Featured Cooking Bean: Tiger’s Eye

This year I am on a mission to cook and eat as many different varieties of  beans as possible. This is the first in a series about my observations about those beans.

The yellowish brown Tiger’s Eye Beans are so named because they they have a swirl of dark maroon color on them that is said to resemble a tiger’s eye. The beans are about the size of kidney beans, though a bit thinner. While some beans are prized because they hold together after cooking, Tiger’s Eye is a favorite with cooks because the skins all but disappear after cooking and the flesh gets soft and creamy. Those attributes make it a great choice for refried beans, dips and casseroles. The cooked beans have a hearty flavor, and the smooth texture gives them a great mouth feel. Originally from Chile or Argentina, it’s also called Eye of the Tiger by some and Pepa de Zapallo by others.

Tiger's Eye Beans

Tiger’s Eye Beans

In the garden, Tiger’s Eye is a Phaseolus vulgaris variety that grows in bush fashion with greenish yellow pods, according to seed catalogues. It can be used as a snap bean, at the fresh shell stage, or allowed to dry for use as a dried bean. I have not grown this one myself, but I certainly would if I had more room in the garden. It’s possible I will give it a try in the future.

closeup view of Tiger's Eye Beans

closeup view of Tiger’s Eye Beans

In the kitchen, I generally prepare these beans simply. Before cooking I soak them in water for a few hours, from three to eight hours generally. Then I add more water to cover, plus a bit of finely chopped onions and a clove of minced garlic (I use a garlic press). I bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat and gently simmer the beans until they start to soften. At that point, I add salt to taste and any other seasonings, like perhaps a bit of ground cumin and a little chile powder.

Tiger's Eye Beans after cooking

Tiger’s Eye Beans after cooking

At that point, the beans are great as a side dish, stuffed in a burrito, or used in a casserole dish. Or you can do like I often do and make frijoles refritos (refried beans) with them. I heat a little olive oil or lard in a skillet, then add the beans and a little bit of their cooking liquid. I use the back of a wooden spoon to mash the beans while they heat, mashing and stirring until I get them to the desired consistency, checking the seasoning as I go and adjusting as necessary. That’s how I prepared the ones in the below photo, which I used to top baked corn tortillas to make tostadas.

tostada made with Tiger's Eye Beans

tostada made with Tiger’s Eye Beans

I got my Tiger’s Eye beans from the Seed Savers Exchange. They generally have a small but nice selection of cooking beans for sale. The beans are also sometimes available from Purcell Mountain Farms, Elegant Beans and Beyond or Rancho Gordo. Packets of seed for the garden are widely available here in the U.S.

I hope you have enjoyed this review of the Tiger’s Eye beans. I will be back soon with another bean review. In fact, I had the next featured bean for lunch today, in a tasty bean soup. Until then, Happy Growing (and eating) from Happy Acres!

Posted in Cooking Beans | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments

Monday Recap: Wintery Mishmash

So far it hasn’t been real bad winter here. We’ve had a few brief cold spells where temperatures got down to near 0°F, which killed off the kale that was unprotected and the arugula that was protected by a cold frame. But other than the five inches of snow we got back in November we haven’t had much frozen precipitation. Which is a good thing, because I am no fan of snow and ice! We got rain yesterday, but it was too warm for snow. A little to the north of here it did snow, and that system is prepared to dump even more on the East Coast. It’s quite a while until spring arrives though, and there’s still plenty of time for snow here.

sweet potatoes for fries

sweet potatoes for fries

We eat a lot of foods from storage this time of year, and one staple is sweet potatoes. We have quite a few left from last season, and one of my favorite treatments is to make oven fries with them. I cut the sweet potatoes (skin and all) into half inch thick strips, then toss them with a little olive oil, sea salt and some of our homemade paprika. I bake them in a 425°F oven for 20-30 minutes until they get a little browned. I think I have come to like the purple ones more than the orange ones prepared this way, and this time I used the Purple sweet potatoes I got from Norma last year along with an orange Beauregard. I sometimes use other spices and herbs to vary the flavor a bit, but I generally keep the seasoning light so I can taste the sweet potatoes themselves.

sweet potato oven fries

sweet potato oven fries

Carrots are becoming a staple here, now that I have figured out (mostly) how to grow them. I pulled the last of the fall crop a couple of weeks ago right before the weather turned frigid again. I wanted to get them out of the ground before it froze up, though as it turned out the cold weather was short-lived and the ground quickly thawed out again. I harvested 35 pounds of them last year from a four foot square bed. The fall harvest won’t last us all winter, but we will sure enjoy them while they last. Bolero has proven to be one of the tastiest varieties I’ve grown so far and I plan on growing it again this year.

