Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Vaguely Asian Cabbage Salad

This salad is based on one I once ate at a (I think) Vietnamese restaurant. I liked it enough I went home and tried to replicate it. Even though I changed every single ingredient, I think I came close to the spirit of it. I forget what the other ingredients were, other then that the noodles were probably sweet potato starch rather than mung bean starch, and the parsley was cilantro. If you want to revert to either of those ingredients you should certainly feel free. However, this is the combo that works for me.

I made a pork roast this week, and I rather think the leftovers of this salad and the pork will end up in Vietnamese spring rolls

4 servings
20 minutes prep time, plus about 1 hour resting time.

Make the Salad:
1 bundle (50 grams, 2 ounces) bean thread noodles
1 large carrot
2 cups finely shredded cabbage
2 small stalks of celery
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley

Put about 4 cups water on to boil. When it boils, turn it off and add the bean thread noodles. Cover them and let them soak for 5 minutes. Drain them, rinse them thoroughly in cold water, then drain them well again. Roughly chop them, or snip them with scissors, and put them in  your salad bowl.

Meanwhile, peel and grate the carrot. Clean and trim the cabbage and celery, and chop them finely, along with the parsley. Add them to the noodles. 

Make the Dressing:
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup rice or white vinegar
1/4 cup water
1/3 cup chopped peanuts

Mix the sugar, vinegar and water, and stir until the sugar is dissolved. I usually ladle out the water from the hot noodle-soaking water, so as to speed the dissolution of the sugar. Toss the salad with the dressing. It should be made sufficiently in advance to marinate a bit in the dressing - 20 minutes will do in a pinch but an hour is better, and the finished salad will keep very nicely in the fridge for several days. I often make a double recipe so as to have salad for the next few days.

Serve the salad garnished with the chopped peanuts.

Last year at this time I made Baked Chiles Rellenos and Corn & Edamame Salad. I'm thinking things are further along this year...

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Beans with Peppers & Shiitakes

Well this was very quick and simple and that's good, because that's what has been needed around here lately. Not only are we in the middle of the fall harvest, we are also getting landscaping done around the house and while we, I am happy to report, are not the ones schlepping the gravel and mulch, or driving around in mini backhoes digging up trees and placing rocks, it has nevertheless managed to consume a lot of our time. Hopefully it will be all done by the end of this week. Although all done will not include planting any plants, which we are going to do ourselves. It seemed like a good idea at the time!

Meanwhile, the beans are churning them out. This is where pole beans are so nice in the garden. They just keep going, and going, and going. No need to mess with staggered plantings or pulling spent plants out before it's cold enough that everything is done for anyway. Likewise, the peppers are really coming into their own now.

4 to 6 servings
30 minutes prep time

500 grams (1 pound) green & yellow beans
250 grams (1/2 pound) red & yellow peppers
125 grams (1/4 pound) shiitake mushrooms
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce

Wash and trim the beans and cut them into bite-sized pieces. Wash the peppers, core them, and cut them into pieces the same size as the beans. Cut the mushrooms into strips to match the rest of the vegetables.

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the beans and about 1/4 cup of water. Cook, stirring regularly, until the water evaporates. Add the peppers and mushrooms, and cook  until all the vegetables are done to your liking. Drizzle over the tamari or soy sauce, and mix in well. Transfer the vegetables to a serving dish.

Last year at this time I made Beans & Cabbage with Paneer. I cannot help it! It's bean season.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Tomatillo & Sausage Soup

This is a slightly streamlined version of a traditional Mexican soup. The original is made with meatballs, but sausage makes the whole procedure so much quicker and easier, and is really just as good as long as you use a good quality sausage. If you can get a Mexican chorizo so much the better, but around here it's Italian sausage or Italian sausage.

As for the Jalapeños; you must use your judgement. Whether you use one, two or none will depend on 1.) how spicy your sausage is; 2.) how spicy you want your soup to be and 3.) how spicy the Jalapeños actually are. Most of the ones you get around here are actually not that hot, unfotunately. Still, it's a bit of gamble... you never know. We put in two and liked it, but that's us.

