Fava Bean Salads

Friends who like fava beans joined us for dinner this week and I took the opportunity to explore new ways to serve these rich, flavorful beans.  My fava crop is a little late this year because I planted late so the mid-August timing for a fava-themed dinner was good.

My quest for new recipes began, as it sometimes does, with a search of the New York Times Cooking site.  Entering “fava bean recipes” yielded lots of inspiring titles and photos of fava bean purees, salads, pasta sauces, soups, stews and risottos, and, most useful to me, names of the recipe authors so I could go to cooks whose recipes I’ve liked in the past.  David Tanis, Melissa Clark and Martha Rose Shulman are three favorites.

Imagining salads for this summer meal, I was drawn to David Tanis’s recipe for Burrata With Fava Beans, Fennel and Celery as well as to a favorite Tanis recipe I’ve made before: Fresh Multi-Bean Salad with Charred Red Onion.  Offering more inspiration, Martha Rose Shulman’s Green Bean and Fava Bean Salad With Walnuts also combines favas with green beans, and her Rainbow Quinoa Salad With Fava Beans and Herbs suggests a tasty pairing of favas and quinoa.

As often happens when ingredients overlap among recipes, I started combining recipes. Inspired by Shulman’s pairing of favas and quinoa, I decided to serve Tanis’s Fresh Multi-Bean Salad with Charred Red Onion on a bed of red quinoa. Another change I made to the Tanis recipe was to sauté the fava beans in olive oil, garlic and chopped rosemary until they were soft rather than adding them raw.  I like the sharp, earthy flavor of raw fava beans but sautéing brings out a deeper richness that worked well with the sweet bean flavors of the cooked pole beans.

Fava, beans, charred onions

As also often happens, I substituted some ingredients.  I wanted to make Tanis’s Burrata With Fava Beans, Fennel and Celery, but I don’t have any celery in my kitchen garden. Remembering a salad of Golden Beets with Fava Beans and Mint I’d made from from Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy, I substituted yellow beets from my kitchen garden for the celery, peeling the beets, cutting them into ½ inch cubes and steaming them.  I left the favas raw for this salad.  The combination of the slightly bitter raw favas with the deeply sweet yellow beets and finely sliced sweet fennel was perfect dressed with a lemon vinaigrette and tossed with the creamy burrata.

Fava, beet, fennel salad

Finally, beginning the meal with favas, I made a simple fava bean purée for an appetizer, serving it with raw sweet peppers for dipping. I followed Alice Water’s recipe from Chez Panisse Vegetables.

Fava puree and peppers

3 lbs. fava beans

1/2 to 3/4 cup olive oil

salt and pepper

2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped fine

1/4 bay leaf                       

1 small sprig rosemary           

1 sprig thyme

1/2 lemon

    1. Shell the favas discarding pods. Boil a large pot of water and blanch the favas for 1 minute. Drain and plunge in ice water. When cool pop the favas out of their skins.
    2. Warm 2/2 cup olive oil in a sautee pan. Add beans and salt. Add garlic, the herbs sprigs and a splash of water. Cook favas at a slow simmer stirring occasionally 30 minutes till they are completely soft. Add a splash of water if the beans begin to dry out.
    3. When they are done discard the herbs and mash the beans to a paste with a potato masher or puree in a food processor. Taste for seasoning and add lemon juice. If paste is at all dry add additional olive oil. Oil is an important part of the flavor so don’t be stingy. Serve at room temperature with slices of grilled baguette.


While these fava salads would make fine meals on their own, for this shared meal they complemented our friend Anne’s very delicious poblano chili relleno, stuffed with potato and cheese and topped with a spicy tomato sauce, all the vegetables in it from her garden.  High summer gardens are great inspirations for dinners with friends and we’re looking forward to more of these dinners as late summer slides into autumn.

 

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The First Eggplant of Summer

I was checking the eggplant in the plastic greenhouse the other day, hoping I’d see a few small, dark purple vegetables forming among the lavender blossoms of the Galine and Diamond plants.  Instead, to my great surprise, I found, nestled in the mulch beneath the robust green plants, some really big eggplant.  Yikes!  I know it’s been warm, but I really hadn’t expected eggplant this soon. Dinner suddenly included eggplant.

Eggplant growing

Eggplant counter

Harvesting five big purple globes and bringing them to the kitchen, I turned the oven on to 475 and cut the largest two lengthwise into wedges.  I arranged the wedges on a sheet pan, brushed them generously on all sides with olive oil, sprinkled them with salt and pepper and, when the oven reached 475, I put the pan in the oven.

Eggplant wedges raw

Eggplant roastedTwenty minutes later, the wedges had softened into creamy, sweet and slightly smoky eggplant flesh.

Half of them went onto our dinner plates, a perfect side dish for basil pesto on linguine, sugar snap peas and Orange Paruche cherry tomatoes.  We ate dinner outside, celebrating the start of high summer meals.

Eggplant dinner

I put the remaining roasted eggplant into the Cuisinart to make a spread I discovered a few years ago.  This Charred Eggplant and Tahini Spread is one of the best reasons to grow eggplant.

Charred Eggplant and Tahini Spread

http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/charred-eggplant-and-tahini-spread

  • 1 large eggplant, cut lengthwise into quarters
  • ¼ cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 clove garlic finely grated
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • ¾ teaspoon ground cumin

     Toasted sesame seeds

 Preheat oven to 475°. Place eggplant on a baking sheet and toss with ¼ cup oil; season with salt and pepper. Roast until lightly charred and very tender, 20–25 minutes; let cool slightly. Chop eggplant (skin and all) until almost a paste.

Mix eggplant in a medium bowl with garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, tahini, and cumin; season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with oil and top with sesame seeds.  Makes 1 and ½ cups.

Eggplant spread

There are a lot of other reasons to grow eggplant. From the remaining eggplant from this first harvest I made grilled eggplant, dried tomato and goat cheese pasta sauce from Jack Bishop’s Pasta & Verdura, 140 Vegetable Sauces for Spaghetti, Fusilli, Rigatoni, and All Other Noodles (1996).

Bishop 1

Bishop 2

Bishop 3

Eggplant pasta

Looking ahead to more eggplant harvests, there’s eggplant pizza, our favorite summer pizza, and for a dinner party or even just the two of us, Ottolenghi’s eggplant stuffed with lamb and pine nuts from his cookbook Jerusalem (2012).  Finally, as the tomatoes and peppers ripen, there is caponata, the perfect summer stew.  And with any excess eggplants, I’ll keep making the Charred Eggplant and Tahini Spread, great on sandwiches for lunch, on crackers or appetizers or simply by the spoonful.

What is a shell bean?

“What is a shell bean?” a friend asked me the other day when I was describing succotash, a traditional New England dish of corn and shell beans that I often serve at Thanksgiving. We’d been talking about her dry bean crop and the varieties she’d just harvested. “A shell bean is the bean fully formed in the pod but not dry yet,” I said, adding that I often harvest beans at this stage, remove them from the pods, boil them to eat right away with just olive oil, salt and pepper, or blanch them and freeze them so I can have shell beans in the winter.

Shell beans harvesting

Shell beans on terrace The idea of a shell bean was completely new to her and I realized that my answer wasn’t making sense. I’m so used to calling the plump, fresh bean harvested in mid-summer a shell bean and the smaller, hard, dried bean harvested in early fall a dry bean that it never occurred to me that this fresh shell bean stage could be so unfamiliar.

Later, wondering if I was trapped in my own bean universe, I turned to seed catalogs to see how others talk about these two bean stages. Territorial Seeds refers to shelling beans and Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Fedco refer to shell beans but the harvest stages are the same. Territorial advises: “For shelling beans, pick when the seeds are fully formed but still soft and green. For dry beans, maturity can take 3-4 more weeks depending on the weather. Harvest when 90% of the leaves have yellowed or fallen off.”   Johnny’s advises picking shell beans “when beans are plump inside pods” and harvesting dry beans “when at least 90% of leaves have fallen and pods are dry.”

