Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What's a heaven for?

To play on the aphorism-- a gardener's harvest should exceed her shelf space, or what's a basement for?

I have upwards of 30 pounds of winter melon that needs to be preserved. No matter how long it will keep in the shell, once I cut one I have to preserve it, because each one is way too big for two people to consume in a single meal, even with leftovers. Here's the first of a whole bunch of winter melon recipes:

Candied Winter Melon
5 pound winter melon
3 cups sugar
juice of two lemons
Remove the outer green skin of the winter melon and cut into finger length sticks just like french fries.

Blanch melon fingers by putting into a pot of fresh water with 1 tsp of baking soda, and bring to a rapid boil for 3 minutes. Transfer the melon to a colander to drain.

Heat the sugar and lemon juice in 1 1/4 quarts of water in a shallow pan until dissolved. Bring the syrup to the boil. Turn down heat to low. Transfer the drained melon to the pot of syrup. Make sure to completely immerse the fruit in the syrup. Bring the syrup slowly to a simmer and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes; do not let it boil.

At this point you have two options- store in the syrup, using heat canning, or drain and dry. For heat canning, transfer the hot syrup and melon into heated jars and follow standard procedure for heat canning. For drying, allow fruit to cool to room temperature. Do not drain. Leave it in the syrup for 24 hours whilst leaving the fruit undisturbed. Then, carefully lift the fruit from the syrup and leave to drain for 30 minutes. Transfer melons to wax paper or parchment and leave until dry, then store in an airtight container.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Giving food away

I hate to give away food.

Sounds hateful, doesn't it? But I have a terrible time picking produce from my garden with the intent to donate it to a food pantry, or gift it to a friend.

This guilty little secret was mitigated this year because I took charge of the "Farm2Give" plots at Peterson Garden--seven 4x6 beds which were put in specifically to give away. So I got to feel all good about myself, as we've donated more than 50 pounds of food so far.

But I've had a lot of extra produce in my own garden as well, and it's all sitting in my larder.

I started thinking about this because my dear friend B has been hit hard with both breast cancer and an ovarian cyst-- they found the two tumors within a span of a few days. So I spent the morning today making food for her-- cucumber soup, squash soup, pesto, jam-- from my precious store. The squash soup especially is delicious. The pesto used up half of the plants that are still in leaf. I love B with all my heart, but it's killing me to give this stuff away.

I suppose in a way that makes it the more special-- it's not much of a gift if it doesn't mean anything to you.

The hoarding of food is built into our genes. Above I use the term "precious store" facetiously, but food is, in fact precious. It barely even qualifies as race memory to save food. Within living memory, you saved food or you and your family died. Modern food keeps- in refrigerators, or in cans, or simply on the shelf through untested modifications like irradiation. I would guess that something like potato chips have a shelf life measured in years. Because food is now easy-- grown, cooked, and preserved by someone else-- we don't value our food as much.

I value my food. It's entirely possible that I love my winter melons more than I love my children; I hope it's never put to the test. I don't quite name each tomato, but I do refer to them by gender. My food is precious to me. Here's hoping that the goddess understands, and bestows extra blessing on it for my friend.

Roasted autumn vegetable soup with roasted squash seeds
1 medium squash (about a pound), seeded (conserve the seeds)
4-5 small parsnips
2-3 cloves garlic
3 cups vegetable stock (I used a carrot green-based stock)
garam masala
white pepper

To roast the squash, parsnips and garlic: heat the oven to 350. Halve squash lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Set these aside. Peel and roughly cut the parsnips (about 1" chunks), and peel the garlic. Put all on a baking sheet, and either brush fully with olive oil, or spray with a cooking spray. Put in the hot oven for about 40 minutes. Check the garlic at 20 minutes; if it's started to brown, remove it. When the vegetables are all done, allow them to cool until you can handle them. Scrape out the squash meat, and put this in a large soup pot with the garlic, parsnip chunks, and spices. Simmer for 20 minutes, or until the parsnips are soft, then blend with an immersible blender, or decant into a food processor or blender, until smooth. Non-vegans serve with a little cream, topped with:

Roasted squash seeds
Gently remove the meat and string from the conserved squash seeds (just squeeze them in your hands; the seeds will pop out). Spread these on the same baking sheet you just used (why wash two?) and allow them to dry for about 10 minutes. They'll go from slimy to sticky; you don't want them to dry all the way. Dredge them with seasalt until they are completely coated, then with some garam masala. Pat them down on the baking sheet, and roast at 350 for 5 to 8 minutes, or until lightly brown.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Balancing the scales

I tend to extremes, so it’s not really in character for the fall Equinox to be my favorite of the earth holidays. I’m not a compromiser; Libra and her scales just annoy me. My brother is a classic Libran compromiser. I can’t imagine how awful it must have been for him growing up stuck in a household with a dour and whiny Capricorn (me), a creative, flighty Gemini (my mother) and a choleric Aries (my father).

My family matched the sun cycle- two Solstice and two Equinox birthdays: winter, spring, summer, fall. There’s a novel in there somewhere, or a mythology. Perhaps the eventual implosion of that family unit is the reason I’m a gardener- a garden balances the eternal with the ephemeral. You both keep and consume a garden; not the same garden of course. Each year in a temperate zone you make a new plant from an old seed- the cycle of life. A family that consumes itself, like mine did, has no replant; you cannot save the seeds and start again.

And for Libra, a meal with, um, scales (sorry).

Pan-fried white fish

1 large fish, fileted
2 tablespoons butter
lime juice
capers (optional)

Heat a large skillet, and add the butter. Once it's melted, place the fish in the pan, sear on one side (about 1 minutes), then turn and sear the other side. Turn down the heat and continue cooking, turning only one more time (so the fish doesn't fall apart). When it is cooked nearly through, splash some lime juice on it. Add capers and finish cooking. Fish is done when it is white all the way through and falls apart easily when prodded with a fork. Don't worry about keeping it in one piece when you remove it from the pan.

Serve with rice and Tomatillo salsa (salsa verde)

10 tomatillos
5-10 cherry tomatoes
1/2 jalapeno pepper
lime juice

Roast the tomatillos and jalapenos: heat oven to 350, cut vegetables in half, place them on a baking dish and brush all sides with olive oil. Roast for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and cool them in the bowl of a food processor. When they are cool, run the food processor til they are completely blended, then add the tomatoes, a small handful of cilantro leaves, and a splash of lime juice. Blend again.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Bloom Day, September

What do blooming flowers have to do with common sense food? Nothing, really. I also have a large ornamental garden and I like to share the pictures with the crew that participates in Garden Bloggers Bloom Day (15th of every month).

But in a way, my take on Bloom Day is like my take on food-- there are flowers that anyone can grow, just like there are meals that anyone can make. So here's some flowers that grew because I stuck a seed in the ground, and a soup that looks like gourmet fare, but tastes straight off the farmer's table.

Above, right: Nasturtium "Spitfire" from Renee's Seeds for the Seed Grow Project.

Left, Cosmos "Rose Bon Bon" from Renee's Seeds for the Seed Grow Project, below, Caryopteris, traded with a contact on and bottom, Hyssop.

For the full September Bloom Day photos check out my flickr! Thanks to May Dreams for coming up with and hosting Bloom Day!

Squash-apple Soup with roasted ginger

1-2 pound squash (I used pattipan today, but butternut, acorn or pumpkin also work)
1 large apple
about 1" of fresh ginger root
Olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 pound of bacon, chopped (optional, for carnivores)
4-6 cups stock
2 teaspoons white pepper
salt, to taste

Quarter and seed squash, brush lightly with olive oil. On a separate baking sheet (or in a pie pan), place about a 2 inch chunk of fresh ginger plus two large apples, cored and peeled, and brushed with olive oil. Roast apples and ginger for 20 minutes, and squash for 35 minutes in a 350F oven, or until a knife slips in easily. Allow to cool and then peel both the ginger and the squash. Put in food processer and puree. Make a stock with the peels (add all peels-squash, ginger, apple- plus a few white peppercorns and salt to 2 quarts of water, boil down to 1 1/2 quarts).

Sauté onion and bacon lightly in large pot. Add squash/apple puree, water, apple cider, brown sugar, stock, salt, and spices. Cover and simmer for 1 hour. Stir frequently. Blend to thicken in blender-size batches. Serve with sour cream: one teaspoon on each serving.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


I tried to hire a graphic designer friend recently to design a new logo for my fundraising consulting business. She designed the logo all right, but she wouldn't let me pay her. Her exact words were "I'll work for fresh-picked corn."

In the end, we weren't able to connect with the fresh corn, but I took her 10 pounds of fresh and home-preserved produce yesterday-- garlic bulbs, herbs, black bell peppers, a huge zucchini, tomatoes, carrots, chard, pickles and peach chutney, all packed in a mini picnic basket. (I'm kicking myself for not taking a picture, because it was gorgeous.)

Using garden produce and home preserves as gifts is an honored tradition of the crunchy set, but bartering for services goes back even farther. Paying the doctor with a chicken is a cliche of American mythology, and of course barter is the basis of the entire concept of commerce. We still barter in everyday life, because of our cultural decision to honor the collective delusion that paper money has value.

Most of my seeds this year were from barter too, otherwise known as seed swapping. It's THE best way to make new friends if you're a gardener. I think pretty much every new gardening friends I've made in the past two years (see my blog list!) I met through seed swapping.

What have you bartered your garden bounty for this year?

Homemade chocolate syrup
originally from The Tightwad Gazette via the blog Small Notebook for a Simple Home. Text is verbatim.

½ cup cocoa powder
1 cup water
2 cups sugar
⅛ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon vanilla

Mix the cocoa powder and the water in a saucepan. Heat and stir to dissolve the cocoa. Add the sugar, and stir to dissolve. Boil for 3 minutes over medium heat. Be careful not to let it get too hot and boil over! Add the salt and the vanilla. Let cool. Pour into a clean glass jar, and store in the refrigerator. Keeps for several months, but trust me it will be gone before then. Yields two cups.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Still spitting fire in September

I'm growing spitfire nasturtiums for the Seed Grow Project.
Thanks to Renee's Garden for the seeds!

How are your spitfires doing?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Hipster Supported Agriculture, Part III

Hipster Supported Agriculture is part of the KinderGardens project over at Inadvertent Farmer. Check it out to see how everyone's been gardening with kids all summer!

I spent the afternoon today at Peterson Garden working with three teens from Jewish Child and Family Services on the last empty plot in the garden. I'll be meeting with them and others from the program a few times each week after school and on weekends.

Today they got a tour of the garden, learned a little bit about what a community garden is, and harvested lettuce, giant zucchini (which I had somehow missed harvesting, so they got a little big), tomatoes, tomatillos, cucumbers, and chard from our "Farm2Give" plots. They planted some short-season seeds (radishes and lettuce) and broccoli starts. We talked about the importance of keeping the plot watered until the seedlings get established, and got them all to get their hands in the dirt.

I'll be helping them with the project through mid-October, and hope to get to talk about organic gardening, a little backyard botany, and eating your veggies. One girl categorically refused to eat a cherry tomato because "I don't eat vegetables." You just want to cry. How have we raised a generation that doesn't eat vegetables? She wanted me to come to their facility to teach them how to make pickles though.

So I've kind of run the gamut of city kids at this point-- I had my old student Katie in my own backyard, a girl from a well-off, even privileged background for whom the back story on gardening was unnecessary. Her parents, former hippies, had already indoctrinated her! and the idea of urban gardening was nothing new.

In July I worked with a Service Learning Group from the nearby high school. This group was very diverse racially and economically, but motivated and used both to creative thinking and interaction with engaged adults.

Today's group is from an at-risk population from very troubled backgrounds, with little stability in their lives. I went into it a little nervous; as a sports coach I've had lots of interaction with teens, and with disabled kids, but I have to tell you, you don't get a lot of "at-risk" children in an ice rink.

But they were just that-- children like any teens, on the brink of womanhood, asking intelligent questions, making excellent leaps of imagination based on some very cursory plant information I gave, and using knowledge from school to draw conclusions about what they were seeing in the garden.

All in all a very rewarding afternoon.

If you'd like to help Peterson Garden with projects like this, please visit the website and click on Donate in the menu bar. And thank you.