Archive for the ‘fruit’ Category

Superfruit Sauce

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A couple of years ago I started my low-carb fruit project, aimed at growing maximum antioxidants with minimum carbohydrates.  This summer my plantings started to bear. Here are a few observations:

1. A good Italian plum tree is abundant beyond rational imagination. In season the branches are weighed down with thick ropes of plums and its overblown beauty warms your heart at sight. Make sure you have plans for the fruit. Prune plums are not low-carb at all but have plenty of soluble fiber in a delicious form, so I eat some.

2. Goji berries are my worst garden invader so far. They seem to behave better in other parts of the country, but they love my alkaline desert soil and go wild. Everywhere I look, yards from the parent plant, eager offspring are poking up among the broccoli and muscling aside the beans. The plants are rather thin, though, and don’t block any appreciable amount of sunlight, so I am happy to have them. But if your nature and aesthetic are more meticulous than mine, better plan to use a root barrier. The shoots, gathered when they still snap cleanly, were one of my favorite perennial vegetables this year. The flavor of the fruit is nothing to write home about, but I enjoy them in savory dishes or mixed with other berries.

3. Clove currants, when left on the bush for a couple of weeks after they turn black, are delicious. Eat them before that and you’ll wonder why you wasted space on them.

4. Goumi berries are very well suited to alkaline soil and tolerate heat well. They smell heavenly when they bloom in May, with a far-reaching honeyed sweetness that is free of the grape Koolaid note that can be overbearing in their close relative the Russian olive.  Again, once they turn red, start tasting every few days, and don’t harvest until they taste good. It’s very worthwhile to buy the expensive named varieties. I didn’t, and my wild-type berries are so tiny that harvesting is very slow and tedious. I’ll be planting some selected varieties next spring.

I had relatively small amounts of all the berry types this spring, so I decided to mix them together and add plums to make a sauce base for producing my own hot sauces and chutneys. Other than stoning the plums, I didn’t do any other prep. I threw roughly equal quantities of the four types of fruit in a stockpot, added good red wine to just cover the fruit, and simmered slowly until the fruits were soft. I think it was about 90 minutes. Then I put the mixture through a food mill to remove any woody seeds that the goumis had contributed and to smoothe and thicken the mixture.

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Add salt to taste. Now you have an antioxidant-rich purée that can go in a number of directions. Cooked down a little further until it thickens up, and sweetened to taste with sugar or your favorite artificial sweetener, it makes a tart local substitute for cranberry sauce. Cooked a bit with sweetener and chopped garlic and ginger, it makes a delicious Asian sauce for garnishing pork, dipping dumplings, or just as a table sauce. Make hot sauce by pureeing a can of chipotles en adobo in the blender and adding to the superfruit base by spoonfuls until you get the heat level that you want. Sweeten or not; I like some sweet with my heat. My favorite use is superfruit chutney: to a cup of base add a couple of teaspoons of mustard seed lightly toasted in a dry skillet, a teaspoon of garam  masala, a small onion and a clove of garlic finely chopped, and a small piece of ginger grated. Crumble in a dried chile or two if you like heat.  Salt a little less than you think is optimal. Simmer together, adding a little water if necessary, until the alliums are cooked and soft. Taste, adjust seasoning and salt, and cool. Serve with nearly anything Indian.

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I froze some superfruit base in cartons to use this winter. It could also be canned, although I would suggest pressure canning for safety.

 

Canna Lilies

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Every year I try a few new edibles, and I try to lean toward perennials. I have a lot of edible perennials in the spring but very few that produce in hot weather, so I’m especially interested in any heat-tolerant edible. This spring I read about canna lilies as a multi-purpose edible, with young leaves, rhizomes, and flowers all edible. I have seen them perennialized in my area, they tolerate heat beautifully, and I grew up in Louisiana and still have a taste for overblown tropical flowers, so putting in a canna patch was a natural. They grew well and were very pretty, and didn’t even need that much water since they were well mulched.

The hitch came in the kitchen. I tried young tightly rolled leaves sliced on salads, flower petals on top of salads, and finally the season’s new rhizomes boiled. In all three cases the problem was that there was no objectionable flavor but also no desirable flavor. Cannas taste as much like nothing at all as it’s possible to imagine. Since I don’t know of any pressing nutritional reason to eat them, and since yield is low and they use up a fair amount of space, I doubt that I will try them again. I imagined that my goat would enjoy the leafy adult stalks, but to my astonishment she won’t touch them.

So, overall, no reason to keep growing them except that they’re pretty and can make a dramatic addition to summer flowers. And this leads to a bit of ranting about the concept of permaculture. I have recently perused with interest a book claiming that  permaculture could help feed a rapidly expanding world population in an environmentally sound way, but the picture of the authors’ market display shows nothing but standard annual vegetables.  Another book which purports to be a permaculture cookbook has recipes based almost entirely on standard annual vegetables.  If you hope to eat something other than asparagus and spring greens, what exactly do you grow? My weed patch is a partial answer to this question in my own yard, and I’m experimenting with a few Japanese and Andean perennial edibles (so far without much success.) Fruit is an obvious possibility but many of us have weight or blood sugar issues and need to limit the amount of fruit we eat. So in my view the question remains unanswered, and I will be growing and eating annual vegetables for the foreseeable future.  I’m also interested in the concept of wild-crafting, and in my case this means that I attempt to grow edible perennial weeds in my own yard, where I can control soil and moisture and not worry about overharvesting in the wild.

In springtime, the asparagus springs up, nettles and a host of other wild greens sprout, and I can feel like a real permaculturist for the entire month of April. After that, it gets a lot more limited and I’m a more traditional gardener. Unfortunately, canna lilies are not going to do anything to change that.

Mostarda di Frutta, and notes on artificial sweeteners in ketogenic diets

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While in Florence on my honeymoon many years ago I learned to love mostarda di Cremona, the sweet tangy mustardy fruit condiment. I bought a bulk kilo, hauled it home, and for many years enjoyed it with all kinds of things. Then I developed blood sugar problems and changed to a ketogenic diet and such treats were off my list of possibilities. Continue reading

Wax Currants

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I have written before about clove currants and how I finally learned to leave them on the bush until they sweeten. Right now I’m enjoying wax currants, Ribies cereum. They thrive in the Southwest and don’t require much supplemental water. They are extremely pretty. And oh, they are delicious. From the hard green phase they first turn waxy yellow. At this stage they’re very tart and make a wonderful substitute for lemon juice, with a special tang of their own. A handful tossed over grilled fish or seafood is decorative as well as tasty. Then they get smaller and turn red, and are a sweet, spicy, sprightly fruit for snacking.

I would happily eat them by the bowlful, but here’s the issue: like all our native currants, they are very tedious to pick and clean. Each currant has a “tail” of withered flower that has to be pulled off, and the currant itself has to be pulled off the stem, and it all takes time, especially given the very small size of the fruit. I have read another forager’s suggestion to just leave the tails on, and have tried it, and all I can say is that it’s a lot like adding a handful of very short threads to your bowl of fruit. Tailing them is worth the trouble, to have this fruit at its very best. But most of us have jobs and families, and little time to sit around meditatively topping and tailing currants.

My bushes are young and only one of them is in fruit, so ecstatic snacking in the garden uses them up. But when I have more available, I speculate that juicing them would produce a gorgeous and delicious juice and eliminate the tedium of tailing them. The juice would also be very interesting as a cooking medium. I recall a dish I used to make ( back when I lived where I could get passion flowers to grow,) which involved cooking passion fruit juice with lemon grass and coconut milk, seasoning with salt and pepper, and dropping seared scallops onto a pool of the resulting sauce. The same sauce made with wax currant juice should be just as delicious and even prettier.

The bushes are large, 6-7 feet tall and nearly as wide when mature, and are healthy and not subject to any pests or diseases that I have noticed. They are attractive enough at any time, but when sunlit and covered with their sparkling carnelian fruit, they are beautiful.

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A Cookbook to Make You Cook

Right now I am reading two cookbooks that could hardly be more different from one another. Both are large, high quality, available only in hardcover, and gorgeously illustrated. One will make you cook, and one will make you think. The think-book will be reviewed tomorrow.

The one that will make you cook:

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I have owned Sarah Raven’s addictive book about garden-based seasonal cooking for years. It has stood the test of time. Each spring I rediscover it, and it is on my bedside table right now. It seems to be neglected these days, which is why I’m doing my bit to get people to remember that it’s there. It is chock full of pretty photographs and, far more important, recipes that work and taste good. You can flip it open almost at random and come to a recipe that will become a kitchen favorite. It will help you cook your way through your garden or farmer’s market, and while your seasons might not correspond exactly to British seasons, you will cook through the seasons at your own pace in practice. The recipes are never tricksy or overly fussy, and lean toward full pure flavors.

Favorite recipes: Peaches with Bourbon, Romano Beans with Cream and Savory, Lamb with Thyme Tapanade, Cranberry Beans with Sage, Braised Celery, Parmesan and Walnut Crisps, scores of others.

Conclusion: buy it and cook from it. You will eat more fruits and vegetables and you will thereby be healthier and happier.

 

The Joys of Spring: Goumis

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A few years ago I began a project to grow fruits that offered maximum antioxidants with minimum carbohydrates, in other words fruits very different from the swollen sugar-pops that fill the American grocery store. I had been reading with great interest about Goumi berries because genus Eleagnus thrives in my area with relatively little water. I planted three of them, and over the next two years they got a bit bigger but nothing much happened. Last year, their third year, they grew over 5 feet tall and one produced three tiny berries. Hardly an exciting outcome. But this year they have already earned their place; all three are covered with scads of small discreet blossoms and when the sun hits them, the scent that they throw all over my front yard is indescribable. It has the honeyed spicy sweetness that characterizes Russian olives in bloom, but without the grape Koolaid note. Utterly delicious. They are humming with bees, and I do wonder what Goumi honey would taste like.

The bush seldom tops six feet, and unlike their relatives the Russian olives and autumn olives, they are thornless.  They are nitrogen fixers and tolerate my poor alkaline soil, and are not demanding about water. I soak mine every two or three weeks and ignore them the rest of the time. They are not dangerously invasive like their cousins. I hope that later in the year I’ll be reporting on fruit production and quality. The berries have a high lycopene content and the seeds inside contain a quantity of omega-3 fatty acids.  But even if I had no interest in the fruit, they would be the stars of my early spring yard. Sometimes my message is a simple one: grow this plant, you’ll like it.

Indolent Pest Management

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There is a semi-organic, thought-intensive mode of pest management called Integrated Pest Management. It has occurred to me lately that I could spearhead an alternative IPM called Indolent Pest Management. It has two phases:

  1. I notice a pest problem.
  2. I wait to see what happens.

The most recent example started last fall, when I noticed a proliferation of large garden snails from who knows where, leaving slime trails on the chard. I read about preparation of escargot out of curiosity but never did anything effective about the snails, because I was busy and there were so many other things to eat.

After a month or so, I started to see these everywhere:

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Snail shells, broken open and empty, appeared all over the place. Further observation revealed that a roadrunner, our local little feathered velociraptor, had taken over my yard and was exploring the mulch and eating all the snails, as well as a few stray mice. With the first warm day of spring he began strutting on my roof, calling for eligible females. I keep trying to photograph him, but roadrunners are wary and fast. Most of my photos of him are just a blur. The ones at the top and bottom of this post, where at least you can sort of see him, are the best I could do.

A sharp-shinned hawk has started nesting nearby and this helps keep the mice and English sparrows down. Yes, he hunts at my bird feeder occasionally. Hawks have to live too.

My much-loved Toka plum tree gets an aphid infestation every year after leafing out, although none of my other plums do. Ladybugs move in and decrease them, and the remaining aphids are certainly unattractive but don’t diminish yield in the slightest and are gone by early June.

Cabbage loopers put a few holes in my collard leaves every year. No issues. I feed those leaves to the chickens and eat the others.

Squash bugs spread viruses that are hard on my zucchini. But I am no worse afflicted than people who spray.

My point is that we are gardeners and urban homesteaders, not commercial farmers. Also, we typically have day jobs and limited time to attend to our crops. So why spend it trying to exterminate things that don’t do that much harm? Wait and see, and if a planting fails, other plantings will succeed.  Before fixing, wait to see if it’s really broken. Meanwhile, eat something else. There’s plenty.

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