Keeping Plants And People Well Fed
After spring’s first burst of garden glory, the summer garden settles in to serious production. Or it should; maritime mornings continue to be grey and cool, while afternoons are warm and sunnier. Even for the experts, it’s still hard to know what the summer will bring in terms of temperatures. Though the El Nino warming effect officially ended in May, the expected La Nina cycle seems to be stalled out. In my garden, this flip-flop weather is keeping some plants back while others leap joyfully forward.
Such summers favor cool season crops, which produce with enthusiasm. This year, there were plump peas galore. Raspberries and strawberries cropped like crazy, packing freezers and filling pantries with jam. The heat lovers were more hesitant, since cold nights and overcast days set them back repeatedly. We maritimers have learned that for us, summer really ramps up around here in mid July. Finally, we can gather baskets full of tomatoes and tomatillos, basil and beans.
A Midsummer Snack
Because ongoing temperature swings are the norm here, I’ve switched almost entirely over to growing grafted tomatoes. After years of disappointment, I can now rely on harvesting enough tomatoes to enjoy them in a dozen ways. I freeze roasted tomatoes as well as sauce to enliven winter meals. I make fresh chutneys and salsas and countless salads, experimenting with dressings to find new ways to enhance that natural tomato spunkiness.
Over the years, I’ve found that a midsummer snack can keep my plants productive and boost flavor at the same time. I mix up my favorite plant elixir by the gallon and offer it to food crops as well as any garden ornamentals that seem to need a little help. It’s especially helpful for heat lovers, greening up their foliage while stimulating more productivity. The combination of liquid kelp, humic acid, and fish fertilizer offers gentle encouragement to pretty much everything. I spray it on tomato and pepper foliage and also use it as a root drench after watering my pots. Here’s the recipe:
Midsummer Plant Elixir
1 tablespoon liquid kelp concentrate
1 tablespoon humic acid concentrate
1/4 cup liquid fish fertilizer
1 gallon water
Combine in a gallon jug and let stand overnight. Store in a cool, dark place. Give each tomato plant (or hanging flower basket) 1 cup and each basil plant 1/2 cup of mixture every 2 weeks. Plants in 1 gallon containers get 1/4 cup each on same schedule.
This spritely salad is my new go-to when serving tacos or enchiladas. It sounds too simple to be good, yet it is extremely more-ish. It’s also lovely tucked into split pitas with smoked tofu or grilled salmon and shredded Romaine.
Tomato Salsa Salad
2 tablespoons avocado oil
1-2 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
2 cups halved cherry tomatoes (use several kinds)
2 ears sweet corn, kernels cut off
1 cup chopped sweet red peppers
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1/2 cup stemmed cilantro
1 head Romaine lettuce, sliced in thin ribbons
In a serving bowl, whisk oil and vinegar together to taste. Add all but lettuce, toss gently and let stand for 10 minutes. Add lettuce, toss gently and serve. Serves 4.
A Chilly Appetizer
Creamy, spunky, and bright with sea salt, this simple sorbet makes an amazing amuse bouche. Use a melon ball scoop to give gazpacho a fantastic garnish. You can use cilantro or lemon thyme instead of basil for cilantro to change it up.
Tomato Basil Sorbet
1 cup pureed fresh tomatoes
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups heavy organic cream
Combine all ingredients and chill overnight or up to 2 days. Freeze in an ice cream maker, pack into containers and freeze for at least an hour. Makes about 3 pints.
Fragrant and lightly spicy, chutney is equally delicious in salad dressings or offered as an appetizer dip for sliced apples and pears. Spoon a bit over grilled fish or chicken as well as basmati or nutty-tasting Bhutanese red rice. It keeps a long time in the refrigerator and makes a very welcome gift.
Tomato Paprika Chutney
1 teaspoon safflower oil
1 teaspoon coriander seed
1 teaspoon mustard seed
6 green cardamom pods
2 white or yellow onions, chopped
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 quart ripe tomatoes, sliced in wedges
2 tart apples, cored and chopped
1/4 cup chopped paprika peppers
2/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup coconut sugar or cane sugar
In a deep pan, heat oil, seeds, and pods over medium high heat to the fragrance point (1-2 minutes). Add onions and salt and cook over low heat for 10 minutes. Add tomatoes and apples, cover and cook until soft (10-15 minutes). Add vinegar and sugar and cook for 20 minutes, stirring often. Remove green cardamom pods, pour chutney into sterilized jars and seal. Makes about 6 cups.