Kitchen Garden Year 2022

Looking back on the 2021 kitchen garden year, what stands out are unusual extremes in the weather.  A cool, dry spring was followed by a record hot dry summer, followed by a very wet fall and capped off by record cold and snow at the end of the year. I remember bemoaning the lack of warmth in late spring as summer crops weren’t thriving and then worrying about summer crops suffering from extreme heat as I acknowledged that I need to be careful what I wish for. Then there was the worry that fall rains, while good for hydrating summer beds for cover crop planting, were drowning fall and winter vegetables.  And finally, there was the winter kitchen gardener’s anxiety over extreme cold killing rather than sweetening winter roots and greens.  Kitchen gardeners always notice the weather, but this past year provided more than the usual opportunities to worry about it.

As 2021 ended in the ten-degree days and fierce winds of late December, I turned for comfort to 2022 and the garden year ahead.  As I do every year, I began with an inventory of my vegetable seeds and then opened seed catalogs to find refills of favorites and read about enticing new varieties.  As I considered what to plant for each season, the pleasure of remembering familiar vegetables and imagining new varieties carried me away from cold winter outside and into plans for spring, summer and fall.  

One of my plans for the spring kitchen garden this year is to plant early and to plant more so we’ll have good crops of spring roots and greens for a much-anticipated family visit in June.  I usually plant seeds outdoors around Earth Day, the third week in April, but this year, I may start some carrots and spring turnips a few weeks earlier in April, just to be sure to have lots to harvest in mid-June.  I’ll also start some lettuce indoors to set out in early May. I’ll plant my usual lettuce mixes but also some romaine, Mayan Jaguar and Olga, for big, crispy salads.  Finally, I’ve ordered seeds of Asian greens like Tatsoi, Chinese cabbage and Pac Choi for these adventurous eaters. 

One plan for the summer garden is to plant enough bee-attracting flowers to pollinate summer and winter squash, cucumbers and other vegetables.  In addition to ordering borage seeds to go with the calendulas that volunteer each year, I studied the sunflower offerings in various catalogs to be sure I ordered open-pollinated varieties.  As I learned from this site “be sure to plant open-pollinated varieties that produce pollen. Bees need pollen for protein and to feed their larvae. There are a lot of varieties of sunflowers that lack pollen, popular among people who don’t want to clean up the pollen mess from cut flowers and for the allergy-prone.” I’ve ordered a Sunflower Mix from Pinetree  “A phenomenal mix of open pollinated sunflowers. Tall and short as well as single and double varieties. Everything to delight you and all of your garden pollinators.” 

Another plan for the summer garden is to plant vegetables that are most fun to share with others at picnics and outdoor dinners.  Corn and tomatoes top the list.  Last summer’s heat did result in amazing corn, for us and for friends. Corn on the cob, fresh corn salad with shishito peppers are always hits.  Café is the corn variety I’ve planted the past few years and Takara Shishito produces loads of flavorful small peppers.  Bowls of cherry tomatoes, red Sweet Million, Orange Paruche, purple Sunchocola and green of the delicious Green Doctors as well as plates of sliced tomatoes, red Dester and Momotaro, dark red Cherokee Purple, yellow Golden Jubliee all signal summer at the table.  So do bowls of green and yellow pole beans and plates of roasted purple eggplant.  Green Fortex and Nor’easter, yellow Golden Gate and Monte Gusto produce all summer as does beautiful purple Galine eggplant.  Peppers complete the summer palate with red Carmen and Stocky Red Roaster, orange Etudia and yellow Flavorburst, delicious fresh or roasted.   Summer vegetables are for sharing, and I’m hoping that we’ll have less isolation and more large gatherings in summer 2022.

For the fall and winter garden, I once again plan to have a good supply of seeds of hardy roots, brassicas and greens.  These vegetables thrive in our marine winters, but they do need protection in cold spells like the one we just had.   Before the deep cold of late December and early January hit, I covered the beds containing winter vegetables with extra hay, then tarps.  Fortunately, the five inches of snow that fell provided another layer of insulation against the ten-degree nights.  And knowing that I wouldn’t be able to get to these crops for a while, I harvested two weeks-worth of celery root, turnips, rutabaga, parsnips, leeks, Brussels sprouts, carrots, radicchio and chicory before layering on protective coverings.  As I studied seed catalogs for the year ahead, I was glad to have a fridge full of winter food even though I was anxious about what would survive the cold.  The fridge is nearly empty now, and with the January thaw that has set in, I’m relieved to see that all the remaining winter vegetables survived the cold and will see us through the rest of the winter.

There will no doubt be more weather to worry about in 2022, but I have seeds and plans to see me through the next gardening year.  And lots of meals ahead with family and friends. 

Happy Halloween

Years ago, when friends of mine had young children, they’d describe Halloween-themed dinners they’d cook for their kids.  There would be desserts of decorated cakes and cookies of course, but the main meal was just as creative.  Most often it was pumpkin-based, soup garnished with candy-like corn kernels and black beans or pumpkins stuffed with colorful vegetables and grains and baked.  Though I don’t have little kids around to cook for, I’m inspired to embrace the season and make some Halloween dinners for grown-ups. 

While there were no pumpkins in my kitchen garden, there were butternut and blue kuri winter squash, both excellent substitutes.  

Experimenting with the butternut squash first, I halved it, removed the seeds and baked it, cut side down, on a sheet pan at 400 degrees for about 45 minutes.  

After it cooled, I removed most of the squash from the center of each half, leaving a half inch border of squash to add another flavor the filling.  I saved this extra squash for a future meal.  

While the squash was baking, I made a filling, boiling black beans I’d soaked earlier in the day, cooking some red quinoa, sauteing onion and garlic.  Then I added corn and poblano peppers from the freezer to the onion and finally added the black beans and quinoa and a little grated jack cheese. The result was a colorful and tasty filling for the squash.  After piling it into the squash shells, I baked it at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes to warm it through.  To garnish it, I made some cilantro pesto.  Next time I’d squeeze on some lime to match the sweetness of this pretty meal.

I stuffed the blue kuri squash as well, filling it with a mixture of cooked rice and sauteed sausage, onions and poblano peppers and jack cheese.  This filling mixture would have made a fine any-season casserole on its own but slicing the blue kuri squash in half around the middle, baking it as I did the butternut squash and removing enough of the flesh to make two bowls for stuffing, created a Halloween-worthy presentation.  

I like the way both of these stuffed squashes remind me of my friends’ Halloween meals, but these dishes would work for any of the other holidays coming up.  

Finally, I turned to the most playful of these Halloween meals: little pumpkin-shaped hand pies.  The recipe that inspired me calls them jack-o-lantern empanadas.  Either name works.  The key appeal for my grown-up trick-or-treater is the pastry. The delicious filling is also a great way to use leftover winter squash and black beans.  And they really are pretty cute. I may even make them again for Halloween day, or make them another time, minus the scary faces.  

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1/2 cup frozen corn
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped sweet red pepper (I used roasted and frozen poblano peppers)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin (I used roasted and pureed butternut squash)
  • 1/2 cup black beans, rinsed and drained (I used dry black beans from the garden, soaked and boiled)
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder (the poblano peppers provided enough spice so I omitted chili powder) 
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 packages (14.1 ounces each) refrigerated pie crust (I made my usual pie dough)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon water

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425°. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add corn, onion and pepper; cook and stir 2-3 minutes or until tender. Add garlic; cook 1 minute longer. Stir in pumpkin, black beans and seasonings; heat through. Cool slightly.
  1. On a lightly floured surface, unroll pie crust. Cut pumpkins with a 3-in. floured pumpkin-shaped or round cookie cutter, rerolling crust as necessary. Place half of the pumpkin cutouts 2 in. apart on parchment-lined baking sheets; top each with about 1 tablespoon pumpkin mixture. Using a knife, cut jack-o’-lantern faces or slits out of the remaining cutouts. Place over the top of the pumpkin mixture; press edges with a fork to seal.  (I made some 4-inch as well as some 3-inch cutouts.)
  1. In a small bowl, whisk egg and water; brush over empanadas. Bake until golden brown, 12-15 minutes. Remove from pan to wire racks.

Winter Squash Question

I usually harvest winter squash on or near the Fall Equinox, but this year I pulled squash and vines about a week early, partly because the crop was ready but more because there was real rain in the forecast. And as predicted, the day after the squash harvest, two inches of rain fell, glorious soaking rain that softened the soil of the squash bed and of all the other beds I’d cleared of summer vegetables and mulch in anticipation of rain.  After such a dry summer, the start of the rainy season was most welcome.

The joy of the rain made up for a smaller-than-usual squash harvest.  The yield in the main squash bed was half of what we usually get.  Among the drying vines, I found only two or three of old favorites Blue Kuri and Honeyboat and Zeppelin Delicatas, and barely more of new entries, Little Gem Red Kuri, Gill’s Golden Pippin, Sonca Butternut. 

 The one surprising exception was a large yield of Hunter Butternut squash from four plants that I’d set out at the last minute in another bed next to a Costata Romanesca Zucchini.

I’m not often successful growing butternut squash, but these plants produced sixteen lovely large squash.  Why did they do so well and the others so poorly? 

A number of factors affect squash production.  Days that are too cold and days that are too hot both affect squash plants’ fruit set.  We definitely had both extremes this summer. Lack of water is also a factor, but both beds received the same amount of irrigation. I never got around to mulching the main squash bed, but I did mulch the one zucchini and the four butternut plants, so perhaps mulch made a difference in moisture. More than moisture, though, there’s pollination.  In many of the trouble-shooting sources I turned to, pollination turned up as a factor affecting squash production.  An excellent entry on Squash Pollination by Mark MacDonald in West Coast Seeds Garden Wisdom Blog  helped me look more closely at the different conditions between my main squash bed and the smaller zucchini and butternut planting. 

Through text and photographs, MacDonald describes how squash pollination works and, in particular, the importance of bees to this process.  In his suggested solutions to poor squash pollination, he concludes: “This whole conversation illustrates the importance of bees in our landscape. It is their diligent work that spreads all of the pollen back and forth. Without bees, many crops would simply fail to produce. The first strategy for the squash grower is to encourage more bees.”

Looking at the two squash locations, I saw right away that the zucchini and butternut bed was next to a several sprawling calendula plants that had started blooming in early spring and bloomed heavily all summer. Next to the main squash bed were several cosmos plants, but they didn’t start blooming until later in the summer, and there were no other flowers nearby.  Maybe the explanation for my squash yield difference was simply poor pollination in the main squash bed.

I’ll hold on to that possibility for next year and plant flowers along with squash to attract bees. Flowers MacDonald suggests are alyssum, calendula, centaurea, crimson clover, nemophila, phacelia, sunflowers and white Dutch clover.  In a lovely description of bee behavior, he writes: “Sunflowers planted in the squash bed act like a beacon because they are visible from hundreds of meters away. Other plants bloom in such profusion that no pollinator would pass without a closer look.”  At next year’s Autumn Equinox squash harvest, I’ll find out if flowers made the difference.  In the meantime, we’ll enjoy meals from this year’s harvest.

Tomato and Beet Salads

Baskets of colorful summer vegetables from the kitchen garden continue to inspire experiments in the kitchen, particularly new combinations of colors, flavors and textures. 

Drawn by the similar colors of beets and tomatoes, I combined steamed and cooled red and golden beets with sliced red, orange and yellow tomatoes.  Once I’d arranged the beets and tomatoes on a platter, all the salad needed was olive oil, salt and a garnish of fresh basil.  

This new-to-me salad joined the sweet density of beets with the juicy acidity of tomatoes and the bright colors of both. Who knew beets and tomatoes would taste so good together?  Lots of people, actually, as I discovered by looking for other recipes that combined tomatoes and beets.

Many tomato and beet salad recipes begin with tomatoes and steamed, roasted or even raw beets then add goat, Parmesan or Manchego cheese, walnuts or hazelnuts, or pickled onions.  There are even recipes for the classic caprese salad with slices of cooked beets along with sliced tomato, fresh mozzarella and basil. 

Of these many possibilities, I was tempted by a raw beet and tomato salad from Food 52.  I used one red and one yellow beet in my version, julienned both on the mandoline.  Though beets are dense, by cutting them in half and feeding the root end into the mandoline, they slice easily.  When I tossed the salad for serving, the yellow beets turned a pretty orange color from the juices of the red beet.

Raw Beet & Cherry Tomato Salad with Manchego Cheese & Walnuts 

Serves 2

  • For the salad
  • small red beets, peeled
  • 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, toasted, roughly chopped
  • 2 ounces Manchego cheese shavings
  • Pinch dry oregano
  • 1/8 cup flat-leaf Italian parsley, just leaves
  •  
  • For the dressing:
  • 1 tablespoon Champagne vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • clove garlic, finely minced
  • Sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

Whisk together vinegar, garlic, oregano, salt, pepper.

Gradually add the olive oil until well combined.

