Thursday, October 27, 2011

Heavenly Divine Squash Pie

Delicata squash

It was a big decision to name this pie. It was to be either heavenly or divine. Or both. The filling is fluffy-light compared to the much loved traditional pumpkin pie. It seems to be "spiked" (even tho the alcohol bakes away). As it bakes it warms the house with a wonderfully spicy aroma that feels perfect on  a crispy, chilly autumn day.

Although any squash or pumpkin can be used, a creamy squash such as Delicata adds to the dreamy texture. If you DO use a stringy type, please puree it in a blender first. 
If you'd prefer to do without the pie crust, bake the filling in custard dishes to make dreamy little puddings.
Makes one nine inch pie.
Make whole wheat pie crust for a single crust pie. Recipe here. Roll out the dough and fit it into a 9" pie plate. Trim the edge of the crust to 1/2" beyond the pie plate. Fold the edge under and crimp.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Two large eggs: crack the eggs into a large mixing bowl and whisk. Add the following ingredients one at a time and whisk after each:
1-1/2 c. sour cream
2 c. squash, cooked and peeled
3/4 c. maple syrup
1/8 c. rum
Stir in:
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp salt
Pour the filling into the dough-lined pie plate up to 1/2" of the top of the crust. If there is extra filling, pour into a custard dish and bake (for less time) beside the pie. Bake the pie for 35-45 minutes, until the filling is set; custards for much less time. Cool. Serve plain or with whipped cream. -jmm

What's Happening Now

The closet is so full of squash we’ve had to move our shoes out of there. Potatoes and newspapers are layered in brown paper bags on the floor of the root cellar. The freezer is filled to capacity with green beans, beef, cranberries, beets, beef, peas, greens, more beef, tomato sauce, strawberries and rhubarb. And beef.
So, you might think the gardening is over, right? Au contraire! The gardening is still a plethora in the happening (editors note- please accept that sentence as some kind of plethoretic poetry. If you happen to know my husband, feel free to ask. -jmm)
It's fall planting time. Yes, it's fall, and yes, I said planting. This is the time to plant garlic and to spread seeds into the cold frames. Eating from the garden year round means fall is both harvest and planting time.
Two kinds of kale
Garlic is essential to our cooking; we use it in almost everything. It needs at least a two-month cold spell for the individual cloves to grow and multiply, and here in Maine we can pretty much count on at least a few chilly months. Last weekend we planted 50 cloves that will be ready to harvest next July. After the ground freezes we'll cover the garlic row with straw. 
Our kale row is looking terrific. Kale is a very hardy green that is perfectly fine left in the garden all winter.  After a frost it develops a wonderfully sweet flavor. We brush off the winter snow and pick it to use in stir fries or soups, or steam it as a side dish. Its a favorite winter veggie for us.
Theres a whole lot going on with the cold frames right now. They've been set up for our winter veggies. We've blogged about our cold frames before; they're an integral part of our gardening experience. Click on "Cold Frame" in the side column to read those posts.
Lettuce planted in August has been used up. More lettuce was planted in September and it should be ready in December. Claytonia is now tender sprouts and will be ready to eat in December. Mache was planted in August and will be ready to eat in a couple of weeks. Beet greens and spinach are growing and will be used in salads and as cooked greens through winter. And spinach planted this month will over-winter and be ready to eat in spring.
As we pick these veggies spaces in the cold frames open up. We'll fill them in with more mache, spinach and arugula. These will be ready in early spring when seeds for the summer garden are being put into peat pots. Fall is a great time to be outdoors. Tending the cold frames is no chore at all considering the joys of being able to eat fresh-picked greens all winter long. -G.H.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Keyhole Salad Garden

Why did we not think of it earlier? Salad! How many places in the yard do we go to in order to gather one? To the garden over to the west of house, then way over to the garden to the east of the house, and a cold frame or two or three in between!
Have you ever mentally kicked yourself for not thinking of something sooner? Kinda what I did when I thought, “ok, theres all these garden spaces but no coherent spot for gathering the one food group we eat every day.”
First of all, theres nothing ordinary about any of our salads. Each one starts with a mix of greens and some onion, and then it’s whatever else is available. Right now nasturtiums are looking beautiful- they’ve vined themselves all over some heather and some lavender plants and it’s all really pretty. And we think the leaves and flowers are pretty in salads too. They add such nice peppery zip.
Making a garden just for salad was a sudden brainstorm. If only there was a handy spot near to the house! And there was! If only a few flowers were moved out first. Very do-able!
The new salad keyhole garden
A close-following brainstorm turned the design into a keyhole. I wrote about the keyhole earlier, here and here. The shape is ideal for a salad garden. You can walk down a center path and pick stuff along three sides of it. Fill up the salad basket and, voila, you’re done!
A great idea being too good to waste, I got busy last weekend and repurposed rows of flowers into a single-path horseshoe shape. The area is about 20 feet long x 15 feet wide and is nestled in between roses and a stone wall. After some very sweaty raking and shoveling- the weather being oddly warm for this time of year- I worked in some manure to get things off to a good start, and then started moving plants.
The chive hedge now lines the new central pathway. Lovage is transplanted to one back corner, and perennial onions to the other. These should colonize and form thick patches.
Reseeding annuals populate one side of the horseshoe. Most of them were stuck in the ground casually, because it is their seeds that will make new plants next year. They are upland cress, cilantro, and giant red mustard. Love those reseeders!
The other side of the horseshoe is left unplanted. This is for non-hardy annuals. In spring we will seed lettuces, arugula, several types of basil, and nasturtium. What's a late-summer salad without nasturtium! Wow, I feel good about this garden! -jmm

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Storing Winter Squash

Winter squash has been a garden mainstay for us for many years. Each year we store three or more varieties. Because of this the ins and outs of storing it have become clear.
Squash cleaned and ready to be put in storage
First, in order to store a squash it must have developed a hard shell, or, in other words, to have become entirely ripe. Some varieties will develop a corky-looking stem. The color of the squash should be fully developed- Butternut, for instance looks yellowy or greenish as it grows, and becomes a dull buff color when mature. Blue Hubbard develops a bluish color. But the ultimate test is, before picking, to tap it with a fingernail. If your nail leaves an indent the squash is not ready to harvest.
We’ve heard advice saying when harvesting a squash to keep at least two inches of stem attached. The method of harvesting is to cut through the stem using a hand pruners. We try to do this but sometimes the stem breaks off. We haven’t noticed that this presents a problem in storage.   
Another piece of advice we’ve seen is this: after harvesting, always handle a squash as carefully as if it were an egg. We’re not sure about this either. It seems like good advice and we try to follow it. But squashes are made of odd shapes and sometimes one takes a tumble. 
We clean them, washing off any dirt using cold water, and, if needed, a veggie brush. If there are spots, lesions, or bite marks from some animal with Dracula-like teeth (some squashes had these this year), they are not likely to keep. Cook them right away and eat or freeze. The side of the squash that laid on the ground is paler than the rest, and that is not a problem.
Squash in the closet
Advice also says to cure them by keeping them dry and at room temperature for about ten days. Not sure of the importance of this, except to make really sure that they are completely dry for storage. We dry them off after washing and lay them out on newspapers for a few days, then assign the most energetic one of the two of us to lug them upstairs to the closet.

What we do know for sure is that winter squash need a dry environment for successful keeping. We place them on newspapers on the floor of an unheated closet. Even in a dry, cool place they must be checked at least weekly for newly developed spots or other signs of deterioration. If anything like this shows up, the squash is still good- cook it right away and eat or freeze. 
The fridge is no place to keep squash, even for a short time. There is too much humidity and they will spoil quickly. Advice has told us to put them in the basement elevated above the floor. The one and only time we tried this they all failed at the same time- right at the end of December, and then we had to cook all of them. The dry, unheated closet on the other hand, has allowed us to store squash way into March. A great food and so easy to store! (For more info on winter squash, see our blog post of Sept. 6, 2010). -jmm