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And The Winner Is …

… black cherry tomatoes.

Not only did they win me two ribbons at the county fair, they also are the highest producer in my rain soaked garden. I have harvested close to 25 pounds of these flavorful heirloom tomatoes from two plants. Plants purchased last spring from TLV Tree Farm at the Clarksville Farmers’ Market.

This is the second year they have taken second place in the heirloom tomato category. It’s the closest I have gotten to that elusive blue ribbon, and the $35 special premium attached to winning it.  I just can’t get my other heirlooms to ripen early enough to enter them in the fair. Next year will be even harder as the fair is a day earlier for entries, and I barely had adequate numbers of my other vegetables.

I did put in seven entries and came away with seven ribbons. Two firsts, three seconds, and two fourth place ribbons. My first place winners were my okra, and I had the largest tomato. Not very large, a green heirloom variety called Aunt Ruby’s Green German. It was a pound and a half. It’s crazy. I only got a half dozen of them from that plant, so it will not be bought again next year.

As for other notables from my garden, this is the year that the Italian cucurbita moschata, aka tromboncino took over my garden. It’s crawling everywhere and giving me 1-3 pound squash every time I go there.

This is the latest one. 2 Pounds, 14 ounces. There are seeds only in the bulb, so they are sweeter than other summer squash if you get them before they become too large. In past years, friends have found hiding ones that have weighed as much as 10 pounds. Those with darker green skins are treated like winter squash, peeled and used in soups or in muffins and breads.

I have been making and freezing trays of fritters. By themselves or paired with corn, or with sweet red peppers, we make a batch, have a few with dinner and then freeze them stacked on parchment. All winter long I can pull out a sheet or two and have fritters as a side dish with dinner.

Here is one of my earlier harvests of the squash.

And these are the other major producer this year. My okra. Drowning in okra. I had a market pack with ten plants in it. They looked quite pathetic when I planted them and I expected many of them to die. Nope, they didn’t. Out of ten tiny plants, seven survived and are now six feet tall and producing like mad. I have made many fries, have sautéed them, made a hash, and am running out of ideas. I do donate quite a bit of these to the food bank every Tuesday as we get dozen of them weekly.

Last but not least, the heirlooms.

Not a great year. Many cracked from the excessive rain. I did get quite a few of Rutgers tomatoes. Those are the red ones with the cracked tops. The green ones were those green German variety. The two on the bottom right were from my Amish CSA and not from the garden.

But these were still my favorite. At the height of summer, they were large and sweet.

I roasted these. Spread out on a tray. Rolled in olive oil, sprinkled with salt, pepper, and oregano. Low temperature for a few hours. Like candy.

The garden is winding down. Just okra, cherry tomatoes and lettuces. A big basil plant and sage. Almost time to do my winter pesto and maybe spread some Tuscan kale plants in the corner to see how they do.

This summer was awful for the gardeners. Far too much rain, excessive heat when it wasn’t raining, and bugs galore. Still, I love the challenge and I enjoy my harvests.

“Ramp” ing It Up

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It’s that spring ritual for me. If it isn’t asparagus, it’s ramps. If it isn’t ramps, it’s morel mushrooms. And, when they are done, it becomes garlic scapes. Etc. Etc.

I post every year about those fleeting specialties that grace our table in all their glory.

Ramps, last year, for example. That post also mentions the fresh morels from Jenny’s Market. Yesterday when I saw the signs on route 32 for the market, they highlighted the seasonal goodies like the mushrooms.

I have also written many posts on asparagus, and on garlic scapes, but today I want to show another simple preparation with the ramps that were still available at the Silver Spring farmer’s market.

Ramp pesto.

I found a recipe in Laurie Lundy’s amazing book on Appalachia. The book is called Victuals, pronounced viddles, according to the introduction. I also grew up hearing it pronounced at vittles. No matter, it is a very complete collection of recipes and their history in the Appalachian communities.

I ended up using her guidelines for ratios, but using what I had in the pantry.

4-5 ounces of ramp leaves. Three large bulbs. I blanched the leaves. Wrung them out after their ice water bath. Put them and the bulbs in the food processor with about 1/2 cup of pistachios. Added 1/3 cup of Parmesan cheese. Poured in the olive oil while watching it emulsify. A little salt and pepper to taste. I used this pesto on pasta, and on flatbreads. Added it to an omelet with sautéed potatoes. Put a little on a freshly baked potato. I made it twice already in the past two weeks.

Ramp season is fleeting. They are wild, and not agreeable to cultivating.

An interesting fact I recently heard on the newest Parts Unknown. The West Virginia episode that premiered last week. The farmers in West Virginia are paid $2 a pound for ramps that are taken to New York City where they fetch up to $32 a pound. Talk about a markup!

