The green thumb

Monday, October 29, 2007


Feeling how nippy the air is today, I’m feeling much better about my decision to take the garden down two Saturdays ago…even if I did have to pick a ton of green tomatoes.  Not that I have anything against green tomatoes, mind you.  There’s lots to do with them, other than the now infamous fried green recipe.

Speaking of gardening, I’ve been giving some thought to next year’s garden adventure.  Four varieties of garlic are already in the ground for next year, and I think I’m committed to growing Hakurei turnips.  But lately I’ve been seeing a lot of people participating in the Dark Days Challenge talking about local lentils.  And I’m jealous.

It’s not the easiest thing in the world to find locally grown dried beans around these parts.  I have no idea why.  Every now and then you see them at markets, but not too often.  I grew a variety in the garden a few years ago, so I know it’s not difficult.  So I’ve been thinking maybe it would be a good idea to grow my own supply again.  Of course, my concern with lentils is just growing enough plants to get a decent yield.  So far I have not found much information about that.  Victory Seeds does sell several varieties of lentils.  Perhaps I could email them and ask.

Other than lentils, I’m thinking it might be good to grow Flageolet and White Marrowfat beans.

Posted by Nicole on 10/29 at 11:15 AM

Grow some garlic!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

It may be coming up toward the end of gardening season for some of us, but if you’re a garlic lover this is only the beginning.  Garlic is to be planted four to six weeks prior to the first frost date.  In Philadelphia that’s October 15, which puts garlic planting prime time…right now!

I planted garlic in my garden for the first time last year, and I must say that it was one of the most rewarding garden crops I’ve grown in quite some time.  I had no idea what was going on underneath our rather clay heavy soil.  It was a total surprise when I dug up the garlic, and I had the added benefit of getting to harvest the garlic scapes.  The Purple Glazer variety I planted was gorgeous.

This year I’m planting the German Extra Hardy.  This hardneck variety has white outside skin, but a dark red clove skin.  It’s a very Winter-hearty garlic, even though we really don’t have very cold or snowy Winters around here anymore (now watch, I’ve said this and jinxed us all for this year).  I plan to get out into the garden to plant this weekend.

If you’ve never planted garlic before, I heartily recommend it.  It doesn’t take up a lot of space and you can even grow garlic in containers if you don’t have a yard.  Last year I grew about 25 heads of garlic in a 2 x 3 foot space.  That’s a little crowded, but it didn’t make a difference in taste or the size of the heads.  One word of caution: do not use garlic that you’ve purchased at a grocery store.  Commercial garlic growers use breeds that are specifically made to retard sprout growth.  You can use most varieties sold by a farmer you trust, or you can order garlic online (Ebay is an especially great place to order garlic, believe it or not).

To plant garlic directly into the ground, take a bulb of garlic and divide it into cloves right before planting.  Plant the clove root-end down about an inch below the soil.  Plant each clove about four inches apart.  Before planting, consider amending the soil with a bit of well rotted compost and a good, complete fertilizer.  Keep the plot well-weeded, as garlic does not like competing plant life.  But you can pretty much forget about the garlic until next Spring.

To plant in a container, fill a big pot with some good soil mix and make sure you’ve got great drainage in there.  You can keep the pots outside in a sunny spot unless it’s really, really cold…just make sure they get water.

In any case, next Spring you’ll get garlic scapes.  And then when the garlic plant above the ground is about 80% brown, you harvest the bulb.  I think I did that in late July or early August this year.

There’s nothing like fresh garlic!

Posted by Nicole on 09/12 at 10:39 AM

Garlic breath

Monday, August 06, 2007

Purple Glazer garlic

The garlic I harvested out of my garden a few weeks ago has been drying on my back porch.  Last night I took it off the hook and trimmed away the stalks and roots, and wiped away the excess dirt.  Success! I now have more garlic than I know what to do with!

These pretty purple-streaked cloves are the Purple Glazer garlic - it’s a mid-season, hardneck variety.  Originally from the Republic of Georgia, the garlic is supposed to be great for baking.  The cloves are not supposed to be hot, but you could have fooled me - I accidentally cut a garlic bulb in half with my shovel while I was digging up the bed, so I popped a clove in my mouth.  Uh, yeah, the garlic is super spicy fresh out of the ground.

This was my first attempt at growing garlic, and I must admit that it was a little thrill to discover the cloves did actually grow into bulbs.  Our soil is pretty clay-ish, so you just never know what’ll happen.  The bulbs didn’t get huge - my guess is the clay soil kept them from getting too big.  I do plan to grow garlic again, so the plan is to build a raised bed so I can get the soil just right.

Do you grow garlic in the Philadelphia area?  What are your favorite varieties?  While I love the look of Purple Glazer, I think I might try something else next year - perhaps Music, Ontario Purple Trillium, Chinese Pink, or Chet’s Italian.

So now I’ve got all this garlic - what to do with it all?  I dried the garlic, so I can at least rely on it to last for a little while.  But in thinking of longer term storage, what then?  There are several different preserving methods that work for garlic -

  • Freezing - freezing garlic will produce a slightly mushy clove, but retains the flavor really well.  Place peeled whole or chopped cloves in a freezer bag and, well, freeze it.
  • Drying - You can dry cloves that have been cut in half in a dehydrator or your oven (140 degrees for two hours and then 130 degrees until the garlic is totally dry and crisp).
  • Oil and vinegar - cloves of garlic (both whole and chopped) can be preserved in both oil and vinegar.  In refrigerated vinegar, the cloves will keep for about four months.  For oil, it’s best to freeze it - otherwise, you run the risk of botulism.  The oil will keep for a few months.
  • Salt - dry a few cloves and then give a whirl in a blender until the cloves are a fine powder.  Add four parts sea salt for each one part garlic powder and process for just a second or two to combine the two ingredients. Do not process the garlic salt too long because it will cake. Store the garlic salt in an airtight glass jar.
  • Pickling - Loosely fill a glass jar with peeled garlic cloves. Add enough red or white wine vinegar to cover the garlic and then add about one tablespoon of sea salt per cup of vinegar. Dried (not fresh) herbs such as red pepper flakes, bay leaves, and oregano may be added to taste. Cover the jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake to distribute the salt and herbs. Refrigerator garlic pickles will keep almost indefinitely in the refrigerator, as long as the garlic remains submerged in the vinegar.

I wondered, though, whether garlic could be preserved in other ways.  What about roasted garlic?  The answer is yes: it can be frozen!  Just roast the heads, squeeze out the garlic and mash - spread thinly onto sheets of wax paper and freeze it.  I also found a great recipe for garlic and basil pesto that can be frozen for a few months.

However I end up preserving my garlic, one thing is for certain: I’m going to have garlic breath for months!


Posted by Nicole on 08/06 at 09:31 AM

When Fresh Truly Counts

Friday, July 27, 2007

I suddenly feel so accomplished!  I made something I thought only restaurants serve.  After all, how many times have any of us come to the call of “Dinner’s ready!” to find fried squash blossoms stuffed with fresh herbed goat cheese?  I certainly haven’t had the pleasure before.  Readers extraordinaire, you must give this recipe a try if you can get your hands on some fresh squash blossoms.  It wasn’t nearly as hard as one might think to make these delicate and tasty beauties.

Indeed, the beauty and the flaw of this dish are the squash blossoms themselves.  First, they are not a common supermarket find.  Second, if you do find them but you don’t get them very very fresh and take good care to keep them cool and moist, they get rather difficult (read: rubbery) to handle (although you can still make it work).  That being said, I know there are some of you out there dutifully growing squash plants up the side of the fence in your tiny Philly rowhouse backyard, in urban plots/pots or, for those luckier ducks, in your large suburban kitchen gardens.  You, my friends, have no excuse not to give this one a go.  In fact, I think you owe it to those that don’t have easy squash blossom access to put your good fortune to use.

How, pray tell, does one harvest a squash blossom?  Since squash develop from the blossoms, you don’t want to pick the “female” blossoms that are found low and in the center of the plant.  Rather, pick the “male” blossoms that are on long slender stems higher up in the plant.  You’ll easily be able to tell the difference once you’re actually looking at a squash plant.

For those of you without your own squash plants, check out the Headhouse Farmers Market on Sunday’s in Philly.  This new and unusually lively market is located in the historic “shambles” on 2nd and South Streets.  There you’ll find loads of local produce, including a few vendors, such as Weavers Way Farm, selling squash blossoms picked that morning.  You really must get them as fresh as possible! 

Once you’ve aquired your delicate blossoms by hook or by crook, store them in a ziplock bag filled with air (to cushion them) and with a damp paper towel.  Keep in the fridge for up to a day. 

Let us know if you try this recipe and how they turn out.  Also, what other uses do you know of for squash blossoms.  According to my trusty kitchen garden reference book, they are suppose to be good in salads and stir frys.  I’m so fixated on the fried stuffed version that I haven’t gotten around to trying either just yet…


Adapted from Chez Panisse menu

12 large squash blossoms
8 oz. goat cheese, room temperature
1/4 c. finely minced fresh herbs (thyme, basil, chives, sage, or others)
1 large shallot, finely minced
salt and pepper
2 eggs
1/4 c. milk
1/2 c. corn meal mix (look for one that includes salt and baking powder) or masa harina (available in some larger stores)
Freshly ground pepper
1 c. vegetable oil

Place the goat cheese in a small bowl.  Mix in the minced herbs, shallots and salt.  Mixture will come together easier if the cheese is at room temperature.  Once mixed, cover and place in refrigerator for 15 minutes or until firm again.

Prepare your “assembly line” by beating the eggs and milk together in a shallow bowl.  Place corn meal mix or masa harina in another shallow bowl and mix in the freshly ground pepper.  If blossoms have not already been prepped, gently remove all but a small tip of the stem and look closely for any dirt or insects.  If you find anything, gently wipe clean with a damp towel.

When cheese mixture is firm, take teaspoon size amounts and roll into small balls with your hands the way you would chilled cookie dough.  Place a cheese ball into the center of each blossom and twist the ends of the petals together to fully enclose the cheese.

Dip each blossom into the egg mixture.  Let excess drip off.  Quickly and gently roll blossom in dry mixture, shaking excess off.  Set blossoms in refrigerator until ready to fry.

Place vegetable oil in a skillet and heat to approximately 350 degrees or until a tiny pinch of corn meal dropped in produces a good sizzle.  Carefully place half the blossoms into the hot oil.  Turn them over to brown evenly on all sides.  When golden brown, remove and place on a paper towel to drain.  Bring oil back up to temperature and fry the remaining blossoms.

Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and serve immediately with any leftover cheese as a garnish in the center of the plate.

(makes 12, serves 4)



Posted by Jennie on 07/27 at 08:33 AM

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