berry busy planting…stay tuned

No time to write.  Too busy fending off a sore throat, dodging raindrops, fixing supports, getting in those last few plants, weeding, etc. before the papers come in and grades are due.  Enjoy this photo of my currant bush.  I do wonder why one bush is full of berries, and the other (about 3-4 feet away) doesn’t have any.  Weren’t they the same cultivar?  They don’t look alike.  Uh oh.

But I won’t complain.

Neither will I complain about this, my pretty, the first crop of the year.  The haskap berries are ripening!  Not sure why I shot the only berry that was damaged, but you get the picture.  Pretty soon I will have enough to make jam, hopefully before I leave.

The ripe berries look like elongated blueberries and taste tart and sweet, like a cross between a cranberry and a raspberry, or maybe a slightly unripe loganberry.

I managed to withhold buying blueberries (yet again) and some rather promising, if not exactly upright as advertised, huckleberries.

My tayberries are also yearning to break free; I actually have berries the size of my pinky tip.  They might be even earlier than the black caps.

Can’t wait for jam season, for summer to be here.  Enough with this rain, already!

culinaria capsicum: peppers 2011

I finally planted the dozen peppers I bought (mostly from Jeff’s Garden of Eaton, and absolutely worth the trip out River Road) a couple of weeks ago. The soil’s not quite built up enough in the front bed, so I had to dig clay out and fill the holes with better soil.  Not too much fun in the rain.  But the peppers are large and beautiful, and I was able to score the same Hungarian varieties that did well last year, plus a number of new ones, including a Turkish pepper and an Ethiopian berebere.  Here are the varieties I’ve planted for 2011.  What are you planting?

Culinaria Capsicum 2011

  • Aji Crystal
    Capsicum annuum. Originally from Curico, Chile. Very heavy set of 3½” long fruits on large 3′ plants. Waxy fruits ripen light green to yellow to reddish-orange. Excellent spicy citrus flavor is best when immature, great for salsa. 90 days from transplant. HOT.
  • Ancho 101
    Capsicum annuum. When fresh and still green, these mildly hot, heart-shaped peppers are stuffed and made into chiles rellenos. When mature they are dark, rust red, richly flavored, and often dried and ground into chili powder. Peppers become 4 inches long, tapering to a blunt point. Wrinkled skin takes on even more character when dried. May be strung into long ropes or made into wreaths. 76 to 80 days.
  • Berebere Hot
    Capsicum annuum. Medium size plant produces good yields of 3-5″ long by 0.75″-1″ wide medium heat with thick flash uprihgt fruits, ripen from green to coffee brown. Origin: Ethiopia.
  • Black Hungarian
    Capsicum annuum. Unique, black-colored fruit that are the shape of a Jalapeno. They are mildly hot and have a delicious flavor. The tall plants have beautiful purple flowers. Rare and colorful! 75 days.
  • Chilhuacle Negro
    Capsicum annuum. This prized and very expensive chile is, like the related chilhuacle amarillo, grown commercially only in southern Mexico. Shiny, dark, mahogany in color, and shaped like a miniature bell pepper or almost heart shaped. Measures about 2 to 3 inches long and the same across at the shoulders. One of the most flavorful of all chiles, it has a deep, intense fruit flavor, with tones of dried plum, tobacco, and licorice, and a subtle, spicy heat. Used to make the black mole sauces that are a specialty of the Oaxaca region.
  • Facing Heaven
    Capsicum annuum. An essential chile for authentic Szechuan cuisine. Cone-shaped, medium-hot chili pepper with very thin skin, between 3 and 6 centimeters in length, and 1 to 2 centimeters in diameter at the base. Originally from Sichuan province in Southwest China, it owes its name to the fact that it grows upside down. When lightly fried in oil it turns radiant red and loses enough of its heat to allow for it to be eaten whole.
  • Gatherer’s Gold Italian Sweet
    70 days. A gorgeous, golden variation of the quintessential, sweet Italian frying pepper. Long, tapered, smooth-skinned fruit are sweet and tasty with relatively few seeds. Fruits remain golden even at full maturity and are superb fried or raw. Large, vigorous plants.
  • Giant Szegedi
    Capsicum annuum. Originally from Hungary, this wedge-shaped sweet pepper starts out white then deepens to orange and red when fully ripe. Pendant fruit is about 4-1/2 inches long with thick, sweet flesh, and is produced in great abundance, even when weather is cooler or conditions are less than ideal. 75 days.
  • Manzano/Rocoto Yellow
    Capsicum pubescens. Black seeds, purple blooms & “hairy” plant are unique to this species (Capsicum pubescens). Rocotos grow in the Andean cloud forest and can live for many years if protected from hard frosts.The thick-fleshed 2-3″ pods resemble apples, are very hot but have a delicious flavor reminiscent of apricots. Uses include salsas, hot sauce, chutneys and rellenos. Can be dried or smoked.
  • Szegedi Paprika
    Capsicum annuum. Another sweet paprika pepper from Hungary. Red, tapered fruits.
  • Tunisian Baklouti
    Capsicum annuum. The traditional pepper of Tunisia. Large red, tapering pods have a wonderful hot flavor, but tend to get more mild with cooking. An essential ingredient in harissa sauce. Delicious flavor that is perfect with couscous, and other wonderful North African dishes.

