Friday, August 28, 2015

Garlic and Onion Harvest 2015

The heavy rain we had this spring and early summer wasn't appreciated by all of my Alliums. Some of them did all right, but others had problems with rot. That's why I'm posting about them a bit late this year because some of them had some problems during curing.

All of my garlic and onions were planted on September 21, the Autumn Equinox, last year. I planted three varieties of perennial onions: French Red Shallots, Yellow Potato Onions, and I'itois Onions, five varieties of garlic: Red Toch, Lorz Italian, Inchelium Red, Nootka Rose, and S&H Silverskin, and two varieties of leeks: Elephant Garlic and multiplier leeks.

The Yellow Potato Onions, Inchelium Red Garlic, and Nootka Rose garlic were all new varieties I got from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.


French Red Shallots
Harvested June 11

I got these French Red Shallots back in 2013, I think, and this the first year I got enough to eat as well as plant (and even give some away to family members). The first year I planted them, a lot of them rotted, but they must have adapted or something because now they are doing great.

They're just like little red onions, with a sweet mild flavor. They're small, about the size of golf balls, but I'm very happy with them, especially when I see the price of shallots at the grocery store.

Yellow Potato Onions
Harvested July 2

The shallots' cousins, the Yellow Potato Onions, didn't do nearly as well. Long after all the other Alliums were harvested and cured, the YPO's and Nootka Rose garlic still looked like they weren't ready. I finally gave up and harvested them anyway, and I found out that a lot of the Yellow Potato Onions had rotted. They are supposed to be easier to grow than shallots, so I emailed Southern Exposure Seed Exchange to ask them what they thought happened. They thought it was because of the wet weather, and said onions especially don't like that.

It's like we either have to little rain or too much! The onions in the picture are the ones that weren't rotted, so I'm going to try planting them again and seeing what happens.

I also grew I'itois onions again, but don't have a picture for them. These are the ones I got back in 2009 from Native Seeds/SEARCH. They did great, as usual.

Elephant Garlic
Harvested May 11

Even though the Elephant Garlic was one of the first Alliums I harvested, apparently I was still too late. As you can see from the picture, all but two of the bulbs fell apart into individual cloves as they cured. Next year I need to remember that Elephant garlic is ready very early, and I'll try digging them up as soon as they send up scapes. This year I cut the scapes and then left them in the ground a while longer, and I guess that was a bad move.

As usual, I got lots and lots of bulbils, as you can see in the picture, but so far I haven't had much luck with growing those. You're supposed to be able to plant them and they grow into larger solid bulbs, that you then plant again to grow into full sized bulbs with cloves. When I've planted them before they didn't come up at all. If I have room I'll try again this year.

The other type of leek I grew again were the multiplier leeks I got from my SCA a few years ago. As usual, they're doing great. They're almost doing too well and are becoming almost like weeds.

Inchelium Red
Harvested May 12

This was my best garlic this year. It's an artichoke variety that I'm trying out for the first time, and I'm happy. It's very similar in appearance to its fellow artichoke, Lorz Italian. I haven't done a taste comparison yet. I got several bulbs of a good size. Don't have much else to say except this one is a keeper.

Lorz Italian
Harvested May 27

I'm still happy with Lorz too. It didn't do quite as well as Inchelium Red this year, but I still got some good sized bulbs from it. It's also a keeper.

Not pictured is Red Toch, which I harvested on May 12. I only got a few undersized bulbs of that one. It's also an artichoke, but Lorz Italian and Inchelium Red are both doing so much better, I've decided to discontinue this variety.

Nootka Rose
Harvested July 2

This is the garlic that gave me the most problems. It's a silverskin that I tried out new this year, to see if it was better than S&H Silverskin. I finally gave up and harvested it in July along with the Yellow Potato onions even though it wasn't ready, and some of these turned out to be rotten too. I'm torn about whether to replant this one or not. There were a couple of bulbs that looked like they might have produced cloves, and the biggest bulbs of this one were bigger than what I got from S&H Silverskin, but it took so long before they were ready to harvest. I like to rotate sweet potatoes after my garlic, because usually my garlic is out by May or June, just in time to plant sweet potatoes, but this year I had to make my sweet potatoes wait for Nootka Rose.

S&H Silverskin
Harvested May 12

I've planted this other silverskin before, but it's never done very well. The bulbs are always very small. I wonder if maybe silverskins just aren't a good type of garlic for me. They're supposed to be the longest keeping garlics, which sounds good, but that doesn't help much when the bulbs are so tiny they're hardly worth peeling.

Summary:
Keepers - Lorz Italian garlic, Inchelium Red garlic, Elephant garlic, multiplier leek, I'itois onion, and French Red shallot
On Notice - S&H Silverskin and Nootka Rose garlic, Yellow Potato Onions - These will all get another chance, but if they don't do better next year, I'll probably discontinue them.
Discontinuing - Red Toch, due to being consistently outperformed by the other artichoke garlic varieties I have in my collection

Even with the failures, I still have plenty of Lorz Italian, Inchelium Red, and Elephant garlic to eat, plus a lot of French Red shallots.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Potato Harvest 2015

One of the things I got done over the July 4th weekend was harvest my potatoes. The tops had mostly died back, and it was getting hot out there, so it was time for them to come out.

Potatoes are difficult to grow in Central Texas. They don't like freezing temperatures, but they don't like hot temperatures either, so that leaves only a small window where they're comfortable in a Central Texas garden. They also prefer acidic soil, and my soil is around pH 7.5 - 8.0.

Therefore, for the past few years I've been on a learning curve figuring out the best way to grow them. I think I'm finally starting to get the hang of it, because this year they did well enough that I have plenty of potatoes for eating as well as saving some for replanting.

I planted six varieties of potatoes this year. Two of them, Red Pontiac and Purple Viking, are varieties I've been growing for several years now, and they continue to do well. I originally got them from Potato Garden. To try out some new varieties, I bought the Cook's Potato Mix from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, which has one pound each of four varieties: Caribe, Cranberry Red, King Harry, and Rose Gold.

I planted Red Pontiac and Purple Viking on January 18. I'm still trying figure out how early is too early to plant potatoes. Most sources say I'm supposed to plant them around Valentines Day, but I have been trying to push that date earlier to make sure they have plenty of time to mature before it gets hot. If I plant them too early, they start to grow a lot, and then if we get another hard freeze, they can get badly damaged. That happened when I tried planting some in November 2013, which turned out to be way too early. Luckily I didn't plant all of them that early, so I could plant some more later in January of 2014 when the first planting froze to death.

Potatoes are heavy feeders, so another thing I tried this year was to really work the soil well and add a lot of goodies to make sure they had plenty of nutrients. I used a modified version of John Jeavons's double-digging method, but without the double part because my soil is too compacted and rocky down there. Basically I dug a trench out from the end of the raised bed, put that in a wheelbarrow, laid the seed potatoes down in the trench, sprinkled some organic fertilizer and compost on top, filled in the trench with soil from the next trench, and repeated the process until the whole bed was planted. The last trench was filled with soil from the first trench. Then I spread even more compost on top. The resulted in seed potatoes about 8-10 inches deep, with very loose fluffy soil with lots of organic matter covering them. It was a lot of physical work, but I think it turned out to be worth it.

One mistake I made was waiting until the potatoes had sprouted and grown a lot of leaves before mulching them thickly with hay. It was still pretty cold and damp when I did that, so pillbugs got under the hay and ate so many leaves off my Red Pontiac plants that they died. I would say about half of them died from that.

I received my seed potatoes from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange in early March, and planted them March 7. I treated them the exact same way as the Red Pontiac and Purple Vikings, except this time I put the thick hay mulch on top right away. That way, they didn't leaf out until their stems had grown up above the mulch, and the pillbugs didn't eat them.

All of the potatoes were harvested on July 2, and here are my results.

Red Pontiac and Purple Viking

Red Pontiac and Purple Viking
I planted 20 Red Pontiac plants and 16 Purple Viking plants and they all did great. The fertilizer must have helped, because I don't think I've ever gotten potatoes this big before. I got plenty to eat as well as save some for replanting next year. Even though the Red Pontiacs were damaged by the pillbugs, you can see I still got a respectable crop from them. I planted fewer Purple Vikings, but got the biggest yield from them.

I think Purple Viking is still my favorite potato variety. Red Pontiac doesn't always do as well, but one advantage is it's earlier than Purple Viking, so I'll keep growing both.

Now for the newbies from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.

Caribe

Caribe
Here's the description SESE gives for Caribe: One of the earliest and prettiest potatoes you'll dig. Deep purple skin with snow white flesh. Can be quite large with good yields. Good for boiling, baking, and frying. Lovely as a new potato. Very early maturing.

Well, they turned out to be the ugliest of SESE's potatoes! They yielded the highest, but the tubers were all cracked and knobby and rough.

But I did some research online and found out it may not be all the potatoes' fault. We had a lot of rain in the spring and early summer, and this can cause some varieties of potatoes to grow this way if they get a deluge of rain while the the tubers are growing. The tubers end up taking up too much water too quickly and the outside of the tuber cracks.

I considered whether I should give this variety a second chance or discontinue it. I didn't really want to eat them because of all the deep cracks full of dirt. This variety might be too similar to Purple Viking to be worth keeping. They're both purple skinned and white fleshed, and PV has already proven itself worthy.

Finally, I decided I will use them in an experiment. I'm going to try fall-planting these for a winter harvest. I've read about how you can plant potatoes here in August or September to maybe get a harvest before our first freeze in November or December. It's cutting it close because you're trying to grow them in that small window between weather that's too hot and weather that's too cold, and sometimes potatoes planted in the hot weather of August rot, but since these tubers are messed up anyway, if they don't make it I won't be too upset about losing them.

It would be nice to get two crops of potatoes a year. I don't really have anywhere good to store potatoes over the summer. You're not supposed to store them in the fridge because that ruins the taste, so the only other place is to put them in my pantry, which is really too warm to store potatoes optimally. During the day when we're at work, the air conditioner is set to 82 degrees to save electricity. Potatoes are ideally stored at 50 degrees. There's nowhere in my house that's 50 degrees in the summer!

So I can't really use potatoes as a long-term storage like they do up north, and instead they're a seasonal treat to be eaten quickly before they sprout or rot. It would be nice to have a second harvest in December because that would be long after the summer-harvested potatoes are gone.


Cranberry Red


Cranberry Red
SESE Description: Considered the best of the red-skinned, red-fleshed varieties. Excellent for potato salad because of its low starch content. Smooth texture and high yields.

While harvesting the potatoes I accidentally cut one in half and noticed the flesh really only has a pink blush. I wouldn't really call it red. This is also the variety that gave me the smallest yields. Besides the cut one, the ones you see in the picture are all I got, and they appeared to all have come from only one plant.

But the potatoes I did get, especially that one in the foreground, were so pretty that I decided to keep all of them to try replanting next year. Why did that one plant do well while the others had nothing? If they had all done as well as that one plant, I would have gotten a lot. Maybe I can get them to do better next year.

King Harry

King Harry
SESE Description: A new firm-fleshed round white potato from Cornell University that holds its shape well when boiled. These early and productive plants have hairy leaves, thanks to a wild potato from Bolivia, which deter pests like the Colorado Potato beetle. Great for potato salads, boiling, sautes and soups.

Of all the new varieties I got from SESE to try this year, King Harry did the best. It's the only one I got enough of to eat some as well as save some for replanting. The potatoes I got where very nice-looking round potatoes with blemish-free smooth skin.

The plants were considerably more vigorous than all my other potato varieties (though I didn't notice the leaves being significantly hairier). It sent out long sprawling vines, flowered profusely, and then made two big handfuls of potato berries for me! It must be the genes from that wild Bolivian potato.

I kept the potato berries to save the true potato seeds from to try growing them in the future. I've tried growing true potato seed before from some "purple potato seeds" I got in a GardenWeb swap years ago, but they never got big tubers. Maybe since King Harry has already proven itself as a good potato variety in my garden, it's offspring will also be good.

Caribe is the only other variety that flowered this year, and it never set fruits, but it might have contributed pollen to the King Harry seeds. I hope so, because that would give even more genetic diversity. It would be interesting to grow these seeds out and see what I get.