We pay about $4 a bunch to the West Virginia farmers who frequent the Silver Spring market. Those bunches weigh about 5-6 ounces so they are getting around $12 a pound by selling direct to customers here. A big difference in price.

If you get the opportunity to buy from the local communities, they do far better than selling through distributors.

Now, I just need to head up to Jenny’s and get some locally sourced morels.

 

The 2018 Spargel Season

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The first asparagus in my garden this year were recorded 26 days later than a year ago. This cold wet spring is doing a number on the growth and readiness of our favorite spring “heralders”. I picked a half dozen spears on the morning of the 26th, and saw about a dozen that I should be able to harvest tomorrow morning. Contrast 2018 to 2016, where we also had a late spring.  The numbers were closer to what we are seeing now.

But, I still had 27 spears by the 26th then. I had a whopping 54 in 2017 by this date. I keep records of my garden, just like most farmers do for their crops. Bud break, first harvest, length of harvest, total numbers, total weight, etc.

I still only have a few annuals in the ground. My perennials, like the rhubarb and the herbs, are slowly awakening.

Spargel season is fleeting. White asparagus is a special treat in the spring, and we had our first ones at Lupa last week. Lupa is a new restaurant in downtown Columbia. Owned by the same people, Tony Foreman and Chef Cindy Wolf, that gave us restaurants in Baltimore, and replacing Petit Louis Bistro on the lakefront.

We shall see if Italian fare does better in that location than the former French bistro. We were impressed with the freshly made pastas, including the fettucine with spargel and mushrooms that I had for my dinner. They also featured a white asparagus salad that I had been tempted to try, but I ended up enjoying perfectly executed calamari as a first course. For pizza lovers, there is also a white asparagus pizza on the spring menu.

I like Lupa, with its reasonably priced courses. My husband’s gnocchi were delicious, as we brought home a small amount of leftover pastas which graced our dinner table on Wednesday. We will try and visit the gelateria when the warm weather finally arrives. Having that little area off the dining room become a place to enjoy homemade gelato and sorbet in the summer is another nice addition to the dining options on the lake.

Where else have you seen asparagus featured? Do you like to cook with asparagus? Are you waiting for them to arrive in our local farmer’s markets, and at Jenny’s Market? Jenny’s is supposed to open later this week, and I can’t wait. My go-to right up the road food stand. Where I run to when I need one extra ingredient missing, as I am cooking. I always seem to run out of scallions, or onions, or citrus, and I love that they aren’t 7 miles away. For six months of the year, Jenny’s helps us stay sane with her great selection. She has promised that there will be asparagus when she opens, for those who love cooking seasonally.

Some of my favorites with spargel?

A simple mixed grill. Whatever looks freshest, brushed with oil, seasoned lightly, and served with something easy like kebabs, fish, or steak.

Maybe a frittata. Chopped asparagus, added to the egg mix, with herbs and greens.

Pasta primavera. My favorite pairing is peas and asparagus, with flavors enhanced with sautéed spring onions.

I have to admit, I have been really looking forward to retiring all those root vegetables from my diet, and getting into spring cooking.

 

Safe to Eat?

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OK, raise your hands if all this talk of salmonella and E-Coli is ticking you off.

What is it with the inability to keep food sources safe?

We are in the middle of our transition from winter to spring CSA, and have had to buy produce at the store. No farmer’s markets in the area yet. Other than Silver Spring, but we were busy last weekend and ended up buying romaine at the store. Which we had to throw away now that the CDC can’t pinpoint the source of the E-Coli.

And people wonder why we buy most of our food from our farmer friends. We know where it was grown. We can actually meet the people who grow our food.

We have eggs from our meat and egg share from Evermore Farm. Yes, we pay more for farm fresh eggs but at least our farmers seem to be able to monitor their products and we aren’t looking for tiny labels to see if what we have is part of that millions of eggs recall on the East Coast of the US.

As for the romaine. Annoying to throw out packages of organic romaine because we don’t know where it originated. I can’t wait until May 1st when the spring CSA begins. And, for mid May when our local farmer’s markets begin. Love Dove has awesome greens, right out of the fields. I hope they will be at Clarksville on Saturdays, but if they aren’t, we can also get good organic vegetables from Earth First. Earth First is right down the road from us, and so is Triadelphia Lake View Farm. Both farms sell at our markets.

For local CSAs, besides my Lancaster Farm Fresh which is adding a second pick up in Dorsey Search, there are at least four other major sources of food right out of the ground.

Gorman Farm. Breezy Willow Farm. Wheeler Farm. Triadelphia Lake View Farm.

No excuses to buy older, less fresh, possibly suspect produce.

As for eggs, again, lots of local sources. Copper Penny. Breezy Willow. Evermore Farm. To name a few.

When I switched from industrially processed foods to locally grown, I found the difference in freshness to be incredible. Thankfully, this also means I have a face to associate with my food. People who eat that same food so they have a vested interest in keeping it safe.

Join me in supporting local farms and producers?

Winter in the Spring

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It’s only fitting that on the second day of spring we get smacked with eight inches of snow. Heavy wet snow. Tree branch breaking snow. After all, I did just post a few weeks back about our unseasonable warm weather, and look where we are now.

Our CSA is also still stuck in winter mode. If I see carrots on the newsletter Friday night, I may finally reach my limit and give them to people on street corners. Ten weeks running. Every color. Some of them downright weird.

Mutant ninja carrots, even.

Then there are the vegetables on steroids.

The 2 and 1/2 pound red beet. It was split, roasted and diced for salads. Many, many salads.

Followed by the next delivery with this “little” treasure.

There were two sweet potatoes that week. Total of more than 5 pounds. Far too large to roast. I gave one away, the little one, to a friend and the other, the behemoth, will become an ingredient in another adventure in lasagna. Maybe this weekend.

I cannot wait to see real baby greens on the list for my weekly pickup. I am so tired of winter, and want to get my garden going. Bring on the arugula, the pea shoots, the spring mix. Bring on the local farmer’s markets where I can get something light and refreshing. And put away those humongous root vegetables.

 

Just Another Tidbit Tuesday

Amazing. Two days. Two posts. I haven’t done this in ages.

Because. BREAD!

That’s right. I haven’t slacked off on making the famous NoKnead Bread and I have been modifying it left and right. Rosemary bread. Olive bread. Parmesan garlic bread. And, the latest here. Cinnamon raisin bread.

Have to use all this flour and grain I am getting in my winter CSA share.

This week, though, we just got spelt flour, which I will need to research to see how it does in a NoKnead recipe.

As for that cinnamon bread. This recipe is so easy and so forgiving. I messed up and was pouring the 360 grams of cool water into the flour and boom, the scale went from 430 to 830 before I could stop it. No problem. Eyeball it and add a couple of spoons of flour. It still worked perfectly. I use the ratio of 400 grams of flour to 360 grams of water. 1/4 teaspoon of active yeast. Teaspoon of salt.

All into the bowl on the scale. Before adding the water, I add the seasonings. Yesterday it was 20 grams of raisins and a few shakes of cinnamon and a teaspoon of sugar. Made the bread without that overly sweet taste that commercial raisin bread has.

This recipe calls for the bread to sit for a minimum of 12 hours before pouring out and shaping. Second rise of 2 hours. Baked in a 475 degree oven in the covered pot that spent 30 minutes heating before dumping the bread into it. 30 minutes baking with cover on. 15 minutes uncovered. Take out and let cool one hour on a rack. Enjoy.

What else interesting around here? Uniquely shaped sweet potatoes in the CSA box.

This one will be interesting to peel and cook.

The rest of this week’s veggies.

I am officially tired of potatoes and carrots. The Hakurei turnips on the other hand. They are destined to become a side dish for tomorrow’s Valentine’s dinner.

We never go out on Valentine’s Day. I make a nice filet mignon. I am steaming shrimp. Small bottle of bubbly for the appetizer and with dessert. Glass of good red wine with the steak. I got a tiny box of chocolates at Roots today. Dinner and the Olympics.

Some other ideas of good things for Valentines Day. Head to Clarksville Commons for ice cream from Scoop and Paddle. Indulge at the newly opened Victoria and Albert Hair Salon there. Kupcakes and Co. for a special dessert.

Tomorrow morning. I will be opening a new jar of Neat Nick Preserves to go with fresh cinnamon raisin toast.

Moroccan Meatless Monday

I have to admit that dinner tonight wasn’t intentionally meatless because we just planned to have the leftover soup from a cooking spree.  It also isn’t 100% meatless because it had chicken stock in it. So, it was almost meatless, and it could have been if I had used vegetable stock in the soup when making it.

The latest Cooks Illustrated arrived with a almost vegetarian version of harira, a traditional dried legume and pasta soup with a boatload of spices. Many versions of this soup contain lamb, which would probably elevate it to a whole new level.

These are just the dried spices. It also includes fresh ginger and garlic.

Why is all this so significant to me? Because, the soup was made by my husband who decided he wanted to start making soups this winter and picked a very unique one to begin with.

The soup begins with the onions, celery, garlic, ginger, some cilantro and parsley, the spices, the lentils and the chickpeas simmering away in a 50/50 mix of water and chicken stock. Not all that hard except for all the chopping and grating involved. Later, the container of strained tomatoes and the orzo get added with a slow simmer allowing the flavors to develop. Almost at the end, you add the greens. We didn’t have chard so we substituted collards.

The finished product gets fresh parsley and cilantro on top before serving, and a squeeze of lemon.

I admit. This would really rock with roasted lamb cubes in it. But, all by itself it is a hearty filling soup and I’m glad my husband decided he wanted to try it.