Monday, November 14, 2011

The first persimmons!

Persimmon in October

I must've put all of my super mojo towards this persimmon when I snapped this shot 2 weeks ago because today it was time to snip it free. Ours is the astringent type, where the fruit needs to be fully ripened and completely soft in order to eat them, but the trick is to get them before they fall to the ground. Since our persimmon tree is still very young at 4 years old, it's not yet grown much in height and I can easily reach through the branches to give ripening fruit a squeeze test. There's a couple dozen, all turning from a pale green to orange color, and my guess is that they'll all be ready for consumption around the same time.

Persimmons in November

2 weeks later...the bright orange orb on the left is the one that was previously photographed. Only the side facing the camera was jelly soft so I'll set it aside to ripen further. The persimmon (caco or kako in italian) on the right is entirely soft and one that I somehow had overlooked earlier. It's strange how the color dulled to a dusty sheen but to smell it....the perfume aroma is intense and sweet!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

From Italy to Hawaii and back

To think that one month ago to the day, our flight touched ground on Kauai and at this hour we were enroute to my family's home on the westside. These tropical fruits and vegetables are just some of the wonderful produce we enjoyed while visiting back home. I wasn't able to visit every single farmers market on the island, but of the 2 visited, there was more than enough to keep us well-fed and happy.

Hanapepe farmers market

Poipu farmers market

Friday, September 30, 2011

Will we be harvesting persimmons this year?

Persimmon tree 2011

Two dozen persimmons (cachi/KAH-kee in italian) hang on the tree this year, but it'll still be some time until we know if they'll make it. Much of 2010's crop never made it due to strong winds that blew them down, and with the heavy rains, cool temps and meager sunshine, whatever fruits left on the branches either rotted or got picked on by the birds.

At this time of the year I'm always undecided on whether I should continue the garden blog because I don't think it's worth the trouble to maintain a winter plot in our location. So much easier to go into hibernation...zzz...zzz. But since I'll be visiting Kauai next month I thought it might be interesting to take notes on the farmers markets and anything fruit/veg/garden related while I'm there.

Sicilian serpent squash

I've still got beets in the ground and I put in some peas last month, but this is the last of summer's experimental crop - one sicilian serpent squash. I had seen photos of these that were monstrous in length but given my prealpine climate, I think they weren't able to do as well as they do in Sicily.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

What are you doing with your tomatoes?

San Marzano 2011

Over 12 lbs. of San Marzano's, 27 lbs. of Cherokee Purples, and nearly 20 lbs. of cherry tomatoes (so far). Despite that episode of blight in mid-August, this year's tomato harvest had us eating them just about every single day this month and I ain't complaining. It wasn't/still isn't that big of a deal to find creative ways to prepare them, but it does help that we love pomodori that much! If anything, the humble tomato aced the category of Best Supporting Ingredient. Some photos of how I put all of those love apples to good use.

MCPELT BLEEPT Processing tomatoes

In sandwiches: MCPELT (mortadella, coppa, pepper, eggplant, lettuce, tomato), BLEEPT (bacon, lettuce, eggplant, egg, pepper (bell), tomato). Oven and sun-drying and saucing.

Pizza e cozze Pasta alla Norma Sformato di ricotta & pomodoro

Pizza sauce (plus 4 types of cheese!) and with french moules de bouchot. In so many dishes of pasta and in a sformato di ricotta.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

When is the best time to harvest hardy kiwis?

Kiwi Arguta Issai

Apparently not during the month of September as stated in the nursery's company catalog and also from where we purchased green and purple-skinned kiwi vines. The kiwis that I'm referring to are the impossibly cute miniature ones. They're the size of grapes, fuzzless, and entirely edible. I've seen the green type at a supermarket here in Lecco, and that was only once, so to find plants at Ingegnoli in Milan was a surprise - we just had to get both.

Getting back to harvesting them... When we purchased the green vine it already had several full-grown kiwis on it so I figured just wait until September. But earlier this week I noticed one that had gone rather soft so I picked it and voila! An intensely sweet delight that now posed a problem - are they ready or not? My garden sense told me that if they're sold at the markets hard as rocks, then the same must apply to these minis. A few days at room temp would do its ripening magic. Still, I wanted someone in-the-know to confirm this theory and found my answer in an article on Sunset Magazine's website. Yes they can be picked while still firm, but it's all a matter of timing for home gardeners like myself.


