Sunday, 22 July 2012


I suppose I should make this official. This blog is on a bit of a hiatus. I hope I will be back soon, but right now I find myself lacking in energy, enthusiasm, time, energy, ideas, energy and also energy. Right now my aspirations for a successful day run more towards getting out of bed in the morning than getting a blog post up. So: sorry to anybody out there reading, but maybe in a month or so I will try again, but right now I need a bit of holiday. Hope you all have good summers.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Batter Fried Zucchini

Not exactly the most nutritious thing to do with zucchini, but very tasty. I've made this a couple of times already, and we haven't had that many zucchini out of the garden yet. And probably won't get many, since the plants are diseased. Oh well. Such is life. I shall make fried zucchini as long as the supply holds out. 

Two small zucchini is probably better than 1 medium for this, but the exact quantity will depend on how thick you leave the batter. If you run out of zucchini and you still have batter left, you could toss in a couple of mushrooms, cut in half.

2 to 4 servings
45 minutes - 30 minutes prep time


Prepare the Zucchini:
1 medium or 2 small zucchini or summer squash

Wash the zucchini, and trim the ends. Cut them in fairly thin slices, not more than 1/4" thick. Longways is best. Salt the zucchini heavily on both sides, and put them on a plate to drain for about 20 minutes. When ready, rinse them off and pat them dry with a (paper) towel.

Make the Batter:
1/4 cup soft unbleached flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon rubbed oregano, savory or basil 
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 extra-large egg
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
3 to 4 tablespoons water or beer

Mix the flour, salt, seasoning, and baking powder in a shallow bowl or plate with a rim. Mix in the egg, the oil, and the water to make a smooth batter, about as stiff as pancake batter.

Fry the Zucchini:
mild vegetable oil to fry
balsamic vinegar to serve

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat (the same temperature you would cook eggs or pancakes). There should be enough to generously cover the bottom of the pan. 

Meanwhil, when the zucchini slices are rinsed and dried, put them in the bowl of batter, one at a time, making sure that they are all coated in batter and don't stick together.

When the oil is hot, pull them out one at a time, laying them in the hot oil and spooning a little extra batter over the top if you feel they are not well covered. Cook until brown on each side, adding more oil to the pan if the bottom of the pan ceases to be coated in oil. You may need to cook the zucchini slices in 2 batches. Blot them briefly on paper towel as they come out of the pan.

Serve the fried zucchini slices hot, drizzled with a little balsamic vinegar.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Sugar Magnolia Snap Peas

Those, my friends, are snap peas. The ones on the left are Sugar Magnolia snap peas; I don't know what the name of the ones on the right is, but they are either also Sugar Magnolia peas or a related variety bred by Alan Kapuler of Peace Seeds. Here's the description from his blog:
Pisum sativum Sugar Magnolia Purple Snap Vine Pea 25/5.00 Vigorous vines with purple flowers and purple 3-4” snap pods of fine flavor. This year’s seed stock has a mixture of tendril types: regular, hypertendril and vetch (no tendrils). Unexpectedly, the cross of a Parsley Bush Pea with a Purple Podded Snap Vine Pea generated a hypertendril trait. Hypertendrils are very distinctive, they hold a population of vine peas together, a useful self-supporting characteristic. 

I did not get my seeds directly from Peace Seeds, but from a friend who generously passed some along to me. Mine appear to be the regular tendril variety. The peas I received also appear to be a mix of Alan Kapulers snap pea strains, but the true purple Sugar Magnolia are the most beautiful and also, I am happy to say, the best tasting and most tender. I will be selecting for the most purple podded plants to grow out next year.

They are not as good tasting as Amish Snap - nothing is - but they are very pleasant peas and the astonishing colour actually survives cooking! Pretty much unheard of, in purple podded beans and peas. As such, I intend to continue to grow them regularly to use as a garnish and point of colour in spring vegetable dishes, which otherwise tend towards the purely green. You can see them, cooked, in this dish of Peas & Cheese.

They are very attractive as plants, and the peas can get quite big before becoming too tough to eat. This is another bonus, as it means they have a range of several days that they will hold on the plant. One of the tedious parts of early summer is having to get out there and pick peas, Every. Single. Day. If not twice!

