Too seldom do I take the time to embellish meals with garden blossoms, whose bright colors can enhance the appeal of almost any food. At the Thyme Garden Nursery, in Alsea, Oregon, summer tours conclude with an outdoor luncheon, and each dish comes adorned with flowers. These pictures are from a visit I made to the Thyme Garden with four friends earlier this month. Edible flowers in these photos include nasturtium, nigella, and pinks. Among the decorative herbs are bronze fennel and sweet cicely.
Last winter we had plenty of freezing nights, but they were always followed by warmish days. As a result, none of the artichoke plants lining my short driveway died back at all, and this spring I’ve been harvesting artichokes by the bucketload. Last year’s harvest was only a little smaller. With our warming climate, the big, gray-green, edible-budded thistle so commonplace in California gardens seems to have become an ideal perennial vegetable for the Willamette Valley.
Last year I trimmed some of the artichokes down to their hearts and pickled them. Destroying the integrity of the beautiful buds before cooking them is painful—or at least it is if you’re accustomed to serving artichokes whole, peeling off the petals one by one, and scraping every petal across your teeth. But if you tear off those tough outer petals without mercy before you cook your artichoke, you end up with a fully edible, delicious nugget that can be added to any number of dishes.
This year I decided to freeze artichokes hearts instead of pickling them. I could always pickle some of them later, I reasoned, using the recipe in The Joy of Pickling (page 195 of the third edition).
As always, I harvested my artichokes when they were young, firm, and choke-free. Old artichokes are more trouble to prepare; you must hollow out the center to remove the choke.
Whether you’re freezing or pickling artichokes, you prepare them the same way:
Frozen Artichoke Hearts
Rinse the artichokes one at a time, holding them upright under running water to wash out any earwigs. Turn the artichokes upside down in a colander to drain.
Prepare a bowl of acidulated water, enough to cover all your artichoke hearts. I use vitamin C tablets—1,000 grams of vitamin C, ground in an electric coffee grinder, for each quart of cold water. Lemon water will do as well, if you happen to have a glut of lemons, as will a commercial product called Fruit Fresh. Vinegar or citric acid would be less effective.
Begin heating a large pot of water to a boil.
Pick up an artichoke, bend back the outer petals, and tear them off at the base. Keep pulling off the petals until you’re holding a cone that is yellow in its bottom half and light green at the top.
With a stainless-steel or ceramic knife, trim the stem. You don’t need to cut it away completely, since the stem of a young artichoke is tender and tasty.
Trim away any green bits remaining at the base of the artichoke.
Cut off the top of the cone, removing all of the tough green portion. Be unsparing, or you’ll regret not doing so when you find yourself spitting out fibrous bits. The petals of the finished heart should be so tightly wrapped that they are difficult to tear away.
To keep the artichoke heart from browning, plunge it upside-down into the acidulated water. (It will promptly turn right-side up.)
Prepare and submerge the rest of your artichoke hearts in the same way. As you work, occasionally dunk the hearts.
Drain the artichoke hearts, and immediately drop them into a large pot of boiling water. Blanch them for about 10 minutes. If some of them are especially large, either cut them in half before blanching them or leave them in the water longer, about 15 minutes. Time the blanching period from when the hearts enter the pot. Keep the heat on high throughout. As the hearts cook, prepare a basin of ice water.
Drain the hearts, and plunge them into the ice water.
When they are cool, drain them again. Lay them on cookie sheets, and freeze them.
Pack the frozen artichokes in freezer bags, and store them in the freezer.
After thawing frozen artichokes, steam or boil them until they are tender.
Preparing artichoke hearts for the freezer, or for pickling, will leave you with an enormous pile of outer petals. You don’t need to compost them, yet. You might instead boil or steam them and eat their tender inner flesh in the usual way, by dipping the base of each into mayonnaise, aioli, or garlicky olive oil and then scraping off the flesh with your teeth. Then the petals can go in the compost.
