Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Two pumpkins are better than nothing

This year wasn't much of success in the pumpkin/winter melon department, especially with the japanese Red Kuri and Shishigatani. Again, I know it had a lot to do with the wet spring, and even with all my attempts at hand-pollination in the rain (why do the female flowers always open up around then?), not one came to fruition. I had loads of male flowers and only 4 females on the Shishigatani vine which should have guaranteed me something, but sadly it never happened. The Red Kuri below was actually from pulp seed out of a squash purchased at the supermarket. I figured that since it came all the way from Holland(!), I may as well try to get more out of it.

Red Kuri

Red Kuri

Italian turban pumpkins from nursery seedlings

Italian pumpkins

Collective Farm Woman

Stunted collective farm womanA reader wanted to see the inside of these, so I halved one that accidentally fell off the vine before they were ready to eat (too much fondling will do that you know). These sweet melons have a beautiful, creamy color, but they'll only ever taste like perfection when they're properly ripened and orange in color. I can't thank Christina (A Thinking Stomach) enough for sharing her informative My Highly Subjective Melon Analysis with the world, and look forward to growing collective farm woman next year.

Melon anatomy

Venus peach

18 peaches is really something to write home about, especially with all that our tree has been through. In May and the first half of June, aphids and peach leaf curl were the problems to contend with, but the odds were successfully beaten with everything from sticky tape and organic concoctions ranging from garlic, chile pepper, pyrethrum and stinging nettle tea applications. To battle the peach leaf curl we had to resort to using Syllit, a fungicide that was suggested to us by the local nurseries. The only drawback was that the peach crop matured a month later than the norm since the tree had to deal with so much stress earlier on. I noticed that while the fruit has excellent flavor (seems much sweeter than last year), it lacks the juiciness that we've come to appreciate. Not so bad really, after peeling and slicing them into a rustic tart. We've been enjoying peach crostata and vanilla custard gelato heaven!

Shoulda been the tree of knowledge of good & evil

Today's average: 23°C / 73°F

Monday, September 14, 2009

2009 hits, misses and definite keepers: the Tomatoes

Despite the less than ideal weather conditions in spring, I'd have to say that this year's tomato crop was a success. The harvest may not have been as great, but what few we did get were satisfactory enough in quality to decide whether we'll grow them again or not. The one thing I've learned most about tomatoes is that they need sun. I've grown them in containers, in good amended soil, in lousy mixed clay, and in all sorts of places in my yard and garden, but the ones that did best were those that were exposed to a sunny spot for at least 6 hours a day. The ones that did better were the ones grown in amended soil (manure/compost) or where I had previously grown fava plants. I still remember the neighbor who once said that we couldn't grow anything in this tough mountain clay, but I think he just didn't believe us city folk to possess so much determination to succeed. I can't live without tomatoes, so let's begin!

Pink Brandywine

Pink Brandywine tomatoes

Pink brandywine halvesIn 2008, a shaded corner in the yard was the only space I had for these and while they grew and grew and yielded beautiful, oddly-shaped and enormous tomatoes, the lack of abundant sunshine took its toll. The monsters stayed green, all the way into late October, which is when I told my husband to collect them before it got too cold (I was away) and allow them to ripen indoors on their own. They did turn color, but the flavor was definitely lacking. This year they earned a prime spot in the garden, in soil where fava beans had previously grown. The 5 plants are still reaching for the stars and producing flowers like they were on a mission. What fruit we've already tasted has been an excellent balance of acid/sweet (so good in a caprese salad) that I will be growing these again.

Ananas Noire

Ananas Noire - top view

Ananas Noire halvesIn the end, color does make a difference, and I should have known better than to pick this the day that I did. But after reading Ananas Noir: Hanna’s Tomato Tastings, waiting it out another few days was just not going to happen for me. Like she says, this tomato is sweet, even if it doesn't taste like any pineapple I've ever eaten, or even a tomato at that. It tasted of a fruit that likes the novel idea of being called a tomato, but is probably more in love with its exotic name. Black Pineapple. Ananas Noire...[for a moment there, an image of Gomez flashed in my mind, he obviously going nuts on Caroline's arm.] There's no doubt that Ananas Noire would have been sweeter had I let it blush a little more at the bottom and relied on the old "squeeze test", that is, soft and yielding but not squishy. The interior, when ripened properly, is supposed to be a green, yellow and purple mix. I guess it sounded much more attractive in print? Since this is not your typical red tomato, you may need to hone in on your touchy/feely skills as well. I won't be growing it next year.

Growing notes: going against all gardening logic, I started these from seed on April 2nd just for the heck of it. Six weeks later the seedlings were stuck in the only remaining space in the garden - a hole dug into clay dirt - along with some potting soil and a little helping of bat guano. The 3 plants bravely weathered wind, rain and hail, but in the end only one would grow strong enough to produce anything. Well actually it produced only 2 - this one here at a decent 10 oz. (they are said to grow up to 1.5 lbs), and another that I promise not to pick until it passes the squeeze test.

Cherokee Purple

Cherokee Purple

Cherokee Purple halvesLast year I grew these both in a container and mixed clay soil and they did so-so. Small harvest, but really great fruit, and my husband saved seeds as an experiment for this year's planting. That said, I started Cherokee Purples in mid-March with the sole intention of seeing if his seed-saving experiment would work. Of course it did, and managed to produce 2 tomatoes on a 3-foot tall plant. They tasted as wonderful as they had in 2008, but again, were victims of spring's bad weather — the plants didn't grow as big as they should have. The tomatoes have a smoky, sweet/tart flavor and again Hanna saves my day with her Cherokee Purple Tomato Tastings 2009. Bless that woman! I'll be growing these in a prime spot next year.



Marmande halvesAt Baker Creek where I purchased the seeds from, the description of Marmande was too tempting to resist:

Scarlet, lightly ribbed fruit, have the full rich flavor that is so enjoyed in Europe. Medium-large size fruit are produced even in cool weather.

Produce they did, but I didn't care much for the higher ratio of seeds to flesh as you can see here in the photo. Not a keeper.

Black Krim

Black Krims

What more can I say about this tomato? Love its flavor, its juiciness and its color. I loved it so much that I even stripped it down naked to prove to myself that sometimes, beauty is not only skin deep. A definite keeper.

Rouge d'Irak

Rouge D'Irak

The seeds for these were from another seed-saving experiment that my husband did last year. I didn't grow them for production (they did fantastic in 2008), but just as a test to see how they'd do in the soil (mixed clay) in our back garden. As you can see, Rouge d'Iraks came through with flying colors, even with the wet weather in spring, so I will grow these again in 2010. For production purposes this time.

Japanese Black Trifele

Black Trifele Harvest

My only big disappointment for 2009. Baker Creek described them in this way:

Attractive tomatoes are the shape and size of a Bartlett pear with a beautiful purplish-brick color. The flavor is absolutely sublime, having all the richness of fine chocolate.

Well mine were perhaps, the size of half a pear. Color-wise they looked like the above for the whole season. And fine chocolate? Not in the least bit...for me anyway. But I'm cutting Japanese Black Trifele tomatoes some slack because they were on the front line when it was cold and rainy, stuck at the top of the garden slope where it's more exposed to the elements. They also got nailed by hail, poor things, and didn't stand a chance when the slugs came along. If I can manage a free spot in the garden next year, I'll grow at least two plants to see how they do again.

Average daytime temperature: 19°C / 66°F
Snow has already been reported at higher elevations in the region of Trentino!

Monday, September 7, 2009

From garden to table: Black Aztec success in the kitchen

Blueberries, move over. There's another blue food to earn a spot in the garden, but it's no berry and the name is Black Aztec corn.

I thought it would take more than a week to be able to share results on a so-not-yellow corn experiment, but I didn't realize that at the time of the last post, the cobs were just about 99% dried and ready to be ground into meal. What do I know about drying corn? I've only ever harvested them when they were ready for boiling, so with a little intuition, a quick test trial in the grinder, and lots of dry, hot weather for 3 days in a row, all of that corn pictured in the previous entry became the makings of a really great meal. You know how they say that you learn something new everyday? Well now I can add making my own organic blue cornmeal to the list — never thought I'd be able to say that.

In retrospect, I shouldn't have worried about knowing when the kernels were dry enough to work with. A coarse, stoneground-type texture is what I was aiming for, and a pinch test between thumb and forefinger was the first indication used (if it held up then it was definitely dry). Each day I ran a few kernels in a spice grinder to check if all moisture had evaporated. Really nothing to this at all!

Blue corn kernels
I harvested the corn when the husks were completely parched and devoid of any green color. The kernels were removed (still plump as you see here) the following day, but after 3 days under a hot sun, they shriveled quite noticeably and were dry enough to spin in the grinder.

Blue cornmeal
Ready to cook. A very modest yield of 3½ cups total. The old spice grinder did the trick in small batches, but a large coffee grinder will prove indispensable if I'm to cultivate more corn next spring. 3½ cups is not enough! I keep the cornmeal in an airtight container in the freezer.

Blue corn tortillas
Blue tortillas from scratch. Insanely great stuff, and it was so quick to make that my husband took an interest and watched intently as I rolled out the pieces of dough. I used this really easy tortilla recipe from Hillbilly Housewife, following the directions down to the last word. Her recipe makes 10 but I wanted smaller rounds and divided the batch into 12 balls, rolling each to about 7½ inches in diameter.

Blue cornbread
Woohoo! It's blue! I really don't know who was more excited about the cornbread, me or my better half. Make that my better half because after one bite with turkey chile, it was seconds, then thirds. I made the sweet cornbread from All Recipes, substituting an equal amount of blue cornmeal for the yellow, but cutting the sugar to 1/2 cup.

Blue tortilla cone
The tortilla cone. My husband's answer to Konopizza, only there is nothing here that you'd find in a pizza cone. Leftover turkey chile, plain yogurt and homemade tomatillo salsa. I didn't get much from my tomatillo plant, but I do know that I will grow them again next year. The purple ones this time.

Today's high: 23°C / 73°F