Monday, December 30, 2013

The rabbit hole of seed catalogs

The seed catalogs started arriving Thanksgiving week, but other than giving them a cursory glance, I put them aside until after xmas. Well, it's after xmas!

I started innocently enough with an inventory of my current seed collection. Some experts say to start with fresh seeds every year, or they provide a chart of how long which seeds will be viable. I find they grossly underestimate the potential in those tiny plant factories, but I did cull some of the oldest. (BTW, I keep my seeds in zip lock bags in the refrigerator, which may explain their longevity.)

Then came some hard decisions about what to grow. The Brussels sprouts did really well this year, despite the ground hog living under the shed, but no one really likes them (even the pickled ones were kind of meh), so they were cut. I usually grow a lot of marigolds in the vegetable garden as a companion plant, but their value in this regard is questionable, so I plan to replace some of them with bee's friend. Fewer pepper plants and more Irish potatoes are on the ticket; the sweet potatoes will go back into containers, as they did not do well in the ground this year. And I want to grow more root vegetables and crucifers (other than Brussels sprouts).

And then came the fun part of picking the varieties of each plant. I'm not wedded to any particular variety of anything, e.g. I always grow paste tomatoes but not always the same kind. This year I also cross referenced my selections with recommendations from Eating on the Wild Side, a book by Jo Robinson that describes the evolution of the food we eat and lists the varieties and characteristics of the varieties that are most nutritious. Of course, the most nutritious vegetables and fruits are the ones we are willing to eat, but since I find most to be delicious, I am willing to try purple potatoes, beans, and asparagus.

In fact, from perusing the catalogs, it looks like it would be possible to have an all-purple garden. Some veggies, like purple-podded shelling peas, are purple on the outside but green on the inside. Others are purple until cooked, but a few retain their color even after cooking. Usually, the more colorful the vegetable, the more nutritious it is, so go purple!

Here are some of the colorful varieties I have selected for 2014 (subject to change):
  • Red Zeplin onions (a red storage onion)
  • Purple Pod pole beans (turn green when cooked)
  • Adirondack Blue potatoes (pale blue throughout, retain the color with cooking)
  • Adirondack Red potatoes (pale red throughout, retain the color with cooking)
  • Black Cherry tomatoes (thanks, Jason, for recommending this)
  • Matt's Wild Cherry tomatoes (operative word here is "wild")
  • Abraham Lincoln tomatoes (sold only by RH Shumway)

Friday, December 27, 2013

When life hands you apples, make applesauce before they rot

Every fall, I buy apples from a local orchard and keep them in the garage. This year I also bought some at a farmers market. The other day, I noticed that the latter were leaking - a puddle had formed beneath their crate. So last night, at 7PM, I decided it was a good time to process them.

I have no idea what kind of apples they are; in fact, I barely remember buying them. The fact they were in a plastic crate instead of a bag clued me in that they were not from my usual source. About a third of them were too rotten to use, so they went to the birds and any other backyard wildlife that might like them. The rest made more than a potful, which meant cooking them down in stages. I did this slowly, to prevent scorching, and worked a jigsaw puzzle for the duration. Finally, near 10 PM, they were ready for the sauce maker.

I don't sweeten or flavor my applesauce. This batch is mild and tasty. My original plan was to process them in a water bath, but since it was so late, I just froze ten pints and put the rest in the refrigerator to enjoy this week.

How do you like my fancy labels?

There are more apples in the garage, but they seem to be holding their own, so I will continue to use them for baking. Since the xmas cheesecake was such a disaster, I think I deserve a pie.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Meyer lemon report for 2013

My Meyer lemon "tree" yield this year was five lemons. I picked three for use with xmas eve dinner - see below. I haven't decided the fate of the last two yet.

Each lemon juiced nicely, yielding about 3 tablespoons each. There was virtually no pulp left after I reamed each half on my hand juicer. I grated the rind of one, which produced about a teaspoon of zest, as the rinds are very thin.

The xmas French cheesecake was a bust, but I had some today, to see how it tasted. Rather bland, but that might have been due to the fromage blanc. It is a creamy cheese but not particularly flavorful, which may be due to the nature of the cheese, the milk I used, or my technique - who knows? Glad I did not serve it to others.

I used a lemon in the guacamole, which worked well because it protected the guac from browing without adding a lot of flavor. Note to self: next year, make more guac, as we ate it all.

I used a lemon and the zest in lemon bars, which were met with mixed reviews. The strong lemony zing was missing, replaced with a much more subtle hint of lemon. Sugar cream pie is a Hoosier tradition, and the consensus was my lemon bars resembled that more than lemon bars. So while perfectly edible, these received many NO votes.

So the lesson learned is, be careful about substituting Meyer lemons for regular lemons. If the zing of lemons is desired, stick with regular lemons, but if you want something more subtle, use the Meyer lemons.

When I was a little girl and caught a cold, my mother would give me hot lemonade to drink. I have no idea where she got the idea for this, and the lemonade usually irritated my already sore throat with its acidity, but it was sweet-sour and I liked it. I made myself some hot lemonade with the juice I didn't use for the dishes above, and the beverage was much more palatable, still sweet-sour but without the acidity.

My little tree looks very sad. I don't know if I over watered it or it needs more fertilizer or what, but the leaves keep turning yellow, then they dry up and fall off. My plan for recovery is to repot it this winter, using an azalea mix, fertilize it well and repeatedly if necessary, and not let it bear fruit in 2014. Hopefully, all that will help.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Pickled BS

There is an episode of "Portlandia" in which the catch-phrase of one of the skits is "We can pickle that."

While casting about for something to do with the last two pounds of Brussels sprouts from the garden, pickling seemed like as good a choice as any. I've never eaten pickled Brussels sprouts, but there is a first time for everything.

I used a recipe from Food in Jars, which called for two pounds of sprouts to produce four pints of pickles. My sprouts were on the small size (damn woodchuck ate the larger ones at the bottom of the stalks), so I did not cut them in half as suggested in the recipe. The sprouts tend to float, so next time I may try to cram more in, to wedge them under the curve of the jar.

I haven't taste tested these yet - they need to "age" for a week or so. Has anyone out there eaten pickled Brussels sprouts?

Friday, December 13, 2013

Handmade and homegrown... but not by me

For several years, I have been edging toward planting a mini orchard in the backyard. This summer it might actually happen. I don't feel quite ready yet, but since it will be years before the trees bear fruit, they should go into the ground sooner rather than later.

I want to avoid unnecessary pesticides as much as possible, so need to select varieties that are naturally resistant to pests and diseases. These varieties are not readily available in the produce section of Kroger, though. The catalogs describe all their selections as delicious, but that doesn't mean they will appeal to me.

So I was pleased to discover an vendor at the Handmade Holidays Sale at Teasel Hill selling apples that were right out of Stark Bros. I bought two or three each of the four varieties available: Goldrush, Enterprise, Jonagold, and Arkansas Black. The first three are touted as being disease resistant.

Enterprise and Arkansas Black apples

I like the flavor of all four, but was disappointed that the Jonagold was not crisp as described in the catalog. That may be because they ripen in mid-September and here it is December. Or maybe the vendor misnamed the variety. I will have to pay more attention at farmers markets and such, to see if I can perform more taste tests.

A few other purchases I made at the event:

Monday, December 09, 2013

Back to the future

After a year or so of combining knitting, gardening, and me into one blog, I've decided to go back to separate blogs for each. I am also toying with the idea of copying the gardening-related posts to this blog so they will all be in one place. That sounds like a really tedious time-consuming task, so we'll see how far that idea goes. Anyway, welcome back to Woodchuck Acres.