Author Archives: cindybarlowe

The Winter Garden

The December 31, 2013, harvest from Heart & Sole Gardens

The December 31, 2013, harvest from Heart & Sole Gardens

          I love the Winter Garden.  For the most part, with the exception of henbit, weeds are not very invasive, frost has made fresh greens sugar sweet and cooler temperatures bring a brisk freshness to the air that invigorates the body.  Since henbit is an important early food for honeybees, I try to ignore it and concentrate on all that is “important” food for our family.

Henbit blooming in early spring

Henbit blooming in early spring

 

On the last day of 2013, with mild temperatures and bright sunshine, I gathered baskets of deliciousness.  Green garlic, that wonderful perennial bulb that has a milder pungency than its supermarket counterpart, was easy to dig from the soft ground.  Six different varieties of kale, spicy arugula and mustard greens, baby bok choy, tiny carrots in a rainbow of colors, turnips and incredibly nutty, sweet spinach filled my baskets and I could not wait to prepare some special dishes.  Just before leaving, I cut some fresh parsley to take along.  As I tasted each treat, I marveled at the crisp leaves, full of juice, and paused, for perhaps the millionth time, to be grateful for this farm. 

 

Back at home, I carefully washed and stored each seasonal item, with the exception of seven small green garlics.  Leaving them whole, I scrubbed the bulbs and trimmed off the root ends.  I stretched them on aluminum foil, drizzled the bulbs and green leaves with extra virgin olive oil and wrapped them in a foil packet.  Since they were so fresh, it only took about 40 minutes to roast them in a 400 degree oven.  When they were soft and pungent, I allowed them to cool.  For some time, I have been planning a roasted garlic pie in my mind and these beautiful bulbs became the cornerstone of a recipe I created.  Feel free to substitute dried garlic bulbs from the grocery store, but if you are fortunate to find fresh green garlic, you just might discover a new love.  If you use dried garlic, squeeze out the soft cloves and discard the rest; fresh garlic is used whole, including the green tops.  This version is vegetarian, but for those who wish to add meat, one cup of roasted chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces, would be a nice addition.

 

Roasted Garlic Pie

1 cup Ricotta cheese

7 small green garlics, roasted and chopped

2 eggs

12 oz. artichoke hearts, drained

1/3 cup Kalamato olives, cut in halves

¼ cup cream cheese, softened

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves stripped from stems, discard stems

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon basil pesto (I used my own, made fresh and stored in the freezer, but store-bought may be substituted.)

 

Use a refrigerated pie crust or make your own and place in a 12-inch pie dish that has been sprayed with vegetable spray.  Mix all ingredients in a large bowl and pour into prepared crust.  Bake in a preheated, 375 degree, oven for about 40-50 minutes.  Check for doneness when center is set and does not jiggle.  Serve warm or at room temperature. 

 

On January 1, 2014, I cooked a mixture of mustard, kale and turnip greens to take to my parents’ home for the traditional New Year’s meal.  Japanese Red Mustard is one of our favorite greens and it is spicier than curly green mustard.  Although the leaves are a deep purple color, they turn green when cooked and add flavor depth to the green mixture.  For a vegetarian version of this recipe, omit the pork and bacon fat and saute ½ cup diced onion in a tablespoon of olive oil, then deglaze the pan with the wine and follow the recipe.

 

Beautiful Japanese Red Mustard

Beautiful Japanese Red Mustard

New Year’s Pork and Greens

 

Small pork roast, about 1 pound

2-3 pounds fresh greens (a mix of varieties is best for flavor)

2 cups dry white wine

1-2 tablespoons bacon fat

Granulated onion, garlic, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

 

In a large Dutch oven, heat the bacon fat over high heat.  Season the pork with salt and pepper and sear all sides in the hot bacon fat until lightly browned all over.  Remove meat from pot and lower heat to medium.  Carefully pour wine into the pot to deglaze, using a wooden spoon to scrape all bits that stick to the bottom of the pot.  Add seasonings and allow to cook over medium heat until slightly reduced, about 10 minutes.  Add pork to the pot and cover the meat with as many greens as the pot will allow.  Cover with the lid and allow greens to wilt.  Continue adding greens as space is available until all are in the pot.  Cover and cook over low to medium heat until the meat is tender and can be shredded, about an hour and a half to two hours.  Check often to be sure there is some liquid in the pot.  If the greens become dry, add water or chicken or beef stock, ½ cup at a time.  Adjust seasoning as needed.  Before serving, shred the pork and stir to combine the greens and meat.  Serve with hot cornbread.

 

The baby bok choys next called to me and I decided to incorporate them with the tiny colorful carrots in a stir-fry dish.  We visit the North Carolina coast as often as we can and always bring home fresh shrimp to store in the freezer.  For this recipe, I thawed one pound of beautiful native NC shrimp and peeled them.  If this dish were served to guests, I would devein the shrimp, but since it was just Richard and me, I only peeled them and gave them a quick rinse.