roasted new potatoes with fennel green dressing

Need. Green. This dish is transitional, perfectly balanced between the two seasons vying for control over the PNW.  Darkness or light?  Stay tuned, dear farmers.

The new potatoes were roasted at a temperature higher than I usually choose, 425 degrees, which is really too hot unless you intervene in some way.  This is did by adding just a ladleful of chicken stock with my usual olive oil and herb slick to the potatoes just before I popped them into the oven.  Then I forgot about them, so they roasted longer than usual, steaming then caramelizing with the stock.  They emerged as chocolate brown, perfectly roasted, tiny little things.

The dressing was a salad, really.  In my garden, I had thinned out some shallots and a fennel stalk that was in the way, so I chopped them up together and tossed them with the potatoes, just out of the oven.  Dressed with a bit of olive oil and tarragon vinegar, they were just the thing for this still-tentative spring.

niblets: what shall i put in the hole that i dig edition

What shall I put in the hole that I dig is a question for the ages.  This 1963 children’s classic by Eleanor Thompson offers a series of questions about what things can be planted and turned into trees.  But forget the whole appleseed/apple tree nature learning crap.  Too many possibilities for a teasing big sister:  What shall I put in the hole that I dig? If I put my sister in, will it grow into a weirdo tree?  Etc.

So if I haven’t called you back or graded your paper yet, this is what’s been on my mind.  Yes, spring fever has hit!

Digging holes and putting things in them will be on the minds of all Eugenius gardeners this weekend.

Wondering about next steps?

Finish weeding.  I assume you already have your soil amended and most of your weeding under control, but if not, you’ll want to do this soon before the last of the rain goes away.  Once we get that last shower, the clay soil bakes the weed roots in, often in just a matter of a few days.  To help, consider Grandpa’s Weeder.  This standing weeder has been recommended to me by several people (0ver similar products, too).  They might have them back in stock at Down to Earth now, or will be shortly.

Get ghetto.  Those empty plastic bags from compost/soil/mulch are great to put on the ground so your knees don’t get wet and muddy.  I find them much better than the scrawny little pads, since there’s more room to move around on the bags, and they can accommodate, um, more generous knees.

Get some ideas about how to improve your chicken coop TODAY! May 21 is the annual Tour de Coop — buy your guides to the self-guided tour of local chicken coops at The Eugene Backyard Farmer.

Check out this link from NW Edible Life for creative pea and bean trellises in operation in Seattle.

Call in to the Master Gardeners of Lane County Extension.  The hotline is up and running, and the new office handles walk-ins.  Ask weed, bug, and disease questions, what to plant, and how to fix what’s gone wrong at 783 Grant Street, between Garfield and Chambers. Hours of operation: Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. and 2-5 p.m.  Master Gardener Hotline: 541-344-0265.

Subscribe to our Extension Agent Ross Penhallegon’s “Garden Hints” group on Facebook for up-to-the-minute advice on what and when to plant in Lane County.  It’s almost like a telegraphic weather service, noting upcoming forecasts and how various South Valley crops are doing.  Get this man on Twitter!

Listen to Pat Patterson’s radio show, The Hatch Patch, on KPNW (1120 AM) from 9-noon on Saturdays.  Pat, the Master Gardener that the Master Gardeners turn to for advice, has encyclopedic knowledge about our area’s flora and fauna.  The radio program has a FAQ for PNW gardeners on their website, including info about moss on roofs and tomato blossom end rot.  (Note: this is the station that hosts Glenn Beck, so be sure to turn your radio off after Pat.)

