Wednesday, July 14, 2010
The Most Wonderful Time of the Year
Greetings fellow eaters -- I know, I know, long time no post. It's been an interesting time (in a Chinese curse -- "may you live in interesting times" -- kind of way) hereabout the cul-de-sac, and my computer time is hampered by many competing demands. Mainly, though, this time of year I'm doing so much hands-on food production -- growing, foraging, and preserving next winter's stores -- that I don't have much time or, honestly, energy left for writing about it.
So far this spring I put in my usual garden, plus two dug-from-sod new ones -- a berry patch and a second, much larger veggie plot. The berry patch is strawberries and red raspberries, both of which I planted on Mother's Day. Since this plot won't see much action til next spring, I've interplanted them with watermelons (Crimson Sweet) and cantaloupes (Athena). Cole and I had fun yesterday working on his number skills by seeking and counting the baby melons while we sprayed the plants with homemade deer repellent (garlic + rotten eggs + hot pepper oil + water + trying hard not to breathe through nose equals a reasonably effective deer deterrent).
The other two plots are the Jekyll and Hyde of vegetable gardens; the more established one, at my house, is a struggling 15x20 foot fenced plot that never gets enough sun to get semitropicals like peppers and tomatoes to set fruit. On the flip side, it's a fantastic place to grow tender greens all summer long, so I've bowed to the inevitable and planted a salad garden -- plus incubator to about a billion Cinderella pumpkin seedlings which sprang up from a Hallowe'en pumpkin I tossed on the compost heap last fall and inadvertently planted when I spread the compost this spring. Turns out the greens like to shelter under the giant pumpkin leaves, so it's a very interesting unintentional co-planting.
After five years of listening to me bitch about how I can't grow tomatoes at my house my mother finally said, Oh, all right, put in a garden here. When I was a kid we had an enormous -- nearly half an acre, we grew our own corn, dude! -- garden that produced a serious portion of our family's provender. My brother and I were required to put in an hour a day in garden work (which in our opinion didn't pay off until after the first frost, when we would engage in epic rotten tomato battles). Once her free labor had gone off to college, Mom happily turned the garden into lawn and lawn it has stayed until this spring. My Mother's Day gift was getting the berry and vegetable plots roto-tilled, which in my opinion beats anything in a blue Tiffany box.
My little shade garden has been producing daily salad fixins since April, but now my large garden is really kicking into high gear. We went camping week before last, and right before we left I harvested a handful of stuff to take along -- a few cucumbers, some baby Patty Pan squash -- but pickings were slim. One week later we came home to bedlam. Okra the size of Marketmore cucumbers and cucumbers the size of Ron Jeremy's one-eyed monster. The squash plants are vining all over creation, plotting takeover of the remaining lawn, and producing squash the diameter of dinner plates on a daily basis.
That first day back I harvested a bushel and a half total of squash, cukes, eggplant and okra, and it's been go to war Miss Agnes ever since. I've been doing my level best to keep abreast of the wave ever since, eating as much as we can, giving a bunch away, and lacto-fermenting cucumber pickles.
On one hand I can't wait for tomatoes to come in -- other than daily small handfuls of cherry tomatoes, nothing else ready yet from the 48 tomato plants I put in. Once tomatoes begin we'll be able to eat our favorite supper of gazpacho and fried squash every, and I do mean every, day. But: once tomatoes begin in earnest, so does the picking and canning and freezing, and I'll be able to look forward to free time in, like, October.
So although this is my favorite time of year, it's also the most demanding -- I'll put in full-time labor over the next couple months harvesting and preserving. Good thing I don't have to waste time going to the grocery store these days; nearly everything we
we have the privilege of eating these days -- and I don't use the word privilege lightly, being able to nourish ourselves with such marvelously fresh, conscientiously produced food is indeed a daily joy and also honor -- comes from either our own ground, or nearby ground tended by folks we know.
Yesterday was case in point. Breakfast: lamb's quarters and pico de gallo, all made from garden goodies, plus eggs from a neighbor's nearly feral hens (they roam the woods of her farm all day; the only grain they get is when she scatters a handful to lure them into their pen at nightfall). Lunch: leftover fried chicken (shout out to Dru & Homer at Sunnyside Farm, best chicken in the world!) and a big bowl of purslane salad. Dinner, fried patty pan squash, cucumber salad, and bhindi masala.
(The only store food I used yesterday was coffee, salt and peanut oil -- I'm very pleased with the cider vinegar I fermented from soured cider left over from last year's pressing. Such hard work, pouring cider into a jar, covering that with a coffee filter, and letting it linger on the kitchen counter until it smelled, like, well, vinegar. Probably the most calories burned in the process were expended feeling smug as I calculated the value of the 20 oz of vinegar: organic apple cider vinegar, from TJs, at $2.48 for 8 oz or $40/gallon, means I'd just saved $6.20 by *not* pouring old cider down the drain).
GIANT CUCUMBER SALAD
Vinegar (cider, white balsalmic, or rice wine vinegars all work nicely)
Sugar or honey
Check toughness of cucumber skin; if too tough to pierce with fingernail, either pare them entirely or if skin is only a little tough you can peel alternating stripes, which makes a very pretty salad. Cut off ends.
Slice as thinly as possible (I use a mandoline to both get paper-thin slices and make quick work of slicing a lot of cucumbers -- this keeps well, so I make giant batches).
Put in large glass or ceramic bowl. SPrinkle salt and sugar (or drizzle honey) over. Start with a little, and add more later to taste. Pour vinegar over everything (I do this by eye, but my guess is about 2-3 tablespoons per cucumber depending on size of cuke and strength of vinegar).
Now here's the fun part: wash your hands and then get 'em in there, squeezing and squishing and turning and mixing it all up. The idea is to break down and soften the cucumbers -- they'll express a good amount of liquid. You can eat this right away but it tastes even better if it sits awhile. Great quick relish too -- I use it on hamburgers, etc.