Thinly julienne the beets using a mandoline or a very sharp knife.

Transfer to a bowl and pour the dressing on top.

Let it sit at room temperature for 15-20 minutes.

To finish off the salad, add cherry tomatoes and parsley leaves, gently mix to combine.

Adjust the seasoning and plate the salad.

For another beet and tomato salad, I created a palate of yellow and green, inspired by two of my favorite salads, Deborah Madison’s Golden Beets, Fava Beans and Mint and David Tanis’s Fresh Multi-Bean Salad with Charred Red Onion All this merger needed was tomatoes.

A collection of Touchstone Gold beets, Golden Sunray and Jaune Flamme tomatoes, Green Doctors cherry tomatoes, shelled fava beans, Monte Gusto yellow beans and Fortex green beans came together into a gorgeous salad.  I steamed the beets and boiled the beans and let both cool before combining them with the other vegetables.  Then I used the mustard vinaigrette from the David Tanis salad and some shaved Pecorino Romano cheese to finish this delicious salad.  

August is coming to an end, but there is still September for more experiments with tomatoes and beets.  And once tomatoes are gone, there will still be beets ready for new salad combinations.

Colors of the Summer Kitchen Garden

Summer harvests give many pleasures.  There are the tastes of tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, string beans and zucchini, but just as wonderful are the colors of these and other summer vegetables.  Red, orange, yellow, green, purple, intense jewel colors both in the harvest basket and the serving dish.  

Last weekend, with the first generous harvest of tomatoes, I layered slices of purple/red Cherokee Purple, orange Jaune de Flamme and Orange Paruche cherry tomato in a large bowl, garnishing them with green and purple basil.  A pleasure to create, but the bigger treat was taking this summer bounty to a dinner with friends.  

Early this week, I made a favorite zucchini recipe I first wrote about in 2011, Roasted Zucchini with Ricotta and Mint.  The occasional changes I’ve made to this wonderful recipe over the years are to omit the ricotta sometimes or substitute goat cheese and to add more fresh herbs with the mint.  This time, I omitted cheese altogether and added flower heads from dill and cilantro and leaves of green and purple basil along with the mint.  These fresh herb flavors complemented the flavors of cumin and fennel seeds and red pepper flakes roasted with the zucchini, and lemon juice added just before serving brightened all the flavors.  Finally, I steamed some of the last Sugar Snap peas and used them to crown this lovely summer salad.  

Dark red and orange beets and purple and orange carrots are kitchen garden standbys that lend themselves to salads year-round. 

 Yesterday morning, I steamed a harvest of beets and carrots, caramelized some fennel and composed a colorful cold salad that I dressed with a lemon vinaigrette.  Made with warm vegetables, this salad would add to a winter meal, but cold it was perfect for summer.  

Color in the kitchen garden isn’t only in the vegetables but also in the blooming flowers and herbs scattered throughout the garden beds.  Pausing to take in this beauty is an ongoing pleasure of the summer kitchen garden.

Be Careful What You Wish For

“Be careful what you wish for” has been running through my mind the past few days as temperatures reached eighty, then ninety, then one hundred degrees.  Who knew the first days of summer would blast in with a record heat wave?  I didn’t when I wrote in my last post: “Now that the Solstice is upon us, perhaps rain and warmth will continue, or at least warmth, and vegetables will really start to grow.”  Well, with this unusual heat the vegetables are really growing.  Tassels are forming on corn plants, zucchinis are stretching out, cherry tomatoes ripening, pole beans climbing strings, cauliflower and broccoli swelling into heads.  I’ve been out early the past few mornings harvesting anything that will suffer in the heat: radishes, turnips, rabe, cauliflower, broccoli.  And with the fridge full and the days too hot to be outdoors, I’ve been in the kitchen, trying out some new recipes.  

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s recipe for Roasted Cauliflower with Pine Nut, Raisin, and Caper Vinaigrette on Serious Eats makes a perfect summer salad.  I’ve made it twice, using walnuts instead of pine nuts both times because that’s what I had.  I also used the beautiful orange Flame Star cauliflowerI harvested during the heat. The only downside of this recipe during our heat wave is the 500-degree oven recommended for roasting the cauliflower.

