One thing I love about plants is the way they tie the world together, stitching continents and time in an ever-changing tapestry of free association. Eric puts up a post on Cyathea cooperi, a tropical tree fern so unfriendly its keepers need hazmat suits to move it, and next thing you know, in comes a question from Louisa about fiddleheads, the delicious baby fronds of the circumboreal ostrich fern, Matteuccia struthiopteris.
This foragers’ favorite doesn’t appear until mid-spring, roughly in synch with the morels, but it’s never too early to get ready for collecting.
Pasta with fiddleheads, morels and garlic chives
Winter is orange city around here. Quantities of peel get candied. The zest adds flavor to stews, enhances the stuffing of roast fowl, perfumes custards and cheesecakes and lends its zing to pastries from pound cake to gingerbread. Result: the fridge is frequently full of naked oranges needing to be used up.
Orange and Avocado salad, one way to use up the oranges.
On right, fresh chestnuts. On left, one of the all-time convenience ingredients: peeled, skinned and ready to go, as easy to cook as dried beans.
Admittedly, dried chestnuts don’t have the mashed potato fluffiness of the fresh article. Somewhere between mealy and creamy is about the best they can do. But other than that they’re just shortcut chestnuts: great in soups and stews and stuffings, great with winter vegetables and great in holiday sweets and why they aren’t more widely adored is a mystery to me.
Sweet Snowballs (chestnut and white chocolate candy) recipe at the end of the post.
It would be beyond bogus to pretend we’re anything like self-sufficient. We’re not even notably local; I’m too fond of things like olives, lemons and pomegranate molasses.
But at Thanksgiving we always try – ok; I try; I’m the one who makes up the menu – to celebrate our own harvest, both from the wild and from the gardens.
Some years this includes the meat; we have venison. Bill has even on one occasion shot a deer so close to the back garden we were probably eating our hostas and roses along with the rest of the produce.
This year it’s turkey, just so I can keep my hand in. Local but not heritage. And the corn for the pudding ! you absolutely have to have corn pudding! will be a mixture of our own Black Mexican and some kind of tender hybrid from Beth’s farmstand up in Maine.
Corn from the days when we grew more kinds. Top to bottom: Ruby Queen, unknown hybrid (seed purchased and name forgotten by Bill), the Black Mexican we still grow, at the cornbread stage
A lot of wild mushrooms have delicate flavors that are easily overwhelmed. And a lot of them are typically found in small numbers or purchased in even smaller ones (except by the possessors of large dollars). As a result, a lot of wild mushroom recipes have what might be called a reverential attitude about the signature ingredient.
Nothing wrong with that – except that it tends to carry over where it isn’t essential, as in the case of sulfur shelf, Laetiporus sulphureus, aka chicken of the woods. When you find that, you generally find many pounds, plenty enough to play around with.
This curry is an example. The mushroom flavor is only one among several, but it's one that would be sorely missed if it were absent. The rice happens to have red peppers, gold raisins and pistachios. Just plain would be just as good or better.
I put “of the woods” in parentheses because I’m sure the curry would be good – albeit not this good – with genuine chicken. The shortcut is prepared spice mixtures and the multi is Indian and Thai. Cooking the mushroom in coconut milk without a preliminary saute is what brings out the reds and pinks.
“Really a lot” is really the right number because I’m doing a mega-testing of vegetable varieties and Rob Johnston (thanks, Rob!) has given me access to the trial fields at Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Combine that with help from Steve Bellavia, Johnny’s Vegetable Product Manager, and from Vegetable Product Technicians Andrew Mefford and Lauren Saraiva and what do you get? Among many other things, 34 varieties of cucumbers.
At Johnny's trial fields. Cucumbers in the foreground, peppers (to come) in back
There’s a different variety every 10 feet
and on each plate ( only a few shown here).
Sample slices were taken from large and small fruits, from the blossom end and from the middle. Result in addition to many tasting notes: pounds and pounds of cut cucumbers that needed to be used up right away.
Easy PICKLESorSALAD to the rescue.
Also old-faithful walking onions, always the first to appear, and a handful of garlic chives, currently taking over the side bed that’s due for renewal and therefore has not been weeded at all.
Here in our part of the Hudson Valley, this year spring is on toast in more ways than one. I’m in the office with, I confess, the air conditioner on because none of the shade trees are leafed out yet and it’s 89 **!!@^%! Degrees. Same as yesterday and tomorrow and then on Tuesday it’s supposed to get hot.
The red tulips had one day! Truth. Buds cracked in the evening at bedtime on Friday, full open by noon Saturday, then exhausted by eveniing, just like the rest of us. The pink ones, admittedly, had been open for 2 days but I was rather enjoying them.
So. Looking at the forecast made this morning a nightmarish recap of fall, when you rush around picking all the flowers that will be blasted by frost. Read More…
For such terrific vegetable, Romanesco cauliflower is still far too rare, but it does seem to be headed in the right direction. After years of finding it only at farmstands, I saw it last month – more than once – at my favorite greengrocer. Gladdened my foodie little heart, even if it cost $3.50 a head and came so heavily swathed in plastic it looked a bit like King Tut.
Typical head of Romanesco, @ 9 inches tall and maybe 7 inches wide. approximate weight 1.5 pounds
So far, so good. But then just the other day I saw a basket of miniature Romanescos, heads about 3 inches tall, weighing perhaps 2 ounces, being sold for $4.00 each. This was in Manhattan, at Dean and DeLuca furthermore, but I think the sighting remains Eek worthy because those pricy little units were too big to be served beautifully whole and too wilted to be used in a massive flower arrangement which otherwise might have been way cool.
I will refrain from pious remarks about food stamps, but it does seem as though if you’re paying that much you ought to get value for money – even if it’s just snob value. Of course I didn’t buy any, so may be doing them an injustice. Maybe they have a different taste from full size Romanescos, the way Brussels Sprouts have virtues unknown to cabbages. And thus we pass to a happier topic,
Leafy Brussels Sprouts with Chestnuts
Or to put it another way, 18 things to do with mashed winter squash that do not contain added sugar. ( I thought there were 25 for a while there, but there aren’t.)
Postwise, this is sort of backwards – choosing and storing (and growing) will be coming along shortly. But for the day after Thanksgiving, the thing to address is what to do when you are starting here:
Bowl of cooked squash = bowl of possibilities
(1)*Absolutely the easiest thing but really great: Butter a jellyroll pan. Spread on the room temperature squash in a layer not more than an inch thick. Put it about 4 inches under the broiler and cook until heated and well-flecked with brown and a burned spot or two is ok.
(2 – 6) SOUP: saute chopped onion in butter, season, add 1 part squash and 2 or 3 parts liquid, depending on original squash thickness.
*Southwestern – cumin, oregano, pinch of clove, powdered ancho chile (or some chopped chipotle in adobo), chicken broth, shredded cilantro on top at the end
*Indianish – garlic, garam masala, fenugreek, a little turmeric but not much, chicken broth, dollop of yogurt in the soup bowls
*Not Thai but nice – green curry paste, half chicken broth, half coconut milk, some thinly sliced scallions
*Cream of Coral – salt, white pepper, shredded orange zest, equal quantities squash and pureed canned tomatoes (not canned tomato puree, and if you have frozen tomatoes this is a good place to use them) milk
*Squash and Chestnut – thyme, nutmeg, 1 part crumbled roasted chestnuts to 2 parts of squash. Chicken broth. Chopped parsley on top at the end
(6 – 11) SAVORY SQUASH-CRUST PIES: Read More…
Many people grow eggplants, but after long years of struggle I am no longer one of them. Two reasons:
1). Eggplants need warm nights as well as warm days. This means our garden on the Maine coast is not a hospitable environment, eggplant-wise.
2). Eggplants have a short window of peak splendor on the plant. Pick them too soon; they’re undersized and bland. Pick them too late; they’re seedy and bitter. So although the plants do pretty well down at the place in the Hudson Valley, I can never count on being there at the optimum time.
freshly harvested eggplants
But in order to make caponata, the delicious Sicilian conserve of eggplant, capers and olives in thick sweet and sour tomato sauce, it is necessary to have eggplants. Off to Beth’s Farm Market “All Produce Sold Here is Grown Here,” right down the road in Warren, Maine (I’ve never asked, but as you drive up you see many huge greenhouses which may well be relevant).