Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘crop to cuisine’

Today’s post can be heard on the public radio show Crop to Cuisine, hosted by Dov Hirsch.

Crop To Cuisine

  What wacky things a gardener will do if bitten by the competitive bug.  You might have one in your neighborhood – they’re those who hoist the first ripe tomato aloft, lifting it high enough to be seen above the six-foot privacy fence, proclaiming loudly “Honey, we’ll be enjoying tomatoes tonight!”

 Those of us on the other side of the fence can only sullenly stare in envy, alternately wondering how they did that and vowing to win next year.  Deals with the devil are made, and gardeners can quickly find themselves so wrapped up in the competition they lose sight of common sense, or even sanity.

 Take Kata Schmidt, a devoted vegetable gardener and Colorado Master Gardener inPueblo.  Eager to be the first in her neighborhood to harvest ripe tomatoes, she starts her 30 seedlings in January, then trundles them in and out of her home daily to protect them from frost.  That twice-daily tomato migration begins in February, a time when most of us are dreaming over catalogs and watching the snow fly.

But the task pays off for Kata, who begins plucking delicious love apples around Memorial Day, when most tomatoes are barely in the ground.  But it isn’t just the glory of the first delectable fruit that drives her, or the nutritious, homegrown food; she has her eye on the coveted title of Tomato Lady in her community, and goes after it.

 “There’s a woman nearby who likes to brag that she gets hers by the Fourth of July, but I so have her beat,” says Kata, adding that it’s fun to be so early in harvesting.

Now that it’s August, it’s crunch time for the most competitive in our neighborhoods, when County Fairs play on this obsession by pitting gardeners against one another in good-natured – and sometimes not so good natured – competition.   Perfection is measured in the straightness of beans, the uniformity of peppers, or the weight of cabbage.  And when it comes to pumpkins, size matters.

Blemished produce is no use in the county fair, so when the monsoons arrive, tossing hail and tree limbs, gardeners go to great lengths to protect their prized plants. Canopies, crates, and other coverings spring up almost as often as frost blankets, tossed on in the middle of the deluge once the hail becomes real.

Crazed gardeners measure the progress of overgrown zucchini, measuring its length and girth daily to see if they’ll triumph in the giant zucchini contests.  Alison and Gil O’Connor of Windsor are going after that prize, measuring their squash next to the size of their beagle, Willow.

If you’re planning to enter your crops for a chance at the blue ribbon, here are a few tips for selecting the prize winners from your plants:

Eggplant should be shiny, uniformly deep in color with a bright green cap.  Avoid dull color, green tinge or brown discolorations, which are all signs of bitter or old fruit.

 Sweet corn ears need to be filled to the tip with tightly packed, plump kernels, bursting with milky juice if lightly pressed. The silk should be a dark brown.   Leave those ears with dry brown husks and indentations on the kernels at home; they’re old, and the sugars have turned to starch.

Cantaloupes need to have a well defined grey-yellow netting over tan skin. Pick up the cantaloupe and shake it – the seeds will rattle when ripe, and gently press the blossom end to see if it gives slightly to pressure.  These are both signs of a perfectly ripe cantaloupe.  Judges will frown on spongy, wrinkled or moldy rinds.

Sweet peppers  should have deep, rich color that feel heavy for their size. Unless you’re growing some of the Italian bull’s horn types, avoid those with thin walls that give when pressed.  Enter the slender bull’s horns varieties that are wrinkle-free and sleek.

 Green beans are best when picked young, cooled quickly and brought to the fair as soon after harvest as possible.  Make sure the beans are slim, the seeds small and not swelling.  Look for pods less than one quarter to one eighth inch around with bright color and an audible snap when broken.

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

Today’s post can be heard on the public radio show Crop to Cuisine, hosted by Dov Hirsch.

There’s a thug lurking in your neighborhood, taking every opportunity to attack your precious tree fruit.  With oozing droplets and a hoard of unwitting helpers, it moves from tree to tree, torching twigs and branches until the tree looks scorched.  Evidence of the infection becomes more obvious as we head into June.

