Posts Tagged ‘mirliton’

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.

The Greens of Summer: greens for hot weather


From a nutritional standpoint, one of the best things that we can do for ourselves is eat leafy greens. Most people eat fewer leafy greens than they think they do. Recently my mother assured me that she ate lots of them, but when I pressed her about exactly what she ate, the only thing she could come up with was “spring mix.” Salads are nice, but they’re just the beginning of the leafy green vegetable story.

In Central New Mexico, it is easy to grow leafy greens in the spring and fall. It’s a little harder to keep a steady supply of nice tasty greens through the summer. Many greens such as collards and kale will grow through the summer but don’t taste good then. Fortunately there are a number of choices, and two of them will be with you whether you want them or not, so you might as well eat them. These are the common weeds lambs-quarters and pigweed. In my opinion only the tender tips taste really good, so I keep cutting them back to produce plenty of tips. Both are inclined to shoot out of bounds and get too big, and in that case I just pull them out and feed them to the chickens, since there will always be more young weeds coming along. Consult two good books on wild foods to help you identify them. Lambs-quarters is a mild green that can be blanched and used in any way you would use spinach. Pigweed, which is a variety of amaranth, is still fairly mild but has an earthy flavor rather like beet greens. Most kales taste too strong to me in hot weather, but Tuscan kale is pretty good in the summer, although I still like it better after the weather turns cold. Swiss chard is delicious all summer. The leaves of the common sweet potato, Ipomea batata, are a delicious and especially nutritious green vegetable relished in hot countries all over the world. As long as they get plenty of water, they thrive in our heat. All of the mallows are good heat tolerant greens. They are mild to the point of blandness and a little bit muciligenous. I use them as about 25% of greens mixtures to “smooth out” sharper greens, and as long as they are a quarter of the total mixture or a little less, they add a plush mouthfeel that makes the others taste better. . New Zealand spinach is delicious all summer as long as you keep the tips packed so that it stays bushy and tender and doesn’t go to seed.

This year I am trying some new ones. None of them are big enough to eat yet in my garden, but I mention them to get other gardeners thinking beyond the usual possibilities. Chayote, the mirliton of my Louisiana childhood, is widely grown in Mexico and the greens are used as often as the squash-like fruit. I am sprouting some to grow as greens, but they aren’t big enough to cut yet. I’ll. report on the flavor later. Quailgrass, Celosia argenta, is a heat loving green which is also very attractive. The winged bean and the cowpea are two legumes relished in Asia and Africa as leafy green vegetables, and they love heat. I am also trying Ethiopian cabbage and two fascinating tropical trees, Moringa and Chaya, which are valued as green vegetables in many parts of the world. Again, I will write a post about them when I have tasted them. If you are interested in expanding your range of possibilities I would refer you to the interesting website of ECHO; they have a display food garden in Florida where they grow many of these “alternative” possibilities and they do sell seeds for some of them. Bountiful Gardens is another good source for unusual seeds, and Baker Heirloom Seeds always has some interesting goodies to consider.

Having caught your greens, you now need to wash and cook them. Gritty greens are gruesome. My own method is to soak them in enough cold water to cover them generously for at least one hour, stir them around with my hands, lift them out of the water and discard it (put it on a garden bed, not down the drain,) rinse the bowl clean of grit and cover the greens with cold water again, stir with the hands, lift them out and discard the water again, and repeat the whole process once more. I have an 8-gallon plastic food grade bucket for this purpose, which I got at a brewing supply store. I don’t do it in the sink because then I couldn’t use the water to water the garden. Using this method, I never have any gritty particles in my greens. The initial soak seems to be important in loosening any attached dirt.

Now, on to the cooking part. My website and blogsite (click “greens” under Categories) are full of recipes for greens, but often I just blanch them until tender and serve with butter, a squeeze of fresh lemon, and a little salt and pepper. I picked up another good simple method in Hawaii, where many cooks have found that a combination of butter and a little soy sauce tastes wonderful. It doesn’t taste particularly Asian, just delicious. I like to add a little garlic to the combination. This is too simple to present as a formal recipe. Blanch 1 pound of greens until tender, drain them and press out all excess moisture, and chop them. Chop up one large or two small cloves of garlic, sauté them in 3 tablespoons of good grass-fed butter until cooked but not colored, and a tablespoon of best soy sauce, and toss with the cooked and chopped greens. Reheat briefly if necessary and serve.