Growing Dry Beans and Shell Beans and Green Beans Too

I’ve written lots of posts about beans on this blog, about growing, harvesting, tasting and cooking them.  With the renewed interest in growing dry beans in home vegetable gardens, I thought it would be useful to return to posts I’ve written on growing beans and see if there are any tips to share this year as bean planting time approaches.  If you already have bean seeds to plant, I hope these posts offer helpful information.  If you don’t have bean seeds for this year because seed companies have delayed order deliveries or simply sold out of beans, keep these ideas in mind for next year.  As one of my old-timer neighbors always told me, “one of the best things about gardening is that there is always next year.”

A good place to start is a post titled “Beans,” a column that I wrote for the Islands Weekly in 2010 and include in my blog under the section Green Living Columns.

Beans ColorIn it, I share my bean story and my experience with bean varieties and with planting, harvesting and eating beans.  If you’re growing beans this year, read this post and try this planting tip: “Of all the tips I’ve gotten over the years, the one that yields the best bean germination is to set the bean seed in the ground so that the “eye” or “bellybutton,” technically the hilum, is facing down.  Such precision planting is only for the fanatic home gardener, but it really does work.  And cover the just planted seeds with Reemay so that robins won’t see the germinating seeds breaking the soil, think they are worms and methodically pull each one out.”  This tip applies to planting bush and pole fresh beans too!

From this post, go to another included in the Green Living Columns, “Yes, You Can Grow Dried Beans on Lopez,” a profile of Lopezian Carol Noyes who is an even more serious bean fan than I am.

Dried Beans Color

It describes her search for dried beans that will ripen on Lopez and what she found.  Her recommendations after her 2010 research were King of the Early, Ireland Creek Annie and Yellow Indian Woman, all “good quality dried beans that are early.”  For black beans she recommended Black Coco and Hopi Black and for a white bean, she recommended Drabo.  If you’re looking to next year to start your bean garden, you’ll find that many of these and other short season varieties will be available then from local seed companies like Uprising, Adaptive and Territorial. Companies farther afield, like Seed Savers Exchange and Fedco, also offer short season varieties.

One of Carol’s and my main criteria for beans is flavor.  Part of the great flavor of a dried bean comes from the freshness of beans you grow and harvest yourself.  We agree that dried beans really are best eaten in the first year; when they get older, their flavor deteriorates.  We also love shell beans, beans that are fully developed in the pod but haven’t reached the “dry” stage.  Some years ago, we held a bean tasting to compare the many flavors of shell beans.

Bean samples

Using a flavor and texture form we’d made for the tasting, “we filled the flavor column with words like earthy, nutty, sweet, fresh, lima-like and the texture column with words like creamy, meaty, mealy, buttery, dry.  The smaller beans tended to be milder in flavor and creamier in texture.  The larger beans were more earthy, nutty and meaty.  Lighter-colored beans tended to be milder while speckled and darker-colored beans were usually richer.”  Dry beans also share this variety of flavor and texture.  If you grow fresh beans this year and find that some pods fill with seeds before you get to harvest them, try shelling out these beans and cooking them. They can be delicious! Rattlesnake Pole bean, delicious as a fresh bean, is one that I often eat as a shell bean at the end of the season.

If you’re new to the idea of shell beans, check out the 2017 post “What is a Shell Bean?

image

Dry beans make sense to most people, but shell beans often don’t; I address this confusion in detail this post.  And if you grow beans this year, hoping they will dry, but they don’t, you’ll find yourself with shell beans.  As Carol said, “I learned about them accidentally years ago when frost was threatening, the beans weren’t dry, and I ate some. Get the word out there!  They are wonderful.”  Shell beans are wonderful, and I make a point of growing both.

There is one more shell bean that I always grow in my kitchen garden, mainly because it is my husband’s favorite bean: favas.

image

“More than any other plant in my garden favas draw the “what’s that?” reaction from visitors as they point to the rangy, floppy-leafed plants with the shiny, spear-like pods protruding from the stems.”  A raw fava bean has a sharp taste with an earthy, nutty undertone, tasty with olive oil and salty cheese. Cooked, the sharp taste mellows but the earthy, nutty flavor remains.  Another reaction fava beans bring is “so much work!”  It’s true that the process of shelling the bean from the pod and then blanching it, slipping the inner bean from the outer skin is a bit time-consuming, but the result is worth the effort.

image

I used to plant fava beans in late fall, and they would overwinter and start growing early in the spring.  Then I found that I was encouraging pea weevils with this timetable, so I switched to planting them in May when the pea weevil cycle is mostly over.  The planting plan is the same. The new timetable just makes the fava bean harvest later.