 Fire blight is a bacterial disease that affects certain plants in the rose family. It is especially destructive to apple, pear, quince and crabapple. It attacks in spring, when temperatures reach 65 degrees F and frequent rain occurs, and then bacteria overwintered in cankers on the tree resume activity, multiplying rapidly.

 Though the good news is that we’ve had some rain and humidity, the bad news is:  the recent weather created good conditions for this damaging disease.  This is when masses of bacteria are forced through cracks and bark pores to the bark surface, where they form a sweet, gummy exudate called bacterial ooze.

 Insects such as bees, ants, flies, aphids and beetles are attracted to this ooze, pick up the bacteria on their bodies, and inadvertently carry the bacteria to opening blossoms. Bacterial ooze splashed by rain also can spread the disease.

 Young branch tips can be infected through air openings on leaves, called stomata, air openings on branches, called lenticels, or, more commonly, through wounds created by pruning, insects, or hail storms.

 Droplets of ooze can form on these infected twigs within three days and fruit may be infected through insect feeding wounds. Girdling cankers – areas of disease on the wood – eventually develop from branch or blossom infections.  Leaves wilt, darken and curl to form a shepherd’s crook. This gives the tree a fire-scorched appearance, thus the name “fire blight.” 

 There is no cure for this disease, so prevention is the best solution. Fire blight control methods include use of resistant varieties, cultural practices, pruning and spraying. Using resistant varieties is the most effective prevention method, but keep in mind that resistance doesn’t mean immunity.

 Remove and destroy newly infected young twigs as soon as possible, so that your tree doesn’t become the mother ship for disease in the neighborhood.   Do this when no rain is predicted for at least two weeks.   It may be best to leave pruning until winter when the bacteria are not active. This reduces infection on the tree and the number of bacteria available to infect healthy blossoms and shoots.

 In young twigs, make cuts at least 12 inches below the dark, visible edge of infection to avoid slicing into the bacteria. Remove all blighted twigs and cankered branches. Prune larger limbs about 6 to 12 inches below the edge of visible infection.

 After each cut, surface sterilize all tools used in pruning. Spray tools with Lysol or dip tools in 70-percent ethyl alcohol, or a 10-percent bleach solution.  Bleach can rust tools, so if you use this to sterilize your pruners, wash them after you’re done and apply a light tool oil to keep them rust-free.

Read Full Post »

Today’s post can be heard on the public radio show Crop to Cuisine, hosted by Dov Hirsch.

Crop To Cuisine

I’ve never paid much attention to astrological calendars that feature the zodiac or animal influences.  Outside of amusing ourselves with the placemats at Chinese food restaurants, the characteristics of whatever year I was born under never inspired me, mainly because the celestial guides never include a plant.  There are animals and arachnids, fish and fowl, dragons and virgins, but never a plant, which bothers me because I’m a gardener. 

But it turns out I wasn’t looking in the right place to find a foliaged guide; all I needed to do was look to the National Garden Bureau, which anoints a different plant every year for us to celebrate.  And this year, 2011, is a year of great excitement, because finally we are in The Year of the Tomato.

How auspicious to be born under this sign.  Anyone guided by this is sure to be the love apple of everyone’s eye, because the tomato is the most popular plant in the vegetable garden. 

“There are so many different varieties and types.  What originally was just a round, red fruit now comes in many shapes and names: currant, cherry, grape, salad, saladette, plum, Roma, Beefsteak, and more,” said Diane Blazek, Executive Director of the Bureau.  “It’s almost impossible to not find one to fit your taste, garden space and growing climate.”

Though it’s roots are in South America’s  Andes Mountains, the fruit is a world traveller, first being cultivated by the pre-Mayan people, says the NGB.  After the explorer Cortés discovered the tomato in an Aztec market and took it home to Spain, the tomato traveled throughout Europe and across the channel to England.

But love for the tasty tomato didn’t take hold in Europe in those early days; as a member of the nightshade family it was grown as an ornamental plant.  Superstitions grew up around it, including the belief that witches used it to summon werewolves, which is why Linnaeus, the father of our scientific naming system, dubbed it Lycopersicon esculentum, or “edible wolf peach.”