 

Vegetable Stir-Fry with Shrimp

 

1-2 cups Jasmine rice, cooked according to package directions (other rice may be substituted, but I love the fragrance of this type)

1 small squash, diced

½ cup asparagus spears, cut into 1-inch pieces, on a diagonal (I used frozen spears from my Spring garden, thawed)

½ cup onion, diced

¼ cup leek, diced

1/3 cup baby carrots, diced

1/3 cup corn kernels (I used heirloom Pencil Dent from my freezer and did not thaw it before adding to the mixture.)

6 Bok Choy, sliced lengthwise into quarters

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

 

In a large skillet, over high heat, add 2 tablespoons olive oil until hot.  Add rice and shake to remove excess moisture.  Lower heat to medium high and make a well in the center of rice and add shrimp, cooking until shrimp are turning pink on both sides.  Quickly add squash, asparagus, onion, leek and carrots.  Stir to combine and cook for about 1-2 minutes.  Add Bok Choy greens and stir to wilt.  Remove rice mixture from heat and stir in corn kernels.  Season with salt and pepper. 

*If you like spicy foods, serve this with your favorite hot sauce.  I make my own with firey hot heirloom peppers.  Soy sauce may also be added to individual servings. 

I consider it almost a sacrilege to cook fresh spinach from my garden.  It is incredibly sweet and nutty in its pure raw form and we often enjoy it in salads and on sandwiches; however, if I choose to use my spinach in a recipe, Giada De Laurentiis’s “Penne With Spinach Sauce,” found on the Food Network’s website, www.foodtv.com is worthy of my spinach.  Be sure to liberally line the serving bowl with fresh leaves and stir the hot pasta with them just long enough to allow them to wilt slightly. 

 

 

Today is Richard’s birthday and we are celebrating at home with a quiet dinner.  That fresh arugula from the farm is going to be the base of a salad and I am pan frying NC softshell crabs that have been in my freezer since their season ended.  A special surprise will be his favorite cheesecake, a pineapple one that I will serve slightly warm from the oven, just like he prefers it.  The salad recipe is my version of a dish we enjoyed while visiting friends, Kim and Jeffrey, in Ft. Lauderdale, last November.  Fresh arugula is my favorite salad green and the lump crabmeat I use is a North Carolina ingredient that is canned and kept refrigerated.  I make my own tartar sauce with fresh parsley, which I think really makes a delicious difference. 

Richard's birthday meal. Tartar Sauce, Arugula Crab Salad and Softshell crab

Richard’s birthday meal. Tartar Sauce, Arugula Crab Salad and Softshell crab

 

Arugula Crab Salad

 

1 handful of fresh arugula per serving

1 crispy store-bought tostada shell

1 large scoop of lump crabmeat per serving

 

Place one tostada shell on each serving plate.  Top with arugula dressed with the following:

 

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon golden balsamic vinegar

Juice from 1 lime

Juice from ½ lemon

Juice from 2 tangerines

¼ tsp sea salt

Few grinds of black pepper

Sprinkle of onion and garlic granules

2 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves stripped and stems discarded

 

Shake all ingredients in a small glass jar and use to dress arugula.

 

Top each salad with a large scoop of lump crabmeat and add a final drizzle of dressing to top the salad.

 

CB’s Tartar Sauce

 

1 cup prepared mayonaise

1 tablespoon finely diced dry shallot

1-2 tablespoons capers

1 teaspoon dill pickle relish

1 hard-boiled egg, diced

Dash of sea salt and few grinds black pepper

2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped

1 teaspoon lemon juice

 

Mix all ingredients together in small bowl and refrigerate overnight.

 

I will serve my final ingredient from the Winter Garden bounty, turnips, with a pat of local butter and a scattering of French grey sea salt.  Smear the scrubbed baby turnips with a tiny bit of butter and then dip into the salt.  There is no better way to enjoy these tasty treats. 

 

Happy Winter Gardening!


Heirloom Hopi Blue Corn

Heirloom Hopi Corn

 

            In March, 2013, I visited the Ashe County, North Carolina, annual seed swap.  In exchange for my grandmothers’ pea, bean and pumpkin seeds, I received several varieties of heirloom seeds for my garden.  The seed swap is a great way for gardeners to access different plants, network with others and pass a few pleasant hours.  There is no admission charge and attendees are not required to bring seeds.  In exchange for taking seeds, gardeners pledge to grow them and return the following year with more seeds to share with others. 

            I had heard of Hopi Blue corn, but had never seen it until I met a woman at the seed swap who brought seeds to share.  Impressed with the beautiful color and kernel size, I scooped some seeds into an envelope and engaged in an informative conversation about growing heirloom corn.  The Hopi Corn grower and I commiserated about attacks from crows, raccoons and other pests, but we agreed heirloom corn is worth the extra effort to protect it from invaders.  I thanked the seed saver and looked forward to planting her seeds at Heart & Sole Gardens.

            My almanac designated May 15, 2013, as a perfect day for planting above-ground crops, so I planted two short rows of Hopi corn.  As I dropped each of the 64 seeds, I said a silent prayer that they would be productive.  After covering the seeds, Richard and I stuck plastic pinwheels, children’s toys that twirl with the breeze, throughout each of the rows.  I hoped the whirling wheels would discourage crows from eating my seedlings. 