4 servings
45 minutes prep time

500 grams (1 pound; 12 to 14 medium) tomatillos
1 medium onion
3 to 4 cloves of garlic
2 small to medium Jalapeños (but to taste)
250 grams (1/2 pound; 2 medium) fresh chorizo or hot Italian sausages
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil (if needed)
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seed

4 cups chicken stock
up to 1/2 teaspoon salt (if needed)
1/4 cup packed fresh cilantro
1 large lime, quartered
extra cilantro for garnish

Remove the husks from the tomatillos, and rinse them, and cut them into quarters. Peel and slice the onion. Peel the garlic, and slice it. Remove the stems and seeds from the Jalapeños, and cut them in pieces.

Cut the sausage into smallish bite-sized pieces. Fry them up in a heavy-bottomed soup pot, using the oil if it is needed to keep them from sticking. (If they are fairly fatty and you don't need the oil, start them off with about a quarter cup of water in the pan to keep them from sticking.)

Once the sausage pieces are nicely browned, remove them from the pan with a slotted spoon and set them aside. Drain off most of the fat if there is too much; the bottom of the pan should be well coated but not much more. Put the tomatillos, onion and Jalapeños into the pot and cook them for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until slightly browned and softened. Add the garlic and cumin seed, mix in well, and after a minute or so add the chicken stock. Add the salt, depending on how salty the chicken stock is. Half a teaspoon assumes unsalted stock.

Let the soup simmer for about 15 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Purée the soup in a blender or food processor with the 1/4 cup of cilantro until fairly smooth, then return it to the pot. Add the sausage and any juices thereof back into the soup, and simmer for another 10 minutes or so.

Serve the soup sprinkled with extra cilantro, and pass a wedge of lime to be squeezed over it.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Pollo alla Cacciatora

Otherwise known as Chicken, Hunter Style. What those hunters were doing hunting chickens, I don't know. Maybe they were Elmer Fudd chasing after Bugs Bunny, and had to settle for something a little more bird-brained. (Although if you do better at getting hold of a rabbit, there is no reason not to make Coniglio alla Cacciatora with it.)

This is the kind of thing I love. Simple food, cooked pretty simply, but damn, it's good.

You could get all refined and purée the vegetables (or at least everything but the peppers) but that doesn't seem very hunter-like. I used Jimmy Nardellos for the peppers, by the way - a classic Italian frying pepper - but any thin-walled frying pepper will do. Cubanelles would have been my next choice, especially if they were ripe enough to be blushed with colour.

If you don't want polenta, serve it with rice or tagliatelle.

4 to 6 servings
1 hour prep time

1 1.5 kilo (3 pound) chicken or equivalent in chicken pieces
500 grams (1 pound, 4 to 6 medium) frying peppers
1 stalk celery
1 medium onion
1 medium carrot
4 to 6 cloves of garlic
500 grams (1 pound, 2 or 3 large) fresh tomatoes
1/4 cup good olive oil

3 2" sprigs of fresh rosemary
6 to 8 large fresh sage leaves

1 cup white or red wine
salt & pepper to taste

Cut the chicken into joints, removing the breasts from the carcass and cutting each side piece into about 3 even pieces. Use the carcass and any excess skin to make chicken stock - which will be used in some other recipe, not this one. Put a pot of water on to boil as well, for the tomatoes.

Set the chicken pieces aside, and chop the peppers, discarding stems and seeds, into large bite-sized pieces. Chop the celery finely, and peel and chop the onion and carrot finely as well. Peel the garlic and press the pieces until smashed but still whole.

When the water is boiling, blanch the tomatoes for 1 minute, then transfer them to the sink, where run cold water over them  until they are cool enough to handle. Slip off the skins, and cut the tomatoes into large dice or small chunks. 

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the rosemary and sage leaves, and cook gently until stiff and slightly coloured. Add the garlic when they are about half done. Remove them all, draining them well to keep as much oil as possible in the pan. Set them aside.

Add the peppers, and cook them for 5 to 10 minutes over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until they are soft and browned in spots. Lift them out of the pan and set them aside. Repeat with the celery, onion and carrot (as one batch). When they too are softened and slightly browned, add them to the peppers.

Next brown the chicken pieces - they should be quite dry as they are put into the pan, and go in in a single layer. Cook them for about 15 minutes, turning and moving them as necessary, until they are well browned on both sides. Hopefully you have kept most of the oil in the pan by careful removal of the vegetables, and don't need to add any more - but if you do need to add more, then you will need to add more. The chicken should be in no danger whatever of sticking.

Add the sautéed vegetables back into the pan, along with the tomatoes and wine. Add the garlic, and the herbs back as well, although I think it is best if you can put the sage and rosemary into a spice ball to keep them from disintegrating into the dish. Otherwise you will need to fish them out as best you can just before serving. Let the chicken simmer for another 15 minutes or so, turning the pieces regularly to be sure they cook through. The sauce should cook down, but still be moist and a little juicy/chunky rather than thick. You can add a spoonful of water or two if necessary, but better to keep the temperature well regulated. Season with salt and pepper to taste. We served ours over oven baked polenta without any cheese and swooned.

Last year at this time I made Miso Broiled Vegetables. If I had had a puffball this week, I would likely have used it in place of the peppers. Or in addition, maybe.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Saving Vegetable Seeds - Know What You Are Selecting For

Before you think about saving any seeds - perhaps even before you get hold of the seeds you intend to grow out in order to save seeds from them - ask yourself: what is it that I am selecting for? Because I guarantee you, whether you save just a few seeds or every seed your crop produces, you are selecting for something, and that something will affect your garden, and perhaps the gardens of others, for years to come.

You may say you are not selecting for anything, you just want seeds from the vegetables you grew this year, because you liked them and you want to grow them again next year, and save some money in doing so. If you then pick random fruit from your plants and save a bunch of the seeds, and plant the first few that fall from the envelope in the spring, I can tell you are selecting for randomness and mediocrity. Indeed, it is far too easy to select for exactly the qualities that you don't want, by eating your best fruit and saving the least desirable for seed. For early peas, do you joyfully eat the first pods to appear, and leave the last few pods to form to go to seed? You are selecting for lateness in your early peas by doing that. Oops.

At first, this does not seem probable. They are the same seeds from the same plants, after all. The genes should be the same. Why would it matter if you save peas from a pod with three peas, versus a pod with ten? They are all the same pea, and one pea grows a plant. And yet, it does make a difference; a very noticeable difference over time. The process by which this happens is called epigenetics, and it gets ridiculously complicated, especially if you don't have training in the subject. However, once you realize that better plants and better fruits produce better seeds, even if their genetics are essentially identical to the plant or fruit right next to them, it's fairly straightforward to determine what you are looking for in your plants and start selecting for it.

I had some inkling of this, but it was a note from Ken Allan about Spanish Skyscraper peas that really drove this point home for me this summer. He took a mostly forgotten, run-down old variety, and by careful selection of the seeds he saved and planted each year, brought it back to its full potential as a very desirable variety. The seeds I received (not from him) of this variety had been less carefully saved over the years, and do not fully match the quality that he describes. However, I am confident that by repeating his selection process, I can regain that quality.

I am also pretty confident that this process can, and should, be applied to all the varieties of vegetables we grow in our garden. Here's what we need to do - and not do:

1.) If we want to grow 2 of a kind of tomato, for example, we will not shake out 2 seeds to plant from the packet. We will shake out 6, or even 8, and choose the two that come up the most quickly and strongly, and grow the best. The other 4 or 6 will not be nursed along and planted, because, hey! Wasted seed! Oh noes! They will be discarded. We are selecting for vigour, not randomness and mediocrity.

2.) If we want to select for earliness (and in this climate, we generally do) we will be sure to select from the first few high quality fruits to appear on the plant, and not wait until the season is three-quarters over, before we say, "Oh, yeah! Need seed" then pick some of the later forming fruits. On the other hand, there are early seeds that should not be saved: the last lettuce, the last spinach and the last radishes to go to seed are the ones you want for seed. Carrots that flower the first year are good for neither soup nor seed.

3.) We will not save seed from malformed fruit, or fruit which has been damaged by insects or mold, or very small fruits, unless very small fruits are what we want, and generally they aren't. Usually I am looking for the intersection of earliness and reasonable size/volume, and those are the qualities that should determine which seeds are saved.

4.) We will also consider the overall quality of the parent plants. A weedy, struggling plant may produce a fine looking fruit with fine looking seeds. But if a plant of the same variety is producing similar fruits and seeds, but is much more vigorous and healthy, then that's the plant from which you should be saving seed. You may wish to select for more compact plants, but be sure you are not mistaking poor growth for natural compactness. Likewise, if you want plants that produce over a long season, be sure to select seeds from the specimens which produce the longest. If you want plants that produce a lot of fruit, select seeds from plants which are producing a lot of fruit.

