It's not too late to look for this pumpkin at farmer's markets and roadside patches. It's called World of Color, and there are other shades; green, peach and white, differing from other colored varieties with its gi-normous size. I have nothing clever to say about it, except "How cool is that?" The seeds come in a blend of all colors, if you're already thinking about next year. And what gardener isn't? I'm not much into perfect pumpkins, I like how this one bears a Frankenstein scar on its cheek.
I usually employ a method called "Lazy Man's Mulch" this time of year. It involves raking your leaves into the flower beds and forgetting about them until spring. It does several things; provides leaf litter for tiny creature habitat, gives an extra blanket to your plants in freezing weather, adds a few nutrients to the soil and most importantly puts off chores performed in the cold. There is a risk that the debris will harbor disease but I haven't had a problem so far. But this year the late rains and mild temps seem to have brought a bounty of no-fun fungal diseases to just about everything in the garden. Witness the spotted leaves on this red-twig dogwood. In this case it's best to rake and remove the leaves and leave the composting to the city.
According to my Oxford Concise English dictionary, to scrump, is "to steal fruit from an orchard or garden."
I was lucky enough to live in the lush green hills of Herefordshire England for a while. It is an idyllic patchwork of sheep pasture and apple orchard, dotted with crooked storybook cottages and tumble-down barns. The ancient, gnarled trees make hard little apples that make hard strong cider, popular in the pubs over there. Tales of autumn apple scrumping are common like those of outhouse-tipping in the States, in fact there's a brand of cider called Scrumpy Jack. Real hardcore scrumping goes on in groups under the cover of darkness, fueled by the very brew.
In the spirit of the new blogging disclosure laws I will go on record as having gathered a few windfall apples in my time. And I truly scrumped some pears from a neighbor's tree once when mine was having a bad year. I knew they didn't use theirs and they were out of town and I did confess later and send them my delicious Gingered Pear Pie recipe.
But there's a different kind of scrumping going on in the Upper Midwest. Over there in Wisconsin and down there in Iowa, people are trying to take credit for the heavenly Honeycrisp apple! Some say it's from the U at Madison, others claim an obscure town in Iowa. Make no mistake, Minnesota breeds and grows the greatest apples. In winter when I am so cold I want to cry, I think about Minnesota apples. Even my mother-in-law, sweet little lady who wouldn't speak out of turn, has been single-handedly and staunchly having to defend the Honeycrisp heritage at bridge group way down in Illinois.
For definitive proof of the Honeycrisp origin...try this link from the University of Minnesota...
With all the tasty varieties available, I love to experiment with different combinations in pies and desserts. So far, Haralson and Honey Gold together make for a fabulous pie. Ginger Gold makes an awesome applesauce. And Sweet Chestnut Crabs are just incredibly cute.Tell me about your favorite apple, even if it's from another state. I promise to be open-minded.
Do you remember your first time? I do.
The teacher handed out Dixie cups and dirt, and one shiny bean. Once planted they sat along the sunny windowsill next to the guinea pig cage, until one day they germinated. I don't remember if Mrs. Pierce taught us about seed coats and cotyledons, it is more likely we were reading Jack and The Beanstalk. At that age I didn't know the definition of metamorphosis, all I could think was WOW.
It's that time of year for seed-saving. If you're patient you can harvest the tiny pinpoint seeds of snapdragons or poppies. But I think you get a lot more bang in a bean. I don't mean dried beans for eating, that would be a Herculean task, although not impossible. In fact, you should utter a small prayer of gratitude the next time you open a can of black beans. I'm talking about ornamental flowering vines like the scarlet runner bean (Phaseolus coccineus) and purple hyacinth bean (Dolichos lablab)that decorate my garden.
These beans are beautiful in all phases of their development. The scarlet runner bean races up a trellis then turns out little purse-like blooms of fiery red. Hummingbirds find them fast. Try the bi-color varieties, Painted Lady and Sunset as well. Purple hyacinth bean goes all out with bronze foliage and flowers of a lovely lilac shade but it is the pods that really pop all over the plant. And then there's the beans!
At the end of the growing season, when the pods are completely dry, crack them open and find a surprise. It's better than anything you ever found in that foul-tasting cracker-jack stuff. Scarlet runner produces huge polished beans of black and lavender, patterned like an appaloosa pony, gorgeous in their own right. Hyacinth beans are sometimes called little nuns with their crisp black and white appearance. Save them all for next year, pass them around to friends, it's like being a kid again. Have you got a favorite "bean" or large-seeded plant? I'd love to hear about it!
Except for the burnished maples, the early October snows have muddied our usual brilliant fall colors, leaving us with only pink. The stores are filled with all manner of pink items advertising National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. And in my garden, this last single rosy bloom of "All the Rage".
I realized that I am not alone in my worry that the message is getting lost in the marketing. Others are growing concerned that the portion of "pink" sales turned over to charity is misleading. I fear that in going all girlfriendy, all pink and sparkly, the reality of breast cancer is somehow diluted.
Lest we forget, breast cancer is a dark, heinous disease that steals our family and friends, robbing us of the nurturing relationships that matter most in life. It is the disease that took my mother at 70 before my children were born. It is the disease that took my sister at 57 before we could make peace. It is the disease that almost caught me at 37 when my children were so, so young. It is the disease that hovers like a perpetual dark cloud in the peripheral vision of my 21 year-old daughter.
If you want to wear silly pink wigs and run a race, that's ok. If you really covet a pink Kitchen-Aid mixer by all means, go ahead. If a coffee mug stamped with a pink ribbon warms your heart, that's fine.
But better yet, make a more powerful statement, a more potent response by donating DIRECTLY to the American Cancer Society or the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Communicate to the TV networks that you'd like "one less", one less Viagra ad every night and one more breast cancer public service announcement instead. Communicate to your congressperson that when health care is reformed it should include equal access to breast cancer treatment for all women, and our sons and fathers and brothers.
Because for me, breast cancer isn't pink, it's personal.
Well, that got your attention. Man, who doesn't like free stuff?
From an early age I was taught to keep a keen eye out for free things. After all, it is said those are the best things in life. When other kids were going to Six Flags, I was touring the cheese factory, for free. But don't feel sorry for me. Six Flags wasn't really my thing anyway. I actually feel sorry for those that never learned to forage.
My after-school routine was to join my mother in fishing or beachcombing; we usually came home with a dinner of perch and a trove of art supplies. All free. Whether it was beach glass or blackberries, I was taught to appreciate these seeming gifts from heaven. Embedded with this gratitude, a sense of guilt at passing them up.
Now that my life is more financially blessed, I still scrounge, pick through and appraise the possible freebie. Old habits die hard, and the reward is still thrilling. I'm not after frequent miles, calendars or yardsticks at the State Fair. I'm usually looking for nature's giveaway program.
Lately I had been eyeing the vines on the old tennis court in my cul-de-sac. At first it appeared a tangle of Boston ivy, but on further investigation, I found it was more wild grape than anything. I watched and waited as the clusters of hard green pips gave way to bunches of blue-black berries. In early September I approached the chain-link with my colander, wondering what the neighbors would think, yet undeterred.
It was tedious and time-consuming work; stripping the tiny fruits from the stem, crushing and juicing then cooking and straining, and finally boiling with sugar while roiling with steam. When the final product is finished you wait for that satisfying 'ping' then 'pop' as the jars seal one by one. Sure you can buy grape jelly by the gross, but there is something about harvesting and crafting food that harks back to a need for self-reliance that goes deeper than Smucker's.
If you enjoyed this post, you might also likeNature Happens; it's about the unusual and beautiful mushrooms that might be growing right under your nose.
I now define the seasons in my new home of Minnesota by my footwear; as I transition from flip-flops to fur-lined clogs and ultimately to those life-saving but podiatry-incorrect Uggs. My feet are telling me it's time to let go of the garden. I have allowed the statuesque cannas to go to mush, I've brought in a few ferns and said good-bye to the perennials and shrubs for now. "Adieu, until we meet again, come spring, or when the ice melts in maybe...May!" With summer in September and snow in October, who knows?
My favorite hummingbird-attracting herb, Salvia elegans or pineapple sage, however hasn't gotten the memo. It's just getting around to forming the little racemes that hold its luscious little red flowers. Fool that I am, I thought all this extra northern light might get it going before the first icicles formed, but no. So there it sits in the garage on the red Sears Craftsman tool chest that matches its blooms.
After the great wild grape jelly-making marathon and the all-day pesto-freezing festival I had forgotten to harvest the hardier herbs growing here and there around my garden. Herb manuals will tell you to snip herbs for drying or freezing, in mid-summer when the volatile oils are at their peak. Best practices would say to not prune more than one-third of the plant, leaving enough to bring it through the winter. Not to mention, sashaying around your herb garden in summer with your straw hat, trug basket and secateurs is so "A Year in Provence".
I have to go with the idea of "good enough gardening" and do these things when I get the chance. I grabbed the scissors and went out to whack some English thyme and marjoram for drying. Once again I use the criteria of 'can the grocery store do it better'? My Italian parsley is still going strong, but I prefer to use it fresh and in big fistfuls, my newly planted chives need their strength, and the thought of dried rosemary makes me cough with its needly little nubs.
It is my opinion that marjoram has been marginalized for too long. Always lumped in with oregano like some poor second cousin. Marjoram may be sweet, but more assertive than you think. Usually described as peppery, I think it is sharper and warmer than oregano, with a certain "je ne sais quoi". I love it with summer squash.
When it comes to drying herbs, you can hang them up in pretty little bundles, all earth-mother like. I just spread mine on baking sheets and sit them on my Aga stove. (Remind me to blogga about my Aga sometime.) The steady heat has the herbs thoroughly dry in just a few days. Any other warm, dry place is fine but just not as fast. When they are crispy, I hold the herbs over the pan and run my fingers down the stem, tip first and watch the leaves pop off. You can crumble the leaves into smaller pieces or even grind them with a mortar and pestle, depending upon your cooking preferences. The amount of dried herb seems paltry, but using the 3 to 1 fresh to dry ratio, it is probably more than adequate. Store the dried herb in airtight containers in the dark, but heck, they're kind of cute to set on the counter, what can it hurt?
People tend to compartmentalize nature. There is BIG, BEAUTIFUL NATURE, the kind found in National Parks, with all those fancy grizzly bears and granite boulders. In spite of all its whitewater wonderful-ness, it is usually located in a place called "somewhere else". And then there is nice little nature, the benign landscapes that we tend in our backyards; hopefully more than just some sad petunias and a bird feeder.
But nature happens everywhere. There are bugs and bacteria taking care of business on our bodies as I write. Even though it's fall, I guarantee you there is a weed growing through your sidewalk at this very moment. I can't wait to take a spectacular vacation to "somewhere else" to enjoy nature. I'll take it when and where I can get it.
Lately I have developed a fascination with fungus, more specifically mushrooms. I've come to realize that they possess that same fleeting, ephemeral quality that I appreciate in butterflies. One morning the mushroom is there, you make a note to get your camera, then the mowing crew comes along and consigns it to history. But even left alone they are short-lived products of a more secretive process that occurs below the ground. Their lethal potential and mysterious ways have earned them a place in folklore. And oh, what names.
Behold the "Hen-of the-Woods"!
I have walked past this oak tree for two years, and suddenly there appears out of seeming nowhere this beautiful fungal bloom, described by books as resembling a coral reef, but more like a chrysanthemum to me. There is something to be gained from studying nature like this, once you start to learn, you become more open to seeing more. It's like that phenomenon with cars; once you decide to buy a certain brand of automobile, you notice them everywhere, yet they have been rolling down the road all along. Before you know it, "Chicken-of-the-Woods"...
Personally, I don't see the chicken, maybe an old crone with chin hairs. I hear that these poultry-themed mushrooms are delicious, but I'm too chicken to try them, just yet. I plan to get lessons in wild edible foraging first. And here's the disclaimer: CAUTION, Do not collect and eat mushrooms without an expert guide.
Some of my most cherished nature memories have been observed while I was outside doing mundane chores; a dragonfly swarm at twilight, an owl rimmed in moonlight, all while taking out the trash. I was out at 5AM, stumbling groggily in the dark with my diarrhetic dog last week, you should have seen the stars.
If you enjoyed this post, you might also like Free Stuff ; it's all about foraging for wild grapes and ends up with some tasty jam.
Fresh produce figured big in my younger years; Santa Rosa plums and saucer peaches, Meyer lemons and guavas, and the ubiquitous orange. California was the bottomless fruit cup.
Yet it is the cherry tomato that tugs at my heart with its pop-squirt taste memory. I was a typical chore-averse teenager but I always volunteered for watering. My mom grew cherry tomatoes against the hot white wall of our house facing out to the Pacific. A lawn-less narrow sloping lot, it was quick work. I alternated between eating the warm fruit and slurping the chilly hose water. Since then, sampling a cherry tomato outside never fails to conjure up a flash of that pure joy; the tangy bursting bite while dancing water droplets mirrored tiny repeating prisms.
The cherry tomato is like the golden retriever of vegetables; energetic and eager to please. You pick and pick, fill bowls and baskets. They look so cute, so red, so round. Until three days later when you notice a sort-of brassy smell, and then as they collapse under their own juicy weight, the fruit flies. Soon you're suffering from cherry tomato guilt; after all you can only eat so many salads.
Tomaccio tomatoes straight from the garden The Garden Buzz
This year I grew three varieties, in pots, due to my previously mentioned sun shortages; Tumbling Tom, Sweet 100 and Tomaccio. Tom tumbled just fine but lacked in taste. Sweet 100 was yummy but cracked like a cat's-eye with our drought/deluge weather scenario of summer 2009.
Tomaccio is new to America this year, destined for garden centers in 2010. Grown in warm parts of Europe for years, the fruit is left to dry on the vine, resulting in a raisin-like snack. I was given 6 plants to trial from C. Raker and Sons.(I gave three to my in-laws in Illinois) Instructions say to dry them in a 100 degree oven for 3-4 hours. My in-laws, further south harvested prolific amounts much sooner. Their drying activities were successful. With an oven that only drops to 170 degrees, and a cold ripening period this year, my experiment failed, however the Tomaccio wasn't to blame. It was vigorous and delicious, as promised
But never fear! Roasted Cherry Tomato Pasta is a sure-fire solution for Cherry Tomato Guilt, and made all the better by Tomaccio. More a suggestion than a recipe: Drizzle a baking dish with olive oil, cut the tomatoes in half and place them cut-side up in the dish. Take equal amounts of bread crumbs (stale baguette, old hot dog buns, whatever) and freshly-grated parmesan cheese, mix with finely minced garlic, 2 cloves, more or less to taste. Salt and pepper. Moisten this with more olive oil, then sprinkle over the tomatoes. Chopped herbs would be a great addition. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes and then spoon over cooked pasta. This time I added a little pesto from last week's one-woman pesto making party. Voila...dinner.
Roasted Cherry Tomato Pasta The Garden Buzz