Richard places pinwheels among the Hopi corn rows.

Richard places pinwheels among the Hopi corn rows.

On May 23rd, I noted 63 small corn plants growing in the rows and there was no sign of crow attack, even though I often spied the hungry birds as they flew over the farm, loudly cawing.  When the corn grew in height and no longer appealed to crows, I removed the pinwheels and saved them for another crop. 

By mid-July, the Hopi corn was growing beautifully, even though most other crops suffered from too much rain.  Our western North Carolina farm was drenched for weeks and thick mud threatened to pull me to the ground as I slowly made my way along rows of rotting plants, many of which suffered from blights.  On July 29th, I pulled five ears of corn and I was surprised to see the shucked cobs were not blue at all; the kernels ranged in color from white to creamy yellow.  Even though I use no chemicals in my gardens, the Hopi corn was free of earworms and other pests and the silks just fell away from the cobs. 

I briefly cooked four ears in boiling, lightly salted water and Richard and I, along with our son, Clark, declared those Hopi corn ears to be the best we had ever tasted.  Clark, who is a classically-trained chef, cut the kernels from the last ear to add to a dish he created.  Early in the day, Clark foraged wild chanterelle mushrooms and he tossed those, along with steamed clams from the NC coast, pasta and fresh arugula from the farm, in a large skillet and added the Hopi corn kernels at the last moment.  Richard and I agreed it was one of the best meals we ever had.  In order to preserve some of that fresh taste, I pulled another five ears the following day and blanched and cut off the kernels and then stored the yield in my freezer. 

Chef Clark's special dish of clams, chanterelles, greens and Hopi corn

Chef Clark’s special dish of clams, chanterelles, greens and Hopi corn

 

By the middle of August, the Hopi corn was mature.  I pulled sixteen ears that did not develop, but they were perfect for pickling, so I packed them in a large Mason jar, along with some spicy hot heirloom peppers and a large clove of fresh farm garlic and filled the jar with pickling solution.  I stored the jar in the refrigerator and looked forward to enjoying those baby ears during the winter.

Hopi corn in the milk stage

Hopi corn in the milk stage

 

 Of the remaining, mature ears, I left some shucks intact and tied butcher’s twine around the base.  In order to protect the corn from pests as it dried, I hung twenty-four ears from a curtain rod in an upstairs bedroom and I suspended the remaining twenty-nine ears from my dining room curtain rod.  Of the eighty Hopi corn ears I harvested, I only discarded one that was too dry for fresh eating, too mature for pickling and not mature enough for drying, but a squirrel thoroughly enjoyed eating it from my compost bucket! 

Hopi corn drying in my dining room

Hopi corn drying in my dining room

 

 

After the corn dried for over two months, I purchased a small grinder and ground some of the kernels.  The cornbread I made from the meal was a lovely lavender color and the Hopi blueberry mini muffins were beautiful.  And taste?  Absolutely delicious. 

Cornbread made with Hopi Blue cornmeal

Cornbread made with Hopi Blue cornmeal

 

 

Sixty-four seeds yielded eighty ears of Hopi Blue corn, with only a single ear to discard.  Although another heirloom corn crop, Pencil Dent corn, also produced abundantly, for beauty, flavor and versatility, Hopi Blue is my favorite.

Dried Hopi Blue corn seed

Dried Hopi Blue corn seed

 

To view a brief video about removing dry kernels from Hopi Blue corn ears, visit:

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRuBcdNd8FI

 

Hopi Blue Corn Mini Muffins

 

1 cup finely ground Hopi Blue cornmeal

½ tsp. sea salt

1 tsp baking powder

¼ cup sugar

1 egg

1 tsp vegetable oil

½ cup buttermilk

1 tablespoon sour cream

 

Mix all ingredients thoroughly and allow to rest while preparing blueberry mixture.

 

¼ cup frozen blueberries (do not thaw)

3 tablespoons melted butter

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 tsp flour

 

Melt butter in glass container, add sugar and flour and stir to combine.  Add frozen blueberries and stir quickly.  Butter mixture will adhere to frozen berries.

Spray mini-muffin pan with baking spray.  Place a few coated berries in each muffin cup.  Top with enough cornmeal mixture to fill each cup a little more than half full.

 

Bake in a preheated oven at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes or until golden.  Immediately remove muffins to a plate and serve warm.

 

Magic Bean Hummus!

Granny's Squash Blossoms are stuffed with hummus made from Granny's Beans and garnished with edible bean blossoms

Granny’s Squash Blossoms are stuffed with hummus made from Granny’s Beans and garnished with edible bean blossoms

DSCF0222          

  Last week, Richard and I worked at the farm and it was a nice change of pace to be able to cultivate semi-dry soil.  I replaced about twenty dead tomato and pepper plants with others I started from seed weeks ago and set out the last eggplants, in hopes they will be strong enough to withstand flea beetle attacks.  Just before (another) thunderstorm blew in, we also planted two rows of Granny’s beans.  Mountain White Half-Runner might be the name most people associate with this type of bean, but I know them as “Granny’s Beans” and believe they are truly magic. 

Granny's Beans may be shelled when mature and used to make a delicious hummus

Granny’s Beans may be shelled when mature and used to make a delicious hummus

            I first planted Granny’s saved seeds, stored in my parents’ freezer since Granny’s death, in 1986, in 2009.  Impressed by the vigor of those plants and the huge yield, I am now a believer in the power of these special seeds and I save them every year.  While I was picking some of Granny’s beans, planted on Good Friday, I marveled at the sweet taste of the fresh bean pod I popped into my mouth and realized these beans are as versatile as any crop that can be grown.  Picked young, they are wonderful additions to salads, both raw and lightly steamed.  They may be pickled, cooked as snap beans or shelled when they are mature.  Although I prefer to can Granny’s Beans, they may also be frozen and the shelled beans are easy to dry for long-term storage.  The blossoms are even delightfully tasty, not to mention beautiful!

            After I picked beans, I walked to another field, where Granny’s squash (also grown from her saved seeds) are growing, I was thrilled to find a small straightneck, just ready to be picked.  On the same plant, several beautiful yellow blossoms were in full bloom and I plucked a few to take home.  Squash and beans are a traditional Southern food combination and cooks often add summer squash and potatoes to a pot of cooked beans for a delicious, one-dish meal. 

Granny's Beans, cooked in Grandmother Barlowe's cast iron pot, are delicious when topped with fresh squash and potatoes.

Granny’s Beans, cooked in Grandmother Barlowe’s cast iron pot, are delicious when topped with fresh squash and potatoes.

            When I looked at the squash blossoms and fresh beans in my basket, I decided to try a new recipe.  With a nod to that squash/bean pot dish and because I love stuffed squash blossoms, I was inspired to make hummus from the shelled fresh beans and serve it as a stuffing for the blossoms.  Just before leaving the farm, I ran back to the bean row to pick a few blossoms to use as a garnish and to add even more fresh bean flavor.

            Usually, I “field dress” squash blossoms while I am in the garden, but since my hands were pretty dirty from the still damp soil, I removed the stamens back home in my kitchen.  Although edible, the stamens are bitter and it is better to remove them before using squash blossoms.  After the blossoms were cleaned, I put them on a paper towel while I made the hummus. 

 

Remove the stamen from the squash blossom center before stuffing.

Remove the stamen from the squash blossom center before stuffing.

            “Magic bean” hummus just might be the best hummus I ever tasted and the fresh, shelled beans were beautiful shades of green and white.  If you try this recipe, use only a tiny bit of salt.  After making the hummus, you can always add more, to taste, but the heat of the red pepper is really the flavor pop in this dish.  Because I am just that “crazy,” I used one of the dried peppers Granny shared with my mother.  (See post from April 12th)  Probably close to thirty years it has been stored in the blue glass jar and still packs a punch.  This dish was truly a Granny Tribute.  Bon Appetit! 

 

Granny's Beans, fresh, shelled and lightly cooked.

Granny’s Beans, fresh, shelled and lightly cooked. 

Magic Bean Hummus

1/3 cup fresh shelled white beans

½ clove garlic, minced (I used fresh from the garden, but any garlic will work)

1 teaspoon tahini

½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice

¼ tsp hot pepper flakes

Pinch of salt

1-2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

 

Add a small pinch of salt (I used French Grey sea salt) to beans in a pot.  Add water to cover and gently boil for about 3-5 minutes, until beans are tender.  Drain water from beans and place slightly cooled beans in a blender or food processor.  Add garlic, lemon juice, tahini, salt and red pepper.  Blend ingredients until smooth.  Add olive oil in a steady, thin stream while blender or processor is working until hummus is desired consistency.  For as little waste as possible, use a plastic spatula to remove hummus.

Use a plastic zip lock bag to pipe the hummus into each squash blossom.  Easy to use, clean up is a breeze and there is no waste of precious ingredient.

Use a plastic zip lock bag to pipe the hummus into each squash blossom. Easy to use, clean up is a breeze and there is no waste of precious ingredient.

 

 

Stuffed Squash Blossoms

 

Gently clean (if necessary) four squash blossoms and remove stamens from the centers of each. 

 

Fill a plastic, zip lock bag with hummus and cut a small hole in one corner.  Squeezing the bag, pipe mixture into the center of each blossom.  Garnish with fresh bean blossoms.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.  (May be made up to one day before serving.)

Come Again Another Day!

Granny'scukeswitheggs          Rain, rain, go away!  This has been my daily mantra for the past few weeks.  Never has our farm been so flooded for so long.  The drive between fields that usually allows safe passage, even for my car, is now covered with about four inches of water that is home to thousands of mosquito larvae.  “Wigglers” could be killed with a dose of insecticide, but such an application would derail our organic purpose, so Richard and I scratch nasty bites and pray for dry weather every day.  It’s hard to believe how dry, in comparison, this season was last year; we actually had seven weeks without rain and had to water some plants, just to help them survive.  As in all things, Nature needs a balance of important components to thrive and produce and achieving that recipe of just the right amount of sunlight, rain, warm and cool temperatures is not always possible.

