Sunday, September 26, 2010

Off we go!

We may have had frost by the time we return. So the weekend was spent bringing in house plants, harvesting the last of the chard, cutting back know the drill.

Also processing fruits and vegetables so nothing will spoil while we're gone. Wasted food rankles me like nothing else does.

Pears are dried. Applesauce canned. Vegetables are roasted and magically transformed into spicy pasta sauce.

Off we go. There will be no posts for the next two weeks.

Many thanks in advance to friends Biff & Rocky for their cat-sitting services.

Friday, September 24, 2010

feeling Fall

Usually I feel guilty about how I work. I feel rushed most of the time, in one garden but thinking about the next and all the work that has to be done.

This week was different. Blame it on the (momentarily) lower temperatures. Blame it on the advent of fall, which to us gardeners hints at the relaxation that comes with winter. Better still, blame it on our trip to Greece, this coming Monday. We're going to Crete with Cayce & Joe for two weeks of eating, hiking, and Chicken Foot. The anticipation colors every moment between now and then.

Which is, perhaps, why this week was so enjoyable. I had a ton of work to do; I'd been away for a week and there was clean-up to do, mums to plant, and did I mention clean-up? Yet somehow, throughout it all: the 90 degree heat, the accumulation of deadheads, the unending pots of mums, I felt serene, even enjoyed my work.

Instead of rushing, I took my time. I looked around, enjoyed the colors, appreciated the light. And thought about Crete.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Here in Dallas

it is over 90 degrees and very VERY humid. Still, we dutiful Garden Writers traipse through gardens, snapping pictures and slowly melting.

In Dallas, there are garages bigger than my apartment, with better light.

(That's the Rolls; you can't see the Bentley.)

There are tropical swimming pools.

There are juxtapositions of industrial and organic.

There are wonderful, intimate details.

I've experimented the last two days, trying to convince myself that I could be happy bringing only my little point-and-shoot to Greece. This morning made it clear that I cannot. And so the big guy goes in the backpack, complete with heavy zoom lens, conferring upon me the ability to stop down, slow down, and manually focus. I hope to make it worthwhile.

Monday, September 6, 2010

and so it begins!

Last year, which I fondly refer to as The Year of No Tomatoes, was a bonanza mushroom year: chanterelles, black trumpets, honeys, blewitts, you name it. This year, The Year of Bountiful Berries, has been a wash on the mushroom front. Until last night, that is.

We went to Scott & Fred's for dinner, and over cocktails Scott mentioned he'd found clumps of mushrooms at the top of the driveway that he wanted to show me. From the way he described them I was pretty sure they were poisonous pigskin puffballs, just about the only mushroom I've been finding in this hot, dry summer. We walked up the hill, where to my delight we found something quite different.

I THOUGHT I knew what they were, but since THINKING is never enough when it comes to mushrooms, I took them home for proper i.d. Growing in gravel were clumps of gem-studded puffballs...lots of them. Here are a few key points to remember when picking puffballs.

1) Puffballs are only edible when they are totally white inside. Starting to turn dark? Throw it away. The spores are maturing and the puffball is too old to eat.

2) Slice open every puffball. The button stage of some Amanita mushrooms (a genus which is mostly very poisonous) can look much like a puffball on the outside. When sliced open, the outline of the mushroom-to-be is clearly visible inside.

This photo is from the website of the North American Mycological Association.

A puffball may show a slight differentiation of tissue between rounded top and tapered bottom, but there will be no outline of the classic cap and stem structure we think of as Toadstool. See the difference?

The best way to preserve puffballs (in case you find so many you can't eat them all right away) is to saute them in butter,

then freeze.

Since I promised Scott we'd share the bounty (it's only fair!), that's exactly what I did. After taste-testing a few in the scrambled eggs, of course.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

wild, wild cherry

I'll be travelling a lot this month, so I've been making the most of my time at home this weekend, staying close to the kitchen. After taking care of all the fresh produce (canning, drying, you know the drill), I allowed myself to dig into the freezer for the wild cherries. Before Mark left for KY last month we harvested several good cherry crops, both pin and black. Generous soul that he is, he let me keep more than my share.

Pin cherries (Prunus pennsylvanica) are the earliest wild cherries to ripen around here. This summer most fruit has been early, and the pin cherries started ripening the first week in July.

They're small (1/4-1/2" diameter), tart, and have large seeds, which makes for a lot of spitting and scrunched up faces if you eat them out of hand. Perfect for jelly, though. Contemporaneously ripe but absolutely not edible, are honeysuckle berries. Yes, they have a similar, bright red color, but unlike pin cherries, which hang in dangling clusters (see above), honeysuckle berries come in pairs.

Additionally, honeysuckle leaves are opposite and cherry leaves are alternate. One final i.d. characteristic:

black knot of cherry. It's a fungal disease that effects, you guessed it, cherry. Not honeysuckle.

Black cherries (P. serotina) ripen a few weeks later, and this year (so very hot and dry) we started picking the last week in July. As you may have guessed from their name, black cherries are ripe when they're black. Clusters ripen gradually, so exercise some self control and pick only the black ones.

Unripe black cherries have a strong astringent mouth feel; spread the harvest over a few weeks for the best crop. Very slightly larger than pin cherries, black cherries are also tart and also have large seeds...another excellent jelly fruit.

Mark made pin cherry jam, de-seeding every tiny fruit by hand, because he is insane. It was the most delicious jam I've ever had and I didn't share a spoonful. I opted for the easy way out, combining pin and black for a sweet/tart, ruby/garnet, wild cherry jelly.

(See how big the seeds are!)

Wild cherries, you cannot hide from me.

Friday, September 3, 2010

making lemonade

I've had a few bouts of insomnia lately. In the city the best I can do is creep out of bed and around the corner to work at the desk in the hall, hoping I won't wake Michael, since there's no door to close. (I shouldn't worry, Michael could sleep through subway construction.) In PA my late evenings are considerably more productive:

Bread & Butter pickles soaking at 1 am.

Tiny little hard peaches from a terrace on CPW made delicious jelly.

Roasted vegetables come out of the oven at 3...soon to be salsa.

Apricots almost dry by 4.

Sky's lightening up by the time I go back to bed. And I'm hungry.