Of Blueberries and Bindweed

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I’ve been pulling masses of bindweed lately, a task I utterly enjoy. Bindweed or morning glory (Convolvulus arvensis) is really quite a beautiful plant but oh, my, does it ever want to take over. Fortunately, you really can get rid of bindweed for the most part (though birds will keep re-seeding it). The trick is to mulch deeply and often and to be persistent. Mulching a running weed sounds counter-intuitive, but it actually makes great sense. It’s impossible to get those rampaging roots out of heavy clay, but once the soil is opened up with humus, you can chase the roots for what seems like miles. Today I filled a large wheelbarrow with bindweed roots, a mighty endeavor that gave me enormous satisfaction. Of course I did not get every scrap, but I definitely got most of it. Now, I’ll pile on more compost and wait. I don’t pull tiny bits but I do cut them. This turns a bare thread that’s hard to spot into a cluster of shoots that are easy to find and easy to dig up. I also mark really infested spots with colored tape on a stick so I’ll be reminded to check every month or so and dig out everything I can. In a few seasons, it is possible to clean up a really bad infestation and keep it clean using this technique.

On the other hand, a friend once told me a moral tale about bindweed that I never forgot. She was garden sitting for an elderly friend whose blueberry bushes were covered with bindweed. My friend spent days carefully picking off the tangled vines and digging out the roots. When the older gardener returned, she walked through the beds and stared at the berry bushes for a long time. Finally she said, “I imagine you think you have done me a favor.” Flabbergasted, my friend admitted that she did. The older woman sighed and explained that for years, she lost her berries to the birds. Only when they were hidden by the bindweed could she harvest her whole crop. Amazed? Me too.

Bindweed has been more appreciated in the past. The soft, rather elastic stems can be used for tying up plants that need staking, from delphiniums and asters to peas and tomatoes. Bindweed has been woven into baskets and rough cloth and used to make a rather pretty dye for wool and linen. By chopping and boiling the stems and leaves, you can create soft yellows, gentle greens, and a sandy beige that’s nicer than it sounds. The color is quite persistent if set with a mordant such as copper (for deeper, duller shades) or alum (for brighter tints). If you aren’t interested in dyeing, you can profitably put morninglory tops (not roots and most definitely not flowers or seedheads) on the compost heap, where they contribute minerals captured by their deep roots. Some folks brew compost teas from morninglory and say it is very good for vegetables and fruit (particularly onions, so I am told).

Understanding Roots

An old friend, Robert Kourick, writes often about roots and has published a truly fantastic book called “Roots Demystified, Change Your Garden Habits to Help Roots Thrive,” which belongs on every passionate gardener’s shelf–the amazing pictures alone are worth the modest price of the book. Robert recently presented programs at the Sonoma County Fair, where there was too much light to do a PowerPoint. Instead, he demonstrated with his portable root system which he calls “Roger-the-Root.”

You can read more about Robert and his roots on his blog at http://robertkouriksgardenroots.blogspot.com/ where you’ll find musings about fasciation, tips of drought resistant plants, permaculture, and lots more cool stuff. You can also order Robert’s books at a nice discount, including the now-classic “Drip Irrigation for Every Landscape and All Climates” and my favorite, “No-Dig Gardening, for a Healthier Soil & a Sustainable Garden.”

Perfect Zucchini

I absolutely love zucchini and all kinds of summer squash. I have never yet grown more than I could cook, probably because we pick them when they are quite small. Truly tiny ones (1-2 inches) are fabulous raw, with salsa, ponzu, or pesto for dipping. A mixture of green, white, and yellow infant squash looks great on a plate, with all kinds of shapes, from scalloped pattypans to crooknecks and ridge-striped Italian black zucchini. Bigger ones (3-5 inches) are perfect for steaming, grilling or roasting. The largest I’ll let them get is perhaps 6 inches or so, when they are just right for the Italian treatment. When I was a young teenager, kind neighbors invited me to tour Europe with their family. One evening in Rome, we ate the best zucchini I’d ever tasted (probably the only well-cooked one I’d ever eaten). When I asked how it was cooked, I was allowed to visit the kitchen, where the chef showed me his technique. It’s so simple, yet still it is my favorite way to eat squash. Here it is:

Italian Zucchini

4 medium (5-6 inch) black or green zucchini
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 lemon, cut in wedges

Trim zucchini and slice in quarters lengthwise, sprinkle with a little salt, set aside. In a wide, shallow pan, melt butter in oil over medium high heat until foamy (1-2 minutes). Add garlic and cook to the fragrance point (about 1 minute). Add the zucchini, toss gently to coat with oil and cook for 1-2 minutes per side. Sprinkle with remaining salt and pepper and serve with a lemon wedge. Serves at least one.

Here’s a savory dressing that’s wonderful with young kale, endive, escarole and chicory. It’s also delicious over steamed squash, grilled fish, or a shrimp salad.

Savory Blueberry Dressing

1/2 cup blueberries, mashed
1 teaspoon minced shallot
1 teaspoon lemon thyme or English thyme, stemmed
1/4 cup virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 teaspoons flaked nutritional yeast (optional)
1 teaspoon real maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon ponzu soy sauce or organic shoyu

Combine all ingredients in a glass jar and shake vigorously to blend. Refrigerate leftovers for up to 3 days. Makes about 2/3 cup.

The Pies Of Summer

My family usually eats fresh blueberries so fast I don’t get to do anything with them. However, they all love this cold pie, which tastes light and fresh and is wonderfully refreshing on a summery evening.

Fresh Blueberry Pie

3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg or coriander
1 organic orange, juiced, rind grated
1 organic lemon, juiced, rind grated
6 cups fresh blueberries
1 tablespoon butter
2 teaspoons real vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lavender flowers (optional)
1 9-inch pie crust, baked and cooled

In a deep, heavy saucepan, combine sugar, cornstarch, spice, and citrus rinds. Stir in 2 tablespoons orange juice and 1 tablespoon lemon juice and cook over medium high heat until mixture thickens and becomes translucent (4-6 minutes). Stir in berries and cook for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in butter and vanilla and lavender if using. Cool to room temperature, pour into pie shell and chill (covered with waxed paper) for 6-8 hours (or overnight). Serve with Lemon Whipped Cream. Serves 6-8.

Our favorite pie crust is gluten free and adds a delightful crunchiness to soft summer fruit. For a savory version that’s great for cheese and onion tarts or tomato pie, leave out the sugar and add a pinch of ground pepper. If you already have roasted almonds, this goes together really fast.

Almond Pie Crust

1-1/4 cup raw almonds
1/3 cup confectioner’s XXX sugar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
3-4 tablespoons unsalted butter (cold)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake almonds in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet until crisp (15-18 minutes). In a food processor, grind almonds to a fine meal. Add sugar and salt, process for 10 seconds, then add butter a teaspoon at a time, processing for 3-4 seconds between each addition until dough comes together. Pat crust into pie dish and fill and bake as directed in recipe or bake unfilled at 350 F. until set and golden (15-20 minutes). Makes one delectable crust.

When unexpected company comes, make this elegant, scrumptious dessert in a flash. It’s also memorable made with huckleberries, fresh peaches and raspberries, or pears (crumble bleu cheese over the top for a dazzling savory version).

Almond Nectarine Torte

1/3 cup red currant jelly
1 Almond Pie Crust, baked
2 ripe nectarines, sliced (about 2 cups)
Lemon Whipped Cream (see below)

In a glass dish, microwave jelly for 30-45 seconds and spoon half of it evenly into pie shell. Arrange nectarine slices, brush with remaining jelly, cover with Lemon Whipped Cream and serve. Serves 6-8.

Lemon Whipped Cream

Clouds of fluffy cream, bright with lemon, make the perfect counterpoint to tart huckleberries or blueberries.

1 cup organic heavy cream
1/3 cup Lemon Syrup (see below)

Whip cream until stiff and gently fold in cool syrup. Makes about 2 cups.

Lemon Syrup

The French restaurants serve this zingy, tart-sweet syrup with espresso or over fresh fruit. It’s also wonderful with orange, grapefruit, tangerine or limes.

1 organic lemon, juiced, rind grated
1/4 cup cane sugar

Combine juice, rind, and sugar in a small saucepan, bring to a boil and simmer for 3 minutes. In a microwave, combine in a glass bowl and cook for 3 minutes at 40% power. Makes about 1/3 cup.

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3 Responses to Of Blueberries and Bindweed

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