In the Fedco catalog, there’s a “Shell and Dry Beans” section with some introductory sentences advising gardeners to “Harvest shell beans when the beans are plump inside pods. For dry beans allow pods to dry on the vine until pressing the beans with your fingernail leaves no indentation.” In the descriptions of the beans that follow, Fedco’s catalog writers often characterize qualities of the shell stage and the dry stage. Silver Cloud Cannellini beans “make amazingly early and absolutely superb shell beans…When dried and cooked its smooth, meaty texture and dense meaty flavor are prized in minestrone.” Limelight is “excellent both as a shell and a dry bean.” Tiger Eye makes “superb fresh shell and delicious baked beans …Wide 4” pods fill with large flattened kidney-shaped seeds mostly white at the shell stage but taking on more yellow as they dry.” Jacob’s Cattle “if harvested earlier…make superb shellies.”

Any bean can be harvested at the shell or the dry stage; even green beans that have grown too tough to eat green can hold tasty shell or dry beans. In my years of harvesting beans at shell and dry stages, I’ve come to favor certain beans at the shell stage and others at the dry stage. Cranberry, the pole flageolet Soissons Verte, Good Mother Stallard and all runner beans taste best to me at the shell stage while cannellini and black beans taste better fully dried then rehydrated.

Soissons Verte

Bean Soissons Vert

Good Mother Stallard

Beans Good Ma S

Runner Beans

_DSC6515

But if your intent is growing dry beans, even seed catalog descriptions might not encourage shell bean harvest. The phrase “shelling beans” might signal only the process of removing the beans from the pods. Yes, you do shell both shell beans and dry beans, along with peas, so the term is confusing. And if you didn’t grow up eating shell beans as I did, maybe you have to discover shell beans by chance as my friend Carol did, explaining: “I learned about them accidentally years ago when frost was threatening, the beans weren’t dry and I ate some. Get the word out there!  They are wonderful.” It’s true. As a bean tasting  we did a few years ago revealed, shell beans are rich and creamy, fresh tasting and nutty, needing nothing but a little olive oil and salt and pepper, or maybe a little corn, to make a meal.

Bean tasters

Bean samplesDry beans are very good, but they aren’t the same; they’re starchy and less sweet, wonderful at absorbing other flavors but not so good alone.

Or maybe you can discover shell beans at Thanksgiving dinner. As I do nearly every year, I’ll serve succotash at Thanksgiving, using a mix of Cranberry, Aunt Jean and Soissons Verte shell beans and sweet corn I’ve frozen in the summer in anticipation of this holiday meal. I’ll be sure that my friend tastes these shell beans and hope that my answer to her question: “What is a shell bean?” will finally make sense.

Succotash bowl

My favorite succotash recipe

1 ½ Cups fresh corn cut from the cob or frozen corn thawed

1 Cup fresh shell beans or frozen shell beans

1 Garlic clove, minced

2 Tablespoons Butter

1 Teaspoon Olive Oil

Salt

Pepper

Bring a saucepan of water to a boil and add fresh or frozen beans; simmer until soft, about 7-10 minutes but check often. When soft, drain and set aside.

Heat butter and olive oil, add garlic and cook 2-3 minutes

Add fresh or thawed corn and cook, stirring frequently, until hot

Add beans to corn, mix, heat through and serve

Serves 4

Easy to double or triple

For an interesting history of succotash, see this article from Yankee Magazine.  And for more history and some tasty variations on the basic succotash recipe, see David Tanis’s New York Times City Kitchen column Yes, Succotash Has a Luxurious Side.

Slow-Roasting Tomatoes

 

Plum Ts and toes

This year I have a very big crop of Fiaschetto di Manduria, an Italian plum tomato from Uprising Seeds. I grew this variety for the first time last year, attracted by the catalog description emphasizing its adaptation to our climate, its 2-3 ounce size, productivity, suitability for drying and determinate habit. Because of the advertized determinate habit, I grew last year’s plants in the cold frame where they produced well despite outgrowing the cold frame’s protection, and the manageable-sized crop made nice dried tomatoes. This year I grew a few more plants, six instead of four, and planted them in the greenhouse. Yikes! In this warmer environment, they grew twice as tall (definitely not your standard determinate habit), spread out in all directions, and produced at least four times as many tomatoes as last year’s plants. Now I understand the warning in the catalog description: “These small, 2-3 oz, plum shaped tomatoes…hang like grapes from the bushy determinate plants in such prolific quantities that we eventually had to just stop picking them because we couldn’t keep up with the processing.”

Luckily, I haven’t had to give up on picking. Just as the plants were sinking under the weight of ripening tomatoes, I found a great way to keep up with the processing. A September 6, 2017 Food 52 column titled “Molly Wizenberg’s Slow-Roasted Tomatoes with Sea Salt & Ground Coriander” arrived in my email just as the harvest was getting overwhelming. I remembered hearing about this recipe from Orangette years ago and I was grateful to be reminded of it again. As the author of this Food 52 column notes: “This is the single most genius thing you can do to a tomato. They’re best and most outrageous when made with ripe Romas or other meaty types, but as Wizenberg points out, slow-roasting will bring out the tomato in even the pale and off-season, if you feel the need. Make a lot. They keep for a week in the fridge, and are just fine in the freezer. Adapted slightly from Orangette and A Homemade Life (Simon & Schuster, 2009).”

Here’s the recipe:

drying plum Ts set up

Makes as many tomatoes as you want to cook

 Ripe tomatoes, preferably Roma

Olive oil

Salt

Ground coriander

Heat the oven to 200° F. Wash the tomatoes, cut out the dry scarred spot from the stem with the tip of a paring knife, and halve the tomatoes lengthwise. Pour a bit of olive oil into a small bowl, dip a pastry brush into it, and brush the tomato halves lightly with oil. Place them, skin side down, on a large baking sheet. Sprinkle them with sea salt and ground coriander—about a pinch of each for every four to six tomato halves.

Bake the tomatoes until they shrink to about 1/3 of their original size but are still soft and juicy, 4 to 6 hours. Remove the baking sheet from the oven, and allow the tomatoes to cool to room temperature. Place them in an airtight container, and store them in the refrigerator.

Dried tomatoes in pans

Still warm on the baking sheet, these slow-roasted tomatoes are amazingly delicious. It’s very easy to stand there and snack on them. The ground coriander is a subtle but perfect flavor addition, providing slightly nutty, very slightly curry overtones to the tomato’s sweetness. They are lovely as an appetizer with cheese and bread. Lightly chopped or pureed, they would make a perfect sauce for pasta or roasted vegetables. I’ve already roasted enough tomatoes to pack eight pint-jars for the freezer and will fill a few more jars with the last of the harvest. They will be a highlight of this winter’s meals.

Dried tomatoes in jars

And if you don’t have plum tomatoes to roast, cherry tomatoes, larger plum tomatoes like Speckled Roman or Amish Paste, or even big, lumpy heirlooms like Brandywine, Mortgage Lifter or Pruden’s Purple all roast well with this technique. I roasted a pan of Sunchocola and Orange Paruche cherry tomatoes the other day, transforming them into concentrated tomato-flavor treats.

drying cherry Ts terracotta

I also tried small a pan of Speckled Roman and Amish Paste and one Mortgage Lifter, equally delicious and already packed into freezer jars for winter.

Will I grow Fiaschetto di Manduria in the greenhouse next year? Yes, but no more than six plants.

 

 

 

Beans and Tomatoes

As summer turns toward fall, the kitchen garden is providing an abundance of beautiful beans and tomatoes.

Beans in basket

Tomatoes '17 on table

The simplest preparation of these two stars of the season relies on olive oil and salt. Beans cook quickly in boiling water, emerging tender but still slightly firm after no more than five minutes. Drained, drizzled with olive oil then sprinkled with salt, they are pretty in a shallow dish, their shapes round or flat and their colors green or yellow, their rich bean sweetness delicious hot or at room temperature. Tomatoes need no cooking, just slicing, halving or quartering. Arranged in a bowl, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with salt and maybe a little basil, their shades of red, orange or yellow hint at their variations in tomato flavor, sweet and rich to bright and acid, each as good as the next.

tomtatoes and beans in bowls

Beans and tomatoes star on their own but lately I’ve been pairing them with starches, specifically potatoes with beans and tomatoes with bread, to make a main course salads. One of my favorite bean and potato dishes is David Tanis’s variation on the classic nicoise salad from his June 22, 2012 New York Times City Kitchen column. I modify his vinaigrette recipe depending on whether or not there are anchovy eaters in the crowd but even without this flavor, the mustardy, herby vinaigrette is robustly flavorful, just what the potatoes need as the base for earthy beans and rich hard-boiled eggs. This summer I’m using either Daisy Finn (right) or German Butterball (left) potatoes, the varieties I’m growing this year.

Potatoes in basket

Bean Potato salad

As with many recipes for summer potato salads, this recipe invites additions and substitutions, but while I make some slight variations, adding cherry tomatoes or fresh peppers, I but don’t stray too far from this great recipe.

There are as many variations on the Italian tomato bread salad panzanella, as there are variations on the French salade nicoise. The recipe I use as my starting point comes from Orcas Island chef Christina Orchid who published it in the Islands Weekly years ago. Here’s the recipe from her website http://redrabbitfarm.com/classes/:

Panzanella: Italian style bread salad.

1 loaf hearty artisanal style French or Italian bread cut into 1 inch cubes.

1/2 cup grated Reggiano parmesan cheese or grana panda

2 pints garden ripe cherry tomatoes cut in half

1 cup basil, chopped

1 small red onion cut in thin slices and quartered

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

 1/4 cup superior quality red wine vinegar

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

 On a large sheet pan toss the bread cubes with enough olive oil to thoroughly moisten all, then toss with the grated cheese, and toast bread cubes in a 440 degree oven for 5 minutes or until crispy and golden.  Reserve.  Cut the tomatoes in half from the stem end and toss with the onions and red wine vinegar.  Refrigerate until you are ready to serve.  Just before service toss the bread cubes together with the tomato mixture and the chopped basil.  Drizzle with Olive Oil and toss until all is moistened.  Garnish with a drizzle of the balsamic vinegar.  Serves 8.

If you follow her recipe exactly, this panzanella provides a transporting mix of textures and flavors. Over the years, though, variations have crept into the panzanella I make. The biggest change currently is that instead of white flour French or Italian bread, I use  either seeded whole wheat bread or whole wheat walnut levain, breads I make from the Della Fattoria Bread cookbook http://dellafattoria.com. I love the way the wheat, seed and walnut flavors meld with the sweetly acid tomato flavors.

Bread on rack

The recipe technique of thoroughly moistening the bread cubes with olive oil then tossing them with grated Parmesan and toasting at high heat works wonderfully with this more hearty bread. For tomatoes, I often use juicy full-sized tomatoes like Cherokee Carbon or Cherokee Purple in addition to cherry tomatoes. The extra juice in these larger tomatoes soaks into the toasted bread cubes, softening them but not making them mushy. Sometimes I omit the red onion and use chives or instead of onion use a little chopped garlic but I always use basil. And because high summer tomato flavors are so complex and wonderful on their own, I often omit the red wine vinegar and the balsamic and rely instead on tomato juices for the acid. Despite these many variations that have evolved over the years, I still think of this panzanella as Christina’s and am grateful to her for sharing it. It’s a perfect way to celebrate the peak tomatoes of summer.

Panzanella green dish

 

French Potato and Green Bean Salad  David Tanis, City Kitchen, New York Times

 

  • 2 pounds medium potatoes, like Yukon Gold or Yellow Finn
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 large thyme sprig
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed to a paste with a little salt
  • 1 tablespoon chopped anchovy
  • 1 tablespoon chopped capers
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 4 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound small French beans, or small romano or wax beans
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon thinly sliced chives
  • 2 tablespoons roughly chopped parsley
  • 2 tablespoons roughly chopped basil
  • 6 to 8 anchovy fillets, optional, for garnish
  • 8 ounces arugula, optional

 

  • Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add the potatoes, bay leaf and thyme branch. Cook at a brisk simmer until the potatoes are firm but easily pierced with a skewer, about 30 minutes. Remove and let cool slightly.
  • While the potatoes are cooking, make the vinaigrette: In a small bowl, stir together the garlic, anchovy, capers, mustard and vinegar. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Whisk again before using if the dressing separates.
  • When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, remove the skins with a paring knife and carefully cut into pieces 1/4-inch thick, or slightly thicker. Put the slices in a low bowl, season lightly with salt and pepper and add half the vinaigrette. Using your hands, gently coat the potatoes with the vinaigrette, taking care not to break them. Cover and set aside at room temperature.
  • Top and tail the beans. Simmer in salted water until firm-tender, about 3 to 4 minutes, then cool under running water and pat dry.
  • To cook the eggs, bring a medium pot of water to a rapid boil. Add the eggs and cook for 8 minutes for a somewhat soft-centered yolk or 9 minutes for a firmer yolk. Cool the eggs immediately in ice water, then crack and peel. Cut each egg in half and season lightly with salt and pepper.
  • When ready to serve, season the beans with salt and pepper, then dress with the remaining vinaigrette. (Reserve 2 tablespoons vinaigrette for the arugula, if using.)
  • Combine the dressed beans and potatoes, using hands to toss, and pile onto a platter. Sprinkle with chives, parsley and basil and arrange the eggs over the top. Garnish with anchovy fillets, if desired. Dress the arugula and send it to the table separately.

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

Equinox Thoughts

Half of the foliage filling the kitchen garden is signaling the end of spring and summer vegetables, yellowing corn stalks, withered squash leaves and leafless pole bean vines. The other half signals the rise of autumn and winter crops, robust tops of parsnips, carrots, turnips and celeriac, full leaves of kales, chard, leeks, cabbage and Brussels sprouts, all in healthy shades of green.

fall-equinox-yellow

fall-equinox-green

fall-equinox-green-leeksPoised between seasons, the garden at the autumn equinox encourages a look ahead to the meals promised by the green side, but just as much it encourages a look back at the garden year so far, at spring plantings and summer harvests and at the surprises and discoveries that this garden year has offered.

Sunchocola cherry tomato is my vegetable surprise of the summer. It has a kind of silly name but the Territorial Seed Company description tempted me to try it: “The 1 1/4 inch round, henna colored fruit are juicy and divinely sweet, with an added depth of slightly smoky, low acid flavor that’s unusual in a cherry tomato. Rambling indeterminate plants yield generous trusses of fruit early in the season and continue for the long haul.” All true!

tomato-sunchocola

tomato-sunchocola-vine

It’s a perfect cherry tomato, imagine a mini Cherokee Purple, and the vines are spectacular, requiring a ladder now for harvest. Eaten out of hand, halved in salads or, when there are just too many to eat fresh, roasted into a syrupy sauce, it’s truly delicious and has earned a permanent place in my greenhouse.

Then there is summer-grown kale. As I wrote in May, spring-seeded kale was surprising in its succulence and flavor, slowly converting me from my bias toward frost-sweetened kale. The conversion became complete this summer. We ate kale salads every day for lunch from kale that volunteered throughout the spring and early summer and grew into robust plants producing tender leaves. I still planted a winter kale bed in mid-July, and still look forward to frost-sweetened kale, but summer kale has been an unexpected treat.

So many pears this year, how to make time to dry them all? Our extra-abundant crop left me looking for ways to speed up the time it takes to peel and slice them for the dehydrator trays. I remembered that my friend Debbie uses a mandoline to slice pears for drying and that she even leaves the skins on. In one of the biggest equipment discoveries of the summer, we tried the mandoline and it works, cutting our preparation time from over an hour to fifteen minutes. And it doesn’t take that much more time to peel off the skin before slicing the pears with the mandoline. Ours is a Swissmar Borner V-1001 V-Slicer Plus Mandoline.

Another equipment innovation this summer was an electric raccoon fence. After losing most of our corn crop last year to raccoons, we knew we needed to be more prepared for predators this year. Our friends Maxine and Debbie showed us the electric fence they use to foil raccoons and gave us the Premier 1 Supplies catalog so we could order some. It will be a few years before the corn harvest pays back the cost of the fence, but it’s completely worth it to have worry-free corn harvests. In fact, the corn fence was so successful that I may plant a little less corn next year.

Deciding how much to plant each spring is a puzzle I return to every year. This year, I radically reduced the number of storage crops I planted: half a bed of potatoes instead of a whole bed, the same for onions, only one bed of winter squash instead of two beds, the same for bush dry beans. Looking back on the harvest from this vantage point of the autumn equinox, I think I made the right choice. Harvest was certainly quicker, storage easier. It won’t take so long to shell the dry beans. I made the change because I’d noticed that, in our mild winters, leeks and winter roots growing in the garden were more tempting than onions, potatoes and squash stored in the shed. By spring there were still storage vegetables left, some of them spoiled. Maybe winter will surprise me this year with extra cold temperatures and some crop failures, but it’s a gamble I’m willing to take, one I’ll assess next year at the spring equinox.