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

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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.

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.

 

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.

Also? STAKE AND TRAIN THEM BETTER!!

Front
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.

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.

Hey Self: Wenke Wink

Sometimes, I’m a little too Dutch frugal for my own good. Or for the good of my garden, for that matter.

hurricane plantsBack in May, when the lovely gentleman from the Gardens of Babylon dropped off $10-$15 worth of starts (from hometown nursery back in Southwest Michigan, Wenke’s) along with the shipment of soil, my little transplanted East Nashvillian (and admittedly cheapskate) heart skipped a beat.  I felt like I’d won a kismet lottery: free veggies! From Kalamazoo to Nashville! Clearly it was meant to be.

No, the corn wasn’t the variety I’d hoped to plant, nor were the 0623_dillcaterpillarcucumbers and peppers. Dill? Who needs dill? Oh, what the heck, I’ll find room. Lemongrass? Hmm, that could be useful. At any rate, the three bush cucumbers would only take up one measly square each and, so really, what could go wrong?

Well, those “bush cucumbers” weren’t really bush and two of them weren’t really cucumbers at all. Like I said, who needs dill? The bottleneck gourd is long gone, but I just couldn’t bring myself to pull perfectly healthy Athena muskmelons (Gah! Dutch strikes again.) And now, it’s far too late. The garden belongs to them.

PLANTS ON DECK 2015: Hey Self, revised and updated

0623_mrstripeyMr. Stripey tomato (1 plant/2 sf)

  • As of 6/23 the plants look pretty good (some yellowing along the bottom) and we have some blooms, but no fruits
  • Since mid-May he’s been fertilized, organically, twice a month
  • The two Mr. S’s planted along the south lawn are growing similarly.

Roma Tomato and Red Cherry (front of house, planted 4/25)roma tomato

  • They are just starting to go gangbusters; however, I’m a little worried that as the days grow shorter (morning sun only — in shade by 1:00 at summer solstice), their fruits will be cut short
  • Plant more yellow cherry and pear tomatoes

bush zucchini (3 plants/4 sf)bush zucchini

  • I love these guys! And so does the Hurricane. Looks like we have a new veggie vying for green bean’s top spot
  • Their location, in the south west corner, works well and although they’re cheating into the neighboring square a little, 3 plants/4 sf appear to be working thus far
  • Plant more

basil (4 plants/1 sf)

  • I mean, it’s cool to have basil leaves the size of your hand, but giant basil it is so not our favorite. It’s pretty and yes, gigantic, but it doesn’t pack the punch we like our basil to deliver
  • These got squashed in the first row, SW quadrant, between the tomato and the bush cucumber that isn’t, so lack of sun is slowing them down
  • Several were planted at the front of the house and have been transplanted to the herb garden where there is more sun.
  • Plant more, plant differently.

marigolds (8 plants/2 sf):

  • These French dwarfs didn’t stand a chance. Next year big, tall African marigolds need to keep the tomatoes company
  • Plant more flowers, not just marigolds. Need butterflies and bees

bush cucumber (3 plants/3 sf 1 mystery, full-size)

  • It is impossible to plant too crazed cucumbermany cucumbers — the Hurricane will eat them the day they ripen.
  • Yes, Endurer, you said this in April and again in May. When I thought I had planted three Spacemasters
  • I did not
  • Fortunately, rather than pitch any, I planted three along the south side of the house. (Go D-team!)
  • Plant more — bush varieties for the raised bed and trailing varieties for the south wall.

chard [seed] (16-24ish/2 sf)0623_eatenchard

  • Figure out what’s eating the chard — it’s not us and diatomaceous earth ain’t doing much
  • Designate one bed to be planted largely with spring vegetables and stick lotsa’ chard and spinach in it
  • This year I staggered the seeds —  8 plants maturing at one time is not sufficient, 16 should do the trick
  • Plant more

romaine lettuce (4 plants/1 sf)

  • These were terrific!steak caesar
  • We enjoyed the outer leaves on sandwiches for weeks and the grand finale — featuring Porter Road Butcher’s steak — Caesar was sublime
  • They are done and gone by early/mid June
  • Planted in the third row, these were sheltered in the front by the crazed cucumber and in the back by towering Silver Queen. An excellent location, actually. By the time they had finished, the zucchini, creeping cucurbit, and sprawling Purple Royalty were happy to take over the real estate.
  • Plant more (both in the spring bed and in the summer bed as described above)

butter leaf lettuce (4 plants/1 sf)

  • Meh
  • Plant more heat-tolerant varieties

purple royalty bush beans [seeds] (18/3 sf)0623_purpleroyalty

  • That staggered planting thing? Well, it’s a good idea in theory, but in this house, we need at least 18 plants/3 SF  sowed at the same time to yield enough for a meal
  • I thought that bush beans were pretty compact, it turns out they’re not. Not really. These princes have sprawled over the end of the bed, broken in the wind and choked out the peppers
  • Plant more, do not plant in the front row; try the second/third rows

Kentucky Wonder pole beans [seeds] ) (12/2 sf)Kentucky Wonder

  • Too soon to tell, but they have shot right off the ends of their 4′ poles and are smothering the 6’+ Silver Queen
  • Plant in the back row!

red bell pepper (3 plants/3sf)

Silver Queen corn (12 plants/4 sf)

  • It’s too soon to say
  • Consider planting along the chain-link fence?

muskmelon 2 4 plants/4 sf):athena cantelope

  • Oops
  • NE corner seems to be a great location
  • One musk melon should do the trick

Seeds, Seeds, Plants, and Seeds: Tomatoes

Tomatoes: After a string of planted-too-soon failures (both self- and nursery-started), we’re hoping these high-tech hybrids hit the sweet spot, timing-wise. Since Burpee’s home base is only 30 miles north of POD’s sladder, we’re optimistic. (And playing it safe, per last year’s notes, POD just fired off a note to Burpee’s asking for a later shipping date. [Let’s hear it for Burpee’s — permission granted!])

  • Honey Delight: yellow (the Hurricane’s favorite), “prolific” (the main Minder’s favorite). And 2″, 4-oz. fruits seems just about the perfect balance between cherries and traditional tomatoes
  • Sunchocola: POD tends to have decent luck with cherry tomatoes, and this “smoky,” “disease-resistant” hybrid sounds like a winner
  • Early Girl, Bush: The earlier the better. July 4, you say? Perfect. Also? Determinate, small, container-friendly with “multiple disease resistances.”

Seeds, Seeds, Plants, and Seeds: Corn & Peppers

March happens. And for years and years it appears, Plants On Deck feels the urge to buy everything this time each year. Then, weeks and sometimes months later, when the precious cargo arrives, the reasons behind the carefully-researched purchases have been long forgotten.

So this year, we’re writing it down. Bit by bit. It’s an all-new crew, so there’s lots to remember. And hey, that was the original point of this here note-to-self blog.

Corn: Yes, corn. Like, on the cob. In a pot. So. Excited. POD’s managed to do okay with veggies, considering the space limitations imposed by a 10 x 10 mixed-sun (too much, then too little) deck and a 8 x 4 sun-struck expanse of concrete and exhaust. There’s this smell, though, that only a nice row of fresh corn stalks can deliver. It’s the smell of my mother’s garden. And, as she reminded me this morning, my grandfather’s garden.

It smells like home.

  • On Deck: Okay, so the name also spoke to POD. But get this, the 4-5′ tall stalks can produce two to three 7-8″ ears. 9 seeds per 24″ container.  (Soil temp at least 55 degrees.) Breathe deep.

Peppers: Peppers are well-like at POD, but we’ve never planted all that many or paid that much attention to them. Now that we’ve given up on green beans (sigh), there’s an extra container begging for some color.

  • Tweety: yellow (naturally), small fruits, compact plants, early-maturing, and “prolific”
  • Sweet Cherry: see above, but red.

You Say Tomato, I say 토마토 (T’omat’o)

GreenTomatoesWhile some mothers have cookie monsters, this one has a tomato monster.

Which makes sense when you consider the Korean love of all things made of tomatoes: like, say, tomato and local almond crullers. True story. These fried and glazed gems were spotted (and sampled and rejected) a couple of years ago in a Dunkin’ Donuts in Seoul. 

So naturally, when the little blue deck got cleared off back in late-October, this gardener and Amma had a hard time tossing the hard, green tomato runts into the compost.

And here we are, a month later, serving brown-bag-ripened tomatoes to a three-year-old for breakfast.