The big difference between cooks who garden and those who don’t is that the former start with what’s available. Market shoppers may claim to do the same—to begin their meals by buying produce that’s fresh and in season. But shoppers usually buy only what they can use right away, and so seldom have to deal with excess. Every success in the garden brings with it a burden—heaps of vegetables or fruits that must be dried, pickled, canned, stored in the cellar, or crammed into the refrigerator. The last is easiest, when the harvest isn’t too big, but before the veggies go sad and limp in the fridge the gardener had better wash the soil from her hands and open the cookbooks.
That’s what I did yesterday, after bringing in a pile of French Breakfast radishes. Nearly everybody eats radishes raw—in salads if not at breakfast with butter. And, of course, radishes are good for fermenting and vinegar-pickling, in various ways. But surely they are most digestible cooked. If I wanted to put a lot of radishes into our stomachs right away, I needed to cook them.
I found inspiration in Irene Kuo’s book The Key to Chinese Cooking (1977). In it is a recipe for a pork-and-radish soup. I had no raw pork on hand, but I had the remains of a half brined ham. And I had a potential ingredient Irene may never have considered: a pot full of fragrant leek broth.
The leek broth resulted from an earlier harvest the same day. Needing to clear a bed so I could plant it with tomatoes, I had brought in an armload of leeks. Since I had plenty more leeks in another bed, these could all go into the freezer. I washed them, sliced them, and blanched them for a minute in batches before spreading them on cookie sheets, freezing them, and vacuum-packing them. Now the blanching liquid smelled too good to throw out.
So I made a radish soup like Irene’s, but with a leek-and-ham-flavored broth and bits of leftover ham. Because my soup wouldn’t be one dish among several but dinner in itself, I served it over buckwheat noodles, with a dish of raw arugula to tear and add at will, Vietnamese-style. What a simple and satisfying meal!
If you have no leek broth on hand, you can certainly substitute other vegetable or meat stock.
Ham and Radish Soup with Leek Broth
2 quarts leek broth, preferably unsalted, from blanching or cooking leeks
About 12 ounces ham bone(s)
6 quarter-sized slices ginger
¾ pound radishes
About 1 12 ounces ham, in ½-inch dice
Salt, if needed
Fresh or dried buckwheat or wheat noodles
A small bunch of arugula or other greens, such as watercress or spearmint
Strain the broth, if it needs straining, into a large saucepan. Add the bone(s) and the ginger. Simmer the stock for about 1½ hours.
Cut the radishes into pieces about ½ inch by 1 inch. Depending on the variety and size, you can slice them into quarters or eighths, or you can roll-cut them, slicing diagonally with a quarter-turn between slices; this maximizes the cut surface area of each piece and promotes even cooking and flavor absorption. Add the radishes and ham to the soup. Simmer about 30 minutes longer, until the radishes are tender. Taste the broth, and add salt only if needed; the ham will have probably provided enough.
Before the simmering is done, cook fresh or dried buckwheat noodles in boiling water. Drain and rinse the cooked noodles, and divide them among large soup bowls. Ladle the soup over the noodles. Serve the soup with fresh arugula or other greens for eaters to add according to their taste. Diced avocado and oily chile sauce are other tasty optional additions.
Now that my Makah Ozette potatoes are sprouting in the basement, I’m trying to find ways to use them faster. Everybody eats more potatoes when they come to the table in the form of French fries, right? So last night I made some Ozette fries.
I’ve used russets, all-purpose potatoes, and waxy potatoes for French fries, but none have produced such distinctive fries as the Ozette. They turned out crisp on the outside, dry on the inside, and surprisingly rigid. This is the potato for anybody who dislikes limp fries.
I’d imagined the coriander chutney as a good accompaniment to the fries, but I preferred the potatoes with the roasted tomatoes as sauce. Because the potatoes lack sweetness, the candy-sweet Sungold-Juliette mix complemented them wonderfully. Next time I might consider frying the potatoes in small chunks and dropping them all straight into the bowl of hot tomatoes.
The coriander chutney did get eaten—it proved a perfect accompaniment to the pan-fried albacore belly that rounded out this meal.
The chutney, tomatoes, and tuna all came out of the freezer, so slicing and frying potatoes was the only real work involved in preparing this little feast.
On Halloween, fall has finally set in here in the Willamette Valley. The trees stand bare, red and gold leaves carpet the ground, the sky is as grey as the wet streets, and the air is damp and cold. At this time of the year I pick the last of the peppers and remember where I was four years ago, watching the same change of seasons.