Buy warm weather starts and start to transition them to your garden.  The most fabulous developments in Eugene gardening in 2011, as far as I’m concerned, are:

  • Log House Plants‘ grafted vegetables, selections of which are available at Jerry’s and that bookstore in Cottage Grove whose name I am forgetting.  Wonderful, fragile heirlooms grafted onto hearty stock for admittedly high prices, but it’s worth a try at least a plant or two in this miserable (so far) season.
  • Jeff’s Garden of Eaton‘s amazing selection of tomatoes, hot and sweet peppers, and winter squash.  I went out to his place yesterday and picked up a dozen or so peppers, mostly Hungarian varieties that we can’t find anywhere else, but also some Sichuan ‘Facing Heaven’ pepper plants — peppers I’ve been searching for ALL OVER THE WORLD — and the peppers they use to make Ethiopian berebere spice and Turkish harissa.  The photo above is one Jeff sent me last week of my Facing Heavens as they were growing at his place.  It was like one of those adoption agencies where you get photos of the darling baby or puppy that will one day soon be yours.  Come home to mama!  Jeff’s plants are available at the The Hideaway Bakery Farmer’s Market (the Other Saturday Farmer’s Market), which is located behind Mazzi’s Restaurant on East Amazon in South Eugene from 9-2 p.m., and at his home in Santa Clara (2650 Summer Lane off River Road — look for the giant greenhouse in front!) most days from noon to 6 p.m. through June.
  • Lonesome Whistle beans, available at the downtown Farmer’s Market on Saturdays.  It’s perfectly fine to plant dried beans now.  Just sprout them under a wet paper towel for a couple of days first.

Or just say forget it and go down to Marché Provisions for a bottle of dry rosé, spring’s hottest drink, to drink on your weedy, unplanted patio.  Wine buyer Ryan Dawe-Stotz is a rosé fanatic, so he’s a great resource for consultation. I had my first glass yesterday, so take notice, winter, it’s all over for  you.

chop chop!

We’ve been eating copious amounts of salad.  When lettuce gets tiring, and it soon does, consider a spring vegetable chopped salad.  This one is grilled chicken, breakfast radishes, carrots, garlic chives, two kinds of arugula flowers, and parsley.  Toss with any salad dressing — ours was a tarragon vinaigrette.  And an asparagus chaser.

it doesn’t get more cheesy than this

My charcuterer friend Del has started making farmstead cheese for Paul and his crew at Laughing Stock Farm in the rolling hills south of Eugene.  It’s only for their consumption, alas, because of regulations about raw milk and related issues relative to cheese making.  But the dairy production by the farm and neighbors, plus the commercial grade equipment and facilities that Paul already has in place from many years of goat cheese making provides awesome materials to play with for culinary mad geniuses like Del.

We started the day with over a hundred pounds of fresh cow milk from a neighboring farm and freshly distilled rennet.  Sheep gamboled among apple blossoms.  Curious barn cats eyed our wares.  Pigs squealed in the barns, eager for whey.  A herd of goats came passing by our trailer, fresh from milking.  Chickens laid eggs ’til it hurt.  A neighbor came by to discuss gathering herbs for herbal tonic, the dregs of a pilsner batch, and canning tuna.  A venerable basset hound kept court over the entire proceedings.  In short, it was just another day at the farm.

Making cheese is fascinating, and I hope to have many opportunities to hone my own skills this summer, if Del will have me back.  I’ve taken a few cheesemaking classes with the Extension Master Food Preservers, and even taught cheese demos (reminding one of the old professor joke: read it? I haven’t even taught it!) but my knowledge is very limited and largely text-based.  So why not test it out with a giant stockpot filled to the rim with milk in an ingenious hot water bath that uses a pump and immersible heating element to keep the milk at temperature?  Gouda enough for me.

Once the curds and whey were separated and the curds condensed into those squeaky little nuggets that are so fun to eat, Del set to pressing the curds into molds with an industrial strength metal press.  It’s an amazing device made out of stainless steel bars and a clamp.  I had seen smaller versions, much smaller versions, but this was for the big boys.

Before, the stuff of Miss Muffet’s dreams.

After the first press.  The cheese is flipped over and returned to the mold, where it is pressed again, then salted and cured in Del’s lovely cheese and sausage cave.

Can’t wait to taste the results!

teff chocolate chip cookies to convert the masses

My creative bone is broken, and I just couldn’t come up with a funny name for these delicious cookies.  Tefferonis?  Teffnuts?  Tefferdoodles? Teffochippers? Terreffics?

See? Broken.

But the important thing is that they taste good and the texture is more interesting than regular wheat flour chocolate chip cookies. The teff flour is not husky like whole wheat; it’s rather more sandy or gritty in an appealing way because the hulls are so much smaller than wheat.

And small is the name of the game.  Teff is like quinoa or millet that shops in the petite section.  It’s an ancient, nutritive grain grown in Ethiopia…and now the Willamette Valley!  We’ve had access to Bob’s Red Mill teff for quite some time now, but Tom Hunton of Eugene’s Camas Country Mill has decided to try growing it, with great success.

I’ve described my own battles with injera, an Ethiopian flatbread made of teff, and I’ve heard that teff makes a good “enhanced” brownie, but I’m happy to report there’s a new teff recipe in town.  Tom was distributing a peanut butter chocolate chip cookie recipe with his flour on sale at the Saturday farmers market in Eugene.  He said it was provided to him by Heidi Tunnell of catering/barn dinner fame.

Sounded good to me, so I took it home and changed up a few things to allow for what I had in the refrigerator.  There are quite a few versions of this cookie on the internet (I think it originally was printed on the Bob’s Red Mill teff flour bag), so if you don’t have these ingredients on hand, look for an adaption that suits you.

My biggest change was using almond butter instead of the peanut butter called for in the recipe, and I added just a touch more oil, since I was worried about the difference in consistency and fat mouthfeel between crunchy almond butter and, say, a conventional peanut butter.  I find the cookies really sweet already, and adding regular peanut butter would tip the scale into unpleasantness for me (but take this with a grain of salt, o sugareaters).  This didn’t stop me from adding more chocolate chips, though, since the 1/2 cup originally called for seemed more of a tease than anything.  Use the strongly flavored Grade B maple syrup (often called ‘pure’) instead of the more buttery and milder Grade A that we’re used to consuming or the processed crap like Mrs. Butterworth, because it provides a nice mapley edge to the cookie.

These cookies would be vegan if you could figure out another option for the chocolate chips, but I wouldn’t mess with that.  But no butter, no eggs.

The best thing about these cookies is that you can seduce healthy people with them, and still enjoy them yourself.  Win win.  And surely a better name will make them yet more appealing.

Almond Butter Chocolate Chip Teff Cookies

Yield: 3-4 dozen

  • 1- 1/2 cup teff flour (not grains, which are tiny but not tiny enough to be flour)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup freshly ground natural almond butter
  • 1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil (don’t omit)
  • 1 cup pure (Grade B) maple syrup
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Combine flour, salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl.  In a larger bowl, combine almond butter, vegetable oil, and syrup, mixing well.

Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients slowly, mixing in with a fork, just until incorporated.  Cover and chill bowl of dough several hours in the refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  On two cookie sheets lined with a sheet of parchment paper, drop dough balls about the size of a ping pong ball (~ one rounded tablespoon) two inches apart from each other.  Flatten each ball with your fork, making a decorative criss-cross pattern on the top.

Bake for 11-13 minutes or until bottom is lightly brown and cookie holds together when you try to gently lift it from the sheet.  Better to underbake than overbake, but be sure the center is not too wet.

Cool on a wire rack.

in which she yearns for an egg biscuit and ends up with pickles

I saw a photo yesterday on PartyCart’s Facebook page and was struck by longing at 7 a.m.  WHY aren’t they open for breakfast, whined I, why?

Luckily, they were very much open when I swung back around at 3, and I was able to buy the egg biscuit with Southern braised greens, housemade pancetta, and tomato jam that I had been craving.  And I even got to take my own photo, if slightly less luscious looking.  If you haven’t been to PartyCart, go.  It’s in the Healthy Pet parking lot at 28th and Friendly, across the street from J-Tea (whom, I see, has a new blog).  Friendly neighborhood representing, yo!

As I was musing on eggs and happenstance, a gentleman (background of photo above) offered me a taste of his friend’s bread and butter pickle chips.  Although I’ve learned the interesting way not to accept sweets from strange men, I threw caution to the wind and I’m glad I did.  (It also helped that the gentleman was the boyfriend of one of the cart parties, and I’m all for supporting local picklers.)

Wow.  Spicy, sweet, classic bread and butter cucumber pickles, made locally and deliciously by a man seeking to diversify from his contracting work.  You can support his endeavors by ordering some at Kurzhal Family Pickles, 541.517.7302, or inquire at the cart to show your interest.  The jalapeño provides a healthy bite, be warned, but I haven’t tasted better bread and butters.

where the bee sucks, there suck i

Happy Mother’s Day to my mama, who gave me enough literal and figurative space to stretch out.  I wouldn’t be a gardener or a cook if it weren’t for you.

One of my happiest childhood memories was watching the cycle of life on our property.  For me, the new year started with lilacs. I would pluck off the little blossoms and suck in the lilac pollen from the little tube for a hit of pure, uncut lilac blow.  Probably should have tipped someone off that I wasn’t that interested in reproducing.  But still.  It’s hard for me to even imagine the true glory of that towering lilac hedge that ran a length of the property line when I look at my fledgling ‘My Favorite’ lilac  bushes now.  These hybrids were developed by Hulda Klager, she of lilac development fame, and the flowers do kind of look like “purple popcorn,” as the article suggests.  I’ve been waiting for three years for them to bloom for the first time.  Behold their purple popcorn power!

tomatoes 2011

And the winners are:

  • Black Krim: I grew this last year in our terrible tomato year and it was the most stalwart and generous producer.  Small to medium-sized pinky brown tomatoes, not the prettiest but the flavor was great and they continued to ripen on the vine late into the fall.
  • Marbella: New variety for Territorial.  Heart-shaped red main season tomato.  A workhorse, I hope.
  • Chocolate Stripes (grafted tomato): I thought I’d shell out 4-5 times as much for a grafted tomato this year just to try it out.  A sucker born every minute.  But I couldn’t find this particular variety anywhere else in town, so it’s worth a try!
  • Amish Paste (3): Yield and plant health for these paste tomatoes are not as good as my favorite variety so far, Saucey, but the taste was much better off the vine and in sauce.  Also problem with blossom end rot, which I’ll preempt this year if I can.  If it’s a bust this year, then next year I’ll try Opalka.
  • Green Zebra: My husband has been begging for these for years.  Probably easier to grow and better yield than the big ol’ heirloom greens I’ve been babying.
  • Sungold: Goes without saying.
  • Japanese Black Trifele: I really like black tomatoes, as you can see.
  • New Hampshire Red Pickling:  Abundant Life says this little red pear tomato has a thick wall and smoky flavor that holds up for pickling. I found information about its hybridization here:

Some tomato growers in southern New Hampshire produce green tomatoes for pickles. The variety Red Pear which has been used for this purpose has an indeterminate plant with fruits distributed at some distance along the stems. The cost of harvesting green tomatoes for pickles is comparatively high because of uneven maturity of fruits. For this reason, we decided to produce a red-pear tomato on a determinate vine which would be earlv and which would produce a large crop at one time so that the cost of production could be reduced. The ordinary red-pear tomato was crossed with Fargo Yellow Pear, a variety produced some years ago at North Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station.

The F^ -hybrids had a long vine and red fruits, and were productive and early. Seed from them gave many kinds of plants: some were determinate, some long, some with red fruit, some with yellow, some with uniform fruit color and some with fruits having green butts, some late, and some early. Selections were made from the early fruiting types with a fairly small, pear-shaped, red tomato. Since this is a comparatively simple breeding project, only two calendar years were required to complete it, during which time one generation was raised in the field each year and two in the greenhouse. The final result is New Hampshire Red Pickling Tomato from which one can pick a thousand tomatoes of pickling size per plant at one time. The variety has met with favor (Albert F. Yeager and Elwyn M. Meader, UNH Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin 440 June 1957).

If any of these don’t work out, I’ve also got my neighbor’s saved-seed Cherokee Purple seedlings, which seem to yield more and more each year (perhaps thanks to cross-pollination with my Frankensteins.)

By the way, it’s still a touch early in the Willamette Valley to be planting tomatoes, especially with this cold wet weather.  I’m keeping the seeds warm and dry in a sheltered area for another week or so.

Other tomato varieties to consider for Eugeniuses: Celebrity, Legend, Taxi, Black Cherry, Early Girl, Brandywine.  I’ve never been impressed by any of the ultra- or extra-early varieties, or any of the Italian plums, as far as taste goes.