Blackberries, Cultivated or Wild

We have a small stand of cultivated blackberries at the edge of the kitchen garden.  The variety is Triple Crown Thornless Blackberry from Raintree Nursery whose catalog description praises them as “productive, tasty and hardy” with superb flavor. 

Why, with such abundance of wild blackberries along hedgerows and roadsides on Lopez Island, would we give garden space to cultivated berries?  Well, the flavor really is superb, the berries are larger than wild berries and they have fewer seeds.  And the vines have no thorns.  All that said though, I still cover my arms and legs with thornproof clothing and head to the brambles along our west property line for the pleasure of harvesting wild blackberries.  Wild or cultivated, in the end what’s most important is the pie, and both make wonderful pies.

In 2019, in New York Times Cooking Melissa Clark published a recipe for Blackberry Jam Crostata. I tried it then and have been making it this time of year ever since.  As Clark writes: “With a press-in-the-pan buttery cookie crust and a tangy jam filling that’s topped with almonds and Demerara sugar, this crostata is simple, homey and utterly delightful.”  

Either cultivated or wild blackberries work here.  I usually replace the blueberries with more blackberries because I love the intense blackberry flavor.  And I hold back on the sugar by about 50 grams, adding more at the end if needed.

Blackberry Jam Crostata

For the Filling

3 cups/340 grams blackberries

1 cup/125 grams blueberries

¾ cup/150 grams granulated sugar, plus more as needed

2 teaspoons minced fresh lemon verbena (optional)

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, plus more as needed

½ teaspoon grated lemon zest

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

⅓ cup sliced almonds

Demerara sugar, for sprinkling

For the Crust

1½ cups/190 grams all-purpose flour

¾ cup/95 grams whole-wheat flour

12 tablespoons/170 grams unsalted butter (1½ sticks), softened

½ cup/100 grams granulated sugar

2 large egg yolks, at room temperature

1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon fine sea salt

¼ teaspoon almond extract

Preparation

  1. Step 1

Make the jam: In a medium saucepan, stir together blackberries, blueberries, sugar and lemon verbena, if using. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally at first, then more frequently as the mixture starts to bubble and reduce.

  1. Step 2

When mixture has reduced and looks syrupy (about 30 minutes total), stir in lemon juice and zest. Taste and add sugar if necessary. (This depends on how sweet your berries were to begin with.) Cook for 3 minutes longer, stirring frequently to prevent burning. When the jam is thickened and shiny but still slightly runnier than you expect jam to be, take it off the heat; it will continue to thicken as it cools.

  1. Step 3

Scrape jam into a bowl or heatproof container, stir in vanilla and let cool to room temperature. Taste and stir in a little more lemon juice if the jam seems very sweet. At this point, the cooled jam can be chilled for up to 1 week.

  1. Step 4

Make the dough: In a medium bowl, whisk together all-purpose and whole-wheat flours, and set aside. In a second bowl and using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in egg yolks, lemon zest, vanilla, salt and almond extract until combined, then beat in flour mixture.

  1. Step 5

Scoop ½ cup of the dough into a bowl or container, cover and chill. Transfer remaining dough to a 9- or 10-inch tart pan and use floured fingers to press evenly into bottom and sides. Chill crust in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes.

  1. Step 6

When ready to bake, heat oven to 350 degrees. Spread jam evenly into crust, then using your fingers, crumble reserved ½ cup dough over jam. Sprinkle with almonds and Demerara sugar.

  1. Step 7

Bake until golden, 38 to 48 minutes. Let cool completely to room temperature before serving.

A close tie with this Blackberry Jam Crostata is Anjou Bakery’s Marionberry Pie.  Just off the highway in Cashmere, WA, Anjou Bakery is our favorite bakery stop when driving to eastern Washington.  I made this pie using our triple crown blackberries to mark the 70th birthday of a friend who shares our love of this pie. 

 The crust is like the crostata crust, more cookie than pastry, but the filling is less jam-like, some of the whole berries holding their shape. I sometimes add lemon zest to the filling because I like that addition in the crostata jam. I’ve only made this pie with triple crown berries, but I’m guessing it would be just as good with wild blackberries.  

Happy berry picking, cultivated or wild, and happy pie baking!

Marionberry Pie: Anjou Bakery

Ingredients

  • The crust
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 14 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 2-tbsp. chunks
  • The filling
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 3/4 pounds (6 1/2 cups) fresh or frozen marionberries or other blackberries (for frozen, measure, thaw until somewhat softened, and use all juices)
  • Coarse white sparkling sugar*

How to Make It

Step 1

Make crust: Combine dry ingredients in a stand mixer. Add butter and beat with paddle attachment on low speed, scraping bowl as needed, until pieces are raisin-size. With mixer still on low speed, drizzle in 1 tbsp. ice water; beat until pastry comes together, 1 1/2 to 3 minutes. Form 1 1/4 cups into a disk and the rest into a smaller disk.

Step 2

Preheat oven to 375° with rack on bottom rung. On a lightly floured board, roll larger disk into a 12-in. circle. Loosen with a long metal spatula, gently roll around a rolling pin, then unroll into a 9-in. pie pan (if dough cracks, press back together). Fold edge under, so it’s flush with pan rim, then crimp (don’t let stand too high because it falls off in oven). Chill 15 minutes.

Step 3

Roll remaining dough into an 11-in. circle. With a cookie cutter, cut out as many shapes, such as squares, as needed to cover most of pie. Set cutouts on a baking sheet; chill 15 minutes.

Step 4

Make filling: Stir together cornstarch and granulated sugar in a large bowl. (Lemon zest is good addition.) Add berries with juices and toss to coat. Arrange evenly in pie shell. Lightly brush pastry cutouts with water and sprinkle with coarse sugar. Arrange cutouts over filling.

Step 5

Bake pie until filling bubbles and pastry is golden in center, 55 to 60 minutes (up to 1 1/2 hours if berries were frozen); if edge starts to get dark, cover with foil, and if pie starts to bubble over, put a rimmed pan underneath it.

Step 6

Let cool on a rack to room temperature, at least 3 hours.

High Summer Favorites

Here at August’s end, summer foods are finally abundant in the kitchen garden. Tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, green beans fill the harvest baskets.  To celebrate, I’m drawn to familiar and favorite recipes.  No new recipes right now, just those that we look forward to each summer.  

Caponata and ratatouille are great ways to use eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, zucchini and just-harvested onions. I’ve made several batches of sheet pan ratatouille already and look forward to more, especially because this recipe uses lots of zucchini.  Caponata awaits.

Panzanella, both Melissa Clark’s and Christina Orchid’s, makes a perfect light summer supper.  I especially like either recipe made with a hearty seeded bread or a walnut levain for more textures and flavors.  We served a bowl of this taste of summer at a lunch picnic with friends this week.

Even though the pepper crop was modest this year due to the chilly spring, there are still enough red, yellow and orange peppers for sweet pepper salad, the best way I know to feature the colors and flavors of fresh peppers.  

Fresh beans, green and yellow, are also abundant now, competing with high summer vegetables for a place at the table. Boiling them until tender, less than five minutes in boiling salted water, draining them and dressing them with olive oil and salt is my favorite way to serve them. They’ve taken the place of a salad on the dinner table and leftovers are a treat for lunch the next day.  A couple of times, for dinner guests, I’ve gone a step further and added grilled onions and fava beans and dressed the mix with a mustard vinaigrette to make David Tanis’s wonderful salad.  

Corn will be ready to harvest in another week or so.  Maybe with this ultimate high summer kitchen garden vegetable, I will look for some new recipes, but more likely I will take it easy. We’ll set the water to boil while we pick and shuck the cobs then boil them, roll them in butter, sprinkle with salt and eat.

Broccoli Pesto

Broccoli has been one of the few kitchen garden vegetables that has produced on pretty much a familiar schedule during this cold and hot garden year.  Seeds I started indoors in early March produced sweet, green heads in late May and lots of side shoots through June. Continuing the broccoli supply, seeds I started indoors in late April began producing heads in mid-July with good side shoots forming now.  Many of the other summer kitchen garden vegetables—zucchini, peppers, eggplant, corn and beans—are three weeks or more behind their usual harvest time, so I’m definitely grateful to broccoli for filling the gap. 

My go-to preparation for broccoli is to lightly oil and salt the florets and roast them at 400 or 425 until they are slightly charred then dress them with lemon zest and a little more olive oil.  This approach is a variation on a pan-seared broccoli recipe from Lynne Rossetto Kasper.

This year, I’ve added another broccoli recipe to my list, one that takes this roasted broccoli and turns it into pesto.  

The recipe is from Food 52

  • 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 8 ounces broccoli florets (about 1 medium head)
  • 1/4 cup raw nuts (small, such as pine nuts, or chopped, such as walnuts)
  • medium garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pinch kosher salt
  • 1 cup (100 grams) finely grated Parmesan
  • 1 handful basil leaves (or another tender herb, like parsley or dill)
  1. Drizzle the 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a cast-iron skillet over medium heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the broccoli florets to the pan and weigh them down using a grill press or another heavy skillet. Char the broccoli for 4 to 6 minutes, without moving it, until the broccoli is burnt and charred in spots.
  1. Use a wooden spoon to toss the broccoli, then pour in ½ cup of water. Cover the pan with a lid or sheet pan and steam the broccoli florets for 7 to 10 minutes, until most of the water has evaporated and the broccoli is bright green and fork-tender.
  1. Using a mortar and pestle, blender, or food processor, process the nuts, garlic, pepper, and salt until smooth. Add the Parmesan, basil, and ⅓ cup of oil and blend until smooth. Add the charred broccoli and process until roughly blended (leave some chunkier bits in there for texture).

I combine steps 1 and 2 and simply use my go-to method and roast the florets.  Broccoli pesto turns out to be an especially nice way to use the increasingly smaller side-shoot broccoli florets, but florets from a full head work well too. 

A food processor makes step 3 go really quickly. 

The result is a pasta sauce with rich broccoli flavor, great texture and subtle basil pesto undertone.  The Food 52 recipe author suggests “While this works well with pasta (it makes enough for 1 pound of dried noodles), don’t hesitate to branch out: Spread it on sandwiches, pair it with some hard-boiled or scrambled eggs, use it as a base for pizzas or flatbreads, dollop it over oatmeal or rice. Have fun with it.”  I haven’t branched out yet because it is so good on pasta, but I will.

Cooking with Garlic Scapes

Last week my sister Sarah sent me a photo of the garlic scapes she’d just harvested from her western Massachusetts garden.  A few days later, I harvested the garlic scapes in my Lopez Island garden and sent her a photo in return.  

It’s that time of year when maturing hardneck garlic sends out these curling seed buds.  Cutting them off not only directs growing energy to the garlic bulbs forming underground, but also provides a fresh vegetable treat to fill the gap between the end of asparagus and the start of green beans.  Garlic scapes have the diameter of these other green vegetables but, true to their origin, a garlicky flavor that is sharp and hot when raw and sweeter and more mellow when cooked.  

Friends make garlic scape pesto and serve it with crackers or on pasta, and Melissa Clark has a recipe for a white bean and garlic scape dip which she describes as having “a velvety texture that wrapped itself around an assertive, racy wallop so intense that I worried I’d scare even my garlic-loving parents out of the house.”  While this blast of garlic flavor is good, I prefer the milder flavor of cooked garlic scapes.  And there are many ways to cook them.

