beet box: over 30 ways to serve the ruby orbs in your refrigerator crisper

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Having been rather beeten down by a mountain of beets, I turned to my Facebook readers, who generously suggested some new and thrilling recipes for this unmistakable vegetable.

Most of my own favorite recipes, unsurprisingly, minimize the sweetness and hail from Eastern European roots.  These include the spectacular molded Russian chopped beet, herring, vegetable, and egg salad called Herring under a Fur Coat that Portland’s Kachka has made fashionable again.  Or perhaps my Polish-style grated salad of sauerkraut, apple, carrot and beet (mixed at table).  And I always have on hand beet kvass to sip or fortify cold borschts.

But shall we head over to India with a beet raita and pickled mustard-seed beet stem relish instead?

If none of my recipes appeal, you might like some of these:

  • Similar in style to beet kvass, you might try fermented beet pickles.
  • Nutritionist Yaakov Levine suggests a simple raw salad of cups grated raw beets, juice of one lemon, 2 tbsp of olive oil and a pinch of fresh dill.
  • A cumin-scented, grated beet quinoa with chickpeas?  Why not?
  • The Master Food Preservers turned me on to this beet chocolate cake at a potluck.
  • Cinnamon-poached beets, which are braised in liquid with cinnamon sticks.
  • “Dirt candy!” said one reader, recommending roasting simply. Some folks use olive oil, and some use butter, plus salt and pepper.  I always add thyme, and orange zest if I have it, when I’m roasting beets in foil.  It’s a great shortcut to peeling beets, as well, since the skins slip right off after roasting.
  • My favorite recipe is a warm salad that uses light-colored beets, parsnips, a fruity vinegar, and plenty of grated ginger.
  • Chef Yotam Ottolenghi does beets, I am told, with tomatoes, preserved lemons, roasted red peppers and more. The word in the Math-Science library on campus is “It’s delicious.”
  • Beet salad with walnuts and feta or a walnut oil vinaigrette, adding rosemary and/or parsley, or go more exotic with a:
  • Moroccan-style beet salad with mint, grapefruit, and red onion, or Lebanese-style with pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, and mint.
  • Belly’s delicious beet, red cabbage, capers, creme fraiche and mint chopped salad is a must in early spring as soon as the mint comes up. Here’s my version with fennel fronds.
  • Or get even more creative with your pomegranate molasses and try Chef Chris DeBarr’s “Beet the Day ravioli,” which is a name I just made up: “Roast ‘em (yellow ones give the best illusion of pasta), peel ‘em, slice ‘em as thinly as possible, whip soft chèvre with truffles (peelings are okay, but I frown on truffle oil), stuff a good dab of the trufflicious goat cheese on a round, top with another thin round.  In the restaurant we took it next level by briefly heating the faux ravioli in a hot oven in avocado oil (cuz it is more heat stable than olive oil and rich yet neutral in taste), finishing with pomegranate molasses and red wine syrup from Sardinia called saba, and sprinkled with pink Himalayan salt…but you can just use the inexpensive pom molasses and call it a day.”  OK, will do!
  • In Australia, my friend and fellow travel writer Richard Sterling recounts, they put a slice of beet on a cheeseburger, reminding me of:
  • PartyDowntown’s beet ketchup for winter months when tomatoes aren’t in season.
  • Chopped beets with brown butter, ricotta, and pistachio as a topping for thick short pasta shapes was suggested, and I heartily agree: the beet/soft white cheese/pistachio is one of my favorite flavor and color combinations. See, for example, Melissa Clark of the NYT’s recipe here. Or take a hint from 900 Wall restaurant in Bend, which turns the pistachio into a pesto and serves the beets and cheese à la caprese.
  • Another pasta recipe you might try includes chopped beets, Oregon blue cheese from Rogue creamery, and beet greens sauteed in a little olive oil.
  • Beets and grains go well together. I remember having a wonderful wafer-thin raw beet and emmer wheatberry salad with goat cheese, showered with sesame and sunflower seeds, at Sitka and Spruce in Seattle a few years ago.  Or sample, as a reader suggested, a beet risotto with goat cheese and hazelnuts.
  • And if all else fails, put them “In the compost. Don’t look back.”

i say plum and paste tomatoes

IMG_8629 Visual only! Don’t even dream of canning these wonderful ‘Ananas Noire’ tomatoes on view at the farmers market last Saturday at Ruby and Amber’s Organic Oasis.

IMG_8624 These guys?  Probably not.  Very much slicers, too, in my book.

Paste tomatoes are the bane of the gardener/canner’s existence, I’m feeling more and more.  They taste bad, they’re prone to blossom-end rot, and they take forever to ripen.  I’ve tried a number of varieties, always seeking that nirvana of good flavor and robust health, but every one seems to have its significant downside.  Every year I end up supplementing my significant acreage (ok, one super long row) with purchased plum tomatoes.

IMG_8620Plums are gorgeous and long-lived when they’re grown properly, especially the new striped and black hybrids, but the taste doesn’t advance beyond mediocre.  Although I strongly disapprove of adding bottled lemon juice when processing tomatoes, I kind of think it doesn’t matter when you’re using plums, since there’s no flavor to begin with.  Regular ‘Roma’ tomatoes are useless, and ‘San Marzanos’ are particularly awful here in the Willamette Valley.  People insist on buying them, since they are the Italian variety everyone knows as quality, but they just taste like cardboard in and out of the jar.

IMG_8619So what’s a local girl to do?  Keep searching for better varieties for our region.  I grew ‘Saucey’ for several years.  In 2014 my biggest success is a grafted plant of ‘Jersey Devil,’ which may be a new offering from Log House this year. They have a very pleasant little tail at the end and turn bright red, just like Satan.  They didn’t crap out like my highly anticipated ‘Orange’ and ‘Black Icicles’.

But paste tomatoes, in my opinion, are better than plums, but still prone to diva behavior.  They’re the ones that are not necessarily elongated and hollow/seedy in the middle, but may be more heart-shaped and solid flesh with very few seeds.  They will be a bit more liquidy at first than plums, but cook down nicely and produce a much more flavorful sauce.  I’ve posted many times about ‘Amish Paste,’ so I won’t go into it here, but the 1-pound tomatoes I get from the good strain of this plant (i.e., not the small tomato strain), are excellent.  Farmer Anthony Boutard recommended it to me several years ago, and he’s since moved on to his own ‘Astiana’ line plucked from a market in the Piedmont region of Italy.  I’ve yet to haul my preoccupied behind up to Hillsdale to get in on some of that ‘Astiana’ action.

IMG_8623Heart-shaped, solid tomatoes are also good for sauce.  One possibility for me this year might be these ‘Reif Red Hearts’, spotted last weekend next to the ‘Ananas Noires’. They look quite promising indeed as a sauce tomato, from what I’ve read on the internets.

IMG_8618As for local plums, and there are better varieties than ‘San Marzano,’ like ‘Scipio’, which was good last year from Sweetwater Farm, and these fat and gorgeous ‘Opalka’ plums from Mountain View Farm in Junction City.

Another possibility to consider are the good ol’ round canning tomatoes, like the all-purpose Moskovich, again from Ruby and Amber’s stand at the market.

IMG_8625What varieties are you picking, buying, and canning this year?

but first, the tomato news

IMG_8416Tomato time.  I take advantage of cooler nights and melt down chunks of paste tomatoes with a little olive oil and salt in a 225 degree oven overnight to make tomato paste.  After I mill out the skins and cook the rest of the water out, I freeze the paste in ice cube trays.  I’ll do this several times during tomato season to keep up with the harvest.  Not everything needs to be canned/preserved in big batches!

For a change of pace, try my green and red pizza sauce, cooked similarly to tomato paste but with more seasoning and green tomatoes.  You don’t need any special equipment for this one!

And later in the season, you can bet I’ll use up all the rest of the paste tomatoes in my ketchup recipe, one of the best recipes I’ve ever developed.

This year my always huge tomatoes got away from me in the dry heat, and I’m battling an even more severe blossom end rot issue than usual.  It’s clearly a calcium/fertilizer deficiency, since they grew so fast and I thought I had covered my bases with my usual treatment of dried milk and eggshells, plus even watering.  Even a calcium infusion late in the game didn’t help much.  Kind of mad at myself, since I’ve now lost about 75% of the plum tom crop, but I still have huge numbers of tomatoes, so I can’t complain about anything other than my own lack of vigilance.

What’s growing extremely well is the next generation Indigo tomatoes developed first at OSU.  I planted a grafted variety from Log House Gardens called ‘Indigo Cherry Drop’ that has proven to be blossom-end-rot (BER) bullet-proof (the only plant that emerged unscathed).  The others, not so much:

Tomatoes 2014

  • Orange Icicle and Black Icicle (both very prolific but wiped out nearly clean with BER, orange variety tastes terrific)
  • Black Ethiopian (a solid salad tom, pretty good BER resistance)
  • Indigo Cherry Drop – terrific, perfect golf ball size; actually tastes good, unlike the first gen Indigos (not great but good), and very pretty
  • Sungold
  • Amish Paste (got the big strain this year, thank goodness, and it’s stronger against the BER than expected)
  • San Marzano (grafted) – still tastes bad and full of BER
  • Jersey Devil (grafted) – another plum but same problems
  • Sunset’s Red Horizon
  • Henderson’s Winsall
  • Anna Russian – another big paste (or rather heart-shaped) that resembles Amish but seems heartier
  • Rose di Berne
  • Black Mt. Pink

And while I’m at it, just thought I should mention the peppers are doing very well.  I had to pinch off blossoms early in the season to encourage the plants to grow large enough to support the crop, so I’m just now getting some full, beautiful pepper development.

Peppers 2014

  • Corbaci (a long skinny sweet pepper, really cool and prolific, grew in pot)
  • Sweet banana
  • Carmen (x 2, not sure why i grew two of these)
  • Paradisium Alatu Sarza Szentes (yellow ribbed flat guys)
  • Jaloro (yellow jalapeno, in pot, hot)
  • Atris (F1 hybrid, huge)
  • Mulato
  • Mulato Islena
  • Padron
  • Aji Amarillo  (no flowers yet!!)
  • Negro de Valle
  • Pasilla Baijo (chilaca when fresh)

stalking the backyard daylily

IMG_7707A proud clump of orange daylilies or tiger lillies (H. fulva) graces one corner of my garden, blocking out a poppy and a lavender bush and encroaching on my daffodils.  Disdainful, I stopped in my murderous tracks a few years ago when I read one can eat most parts of the plant in a blog post by wildcrafter Hank Shaw.

I’ve since read more about them, including the history with some dubious tasting notes, and a chapter in Euell Gibbons’ classic, Stalking the Wild Asparagus, which seems to be a book that lights up the eyes of people who wish they were wholly foraging for food (while shopping at Whole Foods).

Being one of those people, mostly, I knew I had to take my dreams of a feral future and make them a reality, so I stalked the daylilies in my backyard.

What, you say you don’t know what a daylily is?  This is a daylily:

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Not a daylily (with an added bonus of an artichoke to symbolize the choking you will do when you eat a poisonous cultivar of true lily, below):

IMG_7714You can immediately tell them apart because the daylily grows in a big clump and has long, skinny leaves growing from the clump, but the true lily has many short opposing leaves growing up each stalk that culminates in a flower. Another things that differentiates them is that daylilies frequently repatriate to the wild, and they often resist the elements in parks, old lots, and meadows.  More on identification here.

The buds, flowers, stalks, and root bulbs of the daylily are all edible, but being a lazy hunter-gatherer, I went for the easy stuff: the buds.  Pick them when they are just about open, and don’t delay, since the ‘day’ part of daylily is not false advertising.  They ripen, bloom, and are gone in 24 hours.  You can see one bud just ready to be plucked to the left of the daylily in the image above the poison-choke-lilies.

IMG_7680Ever have Chinese hot and sour soup?  The “golden needles” or lily buds are none other than the dried buds of the daylily.  I dried a bunch and plan to use them in soups.  Apparently, they let off a slightly gelatinous ooze when you cook them, so they thicken up nicely.

The rest of the buds I plucked to eat in the manner I love vegetables the most: quickly dry-fried and salted.  You may have enjoyed padron or shishito peppers prepared this way, or perhaps Sichuan green beans.  Daylily buds rank right up there with the pleasure, and their unusual origin and utterly free cost to you will make you the star of all the foragers in your neighborhood.  OK, maybe not my neighborhood, since there are real foragers who live here, but if you live in a neighborhood without any, let me know and I’ll move there, since I could use a little stardom.

Anyway, the recipe in the first photo for dryfried daylily buds couldn’t be easier.  You’ll love the taste (but be careful, as apparently some folks are allergic or react poorly to the very mild and delicious greenbeany taste, likening it to armpit sweat).  Try just a couple at first to see if you are one of those unfortunate souls.

Heat up a heavy pan, cast iron if you have it, on high until it smokes.  Toss your daylily buds in a tiny bit of oil just before you toss them into the hot pan.  Smoke will ensue, so take the pan outside, flipping the buds with a spoon for just a few minutes until they are charred in spots and softened.  Salt with a coarse-grained finishing salt and serve immediately.

summer salad and a meditation on value

IMG_6779IMG_6754IMG_7476IMG_7552IMG_7581IMG_7588Who could have predicted the percentage of pleasure in the back corner of a quarter-acre lot?  When we talk of commercial real estate, we use the language of profitability: so many ridiculous dollars per square foot in value.

I weigh the square footage of my garden, instead, in pleasure units per annum, and I am a wealthy woman.

The garden produces pleasure at a rate far greater than the sum of its parts. Through my cultivation, I live history and I plan for the future; it’s a living record of failures and hopes. I began this garden by digging out the dirt and forming the growing plots and subsidizing the soil with every bit of dirt capital I had.  It has evolved over the last six years and its topography traces the story of my life.

Exhibit A:  This square foot is ruled by a fat clump of chives with now fading lavender puffballs with papery feathers that I planted when I established the herb row six years ago.  It gave me volunteer ‘Seascape’ strawberries (2) that are darker and sweeter than my main crop ‘Bentons’ that are better for jam. It also killed off two generations of lemon thyme, never hardy, prompting me to move a new pricey start to the middle where the sun will establish it more firmly. It is coddling three shiso seedlings, all marked by slug attacks at the seed leaves, the red shiso the worst of the lot.  I need the red shiso to experiment further furikake, a dried crumbly topping for rice, since the stuff last year wasn’t quite right without salt.  The green gets salted and used as wraps for summer barbecue.

Exhibit B:  This shady square foot is tayberries, now nearly as long as my thumb, which I planted after marveling at them at the market three years ago. The tayberries, yes, that the squirrels have been eating, I’ve discovered, after crowing that those little rascals have been leaving my strawberries alone this year.  The tayberries are threatened, too, by a patch of mint rooted in a deep-set plastic pot to contain it, tucked far back in the shady corner of my garden, but longing to colonize new, more fruitful lands.  And the terrible threat of losing the sun: the elderberry planted to shade the glorious fragile ‘Virginia Richards’ rhody (since discovered to not have the proper sun trajectory) and hide a sagging gutter on the neighbors’ garage (since fixed, since moved out) is now 15 feet tall, and shading the tayberries instead.

Exhibit C: And this square foot, anchoring the potato bed ringed in cedar logs from the branch that fell in the winter storm two years ago, has an Italian fennel sentinel, the fronds used for gravlax and fish and salads.  Its pollen I cultivate for fig jam for the ‘Desert Queen’ fig that — please! — is rallying with leaf buds now after the freeze that wiped out fig season for the year and killed many fig trees wholesale.  The sentinel guards three ‘Marechal Foch’ grape scions and four little apples: ‘Karmijn,’ ‘Esopus Spitzenberg,’ ‘Canadian Strawberry’ and ‘Pendragon,’ all rare, all volatile, all fighting the fleeting nature of life and the suffering that reminds us it will be over too soon.

See?

But the garden is more than just a record of a personal past, and, as a hedonist, I hesitate to say this, but it’s more than just pleasure.  It’s resistance and power.

One example will have to suffice.  Because I cook from my garden, I am free to experiment with the idea of a salad.  Yes, a salad.  Something that’s drummed into us by industry as the paragon of a healthy meal.  It’s a diet meal.  It’s a female meal.  It’s the kind of meal we should not only eat but exclaim delightfully over, Oh, it’s so fresh and healthy and I feel so good while eating it!

And we do this while we are masticating over-processed bagged mesclun made of differently shaped little leaves that all taste exactly the same. Do they harbor e. coli?  We don’t know.  What matters is that we bought it, and when we buy it, we buy into values that promote performing fitness as a marker of class.  The open secret is that these salads don’t create pleasure.  They traffic in anxiety.  They separate the growers from the consumers with an idea of what we *should* eat, not what we *can* eat if we can just…

…wander out into the garden with not even the faintest anxious pressure for ‘eating healthy’ or ‘being fit.’  I eat my salad in the morning.  I bundle a sour sorrel leaf and an odd little papalo leaf around a gooseberry and a tiny carrot.  I smush a strawberry on a tender escarole, slightly bitter, and wrap it burrito-like around a rattail radish pod.  I make a sandwich out of two pea pods, two leaves of tarragon, and a beet leaf. I pick pale yellow collard flowers and pink-white radish flowers and purple johnny-jump-ups and magenta and pale pink pea flowers and eat them as a chaser for the tip of a garlic scape.

Not a single one of these can be eaten in a restaurant or out of season, or really, in someone else’s garden.  It is mine.  My salad is the product of my labor, my fiddling, and my palate that hungers for bittersweetness.

My labor is worth very little to nothing, all the institutions in my life tell me.  But in its nothingness, it’s everything to me, because I cultivate hope each year and breed out failure and have momentary, seasonal, nearly unique and nearly wholly my own momentary pleasure and joy in living.  There is nothing more valuable in the world.

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Images (top to bottom): lovage, tayberries, haskapberries, garlic scapes, raspberries, gooseberries, Bruno Jupiter Bright, kitten extraordinaire, growing in the kale bed.

niblets: new orleans in eugene

1974088_461375073993386_344307710_oOur only official link in Eugene to New Orleans is now Voodoo Donuts, which, of course, is no link at all.  But wait!  I’ve got two very intreeeeging possibilities for y’all.

First, Belly is having a cajun buffet special dinner on Sunday, April 6, to celebrate the noble Aries and raise some money for the new Washington Jefferson Skate Park, who will receive 30% of the proceeds.  You’re an Aries?  You’ll get a door price!  Some of the dishes promised: crabmeat ravigote in Belgian endive, shrimp remoulade on jalapeno cheddar rolls, hushpuppies with honey butter, oysters Bienville, Natchitoches hand pies with meat or veggie, potato salad with egg and hot pepper vinegar, roast beef Po’ Boys, prawn and andouille gumbo, chicken picante, red beans and rice with smoked ham hock, corn maque choux, spring green salad, and sweet potato pies for dessert.

photo-27Like what you ate?  Well then, second, the weird, wonderful artist Myrtle von Damitz has formed the Pearls of Cascadia-Antilles Culture Club, which is the beginning of a project to help land rights and sustainability interests in Haiti.  Formerly a New Orleans resident and lately of Cottage Grove, Myrtle is developing a collection of starts with Log House Plants that reflect the cultural heritage of New Orleans, with its deep and intimate collection to Haiti.  She’s looking for about a dozen test growers for a variety of vegetables, including mirlitons, beans, and peanuts, in garden or greenhouse.  Interested?  Check out the site and list of plants.

She adds:  “if anybody knows who else to talk to about sustainable agriculture/plant and food and land rights in Haiti, please let me know.”  Those are some of the plants she’s cultivated above (pictures stolen from their owners for promotional purposes).

We’ve got a huge number of events coming up in the next month or two or three.  Join Facebook and friend me there for updates about many more local events than I can post here on the blog.

chitty chitty bang bang: potatoes

IMG_6682If you haven’t started chitting your seed potatoes, it’s not too late to start.  Just place the potatoes with their little eyes upward (generally there are more on one side than another) in an egg carton.  Mark the variety on the lid of the carton.

It’s not completely necessary to chit potatoes, but why not give them a head start?  For planting, you don’t want the long, zombie-pale fragile shoots one gets when a potato is stored too long in the refrigerator.  You want healthy green buds bursting out all over like spring.

Read more about cautionary tales about chitting potatoes here.

I grow German butterballs, since I like the flavor the best, but will usually throw in a few banana-style potatoes and reds for variety.  If I had some, I’d grow the PNW-native fingerlings called ‘Ozette,’ since they’re so cool.  Next year in Potatoville!