Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Swiss Chard Pie

Our crop of swiss chard is ready now with large leaves and some of it starting to go to seed. This is thanks to Gil and he’ll have to tell you how he did this.

Chard cooks into the consistency of pure creaminess with a smooth and wonderful delicate flavor. (Who canNOT like it?!) It is a vegetable that should be cooked since it contains oxalic acid (that’s the toxic stuff in rhubarb leaves, but chard has no where near as much of it), which is neutralized by cooking. It is okay to have it occasionally in raw salads.

This pie is similar to quiche. Go ahead and tweak the flavorings- try some fresh garden herbs instead of the nutmeg, for instance. Some folks might like a bit of “bite” and if this is you go ahead and put some ground hot red pepper in, also in place of the nutmeg.
And, although you can sub out the making of the pie crust and get a frozen one, we are purists for good food and highly recommend making a whole wheat crust. The nutty flavor along with the veggie custard is well worth doing.

Swiss Chard Pie is a great lunch or brunch dish, but also great for dinner paired with a big leafy garden salad. -jmm

Swiss Chard Pie
Serves 4

1 9-inch whole wheat pie shell
1 bunch Swiss chard, leaves and stems separated
2 precooked turkey sausages- not the breakfast type, cut into 1/2” pieces
1 Tbsp butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 eggs
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2. With a fork stab the bottom of the crust a few times. Bake the shell for 25 minutes, or until pale golden. Set it aside to cool. Turn the oven down to 350 degrees.

3. Coarsely chop the Swiss chard leaves and set aside; finely chop the stems.

4. In a large skillet over medium heat, cook the chard leaves, stirring constantly, until they wilt. Turn up the heat and cook, stirring, letting the excess liquid in the pan evaporate. Transfer the leaves to a plate.

5. Add the butter to the skillet and heat until it starts to brown. Add the onion, garlic, chard stems and sausage. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 8 minutes or until stems and onions are tender.

6. As the mixture cooks, in a large bowl, beat the eggs, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and Parmesan cheese.

7. Stir the chard leaves into the stems and onion mixture. Transfer to the pie shell. Set the pie shell on a rimmed baking sheet.

8. Pour the egg mixture into the shell. Press with a fork to gently work the egg mixture into the chard mixture.

9. Bake for 30 minutes or until the custard is just set in the center.


 Chard, often called “Swiss chard” is a cold hardy green that does well in the cold frame here in Maine. Swiss chard is a relative of the beet and has bright green leaves with bright red, yellow or white ribs and veins. The leaves can get quite large- about a foot and a half in our garden, but can be used at any size. 

The seeds for our winter harvest were planted in late August in the cold frame. By November when it starts getting cold the chard stops growing, but inside the cold frame it stays harvestable through winter.

In March we took the cold frame off to open up more garden space for the plants. We planted chard seeds around the remaining winter crop. Through June we have been harvesting both the baby leaves from the new plants, and the rest of the larger leaves from the winter crop.

The over wintered plants are going to seed now in late June while the ones planted in March are mature. We'll be getting the cold frames ready before long and start the process all over again. The winter chard will be planted in a different section of the garden and something else will go where this year's chard is. We like to use crop rotation believing it to be one of the keys to a vibrant and healthy harvest. -G.H.

Friday, June 18, 2010

A Recipe for Rhubarb

Looking for ideas for all that rhubarb sprouting up in your garden? And you’ve made the rhubarb sauce and the pie and the crumble? Now, how about something really luxurious?

(I have to say, for this soup and all the other things we make out of it, our rhubarb plants have proven themselves completely worthy of the shovelful of manure they get every year).

Here’s a recipe that is so good we couldn’t believe it when we first tried it. This soup is not just “gourmet,” it is totally lush with a silky smooth texture and completely luxurious flavor. This is a dessert soup, just to let you know so you can serve it in fancy little bowls or stemmed goblets. 

And do spring for the vanilla bean. Frugal me says “What?!! No-o-o-o!” at the price of one of these, but do make the splurge because this little item makes the soup.

And by the way it takes very little time to make this (but do allow time for it to chill). -jmm

Rhubarb Dessert Soup
Serves 6

3 cups of rhubarb cut into 1/2” pieces
2 cups of water
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 of a vanilla bean
1/2 cup honey
6 sprigs of mint

1. Place the rhubarb, water, and lemon juice into a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until rhubarb is soft, about 10 minutes. The rhubarb should fall apart as you stir.

2. Scrape the seeds out of the vanilla bean into the soup, stir.

3. Stir in the honey and taste, adjust as needed. Cool, and place in refrigerator.

4. Cut the mint leaves into fine strips. Serve the soup chilled with mint leaves on top.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Fresh Lettuce Almost Year-Round

Our friend Rick came for dinner. After pouring us each a glass of our local Moat Mountain's Bear Peak Brown Ale, he and I went out to the garden to gather a basketful of greens, chives, and herbs to add to a pasta sauce and make a salad. As he watched me pick, he commented, "I go to the store for these things, but you just go out to the garden and make a feast".

He is so right. Our daily salad is a celebration of what the garden has to offer. Our dinners almost without exception begin with a salad. Picked within minutes of eating, we are assured of as many nutrients as can be gotten out of healthy, organic produce.

All year long we are supplied with lettuce and other greens. The two keys to having a lettuce supply in our northern climate are succession planting and cold frames. Succession planting keeps the harvest coming from spring until late into fall. As soon as the soil warms up, we plant a row or two and and continue to plant every three or four weeks.

In August we plant a few rows where the cold frames will be placed. Cold frames, talked about in an earlier post, keep the greens healthy and alive well into January. Then, seeds sown into the cold frame in January provide a lettuce crop by early March. While we wait for the spring harvest, our salads contain cold hardy greens like mache, claytonia, sorrel and spinach.

In one of our travels someone recommended a lettuce called Black Seeded Simpson, a loose-leaf variety, so we tried it and it’s become a favorite here. We also grow red and green romaines and butterhead types.

Oddly, though, lettuce is a great veggie but it’s not the only green in our salads. Following is a recipe for the salads we are having now in June. -G.H.

Garden Salad

From the Garden:
    Red Giant Mustard leaves
    Perennial Onion
    Swiss Chard
You may like to add (store-bought until the carrots and cucumbers are grown):
    Sliced mushrooms
    Shredded carrot
    Black olives
    Lightly steamed peas
    Bits of blue cheese
Your favorite vinaigrette salad dressing

Pick the quantities you prefer of these and other edible greens you may have available. Wash thoroughly, then bounce the greens in a colander or spin in a salad spinner to remove excess moisture. Tear into bite-size pieces and arrange in a salad bowl or into individual bowls. Add the additional ingredients of your choice. Toss lightly. Add viniagrette and toss again or have the dressing available at the table. -G.H.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Tap Water for the Garden...is it Safe?

I had a call from my friend Ed today.  
A couple of weeks ago we were talking about tap water and discussing how safe it is to drink. Here, we are on well water, but I mentioned to him that when we travel we leave a pitcher of tap water on the counter. This, overnight or for some hours allows the chlorine to dissipate. Ed, a city dweller, had an “ah ha” moment. He mentioned that his cat goes out each morning and drinks from yesterday’s water dish on the porch and won’t drink from the fresh bowl in the kitchen. 
Today Ed brought it up that he has been leaving an open container of water on the kitchen counter overnight. He has been blown away by the taste difference. “Tea has never tasted better”, he said. Then we began to wonder whether that same chlorinated water from the tap could have negative affects on the vegetables in our gardens.

There have been many studies about the effects of chlorine in tap water. Studies by the Environmental Protection Agency, National Academy of Science, U.S. Council on Environmental Quality, and by universities and physicians have identified chlorine as a carcinogen that elevates the risk of bladder and rectal cancers. The introduction of chlorine into the public water supply was to combat waterborne diseases such as typhoid fever, cholera and dysentery. Chlorine was also used in mustard gas in World War 1 and in chemical weapons in more recent wars.

Chlorine is not dangerous in and of itself, but when it comes into contact with organic sources it takes on whole new form. When chlorine combines with humus and other organic matter it creates trihalo-methanes (THMs), a known carcinogen. Considering that organic gardens are full of humus from composting, is it dangerous to add tap water to the mix? Will it affect us in some way? These questions go unanswered in my inquiries into this topic.

Because there is no ready answer, it seems best to keep chlorine out of the vegetable garden. 
One method may be to use a rain barrel.  However, rain water that has come over asbestos shingles may have more chemical compounds than the tap water we are trying to avoid. 
Another method, suggested by a friend, Tim, is to run water from the hose into a barrel and let it sit overnight. This corresponds to the drinking water left on the counter to let the chlorine evaporate. Then, use a galvanized, non-plastic watering can or non-toxic hose to take water from the barrel for the garden. 
More research needs to be conducted on the relationship between tap water and its use for irrigating organic produce. Meanwhile we may want to be cautious about the possible effects of chlorine in our food supply. -G.H. 

Some references:
A study showed that “the cancer rate among people drinking chlorinated water is 93% higher than among those whose water does not contain chlorine". -U.S. Council of Environmental Quality

"When natural waters are chlorinated and come in contact with humic substances (decaying vegetation, etc.) it produces trihalomethanes." -National Academy of Sciences.
"Trihalomethanes in general, and chloroform, a known carcinogen in particular, are found in drinking water as a direct consequence of the practice of chlorination, a long established public health practicer for the disinfection of drinking water." -Francis T. Maho, Director of Municipal Environmental Research Lab.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Variety and Home Gardens

In Maine we are hearing about part- to complete failures of apple crops in many orchards throughout the state. The local newspaper reports that this years’ statewide apple crop may have been lessened by as much as 50 percent. When a large agricultural crop fails a farmer can collect on crop insurance, but the possibility of that particular food for us to buy and enjoy is gone.
What happened is Spring arrived early this year. As we marvel over our early daffodil and rose blooms, unfortunately fruit trees bloomed early as well. Most of us northerners who grow fruits intentionally choose varieties suited to a cold climate. These varieties bloom later than trees in warmer areas, hopefully after our frosts are over with. 
This year, early warm temperatures brought the trees into an early bloom. Then we had a short span of three days in May in which early morning temperatures dipped below freezing, entirely normal for our growing zone. The frost hit some, but not all areas- Maine has a lot of variety in its elevations and frosts tend to sink into low areas.
The damage is showing up in hardwood trees. In a drive of perhaps twenty minutes, our forester friend, Ron, pointed out to us how here and there but not consistently everywhere, a large maple or oak is entirely covered in dying leaves. 

It is very fortunate that the frost was patchy, missing many areas including our gardens here which include a few young fruit trees (the photo is our cherry tree). We were lucky this year. 
It has to be heart-breaking to be in the growing business and lose all or most of a crop as has happened to Maine’s apple orchards. But at the same time this disaster can lead us to thinking about how home gardening is different, and more protective.
Unlike larger farms and orchards, home gardeners have a big advantage in terms of variety. Planting a wide variety in small-sized plots can give us a bounty of wonderful foods of many different types. Many yards have space for a fruit tree, several shrub fruits such as blueberries, in addition to vegetable beds. We might also have herb beds, tea gardens, perennial vegetables mixed onto flower beds, and container plants. One weather event may do damage to some, but usually not all of our food plants.
And there are years in which some things just do not grow well. If the squashes yield only a few fruits and not the expected basketful, at the same time the cabbage may have done very well. And so we happily enjoy a winter’s supply of cabbage. 
Not only can we achieve a wide variety of wonderful foods to harvest throughout the growing season, but in a sense we provide ourselves with a sort of crop insurance as well. -JMM