Monday, 24 November 2014

Sweet Roasted Beets

I do try to not serve vegetable dishes loaded with fat, and sugar, and salt. A little bit, sure. But every so often I just have to kick over the traces... and when the results are this good, I feel quite justified. Everybody oohed and aahed over these.

I used my models from the post on MacGregor's Favourite Beets, and I was interested to see that they took a long time to cook. (Longer than I've listed; I'm assuming you are using the usual beets at the usual times.) Suddenly those Victorian instructions to boil your beets for 2 hours make more sense. Still, their firm texture was really quite nice.

There is no reason not to roast the beets in advance the first time; they just may require a little longer in the oven the second time, if they are coming up from being chilled.

4 to 6 servings
1 1/2 hours - 20 minutes prep time

Sweet Roasted Beets

500 grams (1 pound) beets
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons apricot jam
salt & pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Wash the beets, but don't trim them. Wrap them in foil, and bake them for 45 minutes, until moderately soft. Reduce the heat to 350°F.

Run the beets under cold water until they can be handled, then peel them and cut them into bite sized chunks.

While the beets are in the oven, mix the butter, honey, vinegar, and jam in a small heat-proof bowl, and set it on the back of the stove, or microwave it for a few seconds; in either case until the butter and honey melt sufficiently to be well mixed together.

Toss the peeled and cut up beets with the butter mixture, in a roasting pan. Roast them again at 350°F for 30 minutes. Serve at once.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Pear & Celeriac Salad

Here is a very simple little salad that goes together quickly, with great crunch, and a lovely mix of flavours. It's very pretty too!

We had a great crop of celeriac this year; the weather was perfect for it. Look for it at farmers markets; it often seems strangely expensive in grocery stores.

4 to 6 servings
20 minutes prep time

Pear & Celeriac Salad

Make the Dressing:
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon horseradish (or maybe a little more)
3 tablespoons mayonnaise (light is fine)
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Whisk together the above ingredients, in a small bowl or jar.

Make the Salad:
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
1 cup julienned or finely diced peeled carrot
2 cups julienned or finely diced peeled celeriac
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 large firm-ripe bosc pear

Toast the pumpkin seeds in a dry skillet over medium-high heat until slightly browned, and some of them "pop". Turn them out onto a plate to cool.

Peel and cut up the carrot as you like. Peel and cut up the celeriac similarly, and put the pieces into a bowl of water acidulated with the lemon juice while you work, to prevent them turning brown. If the skin is nice on the pear, do not peel it; otherwise, peel the pear, then core it and chop it into compatible pieces. Add them to the celeriac.

Drain the celeriac and pears well, and mix them with the carrots. Toss them with the dressing. Taste, and adjust the seasoning; in particular, add a little more horseradish if you feel it could use it. Just before serving, sprinkle the pumpkin seeds over the salad.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

MacGregor's Favourite Beet

McGregor's Favorite Beet

I was given some seeds for this beet in a seed exchange last winter, and they sounded very interesting. (Thanks, Holly!)Mostly, I've been quite pleased with them! As you see, they are large and carrot-like in shape, with brilliant purple leaves. They are not too large or too prominent, but form a nice foot-high tuft, shiny and gently ruffled. The purple leaves are what seed-sellers emphasize, declaring that they are "tender and delicious".

Uh, no. That's why I'm mostly pleased with them. The leaves, while lovely, were tough and bitter, even in this mild, rainy year, and even when small. Very beautiful; definitely. They would make a good plant for a Victorian style carpet-bed of vegetables. On the other hand, the roots - which nobody seems to promote much - are actually very good, with a distinctive sweet, rich flavour and bright mid-purple/red colour. The long carrot shape means they are also a very usable size, and they seem very tender even when large. They would be lovely roasted with other tapered root vegetables, such as parsnips and carrots, and presented in a riot of colours but nicely consistent shapes.

Like all beets, these are biennials, so if I want any seed from them (and I rather think I do) the remaining ones will have to survive the winter outdoors. Given our good snow cover, mice are more of a hazard than freezing. They went in late-ish (early June) and did well with little attention, due to the plentiful rain we received this year from June on. Like most beets, they are pretty pest resistant. Slugs and snails sometimes bother beets but they left these ones alone. I guess they thought there were better beet tops too. Like most beets, they should be thinned. We did thin them, although not quite as carefully as would have been ideal. They did well being a little crowded - again, that long narrow shape was helpful. You will need a loose, sandy soil like ours, though,  in order to get best results from these.They are described as 60 days to maturity; perhaps a little optimistic around here. However, they were fairly early and also held well in the ground.

I can find very little about the history of MacGregor's Favourite (or McGregor's Favorite, as it may also get spelt) but it is generally regarded as a Scottish heirloom. Whether this is in fact established, or whether people are simply extrapolating from the name, I cannot say. The one reference I can find to it in historic vegetable lists dates to 1890. It also seems to be known as "Dracena" or "Dracaena", presumably in reference to a resemblance to the well-known house plant.

The original wild beet had a long narrow root like MacGregor's Favourite, but the refined flavour and unusual leaves make it clear that it is the result of careful breeding. My guess is that it was developed in the mid to late 1800's, as part of the enormous burst of Victorian vegetable breeding, had it's little day in the sun, and is now rather obscure, indeed, flirting with extinction. I for one, however, think it well worth keeping going - it's a nice little beet, with beauty that is more than skin (or leaf) deep.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Quick Braised Chicken with Leeks & Garlic

Here is a dish that brings together a number of my current interests: leeks, seasoning with vinegar, braising, and getting a meal on the table with a minimum of time and fuss. Well, that last one isn't so much a current interest as a life goal. And I'm not sure this really qualifies as braising, given how quick it is, but it certainly isn't stir-frying either.

Did I say we have great leeks this year? We have great leeks this year!

quantities are per person
30 minutes - 15 minutes prep time

Quick Braised Chicken with Leeks & Garlic

1 medium leek
3 to 4 cloves of garlic
1 skinless, boneless chicken breast
OR 2 skinless, boneless chicken thighs
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup unsalted chicken stock or a little more

Wash and trim the leek, and cut it into inch long slices. Peel and mince the garlic.

Heat 2 teaspoons of the oil in a skillet, over high heat, and brown the chicken piece(s) on both sides. Remove them from the pan and set them aside; reduce the heat to medium-high. Add the remaining oil to the pan, and then the leek pieces. Cook for 3 or 4 minutes, stirring regularly, until very slightly browned, and softened. Add the garlic, and stir it in for about 1 minute, until fragrant. Add the soy sauce, vinegar, and chicken stock, and then put the chicken back into the pan over the leeks.

Cover the pan, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer the leeks and chicken for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring gently once or twice,  until the chicken is cooked and the leeks are very soft.  Add a little more chicken stock if required, to keep the leeks sufficiently moist so as to not stick or scorch, but by the time the chicken and leeks are done, most of the stock should be absorbed/evaporated.

Serve with polenta, rice, potatoes, barley pilaf, or pasta.

Friday, 14 November 2014

A Visit to a Farm Boy Store

About a week or two ago, we finally made our annual spring visit to Mr Ferdzy's dad. Yeah, we are running just a tad behind schedule here, what with one thing and another. I really didn't expect to have the opportunity to check out any local food action, but the first evening I was there I picked up a flyer from the local paper, which was for Farm Boy. Now I'm sure all you eastern Ontarians are saying, "What, them? They're a grocery chain.", but I had never heard of them before and that flyer sure looked interesting. So, when we found ourselves with a free morning we headed off to the nearest one, which was in the Merivale Mall.

Right off the bat they look distinctly a little different from any of the grocery chains around where I live - they had a sign out front calling for local producers to come and talk to them about having them carry their product!

Inside, they look pretty much like your standard grocery store, apart from a horrifically tacky animatronic farm boy blearing out a hideous welcome by the front door (no photo of that, you lucky dogs). That was just about enough to make me turn tail and run, but we pushed on past and after that it was clear sailing.

Like most grocery stores, they have the produce section at the front, where you first enter. Unlike most grocery stores, I really don't think I have ever seen a display with such a high percentage of Ontario-grown produce.

Look at those leeks! Seems like I wasn't the only one to have a bumper crop of leeks. Unlike me, they also have lots of really lovely looking broccoli. Those prices are ridiculous, too, and I mean that in a good way. Good for the shopper, anyway. I wouldn't sell my babies for less than a dollar each! Do you have any idea how much work goes into getting that long white shank? (You should - I've posted about the technique.)

Three kinds of cabbages, squash, beets...

Tri-colour and regular carrots, Brussels sprouts, potatoes, cabbages, all seasonal Ontario vegetables... it shouldn't be amazing, but it is. Of course, they are a full service grocery and have all the standard imported items as well, but the local produce is front and centre.

But their interest in carrying local products extends beyondproduce. These were samosas from a local manufacturer.

St Albert Co-op, a local dairy, was well represented.

Like most groceries these days, they have their own line of products under their own name; according to the flyer these corn chips are made by an Ottawa-based company.

The dairy case looks like a dairy case... with probably 1/2 to 2/3 of the contents being produced in Ontario or Quebec, from what I can see. Pretty unusual!

I recognize these cranberries from attending Ottawa area farmers markets. Yes, locally grown cranberries. Stupendous.

Just what the sign says; a selection of Canadian Artisan Cheese, most of it from Ontario and Quebec. We tried some sheep's milk Gouda from Cross Roads - very tasty!

There seems to be 15 Farm Boy locations in eastern Ontario, with 2 more to open in the spring - these new ones being in London! Which is great news for those of us living in Western Ontario. Think we could talk them into opening one in Collingwood?! Or Meaford! (Ha ha; no.)

Much as I love farmers markets and small retail shops, the reality is that most of us do most of our shopping in large grocery stores. It made me really happy to see a full-service grocery chain with a significant commitment to local food. Long may they prosper! And maybe they will even oblige some of the other big chains to get a little serious about local food.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Quick & Easy Braised Tofu

"Oh yum, tofu in barbecue sauce!" said Mr. Ferdzy. Well, kind of, I guess. Whatever you want to call it, he liked this sauce and so did I. You could add a little hot sauce or chile-garlic sauce to it if you like, at the stove or at the table, but I felt like not having hot sauce for once, so I didn't.

Serve it with steamed rice and a green vegetable, and have a very quick and easy meal, on the table in half an hour.

2 to 4 servings
30 minutes prep time

Quick & Easy Braised Tofu
Make the Sauce:
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1/4 cup water

Mix the ketchup, vinegar, hoisin sauce, and water in a small bowl and set aside.

Braise the Tofu:
3 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
450 grams (1 pound) firm tofu
1 tablespoon finely minced peeled fresh ginger
1 tablespoon finely minced peeled garlic

1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Slice the tofu into 16 equal slices, and add them to the pan once the oil is hot. Prepare the ginger and garlic and set them aside.

Fry the tofu until it is nicely browned on each side, about 5 minutes per side. At this point, add the ginger and garlic, and stir them, as much as you can without disturbing the tofu, for a minute or two to let them cook a bit. Then, add the sauce to the pan and reduce the heat to medium. Swish out the bowl the sauce was in with the water, and add that to the pan as well. Shake the pan a bit, or lift the tofu pieces, to allow the sauce to go under them.

Simmer the tofu pieces in the sauce for about 10 minutes, until the sauce is thickened. Stir gently, especially around the edges of the pan, where the sauce will thicken fastest (and may scorch if it gets too thick). Try to be gentle with the tofu pieces, and not break them.

Serve the tofu and sauce over steamed rice or noodles.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Freeze & Bake Pumpkin Pie

Time to stop eating so much squash! How about some pumpkin, instead?

Actually, this is a mixture of squash and pumpkin - they are quite interchangeable, when it comes to pie, and after all pumpkins are only squash of a specific roundish shape. I had a few that were starting to go bad shortly after we picked them all, so to save them I roasted them all up. Then, when I went grocery shopping, I found ready-made pie shells on sale. I don't usually buy prepared pie shells, but this was pretty serendipitous, so I bought 4 packs and now my freezer is full of pumpkin pies, ready to be baked. Well, was full. The level is dropping pretty quickly. (Just as well - I don't think these frozen pies should be kept for more than a month or two.) 

This is a very classic pumpkin pie recipe, with fairly mild, well-balanced spicing and a smooth, soft texture. Of course, you don't have to freeze them - you can bake them at once. Start them off at 400°F, as below, but once the heat is reduced to 350°F they should be ready in another 45 to 55 minutes.

Don't forget that if you are starting with pumpkin or squash you have cooked yourself, it is a good idea to spend some time caramelizing it before you use it. I didn't do that this time, as I was in a big hurry, but it does improve it. I give more detailed directions in my recipe for Pumpkin Loaf.

I used the higher amount of Sucanat, and thought it was a bit too sweet. This is, however, about half the amount of sugar that most pumpkin pie recipes call for. Next time I make it though, I'm going to cut back just a little more.

2 8-9" pies (12 servings)
15 minutes prep time, not including cooking the pumpkin
2 hours bake time, plus cooling time

2 cups cooked, mashed pumpkin
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2/3 to 3/4 cup Sucanat or dark brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup cream, 10% or richer
2 frozen 9" pie shells

Put the prepared pumpkin into a mixing bowl, and mix in the salt and spices. Mix in the Sucanat, then beat in the eggs, one at a time. Slowly mix in the cream.

Divide the custard evenly between the 2 pie crusts, which should still be completely frozen. Set them in the freezer, on a very level shelf, to freeze solid. Once they have frozen (overnight) wrap them up tightly in plastic. One can go back into the pie carton, if you like, so you can stack the second on top of it.

Note that this is a very soupy filling, so it will be a bit tricky to get the filled pie crust into the freezer. I put mine onto a large tray that fit into the freezer, and that worked, but if you do not have very steady hands you may want to put the pie crust into the freezer half-filled, then finish filling it up right in the freezer.  Once it is frozen, of course, it is easy to take it out and wrap it up.

To bake a pie, preheat the oven to 400°F. Bake the unwrapped but still solidly frozen pie for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350°F. Bake the pie for another hour and a half, until the top has puffed up all over and the crust is nicely browned. Remove it from the oven and let cool. The puffing will subside as it cools.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Broccoli & Caulflower Cheese Casserole

So what is this, exactly? I guess it's a variation on a sformato, or an odd riff on cauliflower with cheese sauce, but whatever you want to call it, it makes a nice vegetarian main dish. I'd serve it with some squash or carrots, and a good whole wheat roll if you wanted some carbs.

I had fun coming  up with a design for the top and I have to take my fun where I find it these days. Alas, this is not from our garden; we are still not able to grow these broccoli and cauliflower in particular, which is sad as they are some of my favourite vegetables.

6 to 8 servings
1 hour 30 minutes - 20 minutes prep time

4 cups broccoli pieces (1 bunch)
4 cups caulflower pieces (1/2 - 2/3 large)
1 cup milk
4 tablespoons soft unbleached flour
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
450 grams (1 pound) ricotta cheese
2 large eggs
1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup fine dry bread crumbs

Wash and break up the broccoli and cauliflower, and set aside about 2 cups of each of the broccoli and cauliflower florets; the nicest, most evenly sized ones, to set into the top of the casserole. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Put the remainder of the broccoli and cauliflower into a pot or steamer and cook until fairly tender; 6 or 7 minutes. Lift them out with a slotted spoon and put them into a food processor with the milk, flour, salt, pepper, ricotta, and eggs - you may need to do this in 2 batches. Pureé until fairly smooth. Meanwhile, put the remaining broccoli and cauliflower into the pot and cook for 5 minute, until tender-firm.

Put the mixture into a lightly-oiled 8" x 10" shallow (lasagne) pan, and mix in about 3/4 of the Parmesan cheese. Drain the remaining broccoli and cauliflower florets, and set them into the cheese mixture, in some sort of pattern if you like, so that the tops show and the rest is submerged. Mix the remaining Parmesan with the bread crumbs and sprinkle this over the top. Bake for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes,  until the cheese is bubbling and the top cheese is lightly browned. Let set for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Squash & Carrots with Cinnamon & Ginger

Here is a dish I have been making quite often this fall, what with our fabulous squash harvest and equally fabulous carrot harvest. I'm not including the time to cook the squash, because you bake it and serve it the night before, and then you make this with what I hesitate to call leftovers, since you carefully set aside the amount needed so it wouldn't get eaten.

If you don't go the bake-it-the-day-before route, I generally find it takes an hour to an hour and quarter to bake squash, at 350°F; you will also need to cool it enough to handle, to get it out of the shell and mashed.

You can do this as I do, and leave the carrots rather chunky for some texture, or you could run it through the food processor for a much smoother texture, but that seems like a lot of unnecessary messing about to me.  This is so deliciously simple, or is that simply delicious, and a little texture never killed anyone.

4 to 6 servings
30 minutes - 10 minutes prep time, not including cooking the squash

2 cups cooked mashed squash
2 cups cooked carrots, mashed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt

Having obtained your cooked squash, and having mashed it, it is time to cook the carrots. Peel them and cut them into chunks, and put them into a pot with water to cover, and boil them until they are quite tender; perhaps as much as 15 minutes. Drain them, mash them, and add the squash to the pan, along with the butter, cinnamon, ginger, and salt. Mash and mix all these up thoroughly, and keep them on the burner until the mixture is hot through again, stirring all the time to prevent scorching. Aaaand that's about it; serve it up.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Spaghetti Squash Singapore Style

Our squash harvest was amazing this year, including 4 lovely spaghetti squashes. Unfortunately, due to the unrelenting rain in late summer and fall, it is all a little on the soggy side. Hence my instructions for draining the squash if yours, too, is more moist than it should be. With that treatment the squash was, if not perfect, quite acceptable, and the resulting dish was filling and flavourful.

I used green onion tops for this; my onions have also suffered this year. They died down very prematurely in early July during a fairly brief dry spell, and once the rain started again they sprouted with enthusiasm. Consequently, we have only about 1/4 of the number of storable onions as we expected, and I'm going to be using the sprouting onions from the garden for as long as I am able to get to them. A regular onion should be just fine though, if you don't have this problem!

If you don't want to make your own curry powder, Yeo's is a good brand to use for this, if you can get it.  This will serve 2 or 3 if it is all you eat; with some rice it would go further.

2 to 4 servings
to roast the squash: 1 hour 30 minutes; 15 minutes prep time
to make the dish: 45 minutes prep time

Cook the Squash in Advance:
1 1.5 kilo (3 pound) spaghetti squash
a little oil

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cut the squash in half across widthwise, and scoop out the seeds and any loose stringy bits with a spoon. Rub a little oil on the cut ends of the squash, and put them in a roasting pan, cut ends against the pan. Roast the squash for an hour and a quarter, until soft. Let cool. This can, and probably should, be done a day ahead.

Once it is cool, the squash can be pulled from the shell with a fork, and loosened to form the spaghetti-like strands. You should have about 6 to 8 cups of squash.

It may be helpful to drain the squash in a colander for several hours as it waits to be finished; if it is really soggy gently squeeze it by handfuls to remove as much liquid as possible, without breaking the strands.

Finish the Dish:
2 to 3 stalks of celery
1 large onion
1 medium carrot
250 grams (1/2 pound) skinless, boneless chicken breasts or thighs
3 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
3 to 4 teaspoons Malaysian curry powder
salt to taste

Wash, trim, and finely chope the celery. Peel and chop the onion. Peel and grate the carrot. Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces.

Heat one tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over high heat, and cook the chicken pieces, with a sprinkling of salt, until just cooked. When they are half done, add the celery, onion, and carrot. Stir frequently as they cook. Once everything is just short of done, remove it to a dish to wait while you cook the squash.

Add the remaining oil to the skillet, and cook the squash with the curry powder, stirring it gently to break it up and distribute the curry evenly throughout it. Once it is fairly dry and evenly coated, mix the chicken and vegetables back in. Season with a little more salt, if necessary. Serve at once.

Last year at this time I made Kale & Parsnips à l'orange.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Wheat Crepes

About every 5 years of so I decide I would like to make crepes, and until now I have not gotten very good results. Soggy! Broken! Broken! Lopsided! Broken!

The discipline of writing this blog, however, has made me keep much better notes and think much more about how I do things, and when I attempted them again recently... they worked perfectly! (Also I stopped believing the recipe I was using about how much flour was required. It was just plain wrong.) Woo-hoo! Look for more things made with crepes to come!

I served these crepes with applesauce and whipped cream, but they are also good with a pat of butter, a squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkle of maple sugar. They are also the base for many savoury dishes; I look forward to making some.

10 to 12 crepes; 4 to 6 servings 
40 minutes to 1 hour prep time

Crepes with Apple Sauce and Whipped Cream

4 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups lower-fat milk

about 1 cup soft unbleached or soft whole wheat flour
about 2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil

Whisk the eggs with the salt thoroughly in a mixing bowl, then whisk in the milk, about 1/3 at a time, until completely blended.You can use skim, 1% or 2% milk.

Whisk in the flour, again about 1/3 at a time, until completely blended. If you are using white (soft unbleached) flour, you should be a little skimpy with it - say about a tablespoon short of the full cup, but if you are using whole wheat flour, you should use a full cup.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat; the same temperature you would use to cook other pancakes or eggs.

Pour about 2 tablespoons of oil into a saucer or other small dish, and dip one corner of a piece of folded up paper towel into it. Use this to smear a film of oil over the bottom of the skillet. If you want to finish the crepes faster, you can heat 2 skillets and keep them going - a crepe will cook on the first side in about the time it takes to prep a pan, so you can switch between them. You may want to use just one pan the first time though, so you can really get a feel for them.

Pour about 1/3 of a cup of the batter into the skillet, and AT ONCE swirl the batter to cover MOST of the bottom of the pan. I find if I leave a stretch of naked pan about 1" wide and 6" long along one side of the crepe, it becomes far easier to get the lifter under it and loosen it. You will need a good wide but thin metal lifter for this.

About a minute after the crepe has been formed, start running the lifter under the edges, all around the crepe, then working it in to the centre, particularly from the bare spot in the pan. Once it is completely loosened - and you will not be able to loosen it completely until the bottom is firmly cooked, so be patient - flip it over. It will then need only about 30 seconds to finish cooking on the second side. Remove it to a plate set in a cool oven (200°F is the lowest mine goes, but it could be 175°F if yours will do it) and keep the finished crepes warm while you make the rest of them.

Whisk up the batter before ladling out each crepe; it's so thin the flour tends to settle to the bottom of the bowl. 

* * *

You can serve the crepes at once, or keep them, well wrapped, in the fridge for up to 3 days. They can also be frozen, wrapped first in plastic then in foil (or in a vacuum sealed bag, if you have a sealer.) If frozen, thaw them for 24 hours in the fridge before reheating.

To serve them with the applesauce, I smeared applesauce over one half of each crepe, then folded the other half over to cover it. Then I folded them in half again, and heated them in a lightly oiled skillet (as they were cooked the first time) for about a minute on each side, until just hot. You can get 4 of these folded crepes into the pan at a time, of course.

Last year at this time I made Broccoli with Bacon, Mushrooms & Onions.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Red Shepherd Peppers & Chervena Chushka Peppers

Red Shepherd Peppers & Chervena Chushka Peppers

Life has been too busy this summer to post much about what we have been growing, but we pulled in most of the peppers last week, and there are a few other storage vegetables that are doing well, so look for some varietal reports over the next month. It's probably too late to buy these, but not too late to consider growing them next year.

The 2 peppers in the top right quadrant of the photo are Red Shepherd, a variety of pepper commonly available in groceries in the fall. The other 2 peppers are Chervena Chushka, a Bulgarian heirloom. I've never seen them for sale (although you might find them at farmers' markets), but seeds are readily available for them, and they are a popular pepper to grow at home. These are both large, long, thick-fleshed red peppers.

Red Shepherd:

In general, Red Shepherd  (sometimes spelt Shepard or Sheppard) are very large peppers, great for stuffing. They are a mild and sweet pepper, long and thin, although as noted, not too thin to be good stuffers. They do not have the compound which gives me indigestion that Bell peppers have, but can be used in pretty much any recipe calling for red Bell peppers; the same is true of the Chervena Chushka.

If you look for seed, the exact variety name appears to be "Super Shepherd", and it's an open-pollinated variety of Italian ancestry, although these large red rams-horn type peppers are also common in Spain, and they may have originated there before becoming common in Italy.  Do pay attention when buying seed at any rate; there are some peppers with Shepherd in the name which are F1 hybrids.

The 2 peppers in the photo are not particularly large specimens. In general, I'd say they are at least twice as large as the Chervena Chushka tend to be. It's not unheard of for them to be as long as a foot, although mine were a "mere" 8 inches or so. The plant they grow on, however, is fairly compact - ours did not get above 2 feet tall, although well supplied with peppers. We kept them under plastic for most of the summer, as this was a very cool and damp year for us. That was enough to allow them to produce well.

They are described as taking about 65 to 70 days to maturity, but it seems to be late September to early October when they show up at the markets in large numbers. Ours certainly took that long, and I think 85 days is probably a more realistic time-frame in general. We bought these as seedlings and planted them outside in very early June, but usually we start peppers indoors on March 15th, expecting germination around April 1st.

Peppers in general don't have huge number of pests, but birds will sometimes peck at them, and with really sweet peppers like these, we have had some trouble with slugs and snails. This year was particularly bad, given how cool and wet it has been, and I opened too many peppers where I found a slug had drilled in and made itself at home. Still, these are pretty trouble-free peppers, and they hold on the plant well, and keep once picked quite well too.

Chervena Chushka:

Chervena Chushka looks a lot like Red Shepherd, only smaller, with 5. That is, the peppers are smaller, but the plant on which they grow is considerably taller and more robust, and produces more peppers overall.  Ours reached a good 4' tall, even in this rather poor season. While they are smaller than Red Shepherd, the shape, texture, and flavour are all quite similar. They are said to be 85 days to maturity, and while I think this is a realistic time-frame, I note that they were ready as soon or sooner than my Red Shepherds. Again, I had a few slug problems but like most peppers they were a pretty trouble-free crop for us. Like the Red Shepherds, they held very well both on and off the plants.

While this pepper is widely circulated under the name Chervena Chushka, apparently this is simply the Bulgarian for "Red Pepper". Michigan Heirlooms suggests that the correct name for this variety is Kapija, which in turns suggests that its origin is perhaps Serbian, or Croatian, rather then Bulgarian, since Kapija seems to mean "Gate" in both those languages. However; for most of us that is a pretty fine distinction. Let's just say it's from the Balkans.

Either way, it's a really terrific pepper, good raw or roasted. I used mine to make Ajvar this year, and that would certainly be a typical use for these. I also roasted them for 30 minutes at 450°F in a single layer, turning them once at the 15 minute mark, until regularly charred on each side. I covered them and let them cool, then peeled them and froze them for use this winter in pasta sauces, soups, and stews.

Overall, I would say these are 2 of the best red peppers out there for Ontario growers. I will probably continue to grow Chervena Chushka ( Kapija) rather than Red Shepherd simply because I think it's a little more productive for me, I like the large robust plants, and I probably have more use for a slightly smaller pepper in general; however, whichever one you choose should give excellent results.