Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

“It’s an event like no other.” Agreed. It is a place where rural life is celebrated, and where three days aren’t nearly enough to see everything.

It’s a place where no one over 30 dyes their hair, and so salt & pepper are suddenly not just condiments. It is a place where people under 30 frequently do dye their hair, to colors not natural to man. Kool-Aid red, peacock blue, and eggplant purple are much more common than, say, blonde highlights.

It is a place where the livestock is often enormous, the food portions are generous, and no bottled water is sold. (Yes, they’re making a point.) The event is organized seamlessly, perfectly, thoughtfully – outside of Disneyland, I’ve never seen the like. Drinking stations where you can fill your own water bottle are plentiful, as are hand-washing stations, toilets, and parking spaces. All of these things combine to create an atmosphere of peace and calm. What more could anyone possibly want?

How about a quiet walk to the entrance, described by one sign-making wag as a “10 minute walk of wooded bliss”? It looked like this:


Then look over the program. There are approximately 150 presentations/demonstrations/talks given EACH DAY, over the course of three days. What are you interested in? Farming/Gardening? Livestock? Cooking/Herbs/Health? Environment/Community/Education? Traditional Arts/Fiber & Fleece?

Here are a few of the better titles from the categories above:

Weave Like It’s 1699
Basic Dowsing
Getting Your Goats
Old Tales of the Maine Woods
When the Horse Says, “I am not leaving”

You get the idea. With the exception of “Basic Dowsing”, the presentations I attended were a little more mainstream. Beekeeping, heritage apples, medicinal herbs, gardening for birds and wildlife. And as for the dowsing course, I may or may not write about it. I came home with two brass dowsing rods and a complete inability to explain what I experienced in that class. I am still unsettled.

Let me show you some of the wonders of the fair. Of course, there was the lovely 2014 poster, which highlighted medicinal herbs, all of which I have grown except for stinging nettle. I remedied that (ha) by buying some nettle tea.


There was the expected Exhibition Hall with proudly displayed vegetables and flowers from local farmers, including the “Judges’ Award” perfect leek:




There were incredible crafts, including swags of switchgrass, lovely baskets, and items made from felted wool, such as this whimsical mask:


And there were the animals:


Including piglets, with a generous offer to name the 6 mulefoot hog piglets. My suggestions added to the Name Jar? Tallulah and Walter.



There were the tents housing crafts, political agendas, and the offerings of companies large and small. One of my three favorite companies was there, the glorious Fedco:


There were the heritage apples on display, presented after attending a talk on heritage apples, and a discussion of how to find and offer scions (cuttings) of rare apple varieties:



And then, of course, there were the people. Every flavor and style imaginable. Here are a few photos. The first shows the tenacity of the fair-goers despite the rainy blustery weather on Sunday. Crowded into a tent, with only their legs in view. Their heads were, I am certain, deeply engaged in the presentation.


Then there was the total stranger who wore a t-shirt that I found so compelling that I tapped him on the shoulder and asked if he’d mind if I took a photo of the back of his shirt. It said:


The front of his shirt said “Camp Wellstone”, as in the late Senator Paul Wellstone from Minnesota.

And finally, to end my day, this photo of what one fair-goer used as a bumper for his truck. Because, after all, why not do for yourself, take care of yourself, and be creative – if you can? Only in Maine.


I came home with three scarlet runner bean seeds (Jack never had magic beans like these), my dowsing rods, tea, presents, heaps of business cards and brochures, and a desire to research the background of Switchel – an old-fashioned haying drink that was offered at one booth. A concoction of water, vinegar, maple syrup, and ginger, it was as bright, delicious, and surprising as the fair itself.

I’m going back. I just wish I didn’t have to wait a whole year.

“If you’ve ever been to the Fair, you know — and if you haven’t been, anyone who has will tell you — it’s an event like no other, that brings together so many people from so many walks of life, all in the spirit of celebrating the rural and agricultural traditions of Maine.”

–from the MOFGA (Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association) home page, describing the Common Ground Country Fair

Read Full Post »

It is always darkest before the dawn, and it is always leanest before spring. These are the hungry months, when the cold and dark aren’t brightened by holiday lights and high spirits. It’s a tough time of year for body and soul. And oh, this endless, relentless winter! The winter of 2014 has frozen our smiles and smothered our spirits with deep snowdrifts, ice, and storm after storm. Even in Maine, people are shaking their heads in disbelief.

After yet another long dog walk, struggling over ice-crusted, snow-covered fields, I came in once again blind from the glare, and feeling as barren and icy inside as the world was outside. I was so hungry. It was time to eat.

I appreciate how the whiteness of the world outside is offset by the deep vibrant colors of winter vegetables. Their deep oranges, reds, and greens announce their nutritional value. These are not the foods of warm sunny days, loaded with water and crunch. These are the foods that pack a wallop, that help a body burn energy brightly enough to carry it through a day of high physical stress. What would you choose to eat before shoveling a snow-swallowed driveway? A salad with a fresh peach? Maybe, if you were in a very optimistic mood – unlikely after 4 months of winter. A much better start would be a lunch of hot carrot soup topped with toasted almonds. And a slab (no limp, puny slice today!) of good bread, heavy with grains.

I trust Mother Nature, so I believe that eating what is available locally will give your body the vitamins and nutrients it needs on that day, at that moment. Mother Nature offers me beets, not peaches, on a March afternoon in Maine. I’m going to listen to her.

Actually, I’m going to listen to Barbara Damrosch. Her latest book, “The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook”, has a recipe that includes baked beets. Here, reprinted with her permission, is a part of that recipe: instructions for baking two medium-sized beets.

— Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F.
— Trim the beets so that just a bit of stem remains. You can leave the tails (the thin roots) on. Scrub the beets and let them dry. Do not peel them.
– Wrap the beets individually in aluminum foil and place them in a small casserole or ovenproof pot. Cover, and bake for 3 hours (4 hours if you are using large beets, 2 for small ones).
— Remove the beets from the casserole and unwrap the foil. Set them aside to cool for about 5 minutes. Then trim off the stems and tails, and peel off the skin.

The result: delicious baked beets to eat warm with butter, salt, and pepper, or perhaps coarsely chopped over a bowl of cooked grains. Beets are in season now, they are what your body needs, and they are delicious. Baking them preserves every single vitamin you will need to shovel that driveway!

I encourage you to buy her marvelous book – the perfect gift for a gardener that likes to cook – and visit her website: http://www.fourseasonfarm.com/


Nuts are another source of energy for these tenacious, frozen days. I love this recipe for Sweet and Spicy Almonds from chef Carroll Peregrinelli. They are the perfect appetizer to serve guests, the perfect accompaniment to a bowl of hot soup for lunch, the perfect snack to slip inside your mitten for those long walks with the dogs in the snowy woods.

Reprinted with Ms. Peregrinelli’s permission:

Sweet and Spicy Almonds

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Yield: Makes 2 Cups
• 1/3 cup sugar
• 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
• 1-1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
• 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
• 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
• 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
• —-
• 1 egg white
• 1 tablespoon water
• 10 ounces whole, skin-on, raw almonds
Preheat oven to 275 degrees F. Line a sided baking pan with parchment paper. Set aside. In a large resealable plastic food storage bag, add first set of ingredients. Seal bag and shake. Set aside. Mix egg white and water in medium bowl. Add almonds. Stir. Drain almonds. Add drained almonds to resealable bag. Seal bag and shake. Spread almonds in single layer on prepared baking pan. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove pan from oven. Reduce heat to 200 degrees. Stir almonds in pan and return to oven. Bake for an additional 30 minutes. Leave in pan to cool on wire rack. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. May also be frozen.

Check out her website, http://baking.about.com/, for other wonderful recipes and tips.

Try the carrot soup recipe from “The Moosewood Cookbook” by Mollie Katzen. She offers, as always, variations to try. My favorite is to thin the soup with buttermilk, season it with thyme, marjoram, and basil, and top it with toasted almonds. Served steaming hot, this soup will comfort you and sustain you on a dark winter’s day. Its bright orange looks like a bowlful of sun.

“The New Vegetarian Epicure,” by Anna Thomas, touts the advantages of roasting vegetables.


Roasting vegetables is easy, requiring you to turn them only once or twice while they cook. Remember, you don’t need the watery, crunchy brightness of summer vegetables now. You need vegetables cooked down to their essence, with their texture slightly chewy, and the sugars caramelized within. Think about it: Are YOU watery, crunchy, and bright this March?! I’m guessing not – and I’m also guessing that those that love you would describe you as deeply sweet, perhaps even slightly chewy (in a good way, of course). Tossed with a bit of olive oil, a little salt, and then roasted, vegetables like parsnips, potatoes, and even green beans become the star of any meal. Would I begin my day with a boiled egg and some roasted vegetables? If that day were starting off at minus 19 degrees, the answer would be a robust Yes!

“The Silver Palate Cookbook,” by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins has a knockout recipe for a beet and apple puree that, depending on the emotional stability of your guests, will cause either a sensation or complete panic. The beets are roasted, and the peeled apples are sautéed with onions. Puree the whole mess, and the result is a thick, fuchsia-colored puree that is delicious hot (or cold, but save that presentation for August). Paired with a roast at your winter table, it is the most unusual of side dishes, nutritious, and beautiful.

Eat well! Take every winter’s day as an opportunity to cook and eat something that makes you say “YUM.” Season everything with savory herbs. Serve everything very hot. If you’re busy looking forward to three deeply satisfying meals every day, spring will come before you know it. Time to wake up those napping dogs, and take a walk outside in the snow – you will beat back the Hungry Months, and leave the winter of 2014 where it belongs: in the distant past.

“I’ll make her a pudding, and a pudding she’ll like, too….Many a one has been comforted in their sorrow by seeing a good dish come upon the table.”

–Elizabeth Gaskell, British novelist (1810 – 1865 ), from her novel “Cranford”

Read Full Post »

We are the proud owners of two apple trees and one pear tree at our new home. One of the apple trees bore fruit this year. The house has been unoccupied for at least one year, so I am confident that these apples were not sprayed or tended to in any manner other than that dictated by weather and God. Husband saw those bright red fruits on the too-tall tree (it hasn’t been properly pruned), and ordered an apple picker.


Because it is so late in the season, most of the fruit had already dropped to the ground. Deer and squirrels took care of that mess, and our dogs found a few remaining to carry around the yard – a sweet alternative to a tennis ball! But there were enough left on the tree to encourage the purchase of the picker and for me to plan that night’s dessert. Here is what we harvested:


There are 12 decidedly organic apples in that bag. Two were unusable – too much insect damage – but the rest went into a pie/crisp. More on that in a bit.

