Plant your Fava Beans!

Back in August I wrote about harvesting fava beans  https://lopezislandkitchengardens.wordpress.com/2011/08/10/fava-beans/ and said that I would write again about favas when it was time to plant them.  The time has come!  I planted mine yesterday in the bed where I’d recently harvested winter squash.  You can plant them any time in the next few weeks.  I chose yesterday because the rain we’d had earlier in the week had moistened the soil and I had the time.  Broad Windsor is the variety I planted this year.

I’ve found that planting in a fairly dense grid works best in my garden: four eight-foot rows about a foot apart and seeds spaced eight inches apart.  The seed spacing is based on the watering slits on the T-Tape irrigation I use, a slit every eight inches.  Four eight-foot rows produces enough favas for us to enjoy fresh and to freeze.  I set the seeds an inch or so deep and, most important, place the dark hilum scar down.  After firming down the soil, I cover the bed with Reemay to keep birds from attacking germinating seeds.

The seeds will germinate in a week or two and will grow slowly as temperature and daylight length decrease.  Once the plants are a couple of inches high, I’ll mulch between the rows and around the plants to keep the soil from freezing. They are very cold hardy, tolerating temperatures into the teens, but if a really long cold spell is forecast, I will cover the bed with a layer to two of Reemay.  Even if some of the leaves die back, I’ve found that the roots will send up more leaves.

The plants will start growing vigorously in late January as the daylight length increases and temperatures warm.  By March they will be on their way to their eventual height of four feet and it will be time to make a fava bean corral to keep them from flopping over in the wind.  I’ll post a picture then.  For now, enjoy planting!

Advertisements

Melons

This past spring, I talked with my friend Ona Blue about growing melons.  Ona is a passionate melon grower and her enthusiasm is catching.  To read more about our conversation, link to my article about her: https://lopezislandkitchengardens.wordpress.com/melons-ambrosia-we-can-grow/

Inspired by Ona, I grew melons for the first time this year, selecting varieties she recommended and following her instructions for starting the seeds and nurturing the plants.  I set them outdoors in a low plastic house in mid-June and even with our non-melon-friendly summer, I started harvesting melons on Labor Day and have been enjoying both their flavor and their beauty in the weeks since.

Here are some of the first week’s harvest.  The oblong melon is Sweet Granite, the green is Eden’s Gem and the deeply ribbed melon is Noir des Carmes.

A week later, Minnesota Midget, the smaller melons in this photo, ripened and this past week Charentais the largest melon was ready.

Except for Eden’s Gem, which remained green when ripe, all the others turned from green to yellow when ripe.  Most dramatic was the Noir des Carmes which turned from dark green to bright yellow.  While each is sweet, some are sweeter and others are spicier.  I’m still learning their flavors.  Each seems better than the last until I go back to the one that came before.

It hasn’t been a big harvest; in fact a warm-climate melon grower would find it laughably small, both in individual melon size and overall yields, but how many melons can two people eat?  There have been enough for breakfasts, their sweetness matching perfectly with yogurt.  And enough to mix with fall raspberries and late blueberries for desserts.

Small yields but still ambrosia as Ona says and enticing enough that I will plant melons again next year.  They are lovely to grow and to eat.

Eggplant!

Eggplant completes the trio of summer vegetables that began with tomatoes and peppers. It has a smoky, creamy flavor that mixes perfectly with the spicy sweetness of peppers and the acid sweetness of tomatoes to become caponata, the stew of eggplant, peppers and tomatoes, along with some onion, garlic and fresh basil, that signals high summer to me.  I make it as often as I can this time of year.

I use the recipe in Nancy Harmon Jenkins’ Flavors of Tuscany (1998).  I especially like the cooking sequence she suggests: sauté the eggplant first until it is browned then remove it from the skillet; sauté the peppers, onions and garlic until they are soft; return the eggplant to the pan and add several peeled, chopped tomatoes and cook at a fairly high heat until the tomatoes have broken down and formed a thick sauce that coats the other ingredients. I serve it at room temperature with slivered fresh basil stirred in.

The proportions for one batch are a pound of eggplant, two large sweet bell peppers, one medium onion and one garlic clove, three very ripe tomatoes and a handful of basil.  I often make a double batch.

But eggplant alone is delicious too, sliced and grilled and slipped between pieces of bread for a sandwich or scattered on pizza dough with garlic and fresh mozzarella or tossed on pasta with some goat cheese and a few dried tomatoes.

Jack Bishop’s Pasta & Verdura, 140 Vegetable Sauces for Spaghetti,Fusilli, Rigatoni, and All Other Noodles (1996) is the source for the grilled eggplant, dried tomato and goat cheese pasta sauce.  My friend Heleen and I started making this sauce years ago and it’s still a favorite.  Alice Water’s Chez Panisse Pasta, Pizza & Calzone (1984) is the source for the eggplant pizza topping, so simple yet a perfect showcase for grilled eggplant.  It’s a favorite of my friend Kathy.

Bishop’s book is out of print but a Google search suggests that many copies are still available from different sources.  It’s an inspiring book and worth tracking down.  Water’s wonderful book is still in print and like Bishop’s has many suggestions for using eggplant.

Growing eggplant poses the same challenge that tomatoes and peppers do in our cool climate: providing extra heat with a cloche or greenhouse.  I start seeds indoors in mid-March, the same time I start peppers, set plants out in a cloche or greenhouse in mid-May and start harvesting eggplant in early August.  This year, as I have for the past several years, I grew Diamond, Rosita and Rosa Bianca, a purple, a mostly lavender and a mostly white eggplant, all from Fedco seeds and all productive this year despite the cool temperatures.

According to the Fedco catalog descriptions of these three varieties, plantsman Kent Whealy brought Diamond back from the Ukraine in 1993.  “The slender fruits with firm flesh and pleasing texture are entirely lacking in that bitter eggplant taste.”

Rosita came to the United States from Puerto Rico in 1979.  “A truly sublime eggplant, Rosita is early, productive and tasty without a hint of bitterness.  These pear-shaped pink-lavender fruits with white shoulders are 6–8″ long and 4–6″ wide.”  Rosa Bianca is an Italian heirloom that some consider “‘the best eggplant in the universe,’ with a creamy consistency and delicate flavor and gorgeous fruits, white with lavender streaking down the side.”

Many cookbook writers bring up the issue of bitterness and recommend salting the eggplants before cooking to remove it.  Other cookbook writers say that fresh, just-picked eggplants won’t be bitter, and that’s been my experience, mostly.  But, because I’ve read that cool temperatures and irregular watering can contribute to bitterness, I taste a thin slice of each eggplant before cooking with it just to be sure there’s no bitterness.  If I taste any bitterness, I’ll salt it by sprinkling either slices or chunks with salt, letting it sit for an hour, then rinsing quickly and pressing dry with a towel before sautéing or grilling.

While I have good methods for preserving tomatoes and peppers for winter eating, I haven’t come up with a good way to carry eggplant into another season.  Maybe that’s what makes eggplant an even more special summer treat.

Peppers: Red, Orange and Yellow

I like my peppers in Crayola colors, red, orange, yellow, but not green.  Of course they all start out green, but the pleasure is in watching them turn from green to these brighter colors that signal ripeness and spicy, sweet pepper flavors.  Green peppers, which many people like, taste too harsh and bitter to me so I wait the extra few weeks for ripening.

I wouldn’t be writing about ripening peppers if I didn’t have a greenhouse and a low hoop-house for additional plants.  In our cool climate, these heat-trapping structures are what peppers need to thrive.  This year, I started pepper seeds indoors under lights in mid-March, transplanted them to the greenhouse and hoop-house in mid-May and harvested the first peppers in mid-August.  They’ll continue to ripen into October.

Every few years, I try some new pepper varieties and this year brought me some winners: Carmen, Revolution and Flavorburst.

Carmen is a red Italian pepper, a corno di toro or “bull’s horn” type, long and pointed and fairly thick-fleshed.  It was the earliest of all this year’s peppers to turn red and even better is really tasty with a strong sweet pepper flavor.  It’s great raw but also fries and grills well.  It was developed by Johnny’s Seeds and won the All-America Selections award in 2006.

Revolution is an enormous red bell pepper, the largest I’ve ever grown.  When I saw how big the forming peppers were becoming, I wondered if they would ever turn red but they did.  It’s thick-walled, juicy and spicily sweet.  We took a bag of sliced Revolutions on a couple of hikes recently and their crisp juiciness was really welcome after a hot climb.  I haven’t grilled any yet but I’m anticipating that the skin will blacken easily and slip off leaving even sweeter pepper flavor.  I bought the seeds from Fedco.

Flavorburst is a yellow pepper.  In Fedco’s description, it “begins the color of Granny Smith apples and ripens to a lovely shade of goldenrod.” It’s thick-walled and juicy and its sweet pepper flavor has a hint of citrus.  It’s delicious raw, roasted or grilled.

I’ll add these three to a couple of long-time favorites I’ve grown for years: Gourmet and Ancho Magnifico.

Gourmet is a beautiful shade of orange and rounds out my trio of red, orange and yellow peppers.  A sweet bell like Revolution and Flavorburst, it’s also spicier than either. Johnny’s sells the seed.  Raw, these three peppers make a colorful plate of snacks.  Roasted, skinned and sliced they are striking toppings for crostini, pasta or pizza.  And sautéed with yellow onion and bound together with a little tomato sauce, they make a sweet pepper stew that has become my most-requested summer potluck dish.  While there are many recipes for this dish, the one I’ve used for years is from Nancy Harmon Jenkin’s Flavors of Tuscany (1998).

• Slice six sweet peppers lengthwise into ¾ inch strips

• Thinly slice two medium yellow onions and gently sauté them in three tablespoons of olive oil over medium-low heat until soft and golden but not brown, about ten minutes.

• Add the pepper slices with a little salt and pepper, cover the pan and cook for about twenty minutes or until the peppers are soft and just starting to brown.

• Peel, seed and chop three ripe medium tomatoes

• Remove the cover, raise the heat to medium or medium-high, add the tomatoes and cook, stirring frequently until the tomatoes reduce into a sauce.

As Jenkins writes in the introduction to the recipe: “Embarrassingly simple preparations like this one illustrate the Tuscan principle that good food only comes from good ingredients.”  She’s right.  One more reason to grow a garden.

Finally, there’s Ancho Magnifico, a poblano chili pepper from Territorial Seeds that starts out green but turns red as it ripens.  At the green stage, it can be made into chili rellenos, but I prefer to wait until it turns red. The flavor is both sweeter and hotter then.  I grow more of these peppers than any of the others.

As they ripen, I’ll put a dozen or so on the grill, blacken the skins and then pile them in covered bowls to sweat.  When they’ve cooled, I slip off the skins, pull out the stem and then slit open one side of the pepper and spread out the flesh so I can remove the seeds.  Then I fold the flesh back into pepper shapes and freeze them.  The flesh is still firm after it thaws.  Wrapped around fillings like pureed winter squash or mashed potatoes then baked, it adds a spicy bite to these milder, sweeter vegetables.  I also roast and freeze sweet peppers and use them just as I would fresh roasted peppers.  Peppers are one of the pleasures of summer eating, but it’s worth taking the time to preserve a few to carry a taste of summer into the middle of winter.

Tomatoes!

Tomatoes, peppers and eggplant are the highlights of my late summer garden and all are challenging to grow in our cool northwest climate. In the next several posts, I’ll write about how each grows in my garden, or more accurately in my greenhouse, and what I do with them in the kitchen.

I’m very fortunate to have a greenhouse for growing these heat-loving plants. My husband Scott designed the structure and we built it in 2000. It’s twenty-four feet long by ten feet wide and ten feet high at the peak. Inside are two twenty-four-by-three foot beds separated by a three-foot path. Before building the greenhouse, we built plastic houses each year, effective but fragile compared with this permanent structure.

One great thing about the greenhouse is that it allows us to grow indeterminate varieties of tomatoes, those with vines that climb ten feet and higher.  Scott trains the vines along twine stretched down from the ceiling, limiting each plant to two main branches and regularly pinching off suckers.  The tomatoes form along the vines as the vines climb, resulting in a continuous supply of ripening tomatoes.  Planted eighteen inches apart, these climbing tomato plants form a solid ten-foot high wall of tomatoes by the end of summer.

This year I planted Cherokee Purple, Brandywine, Pruden’s Purple, Momotaro, Golden Sunray, Kellogg’s Breakfast, Moonglow, Amish Paste, Speckled Roman, Peacevine and Sapho, starting the seeds under lights indoors in late February and transplanting them into the greenhouse in early April. We picked the first tomatoes in early August, a Cherokee Purple, a Brandywine and a Golden Sunray.  Compared to past years, this year’s tomatoes, even with the greenhouse, aren’t as abundant or robust or as early to ripen but they still provide the essential taste of summer.

Here’s a platter of tomatoes I picked a few weeks ago.  Across the back from left to right are five Amish Paste, a Kellogg’s Breakfast, a Sapho and four Speckled Romans.  Across the front from left to right are three Cherokee Purples, a Momataro, three Brandywines, a Moonglow and two Pruden’s Purples

And what do we do with all these tomatoes?  Fresh tomato sandwiches for lunch all summer are a big reason we put the effort into growing tomatoes.  Cherokee Purple, Brandywine and Pruden’s Purple, all big, lumpy, red to purple hued heirlooms offering variations on the classic tomato acid sweetness are favorites for sandwiches.  Momotaro, developed in Japan, is also a sweet, red flavorful slicer. Here’s a Brandywine pair:

Golden Sunray, Kellogg’s Breakfast and Moonglow are all yellow to orange tomatoes, each with a unique sweet and spicy flavor.  For dinner most summer nights we have a side dish of red and yellow tomatoes, some combination of these seven favorites.  Occasionally I’ll quickly sauté some of these tomatoes into a sauce for pasta or cook them with peppers or eggplant, but most often we eat them fresh.  Here’s a Golden Sunray pair:

Amish Paste and Speckled Roman are dense-fleshed very flavorful tomatoes that I use primarily for drying, my favorite way to preserve tomatoes. Sliced about half-an-inch thick and spread on the trays of my food dehydrator, they are dry and ready to store in glass jars in about twelve hours.  The other seven tomatoes are juicier and take longer to dry but still make a flavorful dried tomato.  Instead of drying tomatoes, I sometimes roast them on low heat until the juices have evaporated and the tomatoes form a thick sauce that freezes well.  Here’s a Speckled Roman pair:

Finally, the Sapho and Peacevine are small tomatoes, Sapho about an inch and a half and Peacevine less than an inch.  I’m growing each for the first time this year on recommendations from friends. Peacevine is disappointing because the skins are tough and the flavor is bland but Sapho is great and I’d grow it again. Here’s a Sapho cluster:

Here’s hoping for a warmer summer next year so that even without a greenhouse, tomatoes will ripen.