Monday, August 27, 2012

Harvest Monday–27 August 2012

Sunday was a beautiful day and we are running out of summer, so we decided to take advantage and take a short trip to Strawberry Banke Museum in Portsmouth, NH. The Museum contains an area of historic houses in the Puddle Dock area of Portsmouth along the Piscataqua River, one dating back to 1690. The entire area was blighted and scheduled to be torn down in the late 1950s as part of the urban renewal craze that spread across the country. Some citizens of the town realized the historic value of the area and were able to preserve a section which became the museum. The houses have been carefully restored and furnished with period furniture. What I found particularly interesting were the gardens surrounding each house. Besides decorative gardens, everyone had a kitchen garden and an herb bed.

Late August isn’t the prime time to be viewing a kitchen garden around here, but I found a few things interesting. First there were okra plants everywhere and it looked like they were just starting to flower. The first ones I encountered were in a vegetable bed alongside the Goodwin mansion. They had spikes of large, pale yellow flowers with dark red centers, very striking. I have read complaints that okra only produces a pod at a time but this one looked like it had set fruit all along the spike below the open flowers.

Okra blossom

Okra was also used frequently as an ornamental. Here is a cluster of okra plants that anchored the center of a circular flower bed in the public gardens across the street from the museum.

Okra blossoms in park

Bees and butterflies were everywhere, including a large flock of Monarchs.


An interesting item we found in  one of the herb gardens was this watering jug. This brown earthenware is of the type that was manufactured in Portsmouth, so I assume this is a reproduction of an original. It has a small opening on top, with the handle positioned so you can easily cover the opening. The bottom is covered with small holes. You use it by setting it in a bucket of water and allow it to fill. By placing your thumb over the top opening, you can lift it out of the bucket and easily carry it to the garden bed for watering.

Filling water jugDispensing water from the jug

Getting back to the purpose of this post, the harvest from the garden was mostly cucumbers and zucchini, with a few volunteer tomatoes and my first red onion. I should be pulling more onions this week or next. I also picked some Fortex pole beans and harvested a head of escarole and one of endive.

IMG_1411Cucumbers, tomatoes and a red onion
Pole beans, zucchini, and broccoliCucumbers and Juliet tomatoes

Escarole and endive

That’s what I was doing last week. If you want to see what other gardeners around the world are harvesting from their gardens, head over to Daphne’s Dandelions, our host for Harvest Monday.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Harvest Monday–20 August 2012

Well, it’s definitely summertime and the temperatures have been more seasonable, while the humidity still remains oppressive. I have not worn socks or shoes for days now and don’t plan to anytime soon. We have tomatoes and cucumbers and corn. Life is good.

The Fortex pole beans continue to produce reasonable amounts of beans and are now half way up the trellis.

Fortex beans and Juliet tomatoes

The Dunja zucchini continues to remain healthy and mildew free while my Sunburst and Costata Romanesco are succumbing to SVB, wilt and mildew. Dunja was slow to get going but is now cranking out fruit, which are actually welcome at this point with the other squash seeing their last days. Also a few Diva cucumbers that hid from sight and a Summer Dance on the right.

Dunja zucchini, Diva cukes and a Summer Dance on right

The second planting of escarole is ready to harvest. This head was sautéed in butter and garlic and served with lamb patties for dinner.

Escarole, Costats Romanesco and Dunja zucchini

The cucumbers are now cranking out fruit. Jackson Classic picklers on the left, some Summer Dance, and Diva on the right. I like all these cucumbers and will plant them next year. The tomatoes are Big Rainbow. I knew the big one was there, ready to pick, but got there late. The birds had a field day with it. I cut off the pecked side and served the rest of it anyway. Don’t tell my OCD daughter. We’re still alive to write this post, so it must have been OK.

Cucumbers and Big Rainbow tomatoes

Hope your summertime (or wintertime) is also great. To see what other gardeners around the world are harvesting from their gardens, head over to Daphne’s Dandelions, our host for Harvest Mondays.

Lovey’s Brownies

This is not exactly a gardening topic, unless you want to consider chocolate a vegetable (it does come from beans, after all). But I wanted to share this recipe and put it out there for posterity. And the timing is right. Last weekend was the Bolton Fair, a two-day country fair. One of the features of fairs is always the pie and cake contests.Which reminded me, about ten years ago my wife submitted this recipe and won the blue ribbon. She not only won the blue ribbon, she destroyed the competition. It was enjoyable to read the judges’ comments on other entries, trying to console the losers: “this is very good and would be a contender, but this year the competition is unusually strong.” Yeah, right, you just had a taste of the world’s best brownie recipe, there is no competition.

This has been a favorite in our family since we discovered it in the March, 1990 issue of Food and Wine Magazine, a special edition on Chocolate. It was the cover story. And it could not be simpler to make. The brownies are mixed up in the sauce pan or bowl (if you microwave) used to melt the butter and chocolate. The only dishes dirtied are the pan (or bowl), a spatula, and the baking dish.

Be sure not to over bake the brownies. They are supposed to be very moist, not cake like. They develop a nice crust on top with a moist, fudgy center. An alternative serving suggestion is to use a large biscuit cutter to cut out rounds, which can then be topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and maybe a candied violet. Then you (or a young volunteer in the family) get to eat the little pieces in between. The nuts are optional but highly recommended, and I much prefer the pecans if you have them.

Lovey's Brownies
Makes about 2 dozen

2 sticks (8 oz.) unsalted butter
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans or ½ cup of each

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a 13- by 9-inch metal baking pan.
2. Melt butter and chocolate in a large heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until smooth; remove from heat. Whisk in sugar and salt, beat in eggs one at a time until mixture is shiny, and then whisk in flour and vanilla. Stir in nuts. Scrape into prepared pan.
3. Bake 25 to 30 minutes in center of oven, until moist crumbs adhere to a cake tester inserted into center and brownies appear slightly crusted on top. Let cool completely in pan on a rack, and then cut into squares.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Harvest Monday–13 August 2012

Last week’s temperatures were more moderate but the humidity was awful, with dew points in the 70s. The air was so saturated that by the end of the week we started getting thunderstorms and even a tornado warning. When it did rain it poured buckets.The rain was needed but a lot of it just ran off. I didn’t do much in the garden but try to keep the squash and cucumbers picked, but I still got the occasional baseball bat. It was a pretty productive week and included my first beets and Brussels sprouts.

The tomatoes on the left are Black Krim. I had one left but it split badly after the rains. The plants are all dying from late blight so that is it for the Black Krims this year.

Black Krim tomatoes, cukes, and assorted cherry tomatoes

The three cukes on the left below are Summer Dance, which are proving to be very prolific. The tomato on top is my last Cherokee Purple (badly catfaced), which is also dying from the blight. The tomato below it is my first Pineapple.

Harvest assortment

More squash and cukes and my first broccoli from the second planting. The cukes on the right are my first Diva (one sort of got away hiding on the ground under the foliage). Diva is lighter (and thinner) skinned than Summer Dance and is now starting to climb and produce,

Assortment of cukes, squash and broccoli

A neighbor in the garden asked me if I wanted some Brussels sprouts. I said no, I am growing sprouts, but usually don’t harvest any until September. I thought I better check and sure enough, the bottom of the plants were more than ready to harvest. Some were a little over the hill but still will be eaten.

Brussels sprouts and bush beans

I got my first (small) harvest of beets. The beets have just been sitting there and not doing much. I don’t know if they don’t like the weather or what. These are Red Ace. The Bulls Blood are nowhere near ready to harvest but the greens are getting large enough to cut if I decide to go that way.

Beets and chard

I found a use for some of my accumulating Juliet tomatoes. It is summer in New England and that means bluefish, which is cheap and plentiful in the fish markets right now. This is a fish that seems to be limited to the upper Atlantic coast (I think it also is called sablefish in the UK and tailor fish in Australia). It’s not available on the west coast of the US and it does not ship well. Bluefish are a game fish that people love to sport fish because they are so aggressive and fight so hard. They swim in schools and feed voraciously on menhaden, which are very oily, so bluefish themselves are oily. I remember reading a news story of boaters in a marina on the North River south of Boston being startled when the waters of the marina started boiling and turned blood red. It was just some blues chasing a school of menhaden up the river.

Foil-baked bluefish with tomatoes and herbs

Bluefish is strongly flavored and not to everyone’s taste but if prepared properly can be delicious. Above I put the fish on an oiled piece of foil and covered it (you barely see the fish, but its flesh and skin are indeed blue) with lemon slices, onion, and sliced frying peppers and Juliet tomatoes from my garden. I added some fresh herbs from the garden and drizzled white wine and lemon juice on the fish, closed the foil, and baked it at 350F for 30 minutes. Everyone liked it and there was none left. Too bad because it is great left over for breakfast.

More squash and cucumbers. The large tomato below is my first Big Rainbow, a yellow-fleshed tomato with magenta stripes. I have three more of these on the vine so I will have a few more heirloom slicers for salads. It nicely decided not to split from the rain.

Harvest assortment with a Big Rainbow tomato

Finally, on Sunday I remembered I had to cut the basil. The large pile below is a sampling of what I cut. Some is being dried in a paper bag but the rest was turned into pesto. At the bottom are some other herbs; dill weed, used in a batch of pickles; spicy globe or Greek basil; Siam Queen Thai basil, to be used in Monday’s curry; and tarragon for some chicken salad.

Three types of basil, dill and tarragon

The pesto came in handy for pasta for my daughter, who doesn't like lobster (aw, too bad). It was too nasty to cook and for some reason (weather or the economy, I don’t know), lobsters have been ridiculously cheap. The local market had selects on sale for $6.99/pound with free steaming. While my wife was at the Bolton Fair, I stopped by the store and ordered up two of them. One was 2 pounds (obviously that was my lobster) and the other was 1.5 pounds. And they were hard shells, not the usual soft shelled ones you find in the summer. They were served with corn from the local farm stand and a tomato and cucumber salad from my garden. My wife scored a raspberry chocolate tart at the Fair which we had for dessert with a scoop of vanilla ice cream (totally blowing my low carb diet, but you only go around once). Pretty good finish to the week, I thought.

To see what other gardeners around the globe are harvesting from their gardens, head to Daphne's Dandelions, our hostess for Harvest Mondays.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Half-Sour Pickles

Half-Sour Pickles

Half-Sour Pickles are an East coast deli item. I grew up in St. Louis and ate lots of pickles in my youth, but I never encountered a half-sour until I moved to the Boston area. They are my favorite pickle now, and are very easy to make. The pickles remain crisp and firm, much like a “raw” cucumber, but they are slightly pickled and pick up the flavors of the dill and garlic in the brine.

The recipe I use comes from the Victory Garden Cookbook by Marian Morash, which is now out of print but is the bible for using vegetables from the garden. Use pickling cukes 3-5 inches long (ideal is about 4 inches) and thoroughly clean them. They can be left whole, or halved or quartered into spears. Prepare enough to fill the crock you have. Remember the crock will have to fit in the refrigerator, so select your crock appropriately. The one shown above is 5 inches in diameter.

In the crock put 1-2 large cloves of garlic, 6-8 sprigs of fresh dill weed, 1 teaspoon of pickling spices, and 1/4 teaspoon of dill seed (or a dill seed head if you have one). If you can’t find fresh dill weed, use 1 teaspoon of dill seed. Make a brine from 1/4 cup of kosher salt, 1/4 cup of white vinegar (I actually use cider vinegar), and 2 1/2 quarts of water. Bring the brine to a boil and boil for a couple of minutes. Pour the hot brine over the cucumbers, adding enough to cover the cucumbers at least one inch. Cover the cucumbers and weight them down to keep them under the brine. Leave the crock on the counter overnight. The next day, cover the crock and place in the refrigerator. Pickles are ready to eat and should be consumed within a couple of weeks, if they last that long. They will continue to pickle slowly in the brine, picking up more garlicky flavor and becoming a little softer.

This is my go-to version of “refrigerator” pickles. What is your favorite pickle recipe?

Monday, August 6, 2012

Harvest Monday–6 August 2012

Summer crops are abundant, including summer squash and cucumbers. Besides the three pickling cucumbers in the photo, I picked another three I didn’t photograph. Some of the larger cukes were made in to half sour pickles, which is a type of refrigerator pickle. I will post the recipe for the pickles later.


My first slicer is on the vine. This is Summer Dance, a hybrid Japanese-type cucumber that is supposed to produce long, thin, straight cucumbers. So far it looks great, I should know in a few days how it tastes. It is later than other cukes and took a while to get to this stage, but it is way ahead of Diva on the other trellis. It is supposed to be PM and DM resistant and so far that’s true, plants are still very healthy.


The tomato on the left is my first Cherokee Purple. It was served sliced with a drizzle of truffle oil and some chopped basil. Unfortunately, right now I have just one more fruit on the plant, which has stopped setting fruit during the hot weather. But my Big Rainbow and Pineapple plants have lots of fruit already set and close to ripening, so I will have my heirloom tomato fix for awhile. The other tomatoes are Juliet, Black Cherry and Sungold. I really like the Black Cherry and will plant it again.


The tomato at the bottom is my first Black Krim. Fruits are fairly small and the plants are not looking very healthy, so I may only get another half dozen of these. Taste was very good, almost smoky or spicy. The beans on the left are the first of the Fortex pole beans.


This is a two and a half pound pile of beans. With the other small pickings I probably harvested  at least three pounds this week, A few beans are showing halo blight lesions, but for the most part, the disease has not spread and none of the foliage is showing infection. So I should get my full harvest this year. Note some of the beans are a little large. These are ideal for using in stewed beans and tomatoes. See my prior post for a recipe.


That’s what happened in my garden last week. To see what other gardeners around the world are harvesting from their gardens, head over to Daphne’s Dandelions, our host for Harvest Monday.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Stewed Beans and Tomato

I have mentioned several times one of my favorite uses for green beans is stewed beans and tomatoes (or as Perla Meyers might call it, fricassee of green beans with tomato fondue LOL). The dish is easy to make, uses lots of beans and tomatoes, is good left over, and it freezes well. I like to make it in large batches for left overs and freezing.

My first attempt at making this dish was inspired by a recipe in Madhur Jaffrey’s Cookbook. The following is my adaptation of the recipe. This is a great recipe that uses large amounts of produce from the garden that is often in abundance: green beans, tomatoes, chilies and cilantro. It is a great use for beans that have gotten a little too large and are kind of stringy. Just increase the cooking time. It can be prepared ahead and kept warm. It is great left-over and reheated. And it freezes well, making it a great way to conveniently save some of the summer harvest for the colder months.

Stewed Green Beans and Tomato

Adapted from a recipe in Madhur Jaffrey’s highly-recommended book: Madhur Jaffrey’s Cookbook: Easy East/West Menus for Family and Friends.

•    3 Tbsp. Olive oil
•    I small green chili, chopped
•    4 cloves of garlic, minced
•    1 medium onion, halved and sliced into thin half-rings
•    1 lb. peeled ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped (or use canned plum tomatoes if fresh are not available)
•    1 1/2 lb. green beans, trimmed and cut into 2” lengths
•    Salt
•    Fresh ground black pepper
•    4 Tbsp. chopped cilantro (optional)

1.    Heat oil in wide sauce pot over medium heat, add chili, onion and garlic and fry until onion and garlic just start to brown.
2.    Add tomatoes, green beans and the rest of the ingredients. Add a little water if needed. Bring the mixture to a slow simmer, cover, lower heat and cook at a low simmer for 20-30 minutes, until beans are tender. During cooking, check to make sure the mixture is not too dry and add water if needed
3.    Remove lid and raise heat. Reduce liquid to a thick sauce. Taste seasoning and correct if needed.
4.    Serve warm.

Serves 6
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