Sunday, March 28, 2010

All The Time

I haven't been in the kitchen much in the past few weeks. Work has kept me spinning, and the time that I have that is spin-free has been spent mostly in the garden. I've been eating very well, mostly simply prepared, very fresh veggies and stuff I put in away in the summer, but I haven't been terribly inventive. My meals have been four or five ingredient slips of carefree cooking, nothing worth writing about, but good nonetheless.

This is a very exciting time of the year to be outside. So much blooms in March and April: citrus, pink jasmine, camphor trees, things I can't even identify but smell all sorts of good. The sweetpeas start to tumble over trellises and reveal their feminine charms.

But what I love best about this time of year is the promise of meals to come.


This winter's cole crop bed is about to become this summer's bean bed.

The Italian Prune scionwood I grafted onto the Bavay's Green Gage has taken. I can't get over the magic of grafting; it has opened a lot of doors in my imagination and is widening my idea of an orchard.

The apples are just beginning to bud. This is Golden Russet; I should get a few apples from it this year, enough for me to understand its flavor and character, enough for me to start imagining how best to use it in the oven. In a few years, just watch, it will star in a homemade cider.

This is not the familiar Nigella damascena (Love in a Mist) that I grow as a cut flower. Nope, this is Nigella sativa, the spice nigella, aka black cumin. I've tried to grow it for a couple of years, but between the stingy offerings from the two suppliers from whom I ordered it and my lack of knowledge about when best to plant it in my climate, I was unsuccessful. I think I finally figured it out. I planted the seeds in late October and they had a wet winter. They were slow all winter long, low to the ground and wimpy looking, but now that it is warming up they've sprung up to flower and don't seem to need much water. I can't wait to use the seeds to flavor curries, crackers, and other such delights.

Here, a long row of Egyptian Walking onions marches in front of a stand of fennel. I have tons and tons of EW onions this year, so there are plenty of greens to use, and I hope there will be lots of bulbils to pickle in little jars for cocktails and snacks. The fennel is a fantastic addition. Yes, I love the thick stems and bases of the larger ones, but I also love the textural contrast and the colors of the misty foliage. The seeds will flavor my tomato sauces. Right now, I'm working out some kind of risotto in my head, flavored with fennelseed and saffron, topped with seared scallops.

Some grocery store russet potatoes busted out greenery, so I planted them in the bottom of large pots using coconut coir mixed with partially composted leaves and a just a little native soil. As they've grown, I've added successive layers of the soil mix. Curious am I to see the results. I wonder how they'll taste best, set in coals to roast, mashed, cut into wedges and roasted with oil, garlic, and salt?

The crimson flowered fava are in a mad riot of blossoms. To ensure better bean set, I've cut off the growing tips (and used them in quick sautees). They now have beans in various stages of maturity up and down the sides of their stems. As soon as I've had enough of these babies, I'll cut them down and turn them back into the soil, then plant the remainder of my tomatoes. But before then, I'll thow the pods on the grill, I'll just barely boil the beans and eat them like edamame with a sprinkle of sea salt, I'll puree the beans with green garlic and olive oil.

The fuyu persimmon (it may be a giant fuyu, I don't know because it was on the property when I got here) is shooting out its waxy limegreen leaves. Soon, the strange flowers will appear. I hope I got more than the measly, albeit delicious, six fruit of last year. Last summer, I sampled a friend's dried fuyu persimmon slices, and they tasted like fruity caramel. Maybe this year.

Here's half of the garlic and shallot bed. The breadseed poppies in the back are beginning to send up flower spikes, promising loads and loads of seeds for all kinds of baked goodies. And the garlic, well, you know how I feel about garlic. I've got twelve heirloom varieties this year, and I can't wait for the taste-testing to begin. The shallots stems are fat and beginning to send up flowers, which I've dutifully broken off to help the plant focus on giving me lots and lots of shallot deliciousness.

The first half of the tomato plants are in where the field of arugula used to be. Before planting, I turned the arugula into the soil to work as green compost. I let the field sit for a could of weeks before planting, and now the tomatoes are settling happily in to their new home. The six in so far are Guernsey Island Pink Blush, Linnie's Oxheart, Brad's Black Heart, Goose Island, Not Wes, and Kosovo. Who is going to be my favored child this year? Who will be the best for sauces, the best in caprese, the best in bruschetta?


I may not be in the kitchen, but I'm inventing recipes, tasting combinations of flavors, putting meals together in my head all the time.


ann said...

I love Nigella Satvia and have been wondering if I could grow it here. The seeds have such a lovely flavor, and now that I see how beautiful the flowers are, I'm even more curious about it!! What a great start to your gardening year. Mine has just (just) started, I'm sore and happy, just how I like it :-)

Stefaneener said...

Yum. Yum for now, yum for the future.

michelle said...

There's all kinds of wonderful goings-on in your garden. I'm intrigued by the black cumin and can't wait to see how it does for you - good luck this time! My poppies are on the verge of sending up flower stalks also.

kristan said...


Camille said...

You are making me hungry!

Christina said...

Ann: If they yield well for me, I'll save Nigella sativa seeds for you. I imagine they'd be a very early spring sowing in your neck of the woods. Hooray for sore and happy!

Stefaneener: Yum, indeed.

Michelle: Oh, you're going to love those poppies.

Kristan: Just let me know what you want, and I can make sure to get some to you!

The Allotment Blogger said...

We had frost last night, so I'm envious of your long sun hours already. I wonder if the cumin would get enough sun in the UK to ripen?

Unknown said...

Oh...bliss! So exciting to see the photos and read all about it. My winter garden is just about ready for my tomato plants. I still have celery to harvest and some chard.

I get so excited one of the tomato plants a roma variety?

I planted yukon golds and some russets..but they were seed potatoes. I cannot wait to see the photos as your garden progresses. Oh and shallots!!

Amy B. said...

Really very handy when you have your own source of vegetables straight from your backyard! You can always make sure they're fresh and you wont need to go to the market anymore! :D very convenient and healthy, good job!

Patrick said...

At what point do you remove the parafilm from the grafts?

The pictures look great by the way.

Christina said...

The Allotment Blogger: The "black cumin" isn't really cumin, or even related to it. I think it would do fine in your climate if you plant it in the spring. I'm pretty sure my seeds will be harvestable by the end of May, beginning of June, which leads me to believe that you'd be able to grow Nigella sativa effectively in the UK. Let me know how it works for you!

Mel: Three of the plants are oxhearts, which in my mind beat out the paste/Roma types. They're nearly seedless, dense fleshed, and tasty raw and cooked. If you're interested in any particular variety when I post my reviews this summer, let me know and I can share seeds with you.

Amy B.: Thank you!

Patrick: There seems to be diversity of opinion on this, but I follow the lead of the CRFG folks who taught me the grafting technique I use and who recommended that I leave the tape on until it falls off on its own accord. The weather and sun have already weakened it, and it has split open in parts where the stem has grown quickly. And, thanks for the compliment!

Lisa said...

My breadseed poppies failed to germinate this year, which is a bummer. I'm growing fennel, and am clueless about their care. Mound around the base for blanched whiteness, or ignore 'em? I dunno.

Christina said...

Lisa and Robb: If you need seed for breadseed poppies next year, let me know. I plant in the fall here, around the same time as garlic, so they benefit from the winter rains and bloom beautifully in the spring. They're just finishing now, and they've been as tall as me and producing huge seed-filled heads. As for fennel, when I've grown bulbing kinds, they never needed to be blanched with soil. This year, most of my fennel is non-bulbing, so I've used only the young shoots as a vegetable and sturdier branches to flavor stocks. I don't know if that answers your question at all . . ..