Garden, Plant, Cook!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Summer "Greens" - Start Planning for Lettuce Replacements.

Dear Folks,

I've been enjoying sweet potato greens from early Summer to late Fall for several years but wanted to have a greater selection. 

Last summer I actively tried to make sure I had a variety of lettuce replacement greens in my gardens.

The beauty of growing sweet potatoes (the one pictured is one of the purple varieties) is the multiple uses of this edible plant.  Happy sweet potatoes can produce yards and yards of vines and leaves, so you can harvest some leaves all summer long, then harvest the tubers in the fall.  A win/win for foodies.  The leaves and stems can be cooked as you would spinach.  The cut vines and leaves have a bit of a sap which can be irritating to some folks.  Just rinse in cool water.  I love them raw too.

Plant sweet potato slips May through the beginning of July.  You can use the same bed as your regular potatoes after harvesting the regular ones in late April through early June.  The two types of potatoes grow in opposite temperature ranges.  NOTE:  Only the sweet potato leaves are edible the Irish/Russet plants (Solano family) have toxic leaves.

Last Spring, a friend gifted me some Egyptian Spinach seeds (aka Molokia --Corchorus olitorius, C. capsularis)  and I fell in love with the leaves.  The plant is a type of jute (yes the "rope" fiber made from the long stems) but the edible leaves are:

 "a very popular green vegetable in Egypt, where it is considered a 'national dish' and a very ancient one. Legend has it that an early Pharaoh who had become seriously ill consulted a healer who told him to begin a diet of Molokia in order to be cured. The Pharaoh did so, and ever after the herb has been held in high esteem. It is most commonly known in the West by its original Egyptian name, or by the term 'Jews' Mallow.'" --

Sow Egyptian Spinach seeds near the end of April.

The next lettuce substitute is another multi-edible plant "Roselle" the Hibiscus variety most known for its Vitamin C rich, cranberry-tangy flower calyxIf you have enjoyed "red hibiscus" or "hibiscus" in tea you have had the calyx "Roselle."

But I want to point out the lovely leaves, which also have a milder tangy flavor and are delicious.  Also known as Sorrell or Flor de Jamaica, Hibiscus Sabdariffa LOVES our summer heat and full sun and can be a 6+ foot wide bush by the end of the summer.  The flower calyx are ready in late fall, but the leaves can be enjoyed all summer long.  (Sow the seeds around the end of April.)

Lastly the ubiquitous purslane (Portulaca oleracea), the weed usually hated by gardeners, but a heat loving vegetable.  There are some "domestic" types of purslane propagated specifically for home edible garden use.

Known in Spanish as "Verdolagas" it is most known as a pot herb and used in stir-fry type dishes.

Purslane has a succulent, slightly tangy tasting leaf and is high in Vitamin A, C and Potassium.  It is frequently prepared with pork using the entire tender stem and leaf.

Using These Leaves

All of the leaves of these plants can be used in salads and on sandwiches in place of common lettuce.

When I make soups or stews I like to sliver the leaves and add directly to the soup or stew just before removing from the heat.

Or, I will place a portion (1/2 cup or more)  of all of the mixed greens in the bowl and ladle over OR top the soup / stew in the bowl with the mixture.

Speaking of Weeds - look into using other common weeds like mallow (mild lettuce flavor) and wild mustard (spicy mustard taste).

NOTE:  You should always try small amounts of plants which are new to you and your family to determine allergic issues.

Over at The Desert Kitchen Facebook page, they post on using the wild edible plants found all over the Valley along with recipes for things growing in our backyards.  Instead of Kale Chips, how about "Mallow Chips"?

Mallow -- the picture is of the Common Mallow (cheese weed named for the shape of the edible seed) and Hollyhock (bottom photo) for visual comparison.  The shape of the leaves is similar but the mallow has a more deeply scalloped edge.  They are from the same plant family (Malva).  The mallow leaf has a mild flavor.

Wild Mustard is a member of the broccoli family.  The young plant pictured has a nice mildish spicy bite and can be used in any number of ways:  salads, as a herb mix "pesto" type sauce in soups and stews.  
And a picture of a more mature plant where the tiny yellow flower is more visible.  These older plants can be quite spicy-mustardy-hot.
A new to me edible weed is one that is a pest in the gardens.  A trailing weed that can be very invasive the Hoary (Hairy) Bowlesia Incana is from the Parsley/Carrot family.  While visiting the Desert Kitchen FB page (link above) there was a question on this plant and I recognized the name, but then learned it is edible.  Hey, if you have a pest plant in the garden rather than compost, eat it!  The taste is mild. 