 

 

          Of course, the incessant rain and frequent storms mean that Heart & Sole Gardens has suffered crop loss.  Thankfully, not to the extent of other, industrial farms, but enough that I hope the remaining plants will produce enough fruit and vegetables that will allow me to preserve food for the winter.  By the time tomato season ended last year, I had canned over ninety quarts of tomatoes and we have less than ten of those remaining.  Of the twenty-eight quarts of tomato sauces I canned, only a couple are unopened.  Canned tomato juice and pickled tomatoes are also depleted and, while I am thankful for all the preserved harvest we enjoyed throughout the winter and spring, I hope to replenish my shelves with this season’s tomatoes. 

 

 

          Granny’s Beans, my maternal grandmother’s (Lora Bolick Minton) heirloom White Mountain Half-Runners, are beginning to produce well, even though I only planted a short row.  Another planting has germinated and is beginning to grow, so I hope to have lots of later beans for canning.  Yesterday, I canned Dilly Beans, a pickled treat my family loves.  The recipe is from my husband’s maternal grandmother, Vestal Coffey Anderson, and her handwritten copy, a wedding gift to me, is a treasured gift.  I love the recipe and, except for the salt, water, and vinegar, all ingredients packed into pint jars were grown by us.  A special bonus is the dill and beans, both grown from seeds saved by Granny.  This year marks the first time this particular dill seed has been grown since circa 1985!  I plan to gather all the seed I can save from these special plants. 

 

 Granny'swhitecuke

          Although many plants are still struggling with mud and too much water, I am pleased to note Granny’s white cucumbers are now beginning to produce.  I picked three small ones and we enjoyed them with Sunday evening’s meal.  Thinly sliced, each person was able to sample some of these treats and I hope there will be many more, both for pickles and for seed saving. 

Gran Anderson's famous Dilly Beans, made with Granny's heirloom beans.

Gran Anderson’s famous Dilly Beans, made with Granny’s heirloom beans.

Gran Anderson’s Dilly Beans

 

4 pints fresh young beans, ends trimmed and strings removed

2 cups white vinegar

1 ¾ cups water

4 tablespoons kosher or sea salt (not iodized)

3 tablespoons sugar (optional, I omit this)

4 cloves garlic

8 sprigs fresh dill

1 teaspoon dried hot pepper flakes

 

Prepare a hot water bath for canning by placing a heavy-bottomed stock pot, filled with enough water to completely cover the pint jars, on a hot stovetop.

Place new jar lids and rings in a small pot of hot water, place on low heat on stovetop.

Gather tools for removing hot lids from water and for placing and removing jars from water bath.

In a large saucepan, heat vinegar, water and salt (sugar, if used) mixture and stir until seasonings are dissolved.  Allow to cool on stovetop while preparing beans.

Blanch beans by cooking in boiling water for about 10 minutes, immediately drain and place beans in ice water.

In each of 4 pint jars, pack the following:

1 garlic clove

2 sprigs fresh dill

¼ teaspoon pepper flakes

Beans, placed vertically, until jar is packed as tightly as possible.  Be sure beans are about an inch shorter than the top of the jar.

Pour brine over beans, leaving about ½ inch headspace.

Carefully wipe jar rims with a clean cloth and place lids on top.  Screw rings tightly to secure.

Place jars in water bath and process for 10 minutes.

Last year, I added fresh, sliced jalapeno to these Dilly Beans for an extra kick.  Hope to do so again this year when peppers are in season.

Last year, I added fresh, sliced jalapeno to these Dilly Beans for an extra kick. Hope to do so again this year when peppers are in season.

 

 

Woes of Weeding

          After days and days of steady rain, interspersed with occasional ferocious thunderstorms, crops at Heart & Sole Gardens are becoming weed-infested.  June 11th was the first day in recent memory with no rain in the forecast and I decided to take advantage of the bright sun and damp soil, so I headed to the farm with weed-gripping gloves, given to me by daughter Kate, my trusty heart-shaped hoe and a small forked hand tool that is great for loosening weed roots from those of plants I actually want to grow.  When I saw deep mud standing in most of the fields, I pulled on my knee-high rubber boots.

          Upon arrival, my worst fears were confirmed; okra and beans, plants that should have been growing in rows, were almost hidden by an assortment of rapidly spreading weeds.  How do weeds grow much faster than plants we try to grow?  And, have you noticed how many weeds mimic the “good” plants growing close to them?  For example, there is a type of morning glory at the farm that intermingles with beans and the leaves of those two plants are almost identical at certain growth stages.  Last year, I discovered the vetch I thought I was weeding was actually my black garbanzo beans!  Vetch actually is not an abundant weed at Heart & Sole, but it certainly became a “friend” of those beans, much to my dismay. 

Weeds almost obliterate a row of young okra.

Weeds almost obliterate a row of young okra.

          I first set to work with the okra “row” and after crab-walking and hand pulling, I was rewarded with a nice row of okra plants.  Since one variety did not germinate with the first planting, I finished the empty space with another type of seed.  Next, the Cherokee Trail of Tears black beans’ row emerged as I diligently pulled weeds and smashed Mexican Bean Beetles as they feasted on tender bean leaves.  Pleased to note only one small spot of yellow bug eggs, I hope to keep the adult pests under control before they can breed more of their kind. 

Pest Nemesis:  Mexican Bean Beetle

Pest Nemesis: Mexican Bean Beetle

Okra plants, able to breathe after weeds are removed.

Okra plants, able to breathe after weeds are removed.

          Friends often comment about what hard work is required to hand weed.  True, it is not pleasant to squat low to the ground for hours on end, but hand weeding is the most effective method of clearing space for plants to grow.  Every time I weed, I recall a story told to me by a man whose father was a World War II Bataan Death March survivor.  After being captured by Japanese soldiers, this man’s father was made to walk, with hundreds of other prisoners, for miles and miles.  During “rest” breaks, prisoners were forced to squat for hours without allowing knees or other body parts to touch the ground.  If a man became too exhausted to hold the pose, he was shot.  When I weed, squatting in position for the time required, I always remember that story and I imagine how grateful those prisoners would have been to have a task that kept their minds occupied and off the terrible waiting.   Hand weeding is certainly not the worst job.

          After admiring the two beautiful vegetable rows, I took a “break” to dig a few potatoes.  Not from our 2013 rows, but from potato plants that emerged in areas where last year’s crop grew.  Overlooked tubers and cut pieces, turned under in the soil last fall, have become strong plants, producing potatoes that are beautiful and delicious.  Since we plan to grow other crops in this field a bit later, I acted as gleaner and harvested potatoes that would, otherwise, be wasted.  In a short time, working in soft soil, I had about five pounds of potatoes in my basket.  Red Thumb, a rose colored fingerling that is pink inside, Purple Majesty, a deep purple potato that has a juicy, dark purple, almost beetlike, flesh and French Fingerling, a light pink-skinned potato with golden flesh, highlighted with a dark pink ring, were prizes I found and I looked forward to using them in a fresh potato salad. 

          With the potato basket safely stored in a shady spot, (potatoes should never be exposed to sunlight) I headed across the small stream that bisects the farm to the field where Granny’s beans are growing.  Thrilled to see tiny beans forming and vines climbing their twine trellis, I set to work to rid the row of weeds.  With the twine and stakes in place among the bean plants, I first weeded one side and then headed down the other side to pull remaining weeds I was unable to reach on my first pass.  Almost to the end of my task, I realized the day had become very warm and I needed to stop for a drink of refreshing, hydrating water.  Promising myself I would finish in just a few minutes, I spied a Mexican Bean Beetle and decided to take a quick photo of him before his life ended.  With my phone in hand, I attempted to step over the twine trellis, but my boot, weighted with heavy mud, caught in the top layer of twine and over I went, my arm catching on the twine and then breaking it as I fell into the muddy garden.  Saying words I shouldn’t have, I pulled my phone from where it was buried in mud and took stock of my injuries.  The twine scraped my arm, just below the elbow, and there was a bit of blood, but the injury didn’t look too bad.  My shoulder caught the brunt of the fall and I knew I would pay for that later, but I brushed off as much of the dirt and mud as I could and repaired the broken twine.  Next, I finished weeding the beans and squashed every beetle I could find.

Score: Weeds, 1; Arm, 0

Score: Weeds, 1; Arm, 0

          After harvesting a basket of beautiful Rocky Top mix lettuces, digging four huge garlic bulbs, pulling a few tiny carrots and picking a handful of peas, I decided to call it quits for the day.  Another row of beans needed attention, but I just couldn’t make myself pull one more weed.  My shoulder was beginning to stiffen and a startling bruise was emerging on my arm. 

          After showering, I took stock of my body.  The bruise on my arm was swollen and already beginning to form some interesting colors.  Other bruises were appearing on my legs and other arm and a catch in my back was noticeable, but, for the most part, I seemed to be in pretty good shape after that spill.  With an aging body, I guess I just don’t bounce the way I used to. 

          I have spent the past few days resting my arm to allow it to heal.  I know those farm weeds are gleefully growing and trying to choke my plants, but I offer them fair warning:  I will be back!

Those weeds better beware!

Those weeds better beware!

 

If you are fortunate enough to find some newly dug small potatoes and fresh lettuce mix at your farmer’s market or in your garden, you might like to try this recipe.  Seasonal and delicious, it’s perfect as a side dish or a main course for warm summer evenings. 

 

Fresh Potato Salad with Roasted Garlic Dressing

Fresh Potato Salad with Roasted Garlic Dressing

Fresh Potato Salad with Roasted Garlic Dressing

 

About one pound of scrubbed fresh potatoes, left whole if small, or cut into bite-sized pieces

Cook potatoes in boiling water, seasoned with sea salt, until softened, careful not to overcook, drain water and allow potatoes to cool and add the following to potatoes, tossing to mix:

1 teaspoon olive oil

2-3 fresh sage leaves, chopped

1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped

½ tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, chopped

2 sprigs fresh thyme leaves, discard woody stem

 

Place about 4 cups of fresh spring lettuce mix in a large bowl

Meanwhile, make dressing:

1 whole garlic bulb, roasted, soft garlic removed, place in blender
Add ¼ cup olive oil and the following:
1 tablespoon honey (local, raw is best)
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar or herbed vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Juice from ½ fresh lemon
Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
Blend until smooth and add to fresh salad greens. Toss to coat.

Top salad with potatoes.  Serve with crusty bread.

 

Di-VINE Cukes!

Granny's Heirloom White Cukes, Growing from 2012 Seeds

Granny’s Heirloom White Cukes, Growing from 2012 Seeds

          I know people who do not like cucumbers.  Not many, but a few.  Personally, I love cucumbers, especially when they are fresh and crunchy.  Add them, sliced or chopped, to a sandwich or wrap already loaded with fresh summer goodies, and I am a happy camper.  And then, there is a tasty treat that is a staple at my home:  pickled cucumbers.  My family absolutely loves anything pickled, but cucumbers are by far the favorite.   Every summer, I pack my largest jars full of fresh cucumbers, herbs, hot peppers, spices and a healthy dose of our dried pepper flakes.  After pouring a pickling solution over the ingredients, I store the jars in my basement refrigerator.  When our children were young, they dubbed these “Kick Your Can Pickles” because they were so spicy.  Often, I would bring a jar to the kitchen during the winter and they would disappear in one evening. 

          When I was a child, I remember a large crock that stood on Granny’s kitchen counter.  Inside was a delicious pickle she made with her small white heirloom cucumbers which she called “Salt Water Pickles.”  I loved these pickles best of all and, sadly, do not have her recipe.  When she gave me her recycled notebook full of special recipes, many in her handwriting, it was not included.  I am afraid the salt water pickles, her creamy “Soupy Potatoes” and her peppery cream gravy were dishes she just knew how to make, so the recipes were never recorded. 

          Although I do not have Granny’s special pickle recipe, I do have seeds from her cucumbers.  A small jar of cucumber seeds was included in the treasure trove of seeds my parents gave me.  I first grew Granny’s cucumbers three years ago, but it was not a good year for cucumbers at our farm.  Excited to see Granny’s white cucumbers (and an equally delicious small green cucumber she grew) for the first time in over twenty-five years, we eagerly ate the first fruits.  When production suddenly stopped and the vines died, I was saddened to think I missed an opportunity to save seeds for future planting.  With only a few seeds left in the jar, last year I gave Granny’s cucumbers a special place in my garden, prayed over the tiny seeds and diligently cared for the vines.  Fortunately, I saved seeds from several fruits, but I found that saving viable cucumber seeds is a difficult task.  The fruit must be overly ripe, almost to the point of rotting, before seeds are harvested.  I slice the cucumber in half, lengthwise, then scoop seeds and pulp with a large metal spoon into a glass jar, add water to cover and give it a good stir.  The mixture must stand, uncovered and not refrigerated, for about three days and should be stirred each day.  Seeds left too long in water will begin to germinate, so they must be removed before that happens.  Next, I add fresh water and pour off the mixture that floats to the top.  Viable seeds float to the bottom, so I try to get many of the floaters off before I place the remaining seeds in a large sieve.  After a good washing, I spread the seeds onto parchment paper or newspaper and allow them to dry for several days.  If seeds curl, they are not good.  The first time I attempted to save Granny’s cucumber seeds, I left them in water too long and with my second try, there were few good seeds, so perhaps the fruit was not quite ready.  Finally, I was able to store two small containers, one with white cucumber seeds and the other with green, in my freezer, but it was with trepidation I planted the seeds a few weeks ago.  I just can’t let Granny’s cucumbers die in my hands; I am hopeful I can pass these special seeds to my children and they, in turn, to their children. 

          On May 15th, I planted Granny’s cucumbers, one hill with white seeds and another with green.  On the 27th, I joyfully recorded in my garden notebook:  Granny’s White Cukes Up! and I replanted green cucumber seeds that day.  Rain has kept me from the farm for a couple of days, but I am hopeful we will enjoy Granny’s cucumbers this summer and I will successfully save seeds for next year. 

Planted on May 15, 2013, these four cukes popped up on May 27th.

Planted on May 15, 2013, these four cukes popped up on May 27th.

          If you have an abundant crop of fresh cucumbers and would like to make refrigerator pickles, try this recipe.  I am excited that, for the first year, I also have a pot of Granny’s dill growing at my home.  These heirloom seeds are incredible!

 

Granny's Dill, growing from seed she saved in the 1980s.

Granny’s Dill, growing from seed she saved in the 1980s.

Refrigerator Pickles, aka “Kick Your Can Pickles”

 

In a large glass jar, preferably one with a wide mouth, place a few sprigs of fresh dill, a couple of garlic cloves and about 1 teaspoon of whole black peppercorns.  Add a fresh jalapeno, sliced in half lengthwise, and about ½ teaspoon dried pepper flakes.  Pack the jar tightly with cucumbers, whole or sliced.  Pour the following brine over the cucumbers and wipe the mouth of the jar before tightly securing the lid.  Store pickles in the refrigerator.  After a few days, taste to check for “pickling” and enjoy whenever you are in the mood for a spicy pickle. 

