Garden, Plant, Cook!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Horseradish! And, A New Survey

Dear Folks,

First - a new survey, folks. Help me help you by letting me know what you want more of.   See the upper sidebar here on the blog.

. . .

The horseradish is looking good.  While having breakfast in the garden the other day, Deane spotted a great photo op.

Framed by a peach tree on the left and a grapefruit tree on the right, the plant in the background is Lemon Verbena, one of the most fragrant of the herbs.

We grow horseradish here the opposite of the four-season areas.  Planted in the fall and harvested in early summer.  The older the plant the bigger the root.  I have not gotten the massive 3 inch size roots yet (the main plants are about 3 years old), but I get enough to make my condiment up.  I save some of the roots when harvesting and replant in the fall (I store them in the crisper). The ones I leave in the ground die back in the summer only to regenerate in the fall/winter.

One of those wonderful spices that add so much to taste, it adds, not surprisingly, a good deal of beneficial nutrients too.  Potassium, magnesium., calcium and phosphorus along with a good amount of vitamin C, and because it is a member of the mustard family, antibacterial activity too.

Good to grow, good to eat and good for you too :-)

Have a great weekend!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Sunday, June 05, 2011

More on Drying Herbs, Some "Neighbors", & Seasonal Tips

Dear Folks,

I have been drying more herbs in the sun and have more information for you, but first some Seasonal Tips and "neighbors" for and in the garden.

Seasonal Tips in The Garden

Established fruit trees should be fed 3 times a year. Memorial, Labor, and Valentine's days are traditionally used as markers here in the desert.  Young fruit trees should not be fertilized the first year.

Harvest seed for sowing later.  Plants like arugula, cilantro, and the radishes and carrots are going or will be going to flower and seed if they have not already.  Catch the seeds for sowing later on in the fall -- recycling at its best!  Store in paper envelopes in a cool dry place and they will be viable for a couple of years.  Mark the date you harvest on the envelopes.

Speaking of seeds -- did you know the nasturtium seed is edible?  The fresh green seed after the flowers die off are a great bite of horseradish.  Just don't eat too many at once.  3-5 crushed and added to a dressing is good.  They can be pickled like capers.  They contain oxalic acid, which binds with minerals like calcium and make it unavailable to your body when eaten in large quantities.  Many of the foods good for you, like spinach and other dark green leafy veggies have the same caution.  Too much of a good thing, can be a problem.

I let many of the nasturtium seeds drop where they may, harvesting some seeds so I can fill in later next fall/winter where I need more color.  This year's freezes killed the first 2 crops of "nastys" but there were many more seeds in the ground that just needed the opportunity to pop up, so our fruit tree wells had lovely hems of brilliant colors and the textures of the exotic leaf shapes.

There is still time to plant sunflowers, soybeans and summer squash, cantaloupe and Armenian cucumber.  One of my recommended variations on the "three sisters" companion planting.  For more color, plant moss rose flowers (portulaca) - they love the heat.


We encourage the birds by putting out seed for them, but not all of them need the seed.  The Lesser Goldfinch is one of the acrobats of our feathered neighbors and a hoot to watch on our sunflowers.

Look closely at the photo on your visual right and you will see the male hanging upside down.  I always thought they were only after the seed, but a reading several years ago said they are after the tiny bugs which frequent sunflowers, as well as nibbling on other parts of the sunflowers.

I found out about the bugs one year when something I could not see bit me, and I tried to find out about what the heck it was.  One of the types of bugs found on sunflowers are thrips an annoying insect which has a nasty bit for such a small thing.  Healthy plants do not need our help to maintain vigor with these pests and having finches helps keep the bug population under some control.

One of our shy neighbors is the Cardinal.  I caught this handsome guy just before he flew away - I am usually not good with the camera, but this did not turn out too bad.  Deane is the photography expert who's pictures I use for this blog, but he was snoozing early the other morning and I only had about a minute to try and snap a picture.

It is also rare for us to see them on the ground.  They usually prefer to be "up."

We have been blessed this year to have the Gamble Quail come regularly to the feeders. For the last few years, they have not been around as much -- too much development going on we think.  Some years ago, Deane moved a large piece of lumber stored in the back drive and discovered a quail nest. He gently eased the wood back in place.  Later, we were treated to mom and dad taking the "eggs - with - legs" hatchlings back and forth through the yard for a week or two.