If you missed my blog post on April Planting - here is the link. 

The beauty of edible landscaping are the fun options through the various seasons using all of the bounty available, whether intentionally planted or volunteer!


My PDF for planting times on 48 culinary herbs is just $5, click here for more information and a preview.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Saturday, March 18, 2017

This Is Not An Olive, But It Might Be a Really Nice Option!

Brined and cut baby peaches.
Dear Folks,

I posted about thinning our peach tree (it is that time of year), and it has always been a sad thing just because of discarding all that potential fruit.  The point is to have bigger resulting fruit and to ease the weight on the branches.

I mentioned discovering, several years ago, that these thinned baby peaches can be pickled, after reading about the tradition of Liguria, Italy to pickle baby peaches, baby almonds and similar immature fruit.  Here is the thinning and recipe post from several years ago.

This works because the pit is not fully formed when the peaches are thinned when they are 3/4 of an inch or smaller.

I tried the recommended sweet / spicy pickle and it turned out good.  I am just not a huge fan of sweet pickles.

Since I have been doing my own home lacto-fermentation (brining) of various vegetables, I thought, why not try this with the baby peaches.  It worked wonderfully well with my caper berries last spring/summer.

I am here to tell you this is going to be one of my new favorite additions to all things I would add olives or capers to!!

I have started to keep brine ready for just this kind of opportunity.  It keeps well, just remember to use a plastic lid on the glass jar because it is corrosive, it is only salt and water but still can pit any metal that is not stainless steel.

The baby peaches are bitter.  The brining removes the bitterness and makes them a salty, crunchy olive-like vegetable.

To make the brine:

1 cup of water
2 teaspoons of kosher or sea salt (NOT iodized salt)

Bring the water to boil or very hot and dissolve the salt in it.  Make sure the salt is completely dissolved.  You can use immediately after it is cooled or just store in your pantry for later use.

The easiest way to brine is to have two mason jars of different sizes, example:  one quart jar and one 8 oz jar.  The smaller jar will fit into the larger one to weigh down the peaches.  This is important at they need to be kept under the liquid at all times while fermenting.

Mine took 5 days.

Make sure the jars are very clean, have a dish towel or piece of plastic wrap handy (this will keep the dust out while it is fermenting). [PICTURED is a jar of my sauerkraut to illustrate the jar-in-a-jar with plastic cover..]

1.  Rinse the baby peaches and remove the stem.
2.  Fill the jar with the peaches, up to the shoulder and cover by a 1/2 inch with the brine. Fill the smaller jar with about 1/4 cup of water (for weight) and insert into the brining jar.  Place on a plate in case any liquid spills over.  Lightly cover with the towel or plastic   Place on your counter away from drafts and the stove/oven - this keeps the temperature constant.

You may see bubbles of gas escaping - this is part of the process.  Taste after 5 days, if you still detect bitterness let them sit longer.  Once they are were you like them, remove the small jar and cover, cap with a plastic lid label and store in the refrigerator.  They will last for months and months.

If you have to thin your trees I hope you give this a try to make removing all those baby fruit your gardening skills helped grow, a win/win -- bigger resulting juicy peaches and a tasty addition to your pantry.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Friday, March 17, 2017

Around the Garden - St. Patrick's Day

Dear Folks,

The path in the garden between two Navel Orange trees is a covered in a confetti of orange blossom petals, and the heady fragrance surrounds us when we walk to the deck

Today I will pull my home corning beef out of the refrigerator where it has been brining for 2 weeks and toss it, potatoes and carrots into the big crock pot and cook up dinner for this evening.

This year I am going to cook the cabbage separately, sauteing it on the stove to keep a little crunch in it, before adding to the corned beef dinner serving bowl.   I've posted about home corning beef before - here is a link to one post.  If you want to try this you need to five yourself 10-14 days (I like 2 weeks) for the beef to brine.

Back to the garden . . .

For Christmas a dear friend sent me a live Dwarf Alberta Spruce Tree  in a pot.  For years I have been saying I want to try growing a Christmas Tree (I was thinking Fir) for the wonderful fragrance.  Well now I have an opportunity.  I chose a spot in our gardens which has shade a good portion of the day,  After enjoying for the holidays, we planted it on January 2, 2017.  And now about 2.5 months later it has new growth!!  So pleased at this point.  The real test it going to be the intense summer heat.  We shall see.

