First Frost

111314_firstfrostI’m liking Tennessee. A lot. Like, a lot a lot.

I preparation for the first killing frost, which stuck a week ago on November 22, POD’s beds received a pretty intense trimming. Leaving the rutabagas, carrots, and daikons to fend for themselves, a lovely harvest of lettuce, poblano chilies, zucchini, herbs, tomatoes, and flowers filled refrigerator shelves and pretty birthday vases.

Just in time for Thanksgiving. Thanks, Nashville.

Playing With Fire

0928_salsaIt would figure that POD’s record tomato harvest occurred during a year when my stomach is less than amenable to tomatoes. Even so, nary a tomato has gone to waste — unless you count the scores of fruits that the *$@%)$! squirrels nibbled, and then left to rot on the vine. The Hurricane’s lunches haven’t been tomato-free since April and the freezer is stuffed with roasted red pepper sauce, tomato gravy, and three gallon bags of plum tomatoes.

Yet the tomatoes keep on coming.

And coming. Although they’re slowing down.

As canning tomatoes is evidently tantamount to jaywalking across Lower Broadway when the bachelorettes still think they can drive, I’ll refrain from posting my very non-expert canning instructions and instead say: without messing with the acid-to-tomato proportions, I sort of followed these recipes:

National Center for Home Food Preservation
Simply Recipes
Ball Fresh Preserving

A Second Harvest

0928_zucchinireduxAfter it became clear that summer squash had made the Hurricane’s top-ten summer veggie list, we planted a second batch of zucchini soon after the first batch had tapped out. This time around, they occupy real estate formerly held by under-producing purple royal beans. Located at the edge of the bed — which seems to work well and allows them to drape down to the grass — they occupy about four square feet of space. The three young plants (seeded around 8/21) contributed to a delicious Moro side which accompanied the ridiculously chewy good burgers from Porter Road Butcher. And there are more to come. Both burgers and courgettes.

(Note: three plants may not be sufficient unto the day. The zucchini appear to take a little longer to mature in September than they did in July. And, well, three plants weren’t enough in July, either.)

Courgettes with Almonds
(proportions and ingredients customized to POD’s harvest, but adapted from Moro East) — feeds three as a small size

8 oz courgettes (AKA zucchini) topped, tailed, an sliced into thin rounds
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbs olive oil
2 tbs blanched almonds (I’ve also used marcona almonds and pine nuts)
1 small garlic clove, thinly sliced
8-10 cherry or plum tomatoes, blanched, peeled, halved, and seeded (optional) (confession: I have never blanched, peeled, and seeded a cherry tomato. Ever. I’m sure that the chefs would shudder, but come on, that’s crazycakes.)
1 tsp chopped mint (POD’s mint is recovering from a failed attempt at keeping it corralled in a container. Don’t worry, it’s gonna’ pull through, but I substituted fresh oregano last night and it worked like a charm.)

Toss the courgettes with the salt and place in a colander. Allow them to sit for at least 10 minutes over a draining board or sink, then pat dry with some paper towel.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over a medium heat. Add the almonds and fry for a few minutes, until they just start to turn a pale pink-brown, then remove them with a slotted spoon and add the courgettes to the pan. (Keep on eye on the almonds as they will go from perfect to burned within seconds.) Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until softened. Add the garlic, tomatoes, and half the mint and continue to cook for about 15 minutes, until very soft, sweet and starting to break down. Now return the almonds to the pan an cook for 5 minutes more, squashing any bits of tomato tomato that are too large for your liking. Add the remaining mint, season with salt and pepper and serve.

First, Next, Then

92515_tomatotimeFirst there were tomatoes. Eight pounds of them.

092515_tomatosauce1Next there was garlic. 21 cloves.

092515_tomatosauce2Then there was gravy. Frankies Spuntino style.

For years I struggled to make a decent tomato sauce. In went the onions, the garlic, the dried herbs(!), the carrots(!), the vinegar, the sugar, the whatever. I’m Dutch. I’m not supposed to make a good sauce.

And I didn’t.

And then I moved to Philly and discovered gravy. Not just any gravy, but my Italian friend’s grandma’s gravy. Which is damn fine. And simple. But I still couldn’t do it right. And then I discovered Frankies Spuntino. Yeah, it’s sauce, but is so much more. With so much less.

Adapted by POD from The Frankies Sputino Kitchen Companion and Cooking Manual

1/4 to 1/3 cup olive oil
10-20 cloves garlic
8-10 lbs fresh tomatoes (I used a combination of plum tomatoes, Mr. Stripy and yellow tomatoes –which made for a lovely-looking gravy. But Romas are the way to go.)
Large pinch of red pepper flakes
1 1/2 tsp salt

  1. Bring a very large, very deep pot of water to boil. Ideally a canning pot with a built-in colander. Score the bottoms of your tomatoes with an X and place the tomatoes in the boiling water for 30-45 seconds. Drain and rinse with cool water. Remove the skins.
  2. Combine the olive oil and garlic in a Dutch oven and cook over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring or swirling occasionally, until the garlic is deeply colored — striation of deep brown running through golden cloves — and fragrant. If the garlic starts to smell acrid or sharp or is taking on color quickly, pull the pan off the stove and reduce heat.
  3. While the garlic is getting golden, deal with the skinned tomatoes. Pour them into a bowl and crush them with your hands. You’ll want fairly small chunks.
  4. When the garlic is just about done, add the red pepper flakes to the oil and cook them for 30 seconds or a minute, to infuse their flavor and spice into the oil. Dump in the tomatoes, add the salt, and stir well. Turn the heat up to medium, get the sauce simmering at a gentle pace, not aggressively, and simmer for 4-5 hours. Stir it from time to time. Mother it a little bit. (And, because I’m a Dutchwoman with a garden, I added some basil and oregano about halfway through the cooking. Because I couldn’t not. But you really shouldn’t.)
  5. Check the sauce for salt at the end. the sauce can be cooked with meat at this  point, or stored, covered, in the fridge for a few days or frozen for a long winter’s night.

Brassica Time!

IMG_1813Exactly one week ago, fall descended on our little garden. The cow peas (AKA black-eyed peas) and beans were yanked to make room for the newest additions.

Six Brussels sprouts, cabbages, and cauliflower found a home in one of the raised beds. More carrots, leeks, daikon radishes, lettuce, Swiss chard, spinach, and rutabaga were planted in the sister bed and throughout the other planting areas.

A Red, Red Roast

081715_fztomsThree gallons of frozen tomatoes is a bit much. So the moment POD’s red peppers were actually red peppers, they were cooked.

Inspired by a recent menu option at Lockeland Table, five pounds of plum tomatoes, 10 oz of red peppers, two bulbs of garlic, and a generous handful of basil formed the foundation for a pretty darn yummy dinner featuring homemade cavatelli with roasted tomato, pepper and garlic sauce.

And, I have to say, the homemade cavatelli hit the spot, as quite inconveniently, our pasta maker died just prior to our departure from the pasta heaven that is South Philly.081715_roastedsauceIt’s easy (hot, but easy): Preheat the oven to 400. Brush some olive oil on two-three bulbs of garlic (yes, two, maybe three, entire bulbs) and roast them for 40 minutes. Reduce heat to 35o and stick two baking trays of tomatoes in there (you’ll have halved and painted the tomatoes with olive oil while the garlic is roasting) for 45-60 minutes. You’ll want them to be good and smushy. Remove the tomatoes , crank the broiler to 13 and placed your quartered and seeded peppers in the fiery inferno. Which is to say: broil your peppers until the skins are black. Placed blackened peppers in a plastic baggie. While the skins are steaming off, scrape the tomatoes into 081715_roastedsauce2a saucepan, squish the roasted garlic over the tomatoes, skin the cooled peppers and toss ’em in. Add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, a handful of basil leaves, and a splash of balsamic vinegar to the pot. Using an immersion blender (or blender or food processor), whiz until smooth. Season with salt and pepper and warm that roasted deliciousness up and serve over pasta of your choice.


A New Leaf

081815_carrotsThe mighty cucumber is no more. After producing at least 100 fruits the workhorse was retired.

Weep not, dear gardeners! Rejoice, for the time of fall planting is at hand! Behold: four short rows of rutabagas have taken its place. (Pictured to the left, though, are carrots. Sorry.)

Anyhoo, rutabagas are a new addition to the POD lineup. According to the UGA Extension, this turnip-like brassica is easy to grow and needs to be planted about 60-90 days  prior to the first heavy frost. At 75 days, we’re good.

Also on deck? spinach, carrots, daikon radish, and a second attempt at zucchini. All of which (with the exception of 081815_zucchiniIIcarrots) are new for POD — and the notion of a fresh start in August helps alleviate the sting of back-to-school sales, shortened days, and cool pre-fall nights.

Tomato Time

East Nashville’s Tomato Arts Festival may already be history, but the tomatoes here at POD are in full, glorious swing.

And unsurprisingly, we’ll do things differently next year. Notes to self:

Raised Bed
Mr. Stripey, you are delicious071315_leaningstripey, but you do not work so well. Planted on May 9 this plant never had the vigor of the two hybrids planted in the front. I think the religious applications of Tomato-Tone have been the saving grace. Thus far, one fruit has been harvested and although it looks like a few more will make the cut, next year it’s time to look into a different variety.

I’d be willing to give another indeterminate a shot here, though. Next year, consider planting tomatoes towards the back of the planter — because even though the leaves never quite hit their stride, the plant’s height shaded the bush zucchinis that resided behind it into soggy oblivion. Also, figure out a better staking method! the 42″cages were so not up to the task. And finally, alas, tomatoes that are low in acid must also be part of the equation. Mike McGrath has some great suggestions on this front.

South Side

Because I had a couple of extra starts, I decided to hack out a swath of garden along the southeast side of the back yard, because why not? It’s largely devoted to herbs, but we threw a couple of tomatoes and a watermelon out there, because why not? Aaaannnd, forgetting entirely that I, you know, blog about the garden from time to time, I manged not to note the exact variety of yellow tomato that we planted. Or when, exactly, I planted them. (Around Mother’s Day?) But hey, we currently have a dozen of these sweet guys taking up precious kitchen counter space!

We’ve gotten three Mr. Stripeys off this plant, but we’ll still be in the market for a new pet next year.


It would figure that in PODs version of shattering a bottle of champagne on the bow, tomatoes would christen the new land. Hastily purchased at the Home Depot and planted just hours after signing the papers on POD 2.0 (in mid- to late-April) the Juliet plum and Husky Cherry Red tomatoes went absolutely crazy in front of the house. So crazy, that the indeterminate plum totally overwhelmed the cage is hanging kudzu-like over the cherry laurel and spilling onto the porch. Not good for the laurel, very good for the tomatoes. So far, we’ve stuck about 10 lbs of plums in the freezer and the rest have rounded out the Hurricane’s lunches. The Juliet is just about the perfect tomato for lunching and saucing. I’m not totally crazy about the Husky’s flavor, although production is impressive enough.

Next year, select sweet determinate plants for the front and position them as close to the lawn as possible — they’ll eke out a few more minutes of sun and will be infinitely easier to harvest. These are the Hurricane’s tomatoes, so make ’em sweet and small.

POD’s Sorrel Soup

There have been a lot of role reversals around here. Instead of being the weekend cook, the gardener has become the weekday cook and the Endurer rules the grill on Saturdays and Sundays.

And, as my emerald green and abundant sorrel was about to be attacked by rogue, poorly staked tomatoes, I figured it was time to experiment with the newbie in the herb patch. Plus, we have leeks! And tarragon! And parsley! Oh, my! Which led us to this amazing sorrel soup. Which, in itself, is a bit of a reversal as I am not generally the one who cooks French-inspired foods (or soup). And, in the backhanded compliment department, the Endurer raved about this tangy, silky soup for days, calling dibs when leftover night rolled around.


3 tbs butter (Go ahead, use a little more. Waistlines and dairy issues are under consideration around here, but we didn’t feel too cheated with this modest hunk of fat. Vegans, use olive oil.)

2-3 leeks, white parts only, thinly sliced (may substitute onion, ramps, or scallions, but I think the leeks were part of what made this click for the Endurer.)

2 cloves garlic, minced

12 c. sorrel (A first for POD, sorrel is a very tart, tangy, zippy, mouth-puckering perennial. A little in a salad would go a very, very long way, although I can’t keep the Hurricane away from the plants. She loves the stuff. Although she also sucks on lemons.) 

4 c. chicken  or vegetable stock

1 medium potato, peeled and diced

a good bit of tarragon — at least 3 tbs (This is the secret wonder ingredient. Do not skip or scrimp.)

1/4 – 1/2 c. parsley (While the sorrel is beautiful in the ground, it turns army/dried pea green in the pot. The parsley mitigates the blah somewhat.)

2 egg yolks (If you’re interested in keeping this vegan, these can be omitted; however, they lent a beautiful silkiness and cut the acidity of the sorrel very nicely. You’ll probably want to add more vegan sour cream if you skip the eggs.)

1/2 c.  cream or creme fraiche (I used vegan sour cream to appease the dairy devil. Thank the cooking gods; butter seems to leave me alone.)

salt and pepper to taste

  1. Melt  butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the leeks (or onion, ramps, or green onions)  and potato and turn the heat to medium-low. Cover the pot and cook gently for 10 minutes.
  2. While the leeks and potato are cooking, pour the stock into another pot and bring to a simmer.
  3. Increase heat to medium-high, add the sorrel leaves and a healthy pinch of salt and stir well. When the sorrel is mostly wilted, turn the heat back to medium-low, cover and cook 10 minutes. Stir occasionally.
  4. Whisk in the hot stock and herbs and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Reduce heat to low.
  5. To finish the soup, whisk together the egg yolks with the dairy or non-dairy of your choice. Temper the yolk mixture by ladling a little soup into the eggs with one hand, while whisking with the other. Repeat this three times. Whisk the mixture into the pot and cook below a simmer — for a couple of minutes. Do not let it boil or the soup will break.
  6. Puree the soup with an immersion blender, season to taste with salt and pepper. It should be rather thin, but feel free to add a little flour to thicken or extra stock to thin.

My Beautiful Thing

After years of disappointing yields, POD is swimming (or drowning) in garden-fresh produce. What a deliciously beautiful thing.

Harvest TimeMy days as a container gardener were rewarding, for sure. I loved pushing seeds into the soil with the Hurricane’s tiny fingers assisting, we loved watching those tender shoots push through the deluxe organic-by-the-bag soil, and we loved June. We loved how healthy and vibrant the young plants looked, we loved the possibilities and the promise, and we loved having the only garden on the block. Heck, one of the only gardens in all of Pennsport.

For all the pleasure, those days were also pretty demoralizing. What I didn’t love so much? July and August. And aphids. Given the scarcity of delectable gardens in the neighborhood, each and every pest and squirrel came a’callin’ each and every year. Still, we managed to eke out enough of a harvest to come back for more, year after year, but only barely.

And on the menu for this week?

And on the shopping list? Lamb and Surryano and not much else.