Bolero carrots

Bolero carrots

Some of those carrots went into a Golden Lentil Soup I made last week, using Petite Golden Lentils I bought from Purcell Mountain Farms. These split lentils are small and a bright yellow color. I put a few brown lentils next to them for reference in the below photo, so you can see how small they really are.

petite golden lentils

petite golden lentils

I decided to go with a yellow/orange theme for the soup, and sauteed some onions, celery and carrots in olive oil before adding chicken broth, minced garlic and ginger,  and ground turmeric. When the veggies had cooked a bit I added the lentils, plus some chopped cauliflower, salt and pepper and continued cooking. The lentils were done in no time, and I topped the soup with a little chopped cilantro from the greenhouse before serving. The cooked lentils look like little kernels of baby corn in the soup.

Golden Lentil Soup

Golden Lentil Soup

The cilantro from the greenhouse turned out to be the only harvest of the week. The cilantro also went into some pesto I made for dinner one night. I used the pesto along with grilled chicken and veggies in some wraps. I love the cilantro pesto, made with only oil, almonds, and a bit of garlic and salt added. It is truly one of my new favorite things, and I can’t believe it took me so long to try it. It helps that I have lots of fresh homegrown cilantro to make it with. I’ve got lots of parsley in the greenhouse too, but parsley pesto is not what I am craving lately.

cilantro for pesto

cilantro for pesto

Another one of my new favorite things is homemade sauerkraut. I made batches using cabbage, kohlrabi and turnips last fall, and stored them in the refrigerator after the initial fermenting period. I believe they have improved with age, and I can (and often do) eat them by themselves for a quick shot of beneficial bacteria. I made the turnip kraut from the red skinned Tsugaru Scarlet turnips, and they add a lovely color and taste to the milder tasting fermented kohlrabi and cabbage. All three starred on a meatless Reuben sandwich I made last week, using some of our homemade rye bread and Swiss cheese.

assembling the meatless Reuben

assembling the meatless Reuben

I’ve almost finished ordering seeds for the 2015 garden. I’ve already received my orders from Fedco, Johnny’s and Baker Creek, and the ones from Territorial, Totally Tomato and the Seed Savers Exchange are on the way. Seed starting will begin here in about a week, starting with parsley, lettuce, and some other cold weather greens. More on that later! To see what others are harvesting and cooking up, visit Daphne’s Dandelions where Daphne hosts Harvest Mondays.

Posted in Gardening | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Planning for the 2015 Garden

For me, part of the fun in gardening is researching and deciding what I will grow in the upcoming year. In addition to looking at seed catalogs and online listings, I also make notes of interesting varieties that other gardeners and bloggers are growing. Then I like to look at my records and notes for the past year to see how things did in our own garden.  A couple of weeks ago I posted my Stars of the Garden in 2014 recap which covers the 2014 garden. And I finished my seed inventory late last year, and that helps me know what seed I have leftover. With all those tasks done, I am now ready to come up with a list of what I plan to grow in 2015.

seedpacks2015

I love to experiment and try new things, so my growing list is usually pretty long. My wife and I try and grow as many of our vegetables and fruits as we can, so gardening is more than just a hobby for us.

Green Tiger and Black Cherry tomatoes

Green Tiger and Black Cherry tomatoes

Every year I like to try one or two new (to me) tomato varieties. Last year I grew Green Tiger, one of the recently released Artisan series of tomatoes. I also got a taste of several others in this line thanks to our friend Jan who grew a lot of them last year and sold them at farmer’s markets. My favorite was one called Blush, a yellow plum shaped variety that is striped with red and had a great sweet flavor. I’m going to try it this year, and it should make a nice companion to the green and yellow striped Green Tiger. I got my seeds from Johnny’s. I’m also trying Mexico Midget,  which is a small red cherry variety I got from the Seed Savers Exchange. For slicers I am going to trial one from the 1940’s called Sioux, and the Halladay family’s Mortgage Lifter tomato. Oops, I think that is four new tomatoes to try this year!

small-fruited tomatoes for dehydrating

small-fruited tomatoes for dehydrating

Juliet, Black Cherry and Sungold are three of my favorite small fruited types, and Golden Sweet is another one I like to grow. All of the four I just mentioned are great for dehydrating and oven roasting as well as eating fresh, and Juliet winds up in everything from sauces to salsas. Mountain Magic is a slightly larger ‘salad’ tomato that also does well for me. I plan on growing all of these again in 2015.

Gold Nugget and Cornell's Bush Delicata squash

Gold Nugget and Cornell’s Bush Delicata squash

Last year I tried several new winter squashes. I planted too many in the beds though, and some got smothered out. This year I hope to try Black Futsu, Marina di Chioggia, Seminole and Honeyboat Delicata. They will join the Thai squash Rai Kaw Tok that did so well last year, and Canada Crookneck which won our 2014 Pumpkin Smackdown. Violina Rugosa, Waltham Butternut and Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck Squash are also in the plan, and Gold Nugget is another of my favorite winter squashes I will be growing again this year.

Imperial broccoli

Imperial broccoli

I’m still trying to figure out how to grow great broccoli. And I am slowly but surely finding varieties that do well for me. Packman is one I’ve grown for several years, and it’s a good one for heading up early, plus it makes a lot of side shoots. Green Magic was the best performer for the 2014 spring crop in terms of yield, while Imperial did the best in fall. I’m looking to try Gypsy or Goliath next year when I buy new seed. I’m also going to give broccoli rabe (aka rapini) another try next year.

Aji Dulce #2(front) and Trinidad Perfume(back) peppers

Aji Dulce #2(front) and Trinidad Perfume(back) peppers

The last few years I have been growing lots of different pepper varieties, and having fun making things like hot sauce, paprika and chile powder with them as well as enjoying them fresh. Last fall I experimented with smoking them, and now I have one more thing to do with all those peppers! This year I plan on trying a few new ones, including the C. bacchatum varieties Aji Golden, Kaleidoscope and Malawi Piquante and the C. chinense varieties Aji Panca and Rocotillo. The Malawi Piquante is very similar to the o/p peppers used to make the pricey trade-marked Peppadew pickled peppers you see on salad bars. They will join the tasty and versatile Aji Angelo, Aji Dulce and Trinidad Perfume peppers I have grown for a couple of years now. Some of the new ones may wind up in containers if I run out of garden space.

Jacob's Cattle beans

Jacob’s Cattle beans

I’ve been growing several dry shell beans the last couple of years with pretty good results. This year I’d like to try a bush black bean instead of the pole bean Cherokee Trail of Tears I’ve been growing. There are several out there to choose from, including Black Turtle (which I’ve grown before), and Black Valentine, but I believe I will try Black Coco this year as long as Fedco doesn’t run out of seeds. I’ve got my order in already so we will see. I will also be growing Good Mother Stallard and Jacob’s Cattle which are two of my favorite eating beans. I have a couple of others to choose from that I grew last year, as long as I don’t eat up all the seeds first!

Gold Marie and Musica pole beans

Gold Marie and Musica pole beans

I plan on growing my new favorite pole snap beans this year which are Fortex, Musica and Gold Marie. I’m also planning on growing a few of the purple podded Trionfo Violetto beans, which I have grown in the past. They should make a colorful addition to the overal mix.

I’m sure there will be later changes to my list, but this is pretty close to what I plan on growing this year. I’ve already ordered and received a few seeds, and now I can work on getting the rest.

Asian Greens: Komatsuna Carlton, Mizspoona, Mizuna Kyoto, Pak Choi Mei Qing, Senposai, Yukina Savoy

Beans (bush): Black Coco, Derby, Jacob’s Cattle

Beans (pole): Blue Speckled Tepary, Fortex, Gold Marie, Good Mother Stallard, Musica, Trionfo Violetto

Broccoli: Apollo, Diplomat, Green Magic, Gypsy, Goliath, Imperial

Broccoli Raab: Cima di Rapa Quarantino, Sorrento

Cabbage: Farao, KY Cross, Summer Glory

Carrots: Bolero, Hercules, Mokum, Nelson, Purple Haze, Yaya

Chard: Verde Da Taglio

Cucumber: Calypso, Dasher II, Green Fingers, Manny, Summer Dance,Tasty Green, Tasty Jade

Eggplant: Calliope, Dancer, Fairy Tale, Galine, Millionaire, Nadia

Greens: Arugula, Golden Corn Salad, Mache Large Dutch, Purslane Golden

Kale: Beedy’s Camden, Coalition Mix, Lacinato, Red Ursa, Sutherland, Western Front

Kohlrabi: Kolibri, Kossak, Winner

Lettuce: Anuenue, Black Seeded Simpson, Cardinale, Oak Leaf, Outstanding, Radichetta, Red Sails, Sierra, Simpson Elite, Slobolt, Spotted Trout(aka Forellenschluss), Tango, Winter Density

Melons: Brilliant Canary, Burpee’s Ambrosia, Diplomat Galia, Hollar’s Sensation

Onion: Ailsa Craig, Candy, Red Candy Apple, Red Torpedo Tropea, Sierra Blanca

Pepper(hot): Aji Angelo, Aji Dulce, Aji Golden, Aji Panca, Anaheim, Ancho 211, Biggie Chili, Bishop’s Crown, Cayenneta, Hot Happy Yummy, Holy Mole, Joe’s Long Cayenne, Malawi Piquante, Maule’s Red Hot, Mirasol, Mosquetero, Piccante Calabrese, Serrano Del Sol, Tam Jalapeno, Tarahumara Chile Colorado, Thai Bird, Trinidad Perfume

Pepper (sweet): Big Bertha, Corno di Toro Rosso, Dulce Rojo, Early Sunsation, Feher Ozon Paprika, Flavorburst, Goliath Goldrush, Gourmet, Sweet Happy Yummy, Jimmy Nardello’s, Orange Blaze, Topepo Rosso

Potato: Adirondack Blue, French Red Fingerling, Red Thumb, Yukon Gold

Radish: China Rose, Minowase Summer Cross, Misato Rose, Plum Purple, Shunkyo, Watermelon

Spinach: Amsterdam Prickly Seeded, Giant Noble, Gigante Inverno (Giant Winter), Viroflay

Squash(summer): Enterprise, Gentry, Partenon, Spineless Beauty, Romanesco, Striato d’Italia, Surething, White Scallop

Squash(winter): Black Futsu, Canada Crookneck, Cornell’s Bush Delicata, Gold Nugget, Kumi Kumi, Marina di Chioggia, Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck, Seminole, Thai Kang Kob, Thai Rai Kaw Tok, Triamble, Waltham Butternut

Sweet Potatoes: Beauregard, Carla’s Purple, Okinawa, Norma’s Purple

Tomatoes: Better Boy, Big Mama, Black Cherry, Blush, Celebrity, Champion II, Cherokee Purple, Eva Purple Ball, Golden Rave, Golden Sweet, Green Tiger, Health Kick, Jetsetter, Juliet, Ludmilla’s Red Plum, Mexico Midget, Mortgage Lifter (Halladay’s), Mountain Magic, Quadro, Rio Grande, Sioux, Sun Gold, Sun Sugar, Super Marzano, Super Sweet 100, Vinson Watts, Viva Italia

Turnips: Hakurei, Oasis, Tokyo Cross, Tsugaru Scarlet

Posted in Gardening | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Saturday Spotlight: Red Sails Lettuce

Lettuce is an easy, quick growing vegetable that is popular with many home gardeners, including me. I almost always have a few lettuce plants growing, sometimes more than a few. Though lettuce thrives in the cooler growing conditions of spring and fall, there are types and varieties to grow for any season. Red Sails is one leaf lettuce variety that is truly good for all seasons.

Red Sails lettuce

Red Sails lettuce

Red Sails was an All America Selections winner in 1985. AAS winners are grown in trial gardens all over the U.S. and therefore must be able to perform well under a wide variety of growing conditions. I’ve been growing Red Sails for many years now, and it always does well for me. It’s one of a number of other AAS winners that I grow every year, including Juliet tomato, Fairy Tale eggplant, Gold Nugget winter squash and Holy Mole pepper. The seed for Red Sails is widely available from a number of sources.

head of Red Sails lettuce

head of Red Sails lettuce

I mentioned that Red Sails is a lettuce for all seasons, and last year proved that to me once again. Our November weather was much colder than normal, with temperatures dropping below freezing for 14 days that month. One night it got down to 9°F for a low, and the Red Sails plants protected by a cold frame survived all that and resumed growing in December when temperatures returned to normal. Red Sails also can take the heat, staying crisp and sweet without becoming bitter or bolting to seed.

mature leaf of Red Sails lettuce

mature leaf of Red Sails lettuce

The color of Red Sails varies with the amount of sunlight it receives, with more sun making for redder leaves. Individual leaves are reddish bronze near the edges, and more green near the center of the plant. The ruffled leaves can be harvested at any stage from baby leaves on up to full-sized.

Red Sails lettuce planted next to basil

Red Sails lettuce planted next to basil

If you are looking for a tasty and easy to grow leaf lettuce, you might consider trying Red Sails in your garden this year. I hope you’ve enjoyed this Saturday Spotlight, and I’ll be back soon with another variety. Until then, Happy Growing from Happy Acres!

To see my other Saturday Spotlights, visit the Variety Spotlights page.

Posted in Saturday Spotlight | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Monday Recap: Starting a New Year

It’s hard to believe 2014 is gone and we are starting a new year. The garden is still giving us plenty to eat from things that were planted last year though, and to be sure it knows nothing of calendar years. Last week I harvested some of the Red Ursa kale that is growing in one of the cold frame beds. It has been covered with Agribon material for a couple of months now to help protect it from the cold and wind, and I was pleased to see the leaves were free of aphids, which sometimes thrive under the row covers this time of year.

late December harvest of Red Ursa kale

late December harvest of Red Ursa kale

We used some of the leaves to make Kale and Potato Hash, and the rest went in a Lentil and Kale Soup I made on New Year’s Day. Greens and beans are both traditional foods to start the new year, though when my wife and I were growing up our families were more likely to have blackeyed peas than lentils. And my family always ate raw cabbage for the greens.

Lentil & Kale Soup

Lentil & Kale Soup

This year, it was my turn to cook and the Lentil and Kale Soup sounded better than Hopping John or some other blackeyed pea dish. The soup was also a good excuse to work on my recipe for Cracked Wheat Rolls. I’m trying for a soft whole grain dinner roll with lots of cracked wheat, and my wife agrees that those rolls are a keeper. I’ll share the recipe soon.

Cracked Wheat Dinner Rolls

Cracked Wheat Dinner Rolls

Last week my wife celebrated a birthday. I was willing to cook anything she wanted for the occasion, and it turned out to be hamburgers! That called for a fresh batch of hamburger buns, which I happily baked up. She also wanted a cherry cobbler, and I made that with some of our stash of frozen cherries. I used my Blackberry Cobbler recipe, subbing cherries for the blackberries and using a splash of almond extract instead of the vanilla.

Cherry Cobbler

Cherry Cobbler

To go with the burgers, I made a small side salad with some of our fresh salad greens. I snipped some micro greens from the greenhouse, which was a mix of purple and green mizuna, tatsoi and pac choi, and added them to some Red Sails lettuce.

micro greens for salad

micro greens for salad

Speaking of greens, I harvested some spinach and arugula from one of the cold frame beds to go on a pizza we had for dinner one night. I love arugula on pizza, as well as other dishes. It’s been growing nicely under the protection of the cold frame.

arugula and spinach for pizza

arugula and spinach for pizza

I don’t have a lot of spinach ready to harvest now, but there was enough for the pizza plus enough to harvest for a bean and barley soup I made. The spinach is not growing much at this time of year, but it should take off once the days start getting longer and the temperatures moderate. But who knows when that will be! It was nice to have fresh this time of year. The beans in the soup were some of our Jacob’s Cattle beans. Some of the darker ones look like kidney beans after they are cooked, and I love them in soups.

Bean and Barley Soup with Spinach

Bean and Barley Soup with Spinach

I’ll close with a shot of Puddin and Ace doing what they do best: sleeping!

Puddin and Ace snoozing in 2015

Puddin and Ace snoozing in 2015

To see what others are harvesting and cooking up, visit Daphne’s Dandelions where Daphne hosts Harvest Mondays. I want to wish everyone a happy and healthy New Year, and I’ll be back soon with more adventures from Happy Acres.

Posted in Food, Gardening | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Stars of the Garden in 2014

It’s time for what has become an annual review of what did well in the garden this year. I like to do a recap of some of the best performers every year, plus point out a few of the less than stellar ones. It also gives me a chance to analyze my own performance, and where I could stand to improve. After over 35 years of gardening, I still have lots to learn, and every year the garden reminds me of that!

Purple Dragon and Purple Haze carrots

Purple Dragon and Purple Haze carrots

In past annual reviews, I called 2012 the Year of the Carrot. And 2013 was the Year of the Squash, when I hauled in 370 pounds of them. That was truly way too much of them to eat, so the 259 pounds I harvested in 2014 is a bit more manageable amount. Carrots also did well this year, and for the first time I grew two purple ones, Purple Haze and Purple Dragon. I love the way they color up salads, slaws and other raw dishes. I also grew one called Cordoba this year, and while it was very productive, the carrots have very little flavor. I won’t be growing it again.

harvest of Fortex beans

harvest of Fortex beans

I guess I could call 2014 the Year of the Bean. We had ample supplies of snap beans throughout the summer months. And I finally seemed to have settled on some reliable and tasty varieties. Fortex is a favorite for many gardeners, me included. These pole beans stay tender and stringless even when approaching a foot long.

harvest of Musica, Gold Marie and Rattlesnake pole beans

harvest of Musica, Gold Marie and Rattlesnake pole beans

But as much as I like Fortex, the green, flat podded Musica is another great performer here as well. It has come to be my favorite Italian style snap bean. It was my first year growing the yellow podded Gold Marie, but it won’t be my last. It was another standout in the garden this year. Together they make a lovely and tasty combination, and I froze many of them together like that.

Jacob's Cattle beans

Jacob’s Cattle beans

The dry beans also did well this year, though the bush beans certainly seem to outperform the pole varieties. This year I grew the bush varieties Jacob’s Cattle, Whipple and Hutterite Soup Bean. All three did quite well, though dry beans will never be the greatest yielding crop for the amount of growing space they require. Still, it’s fun to grow them, and if I had a bigger garden I would grow even more of them. I also grew the pole varieties Cherokee Trail of Tears, Good Mother Stallard and the dual-purpose Rattlesnake which is tasty as both a snap bean and a shell bean. I wound up with 5.5 pounds of shelled dry beans this year, which I know I will enjoy eating in the months to come.

Chandler blueberries

Chandler blueberries

My wife might argue it was the Year of the Blueberry, since she is the Queen of Blueberries around here. She managed to top last year’s total of 51 pounds by bringing in 54 pounds of the little blue jewels. We enjoy eating them most every day. I had tried to grow them at my old place, but was never able to get them established. There were three bushes at HA when we bought the place back in 2007, and we planted six more to go with them, plus replaced one of the originals with a more productive and flavorful variety. Chandler makes big blueberries, but Elizabeth, Nelson and Elliot all do well here and are very tasty too.

ripe bell peppers

ripe bell peppers

2014 was a good year for peppers here too. The bell peppers did exceptionally well, no doubt liking our wetter and cooler than usual summer weather. When I say ‘cooler’, that’s relative to our usual scorching hot summers. Big Bertha, Red Knight, Early Sunsation, Flavorburst and Orange Blaze all did well last year, and gave us lots of big sweet peppers for eating fresh, roasting, drying and freezing.

Jimmy Nardello, Topepo Rosso and Piccante Calabrese peppers

Jimmy Nardello, Topepo Rosso and Piccante Calabrese peppers

It was my first year growing two Italian heirloom peppers, the sweet Topepo Rosso and the hot Piccante Calabrese. Both did quite well, and I plan on growing them again. Both were great for pickling, and I still have a few left in a jar in the frig. In the above photo they are hanging out with another of my favorite heirloom Italian peppers, Jimmy Nardello. Tolli’s Sweet Italian pepper is another o/p one that did great here. Next year I want to try Corno di Toro Rosso again and see how it does.

Vinson Watts tomato

Vinson Watts tomato

While the peppers might have done well, overall it was just a so-so year for tomatoes. We had plenty to eat, process and freeze, but the overall yield was just average. Vinson Watts again proved to be the best heirloom type for slicing and fresh eating. Cherokee Purple again disappointed, and I have gotten new seed to use instead of the ones I have been saving to see if that will help for next year. I also plan on trying the Mortgage Lifter strain that the Halladay family has been improving for three generations now.

Quadro paste tomatoes

Quadro paste tomatoes

The paste tomatoes did great though, and we had plenty of them for processing into sauces and making into ketchup. My old standby determinate varieties Viva Italia, Health Kick and Rio Grande did great. One newcomer also did well, an indeterminate o/p variety called Quadro. I’ll be planting it again for sure.

trio of Kossak kohlrabi

trio of Kossak kohlrabi

It was a great year for kohlrabi here. The Kossak variety gets large, and most I harvested weighed in between one and two pounds. That adds up to a lot of kohlrabi very quickly! They also keep well in the refrigerator or other cold storage. We just used up the last of the fall harvest right before Christmas, and it was still crisp and tasty. I also grew the purple Kolibri and the light green Winner.

jars of Kohlrabi and Cabbage kraut

jars of Kohlrabi and Cabbage kraut

We eat a lot of the kohlrabi raw, but it’s also tasty when roasted in the oven. The last couple of years I have make kohlrabi kraut, and it is a flavorful companion to the fermented sauerkraut I make with cabbage. Once I learned how easy it is to make small-batch sauerkraut in glass jars, we almost always have some of it on hand in the refrigerator.

Siciliano garlic harvest

Siciliano garlic harvest

Garlic is another of my favorite vegetables, and another thing that we try and always have on hand. By growing varieties that are ready early, like the Asiatic/Turban types, and ones that keep well like the Silverskins, I pretty much never have to buy garlic anymore. It was a good year for garlic last year, and the artichoke types I grow like Siciliano, Simonetti and Lorz Italian all did quite well. I love these for baking whole, and when they are done the garlic has a rich but mild flavor. Garlic goes in a lot of things around here, from a topping for pizza, to a dip for kohlrabi, and some even went in a jar with the pickled peppers. I also dehydrate it to make garlic powder. I love garlic, and growing it yourself lets you choose from so many different wonderful varieties.

Magic Molly potatoes

Magic Molly potatoes

While I’m on root crops, I grew quite a few blue fleshed potatoes here this year. I tried Adirondack Blue, Magic Molly and Purple Majestic for the first time. Adirondack Blue was the most productive, and I will likely grow it again next year. I also grew Red Thumb, French Fingerling and Yukon Gold potatoes. Though many have started to sprout, we are still enjoying the potatoes I harvested back in July.

Norma's Purple sweet potatoes

Norma’s Purple sweet potatoes

More than just a novelty, the blue potatoes are loaded with anthocyanin pigments which give them their color. They make blueberries blue, and purple skinned eggplants purple, and I’m always happy to add more to my diet. Another vegetable that’s loaded with anthocyanins is the purple fleshed sweet potato. This year I grew the variety Purple that Norma (Garden to Wok) shared with me this year, plus Carla’s Purple that our friend Carla shared last year. The Purple variety wound up being the most productive here this year, and I look forward to growing it again next year.

harvest of Thai Rai Kaw Tok squash

harvest of Thai Rai Kaw Tok squash

As I mentioned earlier, it was a good year for winter squash. I did a taste testing back in October of a few of the varieties. One of the ‘new’ varieties I tried this year is a Thai variety called Rai Kaw Tok, and it was truly a standout performer. It’s a C. moschata type with a great flavor, and one vine produced 65 pounds of winter squash, including one that weighed in over 13 pounds.

Striata d'Italia zucchini and White Scallop Squash

Striata d’Italia zucchini and White Scallop Squash

The summer squashes all did well too, and once again the o/p zucchini Striata d’Italia was the last plant hanging on at the end of the season. I harvested the last one on October 14th. Another favorite summer squash here is the heirloom White Scallop. My wife and I both enjoy the unique taste of this one, and you can see it hanging out with the Striata d’Italia in the above photo.

Amsterdam Prickly Seeded spinach

Amsterdam Prickly Seeded spinach

Fresh greens are always a welcome treat here. The first harvest of 2014 was spinach, and it’s possible that the last one of 2014 will be too. I’m always looking to grow more of this tasty vegetable. These days one can buy spinach pretty much every day of the year, but I have to say none of it I buy ever has the taste of homegrown spinach. This year I grew mostly o/p heirloom varieties, including Giant Winter (aka Gigante Inverno), Monstrueux de Viroflay, and Amsterdam Prickly Seeded. All three have a flavor that easily beats any I’ve ever bought in a clamshell at the grocery.