Roasted Cauliflower with Pine Nut, Raisin, and Caper Vinaigrette


1 head cauliflower, trimmed and cut into 8 wedges

6 tablespoons (90ml) extra-virgin olive oil, divided

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon (15ml) sherry vinegar

1 tablespoon (15ml) honey

2 tablespoons capers, rinsed, drained, and roughly chopped

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

1/4 cup raisins 

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley leaves

Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 500°F (260°C). Toss cauliflower with 3 tablespoons (45ml) olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Roast until cauliflower is tender and deeply browned on both sides, about 20 minutes total, flipping cauliflower with a thin metal spatula halfway through roasting.

While cauliflower roasts, combine remaining 3 tablespoons (45ml) olive oil, vinegar, honey, capers, pine nuts, raisins, and parsley. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper.

Transfer cooked cauliflower to a serving plate and spoon dressing on top. Serve immediately.

A recipe for broccoli salad that doesn’t call for oven-roasting or any other cooking is Melissa Clark’s Broccoli Salad with Garlic and Sesame.  Introducing the recipe, she writes: “This salad is made from uncooked broccoli tossed with an assertive garlic, sesame, chile and cumin-seed vinaigrette slicked with good extra-virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar. The acid “cooks” the florets a little as ceviche does fish. After an hour, the broccoli softens as if blanched, turning bright emerald, and soaking up all the intense flavors of the dressing. You’ll be making this one again.”  She’s right.  I made a quarter batch for lunch and then made a half batch for dinner. I’ll definitely be making it again, perhaps a full batch for guests.  It’s very pretty with just the green broccoli but also lovely with the first cherry tomatoes of the season.

Broccoli Salad with Garlic and Sesame

Serves 6-8

  • 1 ½ teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
  • 2 heads broccoli, 1 pound each, cut into bite-size florets
  • ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 fat garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 2 teaspoons roasted (Asian) sesame oil
  •  Large pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  1. In a large bowl, stir together the vinegar and salt. Add broccoli and toss to combine.
  2. In a large skillet, heat olive oil until hot, but not smoking. Add garlic and cumin and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in sesame oil and pepper flakes. Pour mixture over broccoli and toss well. Let sit for at least 1 hour at room temperature, and up to 48 (chill it if you want to keep it for more than 2 hours). Adjust seasonings (it may need more salt) and serve.

Temperatures are easing back to early summer normal now, a relief for us and for the kitchen garden vegetables. There are still a few more vegetables in the refrigerator though, so I’ll keep looking for new ways to use them.

Radishes and Turnips

It’s been a cool, dry spring. Watering helps with the dryness, and various fabric covers, cold frames and a greenhouse help with the cold, but what would be even better would be a steady rain and some warmer days.  We’ve gotten a little of each in the past week and the garden vegetables are responding with fresher green and more growth.  Now that the Solstice is upon us, perhaps rain and warmth will continue, or at least warmth, and vegetables will really start to grow.  

In the meantime, I’m grateful for radishes and spring turnips, round red and round white.  

Crisp, spicy radishes are tasty sliced and slipped into a nut butter sandwich or with butter and salt on bread.  They are also wonderful lightly pickled in white wine vinegar, salt and sugar.  Simply pickled or with the addition of some yogurt and garlic, they make a great condiment or an addition to salads. 

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.

One more way I’ve been preparing radishes is roasting them. Cut into wedges, brushed with olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper and roasted for 10-12 minutes at 425, they lose their spice and crispness, but in exchange they mellow into a soft, subtly radish-flavored side dish.  

Spring turnips are round like radishes but more dense than crisp and more sweet than spicy.  Planted at the same time as radishes, they are ready for harvest about a week later.  When they are still small, about an inch in diameter, I treat them like radishes, serving them raw in slices or lightly pickling them.  When they get bigger, I roast them.  Prepared and roasted the same way I do radishes, turnips become sweeter and more tender than roasted radishes.  Roasted spring turnips are one of our favorite late spring dishes.  Turnip greens are very tasty too, sauteed in garlic and olive oil, they make a pretty bed for a batch of roasted turnips.  

As we reach the end of the current crop of radishes and turnips, spring broccoli and cauliflower are forming heads that will provide delicious meals while the next planting of radishes and turnips matures. Soon after that, beets, another round root, carrots and sugar snap peas will be ready, and we’ll be done with radishes and turnips for this season.  But they’ll be there for us next year, the first gifts of spring.  

Rhubarb Recipes: Shrub and Cobbler

It’s rhubarb season and I’ve been making the family favorite, rhubarb custard pie, for the past month.  

Some would argue that this pie is really the only appropriate use for rhubarb, but lately I’ve been introduced to a couple of other rhubarb recipes that significantly expand the list of rhubarb recipes: rhubarb shrub and rhubarb cobbler.

My friend Dena made a rhubarb shrub this spring.  It’s delicious!  She shared her recipe, one that she found at Bon Appetit.

“In terms of drinks, a shrub is a non-alcoholic syrup made of a combination of concentrated fruits, aromatics, sugar, and vinegar. This sweet, yet acidic mixer is traditionally enjoyed as a component of a mixed drink with soda water.” Dena adds it to tonic water for a special, non-alcoholic spring drink. We’re doing the same.

Dena’s Bon Appetit Rhubarb Shrub recipe could be easier: 

Slice 4 medium stalks of rhubarb crosswise until you’ve got 2 cups of it. Mix together 1¼ cups sugar (preferably organic) and ¼ teaspoon kosher salt in a small bowl. Pick the leaves off a couple sprigs of mint and clap them firmly between your hands once (this is to release the essential oils). In a large jar or container with an airtight lid (I like glass best, plastic is a good alternative, but avoid metal), layer the rhubarb and mint evenly with the sugar mixture. Seal the jar and turn it upside down a couple of times. Now, let it sit on the counter for a few hours. (If it’s hot out, just an hour or so will do! The juices are drawn out of the rhubarb more quickly at higher temps.) You want to see a fair amount of liquid in the jar at this point. Put your jar into the fridge overnight.

Twenty-four hours after you first combined the sugar mixture with the fruit, add 1 cup red wine vinegar. (I love this kind of vinegar, which amplifies the beautiful color imparted by the rhubarb here, but if you don’t have it, try apple cider or white wine vinegar). After adding the vinegar, leave it at room temp for a few hours, then taste it to see if it needs more vinegar (up to ¼ cup more). Turn the jar upside down a couple times and put it back in the fridge for a minimum of 24 hours. If you can, try to wait longer, up to two days more, so the flavors can develop further.

When it’s ready, strain out the solids and bottle it…It’ll keep nicely in the fridge for six to eight weeks, but much longer if you keep it tightly sealed and save it for later use (i.e. you’re not exposing it to air by opening the container often)

Dena added that she “free-styled: no mint, tried white wine vinegar, then a batch with apple cider vinegar. Forgot the first batch on the counter for 24 hours and abandoned the second batch in the fridge for a few days before straining. Came out fine both times, despite my indiscretions!”

I left out the mint as well, and I found that leaving the rhubarb/sugar/vinegar mixture in the fridge for several days allowed the organic sugar to dissolve completely and the rhubarb flavor to develop further.  Two ounces of rhubarb shrub topped with tonic is a lovely spring drink.

A rhubarb shrub cocktail is a great way to begin a meal and Melissa Clark’s Roasted Rhubarb Cobbler is a great way to end one.  As Clark writes in the introduction to her recipe: “In this buttery cobbler, slices of rhubarb are roasted with sugar before rounds of biscuit dough are added to the pan. This extra step allows the rhubarb juices to condense into a sweet-tart syrup and eliminates the need for a thickener like cornstarch or tapioca, which can muddy the flavors. The result is a bright-tasting, flaky cobbler that’s gently scented with vanilla and a little orange zest. Topped with a drizzle of heavy cream or a scoop of ice cream, it makes a rose-tinged dessert that’s both lighter and bolder than others of its kind.”

Roasted Rhubarb Cobbler

For the rhubarb filling:

  1. vanilla bean, split lengthwise (or use 1/2 teaspoon vanilla paste or 1 tablespoon vanilla extract)
  2. pounds rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 7 cups)

¾ cup/150 grams granulated sugar

1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest

Pinch of kosher salt

For the biscuits:

¾ cups/96 grams all-purpose flour, plus more for shaping

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 ¼ teaspoons baking powder

Pinch of kosher salt

3 tablespoon cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

⅓ cup/79 milliliters plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream, plus more for serving, if you like

Demerara sugar, for sprinkling

Ice cream, for serving (optional)

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Using the tip of a paring knife, scrape the pulp out of the vanilla bean halves and add the pulp to a 1 1/2 quart gratin or baking dish or 9-by-9-inch pan along with the scraped-out pods. (Alternatively, add the paste or extract to the pan.) Add the rhubarb, sugar, zest and salt, and toss well. Let sit at room temperature to macerate while preparing the biscuit dough.

Make the biscuit dough: Put the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a food processor. Pulse to combine. Add cubed butter, then pulse until the mixture has formed lime bean-size pieces. Drizzle in 1/3 cup heavy cream and pulse until everything just clumps together, taking care not to overprocess. (To make the dough by hand, put the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl and whisk to combine. Add cubed butter, then mix it in with your hands, pinching and squeezing with your fingers — or use a pastry blender — until the largest pieces are the size of peas. Drizzle in 1/3 cup heavy cream a little at a time, mixing until the dough comes together.)

Dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface, and gently pat it together until it’s a cohesive lump. Using a small ice cream scoop or a large spoon, form dough into 6 evenly sized balls. Slightly flatten dough balls into thick rounds. Cover rounds with plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes (and up to 6 hours).

Put the rhubarb in the oven and roast, stirring halfway through, until the rhubarb has softened and the liquid has formed a syrup, about 30 minutes.

Remove pan from oven and use tongs to remove the vanilla bean pods.

Lower oven temperature to 375 degrees. Arrange biscuit rounds on top of the rhubarb, leaving space in between them. Brush biscuits with remaining tablespoon of heavy cream and sprinkle with Demerara sugar.

Bake cobbler until biscuits are golden brown, about 25 to 35 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature, with cream or ice cream, if you like.

I especially like the low sugar content of this recipe and the concentrated rhubarb flavor.  The cobbler biscuits are very light and tender.

With all the rhubarb growing in the garden right now, I’m glad to have these recipes to use more of it.  They won’t replace rhubarb custard pie as the premier use of rhubarb, but they come close.  

Continuity in the Kitchen Garden

I’ve been harvesting overwintered purple sprouting broccoli for several weeks, and last week I harvested the first of the overwintered cauliflower.  These harvests offer the special pleasure of seeing a vegetable that I set out in July reach maturity in April despite months of winter’s cold and rain. Overwintered brassicas have amazed me ever since I started growing them several years ago.

An additional pleasure last week was that this over-wintered brassica harvest coincided with setting out starts of spring and summer broccoli and cauliflower.  Unlike their longer-maturing cousins, these brassica varieties will mature and provide tasty meals by early summer.  And soon after that harvest, I’ll start seeds of over-wintered brassicas again.  This sense of continuity, that there will always be a new plant to replace the old one, is one of the things that makes vegetable gardening so satisfying.  

I’m noticing this same reassuring continuity as I get ready to set out thin spears of this year’s onion and shallot crop and as seed potatoes green up in preparation for this year’s planting.  They make it less concerning that the storage bins of last year’s onions and potatoes are nearly empty.  In the same way, the tomatoes and pepper plants growing slowly in the greenhouse make it easier to use up the last of the roasted and frozen tomatoes and peppers.  

Wrapped in this reassuring sense of continuity, I roasted the cauliflower and the purple sprouting broccoli, piled them in a large bowl and added some spears of asparagus.

Then I took the dish to our neighbors for a shared dinner, the first in over a year.  Even more joyful than the yearly cycle of garden vegetables is the return of meals with friends after this long year of isolation.  Like the promise of continuity in the kitchen garden, the promise of a return to normal social interactions in the months ahead feels very good.  

Planting Plans and Crop Rotation

Spring is a week old and cover crops in kitchen garden beds need turning soon, but what I really need to do right now is make a planting plan for 2021. Beans and peas, beets, carrots and fennel, cucumbers and squashes, spring turnips and radishes, corn are still in seed packets, and tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, onions, lettuce, broccoli and cauliflower are growing indoors in pots and flats. Where will I plant each vegetable this year?

I have a paper layout of all the kitchen garden beds, twenty-one of them arranged in three groups of seven, each bed divided vertically into three sections for recording three years of planting.  I also have a table where I’ve recorded what’s grown in the beds each year since 2001. It should be an easy process of looking at what I’ve planted in each bed for the previous three or more years, selecting the appropriate vegetable for that bed this year and entering it on the piece of tracing paper I place over the garden bed layout.  Quick to describe, but not so quick to carry out.  

Crop rotation is what gardening books and websites call the process I’m puzzling over as I make a planting plan. It’s the practice of planting vegetables in different beds or rows each year.  Three reasons for crop rotation are to discourage insects that may have overwintered in the soil and could feast on the same plant again, to minimize build-up of diseases plants may leave in the soil over time and to improve soil fertility by alternating plants that take a lot from the soil with plants that return nutrients.   

I know why I should rotate vegetables from bed to bed or row to row, but how I should carry it out is a yearly puzzle with lots of pieces.  Fortunately, there are many excellent websites on crop rotation providing charts grouping all the vegetables I grow into their respective families and reminding me which families help each other and which don’t so much.  

The Washington State University Snohomish County Extension Fact Sheet on Crop Rotation in Home Gardens is a helpful two-page document that defines crop rotation, describes why it is important, and explains how to do it. It also has an easy-to-use chart separating vegetables into their families and a printer-friendly version. 

Seattle Tilth offers a short description of crop rotation that includes a useful sentence alerting gardeners to the disease susceptibility of several plant families: 

Certain plant families are especially susceptible to specific diseases, including the cabbages (broccoli, cabbage, kale, and many more), the nightshades (tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, potatoes), and the onions (leek and garlic).

These are the families that I pay particular attention to when I’m making each year’s planting plan. I do my best to avoid planting members of the same family in beds where other members of the family have grown in the past two or three years, but one vegetable requires me to modify the rules: tomatoes.  I grow tomatoes every year in a greenhouse with permanent beds.  My solution to the diseases that tomatoes can leave in the soil is to swap the dirt in the greenhouse beds with dirt from beds in the garden, avoiding beds where other members of the nightshade family have grown. A couple of afternoons with the wheelbarrow accomplishes this task and has worked very well for the twenty years we’ve planted tomatoes in the greenhouse.  

A very useful site covering all aspects of crop rotation is Portland Nursery’s newsletter on crop rotation. In addition to describing the benefits of rotating vegetable crops and providing a list of vegetables and their families, it offers suggestions and sample plans for crop rotation in small year-round vegetable gardens.  It also includes cover crops as vegetables to include in crop rotations, useful for those of us who plant cover crops each fall. And in a side bar, it lists helpful rules for crop rotation.  

Portland Nursery’s Rules for Crop Rotation:

  • Two growing seasons should pass before a plant family returns to soil it has already grown in.
  • Heavy feeders such as brassicas, cucurbits, and solanums should follow light feeders (all others).
  • Surface feeders such as corn should follow deep rooters like brassicas.
  • When removing a finished crop, clean up thoroughly in that area, and leave no debris in which pests or diseases may overwinter.
  • Keep records of what happens and use this information to help plan future plantings.

I especially appreciate the reminders that “heavy feeders should follow light feeders” and that “surface feeders should follow deep rooters.”  And it’s always good to be reminded to tidy up and keep good records, on-going aspirations of mine.

Finally, the site Harvest to Table written by a kitchen gardener in Sonoma Valley of California is useful even for those of us gardening farther north.

He’s more specific than the other sites about plant families and their effect on soil: 

Some crops are heavy feeders; heavy feeders include tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage, corn, eggplant, beets, lettuce, and other leafy crops.

Some crops are light feeders: light feeders include garlic, onions, peppers, potatoes, radishes, rutabagas, sweet potatoes, Swiss chard, and turnips.

Some crops are soil builders: soil builders include peas, beans, and cover crops such as clover.

And while he suggests that: “Simple crop rotation would plant heavy feeders in a dedicated planting bed the first year, followed by light feeders in the same bed the second year, followed by soil builders the third year,”he acknowledges that not all gardeners have the space to rotate crops so tidily and offers suggestions for working in smaller garden spaces.

Last, as an alternative to thinking about crop rotation by vegetable family, this author suggests crop rotation by harvest group, an intriguing way to think about the rotation process. 

Crop rotation by harvest groups is a simple rotation strategy: rotate leafy crops, root crops, and fruiting crops. Harvest group rotation is not a precise crop rotation method (for example, peppers are light feeders and tomatoes are heavy feeders, but both are fruiting crops—but it is an easy way to group plants and to remember the rotation from one year to the next. A simple three-year crop rotation divides crops into their harvest groups:

Leafy crops—lettuce, spinach and members of the cabbage family such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower

Root crops: carrots, turnips, parsnips, potatoes

Fruiting crops (flowering crops): tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, squash

In another entry, he writes in detail about the more traditional crop rotation by plant family.

After reviewing all this crop rotation information, I’m heading back to my planting plan, more confident than before that I can keep all the plant families getting along for another year.