It was a short and busy summer and the fall is starting in a similar time-pressed fashion. While the weather has been a tease all month, I have to give up the pretense of summer when Fall Harvest Festivals, pumpkin patches, fall colors, and thoughts of Thanksgiving creep into the scene (and because I actually broke out the winter jacket over the weekend). I went into summer with so many projects in my field of vision, and while I am happy to say I completed most, my Just Braise time was sacrificed.
I have a backlog of photos I am wanting to share, and rather than pretend they all happened “last week” of whenever I post them, I decided to get the bulk of them out here now for everyone to enjoy. Round 2 in a few days with a possible Round 3 to follow.
With promises to keep my voice alive, here are some post-summer musings….
D likes to claim he’s a southern boy when it comes to pork (he grew up in Virginia) and a mid-west boy when it comes to corn (his mother’s side is from Indiana). So when I queried D on what we should include in our city community garden plot, back when planting was a vision, corn was a must (the pig would have to wait for our own land). We didn’t know much about growing corn (or anything else) when we decided to plant it– We had heard something about tasseling, but upon speaking with our CSA farmers, decided that was something boys in Indiana cornfields do for a few pennies for some arcane reason no one could be sure of.
Other hints we received before planting:
(1) At least 12 stalks are ideal to get pollination going, and therefore create kernels.
(2) Small plots of corn like to be planted in squares– not rows– rows are for large fields, think pollination.
Some hints we did not receive– and didn’t research enough before planting:
(1) In small spaces, to avoid cross-pollination, you should plant all one corn variety– OR– early season and late season corn to avoid cross-pollination. The above picture is two of our different corn varieties with minimal cross-pollination. D and I planted 4 different corn varieties, 4 stalks of each variety– oops.
(2) Tasseling is what boys in Indiana cornfields do to prevent cross-pollination. (There might be machines these days that do this if needed though most farmers plant all one variety.)
(3) There does exist early-season, mid-season, and late-season corn. Let’s explain this a little. As first time gardeners, and not doing much garden reading before actually planting anything, much of our knowledge base was our own common sense, and anything we could ask others without being a pest. I always thought of August as corn month and therefore thought all corn was harvested in August. Apparently, we had an early corn variety and while I waited for August to roll around before picking any corn, I grew upset at one of our varieties that began to die in late July. Why? It was an early variety that was done producing. So while D was upstate for 3 weeks working and I was tending the garden, all I could think of was something is wrong with this one stupid corn variety. We’re not planting it next year. Eventually I realized it was early season corn and when D asked me why didn’t you pick it? My response was, what else? Because it wasn’t August.
(3) There does exist dwarf corn and tall corn varieties. And I now realize this is true for many other plants. Not only did I grow angry at our one corn variety that decided to die in July, I was also upset at it because it grew to a puny 4 feet while our other corn shot to a commanding 7 or 8 feet.
While D claims to not want to plant corn next year I may override his decision. This year was a learning year. Next year’s single variety will thrive!
Tomatoes can be beautiful things. I didn’t like them too much as a child unless they were in a sandwich, but see beyond the front pictured bowl to all those colorful objects? Tomatoes! Spectacular. If I had known all these tomatoes as a child I can only imagine the edible art I would have created with them.
Not by any means did D and I grow all these– but we did eat all these. In eating, we decided for the most part, all tomatoes have the same general flavor, though textures vary, and okay, some may have a more lemony acid or perhaps have more sweetness. We also decided that this pictured tomato is our absolute favorite. It was like a firecracker of color sliced open and we want more!
How we came upon the great tomato bounty: On one of our journeys to the East End of Long Island D and I (with my mother in tow) stopped at a roadside farm stand. Not just any farm stand– this woman sold heirloom tomatoes and that’s pretty much it (except for some garlic and small amounts of miscellaneous vegetables). Everyone we saw swerve off the road was there for the tomatoes, and with good reason.
They were beautiful specimens to behold and D and I made our round through her 40 or so boxes brimming with these shining, slightly imperfect orbs, careful to select one of each variety for taste and texture comparisons.
As we checked out we made sure the woman told us each and every variety. Most we could not remember, for more than a few days, but I can still remember (in partial) my favorites. Pictured is Big German (or something to that nature). I also loved the Cherokee Purple– and an Italian variety the farmer kissed, called an Italian Pear, and placed in our bag. Splendid.
I planted these cucumbers purely for their lovely name: Lemon Cucumber. Also, for their description as being a beautiful lemon yellow (when overripe) but also small baseball-sized fruits, making ideal pickling cucumbers. I thought this was a lovely picture of our cucumbers in their brine bath, all the same variety, just some more ripe than others.
Brine bath? Instead of a quick pickling method of vinegar, salt and sugar, I bought a crock pot and we brined these cucumbers on our counter, covered with a solution of 3 tablespoons sea salt to 1 liter water with added seasonings: dill, hot pepper flakes, coriander, mustard, pepper and garlic. Left for at least 4 weeks gently covered with a dish towel, these cucumbers naturally produced enough good bacteria, fermenting their way into pickles.
Really it sounds totally terrifying to leave something on the counter to ferment, but really, these pickles were some of the most delicious and unique pickles I have tasted– and many friends that took the dare to taste them agreed.
The biggest problem with air-fermented pickles is that they produce a scum on the surface of the water that needs to be skimmed daily. Sadly, there were 3 or 4 days in a row we forgot to skim the scum and while the pickles appeared, smelled and tasted okay, I think whatever bacteria that was left those days to reproduce might have taken over. A few days ago D and noticed their firm texture was slowly giving way to mush.
Over the weekend D and I gravely transfered our mushy pickles into the food processor and turned them into relish, filling a 1 quart jar. D added his own blend of seasonings– some honey and mustard, and left them overnight. Checking the seasonings, D declared them satisfactory. Sounds like hotdogs are in our future.
Lessons Learned: A 3 gallon crock pot holds a lot of pickles. Don’t save them– When pickles are at their peak, eat them!