Finally, fresh green, yellow or purple beans are wonderful bean additions while we wait for shell and dry beans. I mostly grow pole beans, preferring their rich flavor and texture to the milder-flavored bush green beans.  I also prefer their growth habit.  Rather than producing all at once, the way many bush beans do, pole beans produce over a longer window as the vines climb higher and higher, making more blossoms and pods.  Varieties I plant every year are Fortex, Gold of Bacau, Nor’easter, and Rattlesnake, left to right in this photo.

image

I space them 6-8 inches apart beneath strings on the bean supports and by the end of the season, I need a step-ladder to harvest them.

image

There is one bush green bean that I do grow because my friend Carol convinced me to try it: Maxibel.

image

It is very good, not quite as richly sweet as my favorite pole bean Fortex but certainly tasty, earlier and very prolific.  Planted at the same time as Fortex, Maxibel produces about three weeks ahead of Fortex and is winding down as Fortex begins to produce.

May is the month to plant beans.  I’ve planted mine and hope I’ll get good germination in this changeable weather we’re having. If you’ll be planting too, remember, keep that bean belly button pointing down!

Tips for Planting Spring Vegetables

In my last post, I highlighted some general questions that new and veteran vegetable gardeners had been asking each other as they got going on their spring gardens, questions about seeds, seed starting and soil, and I linked to several earlier posts that address many of these questions.  Since publishing that post, I’ve heard more questions, some about pest control, others about how much to plant, how often, how far apart and how much to thin those sweet seedlings.  Now seems like a good time to return to earlier posts I’ve written about spring vegetables and highlight responses to these questions as well as offer updates and insights I’ve gained since writing them.

Lettuce: In 2013 I wrote about my preference for lettuce mixes , those packets that contain seeds of lots of different colors and shapes of lettuce.  Most seed companies offer them along with single packets of many different varieties.

Lettuce mix small row

Lettuce mix big row

These lettuce mixes are still my favorite way to get a varied lettuce crop in my kitchen garden.  I can plant a 3-foot row of seed mix every few weeks from spring through early summer and get a steady supply of lettuce until summer vegetables like zucchini and beans tempt us away from green salads.

Succession planting is one key to successful, ongoing lettuce harvest.  The other is foiling wire worms, half-inch long yellow worms that, as Linda Gilkeson writes, “are very fond of boring into lettuce roots.”

The other day, a neighbor asked me why some of her lettuce starts had simply flattened down against the soil and died.  What she described is the classic result of a wireworm boring into the lettuce root and killing the plant.  If you pull the plant out and look at the stem, you’ll often see a wireworm lodged in the stem just below the lettuce head and maybe a few other wire worms in the roots or nearby soil.  I grab each worm I see, pull it in two and toss the pieces.

How else to combat wireworms?  Potato bait!  Gilkeson has great advice for trapping wireworms. I’ve used potato bait successfully since reading her advice.

Skewer chunks of potato on short sticks (they act as markers so you can find them again), then bury the potato piece an inch or so in the soil. Check the traps every day or two and destroy wireworms. Some bore right into the potato (just pull them out); others are in the soil beside the bait. I use a trowel to scoop up each bait chunk so at not miss those nearby wireworms. Wireworms can move several feet through the soil so placing the baits at 1-2 foot intervals in the bed is close enough. Once a bed is cleared, the potatoes chunks can be re-used elsewhere. Wireworms are common in sod and readily migrate into garden beds adjacent to lawns or weedy pathways; along the border of such beds is a good place to put the bait potatoes.

Click on her link to see pictures of wireworms and potato bait.

Carrots: In 2013, I wrote about growing carrots, emphasizing a planting technique I learned from Steve Solomon in his Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades and a harvesting technique I learned from Shepherd Ogden in National Gardening Magazine.  For planting that encourages germination and minimizes thinning, “Mix carrot seeds into fine compost and distribute this mixture along the row.” To harvest the sweetest carrots, be patient. “Carrots can look ready, full and orange, but Ogden writes: ‘It is only when the sugars have built up that we get the full flavor of a first-class carrot, which can take an additional week or two depending on soil moisture and the weather.'”

Carrots growing 1

One more growing technique I’ve benefitted from since 2013 is using insect netting or fabric to protect carrots from carrot rust fly.

Once again, Linda Gilkeson has been my guide. She advises: “Even if you usually don’t need to cover spring-sown carrots to prevent carrot rust fly damage, most people should cover their July-sown carrots. By late summer there are a lot more carrot rust flies looking for carrots to lay eggs on than are present in the spring.”   To be safe, I usually do cover early carrot plantings, and I definitely cover early July plantings, leaving the covers on through October.  These early July plantings provide carrots throughout the winter in my kitchen garden and, thanks to the insect barrier, they are free of the worm tunnels that carrot rust fly larvae leave.  See this June 29, 2018 entry from Linda’s List.

Spring Turnips: In 2011, I wrote about spring turnips one of my favorite early spring roots.

_Turnips growing

Like carrots, turnips benefit from being covered by insect barriers, both to protect the roots from maggots and the leaves from flea beetles.  “To minimize root maggot and flea beetle damage, I covered the just planted seeds with Reemay and kept the germinated seedlings and then maturing plants covered until they were nearly ready to harvest.”  If the weather is warm, I use a row cover lighter and thinner than Reemay to avoid trapping too much heat on the new seedlings.  Territorial Seed Company offers a summer insect barrier  I’ve used and liked.

In this spring turnip post, I also note seed spacing and thinning techniques: “I planted the seeds about an inch apart and began thinning and harvesting turnips when they were an inch across.  Those that stayed in the ground grew quickly to two inches across.”

Finally, I planted two crops of these lovely turnips, a succession that stretched turnips meals over two months: “I planted the first crop in early March this year and another in late April.  The March planting was ready to harvest by early May and the April planting was ready even sooner, early June.”

Beets: In 2011 I wrote about beets , another crop that works well planted several times over the season.

beets in basket

“Beets are a perfect crop for succession planting.  This year, I planted my first block of three three-foot rows April 26th, another block May 30th, another June 12th and a last, longer block July 23rd, a bit late but they are doing fine and will mature by late fall and hold into the winter.  If I’d planted three fifteen-foot rows all at once in April or May, I can’t imagine what I would have done with all the beets.”

Beets also benefit from early thinning.  As Nancy Bubel writes in her New Seed-Starters Handbook (1988), “The beet seed that you plant is actually a seedball, an aggregate of two to six individual seed.  Consequently, even when you follow the recommended spacing of 2 inches apart, the seedlings will need to be thinned.”  I do my best to thin beet seedlings when they are very small, about an inch and a half tall, and the soil is moist.  The tiny, thinned beets are delicious washed, dried and added to salads.

Peas: in 2011, I wrote about Sugar Snap peas , explaining my fondness for the flavor of the original sugar snap despite its vast height and tendency to get powdery mildew.

Peas support

There are also the challenges posed by birds and rodents: “For years I direct seeded them, hoping that rodents and birds wouldn’t eat all the seeds or new sprouts.  Row covers helped deter these pests, but I often needed to replant. Then a few years ago I began starting the seeds indoors in 1-inch cell trays.  By carefully setting each seed a half inch deep with the hilum down and keeping the soil barely moist, I got nearly 100% germination.  Here in zone 7B I start seeds in mid-February and set them out a few weeks later; I plant a second crop in mid-March.  Even in those years when the seedlings grow a little taller and are more root-bound than I’d prefer before setting them out, they grow quickly once they are in the ground.”

Pea weevils are one more pest that has challenged my sugar snap pea crop for the past several years.  Fortunately, Linda Gilkeson has a solution:

You can sow peas every month through June to ensure fresh peas into October. I start my early plantings of peas in vermiculite indoors to avoid the main egg-laying period of pea leaf weevil, which is now common in my area (for damage, see: http://www.lindagilkeson.ca/root_feeders.html#74). The weevils have one generation a year and only lay their eggs in the spring. Peas planted later than mid-May after the egg laying period is done generally escape damage from the weevil larvae, which eat the nitrogen fixing nodules on the roots. Pea attacked by weevil larvae can’t make their own nitrogen, but still grow well if the soil is enriched with nitrogen sources, such as fish compost, blood meal, alfalfa meal, etc.

Following her advice, I’ve been planting my sugar snap peas as well as fava beans, later in the spring the past few years and think that I’ve had success discouraging pea weevils.

Happy spring vegetable gardening!  Enjoy the warming and lengthening days.  And remember:

Don’t be discouraged by pests.  There are lots of clever ways to foil them.

Try succession planting.  If you have the space and the time, make several short plantings every few weeks rather than one big planting only once.

Think about seed spacing and seedling thinning.  With many vegetables, careful spacing and steady thinning give you a continuous supply of food.  And if new seedlings are really crowded, be brave and thin them; they’ll thrive in a bigger space.  Think of it as social distancing.

Thanks to the Lopez Island Garden Club for including  Lopez Island Kitchen Gardens in its list of Useful Resources for Pacific Northwest Gardening.

Purple Cape Cauliflower and Uncertain Times

After last year’s happy experience with overwintering cauliflower and broccoli  , I’ve been eager for this year’s overwintered brassica harvest to begin.  I planted these overwintering brassicas indoors in early June and set them out in the kitchen garden in mid-July where they grew steadily through late summer and fall, then settled into winter, surviving cold, snow and winds.  The first overwintered treat to mature this year was Purple Cape Cauliflower, its intense purple startling me as much this year as it did last.

Purple Cape two

I’ve been harvesting heads for the past several weeks while the curds are still tightly packed, unlike last year when I, in my inexperience with them, let them grow out onto their stems.

For dinner the other night, I paired a head of Purple Cape cauliflower with emerging flower buds of Dazzling Blue kale and January King cabbage, nice color matches.

Purple Cape and flower buds

I roasted the cauliflower and lightly wilted the flower buds.  While the cauliflower finished roasting, I sautéed the wilted flower buds in lots of olive oil and garlic and then added some cooked black beans. When the cauliflower was browned and soft, I added it to the pan with the other vegetables and scattered all with finely grated lemon zest.

Purple Cape side

On its own, this mixture would be a lovely side dish, but by adding pasta, it becomes a hearty main dish.  Any pasta would be fine, but orecchiette is especially fun for the way the beans nestle into the little ears of orecchiette.  Sprinkled with grated Parmesan cheese and toasted bread crumbs, this pasta dish makes a perfect early spring meal.

Purple Cape pasta

In the days before social distancing, I’d make this pasta meal again and invite friends over to enjoy it, or I’d bring the vegetable side dish to a potluck.  I miss these dinner table connections and conversations, but I’m grateful for another connection between friends that still continues.  On the phone and over email, even sometimes at a distance of six feet during a walk, gardeners are asking each other questions and sharing advice.  “What are you planting, now?” “Are you planting out in the garden or starting seeds indoors?” “What kind of potting soil do you use?”  “Do I need to buy new seeds of that vegetable, or will my old seeds still work?”  And, as I asked my friend Carol on the phone the other day, “When will the rest of my overwintered brassicas mature?” “Soon,” she answered reassuringly, “April or maybe May.”

In addition to friends, I’m grateful to Linda Gilkeson whose “Lists” address gardeners’ questions every couple of weeks.  If you already subscribe, you know how useful her advice is for maritime northwest gardeners.  If you want to subscribe, go to her website http://www.lindagilkeson.ca/gardening_tips.htmland click on Gardening Tips in the menu.

In her March 22, 2020 list, she makes a very generous offer to all gardeners: access to her gardening courses.  She writes:

I am getting emails from first-time gardeners wanting to grow food in this year of the pandemic, yet my gardening classes, workshops and talks in the region have been cancelled or postponed indefinitely. SO, I am making my Year Round Harvest gardening course slides available to everyone. These are pdf files of the PowerPoint slides that I show in my two 10-month gardening courses and are normally only accessible by the people registered in the classes. The two courses are sponsored by the Horticulture Centre of the Pacific [https://hcp.ca/ ] and the Salt Spring Garden Club [https://ssigardenclub.ca/ ] and I appreciate their support for releasing these presentation to anyone who wants to see them.

 You will need to use the class password to view these files, which will be available until December. Here’s how: 

Go to: http://www.lindagilkeson.ca/coursenotes.html

Use this password: honeycrisp

Click on SUBMIT (hitting ENTER doesn’t work)

 Around the middle of each month from January to October I put up a new module on a different topic appropriate to the season. So far, there are 3 files:

  1. Garden Plans and Seed Starting 
  2. Soil, Nutrients and Amendments 
  3. Spring Garden 

If you have questions about the material in these presentations, there is much more detail in my book Backyard Bounty. If you have access to a copy, please try to find your answers there first: I am becoming overwhelmed by emails. My priority is to answer questions for people in this year’s gardening classes and from Master Gardeners in BC and I will try to answer others as I have time.

Thank you to Linda for her generosity.

My blog also provides answers to some of our spring gardening questions.  Check out the post on  Starting Seeds Indoors and another on Transplanting vs Direct Seeding.  And if you’re ordering seeds, this post provides a chart on seed viability and if you’re wondering when you can eat the vegetables you’re planting, read this one on Days to Maturity.

I’m very grateful to have the kitchen garden right now, both because it provides food and because it provides a point of connection with friends, family and blog readers.  We’re comforted by growing food in this uncertain time, comforted by the sense of normalcy that germinating seeds and growing plants offer us each day.

Winter Vegetable Galettes

As February comes to an end, longer daylight length and warmer temperatures are awakening the hardy vegetables that have been holding in the winter kitchen garden since last fall.  While kale is already forming flower buds that I can harvest soon and throughout the spring, other remaining winter vegetables, like cabbages and leeks, really need to be harvested now, before they send out seed buds that compromise their flavor. Luckily, winter vegetable galettes are to a perfect way to use these end-of-the-winter-season vegetables.

A galette is basically a freeform, single-crust pie baked on a flat surface like a sheet pan or baking stone rather than in a pie pan, though the galette technique works well in a pie pan too.  Roll pastry dough into a circle, spread filling onto the dough to within about 2 inches of the pastry edge and fold the pastry edge up around the filling.  The result is a rustic-looking pie with the filling exposed and circled by a pastry crust.

I make galettes throughout the year, fruit galettes in summer, especially apricot galettes when friends give me apricots, and summer vegetable galettes with caponata-like fillings of eggplant, peppers and tomatoes.  But winter vegetable galettes are my favorites.

Deborah Madison has a wonderful selection of winter vegetable galettes in her Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (1997).  I make her winter squash galette often.  Sage, roasted garlic and a little cheese are all she suggests adding to roasted winter squash.  The result is a savory squash galette that makes a perfect main dish served with a pilaf of farro or brown rice and wild rice.

I also make her leek and goat cheese galette. It is a slightly richer version of Alice Water’s leek galette that is sautéed leeks only, wrapped in crust.

Leek galetteLeek galettes have been a winter standby for years, both for dinner and as a finger-food appetizer.  I’ll be making them often in the next few weeks as I harvest the final row of leeks.

And then there is cabbage.  Who knew cabbage could make such a tasty galette!  I hadn’t made Deborah Madison’s Cabbage and Mushroom Galette until this year, and I’m wondering what took me so long.  The combination of lots of wilted cabbage with sautéed mushrooms, diced hard-boiled egg, sour cream or goat cheese, tarragon, thyme and dill is truly delicious, rich, but not too rich, and full of flavor. I’ve made it for us several times and for company once, and I have reserved the remaining January King cabbage for a couple more.

Cabbage and Mushroom Galette

(My adaptations of this recipe are in plain text below)

For the pastry

2 cups all-purpose flour (I like using whole wheat pastry flour or Bluebird Grain Farms all- purpose flour milled from hard white wheat berries.)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 Tablespoon of sugar (for fruit galettes; little or no sugar for savory galettes)
12 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into ½ tablespoon-sized pieces
1/3 to ½ cup ice water

 For the filling

2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, finely diced
4 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded, caps thinly diced (
I’ve substituted 1 pound of crimini mushrooms and think that this galette is better with more mushrooms.)
1 teaspoon chopped thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried
1 teaspoon chopped tarragon or 1/2 teaspoon dried
1 tablespoon chopped dill or 1 teaspoon dried
6 cups thinly sliced cabbage, preferably Savoy, or 4 cups cabbage plus 2 cups other greens, such as beet, chard, or kale
salt and freshly milled pepper
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 hard-cooked egg, chopped (
I often use two hard-boiled eggs.)
1/4 cup sour cream or yogurt (
I subsitute ¼ pound goat cheese and omit the tarragon vinegar. I really like the tang the goat cheese provides.)
1 teaspoon tarragon vinegar
2 tablespoons melted butter

Cabbage galette ingredients 

For the horseradish sauce(I’ve never made this sauce, but I bet it would be good!)
1/4 cup prepared horseradish
1 cup yogurt or sour cream

1. Make pastry: In a bowl, combine the flour, sugar (if using) and salt. Cut in butter by hand, leaving some pea-sized chunks, or, if using a Food Processor, add half the butter and process until the mixture is like coarse meal; then add the rest of the butter and process briefly, leaving pea-sized or slightly larger chunks of butter. Transfer to a bowl and sprinkle ice water over the top by the tablespoon and toss with flour mixture, using a fork or your fingers, until you can bring the dough together into a ball. Press into a disk and refrigerate for ½ hour or more.

2. Prepare the filling: Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, mushrooms, and herbs and cook until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the cabbage, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 cup water. (The cabbage from my garden is so fresh that I omit the ½ cup of water. The cabbage cooks in less than 10 minutes.)Cabbage galette filling start

Cover and cook slowly until the cabbage is tender, 15 to 20 minutes, turning it occasionally. Add more liquid. When tender, uncover and raise the heat to evaporate any excess moisture. (I do this step about 10 minutes after adding the cabbage.) The mixture should be fairly dry.

Cabbage galette filling finishedStir in the parsley, egg, and sour cream (I substitute ¼ pound goat cheese for sour cream). Season with vinegar (Omit if you use goat cheese) and taste for salt and pepper.

3. Assemble galette: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Roll the dough into a large thin circle, about 14-15 inches across and about 1/8 inch thick, and set it on the back of a sheet pan or cookie sheet. (I like to transfer the rolled dough to a piece of parchment paper and assemble the galette on the parchment paper then transfer parchment and galette to the sheet pan.)

Cabbage galette pastryAdd the filling, leaving about 2 inches of pastry edge,

Cabbage galette assemblythen fold the edges over and brush with the melted butter. Pour any extra butter into the vegetables. Bake until browned, 25 to 30 minutes. While it is baking, mix the horseradish and cream to form a sauce, and season to taste. When galette is done, carefully slide it onto a serving plate. Serve with the horseradish sauce on the side.

Cabbage galette done

When I’ve harvested all the cabbages, I think I will follow the recipe suggestion and substitute kale, chard or collards, even the last of the Brussels sprouts, for cabbage.  I love winter vegetable galette fillings.  My husband likes them too, but what most delights him is all that pastry, so both of us are happy with these late winter dinners.

Delights and Disappointments of 2019 and Plans for 2020

My annual seed ordering always includes looking back on the past year and noting what vegetables delighted, both in the garden and at the table, and what vegetables disappointed.  I order more of the vegetables that brought delight, and for the vegetables that disappointed, I find replacements or try harder to grow them successfully this coming year.

The biggest disappointment by far was Territorial Seed’s Ancho Magnifico Pepper.  As I wrote to Territorial at the end of the season: “What happened to Ancho Magnifico Pepper seed this year?  I’ve grown them for years, appreciating their habit of turning from ‘green to bright red’ and their ‘classic poblano flavor.’  This year’s peppers turned from green to a chocolate/purple color and, more troubling, had no poblano flavor, instead just a dull bitterness.” Territorial responded: “We have made note of the inconsistencies to our buyers,” and they refunded the cost of the seeds. Still, nervous about another off year for Ancho Magnifico, I’m trying a new poblano, Caballero Ancho from Fedco , advertised as having “a perfect balance of heat and sweet rich flavor in their thick flesh and ribs” and maturing to a “deep brick red.”  I hope they will delight and give us lots of peppers to roast and freeze for winter 2021.

Other disappointments were my fault.  My winter squash crop was very light this year, and I think a factor was that I let the plants grow too many leaves while still in their pots before setting them out.  This year, I’ll try to follow my usual practice of starting squash seeds in 4” pots and setting them out as soon as the first true leaves form.  My onion crop was also light, a result, I think, of neglecting the starts as they grew in their 1-inch flat, letting them dry out and then overwatering them, so that the starts that finally went into the ground weren’t strong.  Finally, I had a very poor basil crop, both because the plants got a little pot bound and because I set them out in a less-than-ideal spot. The plants produced enough leaves to flavor platters of tomatoes but not enough for lots of pesto.

Despite these disappointments, the delights, both in the garden and at the table, were many. As I look down the list, I see that a lot started with the letter C: Cauliflower, Corn, Cucumber, Chard, Chicories.

Flame Star Cauliflower: In 2018, I thought Purple of Sicily was my new favorite cauliflower, but then I tried yet another colorful cauliflower, the pastel orange Flame Star and think I have a new favorite.  Not only is it beautiful in the garden, glowing orange against the crown of green leaves, it is gorgeous and delicious at the table.

Cauliflower flameIt keeps its warm orange color after roasting and, more important, it has a rich, sweet flavor and creamy texture.  I grew it in both spring and fall and will plant again for each season this year.  And, not to leave out classic white cauliflowers, the over-wintered cauliflower All-the-year-round was a delicious wonder in early winter 2019.

Café corn: I’ve grown Café corn from Fedco since 2017, and 2019’s crop was the best so far.  As in past years, the seeds germinated well even in cool early May soil, and the plants grew quickly, setting 3 to 4 full ears on each stalk along with some half ears. What impressed me this year was how long the ears held on the plant without getting tough.  This meant I could bring corn on the cob to potlucks and serve it to guests at my table over several weeks.  And there was still plenty of corn to make a new favorite corn salad with Shishito peppers: Spicy Corn and Shishito Salad and to put up corn for the freezer.

Cucumbers: I haven’t grown cucumbers for years because I thought I was the only one in the family who liked them.  They are so tasty with tomatoes in a summer salad, though, that I had to grow them again.  My friend Anne recommended Marketmore 76, a classic green cucumber.  Even though my starts got a little pot-bound and I didn’t set the plants in a very good spot, they still produced lots of sweet, crisp cucumbers all season long.  I’ll grow Marketmore 76 again this year and also try Marketmore 86 for comparison.

Chard: As summer cooled into fall, we started eating chard from plants I’d started in mid-summer, and I was reminded how sweetly earthy and tender braised chard can be.  How could I have forgotten how good chard is, and how beautiful, especially Rainbow Chard?  The harvest has continued into late fall and early winter and, given chard’s hardiness, we should be enjoying it for the rest of the winter despite our recent cold and snow.  I will plant a larger crop for 2020.

Chicories:  I’ve relied on red radicchios and pale green sugarloaf chicories for many years for colorful winter salads.  Last year, I added variegated chicories and radicchios, plants whose heads and leaves are shades of red, pink and white as well as green with red speckles.  Variegata di Castelfranco Chicory and Variegata di Chioggia Radicchio both from Adaptive Seeds, are not only beautiful, they have the perfect balance of bitterness and sweetness characteristic of this Italian green.

Chicories:Radicchios 1.2020They make gorgeous salads on their own but also mix well with fall pears or roasted winter vegetables like turnips, rutabagas and carrots.  I’ll keep growing these beautiful winter greens and keep looking for more varieties to try.

Various peppers, radishes and tomatoes also delighted this past year.  Shishito pepper Takara from Fedco produced dozens and dozens of thin-walled, 1×3 inch peppers that blistered beautifully in a little oil in a hot frying pan to make a quick appetizer.  These shishitos were also the star of the corn and shishito pepper salad I mention above. They were delicious green and just as tasty when they turned red.

Radishes were also especially good this year and I most often sliced them and mixed them with yogurt to make a refreshing salad, tasty with roasted meat but also delicious on its own.  Varieties I grow are Cheriette and Champion from Fedco.

Yogurt Radish Salad

Makes 2 cups

 1–2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar, optional

2 teaspoons coarse salt, or to taste

Cracked black pepper to taste

2 cups thinly sliced radishes

1 clove crushed garlic

1/2 cup whole milk yogurt, drained if watery

 In a medium bowl, mix together the vinegar, sugar, salt and a little pepper. Toss in the radishes and allow to marinate for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Toss in the garlic and yogurt and serve.

Finally, my friend Carol give me a start of Green Doctors cherry tomato, named for Dr. Amy Goldman and Dr. Carolyn Male, both authors of excellent tomato books. I planted it between some already established plants, and it was slow to catch up, but when it eventually set tomatoes and they ripened, I loved the sweet/tart flavor and the pretty green with yellow blush of this one-inch cherry tomato. Carol is going to give me a few seeds to start my own plants this year. With Sweet Million, Orange Parouche, and Sunchocola, Green Doctors makes a colorful bowl of delicious red, orange, purple and green cherry tomatoes to take to potlucks or serve at our table or simply for snacks.

Looking back on past gardening years and ahead to the new gardening year are especially pleasant ways to spend cool, dark January days. Soon seed packets will be arriving, days will be getting longer, and it will be time to plant.  There’s lots to delight in the garden year ahead.  Happy seed ordering!

Note: In January 2018 I published a post listing all the seeds I was planning to plant that year, some brief comments about why I’d chosen these vegetables and these varieties, and links to posts I’d written about many of these vegetables.  In January 2019 I republished this table with updates on what I especially liked in 2018, what didn’t work so well and new varieties I was going to try in 2019. Today’s January 2020 planting plans post updates 2018 and 2019 posts in another format, paragraphs that describe vegetables delighted, both in the garden and at the table, and vegetables that disappointed.  Return to the 2018 and 2019 posts for a full alphabetical listing of all I’ll be planting.

 

 

 

 

 

Brussels Sprouts are hot!

I’ve been a fan of Brussels sprouts since childhood. When I made my first Thanksgiving dinner for friends forty years ago, I fixed Brussels sprouts the way I remembered from family meals.  I cut a little “X” in the stem end and boiled them, watching closely and removing them as soon as the center was tender, but the outside was still green.  Guests politely took one or two while I and the few other fans finished the rest.  Some Thanksgivings later, a friend offered to bring the Brussels sprouts, steaming them, adding bits of crispy fried bacon and cloaking all in a mustard cream sauce. These rich, disguising flavors made some converts, and this preparation held for many years.  Then, fifteen years ago, deciding to feature the nutty, delicately cabbage-like flavor of Brussels sprouts, I thinly sliced each sprout and sautéed the slices in butter.  For the first time, nearly everyone ate Brussels sprouts.  For Thanksgivings since then, I’ve served Brussels sprouts this way or, in another great variation that features the flavor of Brussels sprouts, I’ve halved or quartered each sprout, tossed the pieces in olive oil and roasted them on sheet pans in a hot oven.  Caramelized Brussels sprouts are popular with just about everyone.

My and guests’ experiences with Brussels sprouts mirror a trend among chefs and home cooks.  Over the past decade, restaurants began serving roasted Brussels sprouts as appetizers and sides.  Creative recipes for Brussels sprouts began appearing in cooking magazines, newspaper articles and blogs.  And in the Skagit Delta this fall, rows and rows of Brussels sprouts stretch across the fields to meet the demand for this lovely vegetable.

Always on the lookout for recipes that celebrate the new popularity of Brussels Sprouts, I was intrigued by a recent New York Times Cooking recipe by Susan Spungen for Roasted and Raw Brussels Sprouts Salad. In the introduction, she writes: “If you like a good kale salad, or any type of crunchy salad, then you will love this one, which combines shredded raw brussels sprouts with roasted brussels sprouts leaves.”  I did love it and have made it several times with the Brussels Sprouts growing in my winter kitchen garden. I’ve also developed a delicious variation with cabbage and kale that uses the same raw and roasted techniques.

Roasted and Raw Brussels Sprouts Salad

1 pound Brussels Sprouts

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

¾ teaspoon kosher salt

1 small shallot, halved

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon honey or maple syrup

Black pepper

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 ½ ounces Pecorino Sardo, or other sharp sheep’s milk cheese, shaved with a vegetable peeler (about 1 scant cup)

 cup whole raw almonds, roughly chopped

Trim the sprouts, cutting a good 1/4-inch off the bottom. Pull off the large leaves (you should have about 2 cups of them); set aside. Shred the remaining sprouts thinly, using a food processor fitted with the slicing blade, or use a knife to halve them through the core, then thinly slice them. You should have 5 to 6 cups

Toss the shredded sprouts with the lemon juice and 1/4 teaspoon salt, and massage with your hands to tenderize them. Set aside.

Finely mince half the shallot and mix with the sherry vinegar, mustard, honey, 1/4 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper. While stirring, slowly pour in 4 tablespoons oil, then drizzle the dressing onto the sprouts, mixing thoroughly. Toss in the cheese and place in a serving bowl. (Cover and refrigerate for up to 4 hours, if not serving right away.)

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Thinly slice the other half of the shallot, and on a small baking sheet, combine the shallot with the reserved sprout leaves, almonds, remaining 1 tablespoon oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Toss to coat, then roast, tossing once or twice until the sprouts begin to crisp and brown, 10 to 12 minutes.

Place the hot ingredients on top of the salad (do not toss) and serve immediately, with more cracked pepper on top.

After I trimmed a ¼ inch from the stems, it was easy to slip the outer leaves from each sprout and collect two cups of green leaves. I used the food processor to shred the inner sprouts and then tossed them with the lemon juice and salt.

Brussels sprouts leaves and centers

Brussels sprouts shredded

It was one of those cooking leaps of faith to combine the sliced shallot, chopped almonds and sprout leaves and believe that they would all finish cooking at the same time, but they did.  The crispy leaves and nuts and the soft shallots make a wonderful combination and a beautiful topping for the shredded leaves and shaved pecorino.  The dressing is really tasty too.  I used maple syrup.

Brussels sprouts salad set up

To serve this salad, reach deeply with the salad spoons and capture both bottom and top layers.  The salad is beautiful in the bowl and on the plate.

Brussels sprouts salad finished

The roasted Brussels Sprouts leaves reminded me of roasted kale leaves and the shredded Brussels Sprouts centers reminded me of cabbage.  With these similarities in mind, it was a short step to making this salad with cabbage and kale.  I followed all the instructions of the original recipe and would make this version again too.

Cabbage Kale salad set up

Cabbage Kale salad finished

Winter salads are so hearty and satisfying.  I’m grateful that Brussels sprouts and their brassica cousins will keep us in salads through this cold and dark season.

 

Melissa Clark’s Sheet Pan Ratatouille

Caponata, that richly delicious blend of eggplant, peppers, onions and tomatoes, has been my go-to summer vegetable stew for years.

Eggplant caponata

Ratatouille is basically caponata with the addition of zucchini and quite a bit more olive oil, but until this year I’d never made it. Now, though, thanks to my friend Nancy and to Melissa Clark and her NYTimes “A Good Appetite” column, ratatouille is in serious competition with caponata for favorite summer vegetable stew.  The zucchini adds another surprisingly rich layer of flavor to the caponata blend, and as an additional bonus, zucchini’s place in ratatouille is a great way to use this always-abundant summer vegetable.

I had noticed Clark’s recipe for sheet-pan ratatouille in a recent column, and been intrigued by both her article title, Ratatouille, Simplified and Just as Satisfying and the opening line of her recipe description: “Cooking ratatouille on a sheet pan in the oven isn’t just easier than cooking it in a pot on the stove, it’s also better: richer and more deeply caramelized in flavor.” The “richer and more deeply caramelized” definitely spoke to me, but it was Nancy’s endorsement that spurred me to try it.  Not only is this ratatouille yummy, Nancy emailed, “The ratio of effort vs reward is heavy on the reward.”  Here, at the end of summer, with the last of the season’s harvest coming on, an easy recipe was very appealing.

Ratatouille ingredients

Clark’s method combines quick vegetable preparation and simple sheet pan technique.  Slice the zucchini into ¼ inch rounds, the onion into thin slices, the eggplant into inch-chunks and the peppers into chunks or strips.  Combine the zucchini and onion on one sheet pan and the eggplant and red pepper on the other.  Add garlic, springs of rosemary and thyme, salt and ¼ cup of olive oil to each pan and toss.

Rataouille raw on pans

Put both pans in a 425 oven and roast for 40 minutes, turning the vegetables two or three times with a spatula.  At first, the vegetables will give off liquid, then they will reabsorb it and begin to caramelize, all on the sheet pans, in the oven, out of sight.  The final time-saving step is simply scattering cherry tomatoes over the eggplant and pepper pan where they burst and melt into the caramelized eggplant and pepper, covering them in a quick and easy tomato sauce.   The additions of goat cheese and olives are delicious too, but even without them, this dish is a lovely celebration of the end of summer.

Ratatouille roasted on pan

Sheet-Pan Ratatouille with Goat Cheese and Olives

1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced

1 ¾ pounds zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch slices (about 7 cups)

½ cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving

6 thyme sprigs

4 rosemary sprigs

6 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled

Fine sea salt, as needed

2 pounds eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 10 cups)

2 medium red bell peppers, sliced into 1/2-inch slices (about 3 cups)

3 cups cherry tomatoes (12 ounces)

8 ounces goat cheese, crumbled

¾ cup Castelvetrano or other good-quality olives, crushed, pitted, and torn into pieces

Lemon wedges, for serving

PREPARATION

  1. Heat oven to 425 degrees, and arrange two racks in the top and bottom thirds.
  2. On one rimmed 13-by-17-inch sheet pan, toss together onion slices, zucchini, 1/4 cup oil, 3 thyme springs, 2 rosemary sprigs, 3 garlic cloves and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
  3. On a second rimmed baking sheet, toss together eggplant, red peppers, 1/4 cup oil, 3 thyme sprigs, 2 rosemary sprig, 3 garlic cloves and 3/4 teaspoon salt.
  4. Place one tray on the top rack, and a second on the bottom rack of the oven. Roast both for 40 minutes, stirring vegetables two or three times.
  5. Add tomatoes to the baking sheet with eggplant and peppers, then continue to roast until the tomatoes burst and the zucchini turn deeply golden brown, another 20 to 25 minutes. The vegetables will become very caramelized, and that’s a good thing, particularly with the zucchini and onions.
  6. Transfer zucchini and onions to the baking sheet with eggplant, mix well, and spread in an even layer (it will just fit). Drizzle vegetables with another 1 tablespoon oil, then sprinkle goat cheese and olives over the top. Roast until goat cheese is soft and warmed through, 5 to 10 minutes.
  7. Transfer vegetables to a serving platter, drizzle with a little more oil and squeeze juice from the one of the lemon wedges over the top. Garnish with basil leaves. Serve hot or warm, with more lemon wedges on the side.