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Sunday, November 11, 2012

Confession, Redemption, and a Couple of Recipes

I think I've managed to redeem myself as a gardener, but first I have to confess something.

Remember all that corn I was drying in the oven on the dehydrator setting?  Well, I forgot about it and left it there so long that not only did all the corn mold, I was also growing mold on the interior of the oven itself.  It was pretty bad.  So gross in fact that I'm sparing you the picture, which I didn't take.  Needless to say, I lost my entire corn crop and I'm quite mad at myself.  But- I have learned the lesson of getting the corn into the ground on time and to not worry about cool it is outside.  The corn needs as long as it takes to ripen and dry before the rainy season comes, and hoping and wishing does not speed up that time.  Next year, the corn goes into the ground in May.

I'm also pretty miffed about my apples.  Out of eleven trees of differing varieties, I had only four apples on my Golden Russet which I'd carefully bagged up in plastic produce bags so that the coddling moths couldn't get to them but the light could ripen them.  I went to go harvest them yesterday and the bags were ripped and hanging on the branch but there were no apples to be found.  Not even pieces of apple were lying around.  Something with hands tore through the bags and picked my apples and spirited them away somewhere to be enjoyed at leisure.  Raccoons.  In hindsight, I realize that I should have ignored the espalier instructions I was following and not made the first tier at eighteen inches from the ground; I should have started higher- at least twenty-four inches, or maybe even thirty inches.  Well out of reach of raccoons, anyway.  So this winter when I go to cut and spread the last tier on the apples, I'll be pruning off the lowest branches.  I'll lose some yield, to be sure, but if I leave them, I'll lose the apples anyway, and I'd really rather not be feeding the raccoons.  I realize that raccoons can climb trees, but I would think it would be harder to come down with full paws.  Maybe I should just string up some goat fencing on the wire uprights and put in a doorway and call it a fruit cage.  Damn raccoons.

But I managed to get a lot done in the garden yesterday.  I cleared the asparagus patch for the winter and started the winter compost pile closer to the house.  I dug up all the German Queen tomato plants and cleared the bed, and then planted my garlic and leeks in that bed.  I've decided that German Queens aren't the right tomato for me after all.  Sure, they're delicious, but they take all summer to start setting fruit, and they don't finish nicely enough to can. I need to try some locally developed varieties like Oregon Spring or Santiam, or even a variety developed in Canada, like Beaverlodge, all of which handle cooler temperatures and ripen fruit early.

Green tomatoes and mystery peppers
I also cleaned up the African Queen tomatoes, Fortex green beans, and the two mystery peppers from the Long Bed. Now all it has are my fall and winter vegetables (more on that later).  The African Queen made prettier tomatoes than the German Queen but I did not get one ripe tomato from them. So they are out as well.  I did not like the Fortex green bean at all.  It was billed as a pole variety filet bean, but you had to catch them in time, otherwise they quickly grew into obscenely long and tough beans.  So they are out.  I really liked the Denver filet beans I grew last year, which produced all summer long and were delicious, but harvesting bush beans was really hard on my back.  This summer I noticed that the Kentucky Wonder pole beans that my neighbor was growing made nice little filet beans when they were immature, so I may try some of those next year.  Kentucky Wonder is an old, open-pollinated variety and I think they'd make a good addition to my roster.  I will definitely not be growing Fortex again, though.

This winter as I clear parsnips and beets out of the Long Bed I'll be making room smack dab in the middle of the bed, and this is where I'll erect a hoop cover for next year's solanums: tomatoes, peppers, and egg plant, none of which did well this year.  The best garden I ever had was the one that I was able to start early because I had winter protection, I'll try that again.

Potatoes, turnips, and carrots
I also cleared the corn stalks and most of the potatoes out of the Big Bed.  The potatoes were a surprise- I actually managed to harvest quite a few of them, so they weren't the disappointment I thought they would be.  I also harvested a number of turnips and carrots for dinner, and there are a lot more where they came from, so I think I may have redeemed myself as a gardener because I have some food in the garden still.  Next spring I'll try planting spring wheat in the Big Bed, and after I harvest that I'll plant my fall and winter vegetables in it.  Somewhere between now and next spring I'll need to contact the Extension Service to find out what kind of seed to grow for spring wheat and where to get it.  

Then the last thing I managed to get done last night before the sun went down was to cover up the two citrus trees for the winter and harvest some horseradish.  Steve dragged the potted lemon and lime trees closer to the house and then we tented them with agribon.  The very last thing we did before coming in the house was to dig up some horseradish, which I'll prepare later today.  From everything I've read, horseradish loses its bite after a few weeks in the fridge, so you have to pack it into little jars and then freeze them.  But all you do to preserve horseradish is peel it, wash it, grate it, let it sit three minutes to develop its heat, and then pack it with vinegar or salt (but never the two together or you'll wind up with mush) and then freeze as mentioned or refrigerate. I think I might be lucky to find one little jar, so I'm considering freezing it in an ice cube tray and then bagging those up, but I'm concerned that my next batch of ice following the horseradish having a distinct taste of horseradish.  I may have to rethink that one. Hmmm.

Then last night I made stew for dinner with turnip, carrots and potatoes from the garden, and it was easily one of the best stews I've ever made.  I don't have a picture of it (we were starving by the time I got it on the table) but I'll tell you what went in it, if you're so inclined.

Autumn Beef Stew

Season some flour with salt, pepper and a little garlic powder.  Coat your stew meat in that and brown the meat in some bacon fat in a Dutch oven.  When all the meat is brown add a quart or so of beef or pork stock and scrape the fond off the bottom of the pan.  Add cut up carrots, turnips, and potatoes.  Turn up the heat, and when it's good and hot add a couple of tablespoons of  tomato sauce (I used a sauce/paste combo I keep in the fridge for topping pizza- it has nothing else in it but olive oil), and a couple of tablespoons of my favorite Secret Ingredient, which is avjar.  Avjar is an Eastern European condiment made of red pepper, eggplant and garlic and is a flavorful substitute for mayo on a sandwich, except that it makes the bread soggy if you spread it ahead of time.  I usually bring it separately and spread it right before I eat the sandwich.  It's also good as an addition to things like pasta sauce and beef stew.  After you add the avjar and stir that in, add a couple of crushed cloves of garlic and some fresh ground black pepper. After it's all stirred up and boiling, turn the heat down and put a wooden spoon across one side of the pot and put a lid on it, resting one side of the lid on the spoon so that steam can escape.  Now let it stew for about an hour.  It should have thickened up in an hour and be ready to serve.  I'm expecting the left overs to be even better.

And since we all like food porn, here is a picture of a meal we had recently:

For lunch last Sunday I made us a classic hash brown done in the French manner, which is to put half your hashed potatoes on the bottom of a frying pan in bacon grease, layer on some fresh green onions and pepper, and then layer on the second half of the hashed potatoes. (Except the French do it with leeks and duck fat, neither of which I had. I imagine that with duck fat and leeks this dish would be out of this world, but it was still pretty darn edible the way I did it.)  When the first side is done, invert it onto a plate, add more fat to the pan, and then slide the whole thing into the pan again, brown side up, and season the top side with salt and pepper.  Cook that side until brown and serve.  The neat thing about this really simple dish is that you get a nice, crunchy exterior and the inside is all creamy.  Delish.  I served it with poached eggs on salad with a vinaigrette. If I remember correctly, we had it with home brew; we shared a pilsner because it was the middle of the day.

So there you go: a confession, redemption, and a couple of recipes.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Very Nearly There

With the exception of one little patch of welded wire to put up in the west side tree trunks, I am done with the wiring and roof for the new Hensdeep.  All I have left for perimeter security is to dig down along the fence line and bury some welded wire to keep digging bastard raccoons out.  I also need to frame and then pour a concrete sill for the door.  I am going to be seriously annoyed, if after all this effort, I lose a hen.

Then all I have left to do after finishing the perimeter is to assemble and install the waterer and finish up the feeders, but the good news is that with the tarps up, I can work out there in the rain. In fact, I kind of wish it would rain while I'm out there so I could see how well or badly it's all working.

I know it looks like butt, but it was cheap.  The tarps cost all of twenty bucks for the two of them and they're not a ridiculous shade of blue, which would look truly awful.  At least they somewhat disappear into the background.  Steve says that they are a good camouflage in case my egg production facility is hit by an Allied bombing raid. Speaking of Allied bombing raids, I didn't consider what they were going to look like with bird shit all over them, because they are still under the trees after all.  Oh well.

They also cover roughly half of the space which is punctured by tree trunks and makes roofing a tricky proposition.  Actually, I think the Photinia are technically shrubs or bushes, but they got left to go to the dogs long before we ever showed up, and since they provide the only shade in the yard, they won a reprieve from any hard pruning (read: cutting down).  At any rate, they were incorporated into the roof structure when I lag bolted a two-by-four to them and then attached everything else to that.

Today is Sunday, so I've another day to work on this.  I'm hoping to have it all together in the next couple of weeks.

But I'm very nearly there.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Autumn Leaves Drift Past My Window

Some years our tree out front, which I've referred to in the past as the Largest Sweet Gum Known to Mankind, doesn't do so well in the Fall Color category.  One year, the temperature turned so fast that instead of turning various shades of yellow, orange, and red, the leaves turned a funky shade of purply-brown, kind of mahogany.  Really a strange color for autumn leaves.

Not so this year.  This year, we are having an uncommonly warm autumn- not indian summer warm, but not as cold as usual.  This November is starting out pretty warm as well. Usually, November is consistently colder than December and January, which I find pretty weird, but that's what usually happens in these parts.

But this year, we are getting a nice, gradual cooling off, and our sweet gum's colors are glorious!  I have not retouched these pictures, which I took from our bedroom window.  I think in some regards, deciduous trees in autumn beat spring and summer flowers all hollow.  Much more spectacular on a bigger scale.  Do you wonder why this is my favorite time of year?