Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category

Supersize Tomato

Supersize Brandywine tomato -- 840 grams!Generally I’m not into supersizing, but this Brandywine tomato, an heirloom variety, is an exception. The seed packet promises fruit up to 700 grams, so I grew a whopper at 840 grams!









One slice of tomato from the middle of the fruit seasoned with a bit of salt and pepper and touched with some mayonnaise made a great sandwich: flavourful, juicy, meaty.

Tomato steak sandwich made with a supersize Brandywine tomato

"Tomato steak sandwich" made with a supersize Brandywine tomato.

These tomatoes mature slowly (last year, they never ripened), so hopefully we’ll get several more before the end of the season.

Brandywine tomato on the vine

It's amazing how the vine supports the weight of these supersize tomatoes.

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First harvest of 2011: mesclun mix greens and radishes picked on May 24, 2011Yesterday — May 24, 2011 — we ate a small mesclun salad and radishes harvested from the garden. Yes, our very own, already! I could barely contain my excitement to be eating from my garden so early in the season.

This year I took the risk of planting some cold-hardy seeds early in the season. I think it was the weekend of April 16. I planted peas, snow peas, mesclun salad, mâche, a kale mix and radishes. The weather forecast looked promising: above 10 degrees, but not yet too warm. Perfect for these cool loving plants. Besides, I figured, if they don’t grow now, I’ll just plant again later.

Then the weather, not surprisingly, changed. It stayed below 10 degrees. It rained, a lot. Nevertheless, the seeds sprouted. My risk is being rewarded. Now I’ll try some succession planting, and put in second rows of peas and snow peas. It will be interesting to see how the growth of the two rows compares.

Cool weather-loving seeds include peas, snow peas, arugula, radishes, mesclun mix, kale and mâche lettuce

Cool weather-loving seeds growing strong.

Meanwhile I also planted the tomato, pepper, and tomatillo seedlings I’ve been growing indoors since mid-March. This year, to avoid transplanting small seedlings from starter cells to pots, I planted them directly into small pots. Although it was less work, I ended up with some scraggly looking seedlings with long, thin and crooked stems. I think the earth in my pots wasn’t sufficiently packed and I didn’t plant deep enough. Also, the pots were near a window on a tray, which means that they were always leaning toward the light, giving me crooked stems. I’ll have to revise my strategy next year.

The tomatoes in particular looked pretty sad when I planted them outside last Saturday. I thought the strong winds would take some of them down. But my scraggly seedlings literally weathered the storm and are looking perky today. (Nothing like the few we bought at the nursery, but I’m confident they’ll catch up and produce as much fruit as the others.)

I’m excited about the garden this year.

Cabbage seedling planted among tulips and perennial flowers

Cabbage seedling planted among tulips and perennial flowers.

I switched things up again after realizing that some plants were not well paired last year, e.g. the pole beans created too much shade for the Swiss chard planted in front of them. I’m also trying companion planting for the first time. The tomatoes are sharing a bed with carrots and spring onions. The beans, planted in a new location that should allow for easier climbing and picking, are matched up with herbs. Cabbage family plants (incl. broccoli, Brussel sprouts and cauliflower) are not good companions for most other vegetables – with the exception of kohlrabi, which is playing host to beets and lettuce – so they’re being kept separate, in some places interspersed among the perennials in the flower bed. Nasturtiums, calendula flowers and sunflowers will make for some colourful borders.

Me and my belly planting seedlingsMost of the hard work is done. Now Mother Nature can do her magic. And I’ll focus on the not-so-small-anymore sprout growing inside me.

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"Leek Prizetaker"

Love this photograph by Charles Jones.

I know I’m doing something wrong. For two years now I’ve tried – operative word – to grow leeks. Both times, they’ve started off looking good, yet ended up rotting in the ground by mid-July.

Too much water, unsuitable soil, planted too deep or not deep enough? Some quick research suggests I should plant them deeper and build up the earth around the leeks as they grow. I’ll have to try again next year. Hopefully I’ll get lucky the third time around.

I won’t let my leek gardening failure prevent me from buying leeks and cooking with them though. Recently eaten at my table:

Leek, sweet potato and barley soup

Leek, sweet potato and barley soup.

Papet vaudois

Papet vaudois, a typical hearty Swiss dish.

Papet vaudois is leek, potato and saucisson vaudois, a special sausage originally made in the French-speaking canton Vaud. The leek and potato are really just a vehicle for the sausage! I’ve found a high-quality and authentic version at Au Saucisson Vaudois, an artisanal charcuterie in Saint-Brigide, Quebec.

Leek and goat cheese quiche

Leek and goat cheese quiche.

Recipe: Leek and Goat Cheese Quiche

This is one of my favourites! The recipe is adapted from “Mosimann’s Vegetarishe Küche,” a vegetarian cookbook by Swiss chef Anton Mosimann. Makes one 9-inch quiche (with some pastry dough left over).

1 recipe pastry dough
1 leek, halved lengthwise, sliced (white and green parts) into 1/2″ pieces and washed
1-2 tbsp olive oil
125 g ripened goat cheese (I used Le cendrillon, the not ash-covered one)
2 eggs
1/2 cup cream
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tsp chopped thyme
salt, pepper, cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Prepare pastry dough. (Since pastry dough recipes usually call for a ½ cup of butter, so I keep pre-measured pieces in the freezer. I make the dough without a food processor and grate the frozen butter into the flour, a trick I picked up from one of Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s HomeBaking cookbook). Roll out dough, line a 9-inch pan (I use one with a removable bottom) and blind bake the crust. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F.

Saute prepared leek in olive oil for 10 minutes or until just tender. Let cool.

Combine eggs, cream, sour cream and seasonings. Crumble goat cheese into the egg mixture.

Distribute the leek over the bottom of the pre-baked crust. Pour egg and goat cheese mixture over the leek.

Bake 30-40 minutes until filling is firm and golden. Allow filling to settle before serving. Serve warm.

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NasturtiumMid-October and half of the beds in my garden are still occupied with Swiss card, kale, salsify, carrots, beets and fall lettuces. I’ve put off harvesting them, because I haven’t had time to process them and don’t have the appropriate indoor cool storage space. I figure they’re better “stored” in the ground for the time being.

I’m not worried. These are the hardier vegetables, resistant to lower temperatures. Some, like kale and carrots, I’ve read will get sweeter and/or more tender as they are exposed to the cool temperatures (and even frost).

As fall progresses, fresh vegetables from the garden become a bigger treat.

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Giant tomatoGiant carrots
So far, this tomato and this carrot are the winners in the size category of this gardening season! The largest carrot weighed almost 500g, but there are still more in the ground…

Unfortunately I don’t think the tomato (Brandywine variety) will ripen, but the carrot was crisp and sweet. I’m looking forward to pursuing the harvest.

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In July, I was dealing with a pea jungle. Now it’s a pole bean jungle. It’s a scavenger hunt every time I go to pick beans. Lesson learned for next year: give them taller stakes. I’d also plant them somewhere they can’t put a choke-hold on the smaller plants growing in the same bed.

Regardless, there are lots of beans! What to do with them all?

Green beans

Green beans, lots of them. I’ve picked at least two piles like this!

When I was growing up, Bohnen and Speck (green beans and bacon) would appear on the dinner table as of mid-August, when the beans were ready to pick and the tomatoes ripening. I haven’t found a cookbook recipe for Bohnen and Speck, but this one-pot meal is firmly anchored in the Swiss home-cooking repertoire. The recipe probably has as many variations as there are Swiss dialects; the one below is from my mom. I’ve respectfully renamed it “Swiss Summer Stew.”

Recipe: Swiss Summer Stew (Green Beans and Bacon)

This is one of those recipes that doesn’t require precise quantities, so I’m not going to give any either!

Swiss Summer Stew (green beans and bacon)

onion, chopped
garlic, minced
green beans, topped and tailed
tomatoes, halved/quartered depending on size
hot pepper (optional)
smoked bacon, or any other smoked meat (I’ve tried bacon from several good butchers in Ottawa and beyond. My favourite is the double smoked bacon from Saslove’s)
summer savory
potatoes (1-3 per person, depending on size), halved/quartered depending on size

Saute onion and garlic over medium heat in a Creuset(-like) pot with a lid (or pressure cooker) until translucent. Run the beans quickly under water and add them to the pot. Toss them with the onions and garlic. Heat for several minutes before mixing in the savory and hot pepper (if using, leave whole). Place the tomatoes, potatoes and piece of bacon on top of beans. Season with salt and pepper. Cover with the lid and turn the heat down to medium-low/low.

The tomatoes should generate enough liquid to prevent sticking and burning, but check periodically to make sure. If the pot is dry, add a little water and make sure the heat is on low. Cook 45-60 minutes until beans are meltingly tender (if using a pressure cooker, adjust cooking times according to pressure cooker guidelines).

En Guete!

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Lazy Gardener

Lately I’ve neglected to write about how my garden is doing, because I’ve been blogging about my side trips instead. It’s also because “lazy gardener” is a pretty accurate label these days.

I’m turning a blind eye to the weeds that have crept between the rows of carrots, beets, chard, kale, etc. Instead, I’m like a raven attracted to shiny objects, aiming single-mindedly for the bright orange and red tomatoes, the rainbow chard stalks, and the deep green beans.

Tumbling Tom tomatoes

These Tumbling Tom cherry tomatoes worked well in this box and produced a generous harvest.

I did manage to plant two kinds of kale after I took out the garlic and the peas. But I’d also planned to do a second planting of peas for the fall. And what about those mâche/lamb’s lettuce seeds, also intended for a fall harvest? Oops… Maybe I should actually pencil it into my calendar for next year. I can live with these oversights, as long as I don’t forget to plant the garlic in October.

Do five tomatoes a day keep the doctor away?! Trying to keep up with the harvest is another reason I’ve spent less time in the garden—I’m keeping busy in the kitchen. It’s a challenge. Some weekends, it seems like David and I are both cooking/preserving non-stop. And then we made the amateur mistake of not having the patience to wait until our own harvest was ready (or not believing that it would produce enough) and actually bought vegetables at the market to put up… Lesson learned.

Garden tomatoes, mostly heirloom

Rainbow of garden, mostly heirloom, tomatoes: orange cherry tomatoes (aka "garden candy"), large red Brandywine (tomato giants), Green Zebra (green when ripe, low acidity) and medium ruffled Calabash (early ripening, touch of sweetness).

Can’t complain though. The freezer and the pantry shelves are full of summer’s bounty; we can look forward to great variety this winter.

First tomatillo harvest and hot peppers

We made salsa verde with this first harvest of tomatillos. I suspect the next basket will be just as full. Also a variety of hot peppers: jalapeno, cherry bombs and cayenne.

The garden is forgiving too. Everything keeps growing. It’s naturally (and a bit wildly) beautiful. It must know that I love it no matter what it looks like.

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