Thursday, August 19, 2010

fall slaw

I harvested the first red cabbage. After the lessons learned from eggplants and cucumbers, I began to worry that leaving the cabbage in the ground all summer might not result in a larger head of cabbage, it might just result in a tougher head of cabbage! My fears were not ill-founded. I was not able to cut the cabbage off its cabbage stalk with my garden shears, but had to pull the whole thing out of the ground. It reminded me of the plant in Little Shop of Horrors. You see the resemblance, I'm sure!

It also reminded me of certain old-fashioned so-called cabbage roses. I've always loved that rose form.

Anyway, one cabbage was out of the ground, tattered outside leaves removed and the stalk sawed off with a big, serrated knife. The moment of truth was at hand. I picked up my sharpest chef knife and prepared to cut the cabbage head in half. My first impression was of a wonderful peppery aroma. I've never smelled anything quite that strong or lovely from a cabbage I've bought in a store. I only hoped that it was not because the cabbage was past-eating; over-ripe! My second impression was of delight in the precise form on the inside. I would love a stamped impression of this, on paper. Actually, I think I've seen a wonderful woodcut of something similar, along the lines of Albrecht Dürer.

I chopped and tasted. The cabbage is not the tenderest I've ever tasted, but it had a wonderful flavor. When combined with a mustard ginger dressing, it was delicious! This, by the way, is one of the most flavorful slaw dressings I've ever tasted. You can combine the cabbage with grated carrot and/or granny smith apples and it is even better. It had a lovely taste of Fall - and the promise of cool weather and harvest. . . .

Here's the recipe for Fall Slaw:

1/4 cup vinegar (red wine or cider)
1/4 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons grated ginger root
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard (if you also have coarse whole-grain mustard, do half regular Dijon and half whole-grain)
2 teaspoons mayo
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon Worcstershire sauce
1 teaspoon celery seed
freshly ground pepper

Whisk it all together, and then whisk in just a bit of good olive oil at the very end (2 to 3 tablespoons, say). Pour the oil in slowly as you whisk, so it will emulsify. Stir in the slaw. It's even better the next day.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

the malevolent hummingbug

I was thrilled the other day to see what appeared to be a miniature hummingbird buzzing the violas that were still braving this summer's intense heat. Upon closer examination, he appeared to have antennae and legs. A hummingbug? Cool!

On the other side of the garden, I've started having to police the tomato plants for enormous caterpillars which - overnight - can defoliate the entire top of the plant. I hate those things! They hold on to the plant when you try to pull them off, spit green juice at you, and have a thorn-type horn at one end which I'm sure they would deploy if I didn't wear my garden gloves!

The detection and destruction of these invaders caused some domestic discord here at the greenwood. I was happy to detect them, not so happy to squash them. I'm squeamish that way. Actually, I should say that I was squeamish that way. . . . The king had made his refusal to garden well-known, upfront, so I can't really blame him for refusing to help me fight disgusting caterpillars in the garden. I did rather think that he would take pity on my girly sensibilities and dispatch the creatures for me, once captured.

Apparently not.

Feeling very sorry for myself, with the first one I went out, routed the worm, threw him on the compost heap, covered him with a leaf and bisected him with my trowel! No sweat; no muss; no gory details. I then thought about how our society insulates us from most bad stuff to the point where we either deny that bad stuff exists entirely, or run screaming from the room in horror when we can not ignore it. Farmers have no such luxury. A caterpillar chomping on a tomato plant can wreak havoc in a half hour. If you wish eventually to eat your produce, spraying deadly chemicals on it is probably not the answer. Killing is.

I never really thought I'd come to the point of saying that killing is the answer to anything. This, in spite of the ancient wisdom that there is a time for everything. . . . (and no, having planted even 20 tomato plants does not really qualify me as a "farmer", but I am learning some farmer lessons, I like to think.)

Anyway, I dispatch anywhere from one to six of these things a day now. They can be hard to spot, sometimes, but you develop a knack for seeing them after a while.

Imagine my horror when, instead of the usual green goblin, I got a green guy covered by white egg sacks?!!! Oh! My! Blech!!!! YUCK!!!! I did NOT want egg sacks in the compost heap. I substituted suffocation by doggie-do bag for trowel bisection. That night, I did some research. What ARE these creatures who have invaded my garden?!

I learned two things. First, the tomato hornworm grows up to be a moth - no surprise there - but it's the "hawk", "Sphinx" or "hummingbird" moth. The hummingbug!!!

Second, if you see the hornworms with the white protrusions on them, you are not supposed to kill them. Yes, that's correct, folks. Don't kill them because those aren't hornworm eggs on them, they're wasp eggs! Yay! And the wasps will kill the hornworms! Yay!! So let's have more wasps!!!

. . . like we need more wasps. . . .

Actually, it's a different kind of wasp they're talking about and I have resumed placing the parasitized hornworms in the compost pile. Good luck to those braconid wasps!

And that hummingbug had better stay out of my sight.

By the way, I think that the first full-grown, vine-ripened tomato will come off the vine this evening. It's been a long time - and 3 jumbo containers of cayenne pepper - coming.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

last year/this year

Last year, on July 14, we ate our first full-sized tomato. This year, on July 14, the deer pulled all our still ripening full-sized tomatoes off the tomato plants.

What a difference a year makes.

Last year, first thing in August, it was all about the tomato. This year, it's cucumbers. Here's the harvest from yesterday. Today, I finally picked the overlooked ones. Who knew they'd be so pretty and orangey-yellow? I'm definitely saving seeds for next year. They're drying as we speak. What I did discover is that yellow cucumbers are unbelievably bitter. The same holds true for over-ripe eggplants, I now learn. Now they tell me! Here I've been waiting for the eggplants to get nice and ripe. . . .

The white ones turn yellow. . . . which I am told means they'll be bitter. [I don't eat them myself, so I wouldn't know!] Here's what I picked this morning. Yep. Two yellow eggplants. And one white one. A purple one past its prime, and another couple small purple ones that should be delicious!

Postscript: the small purple ones were apparently NOT delicious. They were bitter. So were the yellow ones. AND the white one. The purple one 'past its prime' was not bitter, but largely tasteless and tough. Eggplant FAIL. Although they are pretty, growing in the garden. . . .