Friday, 29 January 2016

Toka Toka Gold, Purple Flesh, & Owairaka Sweet Potatoes

Toka Toka Gold, Purple Flesh, & Owairaka Sweet Potatoes

These sweet potato varieties are ones that I bought last year as slips from Burt's Greenhouses, near Kingston, and grew in our garden. This was the first and therefore only year I've grown them, and so I note that my observations about their growing habits may or may not apply in subsequent years. It was a reasonably warm year, so we did not keep them covered with plastic as much as we have some years, but perhaps not hot enough for really optimal growth without it.

I bought 25 mixed cuttings, and Brian Burt was kind enough to set up a way to order them without any Georgia Jets, since I already had my own stock of that. The rooted cuttings we received were small but healthy, and settled in rapidly. I'm always a bit horrified by how puny sweet potato cuttings look when they arrive, but I've come to realize it's a mistake to let them get too large and rooty before they get planted out - that just creates a mass of skinny, tangled, unusable tubers. Cuttings with just 2 or 3 good little rootlets are ideal. They need to be planted with the rootlets spread out as straight as possible too, in order to have any hope of getting straightish tubers.

As you listen to me whine about the quantity produced by each variety, keep in mind that only Georgia Jet is known to be even a fair producer in most Canadian conditions; certainly in mine.

Toka Toka Gold

Of all the sweet potatoes I have grown thus far (admittedly only five) this is my favourite. The flesh is dense, sweet, and almost nutty in flavour. The texture really makes these for me, being very noticeably denser and drier than most; they remind me a bit of my beloved Boniato from Cuba. Unfortunately these were not big producers for us. That may be typical of drier-fleshed sweet potatoes. Burt's describes them as later than Georgia Jet, which in a short season means smaller and fewer tubers.

Fortunately, they had a distinct look to them. Apart from the Purple Flesh, all the other sweet potatoes we grew last year resembled each other enough that we had a hard time telling them apart. If nothing else, these will be useful to plant between similar looking varieties and keep them separate. But even without that excuse I intend to grow these again - see the bit about them being my favourite grown so far. Amounts were probably about half the amount of potatoes I could have expected from the same space. In other words, disappointing but not pointless.

Toka Toka Gold is a variety native to northern New Zealand, where it is also known as Golden Kumara. It seems to be one of the three standard varieties grown there, along with Owairaka, also known as Red Kumara, and Beauregard, an American variety. Toka Toka Gold was bred by B. Coleman, grown by I. McKinley, named Toka Toka Gold by W. Stacy, of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, and introduced commercially in 1972.

Purple Flesh

This is more of a classification than a specific varietal name, and as such I don't know exactly what I have. It will definitely be a bit of a novelty rather than a staple for Canadian growers, as I had even lower yields of these than of the Toka Toka Gold. Since the purple fleshed sweet potatoes are generally long season varieties, that's not particularly surprising. Like the Toka Toka Gold, these will be very good for keeping patches of similar looking varieties separated.

It seems that purple fleshed sweet potatoes are associated with Japan, specifically Okinawa, although this is not the variety known as Okinawan Purple, which has white skin - this one is purple in and out. It's possible this is the heritage Hawaiian variety known as Molokai, and carried by Baker's Creek in the U.S. There's also one sold by Southern Exposure they call All Purple, which may or may not be the same thing. Both of those seem to ultimately trace back to Japan.

We found the flavour of these to be milder than most varieties of sweet potatoes we have grown, but still with that distinctive sweet potato flavour. Mr. Ferdzy thought these were his favourite variety for flavour. I was not so keen, but thought they were fine. The colour is certainly amazing and would lend itself to lots of Fun with Food (TM), as well as presumably being rich in anthocyanins. The texture was moister than that of Toka Toka Gold, but drier than that of Owairaka. It was also extremely smooth and non-stringy.


Owairaka is also known as Owairaka Red, or Red Kumara. It is by far the most common variety of New Zealand, accounting for 80% to 90% of the sweet potatoes eaten there. In its modern iteration, it is a selection of a mutation of Waina, made in the 1950s from a large number of strains then available. Waina was brought from South America in the 1850s, and it displaced to some degree the smaller, lower producing varieties that the Maori already had.

I think this variety produced fairly well, but not as well as Georgia Jet. It's hard to tell though, as I had it planted next to the Georgia Jet and they turned out to be very similar in skin colour.

As to the flavour, I don't know what to say. I cut mine open and instead of being the expected white colour it was a pale yellow. Is that the actual colour, or have I mixed my varieties up hopelessly? I thought this was the one of the three look-alike (on the outside, at least) varieties that I had kept good track of, the other two being Georgia Jet and Tainung65. From examining my remaining raw sweet potatoes, so far as I am able, none seem to have really white flesh; they are all pale yellow. Certainly I don't think I could distinguish these by taste from either of the above, assuming that what I ate was Owairaka. In which case it's a quite sweet, quite moist, and flavourful sweet potato.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Scotch Broth with Dried Peas & Barley

When I made Scotch Broth a while ago, I realized - for the first time! - that Scotch Broth is sometimes made with dried peas. Barley, of course, is a frequent ingredient, although I didn't add it to my last version as I wanted a soupier soup. This one has both and so is much more substantial (not that the other one was a lightweight).  The other one was more of a soup made from scraps and leftovers; a kind of bonus leftover dish, whereas this one is more intentional.

They taste surprisingly similar - well, not so surprisingly, I guess, given how much the ingredients and seasoning overlap - it's just that this one is more of a ribsticker.

I used an exact pound of stewing lamb which was quite fatty, so I removed a substantial portion of it from the top after the meat was cooked. I thought the results were a bit skimpy on the lamb, so I am calling for more, but a pound will do. Unlike most meats, I don't save the fat from lamb for using in cooking. That stuff is called tallow, and they used to make perfectly functional candles out of it; enough said.

4 to 6 servings
2 days - 1 1/2 hours prep time

Scotch Broth with Dried Peas & Barley

500 to 600 grams (1 pound to 1 1/2 pounds) stewing lamb
4 cups lamb or beef broth, or water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 or 2 bay leaves
1/2 cup pot barley
1/2 cup split yellow peas
3 cups water
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups peeled, diced rutabaga
1 cup peeled, diced celeriac
1 medium carrot
1 large onion
1 medium leek
2 tablespoons bacon fat or mild vegetable oil
1 teaspoon rubbed savory, thyme, or a combination

Trim the lamb of excess fat, and dice it up into bite-sized pieces. Put it in a large soup pot with the broth, salt, and bay leaves. Bring to a simmer and simmer for 2 or 3 hours very gently. Let cool, and chill overnight. Remove and discard any fat that has hardened on top of the broth.

Rinse and pick over the barley and split peas. Put them in the rice cooker with the water and next round of salt. Cook 'em. Or, I suspect you could throw them in with the lamb and let them cook there. Also add the water or more broth, and the salt! I suggest the rice cooker because I know that they will cook evenly that way.

Peel and dice the rutabaga. Peel and dice the celeriac. Peel and dice the carrot. Peel and chop the onion. Trim, slice in half lengthwise, then slice the other way, the leek.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add all the vegetables except the leek, and cook, stirring frequently, until everything is slightly softened and cooked down, and there is a little browning. If things are browing too quickly, turn down the heat. Add the leeks and cook, with continued frequent stirring, until they too are softened and cooked down, but not browned.

Add the vegetables, the peas and barley (if cooked separately), and the herbs to the pot of meat and broth. Simmer for another hour or so. You can serve it at once, or it keeps and reheats nicely. 

Monday, 25 January 2016

Annual Seed Catalogue Highlights

Here it is, the moment you all a few of you have been waiting for!  My annual list of most Canadian seed companies that sell organic and/or untreated seeds, and some of their new and/or interesting listings. Interesting to me at least - it's hard to believe I am still finding new things I would like to grow, but I am. You can also look in the Canadian Seed Catalogue Index at Seeds of Diversity if there is something specific you are trying to track down - that is the most comprehensive list of varieties sold in Canada that you will find. Here is the post from last year which will then take you to all the previous reports.

Agro Hai-Tai; Ontario's own specialist in Asian (mostly Chinese) vegetables, but frustratingly heavy on the f1 hybrids. How about Red Beard bunching onion, Dah Ye garlic chives, Chuan green beans, Petch Siam eggplant, Song Hua Choi F1 cauliflower (might have CMS though), White Ball and Szechuan Red radishes, Welcome Hon Tsai Tai choi sum, and many, many more. Wa Wa Gaichoi (Tsubomina) and North Round stem-mustards strike me as really intriguing.

Annapolis Seeds; from the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia, after just a few years in business is now up to offering nearly 500 varieties. This years new items include North Georgia Candy Roaster squash, Montreal melon, Jamaican burr cucumber, Glass Gem popcorn, Fireball tomatoes, Blue Lake pole beans (our fave!), Standfast sunflower, Rainbow Inca sweet corn (an Alan Kapuler variety), Black Beluga lentils, and lots more. Returning items include Early Moonbeam watermelon, Squisito spaghetti squash, Swedish Red (Biskopens) dry pea, Tonello yellow romano bean, and Creola Sella (baccatum) hot pepper. 

Burt's Greenhouses: Sweet potatoes are a hot item, and here is an Ontario (Kingston) supplier, with a good selection and good prices. It looks like the same selection as last year (which is to say the best we've found anywhere so far). We tried their sample pack (3 or more varieties, pot luck, with a special request for no Georgia Jet, since we already had our own) and they all did reasonably well. In addition to our old favourite Georgia Jet, they have Toka Toka Gold from New Zealand, Covington and Beauregard (most popular varieties in the southern U.S. at this time), Cuban Red (not Cuban, as far as I can tell), and several Japanese and Korean varieties.

The Cottage Gardener: A great source for some really useful seed. From their list of new introductions, Amethyst Cream tomato immediately caught my eye. Indigo "Blue Berries" tomato would make a great partner for them. I see they have MacGregor's Favourite Beet (mine too!) Fish pepper may be new to them, but it's a staple for us. Garden of Eden romano bean looks excellent. Returning favourites include Arikara and Hidatsa beans; Early Hanover melon; Suyo Long cucumber; Tom Thumb lettuce; Tom Thumb and British Wonder peas; Orange Thai, Alma paprika, Chervena Chushka, and Jimmy Nardello peppers; Paul Robeson, Jaune Flammé, Bellstar (sic), and Stupice tomatoes.

Eagle Creek Seed Potatoes: It looks like Eagle Creek is roaring back from a terrible year last year, with a bigger and better selection than ever. They have 4 different variety packs for those who just can't narrow it down. I still have my eye on Amarosa, with bright red skin - and flesh! Pink Fir Apple is one I've been growing for a few years and get more and more interested in. Ruby Gold is highly recommended by Duane Falk, and Purple Viking, Warba, German Butterball, Russian Blue, and Russet Burbank are all varieties I've tried and liked.

Edible Antiques: New this year are Kabuli Black and Orion chickpeas, Moon & Stars watermelon, Filius Blue pepper, Don Ross's kale, and Dr Wyche's Yellow tomatillos. Returning items include Skunk pole dry beans, Dutch Brown Winter lettuce, Delicata squash, d'Espelette peppers, Algonquin pumpkin, and lots and lots of tomatoes. Possibilities include Black Crick, Crimson Sprinter, Fruit Punch, Morado, and their own White Calabash.

Greta's Organic Vegetable Garden: Greta doesn't indicate which items are new; but her list is so large and so wide ranging that even things that have been around for a while will suddenly strike you as surprising. I'm not a smoker, but I'm fascinated by Samsun Turkish tobacco. Actually, she has a lot of different tobaccos. Other fascinating things: Bozeman and Mountain Sweet watermelons, Chicago Pickling and H-19 Little Leaf (hard to find!) cucumbers, Ching-Chiang pak choi, Red Dragon mustard greens, Wong Bok cabbage, Gajo de Melon, Winterkeeper, Kenosha, and Romeo (another one hard to find these days) tomatoes, Zapallito del Tronco, Gem, and Longue de Nice squash, Korean Kim-Chee peppers, San Christoforo peas, Tall Green purslane, Tom Thumb popcorn, and Valencia onion. And more, much more...

Harmonic Herbs: have a good little list of herbs, including sea buckthorn, borage, Sunshine Flashback calendula, licorice mint and Mexican tarragon (actually anise flavoured) which I came across recently for the first time and intend to try this year. They also have garden-sized packets of seeds and grains including hulless oats and barley, amaranth, buckwheat, golden flax and quinoa. Vegetable seeds include Gaucho Argentinian beans, Turga Hungarian parsnips, Pink Beauty radish, and Midnight Lightening zucchini amongst other things. They also do some nice combo packs.

Hawthorn Farm Organic Seeds:  Very local for us, with a fine selection. We visited them a while back. Offerings this year include April Green cabbage, Purple Peacock broccoli (brocco-kale cross, actually), Cosmic Purple carrots, Macuzalito dry beans, Fortex beans (you may recognize that photo!), Tango celery, Iowne's True Blue corn, Green Wave mustard - a favourite of veggie breeder Carol Deppe - Matchbox Hot pepper, Principe Borghese drying tomatoes, and Cosmonaut Volkov, Moonglow, Indigo Rose, and Green Zebra tomatoes. Hawthorn is strong on lettuce, and their offerings include Brown Goldring, Red Sails and Jester amongst a good selection of others. Our standards each year include Cylindra, Early Wonder Tall Top, and Touchstone Gold beets, Ping Tung eggplant, Giant Musselburgh leeks, New Red Fire lettuce, Meeting Place Organic Farm snow peas, and Tatume Mexican zucchini.

Heritage Harvest Seed: New offerings here include Lena Spraybash's broad (fava) bean from northern Manitoba, Heirloom Dutch snow pea, Banana Melon, Mammoth Sandwich Island salsify, Gold Medal, Puck, and Soldacki tomatoes, and Yokohama squash. Last year's trend for home-grown grains continues; they have 5 new ones listed. Our standard varieties from Heritage Harvest include Anellino Yellow, Deseronto Potato, Dolloff, and Grandma Nellie's Yellow Mushroom beans (their bean collection is epic), Collective Farm Woman and Gnadenfeld melons, Chieftain Savoy and Copenhagen Market cabbages, and Jaune de Doubs carrot. Very strong listings for cucumbers, peas, spinach, peppers... almost everything, really. 

Hope Seeds: Specialists in Maritime heirlooms, they have a lot of things generally suited to short seasons as well. New items include Honeynut squash, Butterflay spinach, Wrinkled Crinkled Crumpled cress, New Hampshire College Red popcorn, January King cabbage, and Strawberry Blonde calendula. Old reliables include Tante Alice cucumber, Listada de Gandia eggplant, Small Shining Light watermelon, Bennie's Red onion, Golden Sweet snow peas, Melford rutabaga, Tribe's Tobique and Bernardo's Paste tomatoes. They have 4 kinds of Jerusalem artichokes, and a good little selection of potatoes. Looks like later in the season they will have several varieties of garlic as well.

Mapple Farm: The original Canadian supplier of sweet potato slips, located in New Brunswick. They recommend Georgia Jet as the best for Canadians, but they have a good selection of other possibilities. Their selection doesn't change much from year to year, but the things they carry are well considered and tried and true. They do mention Honeyboat squash and Italian Heirloom paste tomato as new. Speaking of tomatoes, they have their own Mystery Keeper tomato if you want to try keeping fresh tomatoes well into the winter. French Scorzonera, Turkish Rocket, or Shosaku Gobo can be grown from seed, or Volgo 2 Jerusalem artichokes, Chinese artichokes (neither of which are actually artichokes) and Horseradish can be acquired as roots.

Ontario Seed Company: One of Ontario's oldest remaining seed houses, OSC carries a mix of conventional and heirloom seeds. New items this year include Atomic Red and Solar Yellow carrots, Ailsa Craig onion, Zlata yellow radish, and Mouse Melon "cucumber". Old stand-bys include Chieftain savoy cabbage, Valencia peanuts, Alaska and Tall Telephone peas, Cubanelle peppers, Laurentian rutabaga and Crimson Sweet watermelon.

Prairie Garden Seeds: Here you will need to order by mail and pay by cheque. It is well worth the effort to do so. Jim Ternier has a very large list of Canadian and cold climate seeds. He doesn't indicate what is new and what isn't. I notice this year though, that he has 2 kinds of dwarf scarlet runner beans; a thing I have never seen before (Dwarf Bees and Pickwick Dwarf). They have the delightful French Flageolet bean, and an amazingly large collection of fava (broad) beans. Knight is a pea I have been looking for for a while; there it is. Amish Snap is one of our staples for summer eating and freezing; ditto Carouby de Maussane. This year he has 7 different kinds of corn, up from 5 last year. I see one of them is Carol Deppe's Cascade Ruby Gold. How about Kazakh Honeydew melon, or 1805 Smoothies and Super Zagross cucumbers? Sweetheart beet or Rote Reisen carrot? Pfalzer Yellow is a carrot that has done consistently well for us, and Kral parsnips have some real advantages. Lorelei and Prickly-Seeded spinaches look interesting. Flashback mixed calendulas are lovely. There's a heartstopping little collection of rare ornamental and edible alliums.

If you are looking for a Canadian bred tomato, this is the place. Also, Jim lists 60 kinds of wheat alone, never mind all the other grains and cereals. In short, wow!

Richter's Seeds: Quite possibly the most complete herb catalogue in the world. In particular they have a startling number of variations on the theme of basil. Offerings include Good King Henry, Nepitella, Trinidad Scorpion, Bhut Jolokia, and Hot Portugal hot peppers, Stevia (several strains), White Soul strawberries, Sweet Trefoil, Blue Lake pole beans, Early Purple English broccoli, Cardoon, Muncher cucumber, Huizontle, Jicama, Molokhia, Wasabi arugula, Yellow Moon and Stars watermelon, and much - much - more.

They are the only Canadian company that I know of still listing genuine French, and Grey shallots - pretty much everyone else has the seed-grown ones now, which are really not the same. Unfortunately, the prices reflect this fact.

Salt Spring Seeds: Located on Salt Spring Island, they are a well-established and substantial operation. New items this  year include Andover parsnips, Spello chick peas, Jack In the Beanstalk beans, Licorice, Red Legion onion (Torpedo shallot), Purple Cape cauliflower, and Yukon Chief corn. Of interest to me are Gold Harvest dry peas, Harry Burton's shelling pea, Mrs Van's, Sapporo Express, and The Pilot shelling peas, Zeghdulet Fluted squash, Darcy's Purple leek, Kakai oilseed pumpkin,

They are very strong in peas, pulses, and grains; second only to Prairie Garden.

Solana Seeds: Located in Quebec. In line with their interests, new items this year are mostly hottish to hot chiles. Green Tiger and Orange Banana tomatoes are new, as are Piaozinho, Mulato, Guajillo, Hot Paper Lantern and Chilhuacle Rojo peppers. St Valery carrots, Kamo eggplant, Zatta and Emerald Gem melons, Superschmelz kohlrabi, and lots of tomatoes (and other things) on the regular list.

Quantities per packet can be small, but prices are generally very reasonable.

Stellar Seeds: Located in the Kootenays. Promising looking offerings include Lutz Green Leaf beet, Goldette turnip, Sweet Granite canteloup, Amsterdam Gold carrot, Coastal Star and Hilde lettuces, Yellow Bedfordshire onions, Padron peppers, and Belstar Black scorzonera.

Sunshine Farm: located in the Kelowna Valley, B.C. They have a good standard selection plus some unusual items such as Azufrado Mexican bean, Rouge Sang Violette carrot, Rollison's Long English cucumber, Louisiana Long Green eggplant, German Winter leek, Guernsey Half-Long parsnip, Rocotillo peppers, Hilds Blauer radish, Whangaparaoa squash, and northward of 170 varieties of tomato.

Tatiana's TomatoBase: Last year I pointed out that she had one thousand and fifteen varieties of tomato seed for sale. This year it's one thousand, seven hundred and seventy eight. I don't mention any by name because where to even start? But if you want a rare tomato, look here first is what I am saying. Seed prices and quantities are fine, seeds may not have been grown last year but dates are noted and you should have a several years of good germination left.

Tatiana has an excellent selection of lettuces, peppers, squash, and melons, as well as a sprinkling of other vegetables. She has access to many varieties from Russia, which as it shares a similar climate with Canada means there are very interesting things here for the Canadian gardener. As a bonus, Tatiana maintains an encyclopedia of tomato varieties, so this is the place to do research on anything tomato.

Terra Edibles: I still have a soft spot for this company, one of the first of the small seed-company renaissance that I came across. They have a good selection of tomatoes and beans, and a smaller but well-chosen selection of other vegetables. Beans may be a bit short this year so order early. Prices remain very reasonable. Don't seem to have new offerings but I sure recognize the names of many of their tomatoes that have been grown in my garden, including Yellow Striped Roman, Stupice, Principe Borghese, Opalka, Matt's Wild, Ildi, Gardener's Delight, Garden Peach, Costoluto Fiorentino, Red Brandywine, Black Cherry, Banana Legs, and Amish Paste tomatoes.

Ferme Cooperative Tourne-sol: have been around for a while, but somehow have not made this list before. Oops! New this year I see Sugaree snap peas, Kew Gardens Purple pole bean, Rio San Lorenzo amaranth, Cream of Saskatchewan watermelon, and Black quinoa. Also of interest, they have Kahnawake Mohawk beans, Chufa Nuts sedge, Painted Mountain corn, Selection Tourne-Sol cucumber, Opal Creek snap peas, St. Hubert dry peas.

Tree and Twig Heirloom Vegetable Farm: Here is another seed farm we have had the pleasure of visiting. No online seed sales this year, although it sounds like she is still selling tomato plants.

William Dam Seeds: One of Ontario's 2 remaining old establishment seed-houses. They sell untreated seed, but much of it is still f1 hybrids. Nevertheless, they still have a very good selection of well-priced basics. Their Dutch heritage means they carry many old Dutch varieties. Look for Namenia turnip greens, Goldana turnip, Lucullus Swiss chard, Viroflex Giant Winter spinach (by far our fave), Strike peas, Early Yellow Globe and Red Tropeana onions, Telegraph Improved cucumbers, Amazing cauliflower, Groninger Blue kale, Miner's Lettuce claytonia, and lots more. Best source I know of for all the physical accoutrements other than metal tools required for gardening.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

A Meditation on $8 Cauliflower

I know I live in a little bubble, but I have only been very vaguely aware that the prices of many commonly-purchased vegetables have been going up (up, up!) recently. Well, they would be, wouldn't they; what with the low dollar and environmental changes happening now. Suddenly this week though, I've been seeing lots of articles about cauliflower at $6 or $8 a head.

I had no idea. I haven't even glanced at a cauliflower since November, when they were last in season. With the exception of a few lemons and limes, and the odd banana or other fruit, I don't really look at, never mind buy, anything imported. The price of citrus has been brutal for a while, but it doesn't exactly make or break our budget, or our menu.

Of course this is very hard on many people. I'm in a rare position, in that about 80% of our vegetable and fruit intake is grown and preserved by ourselves*. The whole point of this blog, though, is that long before we had a garden, we were eating well, eating relatively cheaply, and eating in a way to mitigate human and environmental harm, by eating mostly food produced locally, and you can too, with just a little re-jigging. And yeah, that means no cauliflower in January (mostly because I can't freeze it well enough at home to suit my fussy tastes). Tant pis. We really aren't suffering. We're eating cabbage (and carrots, and onions, and rutabaga, and beets, and, oh, look at the list)**, and liking it. And in July, when the first locally grown cauliflower shows up again, I'll be ecstatic to see it.

Cauliflower is a special vegetable, as I've remarked before. It deserves an ecstatic greeting at least once a year. Of all the vegetables, it is probably the most refined and luxurious flowering of the plant breeders' and growers' art. It has been thousands of years in the making and perfecting, and still requires expert knowledge, skill, and precision to grow. The idea that it ought to be a cheap staple is laughable. What makes me sad is not that out-of-season cauliflower is expensive, but that so little of that increased price is going to the people actually out in the field growing it. Indeed, even as I type I'm sure people are working on how to get even more out of the hides of farm workers, rather than let international finance and big ag take the hits from increased prices.

I have noted that as imported produce has been increasing in price, so has locally grown produce, though not to the same degree. I think there are 2 reasons for this; the first being that since other things are more expensive, the prices can be raised. I try not to resent this too much; produce growing is one of the most precarious and labour intensive forms of making a living that there is, especially for the small or medium sized grower***. The other is that, as people have come to regard food grown and shipped from thousands of miles away as perpetually cheap, perpetually available, and in fact that they have a positive right to have it, the number of local growers and the variety of what they grow has shrunk, and shrunk a lot. The survivors inevitably can charge more, and have to, because the distribution chain also shrinks and gets more expensive and difficult to manoeuvre.

So until July and local cauliflower, please look around and buy other locally grown vegetables, hopefully at more reasonable prices. Even if you are not familiar with them. Then locate them on the index at the right hand side of this blog. I'm pretty sure you will find a simple and delicious way to prepare those vegetables, and you will not feel deprived. (And you can read this paeon to the potato from Carol Deppe - let's not forget the wonderful potato!)

*That actually probably takes more money and definitely a whole lot more time than if we were just buying it, by the way - but we have both, and want to do it. The point is you can eat like we do for less money and effort than we expend.

**Not even including our own frozen, dried, or canned goods.

***Although again, I have to wonder how much is actually going to the grower - good reason to go to a farmers market if you can.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Rutabaga with Bacon, Mushrooms, & Onions

Finally, we grew some successful rutabaga last summer. It generally hasn't done well for us, because as a member of the brassica family it doesn't like our soil much, our soil contains worms that do like rutabaga just fine, and I am pretty terrible at thinning at the time of year when  things should be thinned.

Is there any vegetable that doesn't go well with bacon, mushrooms, and onions? Maybe? None I can think of off the top of my head. So no new culinary ground is being broken here, but that's okay. Nothing wrong with the tried and true. If there is any difficulty with this dish, it's that it contains enough bacon to make it too rich to be your usual side dish, but not quite enough to be a main dish. It makes an excellent breakfast or brunch, along with some toast, or serve it with simply cooked lean fish or chicken and a green vegetable for a more substantial meal.

4 to 6 servings
1 hour prep time

Rutabaga with Bacon, Mushrooms, & Onions

450 grams (1 pound) rutabaga
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 medium onions
200 grams (1/2 pound) bacon
100 grams (1/4 pound) button mushrooms
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
1/4 teaspoon rubbed savory or thyme

Peel the rutabaga and cut it into 3/4" dice. Put them in a pot with water to cover, and the salt, and bring to a boil. Boil steadily for about 30 minutes, until tender.

Meanwhile, peel and chop the onions. Chop the bacon into bite-sized pieces. Clean, trim, and slice the mushrooms.

Cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat; it should cook quite slowly for about 10 to 15 minutes. Stir occasionally. If it renders more fat than will nicely coat the bottom of the pan, drain some of it off. After 10 or 15 minutes, when the bacon is about two-thirds cooked, add the chopped onions and the mushrooms. Continue cooking slowly, stirring regularly, for another 10 minutes or so, until the bacon is quite done and so are the onions and mushrooms. If things look like they are cooking too fast, reduce the heat as needed.

When the rutabaga is tender, drain it well and add it to the pan of bacon, etc. Mix and mash it in fairly coarsely, and season with the pepper, paprika, and savory. You may wish to add a little more salt, but contemplate the nature of your bacon first. Heat through, and transfer to the serving dish.

Last year at this time I made Curried Squash Soup.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Parsnip & Cheese Soufflé

Soufflés in general are not as difficult as their reputation would suggest; the hard part is getting your diners to the table before the inevitable collapse of your soufflé. Better to have people wait upon the soufflé, than to have the soufflé wait upon people.

This one was particularly easy to make, since so much of it can be done right in the cooking pot, and it deflated slowly, with dignity, and not excessively. And was very tasty, and well received!

Our parsnips were not great this year, as I they came up spottily and yet I did not thin them as required, so simultaneously sparse and crowded. However, the seeds must have blown around a bit, as I found several good ones growing in the bean bed when I cleaned it up, and a really magnificent one growing in the compost pile. A clue; but I already knew they like rich, moist soil. It's finding them some that is the trouble.

