Posts Tagged ‘grafted eggplant’

2015: Things That Worked

The long nights this time  of year are perfectly suited for curling up with seed and nursery catalogs, the most exquisite pornography available  and about as realistic as most pornography.  It’s also the time of year when I look back over what worked and what didn’t during the growing season.  So here are some things that worked, and some things that didn’t. Your mileage may vary.

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Silene, also known as bladder campion, always works. It is a common weed in many places, but not in my area, so I had to seek out seed and get it started. Treat it as a perennial and give it a spot where it can establish itself. The flavor of the young leaves is a very muted version of green peas, and the young stocks are tender. It is not exciting in flavor, nor is it a specially productive, but it is wonderfully available in latest fall and earliest spring, when little else is still thriving. It loses most of its volume when cooked, and I mostly use it in salads.
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Sour cherries worked. My dwarf tree is five years old now and bearing nice crops. From that one small tree I made several cobblers and a full half-gallon of cherry liqueur. The tree also adds to quality-of-life, because in summer sunlight when hung with its hundreds of bright enameled fruits, it is beautiful enough to take your breath away.
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All the lettuces from Wild Garden Seeds worked. Their devotion to trialing their own crops really shows. Every lettuce variety and all the mixtures that I have tried from them have been wonderfully successful. Choose the size and color of lettuce that you want, and they will have something to suit your conditions.
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Grafted eggplants worked. The grafted tomatoes grew beautifully but so do my other tomatoes. The grafted eggplants, however, bore more fruit than ungrafted by a large margin. I consider them Roth the expense and I’ll be planting them again.
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I put in some celery plants as a lark, and I’ll be planting more next year. They need the richest soil you have and some extra water, but they are sturdy and offer delicious crunching and cooking when the rest of the garden is going to sleep for the winter.
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Goji berries worked. They need some extra water but not a lot, and the berries are pleasant out of hand and in salads. They offer maximum antioxidants for minimum carbohydrates.
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Rattlesnake beans worked. They are hard to stop. The pods have a very good flavor if picked young but do need stringing, no matter what the seed catalog says. They get quite tough as they age, so pick them over every day or two.

Every year I try some new things, and some work out and some don’t. In most cases a failure only means that you’re out a few dollars’ worth of seeds, so garden boldly.

Pork Belly and Eggplant

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Recently I scored a big chunk of local outdoor-raised pork belly and have been gleefully cooking with this delicious cut for about a week. First I seasoned it with salt and pepper, let the seasoning sink in overnight, then sous-vided the piece at 143 degrees for 24 hours, finishing with a rapid sear on both sides over hardwood charcoal. That was delicious, but today’s planned-overs are the best pork belly so far. This dish uses the eggplants that my garden is pumping out right now.

You will need:
6 slices across a half pork belly (raw or cooked, but salt if raw) about 1/4-1/3 inch thick. In effect, you have six very thick slices of unsmoked bacon. Cut the slices crosswise into pieces about 2″ long.
4 Japanese long eggplants cut into chunks 2″ long and then quartered, salted liberally and set aside to drain.
3 tablespoons fermented black beans, rinsed, soaked, and drained (you can find salted fermented black beans in bags or bulk at good Asian groceries. DON’T get the unfermented kind.)
Half a cup or so of my Quasi-Korean Sauce I have this in the refrigerator all the time.

Press the salted eggplant pieces hard with your hands in a clean towel to get out as much moisture as possible. Lay the pieces of pork belly flat in a hot skillet and fry them good and brown and crisp on both sides, but don’t burn. Set them aside on paper towels and pour most of the fat out of the pan, leaving a few tablespoons. Put the eggplant pieces in to fry, keeping the heat medium-high and turning with a spatula. They should be browned on the cut sides and pretty soft. Meanwhile, mash the fermented black beans with your mortar and pestle or grind them in a mini-prep. Add them to the Quasi-Korean sauce. When the eggplant is cooked add the sauce to the hot pan, stir and flip to coat the eggplant well and cook it in the sauce a minute, add the pork belly chunks, and stir to coat them thoroughly. Serve forth with suitable green bits on top. I used cilantro, but slivered green onions would have been better. Serves two. If you aren’t a ketogenic eater, you will want some white rice with this, and it will serve three.

Now, my rant about pork. Pigs are intelligent animals and the conditions under which they are kept in factory farms is heartbreaking and disgraceful. They go insane, as would we under similar circumstances. Please seek out a local farmer who raises pigs humanely and buy from him or her. Often local food co-ops are sympathetic to your quest and can either help you get the meat or direct you to farmers. Go to farmers markets or look on Craigslist. If you have no other source, ask meat dept. managers at Whole Foods. They may surprise you.

The Eggplant Chronicles I: choose your plant

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For the last couple of years I’ve rolled my eyes over the phenomenon of grafted vegetable plants, and griped lustily that there is nothing difficult about growing tomatoes or eggplants, so why would anybody  fall for the grafted ones? Then I saw a picture of the extremely deep rootball that the grafted rootstock develops and began to ponder whether this might be really advantageous in my very hot dry area. So this year I tested two grafted eggplants, one Millionaire ( a Japanese-type eggplant) and one Black King. I planted several standard Millionaire and Ichiban plants for comparison.

So far, the grafted Millionaire is out-producing the ungrafted Japanese eggplants at a rate of three to one. I don’t know how well you can see them in the picture above but the plant currently has five eggplants in various stages and is covered with blossoms further up. This one plant would have been plenty for us. The Black King seems sturdier than large eggplants I’ve grown in the past and is holding its enormous fruit without flopping.
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So I will be planting grafted eggplants again. They cost just about twice as much as the ungrafted plants that I bought from a good local grower, but they are producing three times as much eggplant in less space. The two grafted tomatoes that I tried don’t seem to be outdoing their nongrafted kin at this point, but the jury’s still out. Also, one growing season isn’t a true test. But I’ve seen enough to be intrigued.
There are a lot of kinds of eggplant. The only types that I grow these days are the resplendent big Italian types and the long slender Japanese types. My preference is for meaty eggplants from which I can carve out big luxurious eggplant steaks. If your cookery leans Asian, you may be interested in the tiny bitter Thai eggplants and the dozens of other Asian types.
By the way, eggplants are highly ornamental at nearly every stage of growth. No need to stick them in the back yard.