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Harvest

Gardening 2009

Last view of the garden covered in frost in October

Winter has finally taken hold in full force here in Toronto.  There has been snow on the ground for several weeks and overnight temperatures are regularly in the double-digit negatives but I’m thinking about gardening.  Last year I had started seeds (parsley and  lettuce) by Valentine’s Day and while I don’t know if I’ll be quite as ambitious this year it is definitely the right time to start planning the garden.  But first I need to do a final wrap-up post for last year’s garden.  I hope this will at least provide a green reminder that the ground isn’t always frozen and white.

Peas dried and saved from the 2008 garden

Peas: After a pretty successful crop in 2008 I saved some peas and planted them this spring.  This first experiment for me in seed-saving had very mixed results.  I’m confident that the peas were properly dried and stored because they germinated in the ground and produced healthy shoots.  I was surprised and frustrated to return to the cottage one late-June weekend to find that all of the shoots (along with their handful of nascent flowers) had disappeared.  I strongly suspect that birds who managed to foil the pea defenses that I improvised from bent sticks (a la Jamie Oliver) ate the tasty shoots.  I haven’t yet seen a bird in (or even near) our garden but vigilance is definitely not constant at a weekend, cottage garden in the spring.

Peas are a contender for garden space in 2010.  Working both for and against them is the fact that they make such a delicious in-garden snack–I eat my fair share and it makes it easier to recruit weeding helpers but it cuts into crop size. (more…)

Pickled Carrots

The finished product, straight from the canning kettle

The finished product, straight from the canning kettle

There are a lot of ways to enjoy pickled preserves: on or beside a sandwich, mixed into a spicy curry, or straight from the jar. I consider no use more noble (or mandatory) than as a foil to the salt and fat on one of those two collations of savoury greatness the charcuterie and cheese boards.  If I can’t picture myself chasing a piece of crusty baguette slathered in chicken liver mousse with a piece of a particular pickle I probably won’t get out the canning kettle.  Pickled carrots pass the charcuterie/cheese test on taste (sweet and acidic), texture (one of the best retainers of natural crunch without chemical assistance), and colour (other than Beemster and its French cousin Mimolette orange is a rare colour on these platters).

About half of the carrot harvest from the garden

About half of the carrot harvest from the garden

Other than my own culinary demand this project was made possible by a bountiful supply.  I had read last winter that carrots and tomatoes are great garden companions and because I knew that we would be devoting one of the cottage garden’s largest of four beds to tomatoes again this year I figured there wasn’t much to be lost by buying a packet of carrot seeds and sowing them around the designated spots for the tomato plants.  I’ll write more about this in my round-up of 2009′s gardening season but suffice it to say that this low-intensity experiment was a stunning success.  From a total of nearly ten pounds of carrots I designated three pounds of the smallest specimens for canning purposes. (more…)

Tomato Conserva

The main haul of tomatoes from our garden at the cottage

The main haul of tomatoes from our garden at the cottage

Tomato harvest day at the cottage came on September 19.  All summer we have taken what we needed as we needed it from the garden but with the passing of the halfway mark in September frost is a possibility and the determinate tomatoes are ripe and a couple are showing possible signs of blight.  It has been easy to find delicious uses for the six to ten tomatoes we have gleaned over the past few weekends but this time I brought home about sixteen pounds of tomatoes.  Roughly a third of this haul was not quite as ripe as I’d like so they’ve been wrapped in newspaper and stashed in a warm, dark room to ripen.  The other two thirds needed to be preserved before they spoiled.

Last summer I made a simple tomato sauce with the extra garden tomatoes and froze it.  This was a good sauce and it made for a meal in February (with some homemade pasta) that did an excellent job of reminding us of summer.  The downside was that while we kept a large brick (about the size of medium-size cookbook) of tomato sauce in our freezer for months we only got to enjoy it with one meal.  This year I wanted to find a way to spread the flavours of August over more time.  Paul Bertolli’s Cooking by Hand–a well-respected cookbook that along with the works of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Michael Ruhlman are often referenced on my favourite food blogs–has an extensive tomato section that includes a recipe for tomato conserva.  It is tough to describe the difference between tomato paste and conserva–they can be used in much the same way to enrich tomato or meat dishes–except to say that they deserve their individual names.  Tomato paste tastes like something that should be called “paste” while conserva earns its more exotic Italian name. (more…)

Saving Tomato Seeds

Ripe Canabec Rose tomatoes doing very well on the vine

Ripe Canabec Rose tomatoes doing very well on the vine

At the end of my third full summer of vegetable gardening I decided that it is time to take the plunge and try saving my own seeds for the first time.  Tomatoes were the obvious choice on the grounds of utility and ease. This summer and last I grew from the Canadian Heritage Mix sold by Salt Spring Seeds and had a great deal of success.  Even with the rainy summer of 2009 our tomato plants produced a bigger crop than we could eat fresh and best of all the tomatoes taste better than anything available in a grocery store.  Based on what I had read (and now on experience) tomato seeds are fairly easy to save because the seed is ready at the same time as the edible crop–unlike most other plants (beets, lettuce, greens, radishes, etc.) which take longer to go to seed and by then are inedible.  Off the top of my head the only two categories of vegetables that I can think of whose seeds would be easier to save are the autumn/winter squashes (think pumpkin seeds) and beans that are grown for dry storage (the seed is the food crop).

The wild tomatoes that germinated and grew on their own in the garden

The "wild" tomatoes that germinated and grew on their own in the garden

I was further motivated to save tomato seeds this year because amazingly they started growing wild in the garden.  Tomatoes are native to south and central America and supposedly need to be started indoors in February or March here in Canada in order to bear ripe fruit before the first autumn frosts.  I have seen tomato plants grow out of composters here but the ones that popped up in our garden where the tomatoes were last year actually bore ripe fruit.  I imagine the fact that last year’s tomatoes were grown from seeds (these are either from Pollock or Manitoba varieties) specifically bred to do well in Canadian conditions helped a lot.  The “wild” tomatoes were quite delicious and hopefully if started indoors next year they’ll be even more productive.

(more…)

Cottage Garden Pickle

The preserved Cottage Garden Pickle based on the recipe for Branston Pickle

The preserved Cottage Garden Pickle based on the recipe for Branston Pickle

Two minor inspirations can sometimes come together to form a major one.  I’m an unashamed anglophile and a ploughman’s lunch is one of my favourite pub meals.  Earlier in September a tweet by @ScottCanCook gave me the idea of making homemade Branston Pickle–the most typical savoury accompaniment to the bread, cheese, and onion (sometimes pickled, sometimes an apple or pear instead) that makes up a ploughman’s.  Recipes for Branston Pickle are a laundry list of vegetables especially those like swede, courgettes, and beetroot that the British have charmingly decided to call by a different name (that’s rutabaga, zucchini, and beets in North America). (more…)