When Alan Kapuler says "vigorous vines" this is what he means. Even in this dry, hot year they have reached the top of our 7' trellis and are not done yet. Note too, that my assessment of their flavour and lasting qualities was made this year, and they are likely to do even better in a year that's kinder to peas. I took these photos during last week's heatwave, so they, like all the peas, stopped blooming and there are no flowers to be seen. However, they have very pretty flowers, in 2 tones of purple.

I'm afraid these will be very hard peas to find. I am aware of only one company in Canada that sold them this year, and that was Richter's, as part of their Seed Zoo. That's a brutally expensive way to get seed, but on the bright side peas are amongst the easiest of vegetables to grow out and save seed from. They describe theirs as the hypertendril strain.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Peas & Cheese

This was a very simple dish and quick to make, but I really liked the combination of the halloumi and the peas. You can serve them as-is, like a little tapas dish, or you could serve them over toast, rice or pasta. Halloumi is hard to find around here, so when I found some I was excited. I have to say though, mine didn't hold together very well. Ho hum, still delicious.

Snap peas are slowing down, but hopefully there are still some around. This years fresh garlic is just starting to be available; it's really snappy and delicious right now.

4 servings
20 minutes prep time

1 quart (4 cups) snap peas
1 or 2 cloves of garlic
125 grams (4 ounces) halloumi cheese

1 teaspoon mild vegetable oil
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Wash and trim the snap peas. Peel and mince the garlic. Cut the halloumi cheese into pieces roughly the same size as the peas. Blanch the peas briefly in boiling water, and drain well.

Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet. Fry the cheese, turning the pieces so they brown on both sides. When they are nicely browned, add the drained peas and mix in well. Add the garlic and mix in well, cooking for just a minute or so.

Remove from the heat and serve at once.

Last year at this time I made Pasta with Chicken, Mushrooms & Snow Peas.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Midsummer Garden Report - A Dreadful Year

This has been the most difficult of the 4 years we have been gardening, by far. I am hearing lots of lamenting from other gardeners too. One person said it was the worst year in the 34 years he has been gardening. Ouch.

Mind you, we are still persevering. Above, we planted our leeks in the "wet" bed in the usual way. Note how dry it looks. Yeah, that's right. We have had about 80ml of rain since APRIL 1st. We should have had northwards of 400ml by now.

Mr. Ferdzy whacks those holes in the ground to drop in the leeks.

And I water them in. Can't tell you how many hours we have spent watering this year. Up over a hundred by now, I would say.

We're getting better (and by we, let's face it, I mean Mr. Ferdzy) at getting those trellises up. They do help keep the veggies neat and organized, which is more important than you might think when it comes to harvesting. Especially since we grow a lot of indeterminate heirlooms, which tend to be long and rangy plants compared to most modern varieties, which tend to be more compact.

One of the advantages to the larger heirloom plants is showing up in the tomatoes. We  have septoria spot again this year, and the compact little Bellestar are again in a race to produce anything before they lose all their leaves and die. I think next year we can't grow them, even though in theory they produce so much in such a small spot. Above, Mr. Ferdzy attempts to stem the tide of septoria spot by removing the most badly affected leaves. This was a week ago; I can't tell if it helped. New leaves are turning yellow and spotted daily. Ho hum.

My own pile of yellow spotted leaves waiting removal to the garbage - I do do a few things around the garden besides take pictures. When we remove diseased plant materials we throw them away, rather than put them into the compost. The compost should be hot enough to kill them, but it isn't guaranteed by any means. Better safe than sorry.

We had septoria spot last year, as well as bean yellow mosaic. Bean yellow mosaic looks like it's back too, along with squash yellow mosaic. All these things are transmitted by insects. I read an article in the spring about how many butterflies are around this year - 10 times as many as usual of one variety - and wasn't that lovely? Yeah, that's lovely. Not so lovely is the fact that we have about 10 times as many of a whole lot of other things. I'm seeing insects I've never seen before in my life this year, a lot. It's practically a daily occurance.

Melons, in the foreground, are way behind where we expected them to be with all this heat. They have been swarmed by cucumber beetles and squash bugs since the day we planted them out. We have been picking them (bugs not plants) and dropping them into the "jar of death"  (water with a little soap, so they drown quickly). We probably had about 50% mortality in our early melon and cucumber transplants, and have had to reseed most of them.

We've given up on trying to pick the cucumber beetles. We probably picked several thousand of them before we conceeded that there was no way we were keeping  up. The squash bugs have been more successfully controlled. We water the plants thoroughly, wait for them to climb up on the leaves to get dry, then pick them off. Their numbers are more in the dozens than in the hundreds. However, there are certainly still enough to kill plants. Where do they keep coming from?

Zucchini are particularly hard hit by the cucumber beetles and squash bugs. We've yanked out a couple that were the first to show signs of the yellow squash mosaic virus.

Didn't do any good though; the rest are starting to show signs of it too. Goodbye zucchini. We might get a few before they are too badly affected to eat.

Peas and squash in the "wet" bed look fairly good from a distance. We are watering these just as much as any of the other beds, which is annoying. They are inconvenient to water - the whole point was that they were in a low, wet spot and wouldn't NEED watering. Maybe next year.

The peas are dying down, which is fine. They are an early summer veg, and we left 2 varieties to produce seed rather than picking them.

Cucumbers show how badly off they are - half of these died and the other half are pretty stunted. Haven't had time to get them up on tomato cages yet, but it hardly matters.

Another pretty view of the garden, looking very structural. Mr. Ferdzy added some more yesterday, these ones for electric fencing to go around the corn.

The corn has been attacked by the cucumber beetles, and is a bit spotty but mostly outgrew them. However, something has been knocking them over and chewing the stems.

More chewing damage. The electric fence has not kept whatever critter it is out. We thought rabbits or raccoons, but maybe it was squirrels or rats. I did see a rat when I was weeding yesterday - first one I've seen in 4 years. It was big and fat and sleek - cute as a button, really. Like a lot of cute as a button critters I was nevertheless not entirely pleased to see it. Rat-traps, ahoy.

The animals have been relentless this year. A mild winter, followed by the dreadful lack of water, has meant there are a lot of them and they are all desperate for anything moist and juicy; otherwise known as our garden. Also, the next door neighbour used to feed all the local stray cats. He moved out this month and stopped feeding them last month, and they have dispersed. All the things they used to keep away are coming back. I think that's why we have the rat, actually.

Overall, we are very discouraged. We are doing twice as much work as usual and will probably get half to two-thirds the usual harvest. Maybe. Don't know what else to say; we are not the only ones. The apple harvest around  here will fall somewhere between dismal and non-existant, and Niagara isn't doing much better that I can tell. Local grain fields look okay; but hearing that the U.S. is going to have a noticeably diminished crop.

How's it going where you are?

Monday, 2 July 2012

Some Peas Grown This Year

1st and Best #2 Peas

Here we are in the middle of the pea season, I guess. The early ones are finished, the middle ones are in the middle, and the late ones are just starting. So, it's time for a few new pea reviews. Keep in mind that this has been a simply dreadful year for peas. They like it cool and moist. It's been hot and dry. Since MARCH, pretty much. Yeah; NOT happy campers.

The one above is First and Best #2. There's a name for you. I got it from Annapolis Seeds. Owen Bridge, the proprietor thereof, has an impressive selection of rare peas and I seem to be working my way through his inventory. As usual I'm a bit of a sucker for an unusual name and colourful history. He claims to be the only one to have them, and it may well be - I can't find any other trace of them. They may be, as he says, an improved version of First and Best, but they are quite different from that, pea, which is described as very short and determinate.

1st and Best #2 Peas

As for First and Best #2, they are definitely not first. They were a mid-season pea for me, and the plants are a medium tall vine, at about 5 feet right now and still growing. (That's them above.) The pods are quite small and contain about 5 or 6 peas, which are also quite small, and pale green. They are easy to find and pick because they are a little lighter than the leaves.

My first impression was that not only were they not the best, they were not even very good, being neither sweet nor flavourful. Bland, in other words. However, as they have gotten into the swing of producing, I have found them much better. They are still a pretty mild pea, but very pleasantly flavoured and tender. They look like they are going to be prodigious producers: the pods just keep coming, and coming, and coming. They also hold quite well on the vine. If I forget to pick them one day, they are still good the next day, for which I am very grateful. I would have to guess on the days to maturity, but I would say about 70 sounds right.

Overall, while I am enjoying them I probably will not grow them again, just because they are so small. It makes them a lot of work to shell. However, if I ever do any pea-breeding (the idea crosses my mind occasionally) I might use them as a parent for their above mentioned good qualities.

Mrs Vans Peas

This pea, on the other hand, is being grown again for a second year. It's called Mrs. Van's pea, after the gardener who developed or at least maintained this strain. It was and is sold by a couple of seed sellers in British Columbia, from whence it comes (Courtney, apparently). Owen Bridges lived out there for a while which is how he picked it up.

As you can see, it has bigger pods with bigger peas, and more of them per pod - generally 6 to 8. In general, I think the vines grow a bit longer than First and Best #2, but ours are struggling with the heat and drought and are not as impressive as they were last year. The peas are still very good, but perhaps not quite as superb nor as numerous as last years. Not surprising. However, in general I rate this as an excellent mid-season pea, and I think it will become a staple for us. The vines are large but more manageable than Tall Telephone or Spanish Skyscraper.

Mrs Vans Peas

Mrs. Van's peas were planted in March in the "wet" beds. Things have struggled a bit in this bed this year, but they are hanging in and still producing reasonably well. Last year the vines reached 7' or 8' easily; this year they are just hitting 5', although I expect them to be a bit taller when they eventually pack it in. Like the First and Best #2, they started producing in about 70 days.

Spanish Skyscraper Peas

This last one has an interesting local history, and an odd name - Spanish Skyscraper. It was either bred or improved by Ken Allen of Kingston, Ontario back in the 1970's (?), and has made the rounds amongst Canadian gardeners ever since. Last year it barely produced for us, as it just hit its stride as the weather got hot, and the peas would toughen as soon as they swelled. We left them and collected them for seed. In spite of it being even hotter and dryer this  year, they are doing okay, I think because they are planted in the main beds and get watered on a fairly rigid schedule. Sparse rations, but the regularity plainly helps. At any rate, while I don't think they taste quite as good as the best of last year's Spanish Skyscraper, they still are very fine peas. They are enormous long plants - last years' hit 9', easily - and very late to start producing (90 days). They are reasonably, but not completely, heat tolerant. Which is good, given how late they are.

Spanish Skyscraper Peas

All the peas in the photo above are Spanish Skysraper. Yes, incuding the ones at the end of the bed that are no more than 2.5' high. That's because the deer ate the tops off of about half a section of them on one of his random salad-bar visits. Being indeterminate plants, they are growing back, albeit pretty slowly. (Anybody want to hunt a deer this fall?)  These are definitely the tallest of the peas we grow, and some of the richest flavoured. In general, I think there is a real relationship between the quality of peas and the size of the plants. Earlier peas often grow on much smaller plants, and just don't tend to achieve the intensity of flavour of something like Spanish Skyscraper, which has a lot of leaf and vine to support the peas. Of course, you do have to have the space to grow something that big, and be willing to leave it in place for the 4 months they take to grow, mature and finish. And the weather has to co-operate too. You need 4 months that are warm-enough-to-grow, but not too-hot-for-quality: hard to find! Still, if you can, these are probably the best tasting pea I've grown.

ADDED: After I put this post up, I was able to hear from Ken Allen about the development of Spanish Skyscraper. Here's what he had to say:
In 1977, I ordered Spanish Skyscraper peas from Centennial Gardens, a small Vancouver seed company which has since gone out of business The seed packet was very small, so I decided to save seed from that year's crop in order to do a proper trial the following summer.

The small packet turned out to be double blessing: first, it initiated me into seed saving; secondly, that was the last time that this variety was offered--if the packet had been larger, I would have been unable to grow them for a second time--and I probably would not have reordered anyway because that first crop was not impressive. Most pods had only 2 or 3 peas per pod, but there were a few 5's so those were saved for the seed bed. Within a year or two I was getting a few pods with 6 peas, then 7 peas per pod. That seemed to be the max but eventually I started getting pods with 8 peas. As the number of peas per pod increased from year to year, productivity and plant vigour also increased, though I didn't become fully conscious of this until I did a comparison of pea varieties for VGR.

Spanish Skyscraper was easily the most productive of the 39 varieties in that trial.