5.) The easiest fruits to save seeds from are the fruits that produce the most seeds. In peas and beans, this is almost always desirable, and you should save seeds specifically from those pods that contain the most seeds. In tomatoes it almost certainly isn't - who likes a seedy tomato? Some tomato varieties are naturally more seedy than others, but you should be sure that the tomatoes from which you save seeds are on the low end of average compared to other tomatoes of the same variety when it comes to the quantity of seeds. In cucumbers, melons and squash, the desirability of higher or lower number of seeds may depend on other factors: how are the seeds placed within the fruit, do you eat the seeds, and are they small and tender, or large and tough? All these things must be considered, but often you should be selecting for fewer seeds.

6.) It's actually hard to see all the things we are selecting for. I've seen it pointed out that if you always start your melons, squash, cucumbers etcetera in pots and plant them out, you are selecting for melons, squash and cucumbers which are amenable to starting life in pots. If at some point you decide you want to direct seed these plants, you may find that your saved seed doesn't deal with direct seeding very well. A lot of the seed we buy has been selected for mechanical seed separation and processing... how does that affect the variety? You know it does somehow; not least in that there has been no selection for best quality - it's randomness and mediocrity all the way. Here is where the home gardener has a real advantage. Hand selection of fruits and seeds is slow, but the difference in quality quickly becomes real. Very small seed houses who grow their own seed may be able to replicate this, but they have to know what they are doing and not take shortcuts that save them time and bring in more money. Hmm. Good luck with that. (I do think there are many people out there doing very good work on this front. But still, being small is no guarantee of quality.)

7.) It's not just early bolting that needs to be avoided. How well does the vegetable keep, both holding in the field once ready, and once harvested? How long do you want it to keep? How well can they be transported and displayed, if you need to do those things?

8.) How well do your selected parent plants cope with extreme weather? Hot and dry? Cold and wet? Still and muggy, or howling gales? Late or early frosts? Fungi, blights, and plagues of caterpillars? Sooner or later, you will have them all, and so much more. Watch for these things, watch your plants adapt - or not - and keep selecting.

9.) Well, heck. How did I forget this one until now? It's probably the most important. You want to save seeds from vegetables that taste good. Better than good! Delicious! If it isn't delicious, what's the point? This can be a little harder with some vegetable than with others. I mean, if you've eaten it, how can you save seed from it? For things like tomatoes, melons, etc, not a problem - you eat the fruit then save the seeds. For peas and beans, you will have to assume that all the peas or beans on one plant taste like all the other peas or beans on that plant. You will generally be correct. Lettuce, brassicas an other leafy things are not a problem. For things like carrots, onions and beets, you may need to take a core sample! A healthy plant will survive that. But before or after winter storage, as those three are all biennials? Perhaps that will depend on when you expect to eat them.

10.) This one is actually going to be fairly hard, and we will have to find ways to work around it. But, we will attempt to grow a sufficient number of plants to maintain reasonable cross fertilization and genetic diversity. We will look up the minimum number of plants needed, and actually try to provide that number. That means starting more plants than needed, so as to only be crossing the best - perhaps twice as many as needed. In some varieties, that's a lot of plants. Bringing in new seed by purchasing or trading, and saving seed over multiple years are strategies to help keep that genetic diversity up.

11.) Also difficult, preventing cross pollination from undesirable sources, including weeds and other people's crops. Here you need a working knowledge of how much segregation of plants is necessary to give you a level of seed purity that you are comfortable. So you need to know that, too. You will need to know and implement strategies to keep cross pollination happening where you want it to happen and not happening where you don't want it to happen. These will vary from crop to crop.

12.) The above is all about selection on a micro-level. Keep in mind selection on a macro-level, too. What plants do you want in your garden? Are the plants you are growing now the plants you want to grow in the future? If the climate changes, do you need to change the varieties you grow altogether, or can your current varieties be adapted? Does it, in fact, make sense to plant things that can cope with all extremes of climate, knowing that half of them will struggle because they are not right for whatever season develops? It well might. We are entering a time of flux, when one season is not guaranteed to be very like the same season a year ago, or next year.

13.) ADDED 14/09/12: Forgot this one, but it's important. Many vegetables suffer from Cytoplasmic Male Sterility. It's common in carrots, onions, cucumbers (I think)... and other too, I'm sure. Hybridizers like this quality, but savers of open-pollinated seeds should work to keep it out of their vegetables.While I don't really understand all the ins and outs of this, what it basically means is that you have plants which are not producing pollen (what we consider the equivalent of sperm in people) and either you don't get seed, you get smaller quantities of seed (because there is a little pollen) or if you get seed it's being pollinated by something else... which you may or may not realize. Hybridizers like this because they can sell you seed for vegetables and know that you cannot save seed from them... you have to go back to them and buy their seed every year. For seed savers though, that's exactly not the goal.

14.) Another one I forgot; less cataclysmic than the male sterility problem, but consider how easy your vegetables are to pick. Peas and beans are the ones where this becomes really important. It's frustrating to be out there having to carefully pick each pea or bean with both hands, so that you can detach the pod without tearing up the plant or even yanking it right out of the ground. Basically, the more fruits the plant has, the more important this becomes. It's fine to have to use clippers to remove squash from a bush that only has 3 or 4. Picking hundreds of peas is another story though.


Sometimes you will have only a very few seeds for a variety, and that's all you can get. Plant them, and save every seed they produce. You are selecting for all the genetic diversity you can wring out of this pathetic little gene-puddle. Fair enough. But once you have achieved a certain reasonable number of seeds, all the above begin to apply. In general though, do your best to start off with sufficient good quality seeds from a reliable source. Check also that they in fact match the description of the variety to which they belong. (Not always the case, unfortunately!)

And finally, once you have more good-quality seed for a desirable vegetable than you can use yourself, share that seed far and near. This is not mere generosity, but a form of seed saving in itself. Your flood or fire, tornado or drought will not wipe out all your hard work. Growing food is a commitment to both nature and humanity. Cast your bread upon the waters, and let it return to you in its own time and way.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Saving Vegetable Seeds - Annual Self Pollinators

There's a lot of information out there about saving seeds, much from people a lot more experienced than me at saving seeds. But as I've gotten interested in the subject, I've realized just how much misinformation is out there too, and I thought I'd try to clarify, for myself as much as anyone else, what I have been learning this year about saving seeds. I'm also going to break it up into several posts, because it's a big topic.

It is my plan to start saving a lot of seeds. For one thing, sometimes favourite things just disappear from the seed catalogues, never to be seen again. I remember growing a yellow pole bean called Gold Straw when we had allotment gardens, about 15 years ago and really, really liking it. Can I find it now? Not so much as a whisper of its existance. Also, seeds can get expensive. Individual packets don't usually cost much, but when you multiply them by a garden full, that can be some real money. If you can cut the amount of seeds you need to buy even in half, it will make a real difference. So, I'm going to start by saving seeds from annual vegetables, that is the ones that produce seed in their first year of growth. For obvious reasons, this removes a whole layer of complications and makes them usually the easiest to save seed from. To make it even easier, I'm going to stick with annuals that are also self-pollinating.

Vegetables that can produce seed by self-pollinating - also know as inbreeding plants - do not suffer from inbreeding depression, which can reduce the quality of a strain of seeds in vegetables that require external pollination (outbreeding plants). It is therefore possible to save seeds from a much smaller pool of parents. However, just because plants are USUALLY inbreeding does not mean that they CANNOT oubreed, and care must still be taken to avoid crosses, or at least you must be prepared for the possibility.

Essentially, that means peas, beans, and members of the solanacea family such as tomatoes and peppers.

Eggplants, like tomatoes and peppers are generally self fertile but may cross. Tomatillos will cross with each other, but are generally similar enough to each other that it doesn' matter. Ground cherries, I suspect pretty much the same, and at any rate unless you are a ground cherry breeder you are not too likely to be growing more than one strain. Potatoes are an entire topic on their own, and I will not discuss them here.

The easiest and most financially rewarding seeds to save are for peas and beans. They are generally packed very few to an envelope, as they are large and bulky, and expensive to ship. Furthermore, they are self-fertile - they are actually usually fertilized and the peas and beans ready to develop before the flowers even open. I say usually. Some people say they have a lot of problems with beans crossing, and others say they don't cross. I've had no problem with them crossing in my garden even growing different varieties jammed right up against each other. I suspect it depends very much on your particular situation. My suspicion is that the closer you are to the ancestral home of beans (Central America) the more likely you are to have insects in your garden that are capable of cross-fertilizing them, although I have no proof of this. I think in general we are probably pretty safe around here, but note that I make no guarantees. Peas, on the other hand, are more reliably self-fertile everywhere.

Tomatoes are a plant that a lot of people save seed from, and they are treated very similarly to the related peppers. Like peas and beans, they are annuals, and like them they are self-fertile. Here's where I differ from the common wisdom again... most people think tomatoes don't cross often. My experience is that they DO INDEED cross often enough for it to be a bloody nuisance. I've gotten more crossed tomato seeds than anything else, both from my own seed saving, and from seed companies who should damned well know better. One source says that peppers and tomatoes are 85% self fertile. Other people report crossing rates varying from 5% to 40%! Here are a few useful observations.

Conventional advice is to keep your tomatoes separated by 25 feet. Good luck with that, in most gardens. If you want to save seed, probably the best advice is to bag the blossom with a sheer nylon bag before it opens, and keep the resulting tomato well marked until ripe and seeds can be extracted. There is some good information on tomato seed saving here. Or perhaps even better advice: glue the unopened flowers shut. Then, mark the resulting tomato to save for seed. I really will have to try this.

It is my understanding that tomatoes with blossoms that have a long style (the tube with the stigma at the end, in the middle of the flower) are more likely to be cross pollinated, as are tomatoes with large blossoms. In general, this seems to mean the larger tomatoes. I've had problems with Striped German and Paul Robeson in particular. But it can happen with smaller tomatoes too - I'm growing a plant which ought to be Jaune Flammé this year, but which plainly isn't quite. I'm actually going to save seed from it - in the hopes that it hasn't crossed with anything else and that it's stable- because in fact it's a nice, tasty little red tomato with some of Jaune Flammée's best qualities: early, productive, robust and very long producing. But most of the crossed tomatoes I've grown have been noticeably inferior to their parents. 

Peppers, it is my impression, are even more prone to crossing than tomatoes. Furthermore, if you grow both hot and sweet varieties, you may be in for some unpleasant surprises if you save seed. In particular, sweet peppers from crossed seed may grow to look exactly as they should - but be hot, rather than sweet. So, if you intend to save pepper seeds, even more care to isolate them will be needed, and bagging or otherwise sealing off the flowers from outside pollination is still recommended. The situation is a bit more complicated than that, in that there are 5 species of peppers grown in gardens (although around here, really only 4) and they may or may not cross with each other. Still, the large majority of peppers grown in Canada are members of the capsicum annuum species, and will cross.

As far as the mechanics of seed saving, most of these are also very easy. Allow peas and beans to dry on the plant, but remove them and shell them before the shells split naturally and spill the seed.

Pepper seeds need only be removed from very ripe fruits and dried. Eggplant as well, although for them "very ripe" is a state few gardeners and cooks will ever see. Allow the first eggplant to form to go to seed; it will likely take all season to ripen, until it turns yellowish. Mash the flesh and wash out the seeds - the sinkers are the good ones (This applies to most seeds.) The same technique can be used for tomatillos and ground cherries.

As for tomatoes, there are two ways to go about it.Most people prefer to squeeze or scoop the seeds, with the surrounding gel, from the chosen ripe tomato into a jar of water, which should then be left in the sun to ferment for a week or so. A rather revolting layer of mold will develop on the surface. Add more water, stir up well, then rinse the seeds well in a mesh colander to clean. This fermentation will help kill diseases, but is not strictly necessary. If you do not think you can do it, scoop the seeds out and rinse them. Lay them on a piece of paper towel to dry thoroughly for a week or so, then scrape them off and store them as usual.
You should not save seeds if you have known diseases in your plants, although if you cannot replace the seed any other way, choose the best, least affected fruits you can find to save some seed from. Dry and store them as usual, but soak them in a solution of 1% to 3% hydrogen peroxide for 12 hours before planting. Actually, this brings me to the next point about seed saving, which is selection...

Friday, 7 September 2012

Pineapple Tomatoes

Last year, I went on a collection trip with Robert Foreman of 100 Mile Produce, and was given a Pineapple tomato to save seed from, as a gift from one of his farmer friends. It was a delicious tomato and I did indeed save some seeds and grow them out this year.

As you can see, they are not only delicious but remarkably beautiful tomatoes too. This one is perhaps a tad past the peak of perfection - they should still have a bit more hint of green to them. The overall effect is a marbled swirl of red, orange, yellow and green, inside and out. The tomatoes are large, often weighing a pound and sometimes as much as two pounds each. The flavour is mild, rich and fruity, with just a gentle hint of acidity. A Pineapple tomato this ripe has a soft and melting texture; perfect on a slice of good bread with mayonnaise and a sprinkle of salt, which is how I aspire to eat all my Pineapple tomatoes. Otherwise it is tender but firm, and in any case it has little gel and very few seeds.

Pineapple has a reputation as not a very productive tomato, and it certainly wasn`t at the top of the list of producers. Still, I`d say it delivered a respectable number of tomatoes; at least a dozen per vine and given that a few of them were very large it`s hard to complain. I`ll be growing this one again next year, just a plant or two for (mostly) my own personal delectation.

The plants themselves are extremely large and rangy. As ever, this is a good thing since we were afflicted with septoria spot again this year. They were able to keep producing for several months in spite of the damage to the leaves. (Basically, nothing is resistant to septoria spot - any tomato that survives it does so by outgrowing it.) Like most large beefsteak tomatoes, this one is fairly late at 80 to 85 days to maturity. (I`ve seen dates listed for this from 70 days to 90 days - quite a range. There may be different strains out there. For me it was one of the first of the large beefsteaks to deliver a ripe tomato, so I`d say about 80 days.)

I say this a lot but there isn`t much information out there about its origins. The general line is that it comes out of Kentucky, which is plausible. Many of the bicolour tomatoes do seem to come out of southern Pennsylvania, southern Ohio, West Virginia or northern Kentucky. I`ve also seen an Ohio origin suggested for it. Tatiana says it was listed by Gleckler Seedsmen.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Corn & Chicken Egg Drop Soup

This is a classic and popular soup in Chinese restaurants everywhere. Usually it's made with canned or frozen corn - and no reason why not - but it is much more delicate and delightful made in season with fresh corn.

I'm a little vague about how many servings this makes, because it depends upon what else you are serving. Mr. Ferdzy and I actually ate it all, 2 full bowls each, but it was our entire lunch. As part of a larger feast it would certainly stretch as far as for 8. Since it was our full meal, I was a bit more generous with the chicken, but if I made it as just one component of a larger meal I would use the lower amount. 

Really, this soup is very flexible. You could use fish broth and whitefish instead of chicken, or you could make it vegetarian by omitting both fish and chicken and using vegetable broth and an extra egg. I would probably like to add some finely diced lightly fried tofu to give it a little more textural interest in that case. And finally, to make this all year long, use a can of creamed corn and a handful of frozen corn instead of the fresh corn. Reduce the water to 1 cup in this case. 

Quick and easy as this recipe is, it's important to keep the temperature just right - it should be just simmering from the time the chicken goes in until it gets served. Don't let it boil hard, and don't let it get too cool to keep the ingredients cooking as they are added.

4 to 8 servings
40 minutes prep time

4 cups chicken stock
1" x 1" x 1" piece of fresh ginger
200 to 300 grams (1/2 pound) skinless boneless chicken
2 large cobs of corn
2 cups water
1 tablespoon arrowroot or cornstarch
2 tablespoons soy sauce
salt & pepper to taste

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 or 2 green onions OR 1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Put the chicken stock into a generously sized pot (as more will be added) and bring to a boil. Peel and slice the ginger, and add the slices to the stock along with the piece(s) of chicken. If you use the green onion, mince the white parts of the onions and add them now too. Simmer gently for 15 minutes. Remove the chicken pieces with a slotted spoon and let them cool enough to handle. Remove the slices of ginger and discard them.

Meanwhile, husk the corn and cut the kernels from the cobs. When the chicken and ginger come out of the soup, add the corn, along with all the water except for about 1/4 cup of it. Mix the starch and soy sauce into the remaining water, and add it to the soup, stirring constantly until it is slightly thickened. Keep the soup at a bare simmer throughout the rest of the cooking process. 

Break the egg into a small bowl and beat it well with a fork. 

Finely chop the chicken and return it to the soup. When the corn has been in the soup for about 5 minutes,  take the fork from beating the egg and use it to make the same beating motions in the soup. Pour in the egg, beating it into the soup until it forms small, set strands. Mix in the sesame oil.

Serve the soup, with the minced green onion tops or chopped cilantro sprinkled on top.