Overall, King Harry is definitely a keeper!

Rose Gold

Rose Gold
SESE's Description: Rosy red skin with a creamy delicious deep yellow flesh. Dry flesh is perfect baked or steamed. Disease resistant.

Rose Gold was the second best of the new varieties. It's supposed to be very similar to Yukon Gold, but with with a rosy blush to the skin. It didn't give me enough to eat some, but I still kept the ones I got for replanting next year to try to increase. The tubers I did get looked very nice. I would like to have a yellow-fleshed potato in my collection.

Summary:

Purple Viking - still my favorite
Red Pontiac - still good
King Harry - the best new variety; definitely a keeper
Rose Gold - giving it a second chance
Cranberry Red - giving it a second chance
Caribe - replanting in August as an experiment

I now have several pounds of Purple Viking, Red Pontiac, and King Harry to eat. The other day I roasted some chicken thighs with some of the potatoes that got impaled by the digging fork during harvest, and they were delicious. I like to roast chicken thighs and potatoes sprinkled with herbs like rosemary and sage, and stir it a bit as it cooks to let the fat that melts out of the chicken coat the potatoes and get them all nice and crispy. Mmmm!

It may be my imagination, but homegrown potatoes do taste better than store bought. And they were grown with no pesticides!

The potatoes I plan on replanting go in the spare fridge in the garage. Storing potatoes in the fridge makes them convert some of their starch to sugar, which makes them taste weird, and that's why you don't want to store potatoes you want to eat in the fridge. But if you're going to plant them, then who cares what they taste like? Keeping them in the fridge will keep them from rotting before it's time to plant them again.

Planting them in late January seems to work well. I think I had to cover them with frost blankets a time or two, and I did have that pillbug problem, but I still got a lot of nice big potatoes after doing that.

I look forward to seeing how the varieties from SESE do when planted earlier. When I planted Red Pontiac and Purple Viking in January and the SESE varieties in March, I expected the earlier planting to be ready to harvest earlier than the later planting, but that turned out to not be the case. They were all ready to harvest at around the same time.

At first I thought that earlier planting made no difference, until I dug them up and found out the earlier planting had much bigger tubers. Ah ha! I've made a discovery! The vines die in late June or early July no matter how early they were planted, probably triggered by the hot weather. But if they are planted earlier, they have more time to grow larger tubers before hot weather. So there is an advantage of planting earlier, but not the one I thought it would be.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Story of Food Waste

On Earth Day this past week, MSNBC aired Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story. I knew that a lot of food was wasted in our society, but I had no idea about the scope of the problem. According to this documentary, we waste 30%-40% of our food, and that means we also waste 30%-40% of our water, land, pesticides, fertilizers, and energy we use to grow it.

I think what most surprised me was how much fresh produce is wasted before it even gets to the grocery store. It never occurred to me to think of why exactly all those fruits and vegetables look so uniform and perfect at the grocery store, while the ones I grow are much more irregular in shape and size. I guess I assumed that the chemical fertilizers, pesticides, machines, and other industrial growing techniques had something to do with it.

I never realized it was because they just throw away all the fruits and vegetables that don't meet their beauty standards! A banana that doesn't curve just right, a carrot that's not perfectly straight, a peach with a cosmetic blemish, they all get rejected.

I knew there must be some rejects. Bruised fruit, broken vegetables, etc. I assumed they would get processed into things like jams or canned soups, but no. The peach grower said he offers his ugly peaches to jam companies, but he has so many they can only take a small fraction. Another segment had a celery farmer standing on piles of celery that was trimmed off to make the bunches of celery fit in the bags they're packaged in. He said it was perfectly good celery, but nobody wants it, so it gets plowed back under.

Speaking of fresh vegetables, they really gave me a lot of guilt over that moldy bell pepper I threw away last week! The most memorable part of the movie followed a bell pepper from a sprouting plant, to being picked over and getting past the culling stage, to being shipped in a truck cross-country, to being bought in a grocery store, to being put in the drawer of a refrigerator, and then... molding and rotting away.

All to the tune of "Don't You (Forget About Me)" by Simple Minds.

"When you walk on by... will you call my name? Or will you walk away?"

Yes, little bell pepper, I FORGOT ABOUT YOU! I'm so sorry!


But actually, I think I'm pretty good for the most part. One thing I wondered about watching this documentary is, "Is eating leftovers a weird thing that most people don't do?" They talk about restaurant portions, they talk about catering events where you have food left over, they talk about serving too much food at dinner parties, and I kept wondering how that wastes food, unless nobody eats leftovers.

When I take a doggy bag home from a restaurant, that's lunch for the next day. When I throw a party or host a holiday dinner, my husband and I spend the next week eating the leftovers, but they don't get wasted. I sometimes plan for leftovers on purpose by choosing foods I know reheat well or are good to incorporate into new dishes.

Maybe it's just how I was raised, but I was raised to not waste food. My mom might have gone too far with the penny-pinching so that at times it seemed the stress she went through worrying about every little cent wasn't worth the money she saved, but at least she taught me that throwing food away is the same as throwing dollar bills straight in the trash, and that isn't something anyone would do.

I also knew that the dates on containers are "sell by" or "best by" dates, and not "eat this by this date or else it will kill you" dates. I only throw away food that is noticeably spoiled. If it's moldy or has obviously rotten spots, or has a bad smell, then it goes in the compost. Otherwise, I eat it, and I have never gotten sick from eating food from home.

I'm also a compost heretic. Lots of garden books will give you these rules on what you can and can't put in compost. I don't listen to any of them, and put anything organic in the compost. Yes, including cooked foods, dairy products, meats, and moldy bread. ALL food waste goes in the compost. If it's something that smells bad, I bury it in leaves or grass clippings.

So even when I do waste food, like that poor bell pepper, it goes into my garden as compost, not into a landfill.


Speaking of landfills, one thing they didn't mention is when all those containers of food are thrown away, not only are you wasting the food, but you're wasting the containers the food is in. When that guy found that dumpster full of sealed plastic packages of hummus, I was more concerned about all that plastic going into the landfill than the hummus. All that plastic to package the hummus was wasted as well, and plastic doesn't decompose.

Another thing I wish they had covered is food waste by restaurants. When I was a student I had a part time job at Barnes and Noble, and our store had a coffee shop in it. I helped out at the coffee shop sometimes, and got to see how much food they wasted there. They had a big glass case full of all our baked goods: cookies, muffins, scones, etc. They also had panini sandwiches and had a gelato bar.

Nothing was made from scratch, of course. The baked goods came as frozen hockey pucks of dough that you just took out of the box and put in the oven. The sandwiches were pre-assembled as well and just had to be grilled, and the gelato was a liquid that was poured into the machine to churn and freeze.

Since a case brimming with baked goods looks better than having only a few of everything, they kept that case full all the way up until closing time. And then at the end of the day everything was thrown away. I remember looking at that big wheeled restaurant trash can completely full of food, mostly cookies and muffins and scones baked that day, and thought of what a waste it was. I asked if I could have a few, and I was told absolutely not! That would be considered theft, just like if I shoplifted a book off the shelf.

So then I asked if we could donate the food instead, and the manager said we'd get sued.

So it all went into the dumpster. A locking dumpster to make sure no one gets it out later.

I understand why we wouldn't want to sell day-old cookies or muffins, because they really aren't as good the next day. If you're going to spend the crazy prices we were charging for each muffin, you want one that's freshly baked. But the day-old ones weren't bad. Someone would have loved to have them.

I'm glad the documentary mentioned that you actually can't get sued for donating food. There is an actual law that says you can't, in order to encourage people to donate food without having to worry about things like that. They were talking about it in the context of grocery stores donating extra food, but it would apply to the Barnes and Noble coffee shop too.

But most people either don't know about that, or managers may even lie to their employees and say they could get sued, because they just don't want to go to the trouble of taking the muffins to a charity instead of throwing them in the dumpster.


One last thing I think would help is if people has more ideas about how to handle leftovers. Maybe the Food Network should have a show about that. It would certainly be better than most of the shows they have now. Since Good Eats ended, the only show I like on that channel anymore is Chopped, because it actually gives me ideas on how to cook with what I have on hand that needs to get used up. They sometimes have a theme show where all the mystery ingredients are leftovers.

Maybe they could have a show just about using leftovers creatively, and they could throw in information about freezing food and other ways to store it better, meal planning, shopping smart, and so on. I would totally watch that, but I guess all those food competition shows like Guy's Grocery Games and Cutthroat Kitchen are more exciting.


Well, I would say this documentary was worth watching. We're even more spoiled when it comes to food than I thought. It inspired me to clean out the fridge today and make sure I didn't have any more sad vegetables at the bottom of the crisper drawer singing, "Don't you forget about me..."

Saturday, April 11, 2015

This Blog will Return

Wow, I haven't posted since January? I didn't realize it had been that long.

I have a confession to make: Posting to this blog had become boring and tedious for me, so I quit for a while. When I first started this blog, I was unemployed, so I had a lot more time on my hands for blogging. Now that I'm employed full-time, I've been having trouble keeping up with taking care of my vegetable garden (especially during the busy spring planting season), so blogging about it took an even lower priority.

I don't plan on giving up on this blog, but I am rethinking how I approach it. Maybe there are more interesting things I can write about than just monthly garden updates. Perhaps I can talk more about the issues that draw me to gardening to begin with like sustainability, local food, genetic preservation, etc. Oh, and I must not leave out the part about having delicious home-grown food!

I don't know how long this break will be for, but I'll try to not make it too much longer. Maybe once I get all my hot-weather plants planted I'll have more time for writing. Right now I'm still scrambling to get all my tomatoes, tomatillos, and peppers in the ground so they'll have time to mature before the really hot summer weather sets in.

See you then!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

New Year 2015

2014 was a hard year for me because my dad died. Looking back, the garden didn’t do so great either, probably because of neglect at some crucial times. I did manage to get a good crop of garlic, but the potatoes did lousy, the sweet potatoes got eaten by the deer, and the nightshades (tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and tomatillos) were fairly lousy as well. I didn’t get any Black Futsu squash, so I ended up giving away the rest of that packet of seed. I only got one Charentais melon, and no Moon and Stars Watermelons. All the beans did OK.

I’m still trying to figure out how to plant fall crops in August while it’s still hot and not have them fry in the sun or get eaten by caterpillars before it cools down. This year I used the frost blanket left over from last winter as a shade, draped over wire cages. That seems to have helped, but I'm still having trouble with caterpillars eating my greens. I didn’t get any collards this winter because of caterpillars eating them up, and the deer ate up my lettuce. The only green I’ve been harvesting so far is arugula, which the deer don’t seem to like.

All the fruit trees did OK last winter except the Key Lime, which got killed down to the ground. It sprouted back (I sure hope it’s not grafted), but we dug it up and put it back in a pot, where it will stay so it can stay inside in winter. We replaced it in the ground with a Kumquat tree from Costco, which is supposed to be a hardy breed of citrus. Right now it seems to be doing fine, and is covered in ripe fruit.

The good thing about gardening is there’s always next year. If 2014 wasn’t that great, maybe 2015 will be better. I can look back at the mistakes I made last year and try other things this year.

I did finish the raised beds in the front, but I haven’t put landscape fabric and mulch in the paths yet, and the Bermuda grass is really starting to move in. That’s not such a huge project, so I think it’s a realistic goal to get that done this year.

Building a deer proof fence around the front garden is a bigger project that might take more time. Especially since I’ll need my husband’s help with that, and he’s got a lot on his plate too. We also don’t have a new shed yet, but I think that’s higher on my husband’s priority list. In the meantime I’ll just have to keep using wire and deer repellant spray to protect my plants.

Also the To Do List is getting rainwater tanks and installing a greywater system of some sort.

We’ve lived in this house for almost two years now, and it’s become clear that the soil here is just not as good as it was at the house we were renting when I started this blog. I did get soil tests done to get hard data, and they showed the soil here isn’t as good, but also the plant growth shows it. I’ve now grown several of the exact same varieties of plants here as I grew there, and they just don’t do as well. 2010 was a bumper crop of a lot of things, and that was the one year I was gardening there that wasn’t a drought. The main variable here really seems to be location. It’s a shame, really. I think about whatever college students must be living in that rent house now that probably don’t appreciate how fertile that back yard is at all!

The only thing for me to do is just slowly work at improving the soil here. It’s better to have naturally good soil, but soil can also be improved. It just takes time. My husband recently found out about some kind of horse stable around here that is offering free manure to anyone willing to do all the work of hauling it away. That sounds tempting.

Other than that, I need to figure out what I'm going to grow this year, which I think I'll save for another post. I've been spending my break looking over seed catalogs again and again wondering what I should plant and trying to not go overboard ordering more seeds than I need.

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Cedar Moon and First Hard Freeze of this Winter

Last night it got down to 29 degrees, the first hard freeze of the winter. It's been a very mild winter so far, since we usually get our first killing freeze around Thanksgiving, not at the beginning of January.


I had one tomato plant survive the summer, and as you can see it is now mush, meaning last night really was our first "real" freeze, not like some of there other nights where it was maybe 31 or 30 degrees for a little while.


The peppers (and citrus trees) are tucked snugly under frost blanket. I've had peppers survive the winter before, so I'm confident I can get these to make it through as well.


The root crops (radishes, carrots, beets, parsnips, and turnips) are doing just fine. Before the cold front we got a good rain that I think really helped.


The Dwarf Grey Sugar peas are even starting to flower, while the Tall Telephone peas are looking good too.


The collards got badly eaten up, but they seem to have missed the kale. The kale is still growing really slowly, but is showing no signs of bug damage.

And I'm getting lots of seed catalogs! I intend to write a post soon about my New Year's plans for my garden in 2015.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Meyer Lemon Chess Pie

On finals week, my department at work has a potluck Christmas party, and I usually bring some type of dessert. This year our Meyer lemon tree was doing so well, that I thought about bringing a lemon meringue pie, but after reading about how meringue pies can be a bit tricky to make, I ended up going with a chess pie instead.



Chess pie is basically a custard pie with cornmeal in it, which gives it an interesting texture. Plain chess pie is extremely sweet, but lemon chess pie sounded good because the tartness should balance the sweetness. The problem was that when I searched for recipes, I found a lot of recipes that varied widely. Recipes varied between using only 1 Tbsp. of lemon juice all the way up to a quarter cup, a quarter cup of buttermilk to a full cup, 1 Tbsp. of cornmeal to 3 Tbsp, 4 or 5 eggs, 1 and a half cups of sugar or maybe two whole cups, half a stick of butter or maybe two sticks. I had no idea which one to choose. They even varied on how long you bake it, at what temperature, and whether you pre-bake the crust or not.

I finally printed out four different recipes and decided to combine them into my very own recipe! It was risky, but I think I've made enough other custard-type pies that I had a general idea how they work.

Turns out it worked great! It's a good thing I cut myself a sliver right away at the potluck, because when I came back later to collect my pie plate, it was CLEAN. My coworkers completely devoured it and didn't leave anything leftover for me to take home to my husband.

Glad I wrote everything down so I can make it again!

Meyer Lemon Chess Pie

Ingredients:
  • Pastry for a single-crust pie
  • Juice of 2 Meyer lemons (about 1/4 cup of juice)
  • Zest from 2 Meyer lemons
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. cornmeal
  • 4 eggs
  • 2/3 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 stick of butter, melted
  • 1/8 tsp salt
Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Beat lemon juice, lemon zest, sugar, cornmeal, eggs, buttermilk, melted butter, and salt together until smooth. Place pastry into regular pie plate (not deep dish) and trim. Pour in filling.

Lay some aluminum foil over the top and bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 30 minutes.

Let cool on a wire rack, and then chill in fridge before serving.


This pie had the gooey texture of a pecan pie, and a nice sweet-tart flavor. I used homemade pie crust with butter and lard, but you can use whatever your favorite pie dough recipe is, or store-bought. Regular milk might work instead of buttermilk, but I had buttermilk in the fridge already, and I think it's more traditional for chess pie. Regular lemon juice would work if you don't have Meyer lemons, but you might want to increase the sugar to 2 cups and/or use regular milk instead of buttermilk, because Meyer lemons are not as sour as regular lemons.

Merry Christmas!