The debate about the merits of organic versus non-organic food production is a lively one. I am decidedly in the organic camp for health and environmental reasons, but the challenges of raising apples in particular, organically, are known. I did a quick search of a few representative opinion-holders in this debate. I chose three voices: medical, consumer, and Mother Earth News, and found the following (please note I have cut some content for space reasons. Ellipses are telling):

From the Mayo Clinic:

“The researchers concluded that organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs are comparable in their nutrient content. Research in this area is ongoing…. Some people choose organic food because they prefer the taste. Yet others opt for organic because of concerns such as:
• Pesticides. Conventional growers use pesticides to protect their crops from molds, insects and diseases. When farmers spray pesticides, this can leave residue on produce. Some people buy organic food to limit their exposure to these residues. According to the USDA, organic produce carries significantly fewer pesticide residues than does conventional produce. However, residues on most products — both organic and nonorganic — don’t exceed government safety thresholds.
• Food additives. Organic regulations ban or severely restrict the use of food additives, processing aids (substances used during processing, but not added directly to food) and fortifying agents commonly used in nonorganic foods, including preservatives, artificial sweeteners, colorings and flavorings, and monosodium glutamate.
• Environment. Some people buy organic food for environmental reasons. Organic farming practices are designed to benefit the environment by reducing pollution and conserving water and soil quality.”

From the Daily Green (a consumer guide produced by Good Housekeeping):

“Apples consistently rank near the top of the annual dirty dozen list. More than 40 different pesticides have been detected on apples, because fungus and insect threats prompt farmers to spray various chemicals on their orchards. Not surprisingly, pesticide residue is also found in apple juice and apple sauce, making all apple products smart foods to buy organic…. Some recommend peeling apples to reduce exposure to pesticide residue, but be aware that you’re peeling away many of the fruit’s most beneficial nutrients when you do so!”

From Mother Earth News online, October/November 2001:

“Organic apple-growing methods leave soil in better shape and has fewer potential negative impacts on the environment than conventional growing methods do.

“The organic apples were sweeter and as firm or firmer than fruit from conventional systems. Organic methods also left the soil in better shape than conventional methods and had fewer potential negative impacts on the environment than conventional systems. The results of the six-year study were published in the April 19 issue of the prestigious journal Nature.”

To me, the conclusions of the debate are clear: How you raise food may or may not affect its nutritional value, but it will certainly affect its safety. The use of pesticides is of enormous concern, and keeping this concern in the public eye will insure that good science is practiced and the collective wisdom of farmers, scientists, and consumers will produce a safe and delicious fruit. Good science is good business, and both contribute to a healthy society. And as always, the most direct way to change the world to suit your point of view is to vote with your dollar. Is organic farming important to you? Then buy organic! Every business pays attention to where you spend.

But, back to the highlight of the day: Using the harvest! I only had one pre-made crust – not enough for a traditional pie. It was late – too close to dinnertime to shop. I decided to make a half pie/half crisp. I lined a pie pan with the crust, filled it with apples and topped it with my Apple Crisp topping. Here’s how:

Apple Crisp/Pie

• 6 T flour
• 1/4 c light brown sugar, packed
• 1/4 c white sugar
• 1/4 t cinnamon
• 1/4 t nutmeg
• 1/4 t salt
• 5 T sweet butter, chilled, and chopped into chunks (for easier processing)
• 3/4 c pecans, coarsely chopped (for easier processing)
• 8-12 apples (depending on size), peeled, cored, and cut into big chunks
• 1/4 c sugar (less if your apples are sweet)
• juice from 1/2 lemon
• zest from 1 lemon

1. For the Topping: Put the flour, both sugars, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a food processor. Add chilled butter and pulse until mixture is chopped to a coarse texture. Add nuts and pulse until mixture resembles crumbly sand. Don’t overprocess! Refrigerate the topping for at least 15 minutes.
2. For the Fruit: Toss the apples, sugar, lemon juice, and zest together.
3. Assembly: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place a pie crust in a pie pan, and pour the fruit in. Sprinkle the topping over the fruit, and bake for 60 minutes, until the fruit bubbling and the crust is browned. Serve warm or at room temperature.

And here is the happy result:


Tip: Serve this with a scoop of the very best vanilla ice cream you can find. In our case, it is from the Round Top Ice Cream Stand in Damariscotta. Open from May 15-October 15, their ice cream is worth organizing your entire year around a visit to them!


“Don’t get fancy. Have you cooked an apple pie? You don’t know what you did wrong? Do this: Take two or three apples. Put them on a table. Study them.”

— Paul Prudhomme (1940- ), American chef

Read Full Post »

I am starting to say good-bye. My garden is part of my very essence. We came to this home five years ago: a lovely house, and an untended yard. Husband built me a 50 X 40′ garden on a south-facing slope. It was perfectly positioned, with rich, black soil. We planted, tended, harvested, and breathed. Here is how this garden fed me, body and soul for the last 5 years.

2009: The grass is removed, the borders are defined, and the deer fencing is up.

2009: The grass is removed, the borders are defined, and the deer fencing is up.

The trellises are in place, the paths are lined with newspaper to suppress weeds and covered in straw to please the eye.

The trellises are in place, the paths are lined with newspaper to suppress weeds and covered in straw to please the eye.

After one year, I’d settled in, and 2010 was the most spectacular year in the garden. I had enough time on the weekends and during the week to tend to the garden. I planted, experimented, harvested, stored, shared, and reveled.

2010: Lush!

2010: Lush!

Here are a few of my favorite crops:

Good Mother Stallard beans are an heirloom variety of dry shelling bean.  I love working in the hot summer garden to have something delicious to eat in the frozen winter.

Good Mother Stallard beans are an heirloom variety of a dry shelling bean. I love working in the hot summer garden to have something delicious to eat in the frozen winter.

Good Mother Stallard beans, shelled.  A feast for the eyes, too!

Good Mother Stallard beans, shelled. A feast for the eyes, too!

Broccoli, dicicco, the Italian variety.  I preferred this variety and the Lacinato variety of kale, as both were sweeter and lighter in presentation than their American counterparts.

Broccoli, the Italian variety. I preferred this variety and the Lacinato variety of kale, as both were sweeter and lighter in presentation than their American counterparts.

I chose flowers, herbs, and vegetables for many reasons. One of the most delightful was to attract pollinators:

The buddelia bushes attract everything with wings.  It is living art.

The buddelia bushes attract everything with wings. It is living art.

Bumblebee on Marigold.  I'm also happy to report that in the last 5 years, I've seen the population of honeybees increase significantly.

Bumblebee on Marigold. I’m also happy to report that in the last 5 years, I’ve seen the population of honeybees increase significantly.

I experimented with different techniques in planting, staking, and harvesting. My favorite exploration was with the Florida Weave: a method of staking tomato plants that supports their branches at regular intervals by weaving string between posts.

The first row of string supports the new plant.

The first row of string supports the new plant.

I did battle with pests. Let’s start with the insect variety. I learned that products that show the initials OMRI on the label are environmentally safe to use. I used Captain Jack’s Deadbug Brew to rescue my brassicas from the ravages of moth larvae:

BEFORE:  Ravaged kale.

BEFORE: Ravaged kale.

AFTER:  The recovery was dramatic.

AFTER: The recovery was dramatic.

I did epic battle with chipmunks. The little varmints discovered my delicious, young bean plants one year, and completely wiped me out.

The growing vines were cleanly nipped, and the plants never recovered that year.  NO GREEN BEANS. Disaster.

The growing vines were cleanly nipped, and the plants never recovered that year. NO GREEN BEANS. Disaster.

I spent the summer trapping and releasing (miles away) 37 chipmunks.  MacKenzie was interested in this process.

I spent the summer trapping and releasing (miles away) 37 chipmunks. MacKenzie was interested in this process.

I discovered and used fabulous tools. My favorites:

Compost Turner:  Insert deeply into compost, turn, and lift.  The compost is fluffed and aerated.  I admit it, only a Garden Geek would find this thrilling.

Compost Turner: Insert deeply into compost, turn, and lift. The compost is fluffed and aerated. I admit, only a Garden Geek would find this thrilling.

The broadfork.  It aerates the soil without disturbing the tilth.  Place, step down, rock back, remove.  Again, thrilling.

The broadfork. It aerates the soil without disturbing the tilth. Place, step down, rock back, remove. Again, thrilling!

I made cloches out of milk jugs to get a jump-start on the growing season. I cut off the bottom of the jugs, cut a hole in the handle, pressed a stake through the handle into the earth, and made a mini-greenhouse around delicate seedlings. My neighbor asked if I was growing a crop of heavy cream. 🙂

Pea plants are sprouting under those jugs.

Pea plants are sprouting under those jugs.

I took great delight in starting seeds indoors and Husband made me gorgeous wooden seed trays. Like everything he puts his mind to, the results were both functional and beautiful:

3 out of 8 trays: Pre-polyurethane.

3 out of 8 trays: Pre-polyurethane.

The trays in place, by my office window.

The trays in place, by my office window.

Another fabulous tool is the soil-block press. This particular one makes four 2″ square cubes at a time. These cubes allow the seedlings to grow without becoming root bound.

The first soil cubes go into the tray.  Ready for planting!

The first soil cubes go into the tray. Ready for planting!

I had bountiful harvests. We ate like kings, I had more than enough to share, and I tried my hand at canning. An enormous amount of work up-front, but we reaped the rewards all winter long. Another benefit of canning: you do not fear power outtages and losing an entire harvest in the defrosted freezer. Here are a few photos of the bounty:

A basket of beans next to a heavily laden zinnia.

A basket of beans next to a heavily laden zinnia.

Harvested green, because frost threatened that night.  These were wrapped in newspaper to ripen, and made into sauce.

Harvested green, because frost threatened that night. These were wrapped in newspaper to ripen, and made into sauce.

Too many tomatoes to can immediately?  I froze them, and canned at my leisure.  They resembled bags filled with croquet balls!

Too many tomatoes to can immediately? I froze them, and canned at my leisure. They resembled bags filled with croquet balls!

Garlic, hanging to dry.

Garlic, hanging to dry.

Jar after jar of pickles.  Dill and sweet!

Jar after jar of pickles. Dill and sweet!

Jalapeno peppers, the Dulce (sweet/mild) variety.  I froze many and canned even more.

Jalapeno peppers, the Dulce (sweet/mild) variety. I froze many and canned even more.

I took the overflow into my office on a regular basis. Here is one morning’s offering:

This was in 2010, so to my 2012-13 office-mates, please forgive!  I was growing flowers almost exclusively during my time with you.

This was in 2010, so to my 2012-13 office-mates, please forgive! I was growing flowers almost exclusively during my time with you.

I experimented with craft projects from my gardens. Two of my favorites:

Ristra peppers became...

Ristra peppers became…

...a curtain of sorts.  I harvested enough to make curtains for both windows.  They dried, and were a cheery decoration that looked especially nice during the holidays!

…a curtain of sorts. I harvested enough to make curtains for both windows. They dried, and were a cheery decoration that looked especially nice during the holidays!

And then there were the decorative gourds that became bird houses:

I dried them until you could hear the seeds rattling inside.

I dried them until you could hear the seeds rattling inside.

I used a dremel to grind a hole, tapped out the innards, brushed them with polyurethane and hung them to dry.

I used a dremel to grind a hole, tapped out the innards, brushed them with polyurethane and hung them to dry.

And yes, we had birds move in!

I had the Summer of the Snakes. 2011 was the year when Black Rat snakes made frequent appearances, getting tangled in deer netting, and tangling our heart strings. Husband and I rescued 4 and had to bury two. It was emotional, more than a little unnerving, and ultimately gratifying to see the survivors slide away. MacKenzie was a little too interested in these events, and was banished inside the house.

Going back to where he belongs.

Going back to where he belongs.

Banished MacKenzie, broken-hearted at being removed from all the fun.

Banished MacKenzie, broken-hearted at being removed from all the fun.

Of course, the most wonderful part of having a garden is sharing it. No one shared it more regularly, and with so much enthusiasm as my dogs. Gordon, Puppy Extreme, sometimes was a little too enthusiastic, and had to be banished, for the safety of the seedlings:

On the wrong side of the fence.

On the wrong side of the fence.

And sweet MacKenzie just wanted to be near me. As long as a bed wasn’t planted, I had no objection to her using it as, well, a bed.

MacKenzie warms the soil, prior to planting.

MacKenzie warms the soil, prior to planting.

All of these topics have been discussed in past posts. You can find more info and more photos by searching for key words/phrases.

My beautiful garden. I am leaving you! I hear the new owners are thrilled with what they saw when they came to see the house, and I hope they feel about this small patch of soil as I do:

It is a place of beauty, food, scent, and solace. I hope to carry what I have learned and felt to my new garden, one gardening zone north, and a whole new Life away.

“A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust.”

–Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932) British horticulturist, garden designer, writer

Read Full Post »

I am gardening by the thermometer and tradition this year, rather than by the calendar. My Good Neighbor always told me that St. Patrick’s Day was the traditional day to plant peas, but for the past three years, I worried that the ground was too cold, the weather too damp, and the Fates just not conducive to planting so early. So I waited for the calendar to turn at least one more page.

Not this year. It has been so warm that I almost wonder if I am planting my peas too late! I planted them on St. Patrick’s Day this year, pleasing both Neighbor and my common sense.

Three varieties this year, to mature early, mid- and late:

The early variety is from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and is “Premium.” The vines grow up to 30″ and may be grown with or without support. This year I plan to try using brush to support the vines, again with Neighbor’s advice to guide me.

The mid-season variety is “Sienna,” also from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and I’m told that the vines are relatively short but set heavily for a high yield potential. I am hoping this encouraging description comes true!

The late variety is “Green Arrow,” from the Seed Saver’s Exchange. Besides the later maturation, these peas are smaller than Premium and Sienna, and bear 1-3 more peas per pod. All attractive qualities.

As I did last year, to thwart the marauding chipmunks, I planted my peas and then covered them with recycled milk jugs. These homely-but-effective cloches provide a bit of warmth and a lot of camouflage for the emerging plants. Once the peas are a few inches high, I will remove the cloches, and replace the jugs’ anchoring sticks with brush or some other form of support.

Here is the start of my 2012 Pea Garden:

It was astounding both to Husband and myself that I still don’t have enough milk jugs. I have about 15 seeds planted, but not covered. They are marked with small rocks, to cover as soon as we drink our way through gallons of milk. I am setting out a box of Carnation Instant Breakfast on the kitchen counter as a subtle hint for family members.

Once the peas are established and the jugs are removed, I will only be a few weeks away from putting the jugs back into service to cover my bush green beans and shelling beans.

Ending this post with a few Fun Facts About Peas (because you can never have too many Fun Facts):

-The United Kingdom is the largest producer of peas that are used for freezing, in Europe.

-One serving of freshly frozen peas has more vitamin C than two large apples.

-In 1533, Catherine de Medici supposedly took Italian peas, known as “piselli novelli,” to France when she married Henry II.

-In the 19th and 20th centuries, the thick London fogs were called “pea-soupers” because of their incredible thickness (density) and their slightly green color.

– Clarence Birdseye froze the first peas in the 1920’s.

-Janet Harris holds the world record for eating peas. In 1984, 7175 peas were consumed one by one in 60 minutes using chopsticks.

Source: http://www.bioweb.uwlax.edu, a collaborative website produced by faculty members of the University of Wisconsin.


“Field pea (Pisum sativum, L.) was among the first crops cultivated by man. Some say the word “pea” came from Sanskrit; however, most concur that the Latin pisum, resembling the older Greek pisos or pison, is the true origin of the word. The Anglo-Saxon word became pise or pisu, and later in English, “pease”. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, by 1600 the last two letters were dropped because people believed the word was plural, forming the singular “pea” that we know today.”

— Best Cooking Pulses, Inc.

Read Full Post »


I never would have thought that I’d ever quote Wayne Dyer. But one sweet summer morning in the garden made me a fan of abundance, cheer, and positive thinking. Searching the internet for an appropriate quote for this column yielded Mr. Dyer’s remark. (see “Words from Others” at the end of this post) I’m pretty sure he was talking about gardeners. We have an abundance of gifts: flowers, fruit, and cheer.

Here is what my garden yielded that morning:

Foreground: decorative gourds that volunteered from our brush pile (I did think the vines were dead!), plus cukes, tomatoes, squash, peppers, and yes, that ENTIRE basket is filled with green beans!

I gifted our two neighbors with heavy sacks of green beans, and then turned to the kitchen, to blanche and freeze the rest. I ended with 8 quart bags filled with delicious beans, and the vines are still producing heavily.

I went to the computer to get advice on how to preserve this abundance. Here is one person’s step-by-step hand-holding for how to blanche and freeze green beans. Disclaimer: I did not edit his/her copy. Part of the charm of the internet is that you hear different voices, different vocabulary, and even different inflection. Why would I edit that out?! Here you go:

Directions for Freezing green beans

Ingredients and Equipment
fresh green beans – any quantity. I figure one handful per serving.
Vacuum food sealer or “ziploc” type freezer bags (the freezer bag
version is heavier and protects better against freezer burn.
1 large pot of boiling water
2 large bowls, one filled with cold water and ice.
1 sharp knife

Step 1 – Get yer green beans!
Start with fresh green beans – as fresh as you can get. If there is a delay between harvesting and freezing, put it in the refrigerator or put ice on it.

