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Sunday, September 17, 2017

Paw paw harvest

About a year ago I wrote a post about a patch of small pawpaw trees I found growing at the edge of the yard.  To help them along, I removed other saplings, wild raspberry vines, and invasive multiflora rose bushes that were competing with them.  Well this year they have rewarded me with a nice crop of pawpaw fruits. I've been picking one or two a day and having them for desert.

For those of you who have never tried a pawpaw, it's a nondescript looking fruit on the outside that has a custard-like yellow interior that tastes better than anything I've ever tried.  Here's a picture of a small, bruised specimen.  The seeds are like large watermelon seeds, designed to pass through an animal to be dispersed elsewhere.

An article in Serious Eats describes the flavor better than I can:  "A pawpaw's flavor is sunny, electric, and downright tropical: a riot of mango-banana-citrus that's incongruous with its temperate, deciduous forest origins. They also have a subtle kick of a yeasty, floral aftertaste a bit like unfiltered wheat beer."  Yeh, that pretty well somes them up.  The flavor is downright intoxicating, and one of them sitting on the counter will fill the kitchen with a heady aroma.  

People have been breeding domestic cultivars of the pawpaw for awhile.  Even though it has a wonderful flavor, there are a few impediments to it's commercial success.  Like a peach, you know it's ripe when it's flesh gives a little under gentle pressure from a finger.  Unlike a peach, it won't ripen if picked when it is very firm.  Also, the fruits on any tree tend to ripen over a period of several weeks, so they can't be picked all at once.  Once they ripen and are ready to eat, they fall off the tree in short order, bruising them.  The fruits will keep a day or two on the counter, 3 or 4 days in the refrigerator.  Apparently, if the fruit is picked just short of being fully ripe, it will keep several weeks in the refrigerator and will ripen once removed.  The challenge is in knowing when they are just ripe enough, because if they are picked too green they won't ripen at all.

I've learned to check the trees every morning and evening for dropped fruit.  I made the mistake of mowing near them last week with the brush cutter, not realizing that the low hanging branches had a number of fruits.  That destroyed about half a dozen pawpaws.  I've picked about that many so far.  Maybe it's possible to eat them until I'm tired of them, but I haven't reached that point yet.  
 

Monday, September 11, 2017

Monday September 11

Production is slowing way down here, which is not a bad thing really, as I don't need to freeze any more beans or can any more salsa, there's plenty in the pantry.  I'm getting just enough to put into meals.  Having said that, the peppers are still producing and, if the weather is favorable, continue to produce for several more weeks.  This picking a week ago went into a batch of harissa, described in the previous post.

This is about a pound of pole beans, Fortex and Musica.  Later in the week I got 2 more small pickings of beans.

Sunday I removed the pole beans to the compost bin.  They were full of rust, some sort of bug was eating on the pods and pitting them, and they just looked bad overall.  It was about 9 feet of trellis.
It only took a few minutes to remove them.  I cut the strings at the top and bottom, snipped the beans at the base and pulled the whole affair away.  It made a big pile of greens that were chopped up with the machete.  Since the string is jute it will decompose with the plants.

I've been getting mostly Mountain Magic tomatoes now, although the Pink Girl plant looks like it's going to make some more slicers.  Shade is a real factor now, as the tree line to the southwest comes into play and shortens the plant's day length.  This picking includes the last summer squash.  I pulled the plant out after harvesting it.  And there's one Jimmy Nardello pepper in there, which has started producing again.

It looks like the Plum Regal plants may give me another batch of tomatoes.  I don't think it will be large enough to make a batch of salsa or marinara, but maybe enough to can diced tomatoes, which don't have to be boiled down.  I'm not sure I want to do any more canning, though. 

So far this year I've harvested 250 pounds of vegetables.  I don't know if the final harvest will be any more than other years, but it's been a balanced harvest where nothing has totally failed and no vegetable has given me a glut.  I've picked 100 pounds of tomatoes so far, better than in past years, but that is what I would expect from 8 cages.  Beans are a bit better than average, at 33 pounds, cucumbers were average at 22 pounds.  Eggplant and cole crops all gave decent yields, while okra and summer squash were a bit less than usual.  The only vegetable that disappointed was lettuce, and that was due to the potting mix that was used.  After a rocky start, it looks like winter squash will be OK. All in all, a very good year.

To see what other people are growing, head on over to Our Happy Acres and check it out.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Harissa redux

Tunisian pepper paste.  I love this stuff, especially on eggs.  Actually I made a post on this last year when I had my first go at making it.  This time I want to go into a little more detail on how I make harissa, since the last post was a little sketchy.  If you look up recipes online you'll find many different ways to make it.  I'm sure that, like hummus, every town in the region has its own variation on harissa. 

From the preparations that I've seen, ancho chilis are usually the base, hot peppers provide heat, and cumin and caraway, and maybe cilantro add spice.  There may be 2 camps of harissa makers - those who put tomato in it and those who don't.  I fall in the latter group, believing that this is a condiment where the pepper rules, and adding tomato makes it something else, like a salsa of sorts, but not a real harissa. 

Monday I picked these peppers, all of which went into making harissa.  Starting at the top left, there are 2 Bastan anchos, a Mosquitero ancho, and the mystery sweet pepper.  The yellow peppers are Mama Mia Giallo.  At the bottom left are 3 paprika peppers, and the small peppers are ripe Fish peppers - the heat.  I would have rather seen all the large peppers be anchos, but this is what the plants gave me, and I'll take it.

The preparation can be separated into 3 tasks.  The first part is roasting or grilling the large, mild peppers.  I say mild because anchos have some heat, while the sweet peppers have none.  If fresh anchos are not available and you want the flavor of the ancho in the paste, buy dried anchos at the supermarket and rehydrate in water.  I highly recommend using at least some anchos because they have a complex flavor profile that a sweet pepper can't duplicate - the taste of raisins, black currant, a sweet tang, a bit of heat - sublime really.

The second part is toasting the spices.  I used 2 tsp coriander, 4 tsp caraway, and 3 TB cumin.  Cumin especially is improved by toasting.  Raw cumin has an unpleasant raw 'bite' to it that toasting removes, replacing the rawness with a mellow, more rounded flavor.  And it smokes in the grinder!  I toasted the spices in a dry ceramic pan at medium heat.

How do you tell when the spices are toasted but not burnt?  I don't know, except I just know when it's time.  The seeds do look a bit browner in the after picture, and they were becoming fragrant.  After toasting, the seeds were ground, an operation that will clear the sinuses.


The third part is preparing the hot peppers.  I diced a medium onion and, after removing the seeds, cut all the Fish peppers at a fine dice.  The Fish peppers are related to serrano peppers and are about the same heat level, maybe a bit hotter, and they made the final product plenty hot for my taste anyway.  The peppers and onions were sauteed in some olive oil at medium-low heat until the onions wilted, then 5 chopped garlic cloves were added and the heat continued a few more minutes.

Then everything - the roasted peppers, the spices, and the onion/hot pepper mix - was put in the blender and blended together.  That's it.  The most labor intensive part is cutting up the hot peppers at a fine dice.  I intended to add a habanero to the mix but it had been in the refrigerator over a week and had gone bad.  Good thing it went bad because the paste is more than hot enough for my tastes.  It's a wonderful condiment and can spice up a lot of dishes.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Labor Day, September 4 2017

Back when I was a wee lad at St. Paul's Lutheran school in downtown Fort Wayne, Indiana, Labor Day marked the end of summer, a weekend to go to the lake for one last swim, and, with summer's end, the start of school shortly after, the end of freedom.  Most schools did not have air-conditioning then, and it made perfect sense to wait until cooler weather was at least a short time away.  Now school starts in mid-August.  Guess I really am getting old.

The garden is definitely winding down.  Okra is nearly finished, summer squash may or may not be done, and the beans have slowed down, which is fine because I don't need to freeze any more. Some tomato plants have been removed and the ones that are left aren't doing that much.  Right now I'm making what is probably the last batch of marinara, and this will be a short batch at that, as there's not enough tomatoes to fill the 7 pints the canner will hold.

So here's what I got for the week.  First, a mix of beans, about a pound, nothing like the 3 or 4 pound pickings that I was getting earlier.  The Musica beans have slowed down, while the Fortex beans have picked up the slack.  There's one last patch of Provider bush beans almost ready that will help finish out the year and keep me in beans.


Tomatoes, a mix of Mountain Magic, Black Plum, Better Boys that were picked before the plant was removed, and a few Plum Regal sauce tomatoes.

More beans,

Plum Regal tomatoes,

And this morning, more Plum Regals.  Combined with the earlier pickings, enough to make some marinara, which is boiling down right now.

No peppers this week, but they are certainly not finished.  I'll pick some anchos and Giallo peppers later today and roast them for harissa.  To see what other people are growing, head on over to Our Happy Acres.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Slowly winding things down, and some nature pics

Well that's a gentle way of putting that I'm ripping out some plants, I guess.   Both eggplants are out, victims of insects and unknown diseases, which usually follow insects.  The okra's foliage is thinning out and it won't be long before it's gone.  The lone summer squash has a stressed look in its leaves, the last squash rotted, and I don't see anymore forming.  And the tomatoes finally got what looks like blight, but it could be a number of things.  Whatever it is, it's moving fast. 

The Mountain Magic tomatoes, supposed to be blight resistant, have got something, which looks exactly like what has been killing my tomatoes for years, but only recently appeared this year, instead of in June:

What's getting the Black Plum tomato looks a little different.  Instead of starting from the bottom, it appears anywhere on the plant, with little yellowing.  The leaves and stems quickly turn brown.  It looked beyond saving, and, since it's in the center, I thought removing it might spare the other plants.  Looking at its Better Boy neighbor, I realized it was time for both of them to go.  So now there's a big space in the line of indeterminate tomatoes.

The PInk Girl in the right of the photo is the healthiest, least infected of the indeterminate tomatoes, and in my opinion is an excellent slicing tomato.  Removing the infected plants opens up some space for the ancho peppers and allows some evening sunlight to hit them.  They are loaded with peppers, those little dark triangles you see all over them, and need all the help they can get to give me some ripe anchos before frost.  I've lost 4 ancho peppers so far that rotted before ripening.  I hope this ancho rotting sorts itself out, as I'm more than ready to make a batch of harissa from grilled anchos.

I also removed infected and excess foliage from the determinate sauce tomatoes. It was a big mistake planting 2 per cage, resulting in a dense tangle of leaves that suppress ripening.  While I was trying to trim the Roma plant I managed to collapse the whole thing.  Apparently there wasn't much holding the plants up.  There was no point trying to prop up Humpty Dumpty and besides I wasn't really impressed with the plant's performance, so out it came.  I removed the cage from the hooks on the posts, cut off the stems at the base, and lifted the whole kaboodle out.   Gone, and it won't be missed.

Time for a brief nature walk.  The garden is not far from the pond, and the shoreline is left to go wild, although I do monitor and remove volunteer trees that I don't want.  Here's a look at the far  reaches of the garden empire.  There's some milkweed, and behind it some Joe Pye weed.  The milkweed hasn't shown any Monarchs, but the Joe Pye weed is a Tiger Swallowtail draw.

Behind the Joe Pye weed is another weed that I can't identify.  It's a nice looking plant, and also very attractive to the Tigers.  Anyone know what it is?

And speaking of swallowtails, what's parsley without a Black Swallowtail caterpillar.  I rarely see the adult, but the larva is striking.

Back to the garden.  The squash got off to a rocky start, lots of them died early, from wilt I think, and I replanted several times.  Finally, after a very late start, some Butternut squash have survived and are making squash.

I used up all of the Teksukabotu seeds and none of them made it.  The Buttercup squash have done the best.  Although they are not borer resistant, the ones that made it were planted late enough that they were no longer in danger from this pest, at least that's my theory.  It was touch and go for awhile, but it looks like I'll get some squash.

In most years, any squash that set before the last week of August have a good chance of ripening before frost.  While I'm speaking hopefully, I'm hoping that the sauce tomatoes give me one more picking, enough to can some more marinara.  And I'm hoping that the anchos ripen up, cause I really want to put some hot spicy harissa in the freezer.  Is that asking too much? 

Monday, August 28, 2017

Monday August 28

Another very productive week in the bean patch.  Speaking of beans, they have been producing strongly for a couple of weeks now, after the Japanese beetles tore through them and virtually stopped the beans in their tracks.  I can't imagine how many beans could have been picked if it wasn't for these pests.  So far I've gotten nearly 30 pounds of beans, most of them pole beans from a 9 foot long trellis.  So here goes, in what I believe is chronological order.  First a picking of Fortex, Musica, and Provider beans:

Yes, I froze a lot of beans this week.  Next some sweet peppers, Carmen, the beautiful yellow Mama Mia Giallo, and a paprika, along with some Millionaire okra and mystery squash, both of which continue to trickle in (actually, I prefer squash at a trickle, it doesn't overwhelm).

More beans, more Carmen peppers, and more okra.

Every day I was picking tomatoes, many of which I gave away.  These are some Better Boys.  A heavy rain last week caused many of the Better Boys to split.

Sunday was salsa canning day.  I picked a batch of Plum Regal sauce tomatoes, along with a few Romas.  The quality of all the tomatoes is definitely going downhill.  Many of the sauce tomatoes were blemished badly enough that they were good only for the compost bin.  Some of the tomatoes below were put in the windowsill to ripen further.  There were enough sauce tomatoes and Better Boys to make a batch of salsa.

There were just enough hot peppers available to free me from buying any at the store.  The smaller red peppers are Fish. The Jalapeno plants have started producing again.  They managed to send up some stems above the anchos that have been crowding them out.  These have been really excellent jalapenos, very hot for the variety.

Here is the weekly 'peppers on the grill' picture.  Yum.

Now that the adjacent eggplant has been removed, the Fish pepper plant has more space.  The picture doesn't do it justice, it's a gorgeous plant and would look great in a pot.  The stripes in the peppers slowly fade as they redden, but never disappear completely.

Lastly, another picking of beans.  For the week, 7.4 pounds of beans, 16 pounds of tomatoes, and various other goodies. To see what other growers are getting from their gardens, head on over to Our Happy Acres.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Monday August 21

It's been a really productive week here in the bean patch, in fact, the best so far this year.  I brought down the garlic that was drying in the attic in the pole barn and cleaned it up.  There are 4 different kinds but only 2 are known since the labels were lost for the others.  Only about 2 pounds but that will last me until next year.

The Musica and Fortex pole beans have started producing again, and two rows of Provider bush beans that were planted a couple months ago are also producing beans.  I picked 5.8 pounds of beans for the week, and froze a large bag.

Early last week I made another batch of salsa.  The sweet peppers, Carmen on the left and 2 peppers of unknown variety, plus 7 Magyar paprika peppers, were roasted on the grill and deskinned.  There were only a handful of Jalapeno peppers, which have been overrun by the ancho peppers, so I had to buy some more  at the farmers market.  The smaller Fish peppers gave a heat boost to the salsa.

The tomato base of the salsa was made from 2 small varieties.  These are the Mountain Magic tomatoes.

And the Black Plum tomatoes. Combined they weighed a little over 8 pounds, enough for 7 pints.

I picked a number of Better Boy and Pink Girl slicers. Rather than show the individual tomatoes, here's a photo of the Pink Girl plant, laden with ripe fruit.

Later in the week, more beans, okra, summer squash and a Bride eggplant.  The eggplant is nearly finished, overtaken by disease.  The Lavendar Touch eggplant was removed a few days ago.

More Millionaire okra.  Another picking today and I can make some pickled okra and peppers.

More beans.

Sunday was marinara canning day.  Most of the tomatoes came from the 2 cages of Plum Regal tomatoes.  This is an easy tomato to de-skin and process, and best of all the plants show no sign of blight or other disease.

A few Roma tomatoes and I had just over 12 pounds to make the sauce.  There's only 1 cage of Roma tomatoes but less than half as many as the Plum Regals, which are vastly more productive.

Deskinned and green cores removed.  It looks like a lot of tomatoes, but after cooking them down there was just barely enough to can 7 pints.  I draw the line at removing seeds, and anyway these tomatoes don't have that many seeds.

For the week I got 15 pounds of slicer and salad tomatoes, 12.8 pounds of sauce tomatoes, 5.8 pounds of snap beans, and lesser amounts of other good things, 40 pounds total.  To see what other gardeners are harvesting, head on over to Our Happy Acres and check it out.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Ghost birds

Wood ducks are like phantoms.  They are here and suddenly they are gone.  They land in the water with hardly a sound, and as soon as they see me they take off.   I scared up these two and they landed again at the far end of the pond. 

Yesterday I spied a group of 8 when I was in the sunroom.  Like the blue herons, they can see my movement in the sunroom and will bolt if they do, so I have to move slowly.  These are all juveniles.  The males have not yet developed their mature plumage, that will be next spring.  There has never been a nesting pair on the pond, but for the last few years the juveniles have been hanging around here in late summer after they leave the mother.  It's not a very good picture, at the limits of the camera's zoom and through the window.

This morning they were back, but this time only 7.  They seem to have a good time dipping in the aquatic vegetation and feeding.  I finally had to go into the garden and off they went.  This winter I plan to put up a nest box at the upper end of the pond.  I love to watch them and it would be great to have a nesting pair in the pond.