Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Salmon or Salmon Trout with Raspberry Sauce

This was a very fast and simple dish, but rather luxurious nevertheless, what with fish and raspberries, neither of which are cheap. Definitely ideal for entertaining.

The salient thing about making this is to be sure that everything is prepared and standing by before you begin cooking, because once you begin it goes in a flash, and there is no time for fumbling around to prepare things that are not ready.

We have been eating a lot of raspberries this summer. Ours have all disappeared into a mass of weeds, but our next door neighbour has opened up a u-pick raspberry operation! We can pick 12 pints and be  home in an hour, for half the price of buying them at the market. 

6 servings
30 minutes prep time

Prepare the Sauce Ingredients:
1 teaspoon arrowroot or cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon water

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup very finely minced fresh basil
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Put the arrowroot, salt, vinegar, and water in a small bowl, and mix well. Put the remaining ingredients into another small bowl.

Cook the Fish & Sauce:
1.2 kilos (3 pounds) salmon or salmon trout fillets
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
2 cups fresh raspberries

If necessary, cut the fish into fillets and remove any bones. Place them in a steamer over a pot with just enough water to cover the bottom, and steam them for about 10 minutes, until done. Watch the water level carefully - you would like to end up with just about 1/2 cup left. If there is a little more, reduce it while you keep the cooked fish on a serving platter in a warm spot.

Working quickly, add the bowl of butter, honey, etc, to the pan of fish stock. Stir well. Still stirring, pour in the bowl with the dissolved arrowroot or cornstarch. Add 1 cup of the raspberries, and mash them into the sauce. As soon as the raspberries are mashed and the sauce is thickened, pour it over the fish fillets. Garnish with the remaining raspberries and serve at once.

Last year at this time I made Cucumbers in Crème Fraîche with Mint, and Raspberry Eton Mess.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Peas - Purple Podded Irish Twins

Clarke's Beltony Blue

Aren't those lovely!? Clarke's Beltony Blue comes from County Tyrone in Northern Ireland. At some point a Mrs Anderson donated them to the Heritage Seed Library (UK) with the information that they were grown on her great-grandfather's farm since at least 1850, and possibly as long as since 1815. Adaptive Seeds in Oregon got them from the Heritage Seed Library, and I got them from Adaptive seeds. Here we are. This is the first year I have tried these.

The vines grew to 6' tall, and started producing in mid-season; say about 70 days to maturity, and produced over a fairly long period of time (several weeks). The plants have lovely pink/mauve flowers, and the pods, as you see, are a rich purple, with peas of a light olive green. They were good healthy and robust growers, even considering their crowded conditions, although all the peas were produced 1 pod per node. Five to 7 peas per pod seems typical.

They turn starchy fairly quickly, and are not the sweetest of shelling peas. In fact, even when young I occasionally detected a note of bitterness to the raw peas. This seemed to disappear once they were cooked. I noticed the cooking water turned a little bluey-greyish, as if there were some purple compounds in the peas, although I could not actually see any. At their best, the texture is very smooth with a little more body than most peas, with a similarly smooth, rich flavour. I liked these better than Mr Ferdzy liked them; he did find them a bit on the starchy side. These are also a slightly faded moss green when cooked, fairly unlike most modern peas which have been bred for as dark a green as possible.

I can find no more information about their history than I have already written, but most old purple-podded peas were field peas, meant to be dried down and cooked into pea soup, aka pease pottage. I would speculate that these were selected out of some such old soup variety, and as such I am going to save any excess dried seeds I get from them and try them out as soup peas.

Carruthers' Purple Podded

All of the information regarding Clarke's Beltony Blue applies to Carruther's Purple Podded, with a few minor but significant differences. It too comes from Northern Ireland; County Down in this case. It too was donated to the Heritage Seed Library, by a gentleman by the name of Carruthers, who had acquired seed from a family gardener and grown it for 25 years before donating it. It too has roots back to the 19th century. I bought mine from Adaptive Seeds, who again got it from the Heritage Seed Library.

The physical description of the plants is essentially identical; I could not easily distinguish them if I grew them next to each other. The pods of Carruthers' are a little longer though, and more apt to contain at least 8 peas. They tend to be a little crowded, and so flattened at each side, and the pods seem a slightly deeper purple usually. I did find one plant that had 2 pods per node, so I will be saving that one as seed for sure. The two varieties are distinguishable as seeds, as the seeds are fairly different looking.

These are also a slightly better pea for eating fresh. I didn't note the bitterness I found in Clarke's Beltony Blue nearly so much, but again, they were noticeably better cooked than raw. So, overall I would rate Carruthers` Purple Podded as the better of the two peas. Unless Clarke`s Beltony Blue turns out to be uniquely wonderful as a dried soup-pea, I will grow Carruthers` again but not the Clarke`s.

Rebsie Fairholm is also a fan of Carruthers` Purple Podded peas, and I suspect her review of them has done much to give them their current modest popularity. Unfortunately, I don`t believe there is a Canadian supplier of either of these peas at this time.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Basic Waffles

My brother in law Martin is on a low-sugar, low-carb diet, and his pain is my gain. (Probably weight gain, unfortunately.) He gave me his vintage waffle iron, probably dating from the late 1940s, and I finally can make waffles again. I had a waffle iron, but the last few times I used it, the waffles came out soft and floppy, and eventually they refused to even come out at all, and I said to hell with it and threw it away.

I tried putting some berries in the batter as I made the waffles, but that was not a good idea. They stuck, even if the waffles didn't, then the bits of stuck berry scorched themselves into the subsequent waffles. You can see the bits in the picture. Not a disaster, but not recommended either. We served most of the berries raw on top, and they were much better that way.

This is a nice basic recipe, and they turned out very well. We found them surprisingly filling. I don't mean that we were stuffed, but that they kept us going until lunch time, and I don't always expect that of waffles.

12 waffles
30 minutes prep time

1 cup soft whole wheat flour
1 cup soft unbleached flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon honey
3 large eggs
2 cups buttermilk
a little oil to grease the waffle iron

Measure the 2 flours, the baking powder, and the salt, and mix them together and set them aside.

Measure the butter and honey into a heat-proof bowl or pot, and heat until they are just melted but not hot, in the microwave or on the stove as seems best to you. Let cool slightly. Put the waffle iron on to heat.

Meanwhile, beat the eggs and buttermilk together in a mixing bowl. Whisk in the butter and honey when they are no longer hot. Whisk in the flour until just blended.

Brush the hot waffle iron lightly with oil - I like a silicone brush for this - then ladle in enough batter to cover the bottom when spread carefully to the corners. Close the iron and cook until the waffle is done, about 5 minutes. This recipe fills my 3-waffle iron 4 times, making about 12 waffles, but your waffle iron may vary. You may or may not need to brush a little oil onto the waffle iron between batches; again, it will depend on your waffle iron.

Last year at this time I made Curried Devilled Eggs with Peas.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Peas of the Year - Large Manitoba, Champion of England & Carter's Daisy

Large Manitoba

So as usual, I could not resist adding some new varieties of peas to the garden this year, even though I have so many old favourites. This one came from Heritage Harvest, although I note that Prairie Garden Seeds also carry it. Heritage Harvest describes it as a great pea "that originated in Manitoba many years ago" and that seems to be about as much about its history as anyone has. As you can see by the photo, while the peas are certainly a good substantial size, it is the pods that are really eye-popping. Eight to 10 peas per pod makes it one of the most productive per-pod peas I have grown (only Dual beats it, and not by much).

The peas are not the sweetest, but they have a rich, fairly strong and well-balanced flavour. I thought they were really quite delicious. These are described as very short plants, with the figure 9" being mentioned, but mine grew much taller, up to 3' ultimately. Mine were shaded on the west side, but even so 9" strikes me as unrealistic, unless there is another strain out there. These were, unfortunately, very determinate and not outstandingly productive, although again, their poor placement may have prevented them from optimum production. The leaves are very dense and rather large for peas, and Mandy recommends growing it out in the open for good air circulation. The implication is that mildew may be a problem, and given the denseness and succulence of the leaves, I can believe it. However, as noted, they were quite determinate so I don't see this being a big problem. These were early, but not the earliest of my peas. I would say about 60 days to maturity, although I admit to not keeping good records.

I like these, and will give them another try. Their relatively low productivity does give me a little pause. They may go onto the list of potential parents for my sporadic and thus-far not very successful attempts at breeding peas. I'd like to see what they do crossed with Dual, or 1st and Best #2, or Spanish Skyscraper.

Champion of England - Woodbridge Strain

I also got this one from Heritage Harvest, and it's important to note that it's the Woodbridge strain - there is at least one other version of Champion of England out there. I haven't grown it, but it sounds quite different. This version is tall, although mine have grown to about 5' or 6', which makes them one of the shorter of my tall peas. Of course, they are also growing closest to the grass, and I have realized that that has a definite stunting effect on plants. Descriptions put them at 5' to 10' tall.

The peas themselves have been sweet and rich tasting, and produced in reasonable abundance. I have not selected the seeds for optimum production yet, since this is the first year I have grown them, but I see enough peas being produced at 2 to a node to think that they can be improved by selection.  I suspect as I select the seed the plants will also grow taller for me (and I will give them a better position too, if I can).

The original Champion of England pea dates back to the 1843, bred by William Fairbeard. There is a description of it in Fearing Burr's wonderful book on (now) heirloom vegetables, Garden Vegetables and How to Cultivate Them. Here's what he had to say:

"Plant of strong and luxurious habit of growth, with a stem from five to six feet in height. The pods are generally single, but sometimes in pairs, about three inches and a half long, and contain six or seven quite large peas, which are closely packed together and compressed. The ripe seed is wrinkled, and of a pale olive green.

Sown the 1st of May, the plants were in flower June 25th, and pods were gathered for use the 12th of July.

This is, without doubt, one of the most valuable acquisitions which have been obtained for many years, being remarkably tender and sugary, and, in all respects, of first-rate excellence. The rapid progress of its popularity, and its universal cultivation, are, however, the best indications of its superiority." 

In spite of the popularity this pea once had, it was very nearly lost. The Real Seed Catalogue, in England, looked for it for many years, and finally received some seed from Robert Woodbridge, who's family had been saving the seeds since the 1940's. This strain does indeed match the original as described by Fearing Burr, and I like it enough that I will be growing again in the future as a regular. By the way, the peas in the photo are stragglers - I did not think to take a picture when they were in full flush, and so the pod showing the peas is a bit scanty. Most of them do better than that.

Rebsie Fairholm has also reviewed this pea, and you can read her review here. She had problems with both mould and virus; something to keep in mind although I suspect that those are both more likely to be a problem in a damper climate than mine.  

Carter's Daisy

This is another one that was planted in small quantities and in a crowded and slightly shaded position. Actually, I'm afraid that's pretty much life in the pea bed around here. Still, it stood out as a tasty and productive pea. Like the others, I got it from Heritage Harvest.

Daisy was bred by Carter and Co, a very well-known British firm of seed suppliers, around 1890 and introduced in 1892. Its parents were Stratagem and Giant Marrow. Stratagem was one of 4 varieties selected out of Telegraph, a variety bred by William Culverwell in 1872. Apparently Telegraph was quite variable. The other 3 varieties selected out were Telephone, Pride of the Market, and Duke of Albany. Only (Tall) Telephone is still widely available, and it is the one that most resembled the original Telegraph. Without wading through scads of old documents, I get the impression that there was a lot of controversy related to these peas. Giant Marrow was obscure even by 1900, but it too was a variety bred by Culverwell. Carter's Daisy is also sometimes known as Dwarf Telephone.

At one point, this was another very popular pea, but by 1934 the U.S.D.A. publication, Descriptions of Types of Principal American Varieties of Garden Peas, was quite dismissive of it. It is not in the fashionable dark green shade that has since prevailed in peas, but instead the pale celery green that was preferred in Victorian times. The pods are also not hard enough for shipping. I can't say I care about either of those things, and my impression - hard to be sure from such a small planting - is that it is quite productive, with most plants bearing 2 pods at each node, and definitely very good tasting; not just sweet but quite a distinctive flavour. Peas are pretty consistently about 6 per pod, though as usual it does vary a bit.

Daisy is a short plant, finishing up at about 2' high, and as usual with short peas I had quite a lot of problems with some animal, probably raccoons, eating or at least chewing many of the peas. I like Daisy a lot, but I may not be able to continue to grow it because of this problem.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Midsummer in the Garden

Well I am thoroughly off cooking these days, but the garden is going on as scheduled. Tomatoes are trellised, although I need to get out there and do some tying up. Peppers and eggplants are flowering, and indeed some peppers are starting to form. We've had some cool nights, so they are still getting covered  up sometimes.

You can see our sweet potato bed behind and to the right of the peppers; it's been cool enough we just open up the ends of the hoop house on warm days. They like it really hot! We have some new and unusual varieties this year, which we got from Burt's Greenhouses, and we are looking forward to seeing how they are. They are looking really healthy and growing well.

This bed contains cucumbers, and few stray melons and squash, all of which will need to be trellised. Yes, they are way behind. However, I'm hopeful that they will produce at some point this season. The snarled mess in the foreground is a Brussels sprout/kale cross, which was the only brassica to survive our winter, apart from a few stems of straight Brussels sprouts. I'm planning to save the seeds, but I'm hoping they don't smother my squash before they are done.

This section is looking good as long as you don't look too closely. Swiss chard is late but ready to start picking, celery and celeriac are growing nicely but so are the weeds, leeks have just been transplanted to their final positions, squash are noodling along, and this year's brassicas are doing okay, mostly. Lettuce (in lower right corner) is over - gone bitter and starting to bolt.

The herb bed isn't doing well, but we do have some of last year's leaf celery bolting. I expect to have 10 year's supply of celery seed by fall. The one other thing that is coming up here and flourishing is the potatoes we missed when harvesting last year, although there are a couple of nice stalks of dill. These are offspring of the dill seed I brought back from Turkey, I believe, which has been extremely shy of germinating, but has managed to produce a few plants each year so far, and so I stagger on with it. Still hoping I get more and better seed this year.

There are two beds behind the herbs and watermelons, which are supposed to be perennial flowers for cutting, and which have fallen to the bottom of the weeding list for 4 years straight. Now they are completely overgrown with weeds and will need to be completely re-dug. Mind you, they are still at the bottom of the to-do list...

These are the seed-grown potatoes we did this spring. We had given up on them ever sprouting, and supposed that we had not kept them dormant long enough. However, we weeded them out the other day and discovered that there are a few coming up. Somewhat to my confusion, there seem to be self-seeded potatoes (like, from seeds, yes) in this bed as well, which we haven't had  happen before. Confusing! But amusing.

Our watermelon mass-cross breeding project continues; no melons to be seen  yet and not for a while, but the vines have stopped sitting there blinking, and are now stretching out more and more every day. A few are making their first test flowers.

First zucchini should be ready any day. Yes, they are rather late but that's our life these days, as already noted.

Through the application of money and shameless begging amongst my internet friends, I was able to get some onion and carrot seeds from France this year that I have wanted for a while. The carrots are 5 or 6 open polllinated heirloom strains, and the onions are 3 different strains of Rose de Roscoff sweet pink onion. They are all flourishing and I am excited!

Last year we planted early determinate peas, pulled them out by July 1st, and replaced them with short-season dry beans. Last year was so cool and rainy, especially in the second half, that the beans did not quite make it to harvest for the most part. However, they came close enough that we are giving it another try this  year. The bed with the long rows will need to be trellised soon, while the other bed is bush beans. Most of these are to be used dried, but a few are for fresh use. The fresh use should be no problem, but we'll see about the others. I am quite hopeful though, since already this summer looks like being hotter than last year by a fair bit.

On which note, our rain also seems to have stopped. We have had mostly adequate rain up to this point, from which I deduce that everyone else is contemplating building an ark, but we have had to start watering this week. It's a pain, but at least we made it this far along before it was required.