Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Three Variations on Blackberry Jam (or Syrup)

Our blackberries are producing masses of berries this year. They are a decent quality in spite of the rain, if a little on the tart side compared to some years. So far, I have made a version of all of these variations. The Blackberry-Orange combo was made as jam, and the Blackberry-Honey was made as syrup. I would only suggest the Blackberry-Peach as a jam, which is what I did. 

You don't actually have to strain out the seeds, but I have to say it's nice not to have them. They are quite intrusive and as I get older they inevitably get stuck in my gums. On the other hand, the berries cook down and you will probably mill out close to 2 cups of seeds, meaning that 12 cups of blackberries are not nearly as much as you might think.

I always think each berry has an ideal citrus partner. Oranges seem to be it for blackberries; lemons go with raspberries and strawberries and blueberries love limes.

The honey I used in the syrup was blueberry honey, and I could really taste it in the syrup, at least as I canned it up. How it will hold, I don't know. I expect the blackberries to be delicious at any rate.

After this, I think any more blackberries will be frozen for smoothies. 

6 250-ml jars of jam
OR 8 250-ml jars of syrup

Blackberry Jam

Blackberry-Orange Jam or Syrup
12 cups blackberries
the zest and juice of 2 large navel oranges
1 cup water if making syrup
2 cups sugar

Blackberry-Honey Syrup or Jam
12 cups blackberries
the zest and juice of 1 large lime
1 cup water if making syrup
1 cup honey
1 cup sugar

Blackberry-Peach Jam
8 cups blackberries
900 grams (2 pounds; 6 medium-large) peaches
2 cups sugar

Rinse and pick over the blackberries; drain them very well. Put them in a large pot and add the zest and citrus juice, if using. If you are making jam, do not add water. If you are making syrup, add the 1 cup of water. Heat the berries gently over medium heat, stirring frequently, and bring them up to a steady simmer. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring regularly, until all the berries have broken open. Let cool for 15 minutes.

Put your jars into a canner and add water to cover by at least an inch. Bring them up to a boil. I add my ladle and funnel to the top to sterilize them as well.

Meanwhile, press the berries through a food mill - I find it best to not put in more than 1 cup at a time - and strain them into a maslin pan or other large heavy bottomed pot. Discard the seeds. If you are making the Blackberry-Peach jam, blanch and peel the peaches, and chop them, discarding the pits.

Add the sugar, or sugar and honey, or sugar and peaches, to the strained berries, and bring up to a boil. Boil until a thick syrup, if making syrup, or until it runs from a spoon in a wide ribbon if making jam (probably about 20 minutes).

When the jars come to a boil, boil them for 10 minutes. Remove them from the water but keep it boiling. At this point I have taken to dropping the rings and lids into the boiling water while I fill the jars - they should boil for about 1 minute and you could also do them in their own pot of water.

Fill the jars with the jam or syrup. Dip a bit of paper towel in the boiling water and wipe the rims of the jars to make sure they are clean. Top them with the lids and rings, and tighten to be just snug. Return them to the boiling water for 5 to 10 minutes. Let cool (if you can, in the canner but otherwise remove them to a heatproof board), test the seals, label, and store in a cool dark place for up to 1 year. Keep refrigerated once open.

Last year at this time I made Corn & Tomato Salad with Feta Cheese, and also Cherry Tomato & Shallot Bruschetta.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Thornless Blackberries

If you asked me to list all the berries we can grow in Ontario in order of how much I like them, blackberries would be an also-ran. It isn't that I don't like them, it's just that I like most other berries better. However, over the last 6 years or so, as we have struggled to grow strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries, we've been eating lots of blackberries because they grow so easily and well. I'm starting to warm up to them...

Our blackberries were brought by my mother-in-law when she moved here, so I do not know exactly which variety we have. There was a popular series of blackberries bred in the U.S.A. and given the names of native tribes; I suspect them of being one of those, possibly Apache, but who really knows? In some ways, it doesn't matter much because the differences between one variety and another are not that enormous, although Apache is particularly long-producing which makes it a good choice for home gardeners.

Still, there are points to consider. Blackberries are naturally very thorny canes, but for over a hundred years now thornless versions have been commercially available. It makes them far more pleasant to pick and otherwise work with, no question! But thorny versions are still sold, so if you are shopping for blackberry canes, do check. After that, canes may be erect, semi-erect, or trailing. Ours are plainly an erect version, although that doesn't mean they don't arch enough to touch the ground if they are not pruned. Also, while these are often described as self-supporting, it makes a lot of sense to build them a trellis if you have more than one or two plants. They will be more tolerant of neglect than trailing varieties though.

You don't, by the way, need to have more than one plant unless you want more fruit; they are self-fertile so even just one will produce fruit. One plant will also produce more plants. They tend to send out runners and in many ways the hardest part of growing blackberries is keeping them under some kind of control. They drop seedlings all over, too. At least any that come up in the lawn don't survive mowing. My impression is that most if not all of those seedlings will have thorns, so do try to remove them while they are cute, baby thorns.

We mulch our row of blackberries with wood chips, which seems to suit them fine. They should definitely be mulched quite heavily.  Mowing around them is the best way to keep them in check, so their bed should be surrounded by mow-able grass. They like full sunshine for best production. About 1/4 of our bed is lightly shaded though, and this works out reasonably well as it is the last section to start ripening - and also the last section to finish ripening, extending our picking time by a week or so. If our variety is Apache, they are supposed to produce over 5 weeks and we get at least 6 weeks of picking - it's pretty amazing, actually. They just keep coming and coming.

Like most fruits, they are best in a warm, not too wet season although blackberries are more tolerant of - or require, if you prefer to put it that way - a certain amount of water. It has been warm enough this year for the fruit to be decent in quality, but I have learned to make a point of not picking them until at least 24 hours after a rainfall, or the fruit will be soft, bland, hard to pick, and spoil quickly. Unlike most things I prefer to pick them late in the afternoon when the sun has been on them all day for that final burst of ripening.

Most descriptions you will find on-line describe them as ripening as early as June, but those are American sites. Here in mid-southern Ontario they start ripening in the middle of August, and go until the end of September. They match well in particular with the peaches and early apples that are in season at the same time.

Blackberries are easy to care for. Mostly what they need is pruning and a little support. Since they are perennial, that "little support" does need to be sturdy. We put in 2 8' tall, 2" diameter metal poles, set 2' into the ground and held in place with post cement. (You dig your hole, dump it in, add water - voila, cement. They mix it up special for this purpose.) There are then 2 sets of wires strung between them and we weave the canes up through them to hold them in place.

While the plants are perennials, each cane lasts 2 years. The first year they just grow; you pretty much ignore them. In the fall they should be pruned back to about 4' in length - the exact length will depend on what variety you have, but hopefully they will tell  you - and the next summer they will send out a series of side shoots, which will flower and fruit. In the meantime, once the existing fruiting 2 year old canes have finished fruiting, they should be pruned out. Late fall is ideal, but you could leave it to early spring if you had to. Then you just keep repeating that cycle.

Blackberry pests are rare - other than the birds. There are some diseases but decent air circulation and good soil quality will avoid most of them, and a little light fertilizing once each year will keep them in top condition. It's not quite plant them and stand back, but blackberries are an easy and satisfying fruit to grow.

Friday, 25 August 2017

Broiled Tomatoes au gratin

It's those magic words again - quick and easy! Serve these juicy little morsels as a side dish or pop them onto toast for bruschetta.

For some reason I think these would really go with a meal of steak, corn on the cob, and green beans although that wasn't what I served them with. Still, would be good!

My tomatoes were a bit on the skimpy side so I actually used 3 of them. This is an ideal use for heirloom beefsteak tomatoes, and the advantage of 3 was that they were all slightly different colours, flavours, and textures.

I'm giving a bit of a range of how long to cook them, because it all depends: on your oven, on your tomatoes, on your preference. Do check them early and often to be sure of getting it right.

2 to 4 servings
20 minutes prep time

Broiled Tomatoes au gratin

Make the Topping:
3 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese
2 or 3 crackers, reduced to crumbs
a grind of fresh black pepper
1/2 teaspoon rubbed basil OR oregano

Grate the Parmesan and crush the crackers; mix them together in a small bowl. The volume of cracker crumbs should be about the same as the Parmesan. Mix in the pepper and basil or oregano.

Finish the Tomatoes:
2 medium-large tomatos
a little olive oil

Line a baking tray with parchment paper and brush it with olive oil. Preheat the broiler.

Wash and core the tomatoes, and cut them into fairly thick slices of about 1 cm. Lay them on the oiled parchment. Broil them for 3 to 5 minutes, until the top side is cooked. Turn them over and sprinkle the topping over them. Return them to the oven and broil for another 3 to 5 minutes, until the topping is browned.

Last year at this time I made Seedy Fried Cauliflower and "Mexican" Pesto.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Argentinian Chicken & Corn

I found the inspiration for this recipe in an old cook book of South American recipes from the 1930s. Most of them were pretty Americanized, and who knows; this one may be too.

It originally called for you to roast a chicken in order to make it but my immediate reaction that this was the ideal dish to use up the leftovers from an already cooked rotisserie chicken such as many grocery stores have available. I haven't actually bought any such chickens in a while because the quality available to me has really gone downhill, but you may be luckier. Or if you had leftover grilled (barbecued) chicken it would do very well and in that case you might even have leftover grilled corn and should certainly use if for this and skip the blanching.

