Sunday, January 31, 2010

Green under the snow

January seems an unlikely time of year to grow anything, much less veggies. But alas the kitchen garden is still growing. It has been a cold winter for Middle Tennessee and my plan of year round gardening has been a challenge to say the least.

In December we had temperature lows of 8 degrees. I buttoned down the hatches as best I could with an extra layer of plastic over the hoop house and various cold frames.

I lost a few things, some lettuces mostly and a few brussel sprouts. Everything else is either thriving (Swiss chard, kale and various spicy greens) or just hanging on waiting for warmer weather to jump start once again I hope (broccoli and cauliflower).

I’ve learned a lot along the way and have done little to aid just to see how the extreme weather conditions will affect my crops. I will make changes accordingly next year but this year has been one big experiment.

We recently had another winter storm with about 4-5 inches of snow with night time temperatures ranging from the teens to the twenties. I finally got out this morning to check on everything.

The kitchen garden was happy with its blanket of snow and as I lifted the cold frames, the salad greens, kale and Swiss chard were snug and un-frozen – lucky for me as I had not been able to give them extra cover since I had been under the weather myself.

The hoop house was sagging from the snow but it was okay after I removed the snow and tightened the plastic back down. It is suppose to be back in the forties tomorrow with below freezing temperatures for many nights to come. February should be a busy month in the kitchen garden and I’m looking forward to planting potatoes, peas and more greens….bon appetite!

Frozen Bliss

I awoke this morning to silence. I found my way into my warm clothes, boots, hat, coat and mittens quickly. With camera around my neck and garden dog at my side we headed outside to investigate.

It seems while I had spent two days hiding away with a mean stomach bug, my little world outside had been transformed into winter. A blanket of snow covered the garden and I smiled knowing that my garden friends were tucked in while the temperature hovered around 20 degrees.

Apparently it snowed a few inches followed by a light rain or mix because the snow was so crusty that Annie and I could glide along (yes, it was slippery too) without leaving a trace of where we had been. We traversed around the garden snapping photos of interesting sites.

The branches, berries, plumes and seed heads were lightly covered in ice which shimmered and twinkled as the sun came into the garden. A friend of mine (Sue) has always said that a coat of paint can hide a multitude of sins on any wall and I feel it is the same with a blanket of snow on the garden.

The best part of our snow was the silence; again I was struck by the quietness of the world. No cars hurrying by, no dogs barking (I guess everyone put them in since it was cold), no far away interstate noise…only an occasional cracking of the icy crust beneath my feet, a bird alerting her partner there was indeed a few seeds left in the feeder and the click of my camera lens.

When we decided to head back in we (okay, I) grabbed some wood for the stove and went in as quietly as possible. After feeding the stove it morning quota the dog and I made tea and toast (since it was a special occasion garden dog got a couple of cheez-its).

As I glanced out at the bird feeder I saw the tulips on the table that Jodie had brought me a couple of days earlier. While I was out of commission the tulips had gone from bud to beautiful yellow blooms. I looked out at the snow and back at the tulips…winter with the promise of spring, what a grand way to start the day!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Jarrahdale Pumpkin makes a Great Squash Pie

My brother and his family have a farm market in Charlevoix, Michigan. They grow strawberries, raspberries and blackberries that you can pick yourself as well as vegetables, herbs and cut flowers that they sell at their farm market.

This past fall my son was visiting the family ‘up north’ and brought back some pumpkins for decorating. This particular pumpkin was a lovely blue-green with a good looking stem that was a real attraction on the front porch nestled in with the pumpkins from my compost heap (long story).

Before our unusual cold snap in December I put it in the garage for safe keeping while I thought about cooking it. In January I saw this lonely pumpkin sitting in the garage and decided to cook it up. So, I proceeded to just toss the thing whole into the oven rather than taking a chance of cutting off my arm trying to hack through it. I’m guessing it was about 8 lbs or so. I had to take out one rack so it would fit and at the last minute I decided to poke some holes in the top just in case it blew. Have you ever had a baked potato blow up in your oven? Me too and it isn’t pretty and this cucurbit was so big…it could take out the entire oven door!

It took about an hour and a half at 350 degrees before it was tender when tested with a knife. I hauled it out and let it cool. I should have put a tray under it as it bubbled some onto the oven floor (next time). It was so easy to cut in half – like butter. Next I scooped out the seeds and put them into a colander for later. The flesh was deep orange and sweet. This can’t be a pumpkin; it has too much color and flavor I thought to myself. I made a couple of pumpkin pies and divided the rest into quart size bags and sent it on to the freezer. The pies were a hit, everyone raved about them. Later I called my sister-n-law Sue and asked what kind of pumpkin she sent to me.

She confirmed my suspicions, although it is called a Jarrahdale Pumpkin, it is really a winter squash, Cucurbita maxima; an Australian heirloom variety grown for its unique blue-green skin and its deep orange colored flesh, perfect for pies.

I am planting this old fashioned squash who tries to pass for a pumpkin this year in my garden.

Seeds are available at Johnny Select seeds

Cici’s easy pie crust
In a pie plate combine:
1 cup unbleached flour
½ cup whole wheat flour
2 Tablespoons Flax seed (whole or ground slightly)
A pinch of sea salt
½ cup oil
Mix with a fork until well blended then add:
¼ cup milk
Mix well then with hands pat out crust to fit pan

To cook a Jarrahdale Pumpkin: Place whole squash in oven, poke some hole in the shoulders. Place cookie sheet under to avoid oven cleanup. Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour or so – until it is tender. Cool then cut in half, scoop out seeds then scoop out orange flesh. Freeze any leftovers.

Home-grown squash pie
In food processor add:
2 eggs
½ -3/4 cup sugar
Blend then add:
1 ½ - 2 cup jarrahdale pumpkin, cooked
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 ½ cup milk

Blend together and pour into un-baked pie crust
Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, turn down oven to 350 and bake
Additional 45min to 1 hour until knife comes out clean. Enjoy!