Garden report 4: Post-holiday

Pickling cucumbers are flowering and fruiting.

For more than a decade, early July has meant a road trip for David and I.
An annual vacation requires a little strategic thinking when it comes to the edible garden. First, you need to find a neighbour, friend, housesitting service or local kid with an entrepreneurial spirit to do some watering.
Second, you want to plan your plantings so that you don’t miss the harvest.
For example, the garden at our old house included a sizable (and naturally, aggressively expanding) strawberry patch planted by the previous homeowners. Strawberry season in that part of Ontario usually lands in early July – which meant most of our crops were consumed by the birds. The friend who often watered our garden (and was instructed to please please pick and eat whatever was ready) during our absence was allergic to strawberries. At our current house, I planted blueberries and raspberries.
Third, you want to do some pre-holiday prep.

Freshly picked lettuce greens, ready for salad, sandwiches or even soup.

In the week leading up to this year’s vacation, we ate lettuce – in salads, sandwiches and even a fantastic soup (recipe to come, I promise) – nightly. The night we left, I picked, chopped and bagged for the freezer any suitable Swiss chard as well as the small amount of pak choi I was able to rescue from the beetles. I will use both is soups this winter.
I also weeded diligently, trimmed the last of the scapes from my garlic and ensured the tomatoes were supported by their spirals.

I am always amazed by the results of two weeks of summer sunshine on my garden. I came home (more than two weeks ago now) to tomato plants doubled in size and weighted down by (mostly still green) fruit, replenished Swiss chard and lettuce greens and jalapenos, beans and zucchini ready to pick and eat.

The start of the cherry tomato harvest.

First rhubarb harvest

Canada red rhubarb, planted last year, photograph taken early spring.

With David’s parents visiting last weekend, I decided to harvest the first of the Canada red rhubarb I planted last spring – and make stewed rhubarb Eton mess for dessert.
I cut several stalks – although later learned you can remove them with a strong tug as well.
The stewed rhubarb I ate as a kid contained, I am positive, only two ingredients: rhubarb and white sugar.
Since whipped cream and meringue (the other two ingredients in Eton mess) are quite neutral, I decided to use the rhubarb as a vehicle for more flavour.
We had a busy day planned for Saturday (including stops at the St. Lawrence Market for fish and Mountain Equipment Co-op for our upcoming trip to Colorado), so I stewed the rhubarb and made the meringue Friday night.
The beauty of Eton mess is the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s also quite pretty layered in a glass – too bad I forgot to take a photograph.

Stewed rhubarb Eton mess

Ingredients
stewed rhubarb
meringue
whipped cream

Method
Layer stewed rhubarb, meringue pieces and whipped cream in a glass.
Serve.

Stewed rhubarb
Use more or less orange rind and/or ginger depending on your taste preference.
Adapted from this recipe.

Ingredients
rhubarb, chopped into 2-cm (1-inch) pieces
80 mL (1/3 cup) brown sugar per 250 mL (1 cup) rhubarb
5 mL (1 tsp) grated orange rind per 250 mL (1 cup) rhubarb
5 mL (1 tsp) grated ginger per 250 mL (1 cup) rhubarb
15 mL (1 tbsp) water

Method
In a covered saucepan on high heat, bring ingredients to a boil.
Remove lid, reduce heat and simmer until rhubarb is soft and desired consistency is reached, about 10 minutes.
Stewed rhubarb will keep in the fridge for at least a week. You could also freeze it.

Meringue
A meringue with two egg whites will make Eton mess to serve four.

Ingredients
egg whites
60 mL (1/4 cup) granulated sugar per egg white

Method
Preheat oven to 250 F.
Using stand mixer, whip egg whites on high until frothy. Slowly add sugar, continuing to whip, until mixture is glossy and stiff peaks form.
Spread on parchment lined baking sheet. Bake 1 hour. Allow to cool. Break into pieces. Store in an airtight container.

Whipped cream

Ingredients
heavy (35 per cent) cream
granulated sugar

Method
Using stand mixer, whip cream (I used less than 250 mL for four servings) until soft peaks start to form. Add sugar, continuing to whip, to taste.

Garden report, Part 2: Fruit

Fruit, photographed over the past week or so.

Apple tree, five-in-one, one branch nearly blossoming.

Canada red rhubarb, planted last year.

Wild plum blossoms. Few this year. Affected by weather?

Clapp pear, leaves nearly out.

Heritage raspberry, one of five plants, three varietals, planted last year.

Currants, one of five, red and black, nearly blossoming.

Rabbit repellant

Last spring, I purchased four small blueberry plants and planted them in one corner of my vegetable garden. The birds and I ate a few berries, but mostly I just let them grow. Last winter, our local rabbits made a meal of them, leaving just a few short, raggedly branches.
This spring, I purchased three more, slightly larger, blueberry plants, expanded the edible garden and planted them near the others. The original plants slowly recovered over the summer although are still smaller than the second group.
I was determined my blueberries would not become a mid-winter rabbit snack for the second year in a row.
So, David and I (but mostly David) constructed this cage out of one-by-twos and some sturdy wire fencing. Once the ground freezes (some time in January, if the forecasters are to be believed), it should be impervious to any jumping, digging, hungry creatures.

The blueberries are ready for winter.

Tomato ginger chile jam

Yes, tomato jam. Tomato seeds are rich in pectin, which make it an ideal fruit (yes, fruit) for turning into a savory jam.
The recipe comes from my chef sister. She has made variations of it to serve with pork and chicken dishes at a few of the fine dining restaurants where she has worked.
My father-in-law is pretty much addicted to the stuff. The year after we’d moved into our second home and did not yet have a vegetable garden, I had to dole out the previous season’s leftovers in small quantities to keep him from going through complete withdrawal.
The prep for this recipe is incredibly easy. A bit of chopping and a lot of whirring in the food processor.
The cooking, however, can be delicate business. If you’re making a large batch, it can take a couple of hours for the mixture to reduce down to the point where it becomes jam. Once it starts to thicken, keep a close eye on it and stir often.
One year, I burned a double batch and was so angry I practically cried. Seven and a half pounds of homegrown tomatoes, plus several hours of my time, wasted.
Increase or decrease the chile peppers depending on your tastes. If you can’t find Thai chiles, look for a similarly hot pepper. I couldn’t resist the brightly coloured cherry reds at the market this year and added three to my double-plus batch.
Yes, double-plus. I had decided to double the recipe but started off by prepping 10 pounds of tomatoes, rather than 7-1/2. Once I realized my error, I did some quick math and upped the amounts of ginger, garlic, vinegar and sugar to compensate. I think the three peppers added just the right amount of heat, so my mistake turned out for the best. I did have to simmer it all in two pots until the mixture had reduced sufficiently to safely fit into one.

Tomato ginger chile jam

Tomato Ginger Chile Jam

Ingredients
1-3/4 kg (3-3/4 lb) plum tomatoes
10 cloves garlic
3 Thai chiles
250 mL (1 cup) white wine vinegar
900 grams (2 lb) brown sugar

Method
Dice 125 mL (1/2 cup) of tomatoes. Set aside.
Puree remaining tomatoes, peppers, garlic and ginger in batches in food processor until smooth.
Combine tomato puree, sugar and vinegar in large pot. Cook at medium-high until boiling. Lower heat and add diced tomatoes. Simmer until mixture thickens and is reduced by about half.
Ladle jam into hot, sterilized 250 mL jars, leaving 1-cm (1/2-inch) head space.
Process in hot water canner for 10 minutes.
Makes about seven 250 mL jars.

What a lucky girl am I

Lovely tree a mystery no more.

We have a lovely, but unruly, perennial garden that meanders through the middle of our backyard. Our neighbours have told us it was the residents twice removed who planted it. They must have spent a fortune. The family from whom we purchased the house did not share the same enthusiasm for gardening.
The garden had an unkempt air when we arrived. And, in the three years we have lived there, I have been trying, in fits and starts, to identify and enforce some measure of control over the plants.
The first full gardening season, I let it do its own thing. I wanted to see what came up before digging, dividing, planting and replanting. Last year, I was preoccupied with the vegetable gardening and training for our Kilimanjaro summit. This spring, we did a little bit of pruning to the wide variety of shrubs and flowering trees. This summer, I have noticed a few of my favourite plants are being crowded out my more aggressive flowers. This fall, I am determined to get it organized.
One tree I find particularly lovely, with its twined trunks and white blossoms in the spring, I could not identify. I called it a flowering birch because its bark resembles that of a young birch, until someone pointed out birches don’t have thorns. She suggested it might be a hawthorn.
This summer, I noticed fruit developing on the tree. This weekend, I saw they had grown into small yellow and red ovals that have the appearance, inside and out, of plums. A quick consult on the Internet confirmed this tree is a wild plum.

Wild plums.

I can’t be sure why it bore fruit this year (and not the last three), but it may have something to do with pollination. Perhaps a neighbour has planted a plum tree or my young chokecherry is doing the job.
I plan to treat the plum tree with lime-sulphur and horticultural oil early next spring along with the pear and apple trees to discourage pests and apply some compost to encourage more fruit. Maybe I will harvest enough to make some plum butter.

Blight? Shite!

San Marzano plant, post pruning.

I have no one to blame but myself — although I can’t help but be a little annoyed at the grower where I bought the tiny Tim plant I am convinced started it all. But it was me who nearly ignored the problem, just cutting off the infected branches earlier this summer and hoping for the best.
The end result is my tomatoes plants — 12 San Marzano, two mule team, one Moira, one brown berry, one Thai pink egg and that one treacherous tiny Tim — were infected by what I think is either early blight or septoria leaf spot. Last week, I pulled out the worst infected ones — Tim and the Thai pink egg — and disposed of them in a yard waste bag. I did manage to harvest a dozen or so lovely fruit from the latter.
The rest received a severe pruning to remove the infected leaves. The result is not pretty, but I am hoping for a small harvest. I have 10 to 15 healthy tomatoes at varying degrees of ripeness on each of the San Marzano plants and am not realistically expecting anymore.

Thai pink egg tomatoes

This is a mere fraction of the dozens I usually harvest per paste tomato plant and puts a crimp in my preserving plans.