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Growing Garlic, Making Pesto

4 Aug

This year I grew garlic in the back yard.

It started with just three heads of an heirloom hardneck garlic variety ‘Music’ grown and seed-saved year after year by my parents.

I stored the cloves in the fridge for a week before planting (in case that helps with vernalization in our mild winter climate– unclear), then planted them in a raised bed in January (about an inch down, 4″ apart):

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Three weeks later, they’d sprouted:

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By mid-spring every clove had grown into a healthy-looking plant:IMG_20170319_175001 (1)

In May the garlic started putting out scapes, these smooth, curving shoots with the beginnings of bulbs at the end. These could become the garlic flower…IMG_20170524_200132_599

But instead we harvested them, to leave the garlic growing underground and also to cook with:IMG_20170524_193715

They make a delicious, spicy pesto (with some parsley, olive oil, pepitas, parmesan, and salt) that we ate that night and froze (in an ice cube tray) for future meals:IMG_20170524_200536

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By early July, the garlic was showing signs of being ready to harvest– the tops were about half brown and dead:

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I picked a test bulb (each of the 12 cloves planted grows into a whole new bulb) and checked it out. Good external paper beginning to peel off:

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Pretty good internal form: individual cloves, each in a papery skin. Perhaps still a bit thin/moist? I decided to leave it another week or two.

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In mid July, I picked the rest:

IMG_20170708_203958H braided them and we hung them up outdoors to dry for a few weeks before moving them to the kitchen:IMG_20170709_205438 (1)

And at last, our first batch of basil pesto that used both basil and garlic from the garden:

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Growing (and pickling) Mouse Melons / Cucamelons

31 Jul

Back in mid-February I started some mouse melon seeds indoors under a grow light. Within a few weeks:

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Six weeks later, they were reaching out to grab onto anything nearby:

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Finally in mid-April I was able to plant them out (after “hardening them off” for a week by setting the seedlings outdoors under an awning in partial shade, to acclimate them to the outdoor weather). A makeshift trellis made from wire mesh and pieces of bamboo, at the end of a raised bed with compost and some drip irrigation along the roots:

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They grew slowly and tentatively at first, only gradually climbing the trellis as single vines… but as the weather warmed up and they got their roots established, they exploded, covering the entire trellis edge to edge.

By July they’re pumping out hundreds of tiny, crisp vegetables that look like a miniature melon and taste like a cucumber injected with a bit of lime juice. There are several dozen in this photo alone if you look carefully:

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Close-up:

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We’ve been eating them raw straight off the vine (they’re especially good when picked just slightly below peak size), put some in salads, and I turned a few quarts into kosher-style dill pickles– lactofermenting them at room temperature in a 5% sea salt brine with dill and garlic from the garden as well as mustard seed and peppercorns (and in one case, some leftover brine from a previous Jimmy Nardello ferment). They worked well as pickles, keeping their crispness, and developing that nice half-sour pickle tang after 4 days fermenting at room temperature and a few weeks in the fridge…

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[the left jar is a new batch about to ferment, the right jar is pickled and ready to eat]

They work well as snacks, and I look forward to trying them as a cocktail garnish…

 

 

 

Radicchio-Kale-Bacon Omelet

12 Mar

From the back yard garden, kale and radicchio that’s finally forming heads (planted last fall).

With fermented Jimmy Nardello pepper paste…

Fermented Green Chiles

12 Feb

My third, fourth, and fifth batches of fermented hot sauce:

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Two of them started as ways to preserve two bushes worth of green cayennes and Thai chiles (chilis? chilies?) from a back yard raised bed that got a later start in the season so didn’t turn red before the weather turned cool:

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I packed a jar full of green chiles with some mustard seed and garlic cloves in a 4% salt brine and let ferment for about a month at 60 degrees, then skimming off mold or anything floating on the surface, straining, tasting, and pureeing with some of the reserved probiotic brine to make a tangy, slightly umami hot sauce (no vinegar added). The cayenne in particular has more going on than just “hot”.

I do want to figure out a better blending / straining technique for the times I want a thin hot sauce that’s less like a chile paste.

Savory cornmeal pancakes from flint corn, backyard greens

15 Jan

For a savory brunch, we made cornmeal pancakes from some beautiful Floriani red flint corn my sister grew and ground:

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I took a ‘Johnnycakes’ approach, which is more like a thin griddled cornbread or polenta, with no baking powder or flour. The general recipe (made 12 hearty pancakes, for 4 adults + 2 kids with toppings):

  • Mix 2 cups of cornmeal, 2 cups boiling water, and 1 tsp salt, stir and cover for 10 minutes, to let the hot water soften the cornmeal
  • Stir in  between 1/2 and 3/4 cup milk, gradually, stopping when it’s a very thick but spreadable batter (when I did this a few months ago and added too much milk, the batter was too runny and I ended up making thin crisp corn wafers).
    • [update] When I made these again from fresh-ground fine blue cornmeal a few months later, I ended up using about twice as much milk to make this closer to a thick pancake batter
  • Mix in 1.5 Tbsp olive oil
  • Cook in an oiled skillet on medium (or medium-low) heat, flipping when golden brown. I found it took about 4 minutes per side.

I made test pancakes with and without egg in the batter, and the one with egg and a bit more liquid made a thinner, smoother, more traditional-looking pancake (on the right)– but while both were delicious we preferred the texture of the eggless, thicker version on the left:

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We served them with a buffet of savory toppings– black-and-white orca beans, cheddar cheese, scrambled eggs, avocado, and a collection of beautiful greens from the back yard ‘winter garden’ (which in Oakland has been just hugging the edge of frost at night)– mizuna, broccoli greens, kale, arugula, daikon greens, and some oregano and thyme, sautéed with caramelized red onions and garlic. The daikon greens have been a surprisingly good addition to many sautés– they give off a puff of mustardy spice when you first start to cook them but then mellow out.

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This quick cell phone photo of a plate doesn’t make it look especially appealing, but this was a delicious (and relatively simple) combination I’d make again:

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Pesto from the garden, ham and melon, caprese

22 Jul

Our first basil harvest put to good use on a summer evening.