Drying Herbs

I have posted a couple of notes about sun drying some herbs while I was drying our apricots and apples.  As a general rule I prefer drying my herbs in the refrigerator, on a tray, paper towel or plate.  Why?  Because the modern refrigerator mimics the commercial freeze-drying process by constantly removing the moisture from the air (outside of the crisper).  This results in a greater color and essential oil retention.

But it is easier and faster to take advantage of our hot weather to dry them quickly, and in larger amounts.  I'm drying my garlic chives right now as I write this post and they will be done today, it has been so hot and dry.

You will notice from prior posts and also from the picture here that I dry them whole.  Using the picture I want to point out some tips about drying herbs for you.  The picture shows fresh then dried - it took about 3 days.

First, what you are looking at is one combination of Herbes de Provence.  From your visual left to right I have:  French Tarragon, Conehead Thyme, English Lavender, and Greek Oregano.  Next batch I'm going to add Rosemary to more closely align with the dried HDP blend recipe I developed some years ago*.

If you have dried herbs before, have you tried making your own blends?  You should try it.

Second, I leave them whole after giving them a good rinse.  Here is why:  have you noticed your ground spices and herbs don't keep their aroma and flavor as long as those that are whole?  Crushing or grinding the herbs and spices releases and "dissipates" all the essential oils.  That is a good thing when you are adding them to your food, but a bad thing if they are only going to sit in a jar or can after crushing.  All the wonderful essence goes away.  So I leave them whole -- and on the stem.

COVER -- you must provide some kind of screen to keep insects and birds off of your drying herbs.  I like the picnic mesh food covers, but netting from a fabric store will work too.

Once dried, store in a dry, cool. dark place. You can freeze them if you prefer, but they will store well in glass, if you can, or a ziplock bag in your dark pantry.  They can be stored in the refrigerator if you like.  The enemy of herbs, spices, coffee, tea, nuts, seeds and flours are:  air, light and humidity.   Cool - dry - dark.  Remember that.

Once you are ready to use these dried blends, or even single herb bunches, you merely have to tap or press to release a shower of dried leaves.  Our Italian heritage families grew up keeping a big bunch of oregano handy and just showering some oregano from the bunch over the sauce pot when they wanted to flavor.

The stems - use them for flavoring stews, soups and sauces.  Tied with cotton string or just placed in the pot while cooking imparts all that wonderful flavor and then you remove them before serving in the same way you remove a bay leaf.  (One of Deane's funnier observations of my string-tied herb bunches in sauces several years ago was my "herbs on a leash" -- kind of makes sense, took them for a 'walk' in the stew then pulled them back.)

About making blends of herbs.  Start with thyme.  If you have ever looked at the ingredients of many of the most loved herb/spice blends, many of them have thyme in them.  It is considered an "anchor" herb for blends.

Back to my Herbes de Provence blend above.  Traditionally HDP is made with Marjoram and not Oregano.  The flavor of Marjoram is more subtle because it lacks the carvacol essential oil which gives some of the hardiness flavor to Oregano and to a lessor degree in thyme and savory.  Marjoram has a citrus back-note prized by the chefs of Provence and Tuscany.

I just do not have any Marjoram growing right now, and I should remedy that!

I am trying one more drying experiment -- a variety of vegetables:  onion, sweet pepper and zucchini.  I read recently about drying zucchini as one method to 'use up the bounty' and decided to try for a vegetable blend which I will grind up and use as a thickening/flavoring agent in sauces - I will let you know how that turns out.

*Many of you have asked if I am going to bring back my signature dried herb blends.  I had to let them go out of stock as I could not maintain the level of freshness I desired for my customers due to time constraints of care-giving and related issues.  I can only state that if things can stay calm - I would like to begin return to offering some of the blends for sale again, probably in late fall.  I will let you know when that happens.

In the meantime, as usual I offer fresh cut herbs from the gardens at the Mesa Farmers Market on Friday mornings (Center south of University).  You can pick some up and use or dry for later use with my drying tips.

Remember - my books give more seasonal gardening information (Edible Landscaping in the Desert Southwest...) and lots of recipes in the cookbook (101+ Recipes from The Herb Lady).  The books are available in print and e-book for iPad and Kindle type readers.

Catherine's Publisher Site

Have a great Sunday!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady