Archive for October, 2009

Halloween Collectibles

Yes, Virginia, there is such a thing, and I’m not talking about the manufactured “collectibles” created each year for no other purpose.

Nope, this is your warning ( in case you didn’t already know) that elderly Halloween doodads, while not in the league of antique Christmas ornaments, are nevertheless worth more than you might think.

Not always a lot more

Candy container, plastic, from the 1950’s, spotted at a nearby shop

Candy container, plastic, from the 1950’s, spotted at a nearby shop

But sometimes, as in this example from the website of Showcase Antiques

“ Composition "Pumpkin Girl" candy container painted in tones of yellow, green, blue, red, and white; marked "Germany;" circa 1910. Height=4.5 Price: $795.00”

“ Composition "Pumpkin Girl" candy container painted in tones of yellow, green, blue, red, and white; marked "Germany;" circa 1910. Height=4.5 Price: $795.00”

In a normal year,  this wouldn’t come up; I’d just be merrily chirping along about how this is a good time to bake

Spicy Walnut Gingerfingers

Spicy Walnut Gingerfingers

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Banning the Bake Sale? Better you should be making Fat Banana Cookies

Every autumn there’s more of this: bake sales being swept up willy nilly in the (laudable! I’m for it!) attempt to get junk food out of the schools.

Sigh. When will these people wake up and smell the donuts? You don’t have to be Michael Pollan to realize American kids’ obesity problem isn’t caused by too many home made desserts, it’s caused by a crashing dearth of home made anything else.

When even well fed children are growing up thinking a carrot’s a machine-made toy, ready to eat right out of the bag, it’s hardly surprising to find that the default model for “food” is something you buy, not something you prepare at home. And from there it’s not rocket science to see the profitability of sugar, salt and fat.

But the solution isn’t to ban sugar, salt and fat per se (good luck with that, btw), it’s to give children a chance to combine these things into something really good and thus seduce them into the joys of home cooking. From there the rest is easy… Well, easier, anyway.

Point here is simply that people who know how to cook eat a lot less junk than people who don’t, and dessert is the gateway goodie – most children go for baking cookies before they get all excited about making boeuf bourguignon.

Case in point: Fat Banana Cookies, rich with fruit and nuts, simple to make, filling enough so just a few will do. Also durable; thanks to the banana they stay moist and tasty for a good long time.

The bananas get star billing because: a) plain brown cookies, what's to show? and b) I want to plug mini bananas, not only  a more sensible size, but also tastier, once they’re fully ripe. For richest flavor and creamiest texture they have to be well speckled with brown. This bunch is still just at the edge of being cookie material.

The bananas get star billing because: a) plain brown cookies, what's to show? and b) I want to plug mini bananas, not only a more sensible size but also tastier, once they’re fully ripe. For richest flavor and creamiest texture they have to be well speckled with brown. This bunch is still just at the edge of being cookie material.

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Selecting Winter Squash (while there’s still something to select from)

To avoid the same old supermarket same old, stock up on winter squash while you can still buy it from a farmer.

To avoid the same old same old, stock up on winter squash while you can still buy it from a farmer.

(* Thanksgiving note: If you got here looking for pumpkin pie, rather than the other way ’round, there is now a detailed recipe.)

As a general rule, there’s no need to issue the annual squash warning until shortly before Thanksgiving. But tomatoes aren’t the only fruits that suffer when it’s cold and wet for weeks on end  in June and July. This year has been very hard on a lot of squash growers in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic.

So I figure I ought to mention it now: If you want to eat good winter squash all winter and don’t want to die of boredom, this is the time to start cruising the farmstands looking for interesting squash and stocking up on an assortment, bearing in mind that “winter squash” is really 3 different vegetables – Cucurbita pepo, C. maxima and C. moschata – each with a different season of glory.

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Buying Lilacs in Autumn, aka Lilacs That Last, part 2

(Part 1 – bouquets – is here.)

 Miscanthus floridulus, wishing it were in Floridula.

Miscanthus floridulus, wishing it were in Floridula.

Okay, it doesn’t look like lilac time, and the snow that fell on the Hudson Valley last Thursday doesn’t help. But looks can be deceiving; mid fall is when you go out and buy lilacs on sale –

Leftover lilacs can be a good deal

Leftover lilacs can be a good deal

If there are lilacs, that is,  and they’re in good shape.

Why buy more? Silly question. Those with huge collections may have enough. The rest of us almost always need to add, because having a long lilac season requires multiple species as well as multiple varieties.

This ‘James Macfarlane' was sold to me as a Preston lilac, Syringa x prestoniae.

This ‘James Macfarlane' was sold to me as a Preston lilac, Syringa x prestoniae.

Other reputable sources say James is  S. x josiflexa and still others, equally reputable, say it’s a hybrid between that and S. x prestoniae. Doesn’t matter, really, prestoniae and josiflexa both bloom about 3 weeks later than the well known common lilac (S. vulgaris).

A favorite common lilac ( S. vulgaris), name alas unknown, that blooms early in the traditional lilac season.

A favorite common lilac, name alas unknown, that blooms early in the traditional lilac season.

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Great Maine Apple Day

Is well named. Hauling yourself out to Unity on the 24th for  MOFGA’S annual apple jamboree is a great way to spend a fall day and that’s because Maine has a lot of great apples.

Somewhere well north of 50 apple varieties laid out for tasting.

Somewhere well north of 50 apple varieties laid out for tasting.

The tasting part is a unique opportunity to check out all sorts of flavors and textures, and of course to sample apples not routinely sold in stores.

A lot of the tastiest varieties are not likely to win beauty contests

A lot of the tastiest varieties are not likely to win beauty contests

Although some

leslie land gmad hidden rose apple

do have their spectacular aspects.

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Another Great Thing About Daffodils

Or not, depending on what you plan to do with the ground after the daffodils are gone.

Turns out they not only  have all the virtues recently extolled, they also ” contain alkaloids that can inhibit the growth of other plants,” according to a paper titled “Applied Allelopathy: Effects of Daffodils on Other Species in Sustainable Agriculture and the Home Landscape,” presented at the 2009 conference of the American Society for Horticultural Science.

daffodils have something in common with black walnuts and garlic mustard

daffodils, like black walnuts and garlic mustard, can inhibit the growth of other plants

The authors were looking at success with followup crops like snapdragons, geraniums, basil and zinnias ( all of them adversely affected) but on the good side, “no airborne weed seeds germinated in pots placed outdoors containing daffodils but did germinate in pots with no daffodils.”

That second quote comes from  HortIdeas, which alerted me to the daffodil paper. HortIdeas is a newsletter-form aggregator of recently published horticultural and agricultural information from hundreds of universities, plant societies, popular magazines and commercial interests, all presented in digest form. It’s one of my favorite publications, heartily recommended to all hortnews geeks.

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Seasonal Alert: Honeys and Hens!

by Bill Bakaitis

It just goes to show how the collecting season varies here in the Northeast.

In Maine, where we had a poor mushroom season all year, the beginning of October brought with it a flush of Honey Mushrooms (Armillaria mellea complex) and the attendant Aborted Entoloma (Entoloma abortivum).  The Hen of the Woods (Grifola frondosus) has not yet appeared on trees that I know and those that are found in Farmers Markets are pitiful fist sized, dried out specimens.  I anticipate the big flush in the next week to ten days, conditions permitting.

Meanwhile, in the Hudson Valley and Catskills of New York, which had a fabulous mushroom year, the Honeys began in Mid-September, right on cue, but most of the Hens remained in their underground coops for another fortnight.

Bill finding a fat hen, on a fat oak

Bill finding a fat hen, on a fat oak

They are out now: succulent, fragrant, and large – with what appears to be an attendant flush of young chicks following big momma. Bring your basket and go get ’em.

Organic Tulip Bulbs for Fall Planting

It had to happen sooner or later, and sure enough here they are, catchily called Ecotulips.

As usual with newly-introduced organic versions of things, there still isn’t much selection and prices are a bit higher than for the conventional kind, but if you’d like to buy certified organic tulip bulbs, lovingly grown in Holland by an experienced bulb farmer, at least you’ve got the option.

a poeticus narcissus, probably 'Pheasant's Eye'

a poeticus narcissus, probably 'Pheasant's Eye'

So if the title is Organic Tulips, why is the picture of a narcissus? Partly because I’ve already gone into how to grow tulips, and partly because there’s more to environmental responsibility than simply buying organic and calling it a day.

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