Garden, Plant, Cook!

Friday, November 18, 2016

In the Garden and Kitchen November 16/17

Dear Folks,

The weather is starting the cooling trend and this is triggering some activity in the garden.  The other day when I notice the Egyptian Spinach seed pods were finally dry enough to harvest the seeds, I also turned my head and found a fun surprise.  My potted sweet potato from last year is flowering!

I have had them flower before, but always when the plant has been in the ground for a full year, wintering over and continuing to grow through cold and into and out of summer.  I "think" this is one of the red or orange varieties - don't remember :-)  I hope this time it goes to seed to hopefully catch edible sweet potato seed.

The Egyptian Spinach (Corchorus olitorius, C. capsularis,) was introduced to me by my friend Jacq Davis over at Epic Yard Farm as a lettuce substitute during the summer.  I was delighted to find this tasty leaf addition to summer salads, soups, and sandwiches along with my sweet potato leaves and my roselle leaves.

Now I have a nice bunch of seeds for re-sowing next late spring and to add to my seed bank.  A fun fact about Egyptian Spinach is that it is the Jute, the plant known also for its fiber to make ropes etc.

My Myrtle (Myrtus communis) has been pushing out berries for a while now and they finally have turned deep blue/purple.  Myrtle is an ancient herb, known in the Bible as the herb of joy.  The entire plant is edible from the shiny leaves, to the gorgeous flowers on to the berries, which can be used in place of juniper berries or rosemary in meals.  Myrtle is best known for use with game meat to minimize the 'gamey' flavor.

I knew from prior reading that myrtle was frequently used in some old, old liquor recipes so I did some research a while back about using the berries in "Mirto" a European Liquor made from the berries.  I made a note in my calendar to watch for when the berries were ripe to try this recipe.  Like a lot these I am starting to call the "40 Day Liquors" you steep for 40 days, then sweeten and maybe depending on the plant steep for another 40 days.  I am trying a very small batch which should be ready to taste before adding the syrup on December 20th.  Recipes note after the syrup is added you can drink a few days.  I will have to see how that goes and let you know.  Myrtle is known as a digestive aid, but it also has a high amount of salicylic acid so it has a long use for pain and fever.  My thought is to use it as an aperitif, sipped before a big meal.

Yes, we have some bananas!  My Ice Cream "Blue Java" put out a stem of bananas and I am really looking forward to enjoying these.  I have been growing this plant for a long time and because of the structure of our garden we have had to take out, move and otherwise fuss with the plants.  They always grow, but not necessarily happy, so when Deane said did you see the bananas ? - I said where?  The flower was kind of hidden because there is a blood orange and apple bracketing the plants.  It really is not the best place for the banana, but I have left it there because at least it was growing so as soon as I could find a better spot I could at least depend on getting a baby plant when I was ready.  The Ice Cream banana is a small fruit but with a "vanilla ice cream" flavor.  When we last able to enjoy them they did indeed have a vanilla flavor to them and were nice and creamy.  So a rare treat to look forward to.

The Johnny Jump-Ups have started to sprout in the lawn.  For a number of years we have enjoyed a spectacular display of a Johnny Jump-Up in mid to late Spring.  About 5 years or so ago, since we do not seed a winter rye in our small lawn, I decided to sprinkle JJU seeds.  Deane kind of shook his head, but when the first spring's bloom showcased a small sea of flowers he agreed they were a lovely site to look at while the garden woke up from winter.  Over the years the self-sowing of the plants now turns the entire lawn into an ocean of JJUs. A peek of what the lawn will look like next spring.

The Pineapple Guava fruit is ripe.  We know this because they fall off the tree when perfectly ripe.  Early experience with trying to determine when this pleasant tasting fruit was NOT ripe, taught us to wait for the fruit to fall.  We have a lot of duff under the trees intentionally so the fruit just drops onto a soft carpet of leaves, ready to be picked up.  I describe the flavor as a slightly astringent kiwi flavor.  We split them in half and scoop out the fruit.  I made jam last year we had such a nice crop of them.
  I was just reading a simple recipe for making fruit wines using bread yeast and I may try that with the pineapple guava fruit this time.  Some of the best tasting foods are good old fashioned methods of preserving foods before "modern" preserving added a lot things many of us would rather not have in our food.  The collage to the left shows the gorgeous edible flowers (taste like a bite of candy) in May and the fruit in November.

Speaking of preserving.  The batch of sauerkraut (lacto-fermented = brining) at 10 days showed a bit of mold on top.  Don't worry.  While not harmful because that is the fermentation taking place, this white mold is simply skimmed off and discarded (I put it in my compost counter pot for adding later to the compost).  I tasted the 'kraut and it was right where I wanted it to be, so I jarred up, adding a bit of my reserved brine I try to keep on hand.  If you look closely at the jarred up sauerkraut you will see a few bubbles at the top of the liquid. It was still releasing gas during fermentation.  By refrigerating it the gas production will cease or slow.  The first time I open these jars a bit of air may escape.  No worries.  These types of fermented vegetables keep a LONG time in the refrigerator.  Over time the sauerkraut will turn more mellow in color but continue to have that nice non-vinegar brine flavor.

CAUTION:  If your fermentation foods ever develop a mold color other than white, discard the whole thing and start over.
  These fermenting foods rely on good bacteria on the vegetable/fruit and wild yeast in the air.  Thousands and thousands of years have proven this is a safe method of preservation. BUT on occasion bad bacteria may be introduced.

So why fermenting vegetables?  The lacto fermentation process produces the same types of good bacteria you find in yogurt.  While vinegar is a great food product, once you have tried brined vegetables like sauerkraut and old fashioned dill pickles, you may not want to go back to the modern vinegar version.  Use sauerkraut in any recipe calling for pickles or capers.

Finally, I shared this picture of my growing garlic but I'm so pleased with it and I want to inspire you to grow garlic I'm showing it again.  While it may be too late for the low desert to get garlic to form heads in the last spring, you can still plant cloves every week or two through the end of April for harvesting "green garlic" to use like scallions. The thicker plants on the right are Elephant garlic.

Wishing you a best day in the garden and kitchen!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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