Monday, July 11, 2011

Garden Notes

We harvested the first of our garlic today, which, together with the basil flourishing in the herb garden, means that pesto season has officially begun. The other significant news from the garden is that the blueberries have begun at last to bear fruit, and if we're not getting the hundreds of pounds per year we hoped for (seven years ago!), we're getting just enough each day to add to our morning yogurt or to sprinkle on pancakes. They are delicious, and we are grateful.

As for the green beans, they are beginning to come in a handful at a time: not enough for making dilly beans, but a reasonable amount to steam for dinner. Excellent by themselves or served with a balsamic vinaigrette and minced basil or mint.

The mint was a benign little plant when I picked her up at the market, but put in the earth, she has become a voracious creature threatening to overtake both the parsley and the basil. Means I've had to both invent new ways of using the herb (muddled mint in tea! on cucumbers! in rice! in salads!) and, on occasion, trim her overreaching tentacles. Harsh treatment perhaps, but in my garden, nothing is allowed to threaten the basil.

No tomatos yet -- it is early in the season, after all -- but I decided to rush things a bit and buy some organic tomatos at the market to try out a recipe for Spicy Tomato Salsa from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving... just to see if we'd even like it. I ratcheted up the heat a few degrees by substituting dried chipotle chiles for some of the dried ancho chiles called for and by doubling the quantity of crushed red pepper. The result: smokier than we are used to, and a little sweeter, too, but amazing, completely amazing flavor. Excellent with chips and guacamole, and a divine compansion to huevos rancheros.

It was my first salsa, but it probably won't be my last. I'm still aiming for something a little more tangy, a little less sweet, and it's looking like we'll have enough tomatos come August that it will be easy to experiment a bit.

Projects like these definitely involve some work -- spending an hour peeling, coring, and chopping 12 cups of tomatos, not to mention the 3 cups of onions as well as numerous jalapenos and cloves of garlic, had me momentarily fantasizing about a food processor... until I started reading reviews of food processors and realized that all my memories of tomatos & onions turning into mush were grounded in actual fact -- but having a garden makes it hard to avoid learning how to preserve its bounty: the produce is just too delicious, and there is always way too much of it. When you put the usual surplus together with the memory of spending way too much for way too little for the same items from November to March, the argument for preserving what you grow is hard to resist.

All to say: there are a few other food preservation projects in the works this summer. The dilly beans I mentioned earlier, for example; blame a recent addiction to Rick's Pick's Mean Beans for this one. This corn and red pepper relish. Sauerkraut (fermented, not canned), with caraway seed and maybe juniper; something to help me break my budget-breaking habit at The Brinery. I even have plans for those violas: they are destined to be preserved in sugar syrup, then used to decorate cakes.

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