Average daytime temperature: 30°C / 86°F

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Omar's Lebanese taste test

Omar's Lebanese 2011

Despite being the heaviest hit from that sudden case of blight, I was able to harvest one Omar's Lebanese that I had left to ripen completely on the vine (albeit naked of leaves and severely cropped). It weighed in at 22 ounces which sorta lessened the pain of losing them just before they had a chance to completely turn color. I placed the saved green ones in the basement and a few ripened on their own with no sign of blight. *Deep sigh of relief here*

Omar's Lebanese sliced At different stages of ripening. The color turns a deep red-pink.

This pink beefsteak tomato tastes more on the sweet side to me. The surprising thing about OL is that there was much more flesh in relation to seed pulp, but the tomato itself is very juicy. I'm more of a black or purple tomato person as I love the smoky flavor that they develop into, but I can't even remember my CP's having this higher ratio of flesh. This is a good one to end up in a blt or on top of a burger.

Omar's Lebanese wedges

Another thing about Omar's Lebanese is that the vines are incredibly robust! Maybe a little too much if you consider the "hemorrhoids" of the one below. Indefinite to the extremes in my garden - they just kept reaching for the sky. Heavy flower production but they were the last to set fruit. It's not common to use tomato cages in Italy (I've never even seen them here), so the only alternative is to use bamboo poles or stakes and fasten them with ties. Not sure how things would've worked out if there had been 2 to 4 pound fruit as I've seen mentioned by other gardeners. In any case, I don't intend to grow these again next year.

Tomato with hemorrhoids?

Average daytime temperature: 33°C / 91°F

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Blight on my tomatoes...arghghgh!

Tomato blight 2011

It was a massacre of the highest level on two fronts and all I can say is that I'm glad we didn't run off somewhere for vacation. [Cue Chopin's Funeral March] Those wretched weekly rainstorms and humidity became too much for the tomatoes, even if I thought I was doing a pretty good job of keeping the problem in check by snipping off infected leaves. I woke up to this full-blown case of blight on my Omar's Lebanese tomatoes and immediately went to work on pulling them out, every single one. I also had to trim heavily on the Cherokee Purple's, San Marzano's and cherry tomatoes, and they're looking naked without much leaf cover. Dammit...gardening can be so cruel. I saved all that I could but have no idea if it'll be worth the trouble. Better luck next year?

Tomatoes with blight

Are blighted tomatoes worth saving?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Thank Garden It's Friday: redless rhubarb

Rabarbaro | rhubarb

Five stalks...and only 2 ended up being usable. I've been keeping an eye on the lone rhubarb since the month of June, but it's clear that mine do not have any inclination whatsoever of losing their green color. Wait all you want ma'am...we are going to stay green until you are blue in the face. Of the 3 that were tossed, the stalks were fibrous with some tiny brown holes that were very obvious in the cross-section (bugs? worms?). If I'm lucky there might be enough left from the remaining stalks to make a rhubarb dessert. I'm tempted to just dig the whole thing out.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The eggplant that made me look twice

I wish I could say that these came straight out of my garden but the credit goes to a farm in Tuscany. Aren't they gorgeous? The label on the box described them as melanzana striata (striped eggplant), but these look alot like the Listada di Gandia eggplants that are spoken so highly of by just about every eggplant-loving person on the planet. I've never cooked this type although it's been said that the flesh is firm but turns into a wonderful creamy texture when done.

I almost squealed when I spotted these last night at Esselunga supermarket. Guess how much? Only 1.75€ for each 1.5 kilo (3lb 5oz) box, which, if I did the math right comes out to something like 75¢ per pound. SCORE!

And....not to be forgotten. Thank Garden It's Friday means a big deal to me this week - drum roll please - we have tomatoes! This is what happens when I gripe less than a week ago for only having a few cherry tomatoes - mother nature shoots back with nearly 4 pounds of cherokee purples to keep my mouth shut for awhile.

Quick, bust out the burrata!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Eat your greens!

Radish leaves on the verge of bolting

That is not something that my mother ever told me (she would give me “the look” instead), so if she were here to see how I eat now, I know she'd be thoroughly pleased. My 2nd sowing of radish seeds grew nicely despite the fickle weather, but for some reason the roots never developed into round orbs like the last batch. Instead, they were red and thin, and the leaves were the only ones taking off like wild. It might've been too nitrogen-rich where I planted (the sweet peas were there before them), or it could be the couple handfuls of horse manure pellets that I mixed in before sowing. In any case, I pulled them out for the compost and picked the youngest and most tender leaves for cooking. A good amount of the radish tops had already been nailed by cabbage moths and their offspring leaving all that tiny dark poop...