Coalition Mix kale

Coalition Mix kale

Kale is another of my favorite greens. I tried one this year called Coalition Mix from Adaptive Seeds, and it made some large, tasty leaves. Like spinach, I think homegrown kale has more flavor that anything I buy at the grocery. Some of the hybrid kales like Winterbor might be a tad more hardy here, but I don’t think they have quite the flavor of many of the o/p varieties I’ve grown. Maybe I need to do a kale smackdown next year and do some serious taste-testing!

I hope you have enjoyed this review of some of the veggies and fruit that performed well here in 2014. I hope 2015 is a great year for all of you out there. I’ll be back soon with more adventures from HA.

Posted in Gardening | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Monday Recap: Orange and Green

We have made it through the winter solstice, and finally the days will slowly begin to get longer. Hooray for that! Orange and green seem to be the primary colors around here lately. It was my wife’s turn to cook last week and she made a batch of sweet potato fries using some orange Beauregard and Carla’s Purple sweet potatoes. She tossed them with a little bit of oil, salt, paprika and chopped rosemary before baking. They made a nice savory side dish to some oven fried chicken she made for dinner that night.

orange and purple sweet potato fries

orange and purple sweet potato fries

She also cooked up some of the Cordoba carrots last week, and I have to say that while this variety may be productive, they have to be the most bland and tasteless carrots I have ever grown. She steamed them and added a little butter after cooking, and I could describe the taste with one word: blah! So, I decided to dig a few more carrots for some comparison taste testing. That’s the orange Nelson on the left and Purple Haze on the right in the below photo.

Nelson and Purple Haze carrots

Nelson and Purple Haze carrots

I also dug a few of the Bolero carrots, which I’m growing for the first time this year. In my initial tasting of them raw, I thought the Bolero and Nelson tied for best taste and both Yaya and Purple Haze came in next. The Cordoba is as bland raw as it was steamed, and I won’t be growing it again. I notice that Johnny’s isn’t offering it this year anyway, and since Hercules seed is back available I’ll grow it instead. But enough about carrots.

Bolero carrots

Bolero carrots

We are still on a bean eating kick, and on Saturday Lynda cooked up a batch of Good Mother Stallard beans to make a bean and barley soup. This was loosely based (very loosely, I might add) on a recipe from the Heirloom Beans cookbook by Rancho Gordo founder Steve Sando. I got the idea of combining that bean with the barley, and we took it from there. Good Mother Stallard is my favorite of the dry beans I grow. It has a great taste, and it holds its shape well after cooking. It’s great for soups, or served by itself for a simple side dish.

Good Mother Stallard beans

Good Mother Stallard beans

Along with the beans and barley, we added onions, celery, some Yaya carrots, garlic and Lacinato kale. I say ‘we’ because the soup was a collaborative effort between me and my wife. The kale was leftover from what I harvested last week. I love this kale for soups because it holds up well, and the dark green leaves are so colorful too.

lacinato kale ready to add to soup

lacinato kale ready to add to soup

We both thought the soup was a keeper. It made for a warm, hearty meal on a cold winter’s night. And it was even better the next day.

bean and barley soup with kale

bean and barley soup with kale

Another meal featuring garden veggies were the turkey tostadas my wife cooked up for lunch yesterday. We topped them with Red Sails lettuce that is still going strong in the cold frame. The turkey taco meat came from leftover Thanksgiving turkey. At the rate we are going, we may still be enjoying that big bird come Easter time!

turkey tostada

turkey tostada

In other news, we had run out of pita bread, so I baked two batches one day last week to replenish our supply in the freezer. I made one batch of Whole Wheat Sourdough Pita Bread and one of Whole Grain Spelt Pita Bread. I love both recipes, but the spelt version is easier to roll out. That should keep us supplied for a while.

homemade pita bread

homemade pita bread

Out in the greenhouse, the Asian greens I planted in a mini salad box a couple of weeks ago have really taken off. I should soon be able to harvest a few leaves for soups or salads.

mini salad box with Asian greens

mini salad box with Asian greens

And the spinach planted in the greenhouse bed is growing nicely too. It will probably be a month before it’s big enough to start cutting leaves from it. I think the fish emulsion treatment has helped all the greenhouse greens get growing, though I have to say the aroma is pretty strong in there whenever I use it!

young spinach growing in greenhouse bed

young spinach growing in greenhouse bed

I hope you have enjoyed this quick look at what’s been happening here lately. To see what others are harvesting and cooking up, visit Daphne’s Dandelions where Daphne hosts Harvest Mondays.

Posted in Food, Gardening | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments