This year, for the first time, the blooming crocuses were not the first exciting gardening event of spring. Thanks to experiments with Agribon frost blanket, I started harvesting huge beautiful heads of broccoli in January. But the crocuses are still very exciting. Their rich intense stained-glass hues seem almost defiant on a winter day, and in morning sun they are a reassurance that you made it through another winter and it was all worth it. Last fall I finally remembered to buy enough of them to plant the big black pots on the sheltered east side of my house, and here they are blooming happily in mid February.
Even if you are mostly a food gardener, as I am, don’t forget to plant a few things that brighten your property and gladden your heart. I call it endorphin farming. These early minor joys draw you outside in any scrap of pretty weather, and cause you to notice that green onions are sprouting, new shoots of fennel and tarragon and peas can be seen, fruit tree buds are swelling, and yes, the coming season will be beautiful and worth working for.
I remember some garden writer who moved to the Pacific Northwest writing about asking his new neighbor what he needed to know about winter gardening in Seattle, and the neighbor looked at him and replied bleakly “Prozac.” A few crocuses are a lot less expensive than a season’s worth of antidepressants, and have no side effects whatsoever.
Back in 2009 I wrote a post on onion and garlic scapes that you can find here, and all I can say is that if I had known that hundreds of people were going to look at it and it would still be going strong in 2016, I would’ve been more thorough. But then, when I think about it, I think my advice to get young tender garlic scapes, chop them in about 1 inch lengths, and pan fry them in hot olive oil is still my favorite way to use them. These days I usually cut the whole bud off before cutting them up to cook. It has a slightly starchy quality that does not, in my current opinion, go well with the greenness of the rest of the scape. Try it both ways and see what you think.
I also still enjoy putting them under roasting meat and poultry to stew in the juices, and in fact tonight I will be having roast chicken thighs on a bed of garlic scapes, almost exactly as I described in that post seven years ago. Make sure that they get 20 minutes or more to cook. If necessary, you can take the meat out to rest and continue roasting the scapes until done. Make sure the pan doesn’t get dry, which will cause them to burn. Add a little water or broth if needed to keep things a little juicy but not soupy.
I can also add that allicin, the antioxidant in garlic and other alliums that is thought to have many health benefits, is present in much higher levels in the green part of the garlic plant than in the cloves that you typically cook with, so eating the plant bits is good for you as well as tasty.
I am also experimenting with dehydrating scapes and grinding them into powder. I am not doing this with garlic scapes because I prefer to eat them as is, but I have been dehydrating onion and shallot scapes so that they can be ground into an attractive green powder that, I hope, will be useful for seasoning. So far, I have sprinkled some over salad with good effect. I am thinking about using it to coat chicken thighs, along with salt, and then searing them in olive oil and finishing them in the oven. I’m not sure how the green color will play out in this context, but I think it will brown enough that it will not be particularly startling.
The best advice that I can give to vegetable gardeners is: grow green garlic. Grow a lot of it. Use the greens, and ignore any rigid advice to use the white parts only, because you would be missing the best part of the garlic. Remember to slice crosswise in 1/4″ slices when using the whole stalk and leaves, since they are not as tender as the scape, and once the scape appears, the stalk and leaves are too tough to use. Try it every which way, because you are probably going to love at least some cooking methods. Click the tag for “green garlic” at the head of this post to look at all my various experiments with it. If your space is limited and you can’t grow enough for your yearly needs, you can eat all your garlic as green garlic and then buy heads of garlic at your farmers’ market, grocery, or food co-op for winter use. If you are limited to a small space, there is no point in using it on storage vegetables.
Be aware that you can create a very long season by choosing a number of different varieties. My green garlic season starts in mid-March with the very early Chinese Pink, and right now in late May the late Mount Hood and elephant garlic are still providing wonderful green garlic. I buy all my garlic from Territorial Seeds, and I strongly recommend getting your order in by June because the most interesting varieties sell out quickly. It will be delivered in fall in time for planting. This year I have finally planted enough that I think I will be able to replant from my own stock; in previous years, I’m afraid I have gluttonously eaten it all.
The little jellyish tadpoles introduced in a previous post now have well-developed hind legs, growing front legs, and are beginning to look like tiny toads. And there is no such thing as too many toads, in my opinion anyway. If you want to get them in your yard, in most parts of the country all you have to do is build it and they will come. Have a ground-level source of fresh water, plenty of shade, and some insects, and you will have toads pretty soon. Listen for their high-pitched “singing” around your pond some time. They sound more like katydids than like frogs, and it’s music to the gardener’s ears.
The tart or pie cherry is a pretty yard tree all season, and gorgeous in full fruit, with the glowing colors of a Russian enamel. This year my pie cherry tree bore heavily for the first time, and after making a new supply of tart cherry liqueur (no sugar this time,) I made a few cherry cobblers.
First, catch your cherries. They need to be the bright lacquer-red pie type, not the darker sweet cherries, which will turn a rather dreadful color if you try to cook them.
Next, pit enough of them to make 1 1/2 cups of pitted cherries. This will serve 2 gluttons or four normal people. I have a pitting device from OXO that pits four at a time, but it’s still tedious work. Be certain to run your clean fingers through the pitted cherries several times to find any pits that you missed, so that no teeth are cracked later.
If you eat sugar, it’s very simple from here on. Add a handful of wild blueberries or (from my yard) fully ripe clove currants or serviceberries for the blue element, sweeten to taste, and make your favorite biscuit dough but sweeten it a little more than usual. Put the cherries and berries in a buttered 7 inch tart pan, top with artistic globs of the biscuit dough, and bake at 375 until the dough is done and browning attractively. If you eat low-carb it’s a little more complicated but not much. Sweeten the cherry mixture to taste with half erythritol and half Sweet Perfection oligofructose, working the sweeteners in with your fingers so that they don’t cake, and add a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Make the topping as follows:
1 1/2 cups almond flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup of Swerve sweetener confectioners type
1/3 cup Sweet Perfection oligofructose
1/4 cup butter, cold
2 egg yolks
Combine all the dry ingredients in a bowl and stir well with a fork. Work in the butter, cutting it in with the fork until the largest remaining butter pieces are the size of baby peas. Add the egg yolks, working them in with a fork until the mixture is fairly well amalgamated. Drop on top of the cherry mixture in the small buttered tart pan, pat it out just a bit with your fingertips (it will be sticky and messy,) and bake at 375 until the dough is cooked through and coloring. This dough doesn’t brown evenly as sugar-containing doughs do, and you have to watch carefully so that it doesn’t burn. Serve hot with low-carb
vanilla ice cream.
Happy Independence Day!
The gorgeous image of a cherry branch second from the top was on a Google page and I can’t find an attribution for it. If anyone knows who the photographer is, please let me know so that I can give credit.
Surely everyone knows by now about the bee/pollinator crisis, and all I plan to mention here is that we gardeners can do a bit to maintain the bees that we have left. If you want your fruit trees and squash to bear, then bees are a personal issue for you, and the best things that you can do for them are garden without any insecticide sprays (the drift from which can spread a long way and is very toxic to bees) and feed them. This year I’ve managed to keep a succession of plants blooming that are attractive to bees, but by far their favorite is the common Shirley poppy, available in nearly every seed catalog. While the weather is still cold, scatter the fine tiny seed around in spots where the poppies can get big and bushy in midsummer, keep the area watered and weeded, and let them do their effulgently gorgeous thing. I scatter the seeds around my tomato bed in late winter, they hog the bed in June, and then can be pulled out after blooming to give the tomatoes breathing room. Every morning they lift my spirits twice: first when I catch sight of them and again when I get closer and hear the continual hum of bees working. I am thinking of getting a beehive so that the third thrill can occur when I see them filling combs.
I should add that the leaves of Papaver rhoeas are edible in cooked greens mixtures, but they are no great shakes, so think of this plant as food for the bees, not you.