June 26, 2014
Yesterday I cut off all the scapes from the garlic plants in my garden. This is done so the plants put their entire energy into the bulbs.
Garlic scapes are delicious but I can use only that many at a time. No reason to discard the rest, though! The chopped scapes are a great addition to soups, stir fries and other dishes so I freeze them.
I chop the stalks in the food processor (only briefly, otherwise it becomes a pulp), pack them into ice-cube trays, and put them in the freezer. Once they are solidly frozen, I carefully remove them from the ice-cube trays and put them in freezer bags. I double-bag them so the garlicky cubes don’t give off their smell to the other freezer contents. If the scapes are already very long and advanced, I also cut off the hard, fibrous ends. The part of the stalk that breaks easily in two is tender enough to eat.
As for cooking with fresh scapes, see my recipes here.
June 15, 2014
These days I do not only go down to my garden to check on things. I go there to take in the scent of the mock orange next to the garden. When it is not blooming, it is an unspectacular sight but its blossoms with their intoxicating fragrance make mock orange one of my favorite shrubs.
When I smell mock orange, I feel transported back to my Tunisian grandmother’s elevated courtyard garden, which had a couple of orange trees. My grandmother died thirty years ago yet when I stand under the blooming shrub I remember it as clearly as ever.
To let the lovely fragrance linger for longer, when I walk back to the house I usually stick a twig with blossoms behind my ear, like the jasmine vendors do in Tunisia. And, of course, I cut a few twigs to put in a vase or to float in a bowl of water.
Mock orange (Philadelphus lewisii) is easy to grow. I started mine from a root sucker taken from a friend’s huge bush that must be 50 years old. It needs space though, it can grow up to 10 feet high and wide and once established, it grows quickly. Mock orange is native to the Western US.
I cannot grow oranges in my garden but I can have a mock orange. And in the winter, I often make Tunisian Orange Cake, dreaming of the time when the mock orange will bloom again.
May 10, 2014
It does not happen too often that I see something and have the instant, burning desire to own it. Yet when I first saw a terracotta rhubarb forcer in a magazine a few years ago I wanted one. Not only would it supply us with rhubarb from the garden several weeks earlier, the tall cloche just looked beautiful, like an ancient relic in the garden.
I have always loved rhubarb. As a child in Germany I ate it until my teeth hurt, preferably with Dr. Oetker vanilla pudding, ice-cold from the fridge and straight from the serving bowl. Rhubarb was one of the first things I planted when I started my kitchen garden ten years ago.
Unable to find a rhubarb forcer for sale, I looked into getting one from the UK where rhubarb forcers originate. Most of the world’s rhubarb forcing is done in the “Rhubarb Triangle” in Yorkshire, where it is grown in special forcing sheds.
It would have been prohibitively expensive to have a heavy and fragile 2-feet high rhubarb forcer shipped to the US. My attempts to find a local pottery that could make one also ended nowhere. This spring, I finally gave up on the rhubarb forcer. However, not on the idea of rhubarb forcing!
I bought a large round black plastic tub for 5 dollars. Although not a pretty sight in my garden, it did the job. And if I am perfectly honest to myself this was the best solution anyway; the terracotta would not have withstood our cold winters, and I would have to haul the beast to the frost-free basement every year.
Terracotta rhubarb forcers have lids, so they are not airtight. I burned two small holes in the bottom of the tub with a nail heated over a lighter and placed the tub over one of my two rhubarb plants when the ground was still frozen in March. Then I tucked a thick layer of straw around the tub and placed a rock on top so it would not blow over.
As the ground thawed and the rhubarb crowns of both plants broke through the soil, I could not see much difference between them at the beginning. Of course I went to check on my rhubarb almost daily. Then the forced plant took off. It was fascinating to see the pale rose-colored stalks with neon-yellow leaves grow almost overnight. I gave both plants half a cup of balanced organic fertilizer, like I always do in the spring.
Yesterday I harvested the forced rhubarb and removed the tub for good. I was a bit concerned that the rhubarb might get sun scald so I intentionally chose to do this when the weather forecast said the next few days would be at least partially cloudy. Exposed to light, the leaves will turn green again.
Because forcing is tough on the plant, not all the stalks should be harvested. I only removed the thickest stalks, about one-third of the plant. Also, rhubarb that has been forced cannot be harvested again that same year, and a plant should not be forced two years in a row, some sources even say not more than once altogether.
My favorite method of preparing rhubarb sauce is baking it in the oven. I followed my recipe on this blog, using only 2¼ pounds trimmed rhubarb stalks and 1¼ cups sugar. No extra liquid is needed; the forced rhubarb stalks contain much more moisture than regularly grown rhubarb. I would therefore not use the forced rhubarb for pies or crumbles because I am afraid it would make them soggy.
For rhubarb sauce, on the other hand, the forced rhubarb is superb. It has a subtle rhubarb flavor, much less of the “furry teeth” feeling after eating it, and it melts in your mouth.
If I want to force rhubarb again, I will need to plant more. I will decide about that after I see how the forced plant is recovering. I am glad I tried forcing rhubarb this year. After an endless winter that pushed the growing season back at least three weeks on our windy hilltop, being able to enjoy the first rhubarb from the garden now is wonderful.
With every spoonful of the rosy rhubarb sauce I can taste that spring has finally arrived.
Photos by Ted Rosen
March 30, 2014
Starting to plan the garden (finally!) also means using up what’s in the freezer. And that contains several bags of frozen grated zucchini from last year’s bumper crop, more than I could possibly turn into zucchini pancakes without getting really tired of them.
Spreads, slowly roasted in the oven, are usually a great way to use up lots of tomatoes or bell peppers. As I was mixing up the ingredients for my Cherry Tomato Spread and the oven was preheating, I thought I could try to make a spread with those grated zucchini, and also use up half a pound of crimini that I had forgotten in the fridge, as zucchini and mushrooms are a good combination.
I was surprised the mushrooms held up so well. They came from a local mushroom farm I wrote about in my new blog column at Fig Bethlehem.
The spread is a keeper, which translates into: We will be eating less zucchini pancakes in the next few weeks.
Zucchini Mushroom Spread
Zucchini, especially when garden-fresh, contain a lot of liquid that needs to be removed, otherwise you’ll end up with a cooked rather than a roasted spread. To defrost the frozen zucchini, I placed them in the uncovered Dutch oven while the oven preheated, then squeezed out the liquid over a fine sieve.
1¾ pounds grated zucchini (about 6 cups), fresh or frozen
½ pound crimini mushrooms, cleaned and chopped
3 tablespoons pesto
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon thick Balsamic vinegar (I used pomegranate Balsamic vinegar)
Freshly ground pepper
You also need:
A small cast-iron Dutch oven
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Squeeze the zucchini to remove most of the liquid. You should have about 2 cups zucchini. In a bowl mix zucchini, mushrooms, pesto and olive oil.
3. Put mixture in a Dutch oven or other cast-iron pot and cook covered in the preheated oven for 1 hour, stirring regularly and scraping down the sides to prevent it from sticking.
4. Remove from the oven and cool slightly. Add Balsamico, salt and pepper to taste. Fill in an airtight container, pour a little bit of olive oil on top to seal, and refrigerate.
Makes 1 cup