Let's Get Dirty
A gardening blog for adults who still love to play in the dirt.
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By Penny Stine
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Last time I went to my favorite orchardist to buy peaches, he had flats of small Asian pears (AKA pear apples, apple pears, Japanese pears, Japanese pear apples, etc, etc) sitting on the table in the garage next to the peaches. He explained that he only had two young trees and the fruit was small. They looked so tasty I had to buy a flat.
As you can see, we ate several before I thought to take a photo.
Then I decided to put them in a pie, although when I began to google, I discovered that the experts said they weren’t good for baking because they’re so juicy and most people choose to eat them raw. Bah! I scoff at the experts. Actually, I suspect that most people choose to eat them one at a time and raw because they're so stinkin' expensive in the grocery stores. Way too valuable to experiment with in a pie. But Arnie sold me the flat for $6.
I wanted to make enough pie crust on Sunday morning before church to bake two pies, since I also had enough ripe peaches to fill a pie. I had already decided to make a sour cream pear apple pie, which only needed a bottom crust, so I needed to make enough dough for two pie bottoms and one top.
Oops. I was ready to make pie dough but discovered I didn’t have enough shortening. Necessity is the mother of invention. Rather than drive to the store, I decided to do a combination butter/shortening crust. I improvised as I went along, but here is the general idea:
3 ½ C flour
½ C shortening
½ C cold butter
1 tsp vinegar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
cold water – maybe half a cup.
When making pie crust, I always use a hand-held pastry cutter. My mom uses a fork and makes fab pie crusts, but I can’t. I’ve tried the food processor, too, but nothing beats the pastry cutter for me.
The combination of butter and shortening was magic. The dough was the easiest dough I’ve ever rolled. I made one pie early Sunday morning and refrigerated the rest of the dough wrapped in plastic to use Monday night. It was still great Monday night. Before I even tasted it, I knew the butter/shortening combo was my new secret weapon against pie crusts that refuse to cooperate.
Since I was improvising a recipe for the crust, I did the same thing for the filling:
1 C sour cream
1/3 C brown sugar
1/3 C white sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp ginger
2 Tbsp flax meal (good for you, plus it's a great thickener)
1/2 C flour
7 small Asian pears
Mix the sour cream, sugars, flour, flax and spices in a bowl. Combine with the sliced pears (I peeled half of them, but got lazy & in a hurry and decided not to peel the rest) and put in an unbaked pie shell.
Sour cream pies usually have a crumb topping, so here's what I did for the top.
1 C oatmeal
¼ C butter
1/3 C brown sugar
1/3 C slivered almonds
1 tsp cinnamon
Combine topping ingredients with beloved pastry cutter and spread (pour, place, whatever) across pears. Bake 375 for 50 minutes or until crust looks done.
Why is a pie recipe in the gardening blog, you ask? It was tasty enough that I’m going back to my peach grower to ask him where he bought his trees. I planted a peach tree in my back yard this spring. Perhaps next year, I’ll plant an Asian pear.
By Laurena Mayne Davis
Friday, September 16, 2011
Do not click away! This is not some kind of Ronco blast-from-the-past ad or even a corny infomercial. (Two for only $14.99!)
Even though electric carving knives always bring to mind the era of Dixie Cup dispensers and shag-carpet toilet-tank covers, this is one retro household item you’re going to want.
Years ago someone (name lost to history) suggested I use an electric knife to cut corn from blanched cobs. At the time I thought it entirely unnecessary. Why not just use a plain-old knife? But once I tried one, there was no turning back. It saves wear, tear and blisters on the hands, and the whole process is so much faster. And the knives are only about 15 bucks — worth buying even to use just once a year.
So after blanching and icing cobs, unsheath the electric blades of glory to make short work of freezing corn. (Note the blurred electric knife action!)
I follow with a quick swipe of the paring knife to remove absolutely everything from the cob, spoon corn into ziploc freezer bags, remove the air and pop into the freezer for fresh sweet corn taste all winter long.
My electric knife is 1980s vintage, but after looking around to see if the knives have changed much, I came across this sweet little Black and Decker.
It may be time for an upgrade.
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
FINALLY, after years of begging my husband, countless relatives and friends warning us not to do it, and the nursery telling us during the spring and summer that our tree wasn't ready to take home yet.....WE HAVE A PEACH TREE!
Someday this tree is going to give us big, beautiful Red Haven peaches, enough to can and share with friends and relatives.... I hope.
My mother, whose father was a peach orchard farmer, told us she wouldn't wish a peach tree on her worst enemy. My grandfather always said, "if you have one, you might as well have forty."
Mom said they are too much trouble.
My husband didn't want a tree because he wants to turn our home into a rental someday. He has used this excuse for years and still we happily live in our little corner of the world. I finally convinced him by saying if we planted the tree we would surely find another home we wanted to move into.
Our tenants will let us pick peaches, right?
It was a feat just finding a nursery who would sell us a peach tree. There are only two in the valley that sell them. We purchased ours from Meadowlark Gardens. Apparently, nurseries are leery of selling peach trees to folks who won't take care of the them and end up adding to the problem of peach tree diseases in the valley.
We downloaded a book of information from the CSU Extension Service on how to prune and care for our tree. We studied the information and tucked it away for future reference and in the spring we picked our tree out of the batch at the nursery, where they said they needed to hold the tree until the root grew out to the pot. It is apparently illegal for them to sell trees until this happens. The heat came before it was time to plant so we had to wait until now to bring it home.
After planting the tree we watched our Netflix movie "Flipped." A great movie that shows just how much a tree can mean.
A man doesn't plant a tree for himself. He plants it for posterity.
- Alexander Smith
By Laurena Mayne Davis
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
What to do with all the odds and ends at the end of the garden? Shish kebab!
We cut up garden veggies, store-bought mushrooms — have to learn to grow these ourselves — and locally raised beef. A marinade of herbs, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and spices zested everything up nicely, with veggies and meat marinated separately.
Soak bamboo skewers in water so they won't burn and string veggies and beef on the skewers. A little time on the grill and you have an easy meal bursting with local flavor. (Note the skewers of just beef. We had a house full of teenage boys that weekend.)
By Penny Stine
Thursday, September 8, 2011
I started eight different types of tomatoes from seed, and at least one plant of every kind actually survived into adulthood. This has been a late year for my tomatoes, and so far, I’ve only been able to sample tomatoes from the Sungold Hybrid, Sioux, Jetsetter and the Viva Italia varieties.
I’ve picked a couple Kellogg Breakfast and Aunt Ginny’s Purple tomatoes, but the first few suffered badly from the dreaded blossom end rot, so I couldn’t put them to the taste test. I just picked my first Aunt Ginny’s that was free of BER. I hope to eat it in a couple of days after it ripens a few more days on the kitchen counter. The flavor is supposed to be comparable to a Brandywine, (which are truly exquisite tomatoes) but they're supposed to be a little earlier and more productive, which is why I tried them. They do have a purplish cast to them, with none of the tomato orange hues, which is also like the Brandywine. Most of the green tomatoes on the plant seem as big or bigger than the one in the pic, so that's another good trait.
My sungold hybrids were all in pots, and they produced pretty well until I compared them to those produced by my gardening buddy, Jan of the awesome garden. Each of my plants produced a few dozen fabulous tiny tomatoes. Each of her plants, which weren’t in pots but just left to sprawl somewhere in her garden, produced hundreds of sweet, juicy tomatoes.
Mine slowed down their production a few weeks ago, but seem to be picking up steam again. They’re going to be a repeat for next year – their taste is outta' this world. I may put a few in pots, but I’m definitely sticking at least one plant in the ground.
I thought I had a fail proof system for identifying the tomato plants in the garden – I tied different colored yarn to each cage to identify the varieties. That was a great idea, except I wasn’t consistent about where I tied the yarn and as the plants grew, I couldn’t find the yarn. I think this plant is either a Jetsetter or a Sioux tomato, both of which were fairly early and produced nice-sized tomatoes.
In a taste test, my husband and I agreed that the Jetsetter were sweeter, but the Sioux had that tangy tomato taste that makes such good sauce. The Jetsetter were extremely prolific and I didn’t lose a single one to blossom end rot, which always seems to plague my tomatoes. For that reason alone, I think I’ll go with Jetsetter again next year.
I tried to train the Viva Italias to climb up the trellis my husband built for me. As July turned to August, I found it harder and harder to nip side branches off the main tomato vine. The result is that these tomatoes aren't climbing as high on the trellis as they could. They do seem to be producing a fair amount. I lost the first few to blossom end rot, but the later ones don't appear to suffer from it - which is fairly typical of the disease. They're quite tasty, too, so I'm fairly certain I'll order the seeds again.
None of the Royal Hillbilly or the Virginia Sweet varieties are ripe yet, but the first Virginia Sweet is starting to turn. It's a bi-color tomato, so I'm not sure how to tell when it's ready to pick. The tomatoes are all enormous.
Once I've tasted the Aunt Ginny's Purple, Kellogg Breakfast, Royal Hillbilly and Virginia Sweet, I'll share a review of those.
Yay for our long growing season, which is going to give many of our green tomatoes time to ripen. My brother in Wyoming is expecting a frost any day now. It's good to be in the Grand Valley!