Extracts Of Summer

 

Blueberry vinegar is the nectar of the divine

Flavorful Vinegars Keep Summer Alive

It’s high summer here, and the kitchen is full of fruit and vegetables, from figs and blueberries, nectarines and plums to squash and eggplants, tomatoes and peppers. Besides what we’re sharing with neighbors or eating fresh, we’re freezing and canning several times a week. I’m also making all sorts of vinegars, which we use for marinades as well as in dressings. Herbed, spicy, or fruity, vinegars add zip to salads both fruity and green as well as hot or chilled salads of potatoes, beets, and beans. My kitchen usually holds at least a dozen kinds of vinegars and they are always popular holiday gifts for family and friends.

Such specialty vinegars are made with hot vinegars, usually cider or rice based, depending on the flavor profile you want. Spicier vinegars that are lively with chili peppers and garlic are sometimes made with wine vinegar, which adds extra depth to the end result. To avoid weird metallic off-flavors, always heat vinegar in a non-reactive saucepan made of stainless steel or enamel and don’t use copper, cast iron, or aluminum pans. Whether flavored with herbs, vegetables, or spices, specialty vinegars are set aside to infuse for several days or even weeks before being carefully strained and rebottled in sterile containers. Make sure you remember to do this step as suggested in the recipe both by labeling the jars with the timing schedule and by marking your calendar to jog your memory (mine needs it, anyway).

The Value Of Small Batches

Until you settle on recipes that please you, it’s wise to make small batches of flavored vinegars (or pretty much anything, really). Write down everything you add so you can scale up the successes and modify any failures by adjusting seasoning or using sharper or milder vinegars. The quality of any flavored vinegar depends on the freshness of the additions and the base vinegar you choose: save gallon jugs of harsh white vinegar for cleaning windows. Milder vinegars such as unseasoned rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar will showcase the fruit and/or herbs, though mellow red or white wine vinegars can also be a good match for livelier additions.

Start out with one of the recipes below, then modify to your taste, experimenting to bring out the best in what ever’s most abundant in the garden. Use favorite combinations of herbs and spices, try pairing different kinds of peppercorns with lemon, orange, lime or grapefruit zest, as well various types of garlic and peppers. If some peppery vinegars taste a little harsh at first, a further period of rest time lets them mellow before using. At every stage, store specialty vinegars in a cool, dim place, not a sunny window, since the heat and light can cloud the vinegar and may even promote unwelcome bacterial growth.

Basic Herb Vinegar

2 cups red wine or cider vinegar
1/3 cup fresh herbs such as basil, fennel, tarragon, etc.

Bring vinegar to a boil in a small saucepan. Roll fresh herbs lightly with a rolling pin and put them in a clean pint jar. Pour in hot vinegar and close jar. Infuse for up to 2 weeks, tasting every few days until you like the intensity. When it’s just right, strain through muslin or a coffee filter into a sterilized bottle and seal. Use within 3 months.

Fabulous Fruity Vinegars

Nothing you can buy can match the power and purity of flavors when you make vinegars with freshly picked fruit. Some of our friends mix these vinegars with seltzer water for a very refreshing summer pick-me-up. I’ve been known to sip them straight or even pour a little over homemade peach ice cream…

Fresh Raspberry Vinegar

2 cups tart raspberries (slightly unripe ones work well)
1-1/2 cups cider vinegar or red wine vinegar
1/4 cup sugar or honey (preferably raspberry honey)

Combine all ingredients with 1/3 cup water and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce heat to medium low, cover pan and simmer for 5 minutes. Pour into a clean jar, cover and let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate overnight or up to 36 hours. The next day, strain into a clean bowl through a fine sieve or muslin, pressing gently to get all the liquid out. Pour liquid into a clean bottle, seal and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 months. Makes about 2 cups.

Fresh Blueberry Vinegar

2 cups blueberries (tart ones work best)
2 cups cider vinegar
1 tablespoon grated lemon or orange zest
1/4 cup sugar or honey

Combine all ingredients with 1/3 cup water and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce heat to medium low, cover pan and simmer for 5 minutes. Pour into a clean jar, cover and let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate overnight or up to 36 hours. The next day, strain into a clean bowl through a fine sieve or muslin, pressing gently to get all the liquid out. Pour liquid into a clean bottle, seal and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 months. Makes about 2 cups.