Because I think it is the perfect dish to use up leftover cooked chicken I am quite vague about the amounts of chicken to use; it will depend on how much you think you will eat and even more on how much you have.

4 servings
30 minutes prep time, not including cooking the chicken
about 45 minutes to cook bone-in chicken pieces

Chicken & Corn Argentine

4 to 6 large chicken thighs
OR half a rotisserie chicken; see notes above
1 teaspoon cumin seed
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 large onion
1 medium red pepper
2 to 3 cloves of garlic
3 cobs of corn
3 large tomatoes
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons rubbed savory or oregano

If you start with raw chicken, season it well with the cumin seed ground, savory or oregano, and salt and pepper. Roast at 375°F for about 45 minutes or cook on a hot grill until just done.

Put a large pot of water on to boil for blanching the tomatoes and corn.

Peel and chop the onion. Wash, deseed, and chop the red pepper. Peel and mince the garlic. Husk the corn.

When the water boils, blanch the tomatoes for 1 minute, then run them under cold water. Peel them, cut out the green cores, and chop roughly. Blanch the corn in the same water for 1 or 2 minutes, then cut it from the cobs. Scrape the cobs to get all the corn; keep the prepared tomatoes and corn aside until needed.

When the chicken is cooked, cut it in as neat slices as you can get off of the bones. (I set the bones aside and picked any remaining chicken off of them and added it to the skillet once it was cooler and easier to handle.)

When the chicken is ready, heat the oil or some chicken fat in a large skillet. Cook the onion and red pepper over medium-high heat until softened and slightly browned. If you started with a rotisserie chicken add the cumin and savory to the pan at the same time; season later with salt and pepper taking into consideration how the rotisserie chicken has already been seasoned. Put in the bay leaves now too.

 Add the garlic and cook for another minute, then mix in the tomatoes and the corn. Settle in the slices of chicken and add any juices from it. Simmer the mixture for about 10 to 12 minutes in total, stirring once or twice if you can to keep it from sticking but trying not to break up the chicken slices.

Serve with mashed potatoes, pasta, rice, or even just over thick slices of toast.

Last year at this time it was another South American corn-based main dish; Pastel de Choclo, and Zucchini Blossom Stracciatella.  

Monday, 21 August 2017

An On-Farm Plant Breeding Day at Whole Circle Farm

Last week we headed out to another plant breeding workshop put on by EFAO and the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security. About 15 people gathered at Whole Circle Farm near Acton to hear about their joint breeding project for a thick-walled, blocky, early-ripening, open-pollinated red pepper.

We started with Rebecca Ivanoff telling us how the project came to be. In short, Ontario farmers interested in breeding and adapting vegetables to their farm conditions discussed the need for on-farm plant breeding, and connected with Dr. Michael Mazourek and Rachel Hultengren from Cornell University in New York state. They in turn had been in contact with farmers in the northern U.S.A., who had expressed a need for such a pepper. The Ontario growers agreed, noting that this was a pepper that many of their farmers market customers were looking for.

Dr. Mazourek and his students at Cornell started by trialing existing red peppers. They identified 2 hybrid peppers, Ace F1 and Aristotle F1 as being the best shaped and the earliest, respectively. They crossed these plants and shared them with farmers for selection, Rebecca being one of the farmers.

Next we went out into the field to see the row of peppers growing. Rebecca outlined a bit about how the peppers were doing. This is not a good year for peppers, no kidding, but nevertheless the first peppers are beginning to turn red.

Next we walked down the row, marking plants that looked particularly promising. There's one! I noted that many of the plants with the earliest ripening peppers are also very small plants with only one or two peppers on them. Are they naturally small plants, or are they stressed by bad weather? At what point do you say it's worth taking the peppers that ripen second but are on a better plant over the earliest ripening? There are a lot of points to take into consideration. The row was on a slight slope, and it was clear that the higher up the slope the plants were, the earlier their peppers were inclined to ripen - something else to watch for.

There are 4 farmers involved in the project in Ontario, in addition to Rebecca, there is Greta Kryger of Greta's Organic Seeds, Annie Richard from the Kingston Area Seed Systems Initiative, and Kathy Rothermel of Mouse Seeds. They were all there to see how Rebecca's plants were doing.

They are all growing similar seed, as the seeds from the first round of growing out were sent to one of them, who mixed them all up and redistributed them. This ensures that they are all really working on the same project. As far as I can tell the results of this year will be F4, but I admit I forgot to ask.

Many of the attendees were interns on local farms, and Rebecca explained the basics of plant breeding for them. She demonstrated how crosses are done; emasculating a very young flower on the mother plant and bringing the pollen to it on a blossom from another plant. Fiddly work! This was just for demonstration purposes though; the farmers generally just let the bees do any crossing. Not all the peppers will be crosses though; peppers often self-pollinate.

One of the results of the original grow-out of crossed seeds were some yellow peppers. Rebecca was interested enough in them to save them separately and grow them out in their own spot. As you can see, many of them are reverting to red, but even though they look like they would be good peppers for the red pepper project, they won't go into it because it is known that they are carrying a recessive yellow gene.

There were also a number of fluted peppers which resulted from the original grow out; some of the other farmers are pursuing them as a side project as well.

We had a look at some of the other seed projects on the farm. The tangle of pods above are on plants of April Green cabbage; a very good storage cabbage (stays green until April!) This is not a breeding project but Rebecca is experimenting with varying ways to cut or trim the cabbages when they are re-planted in the spring to optimize seed production and quality.

Aabir Dey from the Bauta Initiative gives a run-down on another project - seed-grown potatoes which are being grown out and evaluated. You heard about this project before. We walked down the row of potatoes as well, and were impressed by the variation we could see in the top growth. The potatoes will be quite variable as well, no doubt.

After all that I have to say one of the most useful pieces of information that I picked up was a comment about how, when they grew out carrots for seed at Whole Circle farm one time, they replanted them under hoop houses, so they flowered before the Queen Anne's Lace. Hey, we can do that!

Thanks to Rebecca and Whole Circle Farm for in interesting and instructive day. It's always great to be able to meet and hang out with other seed fanatics.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Green Bean Greek Salad

What could be more summery than a Greek salad? Maybe one made with the liveliest, snappiest, fresh green beans. Otherwise, this is a pretty classic salad.

I didn't put in any green (or other colour) pepper because they have been very dilatory about producing this year, but if you had some and wanted some, about 1/4 of a typical pepper would be about right. I think a bit of yellow or orange pepper would add a touch of lovely colour. It was perfectly delicious without any though.

4 to 6 servings
45 minutes prep time

Green Bean Greek Salad

Make the Dressing:
2 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano
OR 1 teaspoon rubbed dry oregano
a little finely grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
the juice of 1 large lemon
1/4 cup olive oil

Peel and mince the garlic. Wash the oregano and strip the leaves from the stems; mince the leaves finely to measure 1 tablespoon. Put the garlic and oregano into a small bowl or a jam jar and add the rest of the ingredients. You just want a few passes on the grater for the lemon zest, before you juice it and add the juice. Stir or shake and set aside until needed. 

Make the Salad:
250 grams (1/2 pound) green beans
1 medium sweet white or red onion
2 small middle eastern type cucumbers
1 medium to large beefsteak tomato
a good handful of parsley
100 grams (4 ounces) feta cheese
green or black olives to taste

Put a small pot of water on to boil for the beans. Wash and trim the green beans, and cut them into bite-sized pieces. Cook them in the boiling water for 4 to 6 minutes, according to your taste. They should be bright green and still quite crisp. Drain them, rinse them in cold water until cool, then drain again very well. Put them in a salad bowl.

Meanwhile, peel the onion. Cut it in half from pole to pole,then cut each half into half-moon slivers. Put them in a strainer, salt generously, and set aside to drain for about 10 minutes.

Wash, trim, and peel the cucumbers, to the extent that you would like them peeled. Cut them in halves or quarters lengthwise, then into slices. Add to the beans.

Wash the tomato. Blanch and peel it if you like, then chop it into bite sized pieces. Add to the salad.

Wash and dry the parsley, and chop it. Basically, use however much you like. I think a good half cup chopped is not too much, but I like parsley quite a lot. Add it to the salad.

Dice or crumble the feta cheese and add it to the salad.

Rinse and drain the onion well, and add it to the salad.

Toss the salad with the dressing, and garnish it with whatever quantity of olives you deem appropriate.

Last year at this time I made a Savoury Zucchini Roll.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Tung's Beans

Also known as Mr. Tung's Beans. In spite of the fact that this is my second varietal report for beans this year, we don't generally grow too many new beans these days. However, I received some of these beans in a trade 2 years ago and I've been quite impressed with them so far.

I grew them last  year, but I forgot they were for eating fresh, and didn't try any! They grew well and left plenty of seed to plant this year, and this time we've remembered to eat them.

They are a remarkably tender bean. Flavour is on a par with my favourite pole green bean, Blue Lake, but the difference in texture is noticeable. These are almost meltingly soft where Blue Lake is crisp. They are stringless and tender at a larger size than many beans, but of course you can overdo it and let them get too big. Like most beans, they grow very fast and should be picked daily. They are flatter than Blue Lake, but not a broad flat bean like the Roma types. They don't grow as straight and even as Blue Lake, either, but tend to be a bit more wild looking. They are productive, but not quite as productive as Blue Lake.

Overall, we agree we will likely be growing these again, and our "regulars" are now a tough set to break into. We have frozen some, but it will be a while before we find out how well they do. If they freeze well, we will be that much more likely to persist with them. Heritage Harvest says they do freeze well.

One caveat: as regular readers know, we have been struggling with bean anthracnose in the garden for a few years now. We have made some progress in cutting it down, but so far it is reappearing late each summer. I have noted a few specks of black rot on a few of the Tung's beans already, so I would have to say that these have limited to little resistance to bean anthracnose. All sorts of viruses and fungi are rampaging through the garden this year. There is a little of some sort of virus that seems to be affecting all the beans fairly equally but only random plants here and there. There is one virused plant in amongst the Tung's beans, so it is doing about the same as all the others as far as resistance goes. Naturally, none of those virused plants will be kept for seed.

Tung's Bean has a well-documented history. It was grown in the garden of James Kerr of Kootenay Lake, BC, during the early years of the 20th century by the gardener, a Mr. Tung who had come over from China bringing these beans with him, according to the family record. Mr. Tung eventually returned to China, leaving the beans behind. They were grown by the Kerr family for a number of years, then almost lost during World War II when the gardening was interrupted for 7 years. They were revived from 4 beans found in the shed with the garden equipment, and after that shared around to keep the same thing from happening again. You can read the detailed version of this story at The Populuxe Seed Bank.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Late Summer Garden Update; Seed Nerd Alert

In the spring we planted all kinds of experimental seeds, and by now we are getting some kind of an idea about how they are doing. Above are the most interesting (to me, so far) of this years crossed bean seeds. I know the father was Cherokee Trail of Tears (when isn't it?) but I am embarrassed to say I did not record the mother! Perhaps Annelino Yellow? However, there are lots of beans, in an attractive dark green hazed with purple, following nice bright pink flowers. They were quite tasty eaten as fresh beans, stringless and with a melting texture, and so we did not eat them as beans... we are saving them for seed to grow again. We don't have many plants of this as the bloody rabbits ate about two thirds of them as seedlings. Unfortunately I have spotted a bit of anthracnose on one bean. So far that's it, but I will have to watch them carefully.

We are now keeping the peanuts and sweet potatoes covered, and they are now finally showing lots of top growth. Hopefully something is happening underground too. We shall see.

Onions have been blighted by some kind of fungus this year. It seems to be mostly on the tops and mostly doesn't seem to cause die-down until the bulbs are reasonably well formed. The Walla Walla are the worst affected; I'm not sure if it's because of the variety or because they bulb up faster than any of the others. You can just barely see some of the stems of our seed onions in the top left corner; about half of them have black patches all over the stems. Fortunately, we are going to have enough seed by the looks of things that we can afford to cull the fungus-affected plants heavily.

I am absolutely agog at this potato berry. It is on a plant that was sold to me as Russet Burbank. All the Russet Burbanks flowered profusely this year, but this is the only berry that formed. Given that Russet Burbank is generally sterile except under highly controlled laboratory conditions, it is still a minor miracle. Either that, of course, or what was sold to me is not actually Russet Burbank. Still, given the fact that this was the only berry in spite of the prolific flowering suggests that it's not impossible. Needless to say, we will be saving the seeds.

The next day after I took this picture it got knocked off the plant, to my considerable annoyance. It should be far enough along to still ripen nicely though. 

Compare it to the way this potato is forming berries! I believe this is on a potato we grew from seed ourselves, but I'm not completely sure of that until we dig up the plants, as I can't find my notes about what we planted. I know this bed is heavy on our own seed-grown potatoes. On the other hand it might just be Purple Viking.

Much to my relief, watermelons are finally starting to form. I was starting to worry for a bit; time is marching on. Seeds from the largest, earliest watermelon were planted at the far end of the bed, with later, smaller melons supplying seeds in descending order down the bed. You can see the difference in the plants. We did plant a few seeds from melons that did not turn yellow, but you can already see that the golden-ripening gene prevails in this bed.

These golden-ripening project melons are actually producing lots of melons! Sadly, I doubt any will be ripe for another month at least. There's no photo, but there is also one melon that came up as a volunteer from last years golden-ripening project. It is in a newly planted strawberry bed so I decided I could leave it in place. Last week it opened 2 female flowers which I attempted to fertilize with male flowers from the strongest end of the bed.

The orange-flesh project melons are also starting to form, but in general they are not as far along and there are notably fewer. Looks like we will have those melons in October.

This looks pretty sad, but it's actually our most successful crossed pea grow-out. I believe this is an f2 grow-out of Harrison's Glory x Dual. It combines the productivity and high seed-per-pod count of Dual with a more indeterminate growth habit from Harrison's Glory, making it more suited to home gardeners. Season is second early. The peas are the traditional paler green rather than the really dark green of Dual, which is more expected by modern pea-eaters, but what can you do? The flavour is excellent. The seed dries to a pale green with lots of wrinkles, suggesting that they are high in sugars. We will be growing this out again and following it with interest!

Okay, lots of things happening in this photo. In the bottom left, leeks have finally been transplanted for their final growth stage. We started seedlings this spring but most of them died through lack of care. Fortunately, we found a whole bunch of seedlings started up in the spot where we grew leeks out for seed last year. They all seem to be dropped from Verdonnet, a Swiss leek landrace. I wonder if they were mostly fertilized by Bandit, which is quite distinctively dark green and advertised as particularly winter-hardy. Interestingly, no seedlings were found around the spot where Bandit grew. This is the first and only time we have had leek seeds survive in the open over winter. We will be following this one with interest, too.

In the centre of the photo, we are experimenting with leguminous ground covers; hairy vetch and crimson clover. Good news/bad news - the rabbits love both of them. It's a bit exasperating, but hopefully the fact that they head there first takes pressure off of other things. They both seem reasonably good a suppressing weeds. Our one problem was that a fair bit of the vetch was eaten by birds as it germinated, but we can solve that in future by covering for a week or so. The little yellow flags mark some peppers that volunteered, and that I moved over to this bed. Again, first time I have ever had volunteer peppers. They appear to be out of Fish, which is variegated, making identification conveniently easy.

In the upper right corner, you can see an empty spot. We planted Flageolet beans in there this spring. That whole bed is beans, which was asking for trouble. They are out of rotation sequence and in the same spot we planted beans last year. But we had so many legumes, and so few leaf crops to plant this year. At any rate, about 2 or 3 weeks ago they suddenly became badly infected with anthracnose and so I pulled out the entire crop and hustled it into a green garbage bag. The Rocdor beans on the right are living up to their reputation and show no signs of the anthracnose. On the left are Berta Talaska beans and Ohio beans. The Ohio beans seem very resistant, but the Berta Talaska seem to be fairly susceptible, alas.

Our few, sparse chick pea plants are surviving and thriving and filling much of the space. I did come out one morning and catch a rabbit with its mouth full of chick pea leaves so it's pretty amazing they have survived this long. They are flowering and forming pods and we actually hope to get some seed. Oddly, a few plants have just up and died for no discernible reason. I noticed this with chick peas last time we grew them too.

Our new bed of currents and gooseberries, and next to them the well-established blackberry bed. A little too well-established. They are going to have to come out, at least from this spot, as they have intentions for world domination. Sad, because they produce loads of fruit over a long period of time.

Aaaand, hazelnuts! It looks like there will be an actual crop, if the squirrels don't beat us to it! (They will, of course, but we hope to snatch a few.) This is the first time since we moved that there have been any to speak of. I think the plants are finally mature enough, and also they like a mild winter followed by a mild summer, which is pretty much what we have had.

Speaking of eventual crops, Mr. Ferdzy has taken a break from working on finishing the gravel to work on finishing the trellis for our kiwi vines. It's finished! Now all we need is for the kiwis to grow, flower and form fruit. Might happen in the next few years. They have taken a long time to get going though; our soil is too poor and too wet to make them happy. Still, they have grown a lot in the last year or so, and Mr. Ferdzy raised and fertilized some of them and they are doing much better as a result.

And the gravel has at least been ordered; now they just have to figure out how to get the amount of gravel we have ordered onto our driveway. Apparently their bigger truck can't make the turn. Looks like lots of work to do still!

Friday, 11 August 2017

Cherry Tomato & Shallot Clafoutis

Clafoutis is a dessert, usually made with cherries, but I decided to make a version with "cherries". Cherry tomatoes, that is. Clafoutis is described as a cross between a custard and a pancake; this one is also reminiscent of quiche.

The work to make this was very minimal, but the baking time does mean a bit of advance planning is required. Also the smell of it baking just about drove us to a frenzy while we waited for it. Fortunately the flavour matched the smell and it was completely worth waiting for.

4 servings
1 hour 30 minutes - 15 minutes prep time

Cherry Tomato & Shallot Clafoutis

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
12 to 16 cherry tomatoes
4 to 6 large shallots
24 basil leaves
1/3 cup soft unbleached flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 large eggs
1 cup milk
100 grams (4 ounces) cheese curds
OR Cheddar cheese cut in small cubes

Put the butter in a 9" to 9 1/2" pie dish. Put it in the oven and preheat it to 375°F.

While the butter melts, wash the cherry tomatoes and cut them in half. Peel the shallots and cut them into slivers. Pick and wash the basil leaves, and drain them.

When the butter has melted arrange the tomatoes in the pie dish flat side down. Scatter the shallots slivers over them, and put them into the hopefully now heated oven to roast for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, measure the flour into a small mixing bowl. Season with the salt and pepper, and whisk in the eggs. Whisk in the milk a little at a time to ensure a very smooth batter. If using Cheddar, cut it into about 1 cm dice.

When the vegetables have roasted for 20 minutes, quickly sprinkle the cheese curds or cubes over them. Scatter the basil leaves around. Whisk up the batter once more and pour it evenly over the vegetables. Return the pie dish to the oven at once, and bake for a further 40 minutes.

Best served somewhere between warm and room temperature, so allow 15 minutes or half an hour for it to sit after it comes out of the oven.

Last year at this time I made Eggplant Cordon Bleu. Wow! Eggplant is NOWHERE near so far along this year. 

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Corn Fritters

"To a pint of grated corn add two well beaten eggs; one-half cup of cream, and a half cup of flour; with one-half spoon of baking powder stirred in it; season with pepper and salt and fry in butter, dropping the batter in spoonsful ; serve a few at a time, very hot, as a relish with meats."
                                               from the Canadian Home Cook Book of 1877

There were 3 recipes for little fried corn patties in the Canadian Home Cook Book; they were all fairly similar to the one quoted above, and called Green Corn Oysters or Patties. I suppose they were about the size and shape of a fried oyster, hence the name.

I have tried versions of them at various times over the years and have never been very happy with the results. Either there is too much batter and they are like pancakes with corn in them, or else I messed around with the recipe with the result there wasn't too much batter, but they didn't hold together. At all.

However this year I remembered my success with using potato starch in crepes, and tried making them again, this time with potato starch. Wow! MAD SUCCESS!

None of the recipes indicated whether the corn should be raw or cooked; they took it for granted that you knew. Since the "recipe" for boiled corn called for it to be boiled for 30 minutes, I'm going to assume they meant cooked. However, since I wouldn't dream of boiling corn for 30 minutes I just went with raw corn. It worked fine.

You'll note that half of them are, uh, well-browned. That's because I eyeballed the pan and decided it didn't need to have more oil added for the second batch of corn. I was wrong. Also you should probably turn the heat down a bit at that point as it will get pretty hot while the cooked fritters are switched out for new batter. On the other hand, the well-browned fritters were fine, just not as pretty as the first batch.

2 to 4 servings
20 minutes prep time

Corn Fritters

2 cobs of corn (about 2 cups of kernels)
1 large egg
1/4 cup potato starch
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup mild vegetable oil

Husk the corn, and cut it from the cobs. Put it in a mixing bowl. Scrape the cobs well and add the scrapings to the bowl. Mix in the egg.

Mix the potato starch, salt, and baking powder, and mix that into the corn and egg.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Spoon in 4 patties each consisting of about one-eighth of the batter, and spread it out a bit. Fry until a nice, crisp brown then turn and cook on the other side. This won't take more than a minute or 2 per side.

Remove to a rack covered in paper towel, add the remaining oil, and spoon out the rest of the batter and cook in the same way. Serve at once.

Last year at this time I made Cauliflower Salad.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Stir-Fried Green Beans with Peanuts

Originally this dish was long beans with cashews. You can use long beans, if you can find them, but regular green beans are just fine. A mix of green and yellow beans would be pretty. You can use either salted or unsalted peanuts, according to which you prefer, or maybe which you can find. If they are salted you may wish to hold back on the soy sauce a bit.

These were very quick and easy, and would make a good accompaniment to 5-Spice Pork Chops, along with some steamed rice.

2 to 4 servings
20 minutes prep time

Stir-Fried Green Beans with Peanuts

1 or 2 cloves of garlic
1 piece ginger
250 grams (1/2 pound) long or green beans
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
up to 1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
1/3 cup roasted peanuts

Peel and mince the garlic. Peel and mince the ginger; the volume should be about the same as the volume of garlic. Wash and trim the beans, and cut them into bite-sized pieces.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add the beans and and a few tablespoons of water and cook, stirring frequently, until the beans turn bright green and the water evaporates. Continue adding water, a few tablespoons at a time, until the beans are just about done to your liking. Then, when the last of the water is gone, add the soy sauce and cook for a minute or two more until it too is pretty much gone. Add the toasted sesame oil, chile flakes, and peanuts. Mix in and cook, stirring for another minute or so until hot through. Turn out onto a serving dish and serve at once.

Last year at this time I made Kohlrabi Slaw.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Cheese-Stuffed Zucchini

Another day, another boat! This time it's one we found in the zucchini patch. Fortunately, the rind was not tough and the seeds were just starting to form, so still quite edible. Usually I do a meat-stuffed zucchini but I thought cheese would make a nice change. This is still pretty stuffed to the gunwales, so mound up that filling carefully.

