Early Heat Makes For Gardener’s Bliss

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Early Blueberries, Tomatoes & Peppers & A Birthday Cake

In all my years of gardening, I’ve never picked ripe raspberries, strawberries, snap peas, blueberries, tomatoes and peppers on June 15th before! This June has been amazing, with sun and warmth almost every day; it’s like living in Oregon, Land of Real Summer. True, my plump and tender peas are fleeting fast thanks to the uncommon heat, but tomatoes already?

My first tomatoes came from the Ketchup ‘N Fries grafted combo. Both the plants in pots and those in the garden are flourishing equally and both are boasting a few ripe fruit already. My other ripe tomatoes came from a grafted Black Cherry, which is loving this sunny June. Bright and tangy, these little guys are blissful in salads or halved cut-side-up onto pizza. Later on, I’ll roast them with spears of Fioretto 60 stick cauliflower, skinny broccoli-like wands tipped with dainty little cauliflower-ettes. Stick cauliflower is also of course a natural for dipping into pesto, hummus, or baba ghanouj…

Bobcats and Soul Food

A big-guy slicer tomato called Bobcat also has lots of fruit set but they aren’t ready yet. Territorial calls this one the “prime rib” of the beefsteak crowd and I am excited to try it in salads and sandwiches. (BLTs made with heritage tomatoes, Morningstar fake-bacon, red Romaine, and some red onion are my all-time favorites.) Most years, big tomatoes are a big disappointment in my chilly garden, but this year, it looks like Bobcat has an excellent chance of taking first prize in the garden and in my kitchen.

My early peppers are from Alma, a dense little paprika that ripens from white to cream to butter to hot red. So far, I’ve tried them through the first three stages, sliced into salads and tucked into sandwiches, and they are awesome at every one. The flavor is lively and sweet with a hint of heat, increasing a bit as the peppers ripen. I’ll definitely let some go clear to red for drying and grinding into sweet paprika, which gives that bold, deep umami savor to vegetarian and vegan dishes. Alma means “soul” in Italian and this pepper’s got it for sure.

It’s not odd to have ripe strawberries in June, of course. My favorites are still my Marshalls, the most succulent of any I know. Their sweetness is tempered by a delicate floral spiciness that lifts them far above the saccharine to the sublime. I tossed some in a simple salad that was declared ‘heavenly’ by my guests; here it is:

Strawberry Sugar Snap Salad

2 teaspoons avocado oil
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon maple syrup
pinch of sea salt
2 green onions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 cup chopped sugar snap peas in pods
2 cups young red Romaine lettuce, torn in bits
1/2 cup ripe strawberries, quartered if large

In a serving bowl, whisk together the oil, lime juice, maple syrup and salt. Add green onions and peas and toss gently to coat. Let stand 10 minutes, add lettuce and strawberries, toss gently and serve. Serves 2, maybe 3 (if the 2 are feeling generous).

A Good Raw Deal

I love raw asparagus salads, especially when they are given time to mellow a bit. This one is magical, a perfect side for an omelet and crunchy, buttery toast.

Raw Asparagus, Sugar Snap and Raspberry Salad

12 stalks asparagus, ends snapped
1 cup chopped sugar snap peas in pods
1 cup thinly sliced white button mushrooms
1/4 cup chopped WallaWalla sweet onion
1 tablespoon avocado or fruity olive oil
1-2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice (taste as you go)
pinch of sea salt (to taste)
few grinds of pepper
1 cup ripe raspberries
2 tablespoons toasted pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds)

Slice asparagus very thinly on the diagonal and combine in a serving bowl with all remaining ingredients except raspberries and pepitas (add lemon juice a little at a time). Let stand 15-20 minutes, then add raspberries and pepitas, toss gently and serve. Serves 2-4.

A Summery Birthday Cake

My delicious grandson just turned two, and we had a little party together. I made him this luscious cake (which I adapted from Dory Greenspan’s recipe) and topped it with whipped cream and raspberries. He blew out his fat little ‘2’ candle, and when I turned to get the plates, he promptly swiped a heaping handful of raspberries and cream and smeared it all over his face. Happy birthday indeed!

French Birthday Cake

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup finely ground toasted almonds
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup coconut sugar
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup plain whole milk yogurt
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup avocado oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter a heavy 9 x 2 inch round cake pan and set it on a baking sheet. In a bowl, combine flour, ground almonds, baking powder and salt, set aside. In a smaller bowl, combine sugar and lemon zest, rubbing between your fingers until fragrant and well blended. In a large mixing bowl, combine yogurt, eggs, and vanilla and blend very well. Add dry ingredients, then gently fold in the oil with a rubber spatula (batter will be very thick). Scrape it into your buttered pan and smooth top lightly. Bake (still on that baking sheet) at 350 F until set and golden-edged (35-40 minutes). Cool on a rack for 5 minutes, invert onto a flat plate then flip back onto the rack to cool completely. When cool, slice cake in half horizontally and spread middle with whipped cream, lemon curd, or whatever. I used my last jar of raspberry jam in the middle, which tasted lovely. Serves at least one.

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2 Responses to Early Heat Makes For Gardener’s Bliss

  1. Larry Goldman says:

    Is it possible to purchase “Fioretto 60: cualiflower seeds?
    Thanks, Larry

    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      Hi Larry,

      As far as I know, stick cauliflower seed is not yet available for home gardeners yet but it likely will be eventually.

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