The jars of tomato sauce, blueberry conserve, raspberry-blueberry preserve, and dried herbs line the walls of our “dark pantry,” the one that has no windows or heat, so it acts as a root cellar in the winter. Dried chamomile blossoms, dried mint, dried lemon verbena fill the jars on my tea shelf.
And still the tomatoes come in. After that week of tomato envy back in August, when my friends’ vines were dripping with hundreds of pounds of unblemished fruit, and mine bore occasional marble-sized green tomatoes, it turns out my vines were simply late bloomers biding their time. The newcomers, Mangini’s Marvel, and Simon’s Special (tomatoes grown from seed collected by my friend Vint in Northwestern Connecticut) have fared well in this strange summer of gardening amidst the climate chaos that Barbara has so eloquently written about in some of her columns.
What a strange year it has been.
Hints of lemon and orange:
Something changed this summer: I finally woke up to the fact that what I can taste is influenced by smell. There are “notes,” flavors, subtleties, that I can play with in the kitchen. Barbara has known this for a long time, but I am a slow learner. The epiphany of this summer has been cooking with notes of lemon and orange.
Click here for recipes using lemon and orange to make ice cream, an amazing preserve, and an early September soup made with lemongrass stock.
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I look at what is still growing and think back to the beginning of the season. How has this tiny garden fared through a cold spring graced with too much rain, too much heat and not enough rain midsummer, neglect in August when I was away, and the winds and rains of Irene in September, followed by the threat of September frosts? Fewer pollinators, the rampant extremes of moisture and heat — this has not been my garden’s finest year.
So I take stock. There have been successes and discoveries, disasters and epiphanies, lessons learned. As I begin to tear out the vegetables that are finished, plan where next year’s garlic will go, collect some seed, toss the compost, dig the potatoes, and figure out what perennials need dividing, I take note.
The new varieties of tomato, one a slicing tomato, the other a plum tomato for sauce, produced copious quantities of fruit, with very little evidence of late blight. I shall collect seed and grow them again. Matt’s Wild Cherry Tomato, an unbridled success, produced hundreds of tiny sweet fruits. San Marzano Paste Tomato also produced masses of fruit (which skin easily when dropped into a boiling water bath for less than a minute. The fruits are small and tender enough that when making sauce, I squeeze the pulp out as if it were red paint from a tube). In contrast, the Amish Paste Tomatoes cracked and quickly rotted from temperature and rain extremes. The Glacier Salad Tomatoes all rotted on the vine and the slugs in the mulch had a field day. I won’t be growing them next year.
The cucumbers didn’t fare well — was it the trellis, I wonder, since I tried a new system, or the variety? Or was it the location? The “loggia” on my studio is finally smothered with a wisteria vine that bloomed twice this summer, a fall clematis that has never been so prolific, and a honeysuckle that has bloomed the entire summer, attracting hummingbirds until recently. These vines now actually shade some of my raised beds, and the plants inside them have not fared as well as in other years.
In other beds, the green peppers were never so huge, glossy and flavorful. The green bean crop was more than we could handle, week after week. The artichokes, which I started from seed, bore fruit and I let them flower. Shall I try to winter them over as Barbara did last winter?
The lemongrass, something I have never grown before, is four feet tall. I have only just started collecting it and steeping it into a broth. But will I know how to cook with it? I am on a learning curve with this plant.
Planting onions and shallots around the edge of each raised beds seems to have kept pests away from the vegetables, and yielded well. I will do this again.
A surprise lesson came from an unlikely source, Moby Dick, the woodchuck who resurfaced this summer to eat my broccoli, destroy the Brussels sprouts, nip at the radicchio, and obliterate the kale. With my friend Jane’s words in mind: “Remember, they see with their noses. They don’t climb. So if they bump into something they’ll back up, or dig down,” I erected a tiny chicken-wire fence, just two feet tall. Newly protected, six weeks later, my kale has come back, and the fall planting of broccoli is thriving, and no critters have gotten in. Including my 84-year-old aunt. Next year I will plant the peas, a couple of tomato plants, and some of the lettuces right along the fence so she can still forage.
The fig tree that we bought in May to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary is just now bearing a load of ripening fruit. We brought it inside the fence as squirrels were helping themselves, and now enjoy the sweet fruit with a dab of goat cheese for dessert. And we think about planting two apple trees in front of our house. We have never had fruit trees before, but I look forward to our own apples and figs, harvested on three-tenths of an acre … IFthe conditions are right.
Berry Ice Cream
While experimenting with recipes for fresh strawberry and raspberry ice cream, I found that scalding the cream with the zest of one lemon made for a lemon base behind the fruit (which then led to my discovery of lemon ice cream). You will note that I don’t add eggs to my ice cream. We make it in small quantities, and eat the whole batch.
Heat the creams, stirring in half of the sugar till dissolved, with the zest of the lemon(s). Cover and set aside to cool. When cool, strain to remove the lemon zest.
Puree the strawberries with the remaining sugar and add to the cream mixture. Chill in the refrigerator for at least four hours. Then pour into your ice cream maker, and eat as soon as it is ready.
I have made this with raspberries, pressing the raspberry puree through a sieve to remove the seeds. I have also made a lemon-tinted ice cream with no fruit.
During Tropical Storm Irene, blessed with no flooding, and a gas stove, here in Middlebury, I spent the day making jam and worrying: my husband was driving through Rutland and Brandon as they were being inundated; my sons were evacuated from their colleges. I combined several recipes to create a raspberry/blueberry preserve with hints of lemon and orange. My family was fortunate and came through the storm fine.
Remove the rinds of both the lemon and the orange very carefully, leaving the white underlayer (it is bitter and does not contain the lemon and orange oils); chop it finely. Remove and chop pulp, discarding seeds.
Bring water and sugar to a boil, add raisins, orange and lemon, and cook for a few minutes. Add berries and cook briefly, then take mixture off the heat and let sit, covered, overnight to macerate. Then cook the mixture till it thickens — you will have to judge — stirring to prevent sticking, and removing any foam.
Pour boiling hot into hot clean jars leaving 1/4 inch of headroom. Adjust lids and process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.
Mock Thai Soup
Barbara teaches a wonderful course on the uses of lemongrass, so this summer I tried growing it. This past week when the temperatures dropped toward frost, it felt like soup weather, and I made lemongrass stock, which filled the house with a lemon perfume that lingered long after the cooking.
For supper I threw together a mock Thai soup.
In a saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of coconut oil, and sauté 1 tablespoon of minced fresh ginger, 1 minced small onion, 2 cloves minced garlic, 1/4 cup chopped celery. When softened, add the meat of two chicken breasts cut into strips. Cook gently.
Add one pint of lemongrass stock and a handful of dried mushrooms, plus a liberal dose of pepper. When ingredients are tender, add a pint of coconut milk. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve when piping hot, with fresh cilantro.
This soup is very light. The lemon stock perfumes the soup, adding a subtle lemon note to the taste of coconut and chicken.