Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

I’ve made this about six times this summer, which I guess might be an indication of how good it is, and so I’ll share the recipe. Feel free to swap out the strawberries for blueberries, raspberries, or plums, cherries, or peaches. Let me know how it works out! It’s good, too, made entirely with rhubarb- use 5 cups. Both rhubarb and strawberries can be stored in the freezer in the amounts needed for this pie. Won’t it be great to have this in January?  

There’s a little starter thing I do with the tapioca, having had it not dissolve a time or two. And given the price of honey these days, it’s ok to use half honey and half raw organic sugar, or another sweetener of your choice. The pie will leak some filling as it bakes, so be sure to use the cookie sheet as indicated below. 

Whole wheat pie crust dough for a 9” double crust pie
2-1/2 cups of rhubarb stalks, cut into 1/2” - 1” pieces
2-1/2 cups fresh or frozen strawberries, halved
1 cup of honey
1/4 cup organic small pearl tapioca
1. Place the tapioca into a small dish and drizzle with 2 tbsp of hot tap water. Allow to sit for about 15 minutes, or until the tapioca softens.
2. Place the rhubarb, strawberries, soaked tapioca, and honey into a large bowl, and mix. Allow to sit for about ten minutes, stirring once or twice.  
3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Roll out half of the pie dough. Fit the rolled dough into a 9” pie plate, and trim the edges so the dough overhangs the plate about 1/2”. Roll out the other half of the dough. 
4. Pour the fruit mixture into the bottom pie crust. Fit the remaining rolled dough over the top, and trim the top even with the bottom. Work around the edge with your fingers to roll the edges of the dough under, then crimp the edge to seal it as well as possible. Cut slits in the top crust to let steam escape. Place a cookie sheet on the bottom rack of the oven. Place the pie into the oven on the middle rack centered above the cookie sheet. Bake for 1 hour until the top crust is browned and the filling is bubbly. Cool completely. -jmm 

Whole Wheat Pie Crust

Most cookbooks say to use white flour for making pie dough. I've found that white flour has no advantage over whole wheat, and it entirely lacks flavor. Whole wheat is a mainstay for all of my baking. A whole wheat pie crust has a wonderfully rich, slightly nutty flavor. Even the trimmings are useful- bake them in a pan alongside the pie (take it out of the oven when they turn light brown- about 10 miutes or so)- they make great little snacks and our dog, Murphy loves them too. 
Butter makes a wonderful crust and I used it until we got a quantity of beef suet and rendered it into tallow. Now I prefer tallow because it makes a more supple dough that can be rolled a bit thinner. The dough does not have a “beefy” flavor, in fact it has no “fatty” flavor at all. Tallow is difficult to measure- I keep it in the fridge and chop bits off with a knife - and guess-timate the amount, and even so, the crust turns out perfectly every time. 
Except for the salt, use all ingredients chilled. An important thing with making pie crust is the bits of fat that result from cutting through it with a pastry blender must be coated with flour. (The best pastry blender is one that consists of wires connected to a wooden handle. Wikipedia has a pic here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pastry_blender ) Keep tossing the mixture while cutting up the fat.

Recipe makes a double crust for a 9” pie. Use half the amounts for a single crust pie.     
1-3/4 cups of whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup of butter or tallow
1/2 cup of icy cold water
Place the flour and the salt into a large bowl. Stir with a fork to mix the salt in thoroughly. Place half of the butter or tallow into the bowl and use a pastry blender to cut it in until the pieces of fat resemble large peas. Add the remaining butter or tallow and cut it in until the fat pieces resemble small peas. 
Put aside the pastry blender. Drizzle icy cold water over the flour mixture while tossing with a fork. Keep drizzling and tossing until the dough seems to be pulling together. Grab a handful of it and squeeze. If the lump holds together it is ready to roll out. If it crumbles, keep adding water and tossing. When the dough holds together gather the whole of it into a large ball.
Divide the dough in half by breaking it apart or cutting with a knife. Ball up each half. Take one of the halves and press it with your fingers to flatten it into a disk shape. Roll the dough on a floured countertop using a dough roller (sometimes called a rolling pin) shaping it into a circle. Sprinkle the dough with flour as needed to keep the roller from sticking. Pick up the dough and redust the countertop if the dough begins to stick to it. Follow the pie instructions for baking. -jmm