Cucumber & Dill Vinegar

2 cups coarsely chopped cucumber
1/4 cup dill sprigs, lightly packed
2 cups plain (unseasoned) rice vinegar
1/4 cup sugar or honey

Combine all ingredients with 1/3 cup water and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce heat to medium low, cover pan and simmer for 5 minutes. Pour into a clean jar, cover and let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate overnight or up to 48 hours. The next day, strain into a clean bowl through a fine sieve or muslin, pressing gently to get all the liquid out. Pour liquid into a clean bottle, seal and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 months. Makes about 2 cups.

Nectarine & Lavender Vinegar

2 cups finely chopped ripe nectarines
2 tablespoons fresh or 1 tablespoon dried lavender buds
2 cups plain (unseasoned) rice vinegar
1/4 cup sugar or honey

Combine all ingredients with 1/3 cup water and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce heat to medium low, cover pan and simmer for 5 minutes. Pour into a clean jar, cover and let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate overnight or up to 36 hours. The next day, strain into a clean bowl through a fine sieve or muslin, pressing gently to get all the liquid out. Pour liquid into a clean bottle, seal and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 months. Makes about 2 cups.

 

 

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Harvesting & Healthy Soil

Refreshing The Midsummer Garden

Here in the Maritime PNW, summer has been a mixed experience. It’s not unusual to have a string of warm days followed by chilly ones, or to wake up to a cozy grey marine layer that takes all morning to burn off. However, though we’ve had far more measurable rainfall than we’ve enjoyed in many years this summer, we’re still low for the year: A crazy wet February was followed by a hot, dry March (80 degrees on March 17, for instance); a crazy dry May chased a wetter-than-usual April, dry June and unusually wet July. Already in August we’ve had several significant storms with over an inch of rain and even lightning, very uncommon in this part of the world. Seems like every day brings reports of wild weather all over the world and it’s pretty hard to ignore.

Despite the swings, or maybe because of them, the garden is amazingly productive. That makes for wonderful meals and fast-filling freezers, as well as rows of beautifully filled canning jars. Beans are burgeoning, beets and kohlrabi are fattening, tomatoes are ripening like crazy and squash needs checking daily lest those elegantly slim zukes blow up into baseball bats overnight. In my delightful new community, neighbors swap plant starts and set out baskets of produce, including herbs and flowers for everyone to share. As our summer harvesting clears out space, we’re tucking in fall starts, along with a comforting mulch of compost. More beets, fall peas, fresh lettuce and greens, broccoli and Brussels sprouts, cabbage and as many kinds of kale as I can cram into these little bitty beds.

Cramscaping Rules

When beds are small but deep and full of good soil, it’s really quite remarkable how much can be crammed in without harm. I mix in a lot of annuals with edibles, both to attract pollinators and to be sacrificial if need be. If the tree kale gets going, out go the spent calendulas. Fading spring annuals get shaken around to sow the seeds for next year and fall planting proceed apace. Even in these brand new beds, it’s important to remember that, after a productive season, hard working edible beds need replenishment. Whether we plan to grow cool season crops or not, spreading compost and a light mulch of shredded leaves or bedding straw over emptied rows or beds will keep soil in good heart. Bare soil can cook in late summer heat, so cover it up to keep your soil alive and thriving. Recent research shows that less than an inch of compost is enough to kick start exhausted soil’s journey back to health. What’s more, that depleted soil can also begin to capture and store carbon quickly when that comforting compost blanket is layered on.

Everyone knows by now that our planet is suffering and it’s up to us to do all we can to help heal it. There’s already so much damage, and more being done every day, it’s very easy to slip into despair but we of all people can actually do something helpful. Anyone with acreage can plant trees, mingling wildlife-friendly natives with fruit and nut trees. Even without a lot of land, a lot can be accomplished: urban food forests are appearing in vacant Detroit lots as well as in well heeled Seattle parks. Anyone with a deck can pack pots with flowers and food crops, and even a window box can be lively with bees in the heart of the city.

Planting Hope And Oxygen

Whether we plant tomatoes or trees or preferably both, each area of living green is an oasis for critters and a sign of hope for humans. If we want a greener future, there’s no time like today to get started on planting our own corner of the world. Garden full? How about those sidewalk strips? Neighbors with more room than time or energy may be happy to allow you to make a garden for them. How about churches? Schools? Businesses? I suspect that changing commercial lawns into edible landscapes will be a lucrative job opportunity as people get serious about climate change.