And don’t use beans that are (1) old, (2) overripe or (3) dried out

Step 2 – Wash the green beans!
I’m sure you can figure out how to rinse the green beans in plain cold or lukewarm water.

Step 3 – Trim the ends and cut into smaller pieces
Just take a sharp knife and cut off both ends (about 1/4 of an inch, or half the width of an average woman’s little finger). Then cut them into pieces the size you prefer, usually about 1 inch long.

Of course, if your prefer French cut green beans, you can cut the beans lengthwise instead, or you can use a “bean Frencher.” (No, that does not make the beans want to wear a beret, or “mime,; it’s just the name.) The Frencher enables you to prepare a huge quantity of beans quickly!

Step 4 – Get the pots ready
Get the pot of boiling water ready (about 2/3 filled) and a LARGE bowl with ice and cold water.

Step 5 – Blanch the green beans.
All fruits and vegetables contain enzymes and bacteria that, over time, break down the destroy nutrients and change the color, flavor, and texture of food during frozen storage. green beans requires a brief heat treatment, called blanching, in boiling water or steam, to destroy the enzymes before freezing. Blanching times for beans is 3 minutes (the duration should be just long enough to stop the action of the enzymes and kill the bacteria).

Begin counting the blanching time as soon as you place the green beans in the boiling water. Cover the kettle and boil at a high temperature for the required length of time. You may use the same blanching water several times (up to 5). Be sure to add more hot water from the tap from time to time to keep the water level at the required height.

Step 6 – Cool the green beans
Cool the green beans immediately in ice water. Drain the green beans thoroughly. (This shouldn’t take more than a minute.)

After vegetables are blanched, cool them quickly to prevent overcooking. Plunge the green beans into a large quantity of ice-cold water. (I keep adding more ice to it.) A good rule of thumb: Cool for the same amount of time as the blanch step. For instance, if you blanch sweet green beans for 7 minutes, then cool in ice water for 7 minutes. Drain thoroughly.

Step 7 – Bag the green beans
I love the FoodSavers with their vacuum sealing! I am not paid by them, but these things really work. If you don’t have one, resealable freezer bags work, too, but it is hard to get as much air out of the bags. Remove the air to prevent drying and freezer burn.

TIP: If you don’t own a vacuum food sealer to freeze foods, place food in a resealable bag (e.g., Ziploc, Glad), zip the top shut but leave enough space to insert the tip of a soda straw. When straw is in place, remove air by sucking the air out. To remove straw, press straw closed where inserted and finish pressing the bag closed as you remove straw. It works fairly well, but I’ll stick to the Foodsaver, since the bags are microwaveable and much thicker than a resealable freezer bag.

Step 8 – Done!
Pop them into the freezer, on the quick freeze shelf, if you have one!


I did something a bit different when I did my own freezing: I separated the beans by size, reasoning that fat older beans would take longer to cook. And, good news (still under Mr. Dyer’s influence, I guess!): the beans that seemed too old to bother with cooked up beautifully with those few extra minutes in the pot. Nothing beats a fresh bean, even if that bean is a little too old for the sniffy snobs.

I put the older beans into the boiling pot, waited for the pot to return to the boil, and then cooked them for 6 minutes. The younger thinner beans cooked for 3 minutes only after returning to the boil.

I also found a recipe that I found intriguing because it includes mustard. Something I would never have thought to try! Try it I will, and I will report my results. I would love to invite readers to share their favorite green bean recipes, and tell me if they tried the one below, and what they thought of it. I will share their shared recipes!

Here it is:

Green Beans with Almonds and Thyme Recipe

• 2 lbs of (fresh or frozen) green beans, trimmed
• 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
• 1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
• 1 teaspoon garlic salt
• 2 Tbsp chopped fresh thyme
• 1/3 cup slivered almonds, lightly toasted

1 Cook the green beans in a large pot of boiling salted water until just crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Drain the beans and transfer them to a large bowl of ice water, cooling them completely. (The ice water will shock the beans into a vibrant green color.) Drain the beans well. At this point you can make the beans a day ahead and store in refrigerator.

Alternatively you can steam the beans for 5 minutes and proceed directly to the skillet.

2 Melt the butter in a large, heavy skillet over medium high heat. Whisk in half of the fresh thyme (1 Tbsp), the Dijon mustard and garlic salt into the butter. Add the beans to the skillet and toss until heated through, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a serving bowl. Sprinkle with toasted almonds and the remaining 1 Tbsp of thyme.

Serves 8.


And ending with what might be considered a Garden Blessing:

“You pray in your distress and in your need; would that you might also pray in the fullness of your joy and in your days of abundance.”

– Khalil Gibran



“Doing what you love is the cornerstone of having abundance in your life.”

Wayne Dyer (1940- ), self-help advocate, author, and lecturer

Read Full Post »

It seems every aspect of my life these days is preceded by “re-“. Rethink. Readjust. Redo. Sometimes even Refresh. There isn’t a piece of software or a pile of hardware that has refreshed more than I have in the last three years.

I don’t want to talk about the economy, because it makes me Repeat everything that everyone already knows. So let’s look at this concept of “re-” from a gardening perspective. I went into the garden on a hot Saturday morning to assess, plan, and then act. I was pretty sure I’d spend my day tying up my teenage tomato plants, in that wild stage of growth when their gangly limbs aren’t strong enough to support their big ideas.

Tie up and then weed. That was the plan. I did tie up the tomatoes. (I have concluded that my slavish following of the Florida Weave method did not work for me at all. I am already sketching other ideas in my garden journal.) Then I turned to the rest of the garden to weed.