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Calendar for Cold Frame Planting

We’ve blogged about year-round gardening using cold frames in several posts. They include The Many Benefits of Using a Cold Frame, Our Hundred Mile Diet, Greens for Winter Harvest, How to Build a Cold Frame, and Cold Frames for Extended Season Gardening. These posts give some background to cold frame usage. This post is our schedule for planting. Other growing zones must be adjusted for differences in climate. 
Getting the cold frames ready for planting.
During the summer the cold frame areas are used for quick-growing crops. This year, one was dedicated to basil and another to cilantro which have already been harvested. In others, spinach and parsley will be taken out in mid-September, and kale and kohlrabi will be removed at the beginning of October. Radicchio, peas and lettuce take up a frame space that will be repurposed at the end of October. Doing this keeps all of our garden spaces in use, instead of saving the cold frame spaces exclusively for fall planting.   
Here's our planting schedule for this coming winter's cold frame planting. Each plant is given a one-window section of a cold frame, about 2 feet x 2-1/2 feet. One cold frame usually consists of two of these windows. 
End of August:  60-day Le Grand mache is planted- this is a long season mache. A shorter season type will be planted later (see Mid-October). The Le Grand mache will be used in salads about the time the summer garden is finishing up. 
Mid-September: Lettuce and claytonia will be planted. Our lettuce plantings are continuous, both in and out of the cold frames. At this time of year all lettuce seeding is done within a cold frame.  
Beginning of October: Spinach will be planted.  
Mid-October: The Verte de Cambria mache (the 45-day short season mache) will be planted.
End of October: One section of cold frame remains to be planted. Here, both types of mache will be seeded for late winter to early spring usage in hopes of harvesting fresh greens into March. 
By planting our winter garden on this schedule, our harvest will keep going through spring, until about time for the early garden crops. -G.H.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Green Bean Casserole

Purple pole beans

This year seems to be a good one for green beans. We’ve put in the freezer the amount we expect to use until they grow again next year, and there are still more in the garden to pick. And because of this we’ve been enjoying a favorite dish, the green bean casserole many times this summer.  

A row of wax bush beans was planted in the square foot method with seeds about 6” apart. It has grown in very thickly, and after two productive harvests about a week apart, the row is still producing beans. In addition to this row we have “bird perches.” These are branches gleaned from the woods stuck in the ground as poles throughout most of the garden spaces. Around these were planted seeds saved last year from some purple beans, and some green and yellow pole beans we’re trying (we try new things every year). These have apparently had a wonderful time of climbing, twisting, and curling themselves into thick pillars around the poles. We have to really scrounge into them for the beans. Some also have squash vines climbing around them, making bean picking even more of a challenge.
Here is my way of making a green bean casserole without resorting to supermarket canned goods. As well as the beans, the onion, chives, garlic, basil and oregano are harvested fresh for this tasty dish. Enjoy! -G.H.
Serves 2 as a main dish, or 4 - 6 as a side dish.
To make this recipe easy to follow I’ve divided it into three parts. For the topping do not be tempted to use additional butter- this is so the onion will cook crisply. The timing for cooking the green beans leaves them slightly al dente- cook them initially a bit longer if you prefer them “well cooked”.
1 lb of green, wax, or purple bush or pole beans with ends trimmed and cut into approx. 2” lengths
2 quarts of water
1 tsp salt
Heat the water to boiling. Add the salt and the beans. Cover and cook until the beans are tender but still bright green- about 6 to 7 minutes. Plunge the beans into cold water to stop the cooking, then place them into a colander and allow them to drain. Set aside.
1 large onion, thin sliced and quartered
2 slices of bread, finely chopped
1/4 cup chives, finely chopped
1 pinch salt
1/4 tsp fresh ground pepper
1 tbsp butter
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Melt the butter in a cast iron skillet over medium low heat. Add the onion and cook until the onion is beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the bread and stir to coat it with the melted butter. Add the salt, pepper, and chives. Cook approximately 10 minutes, stirring regularly. Set aside.
1 cup of mushrooms, sliced thin
4 cloves of garlic, minced
Sea salt to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste
3/4 cup vegetable stock 
1/4 cup basil, finely chopped (6-8 leaves)
1/4 cup oregano, chopped fine
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp whole wheat flour
1 cup of sour cream
Heat the butter on medium low. Add the mushrooms, garlic, salt, pepper, basil, and oregano. Simmer until the mushrooms soften, stirring regularly, about 5 to 6 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the mixture and keep stirring while it cooks for about 1 minute. Add the vegetable stock and bring to a simmer. Add the sour cream and simmer about 10 minutes until the sauce thickens. Stir the beans into the sauce. Spoon the mixture into a lightly oiled casserole dish. Sprinkle the topping over the bean mixture. Bake for 15 minutes or until the topping begins to brown. Serve right away. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Making a Swale

The ditch after I dug it out

Let’s get the question out of the way first. Maybe you are wondering, what is a swale? To answer this most simply: a swale is a mulch filled ditch. And now you are probably wondering, what on earth for? 
There’s some good reasons for having a swale. Where rain is scarce or erratic providing lots of water in part of a year but little or none in others, or in microclimates such as parts of a yard that are notably dry, a swale can help mitigate these conditions. In a heavy rainfall, water washes across the ground. Some will be absorbed by the soil, but in one hot, sunny day all or most of the moisture evaporates leaving the soil dry. Rushing water also can also carry away topsoil and valuable nutrients. 
A swale catches large amounts of water from spring snow melts and heavy rains. The compostable materials that fill the swale absorb the water like a sponge. Over weeks, and even months, the absorbed moisture gradually releases into the surrounding ground. Nearby plant roots then have a slow, steady supply of moisture. 
The usual and expected pile of rocks
A swale is  considered a useful strategy for the practice of permaculture. I first found out about them in Toby Hemenway’s excellent book, Gaia’s Garden. I was impressed to read that swales and additional water-holding strategies have turned small areas of desert into lush, green year round gardens. 
After reading about them I was curious to find out whether swales could be useful here. The only way to find out would be to actually construct one. So i made two. The first was made last fall above the blueberry patch. The patch is on a low slope and the blueberry bushes have always seemed a little bit too dry. I made this swale about 12 feet long. 
The newer one is shown in the photos, and was made this summer. It is at least twice as long and runs across the top of the fruit orchard. The orchard is on a hillside with a much steeper  slope than the blueberry patch and growing in sand and rocks and no soil, the trees at the top of the slope seemed to be drying out too much between rains. This area is out of reach of a hose, so a swale sounded like a good solution.  
Filling in with organic matter
Using a grubhoe and a shovel I made the ditch for this swale about a foot and a half deep by about two feet wide. In the design of a swale the downhill side of the ditch should be built up higher than ground level. This raised edge is called a berm. 
After admiring my new pile of stones (I’m sure a good use will be found for them), I got busy filling in the swale. Since we are in a forest there were plenty of materials all around. I started by dragging rotted logs and dropping them into the bottom of the ditch. Rotted logs are heavy being full of moisture already, and so I’m guessing they will be an ideal swale filler. These were followed by wheelbarrow loads of raked up leaves, dead branches, and other forest litter.
Figuring that the materials will pack down over time, I stacked them higher than ground level. To get them to pack sooner, I walked back and forth on it a few times. As a final touch i seeded the berm with leftover garden seeds. -jmm

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Harvesting the Garlic

We planted garlic last fall- our post from then, “A Few Tips from the Garlic Workshop” gives info on garlic and how to plant it. We planted the garlic and covered the plot with leaf mulch. After winter little garlic sprouts were popping through the mulch. In April we raked away the mulch so the sprouts could get plenty of fresh air and sunshine.
And, in spring, spinach was planted between the rows of garlic as a companion crop. This seemed to keep the weeds away, and the spinach was enjoyed in salads, lasagna, and as steamed greens. It was gone by June. 
In June, scapes shot up out of the base of the garlic plants. They are the curly, flowering tops of the plants and it is important to remove them. Cutting the scapes sends the plant's energy from the top of the plant to the root, promoting larger heads of garlic. We chopped them up and used them in stir fries. 
In July the lower leaves of the garlic plants turned yellow and the stalks stood thick and strong. These told us that harvest time had arrived. We plucked one out as a test and sure enough, a plump head of garlic popped out of the soil. Much unlike last year, in which the soil had not been improved, and I forgot to trim off the scapes, this year’s harvest resulted in nice big heads.
Our drying apparatus is an old wood-framed screen door propped on a couple of saw horses in the shed. The plants were laid out on the screen. The heads were not washed because the soil was not wet when we pulled them up. Washing can promote rotting and we want the bulbs to be thoroughly dry so they store well.
The garlic stalks will dry on the screen for three to four weeks. Then the dirt is brushed off and the stalks braided, and we’ll hang up the braids in the basement to cure. Curing takes another three to four weeks at which time the stalks are cut off and the roots trimmed away. The garlic is then ready to use. 
The biggest and plumpest of the garlic heads will be set aside to be planted this fall for next year’s crop. Garlic is one of the most useful things we grow- this pungent allium goes into sauces, stir fries, stews, soups, infused oils, and is wonderful raw in salads or as cloves roasted whole in a veggie roast. And best of all, we won’t be worrying about vampires. -G.H.

Monday, August 1, 2011

How to Make a Stone Edging

Pulling away dirt to set the stone.

As you know if you’ve been reading our posts, this piece of land grows stones, and not just stones but rocks, boulders, and ledge. Ledge is the biggest rock of any, but how big we can’t quite get a handle on. No one seems to know. Sometimes what appears to be ledge is just a really big rock. We’re not sure but we think that ledge might be a rock too big for any machine to move. Anyway, the topic at hand involves not ledge, but totable stones that can be picked up and moved by hand.
Suddenly one day I had an inspiration to make an edging between a gravel pathway and the swale at the top of the blueberry patch. It seemed that a stone edging would make a neat transition between path and swale making both sides easier to maintain.    
Trying the stone in the hollowed dirt.
And so I gathered a pile of stones. These were picked to be big enough to make a solid edging, but not too heavy to carry. Ones that are too big to carry have to be rolled or tractored, and that kind of work is reserved for more important projects like rock walls.  
Although I started with a pile of stones, more were found as I dug in the ground to set them. It’s a good idea to gather more than you think you will need, because in my experience they are usually needed. And in this case, I did run out before finishing and had to scavenge for more. 
Adjusting the dirt so the stone will fit how I want it to.
The second thing to do is find a way to make a line so you can set the stones along it without having to guess where to put the next one. I scored a line in the dirt by pulling a shovel along. Another way would be to line up a garden hose to form the shape of the edging, and then dig along it. 
The next step is to start the process of setting each stone. I do them one at a time setting each one with the flattest side on top, and at a depth that will keep the top of the edging as level as I can get it. If I can walk barefoot on my finished edging, then it’s been done right. Since the stones are all entirely different from each other, the depths that they will be set are also all different.   
Tamping dirt around the stone to hold it in place.
Using a hand cultivator- a three pronged gardening tool- I pull away the dirt. If the dirt is too compacted I would use a shovel to dig it out, but for this edging all I needed was the hand cultivator. 
Since a stone has no determined shape, I figure out what is the best orientation for it, rolling it around a couple of times until it looks like it will line up in the edging. Then I check the depth, taking the stone out and either digging away or adding dirt as needed. When the stone is taken out of its space it’s easy to see where it has pushed against the dirt. Hollow out where the dirt was pushed on and add dirt where it has not. Getting the stone to set right might take a few tries, but the effort is worth it in the end.
The final step is to start adding some dirt around the stone, and to tamp it so that any hollow spots get filled in. For a tamper I use the handle of the hand cultivator. When the stone feels solid I go on to the next one. 
Now that all of the stones are set this edging looks like it will do the job of separating the two areas and keeping the pathway gravel in place. Maintaining this area will be much easier. And I can walk on it barefoot- none of the stones rock about underfoot, and the tops are nearly level. The stone setting technique, by the way, can be used to create pathways or even a stone courtyard. If your land grows stones like ours does it makes sense to get some good use out of them. -jmm