Another huge gift to the world will be passing along our skills and plant knowledge to younger generations. If you don’t have kids or grandkids, borrow some! Mentor teens and young adults (or old adults, whatever) and help them start a good garden service. Around here, there are zillions of mow-and-blow crews but very few skillful, knowledgeable crews. Let’s change that, starting now. And not stopping. Ever. Right?

Make New Friends & Fill The Freezer

When both pantry and freezer fill up, it’s time to make soup! Make enough to share and sit down with some younger folks who just might want to learn a little more about growing and cooking.

Tuscan Bean Soup With Black Kale

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon fennel seed
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/8 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
1 organic lemon, juiced, rind grated
1 large onion, chopped
1 large bulb fennel with greens, chopped
2 sweet carrots, chopped
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
2 cups cooked white cannellini beans (or any kind)
1 quart vegetable or chicken broth
1 bunch Black Tuscan kale, cut in ribbons

In a soup pot, combine oil, fennel seed, half the garlic, the lemon rind, pepper flakes, onion, fennel (reserve 1/4 cup chopped greens), and carrots, sprinkle with salt and cook over medium high heat until barely soft (8-10 minutes). Add beans and broth, bring to a simmer and cook over low heat for 20 minutes. Puree in small batches with remaining garlic and return to pan. Add kale and pepper, cover pan and cook until barely wilted (2-3 minutes). Stir in lemon juice to taste and serve hot, garnished with fennel greens. Serves 4.

 

Posted in Annual Color, fall/winter crops, Garden Prep, Gardening With Children, Health & Wellbeing, Planting & Transplanting, Recipes, Sustainable Gardening | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Ready For Fall, Y’all?

Image from Machine Project’s ‘Beet Papers and Beat Makers’ workshop

Planting For Plenty

As summer heat hits like a hammer, it feels out of season to be planning for fall and winter crops, yet this is indeed the time to get those starts in the ground. I’m planting both Purple Sprouting Broccoli and Kosmic Kale, favorite vegetables I cherish for great taste and long performance. Kosmic Kale is an excellent Dutch variety, a perennial kale with lovely, cream-and-sage variegated leaves that remain tender and sweet all year round. Give it full sun or afternoon shade and you’ll be able to harvest a handful of leaves nearly every day. If your household is larger, you’ll want several of these handsome plants; though they mature to around 4-feet high, they are relatively narrow, so you can fit several into even small gardens (like mine).

Arugula needs replacing by now, as does Endive, and starts of both Swiss Chard and Collard Greens will give you a good crop by fall as will annual greens. I just planted Sugar Snap and Sugar Ann peas for a second round, letting them ramble between the branches of my espaliered three-way apple tree that’s tied into our heavy-duty wire fence. It’s also time to tuck in some Kalettes, a gorgeous and delicious cross between kale and Brussels Sprouts that crops well into winter. We eat a lot of Brussels Sprouts around here, especially the red ones that are both beautiful and especially resistant to pesky pests. I’m also looking forward to enjoying Celtuce, a Southern Chinese stem lettuce. Sometimes sold as Asparagus Lettuce or Wosun, this leafy vegetable has long, thick stalks that taste similar to celery. In Asian kitchens, the peeled stalks are eaten raw, pickled, roasted, or used in stir fries, much as you might use asparagus.

Can’t Beat Those Beets

As my early beets are fattening up, we’re eating them almost daily, boiled, roasted, or raw. In my book, few summer treats are as delicious as a raw beet salad lively with spunky sweet onions and the lush sweetness of ripe fruit. Naturally, along with the usual autumn crops I’m planting youngster beets to bring me more bounty this fall. Golden and tender, Boldor keeps its pretty color when cooked, and youngsters taste sweet enough to use raw in salads, grated or sliced thinly and tossed with bitter greens. Sliced crosswise, Chioggia, the classic Italian striped beet, displays concentric circles of red and white that look beautiful on the plate. The pattern is most dramatic on smaller beets, so harvest them when they’re about 2 inches across if you want to wow your friends with a stunning raw salad. Like what? So glad you asked!

