25 July 2010

cream of the crop

the term "livin' high on the hog," i believe refers to certain premium cuts of meat, which happen to be located in the higher sections of the animal. as a (mostly) vegetarian, that phrase isn't exactly apropos. but, i will say, that given the current (rather dismal) economic climate of our household (which i won't go into here), damn--do we live well?! the abundance of a garden can make you feel like a queen. in the peak of the summer, a meal that prominently features fresh tomatoes and sweet corn, is about as good as it gets, as far as i'm concerned. that's what we had last night.

i've already told you that our corn is over eight feet tall. well, the ears are getting so fat, that every time it rains, several stalks just topple over. i think this is because 1) the stalks, being so laden with ears of corn, are very heavy, and when they collect extra water in their foliage and silks, it just become too much for the shallow roots to support, and 2) because the corn was planted in mounds (as recommended for the 3 sisters garden) there is a bit of washing-away-of-soil (erosion?) when it rains, making it even more difficult for those roots to keep the stalks upright. in any case, it is quite distressing when it happens, and carl and i have been out there in the mud, searching for any scrap of something tall enough, and sturdy enough to support bundles of corn stalks.

the plants don't seem any worse for the wear having been down, and then back up again. they look healthy and lush, and yesterday, we pulled back some husk, and determined it was time to give it a taste. carl got the water boiling, and i went out to choose the four biggest ones. after a quick shucking, into the water they went.

we served them with a stunning ensalata caprese, featuring a lovely heirloom tomato, and our fresh basil, plus a serving of perfectly sauteed chanterelles (you can't see them, but they are in the bowls that look black in this photo). the corn was sweet and had that wonderful pop! crunch! that i think you can only get from freshly picked. it might be even better in a day or two.

this past week has also been full of pickle making and catsup, and sour kraut to-die-for. cherry tomatoes are great for catsup, because you really have to put them through some sort of food mill or strainer, to get the skins off anyway, so you might as well make sauce or catsup. plus they are sweet, and we have SO MANY of them. it takes a lot of tomatoes to make a little bit of catusp. i think the ratio works out to about one quart of tomatoes = one half pint of condiment. but it is super yummy, and tastes just like...well, catsup. or, ketchup-- whatever you call it. it tastes like what i'm used to when i open a store-bought bottle, only mine doesn't have high fructose corn syrup in it.

and, i am so in love with pickling! i have been making micro-batches (carl calls them boutique) of pickled okra, and french style cornichons (made from baby cucumbers). so far, i haven't made a pickle i didn't like. i canned one full batch, and somehow forgot to put the dill in the jars (!) (though there was dill seed in the spice ball that went into the vinegar). i also worry that they won't be as crisp as the fridge kind. i've been told that putting a grape leaf in each jar, will keep the snap, so i did that.

i'll try them six weeks from now, and let you know. we had a lot of fun with the kids in the banneker youth garden club, harvesting cucumbers from their garden (plus dill, coriander, onion, hot peppers) and making pickles together in their kitchen. i could not believe how excited those kids got about pickles.

most of the fall crops are in the ground, or started in the basement. i've planted carrots, beets, bush beans, cilantro and basil. the brassicas like to be started indoors this time of year, where it is cooler. once the weather cools down a little bit, or they are strong enough to withstand the heat, i can transplant them outside. i'll also plant some lettuce and spinach, but not in these sweltering temperatures.

the warmth has been good for berries. the ground cherries are producing baskets full every day, and we've already started dipping them in chocolate. we also picked the first of the rare, but astonishing, red raspberries, from the two plants that jack gave us this spring (this picture's for you MEP). he was right, they did produce this year! to me, they are like precious gems. the taste of a red raz, like no other food, takes me back to my grandmother's garden. it used to be that you couldn't really find red raspberries in the stores. as a child, i associated them exclusively with my grandmother, and i loved them more than any other fruit. still do.

with the finest ingredients in the world at our finger tips, we really do feel like royalty!

14 July 2010

high summer

it's still july, right? geez, this summer is flying by. i wanted to post about the fourth of july, but that was ages ago, right? well, it was a lovely weekend. we had some family in town, we cooked from the garden and many hands of UNO (cosmo's current favorite game) were played by all. oh, and there was a parade, some cook-outs and a trip to the lake.

the lake was my favorite part. it's a relatively secluded spot (in fact, for a while, we were the only ones there, on the actual day of the 4th!) we had a picnic, did some swimming, and went mushroom hunting in the woods. it's chanterelle season here, and this spot is notoriously thick with those unmistakable, salmon colored beauties. we collectively gathered over 2 pounds.

at home we made a fantastic dish involving butter, white wine, cream and some onions from the garden. hard to go wrong with that list of ingredients. we dried some, and throughout the week used them fresh, in a mushroom beet curry, a garden stir-fry, and pa jun (that korean scallion pancake i'm always raving about).

they have a distinctive, yet mellow flavor, are easy to cook with, and impart a sort of meaty-ness to a vegetarian meal. i love how easy they are to find. not at all like those perfectly camoflaged, rare and elusive morels. these guys are plentiful and their bright color makes them stand out on the forest floor. i say we went mushroom hunting, but it was more like the woods were saying, "here, have a basket of chanterelles!" this is the first time we have gathered them, but it won't be the last.

the garden, by the way, is blowing my mind. the tomatoes are just beginning to ripen. we've enjoyed a few cherry tomatoes, but one of the big guys is a soft shade of orange, so it won't be long. i noticed some spotted lower leaves, on a few of the plants (signs of disease), so i pruned all of the lower leaves, and yesterday i sprayed them with a seaweed/fish fertilizer, just to give them a little boost. now our garden smells like a fish cannery. yum.

many of the branches are so laden with giant tomatoes, they are completely bent over. but, they're hanging on, and seem fine.

i had to pull out the evil third step sister from the three sisters garden. she was severely diseased and pest ridden, and i feared she would contaminate the nearby cucumbers. so, no more pumpkin. we're down to two sisters, but they are doing wonderfully. the corn is towering over my head, at over 8 feet tall! the ears are forming, complete with lush corn silks.

this is a completely new experience for me, i've never grown corn. it is very satisfying so far. and the beans are dutifully climbing the stalks, and starting to flower.

a couple of times i had to untangle the bean vines, which were pulling the corn stalks towards one another. and bending them. but other than that, they seem to make great companions.

the okra is setting pods now. we pickled a few, and they are delicious! the okra flower is so pretty! it looks like a hibiscus or a rose of sharon, and in fact, is sometimes known as african hibiscus. the plants cut a dashing figure in the garden.

the cucumbers, though probably also diseased (those damn cucurbits!) are producing plenty of fruit!

they are the pickling kind, so we made our first batch of fridge pickles and found them scrumptious. i used a recipe from organic gardening, on a whim (i am so susceptible to images in magazines!) and next time i will try one that does not include sugar.

i cut the sugar down to less than a quarter of what it called for, but it was still too much. i want my dill pickles savory, not sweet. but they were still crisp and yummy--looking forward to more of that! using our own fresh dill was a treat.

oh, and then there's the cabbage! we have lots of it, and it is astounding. i picked the biggest one, and made some kim chi. also used some of our carrots, but this was not the tastiest crop of carrots i have grown. i just planted another row, for a fall crop.

the garlic is out of the ground, and hanging in the wood shop to cure. harvesting garlic may be my favorite garden task. the fragrance is intoxicating! it was a beautiful harvest, and this year, i will save some for next year's seed. last year, they were so small, i didn't want to plant them, so i just bought more. this year's look as good as i could get from johnney's.

in it's place is a buckwheat cover crop. i'll be planting fall crops in there, probably today.

the morning glories are not as lush as i had imagined they'd be, but they are climbing the twine, and they have glorious blooms every morning, so, i can't complain. this year, i planted president tyler, and heavenly blue.

the leeks are taking their own sweet time, as are the brussel sprouts, but they are starting to show the tiniest of brussel buds...aren't they? they taste better after a frost anyway.

here's hoping you have the chance to take your own sweet time in a garden this summer, too.