Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Strawberries and Scapes, Get them while you can

The lovely weather the past couple of weekends has been the perfect thing to draw nice crowds to the Farmers Market.  So far, the prediction for this Saturday looks to be just as nice.  So, come on out to the Muskingum County Fairgrounds from 9:00am-noon to see what we have to offer. 
It is nice to see the market grow each week as the season progresses.  It stars with rather humble beginnings at the beginning of May, but as the summer progresses the number of customers continue to grow and more and more vendors come out to sell their goods.
            Last week, strawberries were a hot commodity.  I’m sure the same will be true this week as local strawberry season is very short lived.  My mouth waters as I write this knowing there is a big bowl of them sitting in my refrigerator.  I’m not sure if they are going to last long enough for me to get any shortbread made; I keep eating them a few at a time when I come in to take a break from planting and weeding in the field.          
            Now that June has arrived there is another opportunity for you to buy fresh, local goods during the middle of the week as well.  The Downtown Farmers Market will be held on Wednesdays from 3:00-6:30pm in the Welcome Center parking lot, just off the Fifth Street I-70 exit ramp.  This is a good opportunity to restock if you have run out of produce by mid-week or if you overslept on Saturday morning and didn’t make it out to the Fairgrounds.
If you have read my column in past years, you have heard me talk before about garlic scapes.  Scape is the name given to the flower stalk of the garlic plant.  It grows up through the center of the plant, usually appearing in early June around here.  It looks like a thin, curly, green snake.  It can be snapped off and used for cooking.  Scapes can be used in any dish to which you would add fresh garlic.  They are more mild than a regular clove of garlic and can be sautéed, grilled, or roasted.  They are great cooked just by themselves with a little butter, salt, and pepper. 
Garlic scape season is short lived, lasting only a couple of weeks.  The good news is that they keep for a really long time in a bag in the crisper and can be chopped up and frozen as well.  The following is a recipe from www.2sistersgarlic.com  I admit that I haven’t tried it yet, but I love to pickle all kinds of veggies and this sounds delicious.  I’m going to stock all my leftover scapes in the fridge and make this recipe when my fresh basil is ready to be picked.

Pickled Garlic Scapes
·         1 pound or more of scapes, whole
·         3 cups vinegar
·         5 cups water
·         ¼ cup kosher salt
·         Fresh Basil Leaves
·         Chili Flakes
Boil the water, vinegar & salt solution. Pack hot jars with whole scapes, 1 fresh basil leaf, a pinch of chili flakes (depending on your spice tolerance) and then the brine. Put on lids, place in a hot water canner and boil for 45 minutes. Leave at least 2 weeks before serving to get best flavor.

Still time to Purchase Flowers and Garden Plants at Farmers Market

         A beautiful Memorial Day weekend brought the best crowd to date at the Zanesville Farmers Market.  Another nice day is predicted for this Saturday, so if you haven’t made it out to the market yet, please stop by the Muskingum County Fairgrounds from 9 am to Noon on Saturday.
        Each week there are more and more vendors who join the market.  There are still good deals to be had on flower and vegetable plants if you have not yet finished planting your garden.  In addition to plants, the farmers’ tables get a little fuller each week as more and more fresh produce is ready to be harvested from the garden.  The earliest veggies such as green onions, asparagus, radishes, and rhubarb, are now being joined by things such as leaf lettuce and other spring greens.  There were even some of the first strawberries of the season available last week. 
            Now that most of the garden is planted, it is time to work on the next step of maintaining a garden—dealing with weeds.  Right after the soil is tilled and the plants are put in and seeds sown, the garden looks so nice and pristine.  It doesn’t take long however, for things to get out of control. 
            I am often guilty of “rubbernecking” as I pass people’s gardens while driving.  I am a bit envious of small home gardens.  Usually, everything looks so neat and orderly and weed free.  Most of the time, I start off with great intentions in my own garden, but more often than not, things get ahead of me and the weeds set in. 
Cultivating between the rows of plants while the weeds are still tiny is the best way to keep ahead of the problem.  This can be done with a hoe, rototiller, cultivator, or any combination thereof, depending on the scale of the garden.  Using a cultivator that hitches to the back of the tractor is probably the fastest way I could accomplish this task.  However, due to a combination of my crooked rows and my crooked driving, when I try to use this machine I tend to rip out more plants than weeds as I go along. 
So, my current method of choice is to cultivate by hand using an old fashioned tool that has a large wheel in front with prongs behind that dig into the dirt and two handles with which to push it forward.  I have heard many names for it such as a “high wheel cultivator” and a “push plow/cultivator.” 
Just today, though, my friend, Dale Clapper, stopped by today and gave me a new name for this machine; he called it a “Missouri Mule.”  I think that is such a cute name that I’m going to refer to it that way from now on.  It sounds just like something out of an old country song.  Perhaps I’ll utilize my time spent pushing it to write my own song.
Here is a good recipe to get some fresh spinach into your kids’ diet.  Try putting it in something they already enjoy.  I don’t know too many kids that don’t like Mac N Cheese.  This recipe came from MarthaStewart.com.  

Spinach Mac N Cheese
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup minced yellow onion
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups whole milk, room temperature
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • About 1 ¾ pounds spinach, trimmed, washed, and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick strips
  • 5 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated (2 cups)
  • 3/4 pound elbow macaroni, cooked according to package instructions
    In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium. Add onion and cook until translucent, 6 minutes. Whisk in flour and cook, stirring frequently, until mixture is pale golden and has a slightly nutty aroma, about 2 minutes. Whisking constantly, add 2 cups milk. Add remaining 2 cups milk, raise heat to medium-high, and whisk until smooth; season with salt and pepper. Cook, whisking constantly, until sauce comes to a boil, 8 to 10 minutes. Reduce heat to low and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens, 13 to 15 minutes. Add spinach and cook, stirring constantly, until wilted, about 3 minutes. Add cheese and stir until melted, about 2 minutes. Add cooked macaroni and stir to combine. Serve immediately.

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My dad took a few pictures of me using the "Missouri Mule" early one morning a couple of weeks ago.  I didn't know he was taking pictures.

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 Can't you just hear me singing a Gillian Welch tune as I push my "Missouri Mule". . .  

"There was a camp town man, used to plow and sing
And he loved that mule and the mule loved him
When the day got long as it does about now
I'd hear him singing to his muley-cow
Calling, "Come on my sweet old girl, and I'd bet the whole damn world
That we're gonna make it yet to the end of the row"

Singing "hard times ain't gonna rule my mind
Hard times ain't gonna rule my mind, Bessie
Hard times ain't gonna rule my mind no more"

And here is a photo taken last September by my friend Lindsay after I had clearly given up using this tool and let the weeds take over.

Perhaps this year I can keep ahead of the weeds.  Somehow I doubt it!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Memorial Day Weekend: Visit your local Farmers Market and your local Cemeteries

Spring flies by so quickly that it is hard to believe that Memorial Day weekend is upon us already.  A lot of people will travel over this long holiday weekend.  If you are headed out of town, I encourage you to check out your destination’s local farmers market.  Be sure to report back--I always enjoy hearing about markets in other communities.  If you have guests coming to Zanesville this weekend be sure to bring them to our market to give them a taste of what our area has to offer.
            Memorial Day was created to honor veterans who died in Military service.  It is so nice to visit the cemetery and see the fresh American flags waving over the graves of our fallen heroes.  I have always enjoyed taking a trip to the cemetery in the spring.  You can’t argue the fact that cemeteries are peaceful places and there always seems to be the fragrance of an old-fashioned lilac wafting through the air.
            This past Sunday I traveled with my grandma, Jean Baughman, and my aunt, Mary Ann Ewart, to the old family plot in the cemetery down the road from where my grandma grew up near Moxahala, Ohio in Perry County.  It was time to do the annual cleanup around the headstones so they are ready for “Decoration Day” as grandma calls it.
            People often say to me, “You must have a green thumb.”  I usually shrug it off because I truly feel surprised when anything that I plant actually sprouts, let alone seeing it bloom or become something edible.  However, while working in the cemetery with my grandma and aunt, I realized that I have been handed down a legacy of the love of flowers and growing things from generations of women in my family. 
I brought home some peonies and iris that I had thinned from around the grave of my great-grandma, Julia Hankins.  Though I was just a kid when she died, I have wonderful memories or her flower gardens.  They say she could grow anything.  There is a holly tree that she brought home from a trip to California one time.  They said it would never live in this climate—it’s now taller than the house. 
And on another trip, when she passed some desert plants that were fenced off in order to protect them, she swatted at them with her four-pronged cane saying, “You can’t kill that stuff.  It will grow anywhere.”  That is the confidence of someone with a true green thumb; if anyone could have gotten that stuff to grow in Ohio, I’m sure it would have been my Grandma Julia. 
This is the season when my “Joy of Rhubarb” cookbook, by Theresa Millang, comes in handy.  The other day, a cousin asked, via Facebook, for a kid-friendly rhubarb recipe.  My sister replied “I’m still looking for an adult friendly one. Yuk.”  Here’s one from that cookbook that might satisfy both.

Rhubarb Honey Muffins
·         2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
·         1 teaspoon baking soda
·         ½ teaspoon salt
·         1 egg, beaten
·         1 cup brown sugar, packed
·         2/3 cup vegetable oil
·         ½ cup honey
·         1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
·         ¾ cup buttermilk
·         1 ½ cups fresh rhubarb, finely chopped
·         ½ cup pecans, chopped
·         1 tablespoon butter, mixed with ½ cup sugar until crumbly

Preheat oven to 350º.  Paper-line muffin pans.  In a large bowl, mix all dry ingredients.  In another bowl, stir egg, brown sugar, oil, honey, vanilla and buttermilk until blended; stir into flour mixture until moistened.  Fold in rhubarb and pecans.  Fill muffin cups about 2/3 full.  Sprinkle tops with butter-sugar mixture.  Bake 25-35 minutes or until golden.  Remove from pan; cool on a rack.  Makes 24 muffins.

 Pictures from the cemetery trip: (Mom thinks it's morbid to take trips to the cemetery.  She won't go.  I enjoy it.  We even stopped at the "Six Mile Turn" on the way and got subs to have a picnic in the cemetery.  I used long dead cousin so-and-so's tombstone as a table.  We all decided he would have been okay with it. Haha!)
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This is Grandma Jean.  Here are a few odd family tales she recounted while we were there:  She is seated in front of the grave of her cousin Joe Podolinski who had his hand shot off in World War I.  Another grave is of her uncle Lawrence Trunko who died in 1919 at the age of eighteen.  He was born deaf and was killed one night while while walking home from Corning.  He fell asleep on the train track and didn't hear the train.  How tragic!  She told of her uncle Charlie Hudak who had a large indentation in his head from an unfortunate run-in with an axe.  (This is not how he died.)  Seems like life was pretty hard back then.

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Aunt Mary Ann in working around the grave of my great-grandparents, Julia and Earl Hankins.  To the left is the grave of deaf uncle Lawrence Trunko and in the rear is the grave of my great-great grandparents Julia and Karol Trunko.

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This is a yucca plant.  I hate yucca plants.  We have dug this thing up countless times and it just won't die!

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The yucca after I dug it and chopped it with a hatchet!  NEVER plant a yucca unless it is in a spot where you want it to remain forever!

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The supervisor--Grandma Jean!  Knitting as usual!  Age 91.

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Peonies and iris we thinned out and are taking home with us. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

May Flowers and May Showers

            The full “Flower Moon” was last night, May 14th, according to the Farmer’s Almanac.  As the old saying goes, “April showers bring May flowers” and it does sometimes seem that the flowers truly are more beautiful in May than in other months.  It’s certainly not that they are as showy or elegant as some of the later flowers such as roses, zinnias, and sunflowers.  However, any pop of color against the lush shades of newly emerging greenery are such sight for sore eyes after the drab grays and browns of winter that the flowers seem rather dazzling.
 A trip to farmers market offers annuals in almost every hue of the rainbow to add a little extra punch of color to your porches and flower beds.  Bright red geraniums, pink and white impatiens, sunny yellow and orange marigolds, blue bachelor buttons, and deep purple petunias, are among the spectrum that can be found.
            Mother’s Day weekend at Farmers Market was certainly a wet one.  My almost two year old niece, who was visiting from Cincinnati, certainly enjoyed playing in the rain and stomping puddles, but the rest of us mostly huddled under tents and umbrellas or inside the building.  As we said--April showers bring May flowers; yet, in contrast--May showers bring impatient farmers.  It is hard to get into the fields when the ground is so wet. 
Rather than twiddling my thumbs waiting for the ground to dry out, I have been utilizing this time to weed and thin some of the flower beds around the house.  It’s amazing how quickly plants like hosta, day lilies, and ground covers can take over an entire flower bed.  They sometimes become almost as bad as weeds in terms of choking out other flowers.  I recommend thinning these things every year, because when you let them go too long, trust me, it becomes quite a chore to get them back under control.
This week’s recipe features radishes.  Radishes are one of the earliest vegetables ready in the spring, most varieties taking only about twenty five days to mature.  This year I tried a new variety that was supposed to be ready in only 18 days.  Of course, after my radish seeds were in the ground, I forgot to record the date of planting.  Once planting season starts my organizational skills and short term memory typically fly out the window, so I’ll probably never know whether or not this particular variety of radish actually only takes three weeks to grow.    I was excited when my friend Diane Jahnes brought this salad to our book club because I am always looking for more interesting ways to serves radishes.  She got the recipe from finecooking.com.  May Day is celebrated on May 1st and maybe one of these years I’ll get my radishes planted early enough to actually prepare this dish on May Day.

May Day Radish and Parsley Salad
  • 12 oz. trimmed fresh radishes (about 1-1/2 bunches), cut in half lengthwise and then into lengthwise wedges about 1/4 inch wide
  • 1/2 cup whole small (or large torn) fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 3 to 4 Tbs. sliced fresh chives (cut into 1/2-inch lengths), plus chive blossoms if available, for garnish (optional)
  • 1 Tbs. peanut oil
  • 2 Tbs. finely chopped crystallized ginger
  • 2 Tbs. fresh orange juice
  • 2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. freshly grated lemon zest
  • Kosher salt
Put the radishes, parsley leaves, and chives in a medium bowl.  Whisk together the peanut oil, crystallized ginger, orange juice, lemon juice, lemon zest, and 1/4 tsp. salt. Let sit for a few minutes to let the juices mingle and the ginger soften, then whisk again. Pour and scrape the dressing over the radish-herb mix. Toss and mix well and let sit for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring frequently and tasting occasionally. (The radishes will release some liquid and will absorb some of the flavor of the dressing as they sit. They will stay crisp.) Serve the salad in little glass bowls along with some of the juices. If you like, garnish with chive blossoms.

My family came to see me at market.  They were troopers!

Cole preferred to stay under the tent in the wagon.

Maya, on the other hand, LOVED the rain!