Did you know many of these types of trees are edible?  The tips are the part of pine, spruce and fir which are enjoyed.  In my picture here you can see the bright green tips mentioned in this blogger's note.

The key to cooking with the tips of evergreen trees is to harvest them when they first begin to emerge from their brown papery casings. At this stage, spruce tips are very tender and have a fresh flavor that tastes lightly of resin with hints of citrus.

I may try a couple of the tips to experiment with, but since I am hoping the tree does well here, I don't want to take too much of the new growth, it is going to be the parts that will hopefully adapt to my gardens.  I picked a few this morning to try with the cabbage for today's dinner.

I am trying tomatoes and the wonderful Bradford Watermelon in two new spots this year (I have tomatoes and basils in another area as well).  I started seedlings in December in my greenhouse.

The Bradford is an incredible heirloom with flavor so sweet it goes all the way to the rind.  The skin is so tender it was too fragile to ship and the watermelon was "lost" until a food writer searching for it was contacted by descendants of the original grower.

My plant last year put out about 20 feet of vine and several truly memorable fruit.  This year I'm trying several plants in a different location with a different watering pattern.

The two tomato types are a cherry a yellow pear (I think - I did not mark which ones :-)

Two of my Elephant Garlic plants have scapes, which I will cut off and use.  Elephant Garlic (Allium ampeloprasum var. ampeloprasum) while a member of the onion family is actually related to the Leek (think leek on steroids and a Leek is a Scallion on steroids :-)  Anyway the Elephant Garlic which produces a huge head of cloves is actually milder than the true Garlic (Allium Sativum).  I am growing both, but the Elephant is producing scapes first.

While checking the garden this morning and taking pictures, I stepped over to the Pink Grapefruit tree area.  If the Navel Oranges decorated the path under them with flower petals, the grapefruit decided to drop most of its old leaves!

This is great because I need leaf litter/mulch to top my potato bed (to keep the growing tubers in the dark).

And I now have 3 sets of Banana Bunches!!!!!

I am thrilled as all of these are ripening at the right time for maximum flavor and harvesting.  It will be 1-4 months before they begin to turn yellow. (From flower to ripe is usually about 4 months.) This is the Ice Cream Banana variety Musa acuminata × balbisiana (ABB Group) 'Blue Java'.  The ice cream reference is to the creamy consistency of the fruit and the mild vanilla flavor (yes to both although not everyone tastes the vanilla).

I've grown the plants for many years and we have enjoyed the fruit in limited amounts mostly because the ripening began going into the cold fall and winter.

The first bunch flowered sometime in December and we spotted the fruit in early January,  The second one flowered in February and the most recent one early March sometime.

Needlesstosay I need to figure out how to enjoy all the fruit as it ripens.  Besides fresh I may have to make homemade real banana pudding!

I hope you enjoy a glimpse of my gardens and that it inspires you on your own edible garden journey.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Monday, March 13, 2017

April Planting Tips and More.

Dear Folks,

The weather is just plain gorgeous, so much is in bloom, wherever I turn there is something colorful and either here for a little while or promising fruit later.

There there is another "where there is a will there is a way" surprise in our gardens.  I let Johnny Jump-Ups freely reseeding in the gardens.   Sometimes I have to remove them if they get overly ambitious in some beds, but for the most part this completely edible darling little plant can be wherever it wants to be -- including the side of our dump trailer!!

Deane spotted this Sunday morning and no that is not growing from debris inside the trailer, the seed lodged into a chink in the rusty side.  Don't you just love nature!

As we move into higher temperatures there are still many edibles which can be sown or transplanted.  IF YOU are transplanting with purchased seedlings and shrubs you need to harden off (help adjust to sun intensity) by introducing to full sun gradually over the coarse of several day.  Day 1 - 1 hour in the sun then back into shade (not inside);  day 2 - 2 hours, then back into the shade, etc. until the plant(s) have been in the sun 4 or more hours.  Then transplant in the evening, give them a good watering (even if you already watered the area) and the plant should be-good-to-grow.

One of the single biggest mistakes in transplanting in the heat is a greenhouse-grown plant is not ready for both the intensity of our sun AND the heat.  If it is struggling with that intensity, while trying to grow roots the plant may die from the stress.  It is not just about watering properly.  Also SEE my note about Flower Mulching below to give you an soil canopy option to mulch.

Speaking of Mulch - it is a great "tool" in the garden, keeping the soil moist, minimizing evaporation and weeds and also keeping the soil and roots of plants cooler.  It is also a subway tunnel for pests to tender stems.  Keep mulch at least several inches away from the base of any transplant.

Use cardboard tubes cut into 3-4 inch sections to protect seeds and tiny seedlings from those pests and you can lay mulch down 1-2 inches outside the tube for the additional help.  The tube degrades into the soil.  Bury the tube about half way into the soil.  [Pictured are Roselle Seeds sprouted in place - these can be planted in April or May - they love the summer heat!.]  Roselle is another all edible plant, the leaves, flowers but mostly the swollen Vitamin C rich flower calyx.

Artichoke, Jerusalem; Bean, Snap; Beans, Soy; Cantaloupe; Caper plants; Carrots; Cucumbers; Garlic, Green; Jicama; Melons, Musk; Okra; Onion, Green; Peanuts; Peas, Sugar; Peas, Black Eyed; Peppers; Radishes

Impatients Wallarana; Marigolds, including Tangerine Scented (Tagetes Lemonii), Citrus Scented (Tagetes Nelsonii); Portulaca; Purslane; Scented Geraniums; Sunflower; Sweet Alyssum, Roselle/Jamaica Sorrel (Hibiscus sabdariffa)

FLOWER "MULCHING":  Soil canopy (shade) is necessary to protect young plants.  Purchase 6 pack of flowers, surround transplanted herb or veggie with 3-5 flower plants - "think" 12 inch diameter circle.  Why? This cools the soil surface and shades the sides of the primary transplant, without encouraging pests near tender stems.

Grilling Time!

Nothing says get-outside-and-grill like gorgeous weather.  I had a turkey in the freezer and I love the ease of thawing and butterflying it, covering with a butter and herb/or seasoning mix, setting up for indirect heat on our webber kettle and 2.5 hours later - give or take 10 minutes - it is done!  And delicious.

I gather the 'leavings' and toss in the crock pot with celery, carrots, onions and some black pepper corns and cook down to a broth. 

Thinning Deciduous Fruit

If you have not thinned your peach etc trees it is time now for most of the peach, followed by apricots and plumes.  Thinning does two things:  if allows the remaining fruit to get bigger and eases the stress of too much weight on the branches.  You want to thin when the fruit is 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch or so.  Watch my short youtube video on thinning.

It has always been a sad thing for Deane and I to thin the peaches, but you can save the removed immature fruit and pickle them.  This year I am trying a fermentation brining - I will let you know how that turns out.  I am looking for a taste something like a crunchy olive.

But you can try this "sweet spicy" version of the pickling I did several years ago.  It turned out well.

Have a great day in the garden and kitchen!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Tuesday, March 07, 2017

It Is Spring, Regarless of the Date!

Dear Folks,

Officially it is not spring, but the activity in our gardens says spring is here!

The Quail are back and calling which means they are looking for nesting spots.  A gorgeous male Cardinal  stopped by the other day (we usually have a pair visit each spring and fall).

And the flowers of certain plants are offering promises.

We are still harvesting our blood oranges - so good!  Baby peaches are on, and the blueberry is flowering.  The last flower in the collage, right, is our mango and I'm so hoping for fruit this year.  We will see.

The Mango flowered last year after planting, but the plant wisely dropped the baby fruit to pay attention to its own growth -- since I did not remove them - nature does do what is necessary.  Now that the tree has been in the ground for a year I'm hoping!

So many of the edible flowers are blooming, the gardens becoming more colorful by the day.

Purple Stock, an incredibly fragrant member of the broccoli family (yes it tastes like broccoli) my nasturtiums and lovely burgundy sunflower.

Those huge nasturtium leaves can be used for their peppery bite, in many ways, including salads, stews and soups in wraps and in case you missed my post on Nasturtium Leaf Dolma (stuffed grape leave substitute) here is the link.

We have a new banana flower which is already revealing "bunches" of bananas.  This picture is from when we first spotted the flower (mid-February).  This new flower represents the 3rd plant flowering since Fall (2016).  And the timing is actually perfect for ripening fruit during the warm/warming weather (Takes about 4 months).

And another plant's bunch looks like this (this was the 2nd plant's bunches).  This photo was take January 9th and happily our frosty few days did not hurt the developing fruit.

I hope you enjoy a look at our gardens and that it inspires you.

Have a best day in the garden and kitchen with your bounty!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Sunday, March 05, 2017

Homemade Corned (Brine Cured) Beef for St. Patrick's Day Dinner. First Asparagus!

Dear Folks,

Started the "Corning" (brining) of my beef for St. Patrick's Day corned beef dinner.

