Monday, 17 August 2015

Seedy Summer Savory Pesto (with Cauliflower)

Summer savory is one of my favourite herbs of all times, as regular readers of this blog will have realized (if there are still any around). It's easy to grow, and it's delicious fresh as well as dried.

I will be yanking it all this week, as it is about to flower, and I want to get it before it does that. Most of it will be dried, but some of it went into this delicious pesto. It was lovely on cauliflower, but use it as you would any other pesto.

6 to 8 servings
20 minutes prep time

Seedy Summer Savory Pesto (with Cauliflower)

1/4 cup summer savory leaves stripped from the stems, lightly packed
1/4 cup coarsely chopped chives
1 or 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup hullless pumpkin seeds
1/3 cup cold-pressed sunflower seed oil
up to 1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
the juice of 1/2 lime
2 to 4 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese

Strip the leaves and tender tips from the summer savory, and discard the tough stems. Pick over and trim the chives (they tend to be a little ratty at this time of year), discarding any tough blossom stems. Chop them roughly. Add the herbs to the bowl of a food processor.

Peel and trim the garlic, and slice it coarsely, and add it to the food processor along with all the remaining ingredients, except the Parmesan cheese. Process until well blended, stopping and scraping down the sides several times to make sure everything is evenly blended. Stop when the pesto has the texture you like.

The sunflower and pumpkin seeds can be raw or roasted, salted or unsalted; however, if they are salted hold off adding any more until you have had a chance to taste the pesto. The finished pesto should be a little on the salty side, since it will be seasoning some other food (I assume!) but don't get too carried away. The cheese will also add some saltiness, don't forget.

Toss the finished pesto into cooked, drained cauliflower, pasta, rice or barley, along with the cheese; in general, use it wherever you would use traditional basil pesto.

Last year at this time I made Quesadillas de Flor de Calabacitas.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Green Beans à la Poutine

This is a version of my favourite mushroom gravy, with fresh ingredients since it is summer. I served this dish at a vegetarian lunch, and it was a big hit. Not nearly so bad for you as a traditional poutine, either!  You will likely want a starch with it; boiled potatoes, rice or pasta would all be good.

I'm a little vague about the number of servings, because it will depend on whether you are serving this as a vegetarian main course, or as a side dish.

Actually, when I think about it, I could make this in the winter with frozen beans and canned tomatoes. It won't be quite as perfect, but after all we do still have to eat in the winter.

4 to 8 servings
1 hour prep time

Green Beans à la Poutine

Prepare the Beans:
500 grams (1 pound) green beans

Wash and trim the green beans, and cut them into bite sized pieces. Put them in a steamer or pot with boiling water, and begin to cook them a few minutes after the shallots and mushrooms go into the skillet. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes, until done to your liking.

Make the Gravy:
1 or 2 large shallots
200 grams (6 ounces) button mushrooms
2 cups peeled, diced fresh tomato
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
1 tablespoon flour
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 cup water
2 tablespoons miso
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Peel and chop the shallots finely. Clean, trim, and dice the mushrooms. Blanche, peel, and chop the tomatoes.

Heat the oil in a large skillet, and gently cook the shallots and mushrooms over medium heat until soft and very slightly browned. Add the tomatoes and mix in well; continue to cook until the tomatoes begin to disintegrate.

In the meantime, put the flour and nutritional yeast in a small bowl, and mix in enough water to make a loose paste. Add the miso and mustard, and mix until the mixture is smooth. Mix in the remaining water, a little at a time to keep a smooth sauce, until it is all in.

Add the sauce to the skillet, mixing in well, and cook until the gravy thickens; just a minute or so. 

Finish the Dish:
125 grams (1/4 pound) cheese curds

Drain the cooked beans well, and add them to the pan of gravy. Let them reheat just a minute or so, then transfer them with the gravy to a serving dish, layering them with bits of cheese curd as you go. Save enough cheese curds to give a good scattering of them over the top. Serve at once.

Last year at this time I made Quinoa Salad with Eggplant & Cucumber, and Lamb Stew with Eggplant & Peppers. This year I am still waiting for my first damn eggplant. Plants look great; they are flowering like crazy... but where are the eggplants?!

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Siskiyou Sweet Onion

We got the seeds for this onion from Hawthorn Farm, a couple years ago when we were looking for a replacement for Candy; a Monsanto hybrid. In general, we want to keep our own seeds, and although Candy was a good onion, we did not expect to be able to save seed from it (and didn't like to buy it, because Monsanto). So far, Siskiyou Sweet has made a very good replacement. We did not try them side-by-side so I am not sure how they compare for sweetness, but we have been eating Siskiyou Sweet raw on hamburgers, sandwiches, and salads, and enjoying them very much.

Siskiyou Sweet was selected out of Walla Walla, a famous sweet onion from Walla Walla county, Washington. The Walla Walla name is trademarked, and they are one of the few onions sold by the variety name, as opposed to just generically as "yellow", "red", or "Spanish" onions. Don Tipping of Siskiyou Seeds/Seven Seeds Farm worked with saving seed and selecting for better uniformity and disease and split resistance. There is a good article about him and his work at A Way to Garden.

Siskiyou Sweet belongs to the family of onions known as Spanish, which are large white onions mild enough to eat raw. In general, they are not good keepers, and Siskiyou Sweet are not known as keepers either, although I have kept them into January in our cold cellar without much sprouting.

Walla Walla onions developed out of seed brought from Corsica around 1900, by a French soldier, Peter Pieri, who settled in the area. It is somewhat unusual in being a sweet Spanish type onion well adapted to being grown in the north - most of the well-known sweet onions come from the south, as their Spanish origins might suggest.

In general, I consider sweet onions best for eating raw. They contain enough sugar that they are more inclined than regular storage onions to scorch when cooked, although if you watch them carefully you can prevent that. However, they are so mild that I don't find they provide enough flavour when cooked. Because of this, we grow these sweet onions in relatively small quantities for fresh eating from mid-summer into late fall.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Salmon or Salmon Trout with Raspberry Sauce

This was a very fast and simple dish, but rather luxurious nevertheless, what with fish and raspberries, neither of which are cheap. Definitely ideal for entertaining.

The salient thing about making this is to be sure that everything is prepared and standing by before you begin cooking, because once you begin it goes in a flash, and there is no time for fumbling around to prepare things that are not ready.

We have been eating a lot of raspberries this summer. Ours have all disappeared into a mass of weeds, but our next door neighbour has opened up a u-pick raspberry operation! We can pick 12 pints and be  home in an hour, for half the price of buying them at the market. 

6 servings
30 minutes prep time

Prepare the Sauce Ingredients:
1 teaspoon arrowroot or cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon water

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup very finely minced fresh basil
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Put the arrowroot, salt, vinegar, and water in a small bowl, and mix well. Put the remaining ingredients into another small bowl.

Cook the Fish & Sauce:
1.2 kilos (3 pounds) salmon or salmon trout fillets
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
2 cups fresh raspberries

If necessary, cut the fish into fillets and remove any bones. Place them in a steamer over a pot with just enough water to cover the bottom, and steam them for about 10 minutes, until done. Watch the water level carefully - you would like to end up with just about 1/2 cup left. If there is a little more, reduce it while you keep the cooked fish on a serving platter in a warm spot.

Working quickly, add the bowl of butter, honey, etc, to the pan of fish stock. Stir well. Still stirring, pour in the bowl with the dissolved arrowroot or cornstarch. Add 1 cup of the raspberries, and mash them into the sauce. As soon as the raspberries are mashed and the sauce is thickened, pour it over the fish fillets. Garnish with the remaining raspberries and serve at once.

Last year at this time I made Cucumbers in Crème Fraîche with Mint, and Raspberry Eton Mess.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Peas - Purple Podded Irish Twins

Clarke's Beltony Blue

Aren't those lovely!? Clarke's Beltony Blue comes from County Tyrone in Northern Ireland. At some point a Mrs Anderson donated them to the Heritage Seed Library (UK) with the information that they were grown on her great-grandfather's farm since at least 1850, and possibly as long as since 1815. Adaptive Seeds in Oregon got them from the Heritage Seed Library, and I got them from Adaptive seeds. Here we are. This is the first year I have tried these.

The vines grew to 6' tall, and started producing in mid-season; say about 70 days to maturity, and produced over a fairly long period of time (several weeks). The plants have lovely pink/mauve flowers, and the pods, as you see, are a rich purple, with peas of a light olive green. They were good healthy and robust growers, even considering their crowded conditions, although all the peas were produced 1 pod per node. Five to 7 peas per pod seems typical.

They turn starchy fairly quickly, and are not the sweetest of shelling peas. In fact, even when young I occasionally detected a note of bitterness to the raw peas. This seemed to disappear once they were cooked. I noticed the cooking water turned a little bluey-greyish, as if there were some purple compounds in the peas, although I could not actually see any. At their best, the texture is very smooth with a little more body than most peas, with a similarly smooth, rich flavour. I liked these better than Mr Ferdzy liked them; he did find them a bit on the starchy side. These are also a slightly faded moss green when cooked, fairly unlike most modern peas which have been bred for as dark a green as possible.

I can find no more information about their history than I have already written, but most old purple-podded peas were field peas, meant to be dried down and cooked into pea soup, aka pease pottage. I would speculate that these were selected out of some such old soup variety, and as such I am going to save any excess dried seeds I get from them and try them out as soup peas.

Carruthers' Purple Podded

All of the information regarding Clarke's Beltony Blue applies to Carruther's Purple Podded, with a few minor but significant differences. It too comes from Northern Ireland; County Down in this case. It too was donated to the Heritage Seed Library, by a gentleman by the name of Carruthers, who had acquired seed from a family gardener and grown it for 25 years before donating it. It too has roots back to the 19th century. I bought mine from Adaptive Seeds, who again got it from the Heritage Seed Library.

The physical description of the plants is essentially identical; I could not easily distinguish them if I grew them next to each other. The pods of Carruthers' are a little longer though, and more apt to contain at least 8 peas. They tend to be a little crowded, and so flattened at each side, and the pods seem a slightly deeper purple usually. I did find one plant that had 2 pods per node, so I will be saving that one as seed for sure. The two varieties are distinguishable as seeds, as the seeds are fairly different looking.

These are also a slightly better pea for eating fresh. I didn't note the bitterness I found in Clarke's Beltony Blue nearly so much, but again, they were noticeably better cooked than raw. So, overall I would rate Carruthers` Purple Podded as the better of the two peas. Unless Clarke`s Beltony Blue turns out to be uniquely wonderful as a dried soup-pea, I will grow Carruthers` again but not the Clarke`s.

Rebsie Fairholm is also a fan of Carruthers` Purple Podded peas, and I suspect her review of them has done much to give them their current modest popularity. Unfortunately, I don`t believe there is a Canadian supplier of either of these peas at this time.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Basic Waffles

My brother in law Martin is on a low-sugar, low-carb diet, and his pain is my gain. (Probably weight gain, unfortunately.) He gave me his vintage waffle iron, probably dating from the late 1940s, and I finally can make waffles again. I had a waffle iron, but the last few times I used it, the waffles came out soft and floppy, and eventually they refused to even come out at all, and I said to hell with it and threw it away.

I tried putting some berries in the batter as I made the waffles, but that was not a good idea. They stuck, even if the waffles didn't, then the bits of stuck berry scorched themselves into the subsequent waffles. You can see the bits in the picture. Not a disaster, but not recommended either. We served most of the berries raw on top, and they were much better that way.

This is a nice basic recipe, and they turned out very well. We found them surprisingly filling. I don't mean that we were stuffed, but that they kept us going until lunch time, and I don't always expect that of waffles.

12 waffles
30 minutes prep time

1 cup soft whole wheat flour
1 cup soft unbleached flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon honey
3 large eggs
2 cups buttermilk
a little oil to grease the waffle iron

Measure the 2 flours, the baking powder, and the salt, and mix them together and set them aside.

Measure the butter and honey into a heat-proof bowl or pot, and heat until they are just melted but not hot, in the microwave or on the stove as seems best to you. Let cool slightly. Put the waffle iron on to heat.

Meanwhile, beat the eggs and buttermilk together in a mixing bowl. Whisk in the butter and honey when they are no longer hot. Whisk in the flour until just blended.

Brush the hot waffle iron lightly with oil - I like a silicone brush for this - then ladle in enough batter to cover the bottom when spread carefully to the corners. Close the iron and cook until the waffle is done, about 5 minutes. This recipe fills my 3-waffle iron 4 times, making about 12 waffles, but your waffle iron may vary. You may or may not need to brush a little oil onto the waffle iron between batches; again, it will depend on your waffle iron.

Last year at this time I made Curried Devilled Eggs with Peas.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Peas of the Year - Large Manitoba, Champion of England & Carter's Daisy

Large Manitoba

So as usual, I could not resist adding some new varieties of peas to the garden this year, even though I have so many old favourites. This one came from Heritage Harvest, although I note that Prairie Garden Seeds also carry it. Heritage Harvest describes it as a great pea "that originated in Manitoba many years ago" and that seems to be about as much about its history as anyone has. As you can see by the photo, while the peas are certainly a good substantial size, it is the pods that are really eye-popping. Eight to 10 peas per pod makes it one of the most productive per-pod peas I have grown (only Dual beats it, and not by much).

The peas are not the sweetest, but they have a rich, fairly strong and well-balanced flavour. I thought they were really quite delicious. These are described as very short plants, with the figure 9" being mentioned, but mine grew much taller, up to 3' ultimately. Mine were shaded on the west side, but even so 9" strikes me as unrealistic, unless there is another strain out there. These were, unfortunately, very determinate and not outstandingly productive, although again, their poor placement may have prevented them from optimum production. The leaves are very dense and rather large for peas, and Mandy recommends growing it out in the open for good air circulation. The implication is that mildew may be a problem, and given the denseness and succulence of the leaves, I can believe it. However, as noted, they were quite determinate so I don't see this being a big problem. These were early, but not the earliest of my peas. I would say about 60 days to maturity, although I admit to not keeping good records.

I like these, and will give them another try. Their relatively low productivity does give me a little pause. They may go onto the list of potential parents for my sporadic and thus-far not very successful attempts at breeding peas. I'd like to see what they do crossed with Dual, or 1st and Best #2, or Spanish Skyscraper.

Champion of England - Woodbridge Strain

I also got this one from Heritage Harvest, and it's important to note that it's the Woodbridge strain - there is at least one other version of Champion of England out there. I haven't grown it, but it sounds quite different. This version is tall, although mine have grown to about 5' or 6', which makes them one of the shorter of my tall peas. Of course, they are also growing closest to the grass, and I have realized that that has a definite stunting effect on plants. Descriptions put them at 5' to 10' tall.

The peas themselves have been sweet and rich tasting, and produced in reasonable abundance. I have not selected the seeds for optimum production yet, since this is the first year I have grown them, but I see enough peas being produced at 2 to a node to think that they can be improved by selection.  I suspect as I select the seed the plants will also grow taller for me (and I will give them a better position too, if I can).

The original Champion of England pea dates back to the 1843, bred by William Fairbeard. There is a description of it in Fearing Burr's wonderful book on (now) heirloom vegetables, Garden Vegetables and How to Cultivate Them. Here's what he had to say:

"Plant of strong and luxurious habit of growth, with a stem from five to six feet in height. The pods are generally single, but sometimes in pairs, about three inches and a half long, and contain six or seven quite large peas, which are closely packed together and compressed. The ripe seed is wrinkled, and of a pale olive green.

Sown the 1st of May, the plants were in flower June 25th, and pods were gathered for use the 12th of July.

This is, without doubt, one of the most valuable acquisitions which have been obtained for many years, being remarkably tender and sugary, and, in all respects, of first-rate excellence. The rapid progress of its popularity, and its universal cultivation, are, however, the best indications of its superiority." 

In spite of the popularity this pea once had, it was very nearly lost. The Real Seed Catalogue, in England, looked for it for many years, and finally received some seed from Robert Woodbridge, who's family had been saving the seeds since the 1940's. This strain does indeed match the original as described by Fearing Burr, and I like it enough that I will be growing again in the future as a regular. By the way, the peas in the photo are stragglers - I did not think to take a picture when they were in full flush, and so the pod showing the peas is a bit scanty. Most of them do better than that.

Rebsie Fairholm has also reviewed this pea, and you can read her review here. She had problems with both mould and virus; something to keep in mind although I suspect that those are both more likely to be a problem in a damper climate than mine.  

Carter's Daisy

This is another one that was planted in small quantities and in a crowded and slightly shaded position. Actually, I'm afraid that's pretty much life in the pea bed around here. Still, it stood out as a tasty and productive pea. Like the others, I got it from Heritage Harvest.

Daisy was bred by Carter and Co, a very well-known British firm of seed suppliers, around 1890 and introduced in 1892. Its parents were Stratagem and Giant Marrow. Stratagem was one of 4 varieties selected out of Telegraph, a variety bred by William Culverwell in 1872. Apparently Telegraph was quite variable. The other 3 varieties selected out were Telephone, Pride of the Market, and Duke of Albany. Only (Tall) Telephone is still widely available, and it is the one that most resembled the original Telegraph. Without wading through scads of old documents, I get the impression that there was a lot of controversy related to these peas. Giant Marrow was obscure even by 1900, but it too was a variety bred by Culverwell. Carter's Daisy is also sometimes known as Dwarf Telephone.

At one point, this was another very popular pea, but by 1934 the U.S.D.A. publication, Descriptions of Types of Principal American Varieties of Garden Peas, was quite dismissive of it. It is not in the fashionable dark green shade that has since prevailed in peas, but instead the pale celery green that was preferred in Victorian times. The pods are also not hard enough for shipping. I can't say I care about either of those things, and my impression - hard to be sure from such a small planting - is that it is quite productive, with most plants bearing 2 pods at each node, and definitely very good tasting; not just sweet but quite a distinctive flavour. Peas are pretty consistently about 6 per pod, though as usual it does vary a bit.

Daisy is a short plant, finishing up at about 2' high, and as usual with short peas I had quite a lot of problems with some animal, probably raccoons, eating or at least chewing many of the peas. I like Daisy a lot, but I may not be able to continue to grow it because of this problem.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Midsummer in the Garden

Well I am thoroughly off cooking these days, but the garden is going on as scheduled. Tomatoes are trellised, although I need to get out there and do some tying up. Peppers and eggplants are flowering, and indeed some peppers are starting to form. We've had some cool nights, so they are still getting covered  up sometimes.

You can see our sweet potato bed behind and to the right of the peppers; it's been cool enough we just open up the ends of the hoop house on warm days. They like it really hot! We have some new and unusual varieties this year, which we got from Burt's Greenhouses, and we are looking forward to seeing how they are. They are looking really healthy and growing well.

This bed contains cucumbers, and few stray melons and squash, all of which will need to be trellised. Yes, they are way behind. However, I'm hopeful that they will produce at some point this season. The snarled mess in the foreground is a Brussels sprout/kale cross, which was the only brassica to survive our winter, apart from a few stems of straight Brussels sprouts. I'm planning to save the seeds, but I'm hoping they don't smother my squash before they are done.

This section is looking good as long as you don't look too closely. Swiss chard is late but ready to start picking, celery and celeriac are growing nicely but so are the weeds, leeks have just been transplanted to their final positions, squash are noodling along, and this year's brassicas are doing okay, mostly. Lettuce (in lower right corner) is over - gone bitter and starting to bolt.

The herb bed isn't doing well, but we do have some of last year's leaf celery bolting. I expect to have 10 year's supply of celery seed by fall. The one other thing that is coming up here and flourishing is the potatoes we missed when harvesting last year, although there are a couple of nice stalks of dill. These are offspring of the dill seed I brought back from Turkey, I believe, which has been extremely shy of germinating, but has managed to produce a few plants each year so far, and so I stagger on with it. Still hoping I get more and better seed this year.

There are two beds behind the herbs and watermelons, which are supposed to be perennial flowers for cutting, and which have fallen to the bottom of the weeding list for 4 years straight. Now they are completely overgrown with weeds and will need to be completely re-dug. Mind you, they are still at the bottom of the to-do list...

These are the seed-grown potatoes we did this spring. We had given up on them ever sprouting, and supposed that we had not kept them dormant long enough. However, we weeded them out the other day and discovered that there are a few coming up. Somewhat to my confusion, there seem to be self-seeded potatoes (like, from seeds, yes) in this bed as well, which we haven't had  happen before. Confusing! But amusing.

Our watermelon mass-cross breeding project continues; no melons to be seen  yet and not for a while, but the vines have stopped sitting there blinking, and are now stretching out more and more every day. A few are making their first test flowers.

First zucchini should be ready any day. Yes, they are rather late but that's our life these days, as already noted.

Through the application of money and shameless begging amongst my internet friends, I was able to get some onion and carrot seeds from France this year that I have wanted for a while. The carrots are 5 or 6 open polllinated heirloom strains, and the onions are 3 different strains of Rose de Roscoff sweet pink onion. They are all flourishing and I am excited!

Last year we planted early determinate peas, pulled them out by July 1st, and replaced them with short-season dry beans. Last year was so cool and rainy, especially in the second half, that the beans did not quite make it to harvest for the most part. However, they came close enough that we are giving it another try this  year. The bed with the long rows will need to be trellised soon, while the other bed is bush beans. Most of these are to be used dried, but a few are for fresh use. The fresh use should be no problem, but we'll see about the others. I am quite hopeful though, since already this summer looks like being hotter than last year by a fair bit.

On which note, our rain also seems to have stopped. We have had mostly adequate rain up to this point, from which I deduce that everyone else is contemplating building an ark, but we have had to start watering this week. It's a pain, but at least we made it this far along before it was required.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Strawberry - Haskap Jam

Oh dear, more jam. And the haskaps are pretty much over, at least around here. Still, I haven't seen any other recipe for haskap and strawberry jam so I'd like to get this out there for future reference.

Since strawberries and haskaps have an overlapping season, this seems a natural combination. I thought it worked very well. The strawberries make the haskaps sweeter and more mellow, although the haskap flavour was quite predominate. The strawberry flavour comes through in the finish though, and the two flavours certainly work well together. As ever, I suspect you could add a bit more sugar although I found this to be plenty.

4 to 5 250-ml jars
1 hour prep time

3 cups haskap berries
3 cups strawberries
3 cups sugar
the juice of 1/2 lemon

Put the necessary jars (and one or two extra; I like to have one 125-ml jar available in case of odd quantities) into a canning pot and cover them with water to come an inch over the tops. Bring them to a boil and boil for 10 minutes. 

Meanwhile, remove the stems from the haskaps and the strawberries, and discard any bad ones or bits of debris. Cut the strawberries in halves or quarters if they are large.

Put the berries, sugar, and lemon juice into a large, shallow but heavy-bottomed pot (jam kettle) and bring to a boil. Boil steadily for 20 to 30 minutes, until the jam is ready to set. The jam should run off a spoon slowly lifted and tilted in a wide sheet. It can also be tested on a glass or china plate kept chilled in the freezer.

If your lemon was seedy, the seeds can be tied in a little piece of muslin or cheesecloth, or put in a spice-ball and boiled with the jam. This will help the jam set. Of course, remove them, press out any jam around them, then discard them before you bottle the jam. 

When the jam is almost ready, put the lids and rings into another pot and bring them to a boil. Drain the prepared jars and place them on a heat-proof surface. Fill them with the jam to within half an inch of the top, wipe the rims with a bit of paper towel dipped in the boiling water, then seal them with prepared lids and rings. Return  the jars of jam to the canning pot and boil for 5 minutes. Remove them to the heat-proof surface and let cool. Check the seals, label, and keep in a cool, dark place. Refrigerate once opened.

Last year at this time I made Lamb with Peas & Garlic Scapes.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Haskap Jam

Wow, this was a surprise! We've been growing haskaps for three years now, and for the first time we had a sufficient quantity to make jam. If you read my description of haskap berries, you will know we were not wildly excited by them as a fruit, although they are easy to grow and produce at a convenient time. It's also pretty impressive that it has taken only 3 years to get to this point. Mind you, we do have 5 bushes producing fruit.

But the surprise is how much we really like this jam. It's delicious! Far more delicious than I would have supposed from eating the fruit raw, or having a few tossed in muffins. The flavour is hard to describe; most people describe haskaps as tasting like a cross between blueberries and raspberries, but I don't see it. They don't taste like blueberries at all to me, raspberries maybe a little, but mostly because they are both quite tart. A little plummy, maybe. But whatever it is they taste like, as jam they taste like mysterious essence of fruit.

I looked up haskap jam recipes before I made this, and most of the ones I saw were standard old-school combinations of one part berries to one part sugar, with a little lemon juice. The lemon juice seemed like a good idea but even with haskap berries being as tart as they are, equal amounts of sugar seemed like way too much for me. I cut it in half, and I'm happy with the results. It is still a quite tart jam, but I like it that way. In fact, this is still more sugar than I use in most of my jams. I would not use any less with haskaps though, and if you want your jam sweeter, you can obviously use more.

p.s. Am I back? Maybe. A little bit. The blog will continue to be on the back burner for a while, but I'm hoping to post occasionally. 

Makes 3 250 ml jars
2 hours - 1 1/4 hours prep time

4 cups haskap berries
2 cups sugar
the juice of 1/2 lemon

Put the empty jars in a canning kettle and cover with water. Turn on the burner and bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, wash and de-stem the haskap, and pick out any bad ones or debris. Put them in a saucepan with the sugar and lemon juice. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently until the sugar is dissolved. Keep at a rolling boil, stirring only occasionally, until the mixture reaches the gell stage; about 20 minutes.

Remove from the heat and skim off any obdurate foam that may have formed. Ladle into the jars, which may be removed from their boiling water bath once they have been boiled for 10 minutes. Wipe the lips and seal with lids and rims which have been brought to a boil.

Return the sealed jars to the boiling water bath, and boil for 5 minutes. Once the jars have sealed, label them with the month and year of their production, batch number if you are making more than one batch, and name. Keep them in a cool, dark place, but once opened, keep in the fridge.

Last  year at this time I made Radish Gazpacho and Creamy Asparagus Quiche with Ham & Cheddar

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Update, Garden & Other

Well, as undoubtedly noted, there has not been much action around here lately. And by around here, I mean the blog, not my life. There has been plenty going on in my life, some of it not good. The last 3 weeks in particular have been crazy. It started with the long-awaited visit from Ireland of Dad's partner's brother and his wife, who stayed with us for a week. That was exciting, but since it happened at the end of a quarantine at the nursing home and with the notice that Dad and T were to be transferred to their preferred nursing home back in their home town, it was a bit of a roller-coaster ride. At one point we were afraid they would be transferred in the middle of the visit, but fortunately not.

The next week was taken up by moving them both down, and naturally they were not able to go down on the same trip thanks to the joys of bureaucracy. There are still lots of loose ends to be taken care of there; moving is a big job. However, while we were making the second trip down, Mr. Ferdzy's mother's housemate - who does a lot to keep things on track around here - suffered a stroke, and is still in the hospital, outcome not completely known although it looks like there will be quite a bit of recovery. Still, a long road of rehab ahead with even more chauffeuring of parental units required, along with many other modifications to daily life.

Not surprisingly the blog is not the only thing being neglected. Why do these things always happen in May? We are 3 weeks behind in a gardening season that has only been about a month, so far. Peas are in, one trellis is up, but we have scarcely had time to look at anything since then.

On the bright side, peas are looking good, including some peas which are cross between Dual and Spanish Skyscraper. I found them in the garden last year and I am looking forward to growing them out and seeing if any of them are of interest. Last year they were an F1 hybrid and so very uniform. This year they should start segregating out into a wider range of phenotypes, although so far they look pretty uniform too.

Mr Ferdzy snatches a moment to week the asparagus. We are so behind on weeding we will likely hire someone for a day to come in and help us. Mr Ferdzy is quite grumpy about this; he says we have a garden so we can garden, not for someone else to do it. I agree, but... this year, I think it is required to get some help.

A walk in the woods showed that the wild leeks (ramps) we planted a couple years back are established and doing well, but not really spreading yet. None for us to pick, unfortunately.

More bad news - the prolonged cold snap this winter has killed a number of the fruit trees that we planted in the last few years. Saddest to me is the death of our quince, but all the paw-paws, an apple, and a cherry have also died. Our peaches and nectarines - 4 trees - are about 90% dead, but show signs of sprouting on some lower branches. This will put them back for years, assuming they manage to struggle through this season. We are debating whether to replace these trees or not - we are getting old enough that we are not sure we will see them to maturity.

Tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, watermelons and melons, and a few other things were seeded in pots and are ready to go out as soon as it warms up. We were thinking of doing it last week, but the prediction of this week's cold snap dissuaded us. Hopefully next weekend, though, most of these will go into the garden, ending 2 months of dragging these trays in and out according to the weather.

One of those trays contains tomatoes from a chance hybrid found in the garden a few years back. I have been growing it out, a few plants every year, and I am very pleased with it. This year I am giving 20 plants or so to a local market gardener, with the proviso I get the first ripe fruit from each plant. This will let me know if this is as stable as I think it is, and give me a lot of seed. If it is found to be a success, it will be a new variety and I will need a name for it! You will be hearing more about this, assuming it works out.

And finally, we do have some garden besides vegetables. Of the ornamental plants, peonies are my favourite, and we now have over 30 varieties in the garden, about half of which are well established enough to put on a good show. The first to bloom this (and most) years is Nosegay. Peony blooms are rather fleeting, but it is hard to imagine any flower more spectacular. I will try very hard this difficult year to get out and take the time to look at them.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Stewed Rhubarb & Figs

Rhhhuuuubarb! It's just starting up, so it's not a bad idea to stretch it out with something else. Dried figs provide sweetness and a complementary flavour.

Like rhubarb, figs are a sufficiently high-fibre food that this recipe should perhaps be thought of in terms of dosages rather than servings. I ate most of this for breakfast over a week, with plain yogurt. Very good.  

8 to 12 servings
30 minutes prep time

3 cups chopped rhubarb stems
200 grams dried figs
2 cups water
a stick of cinnamon (2 to 3inches)
1/4 cup honey

Wash, trim, and chop the rhubarb. Trim the stems from the figs and cut them into 3 or 4 pieces each. Put the figs in a pot with the water and cinnamon, and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 5 or 10 minutes until softened, then add the rhubarb and honey. Continue to simmer for another 5 or 10 minutes, until the rhubarb is cooked and the figs quite soft. Stir frequently. 

Last year at this time I made Oyster Mushrooms in Oyster Sauce