One zucchini down, *counts* - 22 to go. More coming. We're in trouble; aren't we? Tell me again why I let Mr. Ferdzy plant 14 zucchini plants?

2 to 4 servings
1 hour or a bit more - 30 minutes prep time

Cheese and Breadcrumb Stuffed Zucchini

1 semi-boat zucchini; say about 600 to 700grams  (1 1/2 pounds)
3 slices stale sandwich bread
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 medium onion, with a green top
1 shallot
2 or 3 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon minced fresh savory or thyme
225 grams (1/2 pound) ricotta cheese
1 large egg
100 grams (1/4 pound) extra-old Cheddar cheese

Cut the zucchini in half lengthwise. Scoop out the flesh to 1/4" or so of the skin, and salt the zucchini halves and place them in a steamer insert. Put the pot of water on to boil, and when it does put the zucchini in and steam them for about 7 to 10 minutes, until just tender. Rinse under cold water (gently!) until cool then place them in a lightly oiled baking dish.

Meanwhile, cut the bread into fairly small cubes. Heat the oil in a large skillet and put in the bread cubes, tossing them around at once to coat them as evenly in the  oil as possible. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until crisp and toasted. Season with the 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste.

Cut the zucchini flesh into small bits. If there are any mature or at least tough seeds, remove them; but there should not be too many or your zucchini is too far gone. Peel the onion. Wash and trim the fresh green stem from it, and chop it finely. Chop the onion finely. Peel and mince the shallot and garlic cloves. Clean and mince the herb.

When the bread cubes are crisp and toasted, put them into a mixing bowl. Add the remaining olive oil to the skillet and cook the chopped zucchini flesh, the onion with its greens, and the shallot until soft and translucent. Add the garlic, remaining salt, and minced herb to the pan and mix in well, cooking for just a minute or so more. Transfer to the mixing bowl with the bread cubes and let cool for 10 minutes or so.

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

When the zucchini, onion, etcetera,  mixture is cool enough, beat in the ricotta cheese and the egg. Grate the Cheddar cheese and add half of it to the veggie and cheese mixture. Fill the zucchini halves with the mixture, and sprinkle the remaining Cheddar over the tops. Bake for 30 to 40  minutes until the Cheddar cheese is lightly browned and bubbling. Let rest 10 minutes before serving.

Last year at this time I made Green Beans with Mustard-Tahini Dressing

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

A Voyage with U Catch'Em Charters

This is not exactly an efficient way to acquire local food, but when Mr. Ferdzy's cousin was here from California last week, he wanted to go fishing. So, after living in Meaford for 9 years, we finally went out on the water for a few hours in a boat.

Jeff Brattain runs U Catch'Em charter boat trips out of Meaford harbour. Mr Ferdzy's cousin - let's call him Seth, because that's his name - was luckily able to set something up on short notice. We've been telling him for years that this is a great area for his huntin' and fishin' interests but I don't think he took us too seriously until he actually got up here.

At any rate, we were booked for 4 hours from 5:00 pm to 9:00pm. Fishing trips run either in the morning or evening; fish are most active in searching for food during those times.

The boat was plenty large for the 5 of us, including Jeff, and quite comfortable in the cabin. Good thing; there was a fair bit of rain during the trip. It was fascinating to watch the sonar screen by the steering wheel and see just how many fish we were passing over.

Salmon and lake, brown, or rainbow trout were the fish we were hoping and expecting to catch. Above, Jeff selects some lures to set on the lines.

We got one! We got one! Our first catch was a fairly small salmon; a nice meal for 2 people.

Admittedly, a lot of the trip looked like this, and that was after it cleared up a bit. Still it was extremely enjoyable to be out on the water. At least it was very smooth sailing as there was no wind.

Alas, after that first fish we only caught one more; a rainbow trout that was a fair bit larger. I think you are allowed to catch up to 2 fish per each license you acquire, but of course there is no guarantee that the fish will bite and indeed they mostly didn't. It's all a matter of luck!

There they are; then they were rapidly gutted by Jeff and put in a bag for us to take home. I have to say, this sort of trip makes it amazingly easy for the person who has never fished before to try their hand at it.

One interesting thing I learned on this trip is that salmon were introduced to the great lakes fairly recently. I asked about smelts, which used to be a spring time tradition, available in the supermarkets when I was a kid. They disappeared when I was in my teens, and apparently it's because the salmon have eaten them in huge numbers! There are not enough left to support a fishery.

Seth left the larger rainbow trout with us, and we ate half of it the next day for lunch. So fresh and good! I think most of our fish will continue to come from the grocery store...  but this was an excellent way to enjoy some time on the water and see Meaford from a new perspective.