Saturday, August 29, 2009

Hives, not the bee kind

I've been absent, at least in part because I got hit with my own, human version, of "late blight" -- hives, presumably from a spider bite.

Meanwhile, the garden, including new growth on the tomato plants, is thriving. We've eaten a few million (slight exaggeration) cherry tomatoes, and have been requested to make sure we grow the Matt's Wild Cherry again next year.

The onions have been harvested and dried. We probably have somewhere between 35 and 50 pounds of them to carry us at least through the fall. The yellow squash hasn't produced as much as I expected, perhaps because we're letting them get fairly large, which may discourage the plants from setting new little squashes. I harvested one huge zucchini, which produced 6 cups of shredded material, enough for three times the basic zucchini bread recipe. Peppers (both bell and banana) have been amazing, and the bells are even turning red, something that seldom happens in this relatively short-season area. The swiss chard is coming into its own, and should continue through to somewhere around Thanksgiving. The first planting of cucumbers is dwindling, and the second planting is starting to blossom. The basil, still shorter than usual, is at least growing vigorously in the recent heat.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

White pizza

Given the tomato blight, we're experimenting with white pizza. The latest version follows. Everything except the flour, olive oil and cheese came from the garden.

Pizza dough (enough for two 12" diameter pizzas)
6 leaves of (white-stemmed) swiss chard (from the Bright Lights variety)
A tablespoon or two of fresh oregano
2 heads of garlic, roasted
olive oil
pizza cheese

Briefly cook the swiss chard in boiling water and drain well. Puree with the oregano, roasted garlic and a splash of olive oil (enough to make it spreadable).

Shape the pizza dough and spread with the chard/herb puree. Top with onions and peppers and cheese. Bake in hot (400 degrees +) oven for aobut fifteen minutes, until cheese is melted and crust is cooked through.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Bluebarb jam

During the recent rhubarb taste-testing, the consensus was that the best treat of all was the "bluebarb" jam. (Much easier to say than "blueberry rhubarb.")

The recipe is from a wonderful little book by Madelaine Bullwinkel, called Gourmet Preserves Chez Madelaine. I particularly like the way she relies on natural pectin, rather than the commercial variety.

Here's the gist of how to make your own bluebarb jam (but do check out the Bullwinkel book for more information):
Simmer, uncovered, on medium-low heat for about twenty minutes: 1/4 cup of water, a pound of blueberries (about a pint) and a pound of rhubarb chopped into 1/2" pieces.
Add 2 1/2 cups sugar, half a cup at a time, stirring well, and bringing the mixture to a simmer between each addition. Add 1/2 tablespoon of lemon juice and the zest of the lemon.
Simmer for another fifteen minutes, raising the heat to medium. Toward the end, it will splatter, and may be covered between stirrings. Makes 4 1/2 cups. After it's cool, keep it refrigerated unless you process it according to standard canning procedures.

I'm not particularly finicky about the gelling -- if the result is thick, I call it jam; if it's runny, I call it ice cream topping -- but for those who are so inclined, the jam should gel when it reaches 212 degrees Fahrenheit. You can also test more informally by putting a little bit on a plate and putting the plate in the freezer for a minute or two, and seeing if it gelled, which also gives you an excuse to taste-test it.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Late blight

Apparently we've been hit with "late blight." (Don't worry -- the wilted swiss chard is just the standard mid-day reaction to hot weather, not some sort of disease.)

The cool, wet weather we had this spring was a factor in its catastrophic spread.

The only tomato that did not get the blight was a "Matt's Wild Cherry." I had grown this variety years ago, and it hadn't done all that well. As the catalog says, it doesn't yield many tomatoes for the amount of space it takes, and I'd grown fond of the grape tomato varieties that are available now, so I'd stopped growing the wild cherry in favor of the grapes.

This winter, I decided to get rid of seeds I never use, and I had a few of the wild cherry seeds, so, on a whim, I started them indoors. One sprouted, and it went into the garden. Apparently, it has innate resistance to late blight, because it's surrounded by dead plants, and there isn't a single spot on it.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Bit of a setback

So, I was feeling kinda' proud of our gazillion tomato plants and how healthy and fruit-laden they were in a year when the weather has been rotten and lots of people were bemoaning their pitiful plants.

And then the blight struck.

I've never seen plants die so suddenly or so substantially. We're getting some fruits anyway, but many are rotten and the greenery is brownery.

Note to self: Don't count your tomatoes until they ripen.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Tasting rhubarb

When I was a kid, with the robust rhubarb, we frequently made it into a crisp. The main thing I remember is the shocking contrast between the crunchy/sweet topping and the mushy/sour rhubarb. I was fairly sure the sweetener was white sugar, and most crisp recipes call for brown sugar.

The recipe was lost, though, and I've been trying to recreate it for years. I'd tried a few white-sugar toppings, and they never came out the way I remembered, but were more like soft sugar cookies, rather than crunchy bits.

Apparently, I forgot to check my standard resource: The Joy of Cooking. That recipe calls for brown sugar too, but substituting white sugar produced exactly the result I remembered from childhood.

I made the recipe both ways (shown in the August 2 picture), and held a tasting. The majority opinion (okay, so I was the only hold-out among the five of us, so it was probably more about nostalgia than tastiness) concluded the brown sugar was better.

Take 4 cups of rhubarb, cut into pieces and slightly sweetened with a tablespoon of honey, and spread in a pie pan. Sprinkle with a few bits of lemon zest and a tablespoon or two of lemon juice.
For the topping, cream 1/4 cup of butter with 1/4 cup of sugar (brown or white), and then mix in 1/2 cup of flour. Stop mixing when it's crumbly, and then toss on top of the fruit. Bake at 350 to 375 degrees for about half an hour.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Of zukes and porches

Tomorrow is "Sneak Zucchini onto Your Neighbor's Porch Day."

It's a sign of how late the growing season started this year that we don't even have our first zucchini yet.

If your garden is providing more generously than the pictured pitiful plant, consider donating the excess to someone who's less fortunate.
I recently spoke to a couple people who volunteer at a small church-run food pantry. Where they used to serve about a dozen people in critical need on any given day, they're now serving 40 or more. Multiply that by the ten food pantries in their city, and the numbers are shocking, and that's before you multiply the numbers by all the municipalities in their state (which isn't particularly large) and then by all the states in our country.
Why not sneak an entire basket of food -- the good stuff, too, not just the things that grow in such abundance that no one's excited about them -- onto the porch of a neighbor who recently lost her job or is struggling with medical bills or is worrying about how to pay for the kids' education? You'll be helping your community, and you'll still have all the fun of sneaking around in the dark.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Now THAT's rhubarb

We visited my mom's cousins yesterday, and after showing us their amazing garden (including the rhubarb patch that does, indeed, make ours look sad in comparison), they gave us a bunch of rhubarb to take home.

Today, I made rhubarb pancakes for breakfast, then two rhubarb crisps and 4+ cups of jam. And there's still a stalk or two left over to be frozen for later.

For rhubarb pancakes, cut the fruit into 1/4" dices, and toss into a basic pancake batter. Make sure the batter is fairly thick, not crepe-thin, so the rhubarb will cook long enough to soften. I topped them with maple syrup, but fruit topping would have been good too.