Thursday, August 17, 2017

Lush Late Summer

Processing our garden produce is often accompanied by serenading insects. Their captivating chorus drifts through the open kitchen windows as I rinse, chop, simmer, and sieve. Their identity? Doubt they are the beloved cigales of southeast France. Or grasshoppers. My bet is the chirping being given freely as August heat envelops and dusk closes in belongs to crickets. In the last two weeks, thirty-six kilograms/eighty pounds of tomatoes have been turned into concentrate and sauce. I no longer skin tomatoes for sauce because after several hours of simmering they cleave off the tomatoes on their own accord. I just pick them out once the sauce is cooled. To make around 3 litres, in a large, non-reactive pot like stainless steel or enamelled, saute in a little olive oil 4 Toulouse sausages (Italian sweet can be substituted) which have been removed from their casings. Breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, stir for a few minutes, and then add 4-5 crushed, large garlic cloves. Keeping the heat low, rinse and quarter 7 kilograms/15 pounds of tomatoes. Add them to the pot as you work. Toss in 1 tablespoon of dried basil, several bay leaves, and a few scrubbed Parmesan rinds. Simmer, partially covered, for 3-4 hours or until the sauce is thick and luscious. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Cool. Scoop out those skins. Portion. Freeze.

Though the tomato harvest is well past its peak, there are still quite a lot in the process of ripening on the vines.

When romas are ripe, they are fully and deeply red.

I quarter the romas. The crickets sing.

I have been meaning to get some Opinel knives for many a year which I finally have done so.  Only a French knife could boast of a denture velours (velvet teeth). It slices through food effortlessly.

Thinly sliced tomatoes? Some mozzarella remaining from making lasagna? Potted basil waving at you from a sunny window sill? It's a cinch to make caprese salad. Layer tomatoes and cheese. Sprinkle with olive oil and vinegar. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Top with chiffonade of basil.

Now that I am somewhat on top of tomato processing, it's the peaches' turn, and then the plums'.

There still are strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries here and there which get sugared and topped with cream whipped by The Calm One.

Though my focus is on preserving the bounty of peaches of which I am guessing will amount to about twenty-two kilograms/fifty pounds, we still make room for fresh ones which are pitted, sliced, and topped with whipped cream.

The Calm One's social creativity is always a delight: suggesting that his sibling reunion take place in the large garden of the Huddersfield home in which they all grew up (across the street where the familial dwelling of James Mason once was) though the house now belongs to strangers (who would be invited, of course); getting our niece and nephew to go racing out on our balcony to see who would be the first to spot the faint footprint of the international space station slowly padding its way across the night sky; most recently, his listening intently with a thoughtful facial expression as I announced the passing of some hot air balloons, and then his softly saying, lets photograph the universe in a glass against the backdrop of the balloons

The universe in his hand

À la prochaine!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

You Grow Food To Harvest To Process . . .

One side of our urban potager flanks an entrance driveway to a refrigeration depot.  Trucks amble more than roar as they pass our property because their speed is zapped well before the drivers reach the entry gates so they are not much of a bother to our peace of mind. Additionally their frequency occurs just from 9-5 on weekdays. But not during the month of August when it is common to be woken up by the grinding, gasping sounds of huge lorries arriving from Spain, Portugal, and Poland late in the night and early in the morning. The trucks emblazoned with PassionFroid (cold passion) along their sides never fail to make me smile. When that seasonal occurrence causes the first jarring of our sleep, we groggily mutter to each other, oh, the harvest is quickening. In our postage stamp of a potager and in the farm fields about a fifteen-minute drive from us (we live not that far from France profonde/Deep France), everything seems to be ripening all at once. Two styles of growing food are the crop and the sequential. The former is when all the seeds are sowed at one go, and the latter is when a series of sowing is done.  The crop approach is the one I use the most, and it results in heaps of produce groaning on tables which necessitates immediate attention to ensure the produce will be preserved with as much of the original freshness as possible.

Beefsteak &  roma tomatoes,  plums, and peaches

The rhythm goes something like this. A few ripe fruits are noted one day. The next that number is doubled, and on and on until the peak, that is, the largest amount of produce is ready to be harvested at the same time. Then the production halves the next day, and so on until all the plants are emptied of their delicious bounty. The entire harvest takes around three weeks. Presently, most days, I am preserving food.

We eat as many fresh tomatoes as we can: these are reserved for stuffing with shrimp salad

My main mode of preservation is freezing. In the seven years of growing a hefty percentage of our produce, the bounty has never been so copious as to last more than a year. Hence freezing, which results in tastier and more nutritious food than canning, is perfect for our needs, especially as there is a large fridge/freezer in the sous-sol. Though frozen food doesn't go bad after a year, it does lose most of it flavour. Canned goods, on the other hand, remain appealing for several years. Making tomato concentrate to serve as a soup base is a favourite way of mine to preserve tomatoes. Put washed, cut-up tomatoes (I simmer around fifteen to twenty pounds of tomatoes at a time which amounts to about 3 litres of concentrate) in the largest, non-reactive (stainless steel/enamel) pot you have, add several sliced carrots, 3 sliced celery stalks with leaves, 2-3 onions peeled and quartered, 3-5 peeled garlic cloves, a teaspoon of black peppercorns, several bay leaves, a heaping teaspoon of dried basil, a half-teaspoon of dried thyme, a heaping teaspoon of dried parsley, and several Parmesan rinds. Simmer, partially covered, for about an hour or till all veggies are soft. Sieve through a Foley mill, portion, and freeze. We love to dilute the concentrate to an unctuous consistency, add crème fraîche, cooked brown rice, and cubed Edam.

In total, tomato plants number 23

This season, there has been the most fruits ever in the history of our garden. The conditions must have been perfect for setting fruit this past spring. Though I had thinned many immature fruits, the peach tree lost a limb during a recent storm because the weight of the remaining peaches along with some assistance from the wind and rain gave the branch no choice but to splinter and crack. Despite all the missing fruit, there are still around 200 ripening peaches. Peaches do not develop sugar after being picked, but their level of acidity does diminish, hence whatever sweetness they have is brought out. However, I do try to pick them when they are in an exquisite state of dribbling, sweet juiciness.

Oh, do they smell FANTASTIC!

The plum d'Ente also lost a limb, as it is located in a windy part of the garden. As with the peach tree, the broken branch was cleanly sawed off, close to the collar joining it to the trunk.  Eventually the collar will envelop the cut.

One of The Calm One's beloved sweets is fruit leather made from these plums

The mirabelle tree is chock a block with their golden-flushed-with-crimson, cherry-sized plums.

The raspberry bushes are putting out their second crop for the season. The first fruiting occurred early summer on canes from last year. They were cut down to make room for new canes which will bear ripe fruit in a week or so. The new canes will stay put until late winter, when the spent upper segments will be pruned to allow for next season's first crop.

Vegetables are more forgiving and can be left in the ground until convenient to harvest.

There are 70 plants of red-skinned, yellow-fleshed, all-purpose Desiree potatoes

The beets are patient.

Ditto for the carrots.

À la prochaine!


Factors influencing fruiting
Keeping fresh tomatoes as juicy as possible (remove stems and store upside down on a plate in the fridge)

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Summer Style: Well-Dressed Pasta Salad, Lemonade, Five Easy Fresh Tomato Recipes & Front Garden Floral Displays

A capacious bowl of cold pasta salad is not only delicious like its steaming counterpart, there's also the benefit of a nice dose of resistant starch because letting pasta cool down, also cools down blood sugar spikes. Just mix ingredients, pop in fridge, sleep on it overnight, and the next day you got one lovely, exceedingly well-marinaded, and tasty concoction. If you made a hefty amount, it'll be there for you after doing chores or when you watch a video or welcoming you once the gardening is done for the day and beyond as it gets more flavourful through time. Since the dressing is what's going to permeate the pasta and give it an alluring oomph, choose ingredients you love. In my case: minced garlic, grated Parmesan, capers (Oh, how I adore thee!), olive oil, lemon juice, fresh basil, and silky, tart yogurt.

Romas from our potager are perfect for this salad as they are more meaty than juicy

For two meal-sized servings or four to six smaller ones: fistfuls of penne, 6; roma tomatoes, 8-10; yogurt, 8 T; extra virgin olive oil, 2 T; freshly squeezed juice from 1 lemon; capers, 2 T; chopped fresh basil, 1 heaping T; finely grated Parmesan, 8 T; 2-4 garlic cloves, minced; salt (I used several tsp) and freshly ground black pepper (I did about 8 turns of the mill) to taste.  Toss penne into boiling water which should take about 12 minutes to become al dente, the perfect consistency for salads. Put all other ingredients except tomatoes into a large bowl. Whisk for about a minute.

No whisk chez vous?  A fork will do just fine instead.

Drain the pasta and let cold water run over the strainer so the penne does not cook any further. Give the strainer a few good shakes and then plop pasta into the bowl with the dressing. Can't be bothered to dig out a strainer or you don't have one? It's summer; let's keep it simple and easy. Use a slightly ajar lid or a plate to let out the water and keep the pasta in, fill with cold water, and drain again. Mix pasta and dressing well. Chop tomatoes and add to the dressed salad. Check seasoning. Remember that as it chills, the impact of seasoning fades a bit so it needs a generous hand. Cover and put in fridge for at least an hour. It goes well with lemonade, but then again most summery comestibles do: put 2-3 tablespoons of sugar in bottom of a glass (296 ml/10 oz), scant cover with hot tap water, stir till dissolved, add juice of a large lemon along with enough icy-cold water to bring the 'ade to the rim. During the summer we keep several water bottles in the fridge rather than bother with making ice cubes. If you got them, then float a few in your glass especially if the temperature is scorching.

Lemon waiting to be turn into 'ade

It's that time of the year when The Calm One and I get to enjoy tomatoes fresh from the potager every day till autumn. 

Here are some of our favourite dishes:

We put thinly sliced tomatoes on top of macaroni and cheese, add more cheese, and then broil till tomatoes are more sauce than not and cheese is bubbly.

Topping is a mix of edam and cheddar

The big ones, cored and stuffed with a mixture of chopped pulp, minced tuna/shrimp/chicken, and mayonnaise, are served over couscous.

Thickly sliced toms are placed on a bed of cooked brown rice which are sprinkled with olive oil, basil, parmesan, then put under the broiler.

Medium-sized, hollowed-out tomatoes are filled with a raw egg while the chopped pulp is placed on a bed of cooked couscous along with the filled toms, sprinkled with olive oil, thyme, salt, freshly ground black pepper, and baked covered for about twenty minutes.

They are added to salads and sandwiches, especially grilled cheese.

Pan-Grilled Tomato Basil Cheddar Sourdough Rye Sandwich

Potted tuberous begonias and dahlias which were started several months ago are brightening up our front entrance. Additionally, the cascading begonias are scenting that area with their remarkable, black-tea-morphing-into-grapefruit fragrance. Late July and August often see a dearth of flowers, so long-blooming varieties like these two, especially potted and placed in full view, can carry the garden into autumn. Since these beauties are working so hard and are not in the ground, they get a liquid feed weekly.

Deadheading in general is a good habit but is essential for showcased, potted flowers

À la prochaine!


The grand history of breeding fragrant begonias

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Summer Break

Souped-up Garden will return in August. Take care, have fun, and keep cool.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Gardening, Like Life, Is All About Change

Last week saw a heat wave, this week is witness to cool temps and lots of showers.

Spruce, clouds, and a patch of blue

Eli the Kitten
knows how to keep dry.

A nook in The Calm One's office

As does Dirac the Cat.

When there is a break between downpours, I head on out. The rain is so much better for various young vegetables than my valiant attempts at watering.

Can't beat beets!

Parsnips, which are wonderful, cream-coloured root vegetables with a sweet and earthy taste, have many a month of maturing ahead of them.

Its leaves bear a resemblance to another umbellifer, celery

Rhubarb thrives on moisture, so it's happy.

Sweet red peppers are already forgetting the scorching heat.

Though I will rig up some kind of protection against the sun for its tender flesh

Felines may adore catnip, but I suspect they love the smell of petrichor even more.

Beefsteak tomatoes as they grow are being twirled around the tuteurs

The peach and fig trees are as relieved as I am that they don't have to rely just on my spritzing them with a hose.

Laurel hedge, peach tree, & fig tree (upper right) 

As do Shasta daisies and hydrangeas.

À la prochaine!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Heat Wave Smoothie!

Temperatures are staying high, around 40 degrees C/100 degrees F. Thank goodness for thick stone walls, terracotta roofing tiles, and window shutters. Daily watering is required so the potager behind the house gets drenched in the mornings and the front/side gardens are soaked in the evening. Hand watering is opted instead of sprinklers because there is less wastage plus I can determine which plant needs how much. Calla lilies and fruiting stock receive a lot. Lavender and Rose of Sharon are drought-resistant so not a drop for them.

Iris foliage, potato, and tomato beds

Blackberries are ripening. Enough were harvested to make a smoothie!

Making a bee-line for the cool sous-sol, I passed one of the ivy-covered pillars supporting the pergola and noted this golden leaf amidst the green. Though lovely, it could be a sign of heat stress.

Like many in our quartier, I remain in the house during the rise of sweltering heat as the day unfolds. It's a good 10 degrees cooler there, and in the sous-sol, even more. But still, much better not to turn on the oven or use the stove if possible. Using a stick-mixer, I blended the blackberries picked earlier along with almond meal, a very ripe banana, lemon juice, yogurt, and some ice-cold water. The mixture was sieved and then quaffed down.

In the late evening, I ventured out to water the front and side gardens. Besides hauling hoses and watering cans, I needed to take care of a trembling house sparrow fledgling that was on the hot concrete path underneath the eaves where many nests are tucked away. Sliding a paper towel under the fluffy one, I took it to a shady spot to check for injuries (since birds have no sense of smell, the parents will never know that I touched their offspring). As far as I could make out, its wings could spread out to flutter, and its feet were in working order. The trembling had stopped. It was then carried over to some bushes near its suspected nest and placed under them. Hopefully everything worked out for that avian family. House sparrows have around four clutches in succession during the season which keeps the Mom occupied at home. Hence it usually is the Dad who brings food to the little ones on the ground while they strengthen their wings by flapping them and hopping about. And the heat is a stressor for them so keep those bird baths full, clean, and cool (freeze water in a bowl, place in bath, and as the ice melts, it refills and freshens).

Rock, lavender, Shasta daisies, abelia, and purple plum tree

A pot of dahlias is starting to put out blooms. Several months ago, once the weather was warm enough, two tubers were place in a medium-sized pot filled halfway with loosely packed potting mix which was kept slightly moist since they easily rot. As stems shot up, more mix was added.

Where there are flowers, there are pollinators.

The garden on the west side of the house, and where the baby sparrow was put, boasts of a nice clump of daylilies.

They put out many stems with a lot of buds. Each flower lasts just a day, hence their name.

One more bloom to go!

The Desperado variety wows. I love the delicate, maroon edging.

À la prochaine!