Heats shoots and leaves

From garden to table

Ever tried pumpkin or squash vine shoots? In Italy they're called tenerumi and I believe using them is more common in southern italian cooking. I picked a few off of the sicilian serpent squash to cook along with the radish tops and a hot chile pepper from the garden. The flavor of both the radish tops and pumpkin shoots is mild (no bitterness) and doesn't really stand out, but when cooked in olive oil and garlic, it makes a nice accompanying dish to braised pork shanks with rice or potatoes. We went heavy on the vegetables last night and I made some fava bean puree, a side dish of halved cherry tomatoes and thinly sliced rounds of raw zukes dressed in lemon juice, evoo and s&p - the later two from the garden which really felt like an accomplishment. An article by has great photos and video on edible pumpkin leaves.

Fave and braised greens

About the sicilian serpent squash...

A squash that turns into a snake

This is the first time trying to grow these but already I see that something wicked is at it again in the garden....a couple new holes found in the ground means the poison isn't doing all of them in. A third of the squash vines are dead - damn rodents!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Yeah, so 4 cherry tomatoes...

It happens every year. I start the tomatoes early indoors. I baby the seedlings to give them a good headstart. I gradually ease them to the outside world and do everything within my power so that I'll be able to harvest in mid-July, but this is all got TODAY. I'm not really complaining (can't change our higher altitude and cooler temps), I just would like the rest to ripen and ripen fast.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Green and purple mini kiwis next year?

Via Flickr:
Pergola problem solved. At first we weren't going to go with fruiting or flowering vines because of the insect invasion being so close to the house (the pergola is built right next to the south-facing window of the living room), but in the end our appetite for homegrown fruit won out.

These 2 young kiwi vines were purchased from Ingegnoli in Milan. One bears green, smooth-skinned kiwi - Issai - and the other bears purple-skinned fruit. Both are mini kiwis so they are edible straight off the vine.

Hardy kiwi plants

Saturday, July 23, 2011

It's mirabelle plum time!

Apricots and mirabelles
Apricot harvest: 1 pound. Plums from a couple weeks ago: 2 pounds too green.

Plums too soon and plums just right. We started picking them a couple of week ago and so far the total amounts to just under 19lbs (8.5 kilos). At first we did the shake-the-tree method, but unripened ones would also fall into the net. So we tried handpicking but that got too tedious since the fruit was ripening day by day. In the end I remembered the mango pickers that we had in Hawaii. Why not one for tiny plums? A small cloth sack was attached to one end of a bamboo pole and with a quick tug, plums were falling easily into a pouch.

Mirabelle plum picker

We love our fruit but this is way too much, and we don't know of anyone nearby that would appreciate this particular plum. I've even gone so far as to throw the bruised ones into the forest for the squirrels.

Mirabelles 2011
Recent harvest, perfectly ripe.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Thank Garden It's Friday

Tomato selection 2011

From the look of what's predicted for the next 2 weeks, it appears that we'll be going through a big rainstorm atleast once every 7 days. A storm complete with small hailstones swept through the area a couple days ago, but this time the garden sustained no serious damages. I'm surprised that not even a tomato lost it's grip, seeing how some of the apricots from my neighbor's tree gave way to gravity after being tossed around in the gusts. Not much of a harvest other than almost 5 pounds of mirabelle plums that were picked too early. We figured that shaking the tree would only release the ripe ones, but we ended up with more than half that were still on the tart side and not yet a nice yellow color.

Tying up zuke plants

I did some work today in the garden which included tying the zucchini plants to a stake in order to keep them off the ground (and free up some space). I've seen this done in a few gardens here. The plants look awkward at first but in a day they are spreading their leaves up toward the sun. The image above shows one that has adjusted to its new vertical pattern while the other was just staked upright today. So far no more root damage from mice but I keep seeing new holes so they are still hanging around. It's incredible that they haven't touched the beets. I picked these this morning for part of tonight's roasted veggie dinner.

This is gonna be part of dinner

The plant for this immature Omar's Lebanese tomato was the last to fill out and grow. It now stands at about 7 feet tall and already hitting the hail netting above it. I may just have to lop off the tops, then all energy can go to the developing fruit. A reviewer on Baker Creek Heirloom says that these pink tomatoes resemble small pumpkins???

Omar's Lebanese

I also came upon these two amorous ladybugs this morning. Who needs senseless tv when you can appreciate nature doing its thang.

In the event of an error message, the video can be viewed here:

Monday, July 11, 2011

Thunder, lightning and hailstones big as your fist

Thank garden it's Monday because last week was a disaster. On Thursday evening a wicked storm whipped through the lake area, inconveniencing commuters heading home after work (one driver said his car sustained major damage from a large hailstone) and causing a couple of minor landslides. We returned home from grocery shopping to find a small amount of debris on the property, but the worst was losing the young nespola/japanese medlar; it had snapped completely in two right at the base.

I'm thankful that there was no other serious damage and the Friday after plus ensuing weekend was spent clearing up a mess of broken tomato branches and righting the young corn that had blown over. Surprisingly the apricot and japanese pear trees held fast, with only one apricot losing its grip. However, neither of the two are ready to eat because even after that stormy beating, they're both as hard as rocks.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Thank Garden It's Friday

Picking up from where I left off on Monday... Zucchini plant death by mutilation, or should I say root-ilation seems to have stopped, but only after my husband put poison bait down the varmint chute on Tuesday evening (and losing yet another zucchini earlier that morning). So far the remaining bushes have been left alone but then again on Thursday I found my single pattypan squash looking dead and sans roots. I don't know what else to think except I hope that they'll atleast leave the sicilian squash alone?

Red gooseberry

And now, this week's harvest - 7 ounces of red gooseberries (uva spina). I'm glad that nothing - bird, insect or even rodent - got to them, so I'm thinking why not add a few more bushes and eventually there'll be enough to make jam. They keep for several days in the fridge and are great in a fruit salad, but I'm curious to know if they're also good candidates for dehydrating. Everything else is doing fine in the garden, even the two different types of melons I have growing (Collective Farm Woman and Noir des Carmes). My favorite view, however, is across the fence into my neighbor's yard. His apricots are about ready to be harvested while I'm still waiting for ours to turn that beautiful color.

The melon patch

Mirko's apricot tree

Monday, June 27, 2011

Now here's a part of a zucchini plant worth tasting

Zucchini plant with roots bitten off

That would be the young growth in the center of the bush: buds, tiny zukes, stems and even leaves. By chance I discovered that in southern Italy, the edible part of a zucchini plant can be more than what you buy at the market.

One of the 8 zucchini plants was looking stressed and on closer inspection the whole thing lifted right out of the ground with zero root system attached. An empty hole with a tunnel leading downwards marked the spot where the zucchini had once flourished. Field mice, arm yourselves (for I am certain that it isn't the work of moles), you're about to engage in battle.

I was more than a little peeved upon finding this but when I saw that a little frugality never hurts if you don't mind a little work, the first thing I wanted to do was to salvage enough of the plant for dinner. Apparently nothing goes to waste for southern italian farmers, and the blog Sud Italia in Cucina proves this point in a very interesting demonstration on what to do with an excess of plants. The young tender leaves, stalks, unopened buds and young unfertilized female fruit go straight into a vegetable dish fragrant with onions and tomatoes. The stalks are cut into segments and the fibrous outer strings pulled off, like de-stringing beans.

Zuke sauce of buds, stems and leaves

I sauteed thinly sliced onions, some minced garlic and a finely chopped hot chile pepper in a small amount of olive oil. Add a spoonful or two of chunky tomato sauce and the prepped zucchini bits and pieces. Cook on medium flame until the stems and leaves have softened (add a bit of water or white wine if the mixture dries out too much). Season to taste with salt and pepper. I added this to egg tagliatelle, sprinkled some grated pecorino on top and it was delicious!

Zuke pasta with buds, stems and leaves

Friday, June 24, 2011

Thank Garden It's Friday

Lavender corner, originally uploaded by Rubber Slippers In Italy.

When I look at our lavender bushes I pretend that I'm in Provence. A little bit of goat cheese, white wine, some olives, easy it is to create an entirely different world in your head with a few key ingredients!

The month of June has yielded a little bit of this and a little bit of that, but as soon as July's heat kicks in, I expect to have more photos for TGIF. The first few weeks of the month were cloudy with steady bouts of rain, averaging 55-60°F temps at midday. Not good for the buzzing pollination team so if I am certain that a female flower hasn't been pollinated (there were only females at one point), I cut off the young zukes and use them in a saute. I haven't even harvested a kilo of zucchini yet although the markets have been flooded with them.

Green, green, green, green
Striped zucchini, snowpeas, shiso and peppermint.