6 servings
1 hour 10 minutes - 40 minutes prep time

500 grams (1 pound) parsnips
100 grams (1/4 pound) peeled celeriac
200 grams (1/2 pound) Edam, Gouda, or Gruyere cheese
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons soft unbleached flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds, ground
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
4 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Clean, trim and slice the parsnips, about 1/2" thick. Peel and slice the celeriac to match. Put them in a fairly large (1 quart) pot with water to cover them - about 1 1/2 cups - and bring to a boil. Boil until tender, about 15 minutes.

While they cook, cut the cheese into fairly small dice. 

Drain the cooked vegetables, saving the cooking water and keeping them in the pot. Return the pot to the stove over medium heat, and add the butter and flour. Mix it in well, then add the salt, the cumin seeds ground, and the mustard. Add 1 cup of the vegetable cooking water, stirring it in well. Stir constantly until the mixture thickens slightly, then remove it from the heat and let it cool for about 5 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Butter a 1 to 1 1/2 quart fairly shallow baking pan.

Separate the eggs, adding the yolks to the pot of parsnips, etc, and the whites to a clean non-plastic mixing bowl. Mix the yolks into the the vegetables thoroughly. Mix in about 1/3 of the cheese cubes.

Add the cream of tartar to the egg whites, and beat them with an electric mixer until very stiff. Fold them gently into the vegetable mixture. When they are in, scrape it all into the prepared baking pan. Sprinkle the remaining cheese cubes evenly over the soufflé, poking them down just a little.

Bake the soufflé for about 30 minutes, until puffed and brown. Serve at once!

Monday, 18 January 2016

Dad's Barley & Cheese Meatloaf

I've done my Mom's Meatloaf; this one is from my Dad's recipe collection. I have adapted it a little. The original called for rice instead of barley, fewer seasonings, and didn't have any eggs in it. Even with the eggs, it's a bit delicate and crumbly, probably because of the barley. The barley is surprisingly unobtrusive though, and in my opinion makes the meatloaf very digestible and not too rich. The cheese is surprisingly subtle, but definitely adds to the appeal. Dad would definitely have put in the olives and I would have liked them, but I left them out here because Mr. Ferdzy is not a fan. You might want to scale back on the salt a little if you do add the olives.

It occurs to me that this mixture would be excellent used as a filling for cabbage rolls.  

8 servings
1 hour 45 minutes - 20 minutes prep time
not including cooking the barley

Dad's Barley & Cheese Meatloaf

Cook the Barley:
1/2 cup raw pot barley
2 cups water
1/4 teaspoon salt

Put it all in the rice cooker; cook. Alternatively, it can be cooked in a pot on the top of the stove. Bring it to a boil, then reduce it to a very low simmer. It should take about 40 minutes. Either way, do this some time ahead (up to a day or two refrigerated) so that it is cool when you start.

Make the Meatloaf:
1 large onion
3 cloves of garlic
2 teaspoons mild vegetable oil
1 medium large carrot (1 1/2 cups grated, about)
100 grams (1/4 pound) old Cheddar cheese
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon rubbed oregano
1 teaspoon cumin seed
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 large eggs
1 cup tomato sauce
1/3 cup chopped green pimento olives (optional)
500 grams (1 pound 2 ounces) very lean ground beef
1/2 cup tomato sauce

Peel and chop the onion finely. Peel and mince the garlic. Heat the oil in a small skillet, and cook the onion until soft and translucent, about 10 minutes over fairly low heat. Add the garlic for the last couple minutes. Turn off the heat and let them cool. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a mixing bowl, put the at least partially cooled barley. Peel and grate the carrot, and add it to the barley, along with the onion and garlic once it is fairly cool as well. Dice the cheese and add it. Add the spices, grinding the cumin and peppercorns first. Add the eggs and tomato sauce, and the olives if you are using them. Mix well, until everything is evenly distributed and coated in the eggs.

Mix in the ground beef. I find this easiest to do by hand, mixing and squeezing to be sure everythin is well mixed. Pack the mixture into a 4" x 8" loaf pan, mounding it up over the top to make a nice loaf shape. Glaze it with the remaining tomato sauce.

Bake the meatloaf at 350°F for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes, until well set. Let rest for 15 minutes before serving.

Last year at this time I made Pasta "alla Pizza".

Friday, 15 January 2016

Beet, Carrot & Pineapple Salad

Pineapple! Not exactly local, but it gives zip and sweetness to the old familiar beets and carrots. So colourful and refreshing.

This is a very simple salad to make; all the simpler if you buy your pineapple already peeled and cored. I found this was best the day it was made; there was a little leftover, and it was good enough, but the ginger flavour had faded.

20 to 30 minutes prep time
PLUS 45 minutes to cook the beets
6 to 8 servings

3 medium beets (450 grams; 1 pound)
1 medium-large carrot
1/2 of a fresh pineapple
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh peeled ginger
3 tablespoons hazelnut, almond, or walnut oil
salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste

Put the beets in a pot with water to cover by at least an inch, and bring them to a boil. Boil steadily for 40 to 45 minutes, until tender. Allow them to cool. Best to do this a day ahead.

Peel and grate the cooked beets quite finely; there should be about 2 cups. Put them in a bowl. Peel and grate the carrot in the same way, and add it. Peel, core, and chop the pineapple quite finely, and add it along with any accumulated juice. Peel and mince the ginger and add it.

Drizzle over the hazelnut oil, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Toss well. Serve chilled.

Last year at this time I made Lamb Chops with Coffee Gravy.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Bubble & Squeak

As I made this, I reflected that it is not the easiest thing to make, and requires a somewhat experienced cook for it to turn out well. It's been a while since I have made this, or any other fried leftover potato hashy dish, so mine was not quite as perfect as I would have liked, although it was good enough.

This is traditionally a dish of leftovers. The potatoes and cabbage are obvious, but you will also need some bacon fat saved from previous bacon cookery. But you do that, don't you? After all, unless you bought really crappy bacon or found one heck of a sale, you paid at least $6 per pound for that bacon fat; you might as well use it. It also makes fried potato dishes so much better than frying them in some anonymous vegetable oil. Keep it in a jam jar in the fridge. When you have one full enough to be using to cook, start a second to avoid the phenomenon of having the bottom inch of bacon fat sit around for years.

So what makes this dish so tricky? Partly it's that the ingredients are so fluid. How much fat, salt, and moisture are in your potatoes already? Some, I would imagine. At least. You will need to take those into consideration when judging how much to add.

I further find that you must put in enough bacon fat at the start of cooking them that your potatoes aren't sticking, but avoid putting in so much that as the water cooks out of them and they shrink down, they don't revert to oozing with grease. On the other hand if you have not added enough, you will know it as your potatoes will scorch and turn black instead of a nice rich brown. You also need to know about things like wringing out your cabbage. But much of this is hard to describe and relies on experience to recognize. And of course, you will adjust your cooking times according to whether you are someone who likes your potatoes just lightly browned, or if, like me, you figure the more crunchy brown bits the better, right up to the point that it is actually burnt.

Cooking the bacon separately seems finicky and pointless, but in my experience (and cast iron pans) cooking the bacon then using the same pan to cook other things in only leads to welded-on, unevenly cooked messes. Your pan may vary, of course. But to me it's better to clean 2 easy pans than 1 horrific one.

4 servings
45 minutes prep time not including pre-cooking the vegetables

1 large onion
1 clove of garlic
2 to 4 tablespoons bacon fat
4 cups leftover mashed potatoes
2 to 4 cups leftover cooked cabbage, Brussels sprouts, or kale
4 to 6 slices bacon

Peel and chop the onion. Peel and mince the garlic.

Heat the bacon fat in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, and cook until softened and translucent, then stir in the garlic. Crumble in the leftover mashed potatoes, and mix. Let cook for a few minutes, then turn and mix them about, scraping up any browned bits, and let cook again.

Chop the bacon into bite-sized pieces, and cook them separately in another skillet, again over medium heat. When they are fairly crisp, remove them from the pan and set aside. Add (some of) the fat from them to the pan of potatoes, if it seems they need it, or add it to your store of bacon fat.

When the potatoes and onions have cooked for a bit and are starting to accumulate a reasonable amount of crisped brown bits throughout, add the cooked cabbage or other vegetable, and the cooked bacon pieces. Before you do so, squeeze the cabbage to remove as much moisture as you can, and chop it if it is too coarse. Mix well. Press the mixture into the pan fairly firmly and evenly, and leave it to cook undisturbed for about 5 minutes. Turn it, as carefully as you can and patching it together if necessary, press down again, and cook the other side for about 5 minutes as well. Loosen the Bubble and Squeak, and turn it out onto a serving plate. 

Last year at this time I made Tartar Sauce.

Monday, 11 January 2016

Red Cabbage with Cranberries & Lemon

I don't know why red cabbage so often ends up with sweet and sour flavours - well, yeah; they go so well, but surely other things do too - and here they are, yet again. Nice, though.

By now, when I say "fresh cranberries" I expect them to be frozen. That's fine. I just didn't mean the dried ones, although I bet you could, if you omitted the honey and added a little more liquid.

This is nice and zingy and like most sweet-sour braised red cabbage dishes is the ideal accompaniment for rather rich meats, like duck, turkey, or pork, although it will taste just fine with chicken or fish. These are smaller servings than I usually do of vegetables, but it's a bit richer and more intensely flavoured than most of my vegetable dishes as well. 

6 servings
30 minutes prep time

Red Cabbage with Cranberries & Lemon

3 or 4 medium shallots
3 cups finely shredded red cabbage
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup water or apple cider
1/4 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
the juice of 1 lemon
1 cup fresh cranberries
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon salt

Peel and slice the shallots thinly. Clean and shred the cabbage.

Heat the butter and water in a mid-sized skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and cabbage, and cook slowly, stirring regularly, for about 20 to 25 minutes. Meanwhile, add the other ingredients as you prepare them; first the lemon zest and juice, then the cranberries and honey, then the fennel seed and black peppercorns ground together with the salt.

When the cranberries are all popped and cooked down, along with the cabbage and shallots, and the liquid is mostly evaporated or absorbed, remove the cabbage to a serving dish. 

Huh. Last year at this time I made Quick 'n' Dirty Pan-Braised (Green) Cabbage. And served it in the same dish... I'm so predictable, what can I say?

Friday, 8 January 2016

Gluten-Free Pan-Fried Chicken Fingers

Well, these are your pretty basic chicken fingers, although I like the combination of quinoa flour and chick pea flour as being a little different from the usual. It makes the coating more robust, and also gluten-free, which may or may not be handy. I have to admit my use of these flours is because they have been sitting in the cupboard for a while and I thought they had better be eaten. They gave the coating a rich, nutty flavour that we enjoyed.

In spite of all the fiddling around, this does not really take much longer than just slapping your chicken breasts in a pan and cooking them, because they cook so quickly when cut in fingers.

4 servings
20 minutes prep time

Gluten-Free Pan-Fried Chicken Fingers

2 large skinless boneless chicken breasts (600 grams; 1 1/4 pounds)
1/3 cup buttermilk or yogurt
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup quinoa flour
1/2 cup chick pea flour
1 1/2 teaspoons sweet Hungarian paprika
freshly ground black pepper to taste
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon rubbed savory
1/2 cup mild vegetable oil to fry

Lay a chicken breast out flat on the cutting board, and cut it into 1/2" wide strips. The longest bits from the middle should be cut across in half to make 2 pieces. Put them in a small bowl with the buttermilk and 1/4 teaspoon salt, and let marinate for up to several hours in the fridge.

You can continue right away though. Break the eggs into a deep plate or shallow bowl, and whisk them well. Mix the flour and seasonings in a similar plate or bowl. Heat the oil in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat.

As it heats, lift the pieces of chicken out of the buttermilk, a few at a time, and dip them first in the egg and then in the flour. Repeat dipping them in the egg again, and the flour a second time, then place them in the now-hot oil in the skillet. Continue with the remaining chicken until it is all in the skillet. Keep an eye on the cooking chicken pieces while you are coating the remaining ones - they cook very quickly and will need to be turned after just a few minutes. The coating should be a nice dark (but not too dark!) brown. Remove the finished chicken fingers as they are done to a platter or - better - a wire rack lined with paper towel. In theory you can keep them warm in a 200°F oven as you work, but they cook so quickly it does not seem worth the trouble to me.

Last year at this time I made Beet & Potato Salad.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Leeks & Mushrooms in Saffron Cream

Here is a very simple but rather luxurious dish, and for those of us who love saffron, a real treat. I would say it goes best with simply cooked chicken or fish, but it would certainly work with beef or lamb, or as part of a series of vegetarian dishes... very flexible, in other words.

I didn't throw in a clove of garlic, but you could; you certainly could.

6 servings
30 minutes prep time

Leeks & Mushrooms in Saffron Cream

3 medium leeks
250 grams (1/2 pound) button or other mushrooms
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2/3 cup 10% cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/8 teaspoon saffron strands
1 tablespoon flour

Trim the leeks, and cut them in half lengthwise. Cut into 1/2" slices the other way. Put them in a strainer and rinse and drain them well. Clean the mushrooms and cut them into quarters.

Heat the butter over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the dry leeks, and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, until quite soft but not browned. Reduce the heat if it looks like they might!

Add the mushrooms, and continue cooking, stirring a bit more frequently, until the mushrooms too soften and look cooked to your liking. You may wish to increase the heat slightly when you add them - they do cool down the pan considerably.

Meanwhile, measure the cream and add the salt, pepper, and saffron, rubbed firmly through your fingers, to it. Set it to the back of the stove to warm slightly, or put it in the microwave for 20 seconds or so.

When the leeks and mushrooms are done to your liking, sprinkle the flour over them and mix it in well, and let it cook for a minute. Slowly stir in the seasoned cream. When it is well mixed in and starting to thicken, remove the leeks and mushrooms to a serving dish at once - it will continue to thicken slightly in the dish. 

Monday, 4 January 2016

Cabbage with Pepitas

When it comes to fresh green winter vegetables, cabbage is pretty much it around here. So this is the kind of idea that I love to have: simple, quick, and yet a blend of flavours and textures that are just right. Indeed, this really made us sit up and take notice, and that's a great thing to be able to say about something that was on the table in 20 minutes.

4 servings
20 minutes prep time

Cabbage with Pepitas

1/4 cup raw unsalted pepitas (green pumpkin seeds)
4 cups finely shredded green cabbage
2 teaspoons butter
1 tablespoon tamari or strong soy sauce

Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat, and toast the pepitas, stirring frequently, until they are lightly toasted. They may be inclined to "pop" and jump around a bit. Once they are done, turn them out onto a plate to cool.

Wash, drain, and shred the cabbage. Put it in a pot with a little water and cook it until done to your liking. Drain it thoroughly, and return it to the pot with the butter and tamari, and cook for another minute or so until they are both well absorbed into the cabbage. Mix in half the toasted pepitas, and turn the cabbage out into a serving dish. Sprinkle the remaining pepitas over it. Serve at once.

Last year at this time I made Mushrooms on Toast.

Friday, 1 January 2016

Stuffed Sweet Potatoes

Quantities given are per sweet potato; you can do as many as you like, obviously.

These are a little funny - they don't seem quite substantial enough to be a meal in their own right, but they are too much to be just a side dish, although I suppose you could. What I think they need to go with them is some soup, or you could use them as a fairly substantial first course.

I have to admit these are pretty much Stuffed Baked Potatoes, but it's surprising how different the use of sweet potatoes makes them. In spite of the length of time (mostly going towards getting the sweet potatoes baked) these are an easy, low-effort dish.

1 or 2 servings (per sweet potato)
1 hour 30 minutes; 15 minutes prep time

Stuffed Sweet Potatoes

1 large sweet potato (300 grams; 10 to 12 ounces)
1 slice of onion or a small shallot
2 or 3 button mushrooms
1 or 2 slices of bacon
OR 1/2 of a raw sausage
1 teaspoon mild vegetable oil
30 grams (1 ounce) old Cheddar cheese
salt & pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon savory

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Rub the sweet potatoes lightly with oil, and prick in several places with a fork. Bake for 45 minutes, until quite soft.

Meanwhile, peel and chop the onion or shallot fairly finely. Clean and chop the mushrooms. Cut the bacon or sausage into small pieces.

Heat the oil in a small skillet. Or, if your bacon or sausage is rather fatty, render it in the pan instead of using the oil, then add the onion or shallot, and mushrooms. Cook all together, stirring frequently, until everything is softened and cooked down. When it is, remove the pan from the heat and leave to cool a bit. This really shouldn't be done  until about 15 minutes before the sweet potatoes are baked.

When the sweet potatos are baked, remove them from the oven but leave it on. Holding them with a pot holder or tea towel, cut each sweet potato in half lengthwise. Scoop out the flesh to 1/4" of the skin, and mash it coarsely. Add it to the pan of onions, mushrooms, and sausage or bacon, and mix well. Dice the cheese and mix it in, along with the seasonings. Divide the filling evenly between the sweet potato halves, mounding it up neatly.

Return the sweet potatoes to the oven for another 20 minutes or so. Serve when the potatoes are hot through and the cheese is bubbling.