The beef needs 10-14 days to brine before cooking.  Lots of spices and herbs, kosher salt and sugar (I use organic).

I do NOT add any nitrates or salt-peter - it is unnecessary.  It does create the customary "pink" color of the finished meat, but also contributes chemicals to the food.  Why do that?  The finished meat has the look of cooked, boiled beef.  The flavor is fabulous!!

If you are not familiar with the process of corning, it is simply a type of pickling/curing with salt.  The "corning" refers to the old English term for any kind of large grain of something, in this case rock or Kosher salt.  Sugar and spices are also used to add flavor and some preservation to the meat.

Other foods which are cured in a similar fashion are:  fish (like Lox), vegetables (bread and butter pickles), and meats like salami (dry cured or cooked -- click here for my version of Jacq Pepin's Saucisson salami - which is dry cured in the refrigerator - it was delicious!)

Back to the corned beef.  It is very important to make sure the meat stays submerged under the liquid during the entire curing process and refrigerated.

[Recipe can be doubled etc. 3 pounds = twice as much spice and brine, etc.]
1 1/2 pounds of beef - if you can get grass fed, do so!
1 teaspoon each mustard seed, coriander see and black peppercorns
1 small stick of cinnamon
2 bay leaves, broken
1/4 cup of organic sugar
1/2 cup of kosher salt
about 3 cups of water

1 non-reactive dish or pan large enough to hold the piece of meat plus liquid [pictured I used a large plastic container with lid and two glass plates)

1-2 glass dishes or plates to weigh down the meat (some say any plate, but I did not want any un-glazed china to be in contact with the meat)

1 glass cover or plastic wrap

1 tray large enough to hold the dish to contain any spills

Grind the seeds and peppercorns to a coarse ground, grind the cinnamon just to break up.

Dissolve sugar and salt in water.  If boiling to do this, let cool before proceeding.

Pierce the meat multiple times on one side to infuse more flavor.

Place meat in the dish, rub spices over one side.  Use brine to completely cover the meat.  Add dishes or plates to weigh down and cover all.  The meat MUST be completely covered at all times.

Place on tray and refrigerate for 2 weeks.   You can turn the meat once part way through but it is not necessary.  Re-check periodically to make sure the meat continues to be completely covered.

Drain but DO NOT rinse the meat the day you want to cook it.

Cook as usually with carrots, potatoes and cabbage.  Serve and enjoy!

. . .

From the Garden -- we have begun harvesting our asparagus.

I decided on another savory oatmeal for dinner.

Saute asparagus in a tiny bit of bacon fat and avocado oil. I added some of my dried celery leaves.  Add water and oatmeal, cook for 5 minutes and top with chopped walnuts and shredded cheese.  A nice simple, fast and satisfying meal.

Oatmeal with Asparagus & Cheese

Serves 2:

5 small asparagus spears, sliced
1/4 cup of chopped walnuts
3/4 cup of shredded cheese
1 tablespoon of dried celery leaves
Salt to taste
1 teaspoon each of bacon fat and avocado oil (I keep un-cured bacon fat for these kinds of meals)
1 cup of old fashioned oats
1 3/4 cups of water.

Melt fats in a medium sauce pan, and add sliced asparagus. Saute for 2 minutes.  Add celery leaves.  Bring pot up to boil, add water and oats.  Bring to fast simmer, stirring frequently and cook for 5 minutes.

Divide between bowls, add 1/2 of nuts and cheese to each bowl.  Serve and enjoy.

I hope you try both of these recipes.

If you enjoy my posts please share with your family and friends and Thank You!

You can find links to my calendars and book in the side bar on the right.
-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Saturday, March 04, 2017

My "International" Sauerkraut Soup

Dear Folks,

I made this soup a while back and shared on facebook, but I think it needs to be "out there" for all to consider making this delicious soup.

I make my own lacto fermented sauerkraut and recently I was seeing recipes for "sauerkraut soup" - they sounded good to me particularly for the fact that LF sauerkraut is brined and not made with vinegar.


Jewish (Organic chicken broth)
Polish (Kielbasa Sausage - No preservatives or nitrates & my homemade sauerkraut)
Italian (Organic Cannellini Beans, drained)

. . . and that is it!

Add a tablespoon of avocado or olive oil to a sauce pan, heat on medium, add cut up sausage (it is already cooked), saute to brown a bit

Add chicken broth bring to a boil, add beans and bring back to a boil, immediately add drained sauerkraut, stir and serve.

Portions are based on how many servings you want.

Loved the way this turned out - in our house this is called a Keeper!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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