Posts Tagged ‘Chiriman’

The garden year: winners and losers


Like most gardeners, I try a lot of new stuff every year. Some of it fails, some is good enough to make a nice novelty but not good enough to make the long-term cut, and some new items become a part of my regular line-up.
This was a tough year for my garden, and everything that survived deserves some credit. The blistering heat, unusual for this area, and a lot of neglect on my part due to other pressing matters made for a veritable Darwinian demo of natural selection in action.

A special Most Tolerant Vegetable award goes to sweet potatoes. They might get an award for Most Nutritious Vegetable, too, and possibly for Most Delicious Vegetable. No matter what kind I plant, they seem to flourish. I pick so many of the leaves off for greens and salads that it’s a wonder they survive, but I got a very nice crop of roots too. I tend to like the dry yellow types better than the moister orange types, but the latter are healthier to eat, so plant both. Can’t beat ’em. Grow plenty.
The other winners were:

Squash: Waltham Butternut, Chiriman and Kikuza, three C. moschata subtypes. They were resistant to borers, laughed off squash bugs, and soaked up the heat. All had delicious flesh when cured, a little on the moist side but sweet, stringless, and close in quality to my beloved Buttercup, which I can’t grow here because the borers always get it. They were watered irregularly and tolerated that.

Greens: Malva sylvestris. This is an attractive ornamental with mauve flowers, and it makes good healthy leaves for greens in the hottest weather. I’ve chosen it over my old favorite Malva verticillata because it’s a more ornamental plant and equally good to eat. It’s less prolific, but that’s a good thing.

Chicory “Trieste sweet”. This was advertised as less bitter than other chicories, but in my garden it wasn’t. That’s fine with me, since I love the light clean bitterness of well-grown chicory in a salad, and this one was a very strong grower with pretty light green smooth leaves.

Carrot: “Purple Rain.” I love purple carrots for some reason, and the darker the better. This one fit the bill, dark purple right to the core. See chunks of it, loaded with anthocyanins, in the post “Root Vegetables Chairoscuro.”

Parsnips: “Turga.” I only grew a few, and next year I’ll be growing a lot more. They tolerated heat and drought and heavy clay soil. By December when not much else is available fresh, they’re sweet and delicious. They don’t need any special storage for the winter; just leave them in the ground and dig them whenever the ground isn’t frozen.

Potatoes: Red Norland. I adore Peruvian Purple potatoes and have always grown a lot of them,  but this year they were a complete crop failure, while ordinary Red Norlands came through shining, as they always do. So experiment all you like with exotic potatoes, but have a few hills of the Old Reliable. Even if you don’t have room to grow main crop potatoes for storage, you’ll want a few hills to dig for gossamer-skinned new potatoes.

Spinach: America. This very old hybrid is still going strong. Not as big as some, not as smooth as some, not as savoyed as some, it just produced lots of tasty leaves in cold weather and in hot, unruffled by the changes that nature threw at it.

Swiss chard: Fordhook Giant. For years I flirted with the multicolor types, but they don’t produce as well as this old stalwart, and I grow leafy greens to eat, not to look at. It mixes nicely with flowers.

The losers:

Squash: Sucrine de berry and Musque de Provence. Both had come highly recommended by the catalog for flavor and lack of fiber, and unfortunately both were just awful. Both had stringy unpleasant flesh, and Musque had very little sweetness or flavor of any kind while Sucrine was watery and had a strong unpleasant scent and taste that one taster described as “Squnk.” Both were vine-ripened and cured for two months, so I can only assume that the seedstock was not pure, but since I rely on winter squash for a lot of my winter vegetable supply, I can’t take a chance on them again.  They are quite decorative on the end of my dining room table, and the chickens will eat the flesh if I bake it for them, but that wasn’t my plan for my squash supply.

Summer squash: Trombocino. This is a vining summer squash that gets high marks for flavor in some catalogs. I can only say that in my garden it was hugely prolific but had no flavor at all.  I’ll be going back to some zucchinis that I like better to eat.

Mirliton These are a common vegetable in Louisiana where I grew up, and they love heat, so I thought that if I supplied water they would do well here. Unfortunately, they shriveled in our dry heat. They might do better if given some shade, and I’ll probably try that this summer.

Milk thistle: I was bamboozled by some foragers into introducing this pernicious weed to my yard. It’s very pretty in an architectural way, but the leaves are touchy to pick, prickle removal is somewhat tedious, and the green that you’re left with doesn’t taste that great. The flavor isn’t bad, but certainly it isn’t anything I’d go out of my way to eat. And once having introduced them, they take hold with frightening avidity. Better not to get started with them. By the way, some people on the Internet say that if you boil the leaves, they can be eaten prickles and all, to which I say “Bah.” Further, I say that they’ve never really tried it. I would buy a ticket to watch one of those people eat a plate of thistle boiled stickers-and-all.

Kitchen Staples: Squash, and further notes on squash varieties


Since reading Carol Deppe’s book The Resilient Gardener, I’ve been thinking more about growing things that are staples rather than side dishes. This does not require that I change what I grow. I need to think in terms of putting my vegetables at the center of the plate rather than letting the “side dish” mentality sneak in. Winter squash is a filling, substantial staple and can easily be the centerpiece of a meal.
In my opinion, roasting is by far the best way to bring out the flavor of squash. It keeps wonderfully in the refrigerator for a few days once roasted, and can also be mashed, packed tightly into containers, and frozen for later use. Once properly roasted, it can be made into ravioli or lasagna fillings, form the basis of hearty soups, or just be reheated later to eat out of the shell, so I roast plenty at a time. If roasting smaller squash, I cook several, so that the oven heat is efficiently utilized, or I put them on the bottom shelf of the oven when roasting something else. I love to put maple syrup or agave nectar, a pat of butter, and a pinch of salt in the cavity if I will be eating the squash straight, but if I might use it for something else like lasagna or ravioli or one of the impromptu dishes below, I just rub the cut surfaces with olive oil and salt before roasting. In the picture above, a roasted Kukuza half dominates the plate, with a few grilled mushrooms brushed with oil and soy for a meaty touch and a slice of grilled bread with olive oil and garlic. THis is a great substantial meal to share with vegetarians and vegans, or with nearly anyone.

Here I cut a roasted squash half into thick slices, brushed lightly with soy sauce, chili oil, and roasted sesame oil, and broiled for a minute or two to accompany Asian flavors.

Here chunks of leftover roasted squash join a few chunks of leftover roasted salmon under a cheerfully colored Korean sauce. To make the sauce, chop up 2 cloves of garlic and a 1″ cube of peeled ginger. Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a small wok, and when the oil is hot throw in the chopped garlic and chile. As soon as the ginger fragrance comes up, about a minute, put in a tablespoon of gochujang and stir around madly for half a minute, then add half a cup of stock and 2-3 tablespoons of soy sauce. As soon as it comes to a boil, turn off the heat and add a teaspoon of dark sesame oil. Have ready a teaspoon of arrowroot dissolved in a tablespoon of water, and stir in. Let the sauce thicken briefly and serve over a bowl of rice topped with hot chunks of salmon and squash.
If you are going to think of squash as one of your winter staples, you need to find a squash that you can grow well and that you really enjoy eating. A few posts ago, I wrote about the immense harvest of squash that I grew this year because I planted only Cucurbita moschata varieties, which love hot weather and are resistant to squash borers. C. moschata types need a hot summer to do well, and we can certainly provide that here (they are less esteemed in cooler parts of the country). All squash need curing before you eat them in order to taste their best. Needs vary among varieties. In general, I let all squash ripen on the vine and don’t pick it until a frost is expected. Then I set it on shelves to cure. It will cure faster in warmer ambient temperatures but will hold longer in cool places, so I keep some in the house, and some in my cool but nonfreezing garage to eat later. I give the smaller squashes three weeks to cure, and the bigger ones 8 weeks before I sample the first specimen.
Even with the best treatment, squashes vary immensely in quality in flavor. My favorite C. moschata so far is a big turban-shaped beauty called Chiriman. It has moist but not watery flesh, no strings, and a lovely sweet-earthy flavor. The much smaller Kikuza is also delicious, and its small size may be preferable for some. Both are rather shy yielders, and Kikuza has rather thin flesh. Sucrine du berry yielded prolifically, and the flesh is very thick and is a dark and splendid orange-red, but the flavor is poor and the flesh is both stringy and watery, so most of the bounty is going to the chickens. I wrote to the seed company about my experience with it, and they sent back an excerpt from a gardening book explaining that winter squash needs to be vine-ripened and then cured for best flavor. Well, duh. Some squash just isn’t much good no matter how you raise it. If I ever get into hybridizing, though, I’m going to try some crosses of the prolific and bullet-proof Sucrine du berry with better-tasting C. moschatas. I still have splendid 20-lb specimens of Musque de Provence sitting around curing, but I won’t broach those until Christmas, so I’ll report on the flavor and texture after the holidays.
If you save your own seed, remember that squash of the same species interbreed wildly, so consult Ms. Deppe’s book or a good book on seed-saving to learn how to ensure squash that is true to type. It isn’t as easy as just “saving the best one for seed.”