Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Celery & Peanut Butter Soup

This is a rich and filling soup, and with some toast would make a complete meal. Still, in small portions it could also be served as a starter to more formal meal.

I looked at a number of peanut soup recipes before I devised this, and most of them seemed to call for milk or cream which struck me as excessive given that peanut butter is pretty filling on its own. I was also getting more of an oriental vibe from the idea, so I went with it. I thought the results were really good.

The peanut butter was purchased - I suppose I should mention that it was a peanut butter consisting solely of peanuts (a little salt would be okay); I've never seen the point of having peanut butter filled with extraneous not particularly healthy fats and extra sugar - but I was excited to be able to garnish the soup with some peanuts from our own garden. As usual, a pretty skimpy harvest, but we persevere. They went in very late. One of these years we will get it right, I hope.

4 to 8 servings
45 minutes - 30 minutes prep time

1 medium head celery (4 to 5 cups chopped)
3 or 4 large shallots
1" x 1" x 2" piece of ginger
4 to 6 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
1/8 teaspoon flaked hot chiles
4 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 to 2 tablespoons tamari or soya sauce
chopped roasted peanuts to garnish (optional)

Trim the celery and wash it, and chop it fairly finely. Peel and chop the shallots finely. Peel and mince the ginger, and peel and mince the garlic.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed soup pot. Add the celery and cook for 6 to 7 minutes, stirring regularly, until softened and reduced, but don't let it brown. Add the shallots and ginger, and continue cooking for another 3 or 4 minutes, until it too is softened and reduced, and perhaps slightly browned. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for another minute or so. Add the hot chile flakes and stir in well.

Add the chicken stock and bring to a good simmer. Cover and simmer for about 10 to 15 minutes, until the celery is fairly tender. Mix in the peanut butter until well dissolved and distributed throughout the soup. Season with the soy sauce, the exact amount depending on how salty the chicken stock was to start with, and how salty you would like the soup.

Serve garnished with a spoonful of chopped roasted peanuts if you like.

Last year at this time I made Sweet & Sour Cabbage and Ajvar. Again, my Ajvar was made a good 2 weeks ago this year... what a funny season it has been. 

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Beans, Beans!

Somehow, we ended up with a lot of dry beans this year. It's interesting to compare  how productive they were, relative to each other. From left to right: Mennonite Purple Stripe, Arikara Yellow, Deseronto Potato Bean, Dolloff, and Blue Lake S7. Some seeds have been held back from all the varieties for replanting, but the above 2-litre jars give a good general idea of how productive each variety was, with the caveat that 2 out of the 5 varieties were planted in a 5' by 8' plot, and three were planted in a 5' by 4' plot.

First, the Mennonite Purple Stripe. We tried them this year as they are a relatively local heirloom pole variety, long grown by Mennonites from the Kitchener-Waterloo area. I believe they made their way into general circulation through Bob Wildfong of Doon Heritage Village (and Seeds of Diversity).  My impression is that they are likely a selected strain of Rattlesnake (aka Preacher), a relatively common heirloom American bean. It looks similar, although more brown than purple. The Mennonite Purple Stripe really are pretty, in unusual shades of purple and mauve. Even the green pods are streaked with purple.

They are supposed to be good both fresh and dry. Most people we gave them to thought they were really, really good fresh. Mr. Ferdzy and I thought they were only good, which doesn't quite cut it for us. So, after picking a few to eat fresh, we left the rest to dry. We haven't tasted them yet, but I can say that they were surprisingly slow to dry down, and only produced about 2/3 the amount of most of the other beans. They were one of the 5' by 4' plantings. The pods got enormous and puffy as they grew, but only contained an average of 5 to 7 beans. That's a high count, actually, but given how large the pods were, it seemed a bit unimpressive. And obviously, there were fewer pods, because in spite of the large size of the individual beans, they did not add up to much more than a litre once dried and shelled. These are a pole bean, Heritage Harvest says 70 days to fresh beans, and I'd think close to 120 for dry - not quick, really.

The ones next to them are Arikara Yellow. These are a traditional bean from the Mandan and Arikara tribes of the Missouri Valley. This is about on a latitude with southern Ontario, but it is in general a colder and drier place. Thus the beans are well adapted to short seasons and drought. We planted ours very late - in July! - in a 5' by 8' bed. They charged ahead, and when it became clear to them that the days were shortening, they started aborting new pods and too-small beans and concentrated on ripening what was far enough along to make it. We planted them earlier last year, and got a bit better crop then, I think. But not by much, so I'm really impressed by these. We got a bit more than it looks like; I saved a lot of seed out of them.

We planted Cherokee Trail of Tears at the same time this year (admittedly a pole bean, while Arikara Yellow is bush) and didn't get a single ripe seed. The plants seemed completely unaware of the approach of fall, and just kept noodling along putting out new beans but not shaking a tendril at getting the first ones ripe, presumably because they developed in an area of much longer seasons. In spite of the fact that Arikara Yellow went in late, they produced about as much as the best pole beans (in twice as much space, admittedly.) Bush beans are less work than pole beans though, and I find I don't mind picking dry bush beans in the same way that I mind picking fresh bush beans. That's because we yanked up the entire plants and brought them inside to finish drying, then shelled them at our leisure. The one thing to watch when growing dry bush beans is that the grass around them needs to be well trimmed, or they will run into it and rot.

Since we grew these last year we have tried eating these. They are a smallish kidney-like bean that dries to a yellowish buff and cooks up surprisingly brown with a nice mild beany flavour. These look like being a staple for us. Eighty to eighty-five days to dry maturity! Wow! Five to 6 beans per pod on average for us.

Next up, Deseronto Potato Bean. Heritage Harvest Seed describes them as "a vigorously twining bush but can be grown on a fence as a pole bean as well." We put them in with the pole beans, and boy, am I glad. Unlike most pole beans they didn't start back down once they got to the top, which means they "only" grew to seven or so feet, but I would hate to have to deal with them as a snarly mass on the ground. These were strongly determinate but took a while to dry down; 100 days sounds about right for the start, but they were quite spread out in the time it took them to finish.

I haven't eaten any of these yet but I am excited to try them. They are an even more genuine Ontario heirloom than the Mennonite Purple Stripe, originating with the Tyendinaga Mohawks of eastern Ontario. I expect they were originally grown up corn stalks, hence their slightly odd intermediate plant size. The beans themselves are lovely; big, fat and white, supposedly soft and potato-like in texture once cooked. I did not think they would produce as well as the Dolloff from the number of pods, and the fact that each pod had on average only 4 to 5 beans, but the beans are large enough individually that in the end they were actually very close in volume. This was another 5' x 4' section.

Dolloff was our other selection as a dried bean this year, and it takes the prize as the most productive, although by a nose. The beans are touted as a lima bean substitute, being rather similar in shape. They are smaller though, and prettily mottled in reddish tan and brown. These originate in Vermont, and as you might expect, they are quite early at 90 days to dry, and I would say they were all dried down within 2 weeks. Unlike the Desorontos, which died off once they were done the first batch, the plants then attempted to start producing a second batch, although only a few pods were able to mature before being cut short by frost. This is a beany, beany, bean-producing plant, for a dry bean. They are a shortish pole bean topping out at about 8' or 9' with 4 to 6 beans per pod.

Again, we haven't had a chance to try them yet, but if they are as tasty as they are productive they will be a real winner and a garden staple. We did try them as a fresh shelly bean, and they were delicious, although they turned a slightly unappetizing grey as they cooked. (That's them up above, from the middle of August.)

And finally we have a small quantity of Blue Lake S-7 beans. This is the other one that was planted in a 5' by 8' bed, which means that this is a very small quantity of dried beans for the space. That is misleading though; these were planted for fresh beans, and we only let them start drying down once we have filled our freezer and eaten as much as we can stand of them fresh. The fact that they still manage to produce any dried beans at all is impressive. They are not sold as a dried bean at all, but we seem to usually end up with about a litre of fine, delicate white beans that are really very good once cooked up - almost like the gourmet French haricot beans, although without the pale green tint of true haricots. Still, not bad at all for a complete bonus. There's always a lot of Blue Lake beans that don't get mature enough to dry down before frost,and that was the case this year as usual and it always makes me sad. Still, they at least get going on drying down the earlier pods soon enough that you should get a respectable quantity in the end. I can expect to pull out the Blue Lakes at the end of the season positive that they don't owe me a thing. Eight to 10 beans per pod, but small ones!

Monday, 29 October 2012

Pork with Fennel & Peppers

I'm not sure what the pepper situation is out there if you have to buy them. I am STILL trying to clear all of ours off the counter, although they are finally dwindling fast. (Admittedly a number of them are going to the compost.) Good thing this turned out to be quite tasty, as I made a big batch to freeze.

If you can't find stewing pork (it doesn't seem to be around much) a piece of shoulder or pork loin rib chops trimmed and cut up will do just fine. If you don't have or use wine, I would put in some lemon and/or orange juice instead. Also, you may wish to hold out a bit of the chicken stock until the end, then stir it in with 2 teaspoons arrowroot or cornstarch dissolved in it, for a thicker sauce. 

4 servings
1 hour 30 minutes - 1  hour prep time

2 large bulbs of fennel (4 cups sliced)
3 to 6 mixed sweet pepeprs (4 cups sliced)
1 large onion
4 to 6 cloves of garlic
500 grams (1 pound) lean stewing pork
2 to 4 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
1/2 cup white wine
2 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon fresh or 1/2 teaspoon dry rubbed thyme
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon flaked red chile
1 teaspoon salt, and black pepper to taste

Wash the fennel, and trim away the stem end. Cut off any narrow, tough stems and greenery. (Save a little of the leaves for garnish if you like.) Cut the fennel in half, removing any tough core, then slice into small bite-sized pieces. Wash, core and deseed the peppers, and cut them into bite-sized pieces. Peel the onion, and chop into bite-sized pieces. Peel and mince the garlic. Check that the pork is trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large skillet, and cook the peppers over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until they are softened, slightly browned and much reduced in volume. Add them to a large stewing pot. Add a little more oil to the skillet if needed, and cook the fennel until similarly softened, browned and reduced in volume. Add it to the peppers. Repeat with the onion, adding the garlic just a minute or two before you add it to the stew pot. Finally, brown the pork  well in the skillet then add it to the vegetables.

Add the wine, chicken stock and seasonings to the stew. You will likely need to adjust the amount of salt depending on how salty the chicken stock is. Bring to a simmer, then simmer gently for 20 to 30 minutes. Serve with rice, noodles or potatoes.

Last year around this time I made Vegan Stuffed Peppers and Miso-Tomato Soup. Hmm, tomatoes have been done for a good 2 weeks this year, but it's a good year-round soup when made with tinned ones. 

Friday, 26 October 2012

Southport White Globe Onions

I usually write about vegetables that have been successful for us, but occasionally something just doesn't work. Sometimes it's just a failure; other times it's an instructive failure, and it may be useful to discuss it. Such was the case with these.

We had some difficulty with onion seed this spring, including buying some that didn't germinate, meaning that we had to find a replacement in a hurry. We picked up Southport White Globe from a rack at our local hardware store; the seed coming from the Ontario Seed Company (OSC). They didn't have much selection but I had at least heard of this one. Here's what they had to say about it:
 An excellent white bunching onion that is well adapted to northern growing areas. The bulbs are round, medium sized and solid with thin delicate skin. The flesh is white, fine grained and mild. An excellent direct seeding variety as they mature very quickly. A good keeper. Suitable for regions where the weather tends to rapidly shift between hot and cool during the summer. 

I had already heard about this onion from William Woys Weaver, in Heirloom Vegetable Gardening. Here's his description of the Southport White Globe:
 "...this onion is perfectly round in shape, with a smooth white skin. This variety is always recommended over all other white onions for the American kitchen gardens in old garden books because it can be grown in many parts of the country, including the Upper South. Unfortunately, it is not a good keeper, but it makes a delicious soup."

I trust you can see the problem from the pictures. For most of the summer they sat there not looking that different from any of the other onions, but eventually, as the others began to bulb up and die down, I got more and more anxious about the fact that the Southport White Globe onions were still narrow-bodied and thick-necked, and not dying down at all. And finally, this week, I had to admit that they never were going to do any such thing so I pulled them out and put them on the compost.

So, what exactly happened here?

Well, you may remember when I talked about selecting seeds for the characteristics that you want in them. It's my belief that this variety has been selected for so long for growing as green onions - in other words for not forming a bulb too early - that it seems to have lost the ability to form a bulb at all. This doesn't resemble the perfectly round globe, described by William Weaver and suggested by the name and description on the OSC packet. It has become a different vegetable, for all intents and purposes.

So, if you want long-standing green onions, this is no doubt an excellent choice. If you want actual onions, it is a failure. I have to admit I don't find the idea of a specialized annual green onion all that useful. Starting with Welsh onions early in the spring and moving on as other onions get added to the garden, it's easiest for me just to snip a few onion tops here and there as I want them. Of course, I am home gardener rather than a market grower, which certainly changes the picture.

I wonder if the original Southport White Globe still exists? Has anyone else grown these from another source? What was the result?

According to William Weaver, Southport, Connecticut developed as an area of onion specialists before 1788. They regularly received seed from Spain and Portugal, but during the American revolution it became necessary to grow their own. Over the next century, the Connecticut onion farmers continued to incorporate new genetic material and refine their onions. The Southport White Globe was one of the resulting varieties.At least the one described by Weaver and expected by me.

It was interesting to me how much these over-mature "green" onions resembled leeks, (although, alas, they were tough and stringy when cooked which is why they were all composted). The more I grow alliums the more I see how they resemble each other, sometimes in surprising ways. At any rate, we'll cross this one off the list and continue to look for other interesting open-pollinated onion varieties in the future.

Thursday, 25 October 2012


Sometime last month,  Luckiest1 gave me a Leibster award. Yay, award!

While I appreciate the thought, I have to admit the results were an awful lot like HOMEWORK, and if you don't know how I feel about HOMEWORK, well, keep reading and you will know...

Rule 1: Post 11 things about yourself
Rule 2: Answer the tagger's questions
Rule 3: Tag and pass the awards to 11 other bloggers
 Rule 4: Create 11 questions for the bloggers to answer
Rule 5: Go to bloggers page and inform them about the awards
Rule 6: No tagging back

11 Things About Me:

1. Mr. Ferdzy is allergic to everything with fur and feathers. That's about him, but it's also about me in that the result is that we have no pets, have never had any pets and probably never will have any pets. Although I've told him that if he ever dies or leaves me, I'm going to replace him with a dog. I like dogs. Even though, according to allergy testing I once had, I'm allergic to them too. Cats are much worse though, and let's not even talk about rodents.

2. My father was at the lumberyard, carrying me. I looked up, wrinkled my brow and moved my lips, then announced: "CEDAR!" And so it was. That was when I was 2 years old. I've been reading voraciously ever since, up to three books a day in high-school. 

3. In spite of my early love of reading, I developed an early loathing for education too. In grade 2, I used my new arithmatic skills to determine that I still had ELEVEN MORE YEARS TO GO and was completely horrified and depressed. I managed to shave off half a semester when the time came by getting my Grade 13 with the absolute minimum possible number of credits. Dad agreed to write me an absence note once a month providing I skived off on a day with no tests or projects due, in order to keep me sane. Homework was also totally against my principles, so how I actually passed I don't know.

4. By the time I was a teenager I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up: retired! It took a while, but we did retire 3 years ago, when I was 48. Money will have to be watched carefully, but to me the whole point of working is to be able to stop.

5. I am probably one of the most cynical, pessimistic people you will ever meet. I try not to let it show on the blog - or anywhere else - too much. It's not a quality that adds much to my quality of life, but it is what it is. I'm just happy to live with Mr. Ferdzy who is also mostly Mr. Sunshine. Actually, he can be pretty cynical and pessimistic too, but at least we tend to brood about different things, even though we agree on a frightening amount. He is at least a much more naturally cheerful person.

6. I suppose I should say something about me and food. This is a food blog, after all. I like food. I like almost all of it, and I like lots of it, and I am no big fan of exercise, and the result is that I could really stand to lose a bunch of weight. Sometimes I think I need to either stop blogging or convert this to a diet blog... Bleargh.

7. Speaking of exercise, they made me run in Phys Ed, back in the bad old days. I swore I would never run again once I was no longer taking it, ie the moment it became optional. I have only broken that vow once, about 15 years ago in the Vancouver airport. If I had realized there was a flight to Victoria every half hour, I wouldn't even have broken it even that once. I hate running with a passion. I'm perfectly happy to walk though, and in fact 6 years ago I (we) walked clear across Spain - probably about 1000 kilometers, all said and done, over three months. Yes, that was the Camino de Santiago. A very happy memory. 

8. I used to be an Anarchist. It seemed to be a logical extension of being a Quaker. However, by the time I went to the Toronto Anarchists Convention in the summer of 1988, the bloom was kind of off the rose. Nothing like meeting most of North America's anarchists to really make it clear that anarchism was no panacea for the human condition. On the bright side, I re-met (long story) Mr. Ferdzy there, moved in with him a month later, and the rest is history.

9. We were involved in an anarchist magazine collective (Kick It Over) for several years. After it wound down, we read Systems of Survival; A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics, by Jane Jacobs. It took me a year to come to terms with re-wiring my brain, but the end result was that we became born-again capitalists, and went into business for ourselves. First we made organic baking mixes for the health food market, which was barely successful, and after we sold the business (which then quickly folded) we became landlords by buying a 12 unit apartment and later 8 townhouses which we renovated, severed, and sold.

10. And then we retired, and decided to live out our hippy fantasies, and bought the farm. So to speak. Here we are, up to our elbows in tomatoes.

11. You can always tell a Ferdzy, but you can't tell her much. Pig headed? Check. Opinionated? Check. Pig headed and opinionated? Check, and check.

Who or what inspired you to start blogging? 

The idea had been kicking around in my head for a number of months before I actually did it. I was reading a few blogs regularly, and the whole local, seasonal food movement was starting to take off. I looked at a number of things that people were doing on that front with faint disbelief, I have to say.

The whole "100 Mile Diet" thing, where people wouldn't eat anything - ANYTHING - if it wasn't local. As someone who had made a conscious decision to eat as much local, seasonal food as possible 20 years earlier, that kind of purity struck me as very faddish, although it was certainly good at getting attention to the idea. But I'm in this for the long haul, and what that means in practice, is if I want to eat a banana I eat a damn banana and don't angst about it. And of course, on the other side of the equation I would see recipes described as local and seasonal and they'd have one or two local seasonal ingredients and a whole pile of ingredients, including quite key ones, from somewhere else. Or, include two ingredients that could be local and seasonal - but not at the same time. Those recipes kind of get up my nose too.

But what actually got me onto my butt and typing was a day when we still lived in the apartment, and the stairs were being repaired, meaning I was stuck inside with nothing to do for about 10 hours straight... somehow, at the end of that the blog was up and several recipes had been posted. Oops. I was committed.

Do you watch Food TV? If so, does it inspire you to cook? Is there any particular show or chef that inspires you most of all? 

I  don't, actually. We haven't had a TV in about 25 years. Not that we don't spend large amounts of time in front of a flickering blue screen - it's just a computer screen. I hear vague things about various shows and chefs, but it's like it's all happening on another planet for the most part.

Do you know about the Food Revolution and have you signed the petition? 

Uh, eh, er. No, and no. Oh wait. Is that Jamie Oliver? I guess I  have heard of it (and him). There's a petition?

Do you grow your own vegetables or herbs? 

Oh, yeah. 

Did your parents/grandparents pass their recipes down to you? 

Well, a few. But I come from a standard anglo-Ontario/Quebec-with-a-branch-from-Nova Scotia oldish Canadian family, which means there were not a lot of recipes to pass on and upon the whole that was just as well.

Interestingly, and in spite of the above comment, my mothers side of the family included 6 sisters (my great-aunts) who were all renowned for their cooking. It was all fairly basic, founded mostly on high quality ingredients and good if simple techniques; no rare or expensive items beyond the occasional very fine roast. Minimal spicing. Kind of plain. But good. (Frequently rather rich, it has to be said.) I admit I still lean towards that style of cooking, although like most modern Canadians I am so bloody happy that our food horizons have expanded to take in so much more of the world. Still, I am very fond of food that tastes like what it is and looks like what it is, and have a deep distrust of things that have been gussied up too much. (Don't get me going on the whole molecular thing...)

Did anyone else in your life teach you to cook or share their recipes with you? 

The aforementioned great-aunts, Aunt Alethea in particular, who was more like a grandmother to me than either of my actual grandmothers, I would say. But I've never spent a lot of time cooking with anyone else. Most of my time in the kitchen has been experimenting on my own.

Do you cook with your children or any other children in your life? 

Rarely. We don't have any. But for a while it was an annual tradition for me to make cookies and take them to the First Day (Sunday) school of our Meeting on the first sunday in December and decorate them with gobs of icing and sprinkles, etc. 

Do you occasionally eat fast food? 

Occasionally. Very occasionally. I try to avoid it as much as I possibly can, although I admit to a sneaking fondness for Egg McMuffins. Even so, every time I have one I sadly recognize that it would have been so much better if I had made it myself. And right now I am jonesing bad for some spicy Popeye's chicken. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, the nearest outlet is a good 2 hours away.

They say you either love or hate cilantro, and there is no middle ground. How do you feel about it?

Oh, I like it quite a bit, I'd even go so far as to say I love it. I do think there is such a thing as too much of it, so it's not an unconditional love. Most of my family like it enough to eat it occasionally, but none of them are mad for it, so maybe that blows that theory out of the water.

Okay; 11 (seriously, 11?) exciting other bloggers! (Uh, nope.)

And here's where I go my own way. There are a lot of great bloggers out there and I could maybe even think of eleven of them. But I'm not going to. Sorry, this is a dead end. However, if someone out there want to pick it up, here are the questions I would ask:

And the Information I wish to Extract Is:

1.) What is your earliest food memory?
2.) What is your favourite food?
3.) What is your least favourite food?
4.) Do you feel like you have a philosophy about cooking and eating, and if so, what is it?
5.) Is there something seasonal that you look forward to all year? What is it, and how do you get it?
6.) Do you have a special treat that you like when you are feeling down, or sick, or otherwise in need of culinary support?
7.) Have you ever had a transformative food moment? Something that you tried for the first time maybe, and it changed your life?
8.) How do you feel about... OATMEAL?
9.) Since it's on my mind at the moment... what is your traditional Christmas menu?
10.  And cookies... let's talk about cookies... what's your favourite cookie?
11.) Snacking: sweet or savory?

Friday, 12 October 2012

Anellino Yellow Beans & Cherokee Trail of Tears Beans

The yellow ones on the left are the Anellino Yellow (Anellino Giallo; Shrimp Bean); the green ones on the right are the Cherokee Trail of Tears. These were both new beans for us in the garden this year. Both of them have pretty pink flowers and are lovely plants.

The Anellino Yellow are somewhat unusual and hard to find. The phrase that comes to mind for them is "high maintenance". They were, as advertised, quite late to start producing, at least three weeks later than our earliest bean, which should put them around the 80 days to maturity mark. When they started though, they came in large quantities. They are a long, rangy pole bean that needs good support, but for a pole bean they seemed almost determinate. They produced heavily for about a month, and then seemed to really slow down a lot. Or maybe all the beans are coiled up on the top of the trellis, sunning themselves like little lizards, and not hanging down where I can find them. It amounts to the same thing either way though - no more beans, or few, anyway.

The flavour of these was excellent, sweet and delicious. Like a lot of yellow beans, I think them best with just a blush of green left in them. Although as they got bigger and the seeds swelled  a bit, the flavour became really sweet and rich from the developing seeds. There is an Anellino Green, and I noticed on a couple of my plants that the beans stayed green and never turned yellow at any size. Flavour was similar if not identical. I'm told these are traditionally used in cold (cooked) bean salads, and that would certainly be a good use for them.

I didn't think to take a picture until after the main flush was finished, and the ones I could find for it seemed less typical of the curled shape that gives them their name (little ring, in Italian). The one on top is typical of what they should look like. The shape is distinctive and interesting, but it also makes them kind of a pain in the arse. They are harder to pick, and harder to pack and store, and harder to trim. If you like them enough, they may still be worth the effort, but I'm not sure I like them that much. On the other hand, you are not likely to see them for sale, for the reasons I just enumerated, so if you want to try them you will probably have to grow them yourself.

I have to say, I found a couple of missed pods this week that had matured and dried down, and the shelled beans are so fabulously beautiful, that I'm almost tempted to grow them again just to see the dry seed again. They are neat little oval beans in a rich shade of plum purple speckled with streaks of slightly greenish beige.I may relent and stick in just a handful of these for next year - they really were quite delicious.

These are an Italian heirloom bean, more than which I cannot say. I suspect they came to North America via Franchi (Seeds from Italy) and a few seed sellers have picked them up from there.There do seem to be a couple of strains out there; the other one apparently has black seeds.

The Cherokee Trail of Tears are quite a different bean. The flavour is hard to distinguish from Blue Lake - which is not an insult by any means, since Blue Lake are in my opinion the bean to which all other green beans are compared. It remains to be seen if they freeze as well as Blue Lake. We have put away a few packs to test them.

They are a less uniform bean than the Blue Lake, at least in the strain we have. The beans are generally shorter (but variable) and flatter (usually). Some of them quickly develop a slight purple flush, and some of them don't. In any case, they are produced prolifically on very robust vines. They went in late, and have proven to be very shade tolerant. They are much quicker to produce than the Anellino Yellow, at about 65 to 70 days to fresh maturity, although unlike the Anellino Yellow they will continue to produce new beans  until nearly frost. (Allow at least 100 days if you want them dried.) In spite of their antiquity, they were tender and string-free, although I've seen some people complain that some were stringy. (In which case, the strings should be pulled out as you top and tail them.)

Apparently they can also be used dried - in fact are usually used dried - but I doubt we will get to try them thusly as we did put them in so very late, after we had already grown a crop of early peas in the same bed. The dry beans are a slender, glossy black, and should cook to a rich dark red.

Their history, unlike that of the Anellino Yellow, is well recorded and widely available. They were contributed to  Seed Savers Exchange in 1977, by Dr. John Wyche of Oklahoma. According to Dr. Wyche, his Cherokee ancestors had carried them on the Trail of Tears in 1838, and grown them ever since. Dr. Wyche was a notable gardener, who contributed a number of very interesting tomatoes to the SSE as well.

As I researched these beans, I noted that a number of gardeners felt their beans had been crossed, as they had beans which did not fully meet the description of the proper Cherokee Trail of Tears bean. So that may be something to watch for. I've certainly noticed that some varieties cross more easily than others.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Pasta & Turkey with Broccoli in Mushroom Sauce

Ohlookit'smoreturkey. In a more traditional left-over turkey presentation, but nothing wrong with that. This is the last of it though, I promise.

We have finally admitted to ourselves that we don't have what it takes to grow broccoli very successfully and are now actually willing to buy some. Good. I love broccoli, and I missed it when all we would get were a few mingy sprigs from our garden. (After waiting all summer.)

I abstained from adding peppers for once. This is a more mild, Canadian-childhood type dish, and they did not seem quite appropriate. They are still sitting all over the kitchen in tubs though. 

4 servings
40 minutes prep time

Make the Sauce:
200 grams (1/2 pound) button mushrooms
1 small onion OR 2 shallots
2 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
1 teaspoon savory, thyme, basil or oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup flour
2 cups turkey stock
2 cups diced cooked turkey
1 cup rich milk or light cream

Clean and cut the mushrooms in halves or quarters, depending on their size. Peel and mince the onion or shallots. Peel and mince the garlic.

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Cook the mushrooms and onions until soft and slightly browned. The mushrooms should go into the pan first, and be about half cooked by the time the onions are added. Season with the herb of choice, and add the garlic and flour. Continue cooking for a minute or two longer, stirring well, until the garlic is fragrant and the flour is well mixed in and no signs of raw flour remain.

Slowly mix in the turkey stock, until the mixture is smooth and starting to thicken. Add the turkey, and simmer for about 10 minutes until heated through. Stir regularly. Mix in the milk or cream and heat through.

Finish the Pasta & Broccoli:
250 grams (generous 1/2 pound) dry pasta
1 head broccoli (about 4 cups when chopped)
Just before you chop the vegetables, put a large pot of salted water on to boil. Wash, trim and chop the broccoli into smallish bite-sized pieces.

When the water comes to a boil and all the vegetables have been chopped, and the mushrooms put into the skillet to cook, add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until done, according to the package. Add the broccoli about 5 minutes before the pasta is to be done. Stir regularly.

When the pasta is done and the sauce is ready - the milk or cream should go into the sauce when the pasta has just a minute or two left to cook - drain the pasta and broccoli. Toss them in the finished sauce.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Turkey Quinoa-tto

Yes, I made that word up. The technique is the same as for making risotto or orzotto, but the end result here is not creamy, as quinoa is a sturdy little seed without loose surface starch. Nevertheless, we thought this was very good. It was certainly quick and easy, and I will definitely do it again with other leftover poultry. The nice thing about leftover turkey though, is there does tend to be a lot of turkey stock sitting around at the same time; this makes good use of some of it.

By the way, the packaging on quinoa always seems to say it cooks in 15 minutes. That is, in my experience, quite incorrect. I allow a bit over 20 minutes here; that seems to me to be the minimum time, and allows for the fact that it is spread out fairly thinly in the pan and thus cooks a bit more quickly than usual. You may want to test it just before you add the vegetables and turkey at the end, and make sure it is getting close to done. Otherwise, cook it a few more minutes first.

I used beans from the garden, but they will be getting harder to find. Broccoli would work just as well. I also used some corn I dried when it was in season, but frozen corn would work fine. And I'm still putting peppers into everything...

2 servings
30 minutes prep time

1 large onion
2 medium sweet peppers
1 cup diced fresh green beans or broccoli
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
2/3 cup quinoa
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1/8 to 1/2 teaspoon flaked hot chile (depends on their heat and your taste)
5 to 6 cups turkey stock
1/2 teaspoon salt, about
1 cup diced cooked turkey
1 cup frozen corn (1/2 cup dried corn)

Peel and chop the onion. Core, deseed and chop the peppers. Trim and chop the green beans or broccoli.

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Cook the onion and peppers until soft and slightly coloured. Add the quinoa, fennel seed and chile flakes, and mix in well. Add 3 cups of the turkey stock.

Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring regularly. Add more turkey stock if it looks like it is all about to be absorbed.

Add the cooked turkey, beans (broccoli) and corn, and cook for another 6 to 7 minutes, stirring regularly and adding more turkey stock as needed. The end result should be a little soft and soupy in texture, but the broth should be completely absorbed.

Last year at this time I made Pear, Cranberry & Nut Salad with Blue Cheese.

Cubanelle Peppers

There are pretty much 2 standard sweet (non-Bell type) peppers that have been sold by Ontario seed companies for years, if not decades - this is one of them. (The other is Sweet Banana.)

There's a reason for that; they are productive plants that deliver consistently in our climate, in hot dry summers and in cool wet ones. They are prolific producers of peppers, and they start early and keep coming until frost. (Which we haven't actually had so far, although aaaaaaany moment...!) The peppers are very mild and yet with a good flavour. Most sources say they get hotter as they turn red, but my experience is the opposite - the sweetness and flavour intensified as they got the red glow seen above, but no trace of heat. Mind you, I don't have the patience to wait for them to get much riper than that, so I suppose it's possible. There may also be different strains out there; my seed came from OSC.

A number of sources say they are also known as banana peppers or Italian sweet frying peppers; this is really not accurate. Those are different peppers (and in fact there are a number of different varieties of peppers within both those categories). What people mean, I suppose, is that they are all similar enough to use interchangeably, although I have never seen a banana or Italian frying pepper really large enough to stuff like a Cubanelle - both tend to be a lot thinner. Actually, there are some hybridized or selected varieties of Cubanelle as well, although I find the basic original to be excellent as-is and see no need to spring for more expensive or unreproducible seed.

Most people sell these at the light green to barely yellow stage, and I've always thought these were a very nice pepper, but nothing outstanding because of that. Growing them in my own garden and letting them get a bit riper has changed that opinion - now I think they're delicious! Do you think we could persuade market growers to let them get a little red?

The peppers range from medium sized - say about 4 inches long - to up to almost twice that long; big enough to stuff. The walls are thin and allow the pepper to cook quickly, but not so thin as to toughen or lack substance. They retain what thickness they have when roasted. (I discovered to my dismay this week that this does not apply to all peppers! Some I thought had nice thick walls just... disappeared into a sack of skin and seeds.)

I particularly like Cubanelles because I can eat them. Yeah, I know; not really a high standard. The thing is though: Bell type peppers (your standard supermarket green, yellow or red peppers) give me horrible indigestion. These lack whatever it is that makes Bell peppers so indigestible. So if that's a problem for you, you might want to give these a (cautious) try.

The plants are a nice, mid to larger sized bush and I have had no trouble with diseases or pest on them, beyond having had mild mottle virus in all the peppers a year or two ago. As I recall these stood up to it as well as any of them. We tend to crowd our peppers terribly, and they cope. I suspect they would do even better with more space. Also, we always fail to get around to staking them, and once they get enough peppers on them, they topple. A good sturdy tomato cage would be sufficient to hold them up, I would think. At 65 to 70 days to maturity from planting out, they are remarkably early.

Their history, as with so many things, is somewhat obscure. According to Wikipedia, they are grown extensively in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. I certainly saw nothing like it in Cuba when I was there, although as a sweet mild pepper it would fit right into Cuban cuisine. I was there for 2 weeks, so take that for what it is worth. On the other hand, according to Food University, "The Cubanelle name is derived from Cuba, however it is thought to be of Italian origin being introduced to America in 1958. It is possible that the Italians first acquired it from Cuba or vice-versa." The redoubtable Tatiana notes that it was donated to the USDA in 1962 by the Joseph Harris Company Inc. Here is a pepper which has definitely proved itself, and it will continue to be a staple in my garden for years to come, I am sure.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Turkey (or Chicken) Paprikas

So... been eating any turkey lately? We sure have. Two people and a fifteen pounder is a bit ridiculous. Mum came over and helped us with it the first night, when we roasted it, but she hardly leaves a mark. There is still a lot of turkey to go.

This is a very classic Hungarian dish, normally made with chicken. But turkey is very good too! You can start with raw turkey or chicken, which is the usual way, but it adapts very easily to being made with leftover cooked turkey. Hurray, not a sandwich! (Although I've been eating those non-stop too, and liking them. Still have about 4 good slicing tomatoes left from the garden!)

I had a boo at Jerry's recipe over at My Food, Garden, Golf, before I started, although of course I did it my way... In particular, I added some sweet Alma paprika peppers from the garden, with which we are overrun at the moment. I also had Mako onions, which is a true Hungarian heritage onion, for which I managed to get some seed this spring. That was fun, but really, they were onions when all is said and done; any kind will do. I also had some of the last few tomatoes to use fresh from the garden, but any kind of canned tomatoes will do, from diced to sauce although the sauce should be on the thin side; dilute it (with chicken broth or wine ideally) if necessary.

4 servings
1 1/2 hours - 1 hour prep time

2 large onions
1 head garlic
4 small (2 cups sliced) sweet red peppers
900 grams (2 pounds) raw chicken pieces or turkey breast, skin and bone in
OR 3 to 4 cups cooked chicken or turkey, cut in 2" chunks
2 to 4 tablespoons bacon fat or vegetable oil
4 to 5 tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika
2 cups peeled, chopped tomatoes
OR 2 cups thin tomato sauce
2 cups chicken or turkey stock
1/4 to 1/2 cup sweet sherry or white wine (optional)
 250 ml (1 cup) sour cream OR very thick yogurt

Peel and chop the onions. Peel and mince the garlic. Wash, core and slice the peppers (and blanch, peel and chop the tomatoes, if using fresh ones.)

Cut the chicken or turkey into smaller than serving size pieces - I aim to give each person 2 or 3 pieces. Pre-cooked meat should be cut a little smaller, as you will not want to re-cook it for too long, for fear of it becoming dry. If you use a raw turkey breast (or thigh), I would cut it from the bone and discard (i.e. use to make stock) the bone. If using raw chicken pieces I would leave the bones in; I would also take Jerry's advice to use thighs. Leave the skin, or at least some portion of it, on the pieces. (Won't really work with cooked, so that can be removed.)

Once everything is cut and ready to go, heat 2 tablespoons of the fat in a large skillet. Cook the onion and pepper pieces until soft and slightly browned, and remove them from the pan and set them aside.

If starting with raw chicken or turkey, heat the remaining fat in the skillet and brown the pieces on both sides. Keep them dry before they go in, and try not to crowd them too much. Once they are nicely browned, add the garlic and the paprika, and stir them around for a minute or two. Add the tomatoes and the stock. Return the onions and peppers to the pan. Reduce the heat, and simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring, or at least gently lifting the pieces of meat and moving things around so they don't stick or burn. Stir in the sherry or wine, and about half the sour cream. Heat through and serve.

If starting with cooked turkey or chicken, leave the peppers and onions in the pan once soft and slightly browned. Add the garlic and paprika, and stir them around for a minute or two. Add the tomatoes and the stock. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the pieces of turkey or chicken, and continue to simmer until they are heated through; again, stir gently. Add the sherry or wine, and the sour cream and let heat through for another minute or two, then serve.

Either way, best over rice or dumpings. I love the idea of Jerry's poached bread dumplings, but I have to say I lack the ambition at the moment.

Last year at this time I made Lasagne alla Chiles Rellenos, and Gingerbread Pear Pie, which I recall as being kind of amazing. Both of them, actually.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Fennel Slaw with Dried Cranberries & Almonds

We finally have been able to grow some decent fennel this year. The change is that it was in a bed getting automatic irrigation, so in spite of the heat and drought it did okay and actually sized up before bolting. Not that it isn't starting to bolt, but the bulbs are at least mostly large enough to use. I guess that's the secret to growing good fennel - rich soil, moderate temperatures and lots of moisture, none of which happen easily around here.

We really enjoyed it in this simple sweet and spicy coleslaw style salad. It went well with our pork roast last week, and this week I made it again and ate it with spaghetti. It would also be good with chicken or fish. 

4 to 6 servings
20 minutes prep time - 1 hour or more to rest

Make the Dressing:
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon chile-garlic sauce
OR equivalent of very finely minced fresh hot chile
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
the juice of 1/2 lemon (1/4 cup)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon honey

Mix the above ingredients in a small bowl or jar and stir until the honey is dissolved. You can heat it for a few seconds in the microwave if that helps. If you use a fresh chile, be sure to wear gloves while you mince it. 

Make the Salad:
3 cups (450 grams, 1 pound) thinnly sliced fennel
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup slivered almonds

Trim the stems and root end off the fennel bulbs - you will need 2 or 3 of them. Lay them down and cut them in half from top to bottom. If the centre cores are tough, remove them. Turn the pieces so the flat sides are on the cutting board, and cut them very thinnly.

Toss the finely sliced fennel pieces with the dressing and let rest in a cool spot or the refrigerator for about 1 hour before serving. Toss in the cranberries and almonds just before serving.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

End of Summer Garden Update

So, ugh, where was I? Not so much in the garden, although there has been a lot going on there. Also, Dad came and stayed with us for a week to visit and to give his caregiving partner a break. It's kept me too busy and distracted to post anything.

We did finally get this little formal garden in front of the garage completely dug and edged. Good thing, as I had ordered 19 (19!) peonies to go in this fall. Not all in this bed, but it is known as the Peony and Iris Garden, as that is what is mostly to be there. Along with a row of colchicums to give a little interest in the fall.

Now that the addition to the house is finished, it was time to do some landscaping. Originally it was just going to integrate the addition into the rest of the space, but of course we expanded on that. One thing we did was to get rid of the weedy overgrown "orchard" that the previous owners had planted. It's now a formal strolling garden, and all it needs is a few plants... off to a start with 7 peonies, some camassia and a handful of martagon lilies.

In the vegetable garden, things are winding down. These are Red Noodle long beans. They are not really hardy here, but I tried growing them last year. They did extremely badly, but I did get a couple of dozen seeds out of them. This year they did much better. They were still rather late to produce, and gave it up as soon as it got even a little cool at night, They would be worth growing again if we loved them, but I think we decided they are more of a novelty and are going to save the space for something else next year.

Regular beans are mostly still going pretty well, although there are some signs of cold stress in the leaves. We planted a number of these quite late, after we pulled out early determinate peas, and it worked out quite well. Of course, the long hot summer helped. In more normal seasons if we wanted to do this, we would probably have to get those peas in as early as possible by covering the bed with a hoop house.

In spite of the long hot summer, tomatoes and melons are pretty much done. Powdery mildew arrived right on schedule, and on top of the septoria spot on the tomatoes was a game ender. Peppers are chugging along churning them out. Those bushy things in the front are borage plants. I put them in to help attract pollinators to the melons. Next year I will do it again, but put in a lot fewer. I forgot how perfectly enormous they get.

Sweet potatoes are still in, although we are watching the temperature every day, and keeping them warm under a hoop house. The soil cannot go below 55°F or they will be seriously damaged. We intend to pull them at 60°F. Right now seem to be getting down to 62°F at night, but as long as days are reasonably sunny and temperatures are steady we can leave them in. I hope. The potatoes next to them are dug, and onions are just about ready to come out too.

I actually took this photo last week. The corn is now out. We have decided not to try growing any next year. I think we got about 6 cobs out of that patch this year. Raccoons, squirrels and rats got all the rest, in spite of the electric fence. I think it was too dry for the fence to work well, and the drought also made the animals pretty desperate, but still, corn is just so much work for so little return for us. We're sad about it, but no more corn.

The grass needs cutting, I am way behind! This bed was late planted potatoes (in the end of July we threw in all the old sprouty ones in the basement from last year) and beets. Beets are plainly doing well and the potatoes look much better than expected. We will leave them to the last possible moment... whethere there are actually any taters under there remains to be seen.

Soy beans are out, peanuts are persevering and Arikara dry (yellow) beans are just reaching maturity. This is another bean bed planted late, after having had peas in it in the early spring.

Every year we swear we will support our pepper plants. Every year we look at them and think they are growing so sturdily and well, and don't get around to it. Every year the ripening peppers reach critical mass and the plants start toppling. Every year we swear we will support our pepper plants next year, for sure...

This is where the corn was planted. It is now out, and spinach, lettuce and a few other quick growing greens have been planted to overwinter under a hoop house, and be  harvested in the spring.

Still have the tomatoes and cucumbers to pull out. They are almost dead, but still putting out the odd fruit. However, by the end of next week I suspect they will be gone. Time is getting short to get everything cleaned up for next year. Coming up (I hope) this week as well: canning a batch of tomatillo salsa and a batch of green tomato chow-chow. Okay, time to get busy...