Like green beans, garlic scapes can be sliced and steamed or sautéed and served as a side dish.  When preparing them, cut off the stringy end just before the bud and enjoy the scape curling beyond the bud.  I often sauté sliced garlic scapes with other spring vegetables like radishes, cauliflower or broccoli or with white beans and serve the mix on pasta or polenta.  

The mild garlic flavor and slightly chewy texture blends wonderfully with the other vegetables. I also like to roast garlic scapes with cauliflower or broccoli.  In these days of early summer, though, my new favorite way to prepare garlic scapes is to grill them.  Brushed lightly with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper, they are easy to prepare. Like asparagus, garlic scapes gain soft sweetness and a nice bit of char when grilled.  We grilled them the other night with polenta and pork country ribs and are looking forward to grilling more scapes for other meals soon.  

My sister purees most of her harvest into a thick paste of scapes and olive oil, freezes it in ice cube trays and brings out a cube or two in winter to brighten and flavor soups or stews.  She says it’s a treat to cook with something green in the middle of winter. Thanks to her suggestion, I’ll preserve some of my garlic scapes this way and think of her when we’re each cooking winter meals, but I’ll cook the bulk of the harvest fresh and celebrate the start of summer.  

April Greens 

Earth Day is usually the day I start planting seeds outside in the kitchen garden, but this year I’m waiting another week or so for temperatures to rise and soil to dry a bit more.  In the meantime, a benefit of this cold, wet spring has been succulent overwintered greens.  Kale has started to send out tasty seed heads, perfect for any recipe that calls for rabe, but the kale leaves themselves remain thick and sweet.  Red mustard leaves are good too, a hot, spicy contrast to the kale.  And chard, still a long way from going to seed, is rebounding from its winter slowdown with beautiful, sweet new leaves.  

I collected a basket of these leaves on Easter Day, planning to sauté them for a side dish to share at dinner with friends. Their colors and textures made me pause and admire them, not exactly an Easter basket, but close.  Glossy Rainbow Chard, green leaves on colorful stems; blue green, deeply lobed Red Russian kale leaves; Giant Red Mustard, more burgundy than red, veined dramatically with green.  

Through the winter months, I’ve been sautéing these greens, singly or in combination, always in lots of olive oil and garlic, sometimes with red pepper flakes, and, for special occasions, adding yellow raisins and chopped toasted hazelnuts.  The technique that works best for me is one I learned from Melissa Clark’s recipe for Garlicky Swiss Chard.

She writes: 

There’s really no secret to making excellent sautéed greens: just good olive oil, salt, loads of garlic and a jolt of red pepper flakes. This method works with pretty much any green too — broccoli, broccoli rabe, kale, spinach, collards…

2 bunches Swiss chard, stems removed

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 garlic cloves, minced

Large pinch crushed red pepper flakes

Salt

  1. Stack chard leaves on top of one another (you can make several piles) and slice them into 1/4-inch strips.
  2. Heat oil in a very large skillet (or use a soup pot). Add garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté for 30 seconds, until garlic is fragrant. Stir in the chard, coating it in oil. Cover pan and let cook for about 2 minutes, until chard is wilted. Uncover, stir and cook for 2 minutes longer. Season with salt.

When I cook several types of greens, I begin with the one that takes the most time to soften, in this case chard, adding it to the oil and garlic, then following with the kale and finally the mustard.  If the stems aren’t too weathered, I slice them thinly too, and put them in the pan and let them cook for about two minutes before starting to add the leaves.  

For the Easter dinner, I sliced and added the chard stems, red, orange and yellow, like a handful of jellybeans.  After I’d added all the greens, I added about a half cup of yellow raisins.  They swell in the heat and moisture of the sautéing greens and added a sweet, almost apricot, note to the greens.  Just before serving, I scattered the chopped, toasted hazelnuts for a rich, crunchy contrast to the soft, earthy greens.  It’s a beautiful and delicious dish, part looking back to winter but also pointing to spring.  By the time these over wintered leaves have gone by, there will be new stands of kale, chard and mustard growing in the spring kitchen garden.  

Seed Catalog Websites

Over the years, seed catalogs and seed packets have been my quick go-to sources for planting advice.  When to plant, how deep, how far apart, how long to germination and to harvest.  The advice is always useful, and I still double-check these sources to be sure I haven’t forgotten some particular detail.  Recently, though, I’ve found another source of advice that is even more useful: seed company websites.  The websites of two of the bigger pacific northwest seed companies, Territorial Seeds and West Coast Seeds, contain the advice from their seed packets and catalogs, but they contain a great deal more advice because there is so much more space.  And it’s all a click or two away.

I was prompted to explore West Coast Seeds website by emails from the company that showed up in my box with titles like “Seeds to Sow in February” and “Seeds to Sow in March.”  Clicking on March, I opened a site with this introduction: 

Below is a list of seeds to start in March. Seeds started in March will be ready for transplanting into the garden by the time the nighttime temperatures have warmed up in May. Other seeds actually benefit from cool weather and the risk of frost, and they are shown below for direct sowing in March.

Click on the links below for full planting instructions.

What followed were two lists of flowers, herbs and vegetables, one for seeds to start inside and the next for seeds to start outside.  Both lists are useful, but the even better part is that clicking on any flower, herb or vegetable on the lists takes you to a page of information with everything you need to know about planting, growing, harvesting, diseases and pests.  I’m a long-time kitchen gardener, but I learned something new or was reminded of something I’d forgotten from each article I explored.  

You can access West Coast Seeds’ growing information for all vegetables, not just those to start in March, from this link: https://www.westcoastseeds.com/blogs/how-to-grow/tagged/category-how-to-grow-vegetables  And this additional link takes you to their very useful planting charts https://www.westcoastseeds.com/pages/regional-planting-charts.

Territorial Seed Company has a similarly useful website.  Their Growing Guides link to a planting calendar and to extensive planting, growing and harvesting information for each vegetable. The format is more table-like than the narrative format that West Coast Seeds uses but equally useful. They also offer a Garden Planner that I haven’t explored but that one day could replace all the sheets of paper I shuffle around each year.  

Now that we’re a week past the Spring Equinox, indoor planting is underway with tomatoes, onions, peppers, eggplant, broccoli, cauliflower and lettuce for my kitchen garden growing under lights and in flats in the greenhouse, but as soon as the soil dries out a bit, outdoor planting can begin.  I’m looking forward to using these websites for reminders, advice and encouragement. Happy Kitchen Gardening!

Winter Vegetable Pastas with Walnuts

Two recipe titles that caught my eye recently were Caramelized Cabbage and Walnut Pasta and Creamy Butternut Squash Pasta with Sage and Walnuts.  Two favorite winter vegetable plus walnuts?  Yes!  Some January King cabbages were still thriving in the winter kitchen garden and a few of the many butternut squash I grew last summer were still left in the storage vegetable closet, so I tried both recipes. Each is even better than it sounds.

Caramelized Cabbage and Walnut Pasta

Serves 4

The introduction to this recipe says that the cabbage “becomes jammy and sweet when cooked with aromatic leeks and garlic for 15 minutes…Cumin seeds add just the right amount of earthiness along with a subtle citrus tone…The walnuts balance out the sweetness of the cabbage and leeks and introduce a slight bitterness and crunch.” All true.  I made a half batch for the two of us.  There could have been some great leftovers even from this half batch if we hadn’t simply eaten it all because it tasted so good.

INGREDIENTS

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 3 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 2 leeks, white and tender green parts, thinly sliced into rings (yellow onion would work too)
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 pounds finely sliced green cabbage
  •  Kosher salt (Diamond Crystal)
  • 1 pound spaghetti or other long pasta
  • 4 ounces pecorino cheese, grated, plus more for serving
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons lemon juice (from 1 large lemon)
  • 1 to 1½ cups toasted walnuts, roughly chopped
  •  Handful of chopped chives (optional)

PREPARATION

  1. Heat a large Dutch oven or pot over medium. Add the olive oil and butter. When the butter has melted, add cumin seeds and bloom for 15 seconds, then add the leeks, garlic, cabbage and 2 teaspoons salt, and stir for 3 to 4 minutes until wilted. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 10 minutes without stirring. Check every few minutes to make sure the bottom is not burning. If needed, give it a stir.
  1. After 10 minutes, remove the lid from the cabbage and stir. Cover and cook for another 4 to 5 minutes, until it is super sweet and tender. Taste and season with kosher salt.
  1. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook according to package instructions. When the pasta is ready, do not drain, but use tongs to drag the pasta out of its cooking water and straight into the pot with the cabbage. Add about 1 cup of pasta cooking water, along with the pecorino and the black pepper. Toss well to combine.
  2. Add lemon juice. Taste, adjust seasonings with more salt, pepper or lemon if needed. To serve, scatter with walnuts and finish with more pecorino and chopped chives if using.

Creamy Butternut Squash Pasta with Sage and Walnuts

Serves 4

The introductory summary of this recipe says: “butternut squash gets roasted, puréed, then tossed with Parmesan to make this nutty, creamy pasta sauce. Each serving is topped with crispy fried sage leaves, a hint of lemon zest, and toasted walnuts, adding a crunchy contrast to the squash.”

The sauce really is creamy and the crispy sage, lemon zest and toasty walnuts are perfect contrasts.  I made a full batch and saved half to serve as a side dish the next day.  The leftover half would also have been delicious thinned out with broth and served as a soup.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 ½ pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  •  Kosher salt and black pepper
  • ¾ packed cup fresh sage leaves
  • ¾ cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 lemon, zested (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock, plus more as needed
  • 1 pound short pasta, such as gemelli, casarecce or penne
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus more for serving

PREPARATION

  1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the squash and garlic on a sheet pan. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Toss well and roast until the squash is very tender, 30 to 35 minutes, tossing twice throughout. While the squash roasts, bring a large pot of water to boil.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large (12-inch) skillet, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium. When the oil is hot, add the sage and cook, tossing often, until the leaves begin to crisp, about 1 minute. Add the walnuts and a generous sprinkle of salt and cook, tossing often, until the sage leaves are lightly browned and crisp, 1 to 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the sage and nuts to a paper towel-lined plate and wipe out the skillet. Let the mixture drain for 1 minute, then add it to a small bowl with the lemon zest; toss lightly and set aside.
  3. Working in batches if necessary, transfer the roasted squash and garlic to a blender or food processor, along with 1 cup stock, and blend until smooth and thick. The consistency should be somewhere between a purée and a thick soup. Add more stock as needed, if it seems too thick.
  4. Transfer the puréed squash to the reserved skillet and keep warm over very low heat. Meanwhile, add the pasta to the boiling water, along with 1 tablespoon salt, and cook until al dente. Just before draining, ladle 1/2 cup pasta water into a measuring cup and set aside.
  5. Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce. Toss to coat the pasta evenly, then, off the heat, add the 1/2 cup Parmesan and toss until the cheese is incorporated. Add a few tablespoons of the reserved pasta water if the sauce seems too thick. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  6. Divide the pasta among shallow bowls and sprinkle the sage, walnut and lemon zest mixture on top, and serve with extra Parmesan on the side.

I have many other favorite ways to prepare cabbage and winter squash.  There’s cabbage and collards, cabbage slaw with farro, cabbage and mushroom galette and cabbage roasted with tarragon and pecorino.  For squash, there’s roasted butternut squash with cilantro pesto and squash and poblano tart. I plan to keep the new pasta recipes at the top of this list as we work our way through the last of the winter cabbage and squash.

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.