My daughter and I had hiked to a hilltop village near Alba, Italy, where beside a blazing fire we ate plate after plate of a fixed-price lunch. My favorite dish was soft, sweet, oily roasted peppers flavored with a paste of anchovies and garlic. It’s a perfect dish, I think, for the last of the pepper harvest.
In Piemonte peperoni al forno is made in various ways, and here in America we also have options. You might use salted anchovies instead of anchovies canned in oil. You might use big, thick-skinned peppers and char them to remove their skins. I prefer to use thin-skinned peppers and to leave the skin on. You know the little supermarket peppers that come in red, orange, and yellow? They would do, and if their flavor is dull the roasting would certainly enhance it.
That supermarket mix is the ancestor of one of my favorite peppers, which I have stabilized as Little Orange Sweet. It’s a little bigger than its hybrid forebears, with few seeds and a wonderful sweet taste. It’s an ideal pepper for roasting with anchovies and garlic. Here’s how I do it.
Peperoni al Forno My Way
2 pounds thin-skinned, ripe sweet peppers
2 ounces anchovy fillets packed in olive oil
1 small head garlic, cloves separated and peeled
½ cup olive oil
Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Rinse the peppers, and pat them completely dry. Halve or quarter them, depending on their size, and seed them. Spread the pepper pieces in a roasting pan. In a mortar, pound the anchovies and garlic to a paste. Blend in the oil from the anchovies and the additional oil, and toss this mixture with the peppers. Roast the peppers, stirring them at least once, for about 30 minutes, until they are tender. Serve them hot or at room temperature, with fresh bread to sop up the extra oil.
You may or may not remember my article Cherry Peppers for Stuffing, about my beautiful stuffed cherry peppers that were too hot for me to eat. I wrote that I’d finally found seeds for sweet, rather than hot, cherry peppers, in two varieties, both sold by Reimer Seeds.
The seeds of one, Kuners, failed to germinate at all—like many of the other seeds I bought from Reimer (whose representative told me, by the way, that the company would not replace or issue refunds for any bad seeds).
The seeds of the other variety, Red Cherry Large, sprouted well, but the plants produced irregularly shaped and sized fruits. Most of the peppers were conical rather than round. Only one of the plants produced truly round peppers.
But I saved the seeds of those round cherries and planted them last February. And the four plants that I set out produced beautiful sweet peppers, round, fairly uniform in size (no bigger than 1½ inches and no smaller than 1 inch), with virtually no cracking, and early. I took the picture above in mid-September.
I have stored the peppers in diluted vinegar and will fill them for the holidays as I described in Cherry Peppers for Stuffing.
This goes to show that plant breeding isn’t always difficult. But now I must hope that the seeds I saved from these pretty peppers aren’t crossed with any of the other pepper varieties that I’d planted in the same bed. It’s not easy to keep unique varieties going in a small kitchen garden. If you would like to help steward this cherry pepper, please let me know.
Even though I didn’t plant Jerusalem artichokes this year, even though I deprived last year’s survivors of water, and even though I pulled up many of the young plants over the summer, I still expect to harvest an enormous crop of tubers sometime in the next several months. The plant is tough.
But now I have a new way to use bucketloads of tubers. I developed this method last spring, after wondering whether turning the tubers into chips might relieve them of some of their windiness.
For the first trial batch, I sliced the tubers thin and soaked them for a half-hour in water with salt and lemon juice stirred in. This soaking, I hoped, would both prevent browning and give the chips extra savor. Then I dried the slices in the dehydrator until they turned leathery.
The chips turned out pale and uninteresting. So I baked them in the oven at 200 degrees F. until they were golden brown. Now, to my delight, they were sweet and crisp.
But I couldn’t taste the salt. Also, I concluded that the lemon juice had been unnecessary, since sliced Jerusalem artichokes seem uninclined to brown with exposure to air. So for the next batch I soaked the slices for an hour in a brine made of ¼ cup pickling salt to 1 quart water. I skipped the dehydration step; instead, I put the slices straight into the convection oven.
The second batch turned out as good as the first, with a bit of saltiness added.
I imagined that they would have been just as good with no salt at all. Besides, keeping the chips salt-free might discourage overconsumption—and overconsumption would be risky if the drying and baking failed to overcome the vegetable’s gassiness.
Here is my recipe. You decide about the salt.
Jerusalem artichoke tubers
Vegetable oil (optional)
Break the tubers apart at the nodes, scrub the tubers, and slice them thin with a mandoline. If you’d like your chips a little salty, soak the slices for at least an hour in a brine made of ¼ cup pickling salt to 1 quart water.
Drain the slices well, and spread them in a single layer on wire racks set over baking pans. If you have no wire racks that the slices won’t fall through, spread them directly on the baking pans, but expect the pieces to stick a little. To prevent this, you might oil the pan or even toss the slices with a little olive oil or other vegetable oil.
Put the pans into a convection oven heated to 200 degrees F. If you don’t have a convection oven, use a regular oven heated to 225 to 250 degrees F. Bake the slices for 1 ¼ to 1 ½ hour, rotating the pans at least once, until the chips are almost crisp. Don’t cook them so long that they turn dark brown, or they will be bitter, just like brown potato chips.
Turn the chips out to cool. As they cool they will grow crisper. When they are cool, store them in airtight containers.
I tested the chips on people at an afternoon political meeting. Everybody seemed to like them, and none could guess what they were made of. Two people were gracious enough to take home small bagfuls, eat the chips all at a sitting, and report the results.
One of them told me that “right around 10 p.m. it hit. They weren’t particularly odorous or loud, just little bubbly poots all night, and that was pretty much the end of it. “
The other declared, “If I knowingly eat this food again I will plan on working around loud machinery, or going on a hike by myself.
“Bottom line, they taste good.”
I see I haven’t written one of these reports since 2015. That’s because I’ve settled on favorite varieties and and grown them year after year. But friends are always urging me to try different cultivars, and so this year I tried a few that were entirely new to me, along with others I’d grown in the past and forgotten about. Here is my report.
De Berao Braun, left, and Purple Russian, right.
Purple Russian. This Ukranian heirloom, which I wrote about 2015, is sold by Baker Creek and Totally Tomato. The pinkish-greenish fruits, about 3½ inches long and 6 ounces in weight, are impressively uniform in size and shape. The cultivar is supposedly very productive; I found it slow to start fruiting but unusually prolific late in the season. All of these late tomatoes, however, were deeply cracked, even though I’d long since stopped watering and we’d had no rain to speak of. Baker Creek says Purple Russian has “flavor that tops the charts,” and one person compared the flavor to bacon. I found the tomatoes a little bland, nothing like bacon, and too low in acid. All of the Purple Russian slices I dried turned black in the dehydrator, while none of the other varieties did. Perhaps the Purple Russians were too ripe. As I noted in 2015, they taste best when picked while still quite firm.
De Berao Braun. Andrew Still and Sarah Kleeger, of Adaptive Seeds, got this cultivar from Gerhard Bohl, a seed steward in Germany (I don’t know where the seeds originally came from; the name looks to me like a misspelling). The fruits are smaller than those of Purple Russian, about 2½ inches long, and rounder. The color is similar to that of Purple Russian but more copper and therefore more attractive, at least to me. The tomatoes are juicy, tart, and sweet, and as suitable for salad as for drying or sauce. They are far less prone to cracking than Purple Russians, and the vines have continued to produce unblemished fruit through late October. I will definitely plant this variety again.
Italian Heirloom. I got the seeds for this one from Lisa Almarode, who urged me to try them. Like me, you might expect this to be another plum-shaped paste tomato. But Italian Heirloom has big, irregular, round to heart-shaped fruits. Although they are meaty, they are also tasty; they won the Seed Savers Exchange tomato tasting in 2012. The plant is extremely productive and early. I picked my first fruit, weighing a pound, on July 17, and in early August I picked a 1½-pounder.
Chocolate Stripes. I am no less enthusiastic about this tomato than I was in 2015. In late October, I am still getting fruits as big as 4 ½ inches across. Their thin skins are prone to damage from snails and slugs and may develop fine cracks around the top, but I cut out any blemishes and thoroughly enjoy these beautiful fruits. It’s lucky I set my one plant in a corner of a bed this year, because this vine likes to sprawl.
Druzba. I wrote a little about this tomato in 2014, but now I’m even more enthusiastic about it. This Bulgarian heirloom, whose name means “friendly,” produces perfectly uniform, unblemished, round medium-size fruits, about 6 ounces, all season long. (Celebrity, which I grew alongside it, did pretty much the same thing, although Celebrity’s fruits are a little bigger, about 8 ounces. The important difference is that Celebrity is a hybrid; if I save the seeds, the plants that grow from them may lose disease-resistance and other good features.) The fruits’ flavor isn’t special, but it’s very good. This is the tomato you give to people who won’t eat fruit that doesn’t look like it came from a supermarket. They will learn what those supermarket tomatoes are supposed to taste like.
Druzba seeds are widely available.
Ananas Noire. This is a Belgian variety introduced in 2005, a cross between Pineapple and a black tomato. For me Ananas Noire produced big fruits (1 to 1½ pounds) that were more green than black, with dark red streaks throughout. The tomatoes looked beautiful when sliced, but if I hadn’t taken a picture in July I wouldn’t remember this. Now, in late October, the fruits are small and a uniform orange-red. Has anyone reading this had a similar experience?
Orange Russian 117. I’ve grown this tomato over several summers, beginning in 2010. A cross between the red oxheart Russian 117 and the yellow and red beefsteak Georgia Streak, Orange Russian 117 is probably the only bicolored oxheart around. It is a meaty tomato, and big, weighing from 8 ounces to a pound. The texture and colors remind me of peaches–I gasp at the beauty of the fruit every time I slice one. The flavor is very good. On the farm I never got more than a dozen fruits from one of these plants (probably because I was battling deer during those years), but this year Orange Russian 117 has been one of my most productive tomato plants–perhaps the most productive. In late October the plant is still going strong.
When we were young and living in Somerville, Massachusetts, Robert and I liked to visit a tiny Indian market in Union Square. On one of our visits he picked up a little can with a label picturing something dark green and golden brown, rolled and sliced like a cinnamon roll. Curious, we added the can to our pile of spices and legumes.
At home, we fried the rich, spicy, slightly sweet rolls, called patra, according to the instructions on the label. Every time we visited the store after that, we had to bring home patra.
When an Indian salesman from Robert’s company visited Oregon last year, he came to our house for dinner. Robert and I hadn’t eaten patra in thirty-five years, but neither of us had forgotten its taste. So in the talk of Indian foods Robert asked about patra. Ankur was surprised. The women in his family used to make it, but they hadn’t in recent years. Ankur hadn’t tasted patra in a long time.
Ankur was no cook, so he couldn’t tell us how to make patra. But he knew we needed a special leaf, a big leaf . . . He tried and tried but couldn’t remember the English name of the plant.
Knowing how enthusiastically Indian cooks have taken to the Internet, I later googled “patra recipe.” Suddenly, patra lost all its mystery. The big leaf, I learned, is from taro, or colocasia, as Indians prefer to call it; the Hindi name is arbi ke patte. This is the tropical wetland plant whose starchy tubers are a staple food for Pacific islanders and West Indians (the latter call the plant dasheen). The arrow-shaped leaves are edible, says one Indian writer, only when they “are not itchy.” The paste around which the leaves are wrapped is made up mostly of besan, gram flour—or, to us, chickpea flour.
Some cool-climate gardeners grow taro in summer and dig up the tubers in fall to overwinter indoors, but I have no patience for ever-thirsty plants, especially when they can’t survive the winter outdoors. And I’m sure that no grocery store in this town stocks colocasia leaves. Still, Robert wasn’t discouraged. He figured he’d just found a new use for collard leaves.
The next day Robert studied several recipes on the Internet and created his own—
3 medium collard leaves
1½ cups chickpea flour
1 teaspoon ground dried hot pepper
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons brown sugar
About ½ teaspoon salt
1 1-inch chunk fresh ginger
1 green jalapeño pepper
6 small garlic cloves
About 5 to 6 ounces water
1 tablespoon black mustard seeds
2 teaspoons sesame seeds
1 small bunch cilantro, chopped
Cut the large central rib out of the leaves, and cut each leaf in two lengthwise. Trim each leaf half a bit so that it is more or less rectangular. With a rolling pin, lightly crush each leaf half to make it more pliable.
In a bowl, mix the flour with the dry spices, sugar, and salt. In a mortar or food processor, make a paste of the ginger, pepper, and garlic. Add the paste to the flour mixture, and stir well. Add water a little at a time, stirring, until the mixture forms a spreadable paste.
Lay a leaf half on a board. Spread some of the paste in a thin layer on top. Place a second leaf half over the first, and spread the paste in a thin layer over the top. Roll the leaves to form a log. Use the rest of the leaves and paste to make two more logs in the same way.
Place the logs in a steamer heated to a boil (Robert uses a Chinese bamboo steamer set over a wok). Steam the patra for 25 minutes.
Let the logs cool, and then slice them crosswise into 3/8- to ½-inch rounds.
Pour enough oil into a large skillet to cover the bottom ¼ inch deep. Turn the heat to medium. When the oil is hot, add the mustard and sesame seeds. As soon as the seeds begin popping, place a single layer of patra rounds in the pan. Cook for about 1 minute, until the paste begins to brown. Turn the rounds, and cook them on the other side for another minute. Transfer them to a dish lined with paper towels to soak up the excess oil. Cook the remaining slices in the same way.
Serve the patra warm with chopped cilantro.
Makes about 3 dozen
The spices covered up the cabbagy flavor so well that Robert’s patra tasted, to us, just like the patra we remembered from the Indian market. With the sole addition of sautéed daylily buds, his patra made a lovely dinner.
Robert took a picture of his patra and sent it to Ankur. About a week later, Ankur sent back a very similar picture of a dish his own family meal. Apparently, he had talked his mother into making patra.
A little more than a year ago, my friend Mitzi, a massage therapist, and her colleague Rhonda told me about a salad that acts as an outstanding liver tonic. You slice head cabbage, grate raw beet, and chop some walnuts. You mix all this together with lemon juice, if I remember right, and olive oil. You let the vegetables wilt, and you eat a little of the salad every day.
The recipe sounded Russian to me, although the cabbage wasn’t supposed to ferment. And olive oil? That couldn’t be right. Such a salad would be very good with toasted walnut oil. And it might be even better—and certainly most Russian, with sunflower oil.
I don’t mean refined sunflower oil, the stuff used for deep-frying. I mean cold-pressed sunflower oil, the kind sold in every Russian grocery. This golden oil has a powerful fragrance and flavor, like a mouthful of raw sunflower kernels. It can take getting used to.
As far as I knew my liver was perfectly healthy, but that same day I made Mitzi’s salad, with sunflower oil. The first batch lasted only two or three days, because my husband liked it as much as I did. Somehow this salad seemed perfect for early autumn. Perhaps it really worked as a seasonal tonic. I made two more batches before I tired of the salad.
A week ago, I had a sudden craving for head cabbage. This was odd, because I greatly prefer Asian over European brassicas. Some years I don’t plant even one head of cabbage. After all, collards and kale are almost the same thing, and they are so much more practical, in that you can harvest from a single plant for months (or years, as in the case of my Yellow Cabbage Collard).
And then for some reason I thought of beets, and my mouth watered again. I remembered Mitzi’s salad. After months of eating tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers every day, it was time to eat cabbage and beets.
Here is Mitzi’s salad as I made it last week and again yesterday:
1½ pounds white head cabbage (half a 3-pound head), sliced fine
1 red beet, about 6 ounces, peeled and grated
¾ cup walnuts, chopped (toast them before chopping them, if you like)
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 to 2 lemons (about ¼ cup)
About ¾ teaspoons salt, to taste
¼ cup sunflower oil (or toasted walnut oil, if you have no Russian grocery nearby)
Toss together the cabbage, beet, walnuts, lemon zest and juice, and salt. Add the oil, and toss again. Let the vegetables wilt for at least a half-hour before you eat the salad. Store leftovers in the refrigerator. The salad will taste even better the next day.
Makes about 2 quarts