Raw Beet & Nectarine Salad

2 cups peeled, thinly sliced Chioggia beets (about 5-6)
2 large nectarines, thinly sliced
2 cups finely sliced Kosmic Kale or chard ribbons
1/2 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts
1/2 cup crumbled soft goat cheese
2 tablespoons minced spearmint
2-3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/8 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

In a serving bowl, combine all ingredients and gently toss. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Serves 4-6.

Matchstick Beets

A mandoline cutter slices vegetables into various shapes, including matchstick or julienne, which look dramatic in the bowl and on the plate. You can cut the beets into skinny sticks by hand, of course, but it’s super tedious, so if you don’t have a mandoline, just grate them coarsely with a box grater or a food processor.

Matchstick Raw Beet Salad

3 cups julienned peeled raw beets (2-3 medium)
1 medium WallaWalla Sweet onion, halved and sliced
1-1/2 cups peeled, sliced peaches (1-2 large)
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup Peach Lime Dressing (see below)

Combine all ingredients in a serving bowl, gently toss and let stand 10 minutes. Arrange on plates with matchstick beets in teepees, and serve at room temperature. Serves 4-6.

Summer Peach Lime Dressing

1 large peach, peeled, chopped
2-3 teaspoons fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1 tablespoon avocado oil OR olive oil
pinch smoked hot paprika

In a food processor, combine all ingredients and puree. Adjust seasoning to taste. Refrigerate leftovers for up to 3 days.

French Beet Salad, Nutty Or Not

Tart apples, tender beets and toasted walnuts give this French late summer salad terrific crunch, while the lemon-and-mustard vinaigrette makes it sparkle. The same dressing is lovely drizzled over chicken or fish as well as bitter and leafy greens or steamed cauliflower. Those who can’t tolerate walnuts can make a different but still very tasty version by substituting olive oil and crisp, roasted pumpkin seeds for the nuts.

French Beet, Apple & Walnut Salad

2-3 cups cooked, diced beets (about 1 pound raw)
2-3 cups sliced tart apples (2-3 large apples)
1 cup lightly toasted whole walnut halves
OR 1 cup roasted pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup stemmed flat Italian parsley
1/4 cup Walnut Lemon Dressing (see below)

In a serving bowl, gently toss beets, apples, and nuts or seeds with the dressing and let stand at least 10 minutes. Serve at room temperature, garnished with parsley. Serves 4-6.

Walnut Oil & Lemon Dressing

Juice of 1 medium lemon
1 tablespoon mellow Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons walnut oil OR olive oil
1/8 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
Few grinds of black pepper

In a jar, combine all ingredients and shake vigorously to emulsify. Adjust seasonings to taste. Refrigerate leftovers for up to three days. Makes about 1/2 cup.

 

 

 

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Plants That Feel Like Home

Planting must harmonize with neighbor’s cars and backdrop shrubs, of course.

Comfort And Joy

Whenever we move to a new home, there’s always a period of adjustment as dreamy ideas start to mesh with reality. When I first realized that my “shade garden” was, yes, almost 60 feet long but dang! Only about 10 inches wide, I admit to being a bit dismayed. In my mind, it would accommodate ALL my favorite shade plants. In real life, not so much. After filling that narrow pocket with good soil and shoehorning in more plants than may have been quite wise, I find it charming. As high summer arrives (a bit late here in the PNW), I’m reveling in each little plant as I water and weed along the retaining wall that supports this tiny gardenette. However limited the space, it’s big enough for at least SOME dear favorites. Hardy cyclamen and compact hydrangeas, ferns and fritillaries, Elizabethan primulas and dwarf fuchsias nestle companionably with Podophyllum difforme, Solomon’s Seal and Disporum Green Giant. Wait, what? Some of those are far from small. Well, yes, but I NEED them anyway. That’s what containers are for, right?

Indoors, I never really feel at home until my books are on the shelves (MANY shelves and MANY books). Outside, I don’t feel rooted into any new place until I’m surrounded by plenty of plants. And not just any plants; for most of us life-long gardeners, certain plants just feel like home. They might not be the latest and coolest (though those certainly aren’t ruled out), but they are plants that make us smile and bend down for a closer look or sybaritic sniff. Such companionable creatures are what I call comfort plants, those that evoke past pleasures and offer daily delights. Mine include humble cottage garden wallflowers and poppies, golden feverfew and nigella, lilac and peonies, snowdrops and tiny species daffodils. Every garden I’ve ever made was fragrant with hardy herbs and roses, and this one will be no different, except that anything I plant has to remain compact and mannerly or get the boot. Sigh.

Favorite Fragrances And Flavors

We plant nerds struggle in small gardens, since we yearn for at least some of pretty much everything. However, both the miniature shade garden and our sunny front garden already happily house many irresistible companions and will be joined by still more as I develop each possible planting pocket. Growing food makes me happy, and since our new home faces southeast and gets plenty of light all day long, the little parking strip hosts large galvanized watering troughs packed with tomatoes and peppers, eggplants and squash, transitory delights that make summer meals memorable. Thanks to modern varieties that thrive in containers, we’re already harvesting enough to share with family and friends. This weekend, I built a little berm along my neighbor’s driveway as a dry bed for bulbs and eventually mats of hardy spreading herbs and though it’s already been driven over once, I have high hopes that a newly placed large rock will offer a stay-away hint. Onward!

Our brand new Big Bed ( a ridiculously tiny 7 x 20’) was finished a few days ago, after lengthy renovation to remove zillions of weeds as well as bamboo and questing passion vine shoots exploring from next door. I let the soil settle for a few days as I pondered over lists of must-have plants. I’ve left several pockets for fall planting of choice shrubs and possibly even a small tree, but already this enticing bed is cramscaped with especially favorite varieties of rosemary and lavender, oregano and thyme, all useful culinary plants that release lovely scents at the brush of a hand. These Mediterranean natives are drought tolerant, deer resistant and evergreen, holding their handsome good looks through the grey wet winter months when dormant borders lack appeal. So is Santolina rosmarinifolia, a Spanish native subshrub with fine textured, bright green foliage with a deliciously spicy scent, another plant that finds its way into most of my gardens. Annual light shearing keeps it shapely and removes the spent stalks after the pollinators have ravished the creamy button blossoms

Admiration For Annuals

As a student in Italy, I feel in love with Calendulas, which sold for pennies a bunch even in winter, when their citrus colored flowers shone like little suns on wet grey stone market plaza. This year I discovered the shaggy stars of Calendula Triangle Flashback, shading from pale gold to peach and apricot, pleasing cool season companions for all those evergreen herbs. My family summered on Cape Cod, where I was enchanted to see portulaca growing in what seemed like sifting sand, and I still find those jewel toned flowers adorable, so I’ve tucked some into cracks and crannies where I hope they’ll self seed as generously here as there. Marigolds also remind me of childhood gardens so I edge my vegetable bed with Lemon Gem, a tidy little creature with citrus scented foliage and lemony blossoms. And as I may have mentioned a time or six, I’m wild about zinnias, especially Queeny Lime Orange and Queen Lime Red, with subtly shaded blossoms that look handmade.

Since I want this garden to be a pollinator haven, I’m planting enticing annuals like Ammi majus Graceland, a tall and gracious version of Queen Anne’s Lace with airy umbles of tiny white flowers. Like all the carrot relatives, Ammis are beloved of bees and many other pollinators, including A. visagna Green Mist, with ice green flowerheds on looong stems that make great cuts. Cuter yet are true carrots with colorful flowerheads, such as Purple Kisses, ranging from burgundy to deep lavender, and Dara Dark Red Shades, which runs from merlot to raspberry and powderpuff pink. More compact, Blue Lace Flower (Didiscus caerulea) is a smaller version with powder blue florets on densely lacy umbels.

Are We There Yet?

After a long day of planting dozens of hopeful starts, I leaned back to admire my handiwork and was shocked to see nothing but tiny tufts of foliage scattered in the soil. While planting, my mind’s eye saw each careful grouping as a realized vignette, full and flourishing. Thump! Back to earth. Of course I know full well that gardens aren’t made in a minute. I also know that working with small starts rather than large, well grown plants is wise as well as cost-reducing, since youngsters often acclimate better to less than perfect conditions, including sudden slams of summer heat after a protracted cool start. Yes. But. After being without a garden of my own for several years, I’m as impatient as a toddler to see some ACTION out there. Oh well. At least I’m not prying buds open to see what color the blossoms will be…

 

 

Posted in Annual Color, Early Crops, Easy Care Perennials, Garden Design, Hardy Herbs, Planting & Transplanting, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment