Archive for February, 2009

The Sensuous Carrot

In the relatively mild central New Mexico climate, I leave my carrots in the ground all winter and dig them whenever the ground is thawed enough to get a shovel into. The area that I find it convenient to grow carrots in has some stones, and sometimes the roots hit the stones and are induced to grow in peculiar ways. I offer this piece of natural carrot art without further comment.

Mushrooms: cleaning up the waste

One of my Christmas treats was a kit for growing oyster mushrooms. It came from Fungi Perfecti, and it consisted of a log of mycelium-impregnated straw that needed to be covered with a plastic-bag humidity tent and misted a few times a day. It produced oyster mushrooms in a responsible fashion, and you can see its portrait at the end of this post; click below to read and see the rest. Far more interesting, though, was growing oyster mushrooms from spawn. The spawn can be ordered from them or from other suppliers and used to inoculate mediums chosen by you (with guidance from the experts). The recommendation is to grow them in coffee grounds (start saving them in a bag in the freezer) but I grew the ones that you see above in shredded waste paper and am very excited about the results.
Click here for directions!

Foraging: wild mustard

Right now, the wild mustard is free for the picking in our region. I find it in unexpected places in my yard, including the middle of the lawn, and along acequias closer to the river. Needless to say, you don’t want to pick any that’s growing where it’s exposed to walking dogs, or where chemical spraying may have taken place.
When the weather is still very cold and the wild mustard is still young, it’s a great green to spice up a salad, adding a wasabi-like heat when combined with milder greens. Taste it, and if it’s too hot for salads cook it, which lowers the heat. I love to mix it with spinach, chard, or other mild greens about half and half: saute’ some chopped garlic in olive oil in a skillet, add the well-washed greens and a couple of tablespoons of raisins, and braise over medium heat until done. Garnish with toasted pine nuts, and eat.
These potent, highly flavorful greens were the “spring tonic” of our ancesters, and today we still need those vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. We may not be recovering from a winter without fresh vegetables, but we still need the connection with the awakening earth that its first green shoots can provide. If you were thinking ahead last fall, you made sure to have plenty of herbs, and now you can sprinkle your cooked greens with the shoots of parsley and fennel that are coming up from last year’s plants. They’ll shoot to seed soon, so use them up now.

More winter treats: the Peruvian Purple Potato

When I first ordered Peruvian Purple seed potatoes, I thought of them more as a curiosity than as a real crop. I was curious about how this native of the Peruvian highlands would adapt to our own high-desert conditions. I was also aware of their very high anthocyanin content, and I’m never one to turn down a good source of antioxidants. I’m still digging them for winter use, and they are one of my most successful crops this year and fill an interesting niche in my household menu: they’re readily available when nearly everything else is dormant.
I planted mine in a strip at the side of my house, which gets very hot in the summer. I did water them but not as much as they might have liked. Even so, they flourished and looked very pretty in their season. Incidentally, this brings up the fact that much gardening information on the Web is clearly written by non-gardeners. Now that edible landscaping is hot, I see recommendations to use the potato as an ornamental, which sounds fine if you don’t know that the vegetative parts die off in late summer and look just awful. So plant them where some other big pretty plant will spill over and fill the empty space in late summer, or put them in an out-of-the-way place where you can admire them in their season and not see them as much when they die back. Do keep them weeded.
When they flowered I scrabbled under themn to look for new potatoes, as I do with all my potatoes, but didn’t find any, and thought they were probably a loss. However, in November when I dug up the space for the winter, I found a treasure trove of earth-amethysts. They were blemish-free and looked very lovely after scrubbing, with deep purple skins that glistened like jewels when wet. I left them in the ground and dug them as I needed them, and on February 1st I’m still digging them and they’re still in perfect condition. They have been completely free of disease and haven’t shown any sprouting yet.
They’re very tasty cut in chunks and roasted in nearly any kind of fat (olive oil and goose fat are probably my favorites) in a 400 degree oven with some coarse salt and a good sprinkling of chopped herbs added near the end of cooking. Chopped garlic added late in the cooking period when it won’t scorch is nice too. A hot potato salad made of chunks of Peruvian Purple boiled in salted water until tender, drained, and dressed with a vinaigrette dressing and a little chopped green onion, parsley, ands celery (plus a good dose of bacon crumbles for non-vegetarians) would be delicious and very decorative. This potato is a survivor, which is probably why it was valued as part of the Peruvian mixed potato patches. It doesn’t demand intensive care and makes do with less water than other potatoes I’ve grown. I recommend it. You can get it at Ronnigers. Formerly I recommended Seed Savers Exchange, and although they don’t have this potato for the 2010 season, I do still recommend them for almost everything else.
For more on growing potatoes. Click here