes out clean. Let cool before springing it from the pan and serving.

Last year at this time I made Summer Succotash.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Bean & Potato Skillet

This is sort of a gloopy vegetable hash, which I have made a couple of times this week already, as we have dug up our first potatoes and the beans are still churning them out to the point that we are at a loss as to what to do with them all. Next year, I think we will plant one-third as many. The pole beans are crazy compared to the bush beans.

Normally my go-to bean dish is this one, but our tomatoes are just starting to ripen, and I don't have gobs of them to throw around so I had to come up with something tomato-less. But with potatoes, which we now have in abundance.

2 to 4 servings
1 hour prep time

500 grams (1 pound) potatoes
500 grams (1 pound) green beans
1 teaspoon salt
1 large onion
2 to 3 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
1 teaspoon fennel seed, ground
1 teaspoon sweet or smoked paprika
2 to 3 cloves of garlic

Wash and cut the potatoes into bite-sized pieces. Put them in a pot with the salt, and water to cover generously. Bring to a boil and boil for about 10 minutes.

Wash and trim the beans, and cut them in bite-sized pieces. Add them to the potatoes when they have cooked for about 5 minutes, and continue cooking for a further 5 minutes (i.e. until the potatoes have boiled for 10 minutes.)

While the beans cook, peel and chop the onion fairly coarsely.

Heat the oil in a large skillet and begin gently sautéing the onion. Drain the beans and potatoes and add them to the skillet. Season with the fennel seed and paprika. Cook for about 20 minutes over medium-high heat, turning and mixing regularly, until everything is well amalgamated and slightly browned in spots. Meanwhile, peel and mince the garlic. Mix in the garlic about 5 minutes before the dish is done, then have at it.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Lemon Bread Pudding with Blueberries

This past weekend Mr. Ferdzy's clan gathered for our annual "Christmas in July" - a birthday party for everyone! Mr. Ferdzy is practically the only member of his extended family who wasn't born in July or August. Too bad, he has to get his presents in the summer like everyone else.

What I'm getting at though, is that this is going to be another fairly dessert-heavy week on this blog. This is one I've posted before, but it's good enough to post again. It looks pretty different this time, doesn't it? But it's really the same thing, with a couple of key ingredients swapped out.

6 to 8 servings
1 hour 20 minutes - 20 minutes prep time

Lemon Bread Pudding with Blueberries

4 cups day-old bread, cut in cubes
the finely grated zest of 2 lemons

1 cup sugar
2 cups milk
3 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon salt

3 cups blueberries
the juice of 2 lemons (about 1/2 cup)
4 extra-large eggs

Preheat the oven to 325°F.

Put the bread cubes in a large mixing bowl.

Put the sugar, lemon zest, milk, butter and salt in a pot and heat, stirring regularly, until the butter and sugar melt and the mixture is steaming. Pour it over the bread, and mix well. Set aside to cool.

Wash and pick over the blueberries, and drain them well. Mix into the bread and milk.

Beat the eggs, one at a time, into the pudding mixture. Spread the mixture evenly in a lightly buttered, shallow 2 quart or litre casserole dish.

Bake the pudding for 1 hour at 325°F. Serve warm or cold.

Last year at this time I made Maple-Vanilla Canned Peaches. Time to make more!

Monday, 8 August 2011

Roasted Bean & Beet Salad with Blue Cheese

6 servings
1 hour 15 minutes - including 1 hour advance prep, but not cooling time

Roasted Bean and Beet Salad with Mustard Balsamic Vinaigrette
Roast the Beans and Beets
4 medium-large beets
450 grams (1 pound) green beans
1/4 cup mild vegetable oil
1 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Peel the beets and cut them into wedges. Toss them with half the oil and salt in a shallow baking tray.

Wash and trim the beans and toss them with the remainder of the oil and salt in another shallow baking tray.

Roast both beets and beans for 40 minutes to an hour, stirring every 15 to 20 minutes, until cooked and showing signs of browning. Let cool until you are about to make the salad.

Make the Dressing:
1/4 cup sunflower seed oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Whisk or shake together in a small bowl or jar.

Assemble the Salad:
1 small sweet onion (about 1 cup when chopped)
100 grams (1/4 pound) blue cheese, crumbled

Peel and chop the onion, and toss with the cooked, cooled beans and beets. Toss with the dressing and mix in the crumbled blue cheese.

Last year at this time I made Cauliflower with Tomatoes & Cilantro.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Fortex & Blue Lake Beans

Blue Lake and Fortex Beans
Here are two of the beans we grew this year. Both are new to our garden, although I have heard of Blue Lake beans for years. I remember when we got canned beans as a kid, Mom would look for Blue Lake beans as being the best. They are one of the very few vegetables ever sold by their variety name on a large scale. It's not uncommon in fruits, especially apples, but it's unusual in vegetables although potatoes sometimes get sold by variety.

These are both pole beans, and we agree with the common wisdom that they are better than bush beans. Pole beans are indeterminate (they will keep producing until frost, if not done in by drought) and the flavour is generally better. I think it's because there is a lot more plant to support the beans; they don't just rush to churn them out then die. Of course, you have to build a support of some kind for pole beans, but the trouble will be more than paid back when you go to pick them - so much easier on the knees and the back. And I have to say, one of this summers' pleasures has been standing between the two beds of pole beans, with big green leaves waving gently on either side. They are very beautiful plants. I can't say I noticed the Fortex flowers, but the Blue Lake flowers are a pretty butter yellow. We will still grow a few bush beans next year I think, but just enough to get an early crop before the later pole beans start.

Blue Lake S-7

Blue Lake is more of a set of similar varieties of bean rather than just one bean, and they have changed over the years. The first Blue Lake beans were grown in the Blue Lake region near Ukiah, California for the canning industry. As they spread out throughout the country, especially up into Oregon, they were refined to be more stringless and tender, and to have uniformly white seeds. (Earlier strains had seeds in a variety of colours.) The Ferry-Morse Seed Company did a lot of work with them, as did the Asgrow Company.

They are still available as a number of strains. You can get pole Blue Lake beans, or bush Blue Lake beans. We got the pole beans, a strain called Blue Lake S-7 from William Dam. They describe it as a vigourous, early strain for northern gardens. It produces about a week earlier than some other strains at 60 days, and tolerates cool weather as well as hot weather, although no bean will take really cold weather. They must not be planted until the soil reaches 20°C, like any other bean. They need good sturdy trellising. We have 7' trellises, and ours have reached the top, milled around for a while, and are now starting to hang back down. Don't grow them any taller though, or you won't be able to pick them!

Ours have probably produced about a bushel and a half of beans so far. We planted 400 seeds, I guess. They slowed down a lot during the end of July when it was so hot and dry. However, now that it has rained and gotten a little cooler (still hot though!) they are flowering and covered in little beans again. I won't be surprised if we get another bushel from them before they are done.

The beans themselves are thin, straight 5" or 6" beans, dark green and with a slighlty velvety texture to the skin. We have found them very flavourful, and of course they are famous for their ability to withstand canning and freezing. We have frozen quite a few of them.

We have had what I believe is bean yellow mosaic virus in the bean patch since the beans first came up this year. This causes yellow spots on the leaves, which will then turn brown and die with time. Naturally, this is not good for your bean crop. We were happy to see that the Blue Lake beans have been minimally affected, with a few dead and dying leaves near the bottom of some of the plants, but no discernable other effect.


Fortex is a bean that came to my attention much more recently. I read a number of glowing reviews of it, so I decided it was a bean we needed to try. We got our seed from Hawthorn Farm, I believe.

In spite of the odd, industrial fabric sound of the name, it is a French variety. It sometimes gets described as an heirloom, but I believe it is a fairly recent introduction. Like Blue Lake S-7, it's a pole bean and grew to a very similar size. It's supposed to produce in 70 days, a bit later than the Blue Lake but my impression is that they both started producing at very similar times. It is, if anything, even more productive than the Blue Lake, and on top of that the beans are longer, often reaching close to a foot. They do tend to twist or curl as they grow though, and some of them have been trapped by the growing vines - the beans are that long. Like the Blue Lake, it only showed minor damage from the bean yellow mosaic virus. It also kept producing through the heat-wave better than Blue Lake did. It is said to freeze well.

So it's a better bean than Blue Lake, right? Nope.

Or at least, a modified nope. Three members of our household thought they were excellent beans. Mr. Ferdzy and I thought they were just okay. Pleasant enough, but mild verging on bland. This is actually consistent with the reviews I had read: two-thirds of the reviewers raved ecstatically, and one-third said, "Meh." You will have to try this one for yourself.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

A Garden Update

Last Thursday, our drought finally broke with - wait for it! - 120 milimetres of rain! That's just shy of 5" in one swell foop. We were so, so, dry though. There was no flooding, the ditches hardly rose, and by the third day, it had all vanished except for a tiny little puddle in the wet beds, and it was back to needing to water again, at least a few things. That brought our total rainfall for July to 129 mm, by the way.

A lot of things in the garden flopped after the rain, like the potatoes in the potato box. They are fine though, and perking up again. We won't know the scoop on how this potato bed worked until the fall, but I can say that the plants are huge and healthy looking.

We pulled out our turnips and quite a number of the beets are gone too. Along with the space opened up from moving the leeks, we had enough room to plant some rutabagas. I have no idea how they will do - they have gone in almost a month late. Hopefully there will be some, just on the small side. Which is not totally inconvenient in a 2 person household.

Our onions this year are beautiful. Absolutely gorgeous. Had a little trouble with cut worms early on, but other than that they have been completely trouble free and big.

Sweet potatoes have been much less impressive. They got off to a very slow start with our cool June, and have had to fight with the potatoes for space. Our potatoes sure are looking good this year though. We should be digging our first variety this week. That'll be Envol, a very early potato that we got from Pinehaven Farm.

We ate our first - and looks like only - cauliflower this year. It looks great in the picture, but my sister-in-law had to spend a lot of time picking little green worms out of it. We are having a lot of trouble withe the brassicas. They don't form well, and they are absolutely smothered in cabbage butterfly larvae, the aforementioned little green worms. Not that little, either. We are going to have to do some thinking about how to deal with these 2 problems next year. On the other hand we are getting some decent if slightly tatty cabbages, so it isn't a total loss.

The melons are mostly looking very good, and have formed a fairly impenatrable sea of vines. The occasional green hump can be spotted cutting through the waves. I did notice one vine wilted for no detectable reason this morning though. I pruned it out but that's the sort of thing to make a gardener uneasy.

After several years of struggling to get peas and beans to grow, they are finally doing well. I think inoculating them with bean inoculant has really helped. Also, getting on top of the watering and staying on top of it.

The bad news was that we have a virus in the beans this year, almost certainly yellow mosaic virus. Interestingly, it has had little effect on the peas, but the beans almost all show some signs of it. Some are much more resistant than others. We are still getting lots of beans, but we will take notes about which ones do the best.

Still, the snow peas had pretty much given up producing in the hot weather, so we have pulled them out and replanted with peas. We'll see if they actually produce before fall.

The beans, in spite of the virus, have been producing scads of beans. We have picked around 3 bushels so far (that's 32 quarts, or 128 cups!)

Our trellis system has mostly held up. A couple have cracked under the strain and had to be repaired. Our better stringing system than last year means that the vines stay in place better, but it also means that when the wind blows the whole trellis wants to move.

If you look at the right side of the picture you will see a large piece of machinery. We have decided to put in the deer fencing that we have been talking about ever since we moved here. In another week or two it will be finished, and hopefully we can take down the electric fence and move around the garden freely. Unlike the deer*. BWAHAHAHA!

*We hope. The fence is U-shaped, closing off all sides except the front, facing the road. They don't generally come from that direction, but if they start we will have a problem, having a giant, U-shaped deer trap.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Bean & Rice Salad with Dill & Feta

It's bean season around here! I think we've picked more than 3 bushels of beans so far... more to come. Many of them are now residing in our freezer waiting to be added to winter meals, but we're still eating lots.

I had some rice left over from another meal when I made this, and that's a good plan. You will need to cook about 1 1/3 cups extra rice to end up with approximately 4 cups.

This was a nice simple salad, and the leftovers kept quite well and were delicious the next day.

6 servings

Bean and Rice Salad with Dill and Feta
Make the Salad:
4 cups chopped green or wax beans
1 medium sweet onion (about 1 cup when chopped)
1/4 cup finely minced fresh dillweed
4 cups cooked brown rice
200 grams feta cheese

Wash and trim the beans, and cut them into bite-sized pieces. Steam or boil them until just tender, 4 or 5 minutes then immediately rinse them in cold water until they are cool. Drain well.

Peel and dice the onion, and mince the dillweed finely.

Mix the beans, onion and dill with the cooked rice in a large bowl. Rinse and drain the feta cheese, and crumble it into the salad. Mix well.

Make the Dressing:
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
the juice of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon mustard
plenty of freshly ground black pepper

Mix the above in a small bowl or jar, an whisk or shake until mixed. Toss with the salad.

You are not likely to need salt, but it will depend on how salty the feta cheese is.