According to the blog Tomato Casual, a way to get money is by placing a tomato peeling over your door.  I actually believe this one – one look at the tomato skin above my door and my mother will hand me money to afford cleaning supplies.

American legends argue over who staged an event in 1820 to convince the public that tomatoes were edible.  One version holds that Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson ate a basketful of tomatoes on the steps of the Salem courthouse, while another claims it was Thomas Jefferson  who, on a visit to Lynchburg, Virginia, munched on the fruit on the steps of the Miller-Claytor house.  Neither legend is proved to be true.

Over ten thousand varieties of the love apple exist;  many, known as heirlooms, have been handed down for more than 50 years. The National Garden Bureau says open pollinated tomatoes, which include heirlooms and all varieties that grow true from seed, are the popular choice for home gardeners.  

From smallest to largest, popular fruit shapes are identified as currant, cherry, plum, standard, and beefsteak. Cherry tomatoes, range from ¼ to one ounce, are produced in clusters. Plum, or paste tomatoes, have more solids than liquids, giving them meaty walls that make fine sauces. Standard-sized tomatoes weigh from 4 to 16 ounces, while beefsteaks, can get to be 2 pounds or more.

 Tomatoes have different growth habits, which can be determinate or indeterminate. Determinates are compact, reaching 3 to five feet. They set fruit and ripen it all at once, so the main harvest is concentrated into a few weeks.

Indeterminate tomatoes grow, blossom, and produce tomatoes throughout the growing season. They can reach up to 12 feet tall, and produce many main stems, all of which are capable of flowering and fruiting. To support unwieldy growth and to keep tomatoes off of the ground, support plants with cages or stakes. Staked plants should be pruned to remove all but two growing stems, which are tied loosely to the stakes and trained for vertical growth.

There is a third type called semi-determinate which is bushy like a determinate, but will set and ripen fruit over a longer period of time. The 1984 AAS Award Winner ‘Celebrity’ is a semi-determinate.

Choose your tomatoes by maturity date, the average number of days from planting outdoors to the first ripe fruit. Early tomatoes, generally speaking, are those that ripen in fewer than 70 days; mid-season tomatoes ripen in 70 to 80 days; and late types require over 80 days.

Read Full Post »

Today’s post can be heard on the public radio show Crop to Cuisine, hosted by Dov Hirsch.

Crop To Cuisine

Mention how delicious broccoli grown in your garden tastes, and you’re likely to be stared at as if you’ve lost your mind.  At the mere thought of the deep green vegetable, most people shudder, remembering overcooked, limp, bitter servings at their school cafeteria.

But a head harvested from the sweet soil of your backyard is a whole different meal, a nutty, tender flavor so delightful you’ll crave more.  Fresh homegrown broccoli is so tasty, in fact, that it can change the minds of our most picky eaters:  our children.

Just ask Robyn Bond, a Colorado Master Gardener in Larimer County.  She gardens on a small patch of yard in the suburbs, squeezing in as many plants as possible in the pocket-sized garden.   Though her grandson, Travis, helped her sow spinach and chard seeds last spring, he drew the line when it came to eating.

“He says his brain tells him not to eat anything green,” said Robyn.  Since Travis and his twin brother Gunner (who eats green things but not broccoli) weren’t interested, Robyn popped in three broccoli seedlings, just enough for one person to enjoy.

But Travis became curious about the heads that developed on the plants, and summoned the courage to ignore his brain’s advice and try this green thing.  “I told him he could cut as much as he wanted for his dinner,” said Robyn, not realizing that this meant Travis would cut all three plants’ worth of broccoli.  Finding them delicious, in a few days he returned, and helped himself to the side shoots as well.

In fact, so enamored of the tender, delicious broccoli had Travis become that he decided to share his joy with others, particularly in the produce department of the grocery store.  There the dark haired lad took his stand, stopping shoppers before they could slide a few heads into their plastic bags.

Gazing up at people, his blue eyes sincere, he uttered “Don’t buy this stuff they make here, grow it instead, like nana does.”  You see, Travis, like other children, has yet to discover exactly where food comes from, believing that grocers made the broccoli they sold.

 “The store staff got a kick out of it, they’ve forgiven me and I’m allowed back in the store,” Robyn assured me.  “They know he will now eat broccoli.”

 Gardeners need more Travises in the world, and more nanas like Robyn to teach them the joy of growing food.  One day they’ll take the hand of a child to teach them the ways of soil and sunlight, or grow into young farmers bringing produce to neighborhood markets.

In the meantime, plant some broccoli in your patch this year.  It’s easy to grow, but keep in mind that the secret to sweet, not bitter, broccoli is consistent water and rapid growth.  It’s a cool season crop, so plant seedlings now for a spring harvest.  Pick a sunny location and amend the soil with a bit of plant-based compost, and give the young seedlings a shot of starter fertilizer to get them growing.

Pay careful attention to watering, making sure the plant doesn’t dry out – this is what causes it to bitter.  Right now we’re dry; our rainfall isn’t enough to moisturize the leaves, much less irrigate the roots.  So check your plant daily and give it a drink if the top of the soil feels dry.

 Fertilize the plants at three weeks and five weeks, to keep their growth rapid.

Broccoli heads are actually a cluster of immature flower buds, harvested before the flowers open. Monitor your heads as they size up; the plant tag will give an indication of the size of an ideal head.  Pick the broccoli before any yellow begins to show, cutting the stem five inches below the head.  Let the plant keep growing, and you’ll enjoy a second crop of side shoots as well.

Read Full Post »

A growing onion Allium cepa in a neutral backg...

Image via Wikipedia

Today’s post can be heard on the public radio show Crop to Cuisine, hosted by Dov Hirsch.

Crop To Cuisine

As you’re planting your spring kitchen garden, leave room for one of cooking’s basics that’s delicious enough to bring tears to your eyes.  Growing onions in Colorado is easy, and if you want to add this allium to your vegetable plot, the time to get planting is now.

Seeds, seedlings and sets are available to the home gardener, so here’s a quick primer on the difference: seeds are directly sown into the garden from mid-March through the end of April and are very successful in Colorado.  Sow them shallowly, about three-eighths of an inch deep. 

Seedlings are started plants, grown this season and not yet mature enough to begin forming bulbs.  Locally, onion seedlings are readily available in small clumps that you tease apart upon planting.  Plant them one inch deep and slightly later than seeds, so any time in April will do.   

Sets are onion bulbs that are about one inch in diameter and planted as you would a tulip or daffodil.  Both seeds and seedlings can be used for green onions, often called scallion-stage, or for sizing up into storage bulbs.  But if you use sets, keep in mind that they’re best if you want bulb onions

 Look for long-day varieties that form bulbs once we have 14 or more hours of sunlight daily; in our area, onions will begin producing pungent, sweet bulbs beginning in July.  

 Onions prefer fertile, well-draining soil liberally amended with organic material.  Spread compost one to one-and-a-half inches deep across the bed, then till it in, working it eight inches into the soil. 

 If you’ve sown seeds, thin them once the seedlings have five leaves.  For best bulb production, thin to three inches apart.  Pulled seedlings are delicious as fresh or grilled; eat them as you would a scallion.  As your onions grow, each leaf they put on represents a ring in the bulb itself, and size matters: larger leaves mean bigger rings.

Water them frequently, never allowing their shallow roots to dry, which can cause bulbs to be stunted and tough.  Onions are nitrogen-greedy during the first part of the season, so fertilize until mid-July, then put them on a diet – onions don’t need much nitrogen past that point. 

As onions bulb, they often push themselves out of the soil; this is normal and your plant will be fine.  Avoid giving in to the urge to “hill-up” your onions; hiding the beautiful bulb will work against the plant’s desire to plump it and you won’t get good production.  As the plant prepares to bulb (the neck will feel a little soft), if your soil is hard from the summer sun, gently loosen it to let the plant expand.

Keep weeds to a minimum, since they rapidly crowd out the less-vigorous onion.  Careful, shallow hoeing around the plants is a must to avoid damaging the developing bulb, so if you’re a bit of a brute with the hoe, mulch is a good option for your onions.

Thrips are common insects in our area, rasping off the surface of the onion leaf, leaving a tell-tale trail of silver.  They hide out on weeds, so weed suppression is key to control.

You can tell if your onion is mature by its floppy tops, which start laying over in mid-August.  Hold off on watering at this point and when most of the tops have fallen, gently lift the onions from the ground. Let them rest on top of the ground for up to two days, trying to keep them oriented the same way they grew in the ground to prevent sunburn.

After two or three days, take the onions into a warm, dry location to cure for several weeks until the necks are completely dry.  Trim the tops, then store the bulbs in a mesh bag out of sunlight in a cool location.

Read Full Post »

Today’s post can be heard on the public radio show Crop to Cuisine, hosted by Dov Hirsch.

Crop To Cuisine

These days, feeding the birds is like running a dining establishment.  The right menu must be offered with unique selections, or birds just won’t come.  You can’t possibly serve a mixed kernel ‘hash’ to the fussy feathered flock; to be successful you must serve only the finest and freshest seed for discerning avian tastes. 

Although birds eat like trolls, gobbling food quickly and conducting loud family quarrels, they’re more judgmental about food than any critic.  After all, critics don’t usually throw what they dislike off onto the floor. 

Seed is specialized to feed very specific species, no doubt due to modern birds turning their beaks up at blends that lack a nice chew.  Simple, filling fare is out.  Like great waiters, staff at local bird feeding bistros can help you make the right selection for finicky eaters.

Thistle is excellent for smaller birds, especially finches, juncos and sparrows.  They find the crisp crack of the husk absolutely delightful.  Others prefer the rich, earthy flavor of sunflowers (black oil and striped) along with safflower and white millet.  Separate feeders serving each type of feed will bring a variety of birds to the backyard.

Having grackles arrive is like watching a busy evening at a trendy eatery.  They’re loud, the feeder is crowded, and quieter birds just try to dine and flee.  You might as well be serving Rocky Mountain Oysters and beer, they way grackles go at it.  Should you wish to give the less raucous birds a chance, feed safflower seeds.  The big grackles don’t like it and will move on.

One essential menu item is suet.  Like a decadent slice of pie, suet is pure fat (with some seed), providing high energy in winter when birds need lots of calories to keep warm.  Glazed with fruit or studded with insects, make suet a signature dish to attract woodpeckers or chickadees.

Appealing bird establishments will offer both water and food.  Sources of water are critical to birds in winter for drinking, but birds bathe in it as well.  I don’t recall that the latest craze in restaurants includes a bath with the meal.  Still, baths are important to birds’ ability to stay warm.  Break the ice each day and keep fresh water in the basin.

There’s no talking bird feeding unless you include squirrels.  I’ve never seen such enthusiastic eaters.   Squirrels launch themselves bodily at their food, something I’ve observed people do at an all-you-can-eat buffet.  Because they jump high (to 6 feet) and wide – up to 10 feet – feeders are always under attack. 

 I admit I draw the line at feeding squirrels.  They annoy me, mostly because I have one in my yard that I believe is planning my demise.  At least, that’s what I think it’s plotting every time I see him staring intently at me while gnawing a decorative deer antler down to a lethal point.

This is probably the squirrel’s revenge for my finding the solution to their feeder raiding.   A hanging baffle half way up the feeder pole stops them cold, provided the pole is located eleven feed from the nearest launch pad. 

There’s a wide selection of seed and feeding stations available for the backyard birder.  This is because not all birds prefer their food vertical.  Some like their seed spread out on a platform so they may experience their food with both beak and feet.  They also glean the ground for seed and especially love sunflower or millet. 

Inevitably, there will be spillage from the feeders onto ground underneath.  To prevent seeds from sprouting and growing plants no one recognizes, try the partially steamed mix that has been heated to stop germination.

Despite the effort going into food selection, feeding birds in winter is sure to add life to the garden.  Just don’t take their criticism personally.

Read Full Post »

Today’s post can be heard on the public radio show Crop to Cuisine, hosted by Dov Hirsch.

Crop To Cuisine

Make room, gardeners, the season for houseguests has arrived. For these, rearranging the furniture and cleaning the windows is a must, and if you slip something extra into their water they won’t mind.

Houseplants have regained their place on windowsills and counters, brought in from the patios and decks where they spent the summer. With a little understanding and prepping the house for their visit, your foliaged friends will be happy all winter long.

When the plant is brought inside, do you stick it into an unused corner of the room or a place that needs a little more ‘meaning’? This is a common mistake, since those spaces are already empty of clutter. But don’t leave your plant huddling in a cold, dark corner — that’s the last place to put your houseplant.

Think of your plant as royalty and choose a bright, sunny location away from drafts or heaters to place it. Move the furniture if you have to, to give your plants the pick of your home’s sunbeams. And get ready to clean. Houseplants are not overly demanding -they don’t care if the carpet is stained or the dishes need doing — instead, all they really want are good, clear windows.

Light is critical for houseplants to thrive, yet because the amount of light needed varies from species to species, deciding where to put it can be a challenge. Check the plant tag for guidance on low (limited), medium (indirect or bright), or high (direct) light requirements and place the plant in the right spot, or add supplemental lighting.

As a rule of thumb, low-level light rarely strikes the leaves and typically comes from north facing windows. Medium, or indirect light, is when light strikes the foliage for less than four hours per day. Through winter, medium light comes from east and west facing windows.

High or direct light is as it sounds — light falls across the plant for a minimum of four hours daily. Plants that love these conditions should be placed in a south-facing window. Distance from the window plays a role in light levels also, so keep your plants within two feet of the window. Further away and light levels fall off rapidly.

The dry interior of homes is particularly stressful to many of our tropical houseplants, which need more humidity than is present in houses. Although misting the foliage is one way to approach this, it doesn’t provide steady humidity and must be repeated throughout the day.

An easier approach is to place a pebble tray filled with water under the plant. Simply take a tray and layer small stones evenly along the bottom, then fill with enough water to reach the top of the stones. Place potted plants on this tray, but take care that the water is not touching the pot itself. Most houseplants should not be placed in standing water.

Refill the pebble tray often to keep the humidity levels even, and group plants closely together. Water vapor coming off the soil or clay pots adds to the air moisture of the happy group.

Read Full Post »

Today’s post can be heard on the public radio show Crop to Cuisine, hosted by Dov Hirsch.

Crop To Cuisine

As a child I grew up eating frozen, pureed, orange squash that came in a box and tasted vaguely of plastic.  Served in a gelatinous slump on my plate, I spent years believing that squash was one food best left in the fields.

But then my father started a garden, a large plot my mother, sister and I tended together.  This is when we discovered acorn squash, which my mother baked with a bit of maple syrup and cream drizzled into the hollow left from the seeds.  One bite of the savory treat, and I was in love. 

The sweet, flaky goodness of winter squash is a hallmark of fall for me, and each year I wait until the time that squash is in season to indulge in its delight.  I wouldn’t dream of buying and eating it out of season, because to me, the passion for food stems from anticipation as much as preparation.

If you’re looking to warm your evenings with savory soup or want a side dish with a little pizzazz, check out the ingredient that makes fall meals special:  winter squash.

Rich, flakey, light, or nutty, these colorful cousins of the thin-skinned zucchini come in a variety of shapes and sizes perfect for feeding a couple or a crowd.  As the days get chilly and shorter, squirrel a few into your pantry to store for winter dishes. 

Delicatas, hubbards, buttercups, and acorn squash all grow well here, along with pie pumpkins and a few of the butternuts.  I like them cut in half and roasted, but use them in other recipes and you’ll realize they’re pretty good cooked many ways.

Spaghetti squash is perfect for those who love pasta, with long, stringy, mild tasting fibers.  Slathered with sauce or outstanding in pesto, the vines are so prolific you only need plant a few.  Cooking it is simple – pop it in the microwave until it’s soft and collapses, then carefully cut it open, remove the seeds and scrape out the squash.

There is one note of caution to cooking spaghetti squash this way:  pierce it thoroughly with a knife before microwaving.  It explodes if you don’t, blowing the microwave door open and spewing squash across the room.  Trust me, that’s not as much fun as it sounds.

 Hubbards always draw my attention.  I’ve always wanted to taste them, but their mammoth size – up to 25 pounds – make them look more like a drilling project than a simple meal.  When I finally got the nerve up to ask an old timer how he cracked the gargantuan gourd open, he smiled and said “the wife tosses it off the garage roof.”

Images of that kind, petite lady climbing a rickety ladder with what amounts to a small hippo in tow flashed through my mind, and I prepared to give that gardener a good tongue lashing on safety in cooking.  But one glance at his laughing eyes had me realizing I was being ribbed, and she didn’t really do that.

But the question persists:  how do you open hubbard?  With an extra tough skin and roly-poly shape, a knife is out of the question.  Fortunately Alton Brown, host of Good Eats, has the best approach:  tapping a cleaver through the squash with a wooden mallet.  This works well on all winter squash.

Smaller, thick-skinned pumpkins are ideal for using in pies or baked goods. Often called sugar pumpkins, they have a very rich, sweet flavor.  Use them immediately – while other winter squashes taste better as they age, the pie pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo) loses its flavor if stored.

Before choosing pumpkins to grow in your patch, try a few this fall:  Black Futsu, a type from Japan, is a funky-looking flattened, warty, deep green pumpkin.  Its looks are deceiving; the flesh is golden with the savory taste of hazelnuts.  And Jahrradale, an Australian grey pumpkin, is very tasty.  The nutty, sweet but not strong flesh is easy to clean and nearly stringless, making baking a snap.

Harvest your winter squash when the skin toughens and isn’t dented by pressure from a fingernail.  But before this happens the skin is tender, so avoid wounding your fruit with a clumsy nail slash by watching for other signs of maturity, such as the stem drying out or the rind turning a deep color (some exceptions apply).

Read Full Post »

Today’s post can be heard on the public radio show Crop to Cuisine, hosted by Dov Hirsch.

Crop To Cuisine

I learned a new phrase the other day when I was visiting Palisade for the Colorado Mountain Winefest.  If you haven’t been, this three-day event features seminars, tastings and activities designed to celebrate the harvest.  In that time you can lose yourself in discovering new wines, or spend your days learning.

“We’re in crush,” were the words that changed my day.  Technically, the phrase means grapes are in harvest and brought to the wineries for preparation of fermentation.  Yet the simple words mean so much more:  a moment each fall when time seems to still, when the daily grind is set aside in favor of focus on turning vines into wine.

I’m a winemaker and, along with my husband, brother, sister-in-law, and friends, have delved deeper into the culture of the grape each year.  Armed with a book and the courage born of ignorance, we’ve turned out 14 types of wine, one vinegar, and a spectacularly spoiled science experiment.  Each year, we bravely try again. 

We’re in the middle of crush right now in Colorado, a delicate time for grapes.  For such a tough plant, it’s a princess when it comes to its fruit: too much sun, not enough sun, mildew, rain, frost, these are all conditions the clusters won’t tolerate.  Each one has the power to affect the vintage for good or for bad.

But ripeness isn’t just sugar, it’s also a balance of acid, plus subtle flavors that come with warm days and cool nights.  The longer the clusters spend on the vine – known as hang time – the greater the complexity of the fruit.

This season, winemakers have been anticipating the ripening of the clusters, which has teased us with a slow-rapid-slow pace.  We’ve been on alert and suffering delays or sudden deliveries for weeks, seesawing between idleness and panic.   Schedules are cleared for delivery, then filled when harvest is delayed, then worked around to accommodate the grapes.

The crazed uncertainty has become a staple of fall for me, and I feared it was simply due to a novice’s inability to select and schedule delivery of grapes.  Until the phrase “we’re in crush,” was uttered by Horst Caspari, our state viticulturist, as an explanation for an insane day he spent travelling to and from Fort Collins – 12 hours round-trip – for a two-hour meeting. 

With these words, the clouds of craziness in my mind parted, and realization dawned:  this isn’t insanity, it’s part of winemaking.  What’s more, I reasoned, the phrase could be used to explain away all sorts of distracted behavior, lack of commitment to meetings, or adherence to schedules.

“I’m in crush,” carries a romantic mystery that keeps non-winemakers at bay, who universally think I dress up like Lucille Ball, strip off my shoes, and stomp around a giant, grape-filled vat.  As appealing as that sounds, the reality is less cinematic:  modern equipment churns the berries, crushing them into pulp that slides into buckets.  At that time, yeast is added to begin fermentation.

From there, turning the grapes into a drinkable wine is up to the vintner.  Colorado boasts some of the finest grape growing areas in the United States, with two American Viticultural Areas (called AVA’s, federally-designated grape growing region with unique characteristics) in the Grand Valley and West Elks, along the North Fork of the Gunnison River.  Merlot, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, syrah, Riesling, and other well-known varietals are grown in these regions. 

With good grapes, great wine will follow but not everyone has the talent to produce a fine vintage.  Try a few of the wines from the pros – the wineries that have popped up across the state.  You’ll find a beverage to suit your taste, and when you feel stressed, stop, hoist a glass and toast “to the crush!”

Read Full Post »

Today’s post can be heard on the public radio show Crop to Cuisine, hosted by Dov Hirsch.

Crop To Cuisine

September is my favorite month because I get to spend all of my spare time in my two favorite places – the kitchen and garden. All of the season’s toil and sweat comes down to this month, the one where the harvest takes center stage.

If you’re new to gardening, learning when to harvest is trial and error; in eagerness, you pluck a tomato too soon, or in anxiety, leave it too long on the vine. Either way, your harvest isn’t rewarding – pick too soon and the flavor doesn’t develop, too late and the fruit is mushy and not as sweet.

When the garden is packed with roots, leaves, fruits and flowers, how to tell if one pepper is better than another or when a ripe-to-the-point-of-sinful cantaloupe is ready?

Taste and color are big clues in the maturity of what you’re picking, but all of your senses should be used when gauging ripeness, so feel the vegetable for signs it’s ready to harvest. Cucumbers may look green and pretty, but if their middles are soft and spongy, or the rind is hard, they’re overripe.

Whether slender or globe-like, eggplants should be shiny, uniformly deep in color with a bright green cap. Avoid those with dull color, a green tinge or brown discolorations; all of these are signs of bitter or old fruit. Eggplant becomes bitter if stored too long, so harvest it just before you need it or store it in the fridge for up to a week.

Sweet corn is a darling of the season, and fans love the creamy yellow, pearly white or bicolor ears of this hallmark of the summer. Watch your ears for the silk to turn dark brown and the ears filled to the tip with tightly packed, plump kernels. When lightly pressed, the kernels should ooze a milky juice. Corn with dry brown husks and indentations on the kernels are likely to be past their prime and the sugars have turned to starch. Super sweets, especially, lose sugar quickly. If you’re looking to freeze some, go with bi-colors or yellows.

Heirloom tomatoes pack plenty of taste in funky colors like striped, purple, pink, orange or white. Usually we can tell when they’re ready, but try growing a green tomato – one that never really colors up, and you’re reduced to tasting the tomato to learn when it’s ripe. Most of the time, those green tomatoes will blush slightly, so look for a color change and firm, glossy skin before tasting it.

Once you’ve mastered the tricks to telling ripeness, it’s easy to spot cantaloupes ready with melt-in-your-mouth sweetness. Look for well-defined grey-yellow netting over tan skin and a crack developing around the stem where it connects to the melon. Cantaloupes slip from the vine when ripe, and when this crack is two-thirds of the way around the fruit, your melon is perfect. At the store, follow your nose when choosing cantaloupe. Ripe ones smell like melon.

While bells are the best known sweet peppers, sweet bananas and Italian bull’s horn types add thrill to the grill and fresh salads. Long and lean, these may look like their chili cousins, but don’t have the spice. Pick peppers with deep, rich color that feel heavy for their size, and compost those with thin walls that give when pressed. But know what you’re growing before following my advice – some bull’s horn types have thinner walls that give when you press them. When harvesting those, keep the ones that are wrinkle-free and sleek.

Green beans are best when picked young, then cooled quickly to store in the refrigerator. The best snap beans are harvested slim while the seeds are small and not swelling. Clip your pods – don’t yank them – from the plant when they’re less than one-quarter to one eighth inch around and have bright color. Discard those that are spindly, blemished or limp or those that are stringy when snapped.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »