About Lopez Island Kitchen Gardens

Over the five years that I’ve written the Islands’ Weekly Green Living column about Lopez Island farms and farmers, I’ve occasionally used my kitchen garden as a topic. The pleasure of writing these personal columns has finally tempted me away from the monthly Green Living column and to a blog where I can write regularly about kitchen gardens, my own and the many others on Lopez Island. I think of kitchen gardens as gardens where people who love to garden and to cook grow vegetables, fruit and herbs for their kitchens. Join me as I explore this new media and the possibilities it offers for sharing ideas about growing and cooking vegetables.

A Good Year for Fennel

Fennel growing '17

The fennel in the kitchen garden has been especially good this year, large, rounded bulbs that never bolted, tender and sweetly anise-flavored. Perhaps our consistently cool late spring and cool early summer contributed to these perfectly formed bulbs. In a February 2015 column on growing fennel, writer and gardener Barbara Damrosch explains that fluctuations in temperature with spells of either very cold or very warm weather could cause fennel to skip the bulb phase and shoot up a seed stalk, leaving a flat fan where a bulb should be. In the same article, Damrosch also adds that: “unwanted bolting is triggered by a protracted cold spell outside after germination in a warm place inside.” Maybe I was lucky with weather in late May when I transplanted fennel starts I’d planted inside in early April.

Or another reason for these beautiful bulbs might be the varieties I planted this year, Preludio from Johnny’s and Mantovano from Adaptive Seeds, both recommended by Damrosch who explained that they were bred not to bolt. Or maybe it was a combination of weather and variety, with a little good luck as well. Whatever the reasons, we’ve been enjoying fennel since early July and I’ve just started more fennel seeds indoors in hopes of as good a fall crop.

Fennel:fronds on table

This year the mandoline has been my go-to tool for preparing the kitchen garden’s early summer fennel crop. Its very sharp blade slices whole bulbs into 1/8-inch slices in seconds and the thin slices of raw fennel make a delicious salad dressed with lemon, salt and olive oil. Fennel mandoline

Fennel salad '17Parsley and black olives are tasty additions as are lightly steamed sugar snap peas. I’ve also added thinly sliced raw fennel to radicchio salads and to grain salads of red quinoa, emmer farro or einka farro. The touch of crispy fennel flavor enhances all these dishes.

Looking for more ways to prepare fennel but still play with the mandoline, I turned to Alice Water’s Chez Panisse Vegetables (1996) and discovered her recipe for caramelized fennel (page 155). Sautéed in hot olive oil, crisp, thin slices of fennel soften and caramelize at the edges and their licorice flavor mellows to a deeper sweetness. They are delicious hot from the pan or at room temperature.

Fennel saute

Caramelized Fennel

2 large fennel bulbs

1/4 cup olive oil

Salt and pepper

 Trim stalks from fennel bulbs, and remove any tough outer bulb layers.  Cut really large bulbs in half vertically or leave smaller bulbs whole, then cut into 1/8 inch thick slices. Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat and add the olive oil.  When oil is hot, add the sliced fennel.  (If necessary, cook the fennel in two batches; the fennel should brown, not steam.) Cook, tossing occasionally, for 8-10 minutes until the fennel is caramelized and tender.  Season with salt and pepper.  Drain any excess oil and serve.  (This holds well and can easily be reheated; no additional oil is necessary.)

This technique was a great discovery but it did pose a dilemma: which way to serve fennel, raw or sautéed? Both are so delicious. We’ve settled on alternating or, even better, simply serving both, tossed together into a salad or side by side.

Fennel 2 ways

Emmer Farro and Vegetable Salads

Earlier this month, we were visiting family in western Massachusetts and planning a lunch for a gathering of fifteen good eaters. We’d stopped at Petarski’s Sausage for several pounds of their traditional kielbasa and a jar of locally made sauerkraut and at one of the many roadside stands for bunches of just-picked asparagus. Grilled kielbasa with sauerkraut and roasted asparagus garnished with lots of quartered, hard-boiled eggs would make two great dishes but I needed one more. Luckily my sister Sadie had her usual supply of Bluebird Grain Farms Emmer Farro, a grain she orders regularly from our friends Sam and Brooke Lucy who grow it in Washington state’s Methow Valley, so I began to create an emmer farro salad to round out the meal.

The Bluebird Grain Farms website describes emmer farro as: a type of farro (an ancient hulled wheat) that dates back to early civilization. It’s a simple grain of 28 chromosomes that pre-dates spelt. It is prepared like brown rice and cooks in 50-60 minutes (or can be soaked overnight to reduce the cooking time). It makes a fabulous pilaf, grain salad, risotto, addition to soup, or sprouted grain for breads and salads. When cooked, its dark, plump berries add sweet full-bodied flavor, chewy texture, and high nutritional value (over 16% protein) to every meal.

Farro package

And as farmer Sam added the other day when I told him about this meal: “emmer is a great filler.” He’s right, and I was counting on that for my family lunch crowd, but emmer’s sweet, nutty flavor and chewy texture also make it a great match for many savory flavors, whatever vegetables, meats, cheeses or nuts happen to be available. For this day’s lunch, I covered four cups of emmer farro with ten cups of water in a large pot and set it to boil, then to simmer, covered, on the stove while I began preparing vegetables I’d add to it for a grain salad. Sadie offered the last of her shallots so I slowly sautéed a cup and a half them, chopped, in olive oil. When they were soft and starting to brown, I added some chopped garlic. We’d also bought four bunches of locally grown bok choi so I coarsely chopped the leaves and stems and slightly wilted them. And the day before we’d bought some locally made bocconcini mozzarella that I was marinating in olive oil and herbs. Sadie also had some flavorful pecans so we toasted a generous half-cup.

After 45 minutes of simmering, the emmer farro was soft and chewy. I drained it then stirred in the sautéed shallots and garlic, the wilted bok choi and quartered bocconcini then dressed the grains and vegetables with a lemon juice/mustard/maple syrup and olive oil vinaigrette we’d made up on the spot, adding just a few teaspoons of the maple syrup to balance the tartness of the lemon and sharpness of the mustard. We lined a large, shallow bowl with a layer of Sadie’s just-picked spinach, arranged the emmer farro vegetable salad on top of the spinach and sprinkled the toasted pecans on top. Who knew that what was meant to take third place behind the kielbasa and asparagus would be the hit of the lunch. Everyone from a three-year-old to an eighty-one-year-old asked for seconds.

Back home after our visit, I’ve continued to experiment with emmer farro and vegetable salads. For a potluck dish, I sautéed some of my remaining shallots and garlic as a base and instead of bok choi added lots of chopped red radishes and toasted pecans and dressed the salad with just olive oil and salt and pepper. Another night I started with sautéed shallots as a base, added some cooked black beans and chopped radishes and finally some roasted broccoli topped with lemon zest. Farro BroccoliLast night I roasted some purplette onions and some spring turnips, sautéed the turnip greens in olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes and added these tasty spring vegetables to cooked emmer farro and black beans.

Turnips, greens, onions

Farro turnip

Once again, emmer farro’s chewy grain flavor was a perfect match for these earthy, sweet spring vegetables.

A friend asked me this weekend what I planned to bring to our neighbor’s Fourth of July potluck celebration next month. I told her I was already thinking of what vegetables to add to an emmer farro salad. Maybe some roasted beets and carrots, flavored perhaps with toasted cumin and coriander seed, with sautéed beet greens and roasted spring onions. Food for a crowd!

Happy Summer Solstice!

 

 

Red Mustard Pairings

Red Mustard in garden 5:17The prettiest vegetable in the spring kitchen garden right now is the overwintered red mustard. Purple is actually a more accurate description of the color, violet purple with gorgeous purple-green variegation, but the variety growing in my garden is called Red Giant. I’ve also grown the more accurately named Osaka Purple, but I’ve found that Red Giant is more winter hardy than Osaka Purple. It survived the repeated cold spells of the past winter in a drafty hoop house with hay mulch around its base. Now robust and big-leafed with new growth, it’s a treat for the eye.

It’s also a treat for the palate. The Fedco description of Red Giant’s flavor says: “Tastes like horseradish to some, peppery to others.” The horseradish flavor, actually closer to wasabi than horseradish, is why we like it so much.

Another treat is that these huge and flavorful leaves are surprisingly tender. Removed from the stalk, rinsed and sliced into rough squares, a pile of enormous leaves will wilt down quickly in olive oil and garlic, transforming into a spicy sauté, delicious alone but also wonderful with sweet or salty flavors.

Red mustard pile on island

Red Mustard saute

With the abundance of mustard in the garden now, I’ve been experimenting with red mustard pairings. One night, asparagus, fresh from the garden and roasted, provided an earthy, sweet counterpoint to the spicy mustard.

Red Mustard & Asparagus platter

The next night I used beans for sweetness. For salty, I fried some bacon, wilted the mustard in the bacon fat and combined all the flavors into a pasta sauce. Delicious!

Red Mustard, bacon beans in skillet

Another night, mustard and bacon mixed together formed a side dish for orzo and asparagus.

Red Mustard and orzo

A few nights later, I combined eggs, a little grated Parmesan cheese and sautéed red mustard for a creamy, soft frittata. On the side, some sweet roasted pears, roasted and frozen last fall, were a perfect pairing.

Red Mustard fritatta

We’ll keep experimenting with red mustard leaves and soon will add the lovely, chartreuse-colored mustard flower buds to the mix. Like the leaves, they are tender and full of mustard flavor, perfect for pairing with more sweet and salty flavors.

 

Earth Day 2017

I usually plant seeds outside in the garden on Earth Day. The soil and air are often warm enough by April 22nd and it’s often a pretty day. But this year I’m going to wait a week or maybe two for soil still saturated and cold from March rains to warm up a bit and for temperatures to rise a little more. Maybe this year’s first outside planting day will be May 1st, a date many Lopez Island old-timers recommended to me when I first started gardening here twenty-five years ago.

Despite the delay in planting seeds of spring vegetable crops, the kitchen garden is still providing food I associate with spring. New leaf growth on kale, arugula and chard provides salads, pesto sauces and sautés. And flower buds forming on kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, mustards and the last remaining rutabagas and turnips offer raab-like treats for pasta sauces and side dishes. Most exciting, asparagus is shooting up, growing quickly in spite of cool days and cooler nights. We’ve been enjoying some every night for the past week.

This burgeoning green in the garden is matched by the greening of the landscape outside the garden hedge. Willow and alder are leafing out, shrubs in the hedgerows show a film of green, and grass in the pastures seems taller and greener each day. I see this landscape from the kitchen as I cook.

Kitchen green view

Last night I sautéed kale flower buds with some of the last leeks, sliced and roasted some asparagus, thawed and simmered some fava beans frozen last summer

Primavera ingredients

and mixed all of these green vegetables into a sauce for homemade pasta,

Primavera in skillet

our kitchen garden version of pasta primavera to celebrate Earth Day, toasting the spirit that inaugurated Earth Day forty-seven years ago and hoping our activism can prevail against the current administration’s assault.

In another week or two I’ll plant seeds outside, carrots, beets, radishes and spring turnips. They’ll join starts of sugar snap peas, broccoli and cauliflower I set out this week. While I wait to plant outside, I can tend the summer vegetables growing in the warm shelter of the seed starting room and the greenhouse. Tomatoes I seeded indoors on February 22nd are planted in the greenhouse ground now, spreading up and out. Eggplant and peppers are in 4” pots in the greenhouse, adjusting to this new environment after their six weeks under lights in the seed room. When temperatures rise enough, I’ll set them out in their permanent bed under a hoop house in the garden. In the seed room, starts of fennel, radicchios and lettuces are ready to harden off and get into the ground as soon as the soil is ready. Spring may be slow this year, but it’s coming.

 

 

Gardening and Traveling

I love gardening and the meals that the kitchen garden offers, but I love traveling too. As I plan each year’s gardening calendar, decisions about when to plant are influenced by when I want to be away. Over the years, I’ve learned that with the help of gardening friends to water and to raise lights as indoor seeded plants grow I can arrange planting timetables that open spaces for travel throughout the year.

February and March are the months when I start seeds indoors for summer’s plants, tomatoes, eggplant and peppers; storage plants like shallots and onions; late spring plants like peas, broccoli and cauliflower; and long season plants like celery root.

Sometime in April, early or later depending on weather and when I’m home, I begin planting seeds in the ground, salad greens, spring turnips, carrots, beets, fennel and potatoes. In May I continue with seeds that need a little more warmth to germinate, corn and beans directly in the ground and squash in pots to germinate before setting them out as soon as they’ve formed true leaves. Late May is also the time to start leeks in pots or in a nursery bed so I can transplant pencil-size stalks in early July.

June to late July I’m thinking ahead to fall and winter vegetables, direct seeding parsnips in early June, starting Brussels sprouts indoors a week later, then cabbage, more broccoli and cauliflower indoors. In July I start kale, chard and more fennel, carrots and beets as well as winter turnips and rutabaga.

Early August and on into September I start seed of hardy greens like mache, arugula, mustards and radicchios. And from October to January I harvest fall and winter crops but have no more seeds to plant.

This planting summary suggests that October through January would be great months to travel and they are. Weeks of hiking and backpacking, more weeks of skiing, and longer trips farther away find room in the calendar. But spring is great for travel too. Attention to planting timetables and the help of a kind friend who’s happy to share my seed starting room to start her own plants make it possible.

Last year, I was away from the garden for most of April. Knowing that tomatoes take about six weeks from seeding to setting into the ground, I started tomato seeds on February 17th and set out sturdy plants in the greenhouse on March 27th a few days before leaving for a month.

tomato-starts-soil

 

tomato-seedlings-sturdy-tall

The same day I started tomatoes I also started some broccoli and cauliflower and set these starts out in the garden just before we left. On March 1st I seeded a flat of onions and set robust plants out in the garden when I returned at the end of April. Also on March 1st I started a flat of sugar snap peas and set them out in the garden on March 18th.  Finally, because I wanted to have eggplant and pepper starts ready to plant out when I returned, I started seeds in 1-inch cells on March 8th , moved these tiny seedlings to 4-inch pots three weeks later, just before leaving, and when I returned in a month sturdy plants were ready for the garden.

This year I’ll be traveling for most of March and into April. Encouraged by my success last year, I modified the timetable slightly. I’ll be back April 5th so I started tomatoes February 22nd and hope for plants to set out soon after I return. I’m starting eggplant and peppers in 2×2 inch pots March 6th, the day before I leave, and hope they’ll be ready to pot up into 4-inch pots when I return and then be ready for the garden a few weeks after that. I seeded onions on March 1st again this year but not peas. This spring has been so cold and wet that I’ll wait until I return to plant peas. And I’ll leave the broccoli and cauliflower I started February 22nd in 4-inch pots and hope they won’t be too overgrown to set out when I return.

Finding a balance between garden and travel, between being home and being away is a challenge for a year-round kitchen gardener but the adventure of travel makes it worth the effort.

 

Root Vegetable Annas

The classic French pommes Anna recipe calls for layering thinly sliced potatoes with clarified butter and baking them to create a cake. As Julia Child writes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume Two (1970): “Pommes Anna looks like a brown cake 6 to 8 inches in diameter and 2 inches high, and it smells marvelously of potatoes and butter. That, in effect, is all it is: thinly sliced potatoes packed in layers in a heavy pan, bathed in clarified butter, and baked in a very hot oven so that the outside crusts enough for the potatoes to be unmolded without collapsing. The contrast of crusty exterior and tender, buttery interior is quite unlike anything else in potato cookery, and to many pommes Anna is the supreme potato recipe of all time.”

Pommes Anna is truly delicious but so, I’m finding, are Annas made from other root vegetables. Turnips, rutabaga, beets, celery root, carrots all undergo the same transformation when thinly sliced, layered with butter or olive oil in a glass or metal pie plate or heavy skillet, and baked in a hot oven.

The first non-potato Anna I tried was Turnips Anna from an October 2014 Sunset Magazine recipe. A friend had made it for a party that fall and I finally got around to making one this winter. In addition to layers of turnip, bits of crispy bacon, a little grated cheddar cheese and fresh thyme join the melted butter in the layers between the thinly sliced turnips.

turnips-anna-ingredientsI used Gilfeather turnip, a large, very sweet white turnip that holds beautifully in our winter kitchen garden. Gilfeather turnips growingThe result was everything Julia Child promised for pommes Anna, crispy exterior, creamy interior, but this time the fragrance was of sweet turnip and butter with a hint of smoky bacon and herby thyme. turnips-anna-finishedI’ve made it several times since and want to try it next with Joan rutabaga instead Gilfeather turnip. I think the flavor will be very similar but perhaps a bit earthier and the color more golden from the yellow-toned rutabaga.

Intrigued by this Anna technique, I’ve searched the Internet for other root vegetable Annas and found many variations both in vegetables used and in baking strategies. One recipe from Food 52 is titled Rustic Rainbow Root Vegetables with Rosemary (or, more simply put, Root Vegetables Anna) and begins with the observation that “you can basically do whatever you want with this one,” both in the roots you choose and the technique you follow. I’m learning that flexibility is one of the pleasures of root vegetable Annas. For my rainbow of root vegetables, I used celery root, White Satin carrots, Yellowstone carrots, Red Core Chantenay carrots and red beets, slicing each on a mandoline then layering them in a heavy skillet with olive oil, salt and pepper, grated Parmesan cheese and rosemary.

rainbow-anna-ingredientsThe resulting Anna was fragrant with the sweet smells of carrots and beets. The celery root wasn’t so dominant as the other roots, but it offered a subtle sweetness and softer texture and I’d definitely include it in future recipes. And the finished dish was beautiful.

rainbow-anna-in-skillet

rainbow-anna-on-plate

Other variations I’m looking forward to trying are from Bon Appetit using potatoes, celery root and turnip, butter and rosemary and from Martha Stewart using rutabaga and potato, butter and thyme. Finally, the New York Times recently republished a recipe for Sweet Potatoes Anna With Prunes from The Food 52 Cookbook. I don’t grow sweet potatoes but I’m wondering if winter squash would be a good substitute.

Just as there is a lot of variation among the root vegetables, oils, herbs and cheeses, each recipe also gives slightly different suggestions for how to slice the vegetables, what pan to cook them in, whether to use the oven, the stove top, or some combination of the two, how to bond the layers of vegetables and finally how to present the finished Anna.

I’ve most often used a mandoline to slice the vegetables and really like the very thin, even slices it allows (3.5 mm or about 1/8 inch), slicing-gf-turnip-with-mandolinbut I’ve also used a sharp knife and gotten good, thin slices, not so thin as a mandoline produces but still fine for the final dish. I used Pyrex pie dishes for the first Turnip Anna because I didn’t have metal pie pans, but I’ve made it again in a heavy aluminum frying pan and I agree that metal produces a crispier crust. Both Julia Child in her pommes Anna instructions and the Food 52 Rainbow Anna recommend using a heavy skillet and starting the Anna on the stovetop to begin the browning immediately and then transferring the Anna to the hot oven to finish cooking. This method has produced a crispier bottom crust for me.

Another step most recipes include is pressing or weighting down the layers so that they fuse into a cake. The Food 52 Rustic Rainbow recipe suggests simply pressing down on the layers while the skillet is on the stove top “to make sure the layers are bonding together.” Sunset’s Turnips Anna recipe recommends setting another pie pan on top of the Anna and weighting it with dried beans or pie weights. I’ve done both and find the added weight helps bond the layers. Several of the recipes also suggest placing a rimmed baking sheet underneath the pie pan or skillet to catch bubbling butter. In her pommes Anna recipe, Julia Child gets graphic with this warning advising: “Set drip pan under the potatoes, on rack below, to catch bubblings-up of butter (which could otherwise set fire to your oven).” No fires yet in my oven!

And for the final presentation, turning the Anna out onto a platter shows off the crispy bottom layer as well as any pretty design of vegetables I might have managed to arrange on the bottom layer, but serving directly from the pan works fine too. The important thing is to enjoy the amazing fragrance and flavors and, of course, to have fun making these root vegetable variations on the classic French pommes Anna.

Sunset’s Turnips Anna

 About 6 tbsp. butter, melted, divided

6 ounces sliced bacon

1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

2 tablespoons flour

1/2 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves, plus several thyme sprigs

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

2 pounds small to medium turnips (any variety), peeled and ends trimmed

  1. Generously brush a 9-in. pie pan with some butter. Preheat oven to 400° (if using metal pans) or 425° (if using glass or ceramic) with a rack set in lower third of oven.
  2. Brown bacon in a medium frying pan until crisp, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain on paper towels, then chop.
  3. Combine bacon, cheese, flour, minced thyme, salt, and pepper in a small bowl.
  4. Thinly slice turnips into rounds with a handheld slicer. Arrange one-sixth of turnips in a layer in pie pan, starting from center, working outward in concentric circles, and slightly overlapping slices. Evenly sprinkle a heaping 2 tbsp. bacon-cheese mixture over turnips and drizzle with about 2 tsp. butter. Repeat to use all ingredients, ending with turnips.
  5. Lightly butter bottom of another 9-in. pie pan and set on top of turnips. Fill upper pan with pie weights or dried beans; set pans on a rimmed baking sheet to catch bubbling butter.
  6. Bake until edge turns golden brown, 50 to 55 minutes. Carefully remove top pie pan and weights and continue to bake Anna until browned on top, 10 to 15 minutes more.
  7. Loosen Anna from pan with a knife and invert onto a plate. Top with thyme sprigs.

Food 52’s Rustic Rainbow Root Vegetables with Rosemary (or, more simply put, Root Vegetables Anna)

 Author Notes: Not to lead you astray in the introduction to this recipe, but you can basically do whatever you want with this one. It’s delicious. And you can make it as simple, or as complex as you see fit. Don’t own a mandoline? No problem. Just slice the vegetables thinly, and perhaps extend the cooking time a bit. Don’t want to go through the acrobatics of flipping a giant hot oily root vegetable pancake? No big deal. Throw it in a gratin dish, seriously consider adding more cheese and some cream, and then bake it for about an hour. If you are feeling really ambitious, whip a little goat cheese with some cream and serve as a sauce on the side.

 Serves 6 as a side

2 red beets, each about the size of a baseball, peeled
3 carrots, peeled
1 large sweet potato or 2 yellow beets, peeled
1 large garnet yam, peeled
3-5 tablespoons olive oil
1 sprig rosemary, chopped very finely
1 cup parmesan cheese, shredded
  • Preheat the oven to 375. Trim the ends off all of the vegetables.
  • Thinly slice each vegetable, about the thickness you would use for making homemade potato chips, with a mandoline. Keep the sliced vegetables separate from one another (the red beets seem to want to territorially mark everything!).
  • Generously brush the inside of an oven safe skillet (I highly recommend cast iron here – an 8 inch works great) with olive oil.
  • Starting with the lightest color root vegetable (either the yellow beets or the sweet potato), lay the thin slices on the bottom of the pan. Start at the outside of the pan, go in a circular motion, and slightly overlap each piece. When you have created the first layer, gently brush a little olive oil on top, then sprinkle with a little salt, pepper, and rosemary. Lightly cover with parmesan cheese.
  • Repeat with another layer of that vegetable, if you have enough. If not, move on to the next darkest color (usually the carrots). Again, gently brush a little olive oil on top, then sprinkle with a little salt, pepper, and rosemary. Lightly cover with parmesan cheese
  • Continue this process until you reach the top layer of red beets. Do not brush olive oil on the very top of the dish.
  • Placing the cast iron skillet on the stove, heat for about ten minutes on medium-high heat. Occasionally, gently press down on the vegetables to make sure the layers are bonding together.
  • Ok, this is the tricky step. Take the skillet off the heat (go ahead and wait a few minutes for it to cool slightly if you want). Gently loosen sides of vegetables with a spatula. Place a large plate (as flat as you can find that fits completely) over the skillet. Flip the skillet over onto the plate – be VERY careful – there is a possibility of hot oil here.
  • Once the vegetable pancake is inverted onto the plate, slide it back into the skillet, now the light color is facing up. The skillet goes back on the heat for another 8 minutes, and then into the oven for another 15 minutes. (I found that this Anna took longer to cook, up to 30 minutes longer for the vegetables to get soft, making the cooking time closer to that of the Turnips Anna.)

Take the vegetables out of the oven and let cool in the skillet for about ten minutes. Gently using spatula, slide pancake onto plate. Cool for another five minutes. Slice into wedges and serve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1015390-sweet-potatoes-anna-with-prunes

Seeds for 2017

2017-seed-catalogs

Ordering vegetable seeds each year is a process of looking back at what worked and what didn’t and ahead to re-ordering old favorites and tempting new varieties. It’s a pleasant process, a good way to spend some January afternoons. This year though there was some sadness as well as I looked for acceptable replacements for some long-time favorites no longer available.

Avalanche Beet and Red Cored Chantenay carrot were delicious additions to the kitchen garden’s root vegetables this year. I’d ordered Avalanche, a sweet white beet and recent AAS winner, for its color. It looked great steamed or roasted with yellow and red beets and though its flavor was a bit milder than a red beet it was still deliciously beetlike. I’d ordered Red Cored Chantenay because my friend Mary gave me one to taste last winter and I was amazed by its juicy sweet carrot flavor. It’s an heirloom from the late 19th century and one I’m grateful is still available. I’ve also been especially impressed by how well it’s held this winter, heavily mulched with hay, through 20 degree night-time temperatures.

Two tomatoes that I’ll definitely plant again this year are Sunchocola , a large henna-colored cherry tomato, and Fiaschetto de Manduria, a paste tomato from Puglia via Uprising Organics. Both were flavorful whether fresh, roasted or dried. And both produced early and continued to provide lots of tomatoes throughout the summer.

A couple surprising disappointments were Escamillo and Lipstick peppers from Johnny’s. Johnny’s wonderful Carmen has been a favorite for years and the catalog described Escamillo as Carmen’s “perfect, golden-yellow partner.” It did look pretty but it was missing the sweet and spicy flavors I like in peppers. Lipstick tempted me with its blockier shape compared to Carmen’s bull’s-horn shape but it wasn’t so productive as Carmen or so flavorful.

It’s hard to resist new varieties of tomatoes and this year I gave in to two. The first is Orange Paruche, described by Territorial as “succulent, sweet and flavorful,” excelling “in productivity and taste with astonishing quantities of brilliant, glowing orange fruit.” But the deciding piece of praise for me was that Orange Paruche won Territorial’s in-house taste test. The second is from Territorial’s Heritage Marriage Series, Cherokee Carbon The catalog describes it as “the best of Cherokee Purple and Carbon… beautiful beefsteaks [that] have a dusky blush and rich, delicious flavor.” Cherokee Purple is one of my favorites and my friend Carol says Carbon is a great tomato so maybe this marriage will work.

Sugar Snap peas and Copra onions were two sources of sadness. For the past several years I’ve noticed the corruption of the original strain of Sugar Snap peas; more and more off types have been turning up, peas the shape of flimsy snow peas mixed in with the classic crunchy, sweet edible pea pod. Most catalogs no longer even offer the original Sugar Snap, suggesting as replacement Super Sugar Snap. I’ve tried Super Sugar Snap and been disappointed by the flavor so this year, intrigued by their catalog description, I’m trying Adaptive Seeds’ Sugaree . “A classic green sugar snap pea… Super tasty with a classic sweet crunch …Originally bred to be a public domain replacement for Sugar Snap…”

Copra has been the perfect yellow storage onion in my garden for years but this year’s Fedco catalog signaled its end with their description of Patterson Onion, the suggested replacement: “2016 is a time of great partings. Which is worse: losing Obama as president or losing Copra onion?” Well, there are replacements for Copra. Turning to Adaptive Seeds again, I’m going to try their Newburg  described as “simply the best open pollinated yellow storage-onion… a great replacement for the classic Hybrid Copra.” I can feel optimistic about a replacement onion; as for the just-inaugurated replacement for Obama, I feel only despair.

The garden can offer some relief from despair. It’s an act of hope to bury a small seed in the ground and trust that it will produce a plant and food. And the hopefulness of gardening can be a metaphor for other acts of hope. Small seeds of goodness can germinate, can grow and reach out into the world. I can’t order these seeds from a catalog but I’m going to look hard for them in the year ahead, plant them and join with others to move beyond despair.