I started at the first row in the garden, and immediately reassessed. The cucumbers had triumphed over the aggressive shade of the squash leaves, and climbed up the trellis into the sunshine. The vines were now heavy with spiny little cukes. This variety (“Snow’s Pickling Cucumbers” from Johnny’s Selected Seeds) is meant to be harvested at 4-6″ (like my zucchinis and summer squash — 2011 is the Summer of Small at my house). Rethinking: No weeding. Pickling! There wasn’t a moment to lose.

Here is what I picked:

Not all of the cucumbers were of a uniform size, but I’ve never been a slave to fashion. Not all of the cucumber slices would be of similar diameter? That thought didn’t even rise to the level of a shrug. Much more important: did I have enough white vinegar and sugar? No and yes, and off to the store I went for a monstrous jug of white vinegar. My unopened 5-lb bag of sugar would (just barely) meet the day’s challenge, as would my jars of whole allspice, mustard seed, and celery seed.

Canning reminds me a lot of cooking Mexican, Chinese or Indian food: the prep work is hugely time-consuming, especially in contrast to the amount of time actually cooking and eating.

I set my enormous enamel kettle on the stove to heat for the water bath, knowing I had a least 30 minutes to wait before it was at the right temperature. I set a second, almost-as-large kettle on the stove to heat water for the jars, bands, and lids:

I turned to a favorite book:

I love this book by Janet Greene, Ruth Hertzberg, and Beatrice Vaughan.

While the water heated, I made the two solutions needed for this particular recipe: a brining solution of mostly vinegar, spices, and a little sugar, and a canning solution of mostly sugar, spices, and a little vinegar. The cut-up pickles went into the brining solution for 5 minutes, turning from bright green to dull green (and how many recipes ask for that particular turn of events?). The dull green chips were drained, packed into the hot jars, and then I poured this concoction over them:

Its looks call to mind a slow-moving urban river in summer, with the celery seed and allspice floating on the top, but the smell of spices and hot sugar syrup was lovely.

On with the lid, tightly turn the collar, and into the hot water bath it goes for the prescribed 10 minutes. Eventually, all seven jars were placed on the cooling rack in the dining room, and I looked forward to the ‘ping’ that signaled that the contents were cooling and the vacuum seal was complete.

But like so much of my life these days, what I expected and what I received did not match.

This year, the jars did not ‘ping.’ Instead, as I began the kitchen clean-up, I heard a sturdy sound: ‘Tock.’ I heard it 7 times.

That surprising sturdiness, instead of the more fey ‘ping,’ feels appropriate. After all of the “re-“‘s these past few years, from Recreation to Readjust to Refresh to Resolve, I’m a lot more ‘tock’ than ‘ping’ myself.


“On a hot day in Virginia, I know nothing more comforting than a fine spiced pickle, brought up trout-like from the sparkling depths of the aromatic jar below the stairs of Aunt Sally’s cellar.”

— Thomas Jefferson

Read Full Post »

What can you say about zucchinis? Search the internet, and you will have almost as many facts and figures as I have fruit under the large leaves in my garden. This post will share savory facts and a sweet recipe. Another post, on some future day, will share a savory recipe, and I will see if such a thing as a sweet fact exists.

A few savory bits:

Zucchini contain mostly water – only cucumbers contain more water….If cooked with the skin, zucchini is a good source of vitamin A and a very good source of fiber, vitamins C, K, B2, B6, Folate, magnesium, potassium and manganese. It is fat free and low in sodium and cholesterol free. –www.allfoodsnatural.com

And this:
The zucchini was introduced to this country in the mid 1900’s by the Italians and is now grown by more gardeners than any other squash. –www.heirloomseeds.com

Another site offered a modest cooking suggestion, followed by a lyrical description:
…zucchini are cut into small circles or half moons and sautéed in olive oil. Add fresh spices like rosemary, basil or Italian seasoning to season the vegetable. Cook until lightly seared. Flip when the tops start to sweat. –www.maholo.com

How many things can you say that about, that they are ready for their next phase in Life when they begin to sweat? (I will think about that the next time I wipe my brow in the garden.)

I promised recipes in a previous post about zucchinis. Here is one, offered by a modern-day Renaissance woman — she paints with oils and bakes with overgrown garden vegetables. How many among us can claim such diversified talent?

Zucchini Bread

2 c. shredded zucchini
3 c. flour
1 ½ c. sugar
3 t. sugar
3 t. cinnamon
1 t. baking powder
¾ t. baking soda
3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1 t. vanilla
Exciting options! Add either 1/2 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips or ¾ cup cocoa powder. (Ghirardelli is a lovely brand.)

First: Decide the final form of your zuchinni offering: loaf? Bundt? muffins? Prepare the proper pan, by either greasing and flouring, or using paper cupcake liners.

Next: Shred the zucchini and allow to stand in a colander for 30 minutes. Press out the excess liquid, and then fluff the squished shards with a fork prior to adding to the batter.

Then: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Then again: Combine the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients, stir in the zucchini, and one of the options if you are feeling jazzy.

Finally: Pour into your form-of-choice and bake. 1 hour 10 minutes for the loaf or Bundt, and 50 minutes for the muffins. Use a toothpick or broom straw to test for doneness before taking the decisive action of removing the pan from the oven and turning off the heat.

Reward: Eat the bread yourself, or share and bask in the compliments.

Better reward: Both of the above.


There are 37 people in the U.S. listed on whitepages.com with the last name ‘Zucchini’ and an additional 47 with the last name ‘Zucchino’
(Mark Morton, ‘Gastronomica’, Fall 2010)


Read Full Post »

I was warned not to plant them. Good jokes, bad jokes, yarns, urban legends, all warned against it. I planted them anyway. When I announced my intention to plant summer squash and zucchini, the response was, “Oh. I thought you liked me.”

Apparently, not everyone likes zucchini — or more to the point, not everyone likes zucchini after the first serving at dinner or after the first loaf of zucchini bread. Zucchini doesn’t have much staying power with friends, families, or neighbors.

To paraphrase Garrison Keillor, “July is the only month that Lutherans lock their cars when they go to church. They know that if they don’t, they’ll find a bag of zucchini left on the front seat.”

You can’t give this stuff away, it seems.

Still, I really love summer squash and zucchini, and so I planted some for myself this year. I reasoned: If the plants really do run wild and produce mountains of fruit, I’ll bring them by the basketful into my office. I successfully shared baskets of cucumbers, tomatoes, and jalapeno peppers last year. So why not squash? Surely my plants will not sate my 50 co-workers.

And so far, so good. My first planting of six each — zephyr summer squash and bush baby zucchini — have yielded manageable numbers. Of course, I have eaten them almost every night. And I’ve gifted my neighbors on each side several times. And I just bagged an offering for my husband’s art colleagues….Maybe I AM in trouble. Because, when the first plants were only a few inches high, I planted an additional 7 plants of each variety. I may have unleashed a horror upon the world that only a nuclear bomb can destroy (that’s how Godzilla was finally dispatched, yes?): “Nuke the Zukes! Rated CG: Clueless Gardener”

Before I am buried alive, I wanted to share photos and lore about these prolific plants. Here is a photo of the variety of summer squash I chose for this year:

Ready for harvest!

You will see from the Photo of the Day that this variety boasts a green tip at the base. I was also intrigued by the name “zephyr.” I went to Merriam-Webster.com (see “Words from Others”) and learned that this cheerful squash was named for a westerly breeze. I am not sure how that fits this vigorous, sunny grower. I suspect that in a few weeks, “breezy” will be the last adjective I’d apply to this plant. Maybe “typhoon”?

So I went back to the source: Johnny’s Selected Seeds, from whom I purchased this plant. What did I buy again? I was a bit alarmed at the catalog copy:

“Precocious, yellow, green-tip straightneck.
A distinctive, slender fruit, yellow with faint white stripes and light green blossom ends. Harvest young at 4-6″ for unusually delicious nutty taste and firm texture. Unique appearance for easy recognition. Big, open plant, high yielding. Packet: 30 seeds.

Days to Maturity or Bloom: 54”

Precocious. Really? I always associated that word with an adult’s struggle to remain polite. “Their children are…precocious.” Meaning “bratty.” Once again to Merriam-Webster:

adj \pri-ˈkō-shəs\
Definition of PRECOCIOUS
: exceptionally early in development or occurrence
: exhibiting mature qualities at an unusually early age
— pre·co·cious·ly adverb
— pre·co·cious·ness noun
— pre·coc·i·ty noun
Latin praecoc-, praecox early ripening, precocious, from prae- + coquere to cook — more at cook
First Known Use: 1650″

OK, so this variety matures early. If that is all that was meant, I’m fine with that. So far, I have not been led astray. (Still not so sure about “zephyr,” but “precocious” sits well.)

On to the zucchini. Here is what my first zucchinis looked like:

The one at the bottom of the photo is ready for harvest, and the one with the blossom still attached has another day or two to go.

I also ordered this variety from Johnny’s, and here is how they enticed me to buy my packet of seeds:

“True baby zucchini.
Bush Baby’s fruits are true miniatures and ready to harvest at 4-6”. At this stage they are more attractive and “proportional” than full-size zucchinis used as babies. Fruits are glossy and medium dark green with stripes. Semi-open plants are relatively easy to harvest. Avg. 3,700 seeds/lb. Packet: 30 seeds.

Days to Maturity or Bloom: 49″

Again, so far, so good. The catalog speaks the truth. These zucchini are indeed ready to harvest at 4-6″, and they are beautiful. The stripes are elegant, indeed.

And how could any parent have too much of a “true baby” anything?!

I will let you know. I have 49 days.


noun \ˈze-fər\
Definition of ZEPHYR
a : a breeze from the west
: any of various lightweight fabrics and articles of clothing

Origin of ZEPHYR
Middle English Zephirus, west wind (personified), from Latin Zephyrus, god of the west wind & zephyrus west wind, zephyr, from Greek Zephyros & zephyros
First Known Use: 1611


Read Full Post »

As I prepare to leave my home and my seed packets for a week, taking Youngest to visit colleges, I’m adding two jars of Good Mother Stallard beans to my bags. They are Hostess Gifts, and I will present them along with the recipe below. What better gift to give in Frozen February, than the results of last summer’s bountiful harvest?

From “The Ranco Gordo Newsletter”: “They’re great for so many reasons but I think it’s their “pot likker” that gets me the most.”

Good Mother Stallard Bean Stew
Yield 2 to 4 servings
Time At least 2 hours


* 1/2 pound Good Mother Stallard (or other good dried beans)
* 2 1/4- inch slices of pancetta, diced
* 1 diced carrot
* 1 diced onion
* 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh rosemary
* A few handfuls of arugula, or another tender green
* Salt and pepper to taste


* 1. Cook the beans until tender, about 2 hours. Check them frequently — they absorb liquid more quickly than most dried beans.
* 2. Sauté the pancetta in a bit of olive oil until just golden. Add the diced onions and carrots and cook until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the rosemary.
* 3. Add the beans and about a quarter cup of their liquid. You can add more depending on how thick a stew you want. When the mixture is heated through, add the arugula and continue cooking until it’s wilted. Adjust the liquid to your taste, season with salt and pepper and serve.

Source: The New York Times


“When God blesses the harvest, there is enough for the thief as well as the gardener.”

— Polish saying

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »