Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Broccoli with Bacon, Mushrooms & Onion

I try not to do too many vegetable dishes filled with rich, fatty things like bacon, butter, cream or cheese. However, if you can get a good lean bacon, this is more of a main dish than a side dish, just needing some rice or other grain to complete it. Otherwise, if you keep the bacon down to 2 or 3 slices, it would also make a good side dish. Therefore I'm not saying how much bacon to use; put in whatever seems appropriate to you. If you are treating it as a side dish, maybe cook the bacon fairly crisp and keep it out until the end, just sprinkling it over the top as you serve it.

Of course, the bacon, mushroom and onion combination is just as good with other vegetables, such as cauliflower, cabbage, or green beans.

2 to 4 servings
20 minutes prep time

1 medium onion
8 to 10 large button mushrooms
1 medium head broccoli

Put a pot of water on to boil, in which you will blanch the broccoli, so it should be sufficient to cover it. 

Peel the onion and cut it into slivers. Clean the mushrooms and cut them in quarters. Wash and trim the broccoli, and cut it into florets.Cut the bacon into inch-long pieces.

Cook the bacon in a large skillet until just shy of what you would consider done. Remove it to a serving plate. The broccoli should go into the boiling water at this point, and cook for about 2 to 4 minutes, depending on how large your pieces are and how tender you would like them to be.

If there is too much fat left in the pan, drain some of it off (or in the remote possiblity it is necessary, add a little more oil to be sure the pan is sufficiently greasy. Then add the onions and mushrooms to the pan and cook until softened and browned in spots, stirring frequently. Drain the broccoli well, and add it to the pan about halfway through this procedure. Once the broccoli, mushrooms and onions are looking all happy and well acquainted, add the bacon back in, and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the bacon is hot and the dish otherwise strikes you as "enough".

Last year at this time I made Celery & Peanut Butter Soup

Monday, 28 October 2013

Beet & Egg Salad

This was a simple little salad to put together, but it made good use of some of the vegetables now coming of our garden. I found the original recipe in a cookbook from around 1890, and have expanded it a little - yeah, that was a really simple recipe.

I garnished mine with a few sliced olives, which I thought was a nice touch.

2 to 4 servings
15 minutes prep time but allow 2 hours for cooking and cooling

Beet and Egg Salad

Make the Dressing:
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
 1 tablespoon sunflower seed oil
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
salt & pepper to taste

Whisk or shake together in a small bowl or jar.

Make the Salad:
4 medium beets
1/4 cup sliced sweet onion
1/2 cup (1 small) sliced fennel bulb
OR 2 stalks of celery
2 large eggs

Cook the beets in advance by putting them in a pot with water to cover them generously, and boiling them until tender, about 40 to 45 minutes. Alternatively, wrap them in foil and bake them at 350°F for a similar or slightly longer amount of time. Let them cool, peel them and slice them.

Peel and slice the onion. Trim and slice the fennel or celery, into fairly thin, fine slices. Put them in a shallow dish, and salt them heavily. Set them aside for about half an hour, then rinse them well and squeeze them gently dry.

Put the eggs in a pot with cold water to cover. Bring them to a boil and boil them for one minute, then turn off the heat and leave them, covered, for 10 minutes. Put them in cold water until cool enough to peel. Peel them.

Arrange the onion and fennel or celery on individual plates, and arrange the beet and egg slices over the top. Less decorative, but probably a bit easier to eat would be to chop the beets and eggs finer, and mix them with the onion and fennel.  Either way, then drizzle the dressing over the top of the salad.

Last year at this time I made Pork with Fennel & Peppers

Thursday, 24 October 2013

A Visit to Tree & Twig

A few weeks ago, just before I had my little fit of incompetence, we went down to visit my father. Since we were in the neighbourhood, I arranged to visit Tree & Twig, a small farm on the edge of Wellandport run by Linda Crago, who has a finger in an awful lot of pies, both for income and her own interest in unusual and heirloom plants.

These chickens, which supply her with eggs, are Plymouth Barred Rocks and Rhode Island Reds. 

The garden was in the process of being cleaned up for the winter, but there were still quite a few things still growing. It's definitely warmer in the tip of the Niagara peninsula than it is up here!

This little vine is melothria scabra, known as Mexican sour gherkin, or mouse watermelons (sandia de raton). You can see one hanging by the first wire support to the right. They do look amazingly like tiny, tiny watermelons, although the flavour is of slightly sour cucumber. They are a little on the seedy side, but not bad, and apparently make good pickles.

In addition to the chickens, Linda has some geese, and a pot-bellied pig named Joey. A chorus of dogs greeted us when we arrived. Linda may be in the business of heirloom vegetables, but she is obviously also very fond of animals.

She is also very interested in unusual plants. This one is Morelle de Balbis, or Litchi Tomato. To me they look more closely related to the physalis family; tomatillos, ground cherries and the like. We sampled a couple; they were surprisingly appealing. Slightly tomatoey in flavour, but with a sweet fruity quality as well. I can see them making excellent chutneys and relishes, as an ingredient in salads, and perhaps even used in desserts. Behind them, there is a comparatively more prosaic row of Lacinato (Dinosaur) Kale.

The garden is relatively small, with about 4 acres of the 9 acre property planted. About 3 of those acres are vegetables. Plenty of work for one person, though! I don't know how she does it. The 2 of us do half of that and think it plenty. She's right on the edge of Wellandport, and the property is backed by the Welland River; a very attractive spot.

Linda runs a CSA all year - it really is milder in Niagara - although of course most of the winter vegetables are stored or grown under cover. She sells a few vegetables to restaurants. Her biggest endeavour, though, is plant sales in the spring. She grows 700 - wow! - varieties of tomatoes, as well as peppers and other vegetables.

Here is another look at the Lacinato Kale, mulched in hay. Behind them there is a row of lettuce, long gone to seed. Linda sells seeds, some of which she grows herself and some of which come from Seed Savers Exchange. She has been a member for many years, but for most of us here in Canada it can be hard to get SSE seeds, so this is a good way to access them.

Linda shows us some of her pepper plants, still producing nicely at this point. I always feel a bit bad at how closely we pack our pepper plants, but Linda's are even closer. Her soil is heavy clay, so her plants don't get that big - ours are certainly larger, and we really don't fertilise beyond a little compost or manure to start - but they looked very healthy and productive. She grows a large selection of the very hottest pepper varieties; apparently they are popular with young male customers in particular. Ghost, Carolina Reaper, Scorpion and 7-Pot Brain Strain were some of the varieties in her plot. Yikes!

In addition to her other projects, Linda is a test grower for Rodale's Organic Gardening Magazine, the only one in Canada in fact. Each year she is sent, along with their other test gardeners, a set of seeds to grow out. They are tested for their ability to grow in different parts of the continent, and rated.

I was really interested to see this plant - it's red-foliated cotton. I don't know how much cotton it would actually produce here, but it makes an excellent ornamental plant, with reddish heart-shaped leaves, big pink hibiscus-like flowers and attractive seed pods.

Here is Linda's winter hoop-house - a little bigger than ours, and much more accessible. She still has tomatoes growing down one side, along with what looks like a zucchini that doesn't want to pack it in, but the other side and been cleared out and planted with winter greens such as arugula, chard and kale.

On top of all her other projects, Linda organises Seedy Saturdays in Niagara Falls. For those of us who are too far away, though, her mail-order seed list is full of interesting things. It was really exciting and inspiring to visit Tree and Twig. Linda left a career in the city as a social worker to do what she really loves, and it was great to meet her and her amazing garden. I'm going to be sure to order seeds early this year, as I've missed a couple of items I've wanted to try for the last 2 years as they have sold out before I was ready to order. I suppose I shouldn't tell you that; now I will have to order even earlier...

Monday, 21 October 2013

End of the Season Garden Notes

Uh, hello. Kind of fell of the edge there for a while. The noise-to-signal ratio in my brain is never the best, but lately it's been all-static all the time. However, sooner or later one has to attempt to pull things together again, so here goes.

It's been a long time since I've done a garden report, so I'm going back to the end of August for this part. We had a wild thunderstorm one evening, during which we heard an enormous "CRACK". "Wow, that was a close strike!" we said. In the morning we went out and found this 100' poplar had fallen over. It hadn't actually been struck by lightening that we could see, just blown over. Fortunately, even though it fell towards the house, it was about 95' away, so it just brushed the house, and it was the tip of the tree that broke and not the house.

We hired a tree company to come in and chip up everything small enough to chip, so we now have an enormous pile of mulch available. The trunk was cut into "manageable" pieces and left to us. Fortunately, a neighbour saw them and asked if he could have them, and we were able to get rid of them quite quickly.

This photo is from mid September, I guess. I can see the beans still look okay, although we got anthracnose in them this year, and our harvest was definitely cut short. We did get 90% of what we expected to freeze and a very large quantity of dried beans, so it wasn't a complete disaster. Still, anthracnose is a nasty disease and I am very annoyed to have yet another bacteria/fungus cavorting in the garden to be dealt with.

I can see from this picture that one bed has been cleared of dry beans and planted with lettuce for the late fall/early spring. Also that we have not put away the live-trap, with which we hoped to catch the damned rabbit that ate a bunch of our soybeans, but failed.

Here is Mr. Ferdzy with our largest watermelon of the year, a Moon & Stars (Van Doren strain). If Mr. Ferdzy looks a little dismayed, it's because when he picked it up to pose with it, rotten liquid poured out the bottom. It turned out that a number of watermelons failed to seal up properly on the blossom end, and so the insides rotted. Too bad; this would probably have been close to 40 pounds of watermelon.

However, we weren't exactly short of melons. They were my project of the year, and we had lots and lots. It wasn't the best year for melons at all, but I console myself with the thought that if you are assessing a large number of melons, there are benefits to doing it in a bad year. You can at least tell which ones hold up to abuse and which ones don't. And since abuse is a regular garden feature, it's something you need to know sooner or later.

Here was the second-largest of the Sun & Moon watermelons, a 24 pounder, along with a selection of other melons. The spotted pear-shaped melon in the middle was an excellent melon I will certainly grow again, a crenshaw-type melon called Sweet Freckles. Most crenshaws don't do well in short, cool summers, but this one was specially bred to handle it, and handle it it did.

Early in October, right after we did our garlic tasting, we planted our garlic for next year. We cut it down from 7 varieties to 4 varieties, although we still planted the same quantity of garlic overall; a 5' by 16' section. That's a lot of garlic, but we use it and/or share it with friends and family, and we expect to run out before the next batch is ready to harvest.

For the first time, we were actually able to harvest sunflower seeds. This is something Mr. Ferdzy has been trying to do for several years, and failing because usually the birds get to them well before we do. We picked up some sunflower seeds in Turkey, and they turned out to work well. The blossoms are slow to fall of the seeds, which I think helps hide them from the critters, and then they are very tightly packed, which makes them harder to get out once the critters do find them.

Unfortunately, we picked them then left them in a cool spot when we should have been drying them with heat, and they went mouldy! We've rescued enough for seed, but very frustrating. I'm also not convinced that they are worth all the trouble involved in processing them, though I suspect sunflowers will be a useful thing to grow if we ever get around to getting some chickens.

Even though the weather has continued to be cool and rainy, we have been working on getting the garden cleaned up for the winter. The compost compound is full to bursting, with much more still to come.

Most of the trellises are now down, just a couple still to go. Lots of weeding still to be done, and we need to run around and pick up all the hoses, rakes, ladders, etc that have just been left lying around. (Neatniks we are not.)

The peanuts and sweet potatoes have been harvested, so only the peppers are still under plastic and they will come out as soon possible at this point. We got an okay sweet potato harvest in spite of the weather, as we kept them under plastic pretty much all season. Unfortunately, there is a lot of mouse damage because the plastic provided good cover for them too. Next year if we cover them, we will have to also run a trap-line.

After that, there will only be a few frost-hardy things left in the garden: brassicas, rutabagas, parsnips, carrots, celery, leeks, and winter radishes. Some will be picked and used or stored, and some will be left in the garden to overwinter.

Here's some of this years dry beans. Compare them to the ones from last year. I don't think the weather was better for beans, and we had the anthracnose to contend with this year. Still, this is WAY more beans (holy cow, it's more than double!) from the same space as last year - I believe this is one years worth of seed selection, paying off.

We had a couple of crossed beans show up this year. One would have happened at the seed company, and one would have happened in my garden. The first one wasnt' worth keeping, but I was impressed at how this one turned out. The mother was Dolloff, and the father, I'm pretty sure, was Cherokee Trail of Tears. There were 3 plants from the cross, and between them they produced about 2 cups of seed - pretty impressive. The beans are also attractive. I have yet to try eating them, but I've saved some for seed and if they are tasty we will grow them out and try to stabilise them. If we succeed, it will be a new variety of bean! That would be fun.