 

Brine (may be doubled, if needed)

2 cups white vinegar

1 ¾ cups water

4 tablespoons salt

In a large saucepan, heat vinegar, salt and water over medium heat, stirring mixture occasionally, until salt is dissolved.  Allow to cool before adding to pickles.

Spring Planting Struggles

Read my article in Our State Magazine about Organic Pest Control:  http://www.ourstate.com/organic-gardening-and-pest-control/

 

My corner of North Carolina is experiencing a long, wet, cool Spring.  Frequent rain showers and sometimes below-freezing night temperatures slowed my planting for this season and this past Tuesday, May 21st, was the first day I dared to take the first tomato plants to the farm.  All my tomato plants are heirlooms, started from seed at my home and I treat them as the “babies” they are from seed to seedling.  With only a chance of afternoon showers and a dry weekend forecast, it looked as if Tuesday would be a good day to begin the transplanting process.  Plus, it was a favorable planting day, according to the lunar calendar.

tomatococktailinhole clarkplanting

Luckily, I had help from my son, Clark, (www.heirloomrestaurantnc.com) and we quickly set to work in the areas designated for this year’s tomato plants.  Clark and I dug holes and placed a cocktail in each: about 1 tablespoon of Epsom salts, for a dose of magnesium, a good pinch of organic bone meal for phosphorus, a small handful of eggshells for calcium and a spade of compost for a wealth of nutrients.  (Note:  I saved eggshells since last year’s planting season and they are all from happy, local chickens.  After a quick rinse, I allow them to dry and then crush them and save them in recycled containers with lids.)  With all ingredients in the hole, I work them together with my hands, just as you might knead bread dough.  Adding soil to the cocktail, I then place the tomato plant as deeply as possible and fill in garden soil until the plant’s leaves are just above the ground level.  Clark and I placed thick layers of newspaper around each plant and then added a wire cage to contain the growing plant.  Finally, I fold duct tape (I only use ShurTape, manufactured in NC!) around one of the wires and use a permanent marker to label the enclosed plant.  Tomato planting is time-consuming labor, but Clark and I proudly looked over the thirty-two new farm residents and planned for Wednesday’s planting.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

On Wednesday, our work seemed to go a bit faster, probably because threatening clouds moved in as the afternoon progressed.  We completed the row we began yesterday, bringing our total to forty-six and started a new one.  Clark dug 28 holes and worked as quickly as possible to add the cocktail mixture.  The wind picked up and newspapers began to fly across the fields, costing us valuable minutes as we ran to retrieve them.  When the rain started, I scurried to the truck and loaded all our tools, etc., in the back as Clark finished placing newspapers around the last tomatoes in the row.  We jumped into the truck, drenched to the skin, just as a powerful thunderstorm unleashed its fury.  Rain dripped steadily from my hat and I quickly removed it to stop the inside shower.  As we drove away, straining our eyes to see through the windshield that rapidly moving wipers could not clear, we crossed our fingers and hoped our plants would be spared the worst of the storm’s wrath.

Ten miles away, at our home, the storm continued to rage all through the evening.  At one point, I saw small hailstones falling on my deck and I prayed the tomato plants would not be beaten by an assault.  Thursday dawned cloudy and downed tree limbs and debris were reminders of the storm.  By afternoon, the skies cleared and Clark and I decided to drive to the farm and inspect the damage. 

Donning my knee-high rubber boots, I made my way through mud that was so deep and thick, it threatened to pull me to the ground.  Not since 2008 has Heart & Sole Gardens been so mired in mud or had so much standing water.  Last year’s spring flood, which caused us to lose our pea crop, some tomato plants and a lot of potatoes, did not compare to this deluge.  Compounding the problem is a drainage ditch, constructed by our state workers, that borders our property.  DOT workers spent hours last summer working to trench the ditch in an attempt to resolve water runoff issues caused by a highway, but since they failed to use tools that would have helped them direct the water flow in the correct direction, it now stands, stagnant and pondlike, making a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes.  While Clark and I struggled to walk through the deep mud, these pests descended upon us.  According to the state official who inspected the work, eventually enough silt will collect in this “pond” and cause the water to flow toward a small creek.  After the effects of this storm, I doubt that “correction” will happen in my lifetime.  Meanwhile, our farm is forced to deal with the effects of a poorly executed job.

Incorrectly constructed drainage ditch, courtesy of NCDOT.

Incorrectly constructed drainage ditch, courtesy of NCDOT.

When I finally came close enough to look for the newly planted tomatoes, I had to pause to mourn those completely submerged in water.  Not a single leaf was visible in the murky water.  Saddened, I left to cut asparagus and thankfully, that perennial bed is in an area that, so far, has not been flooded.  Today’s bright sunshine and brisk breezes will help to dry the farm, but I am afraid we will lose many of the seventy-four babies we so carefully planted; therefore, I am planning to replace lost plants with others from the greenhouse. 

A row of drowned tomatoes, just planted the day before.

A row of drowned tomatoes, just planted the day before.

Somewhere, under that water, is an heirloom tomato plant.

Somewhere, under that water, is an heirloom tomato plant.

Fingers are crossed for heirloom tomatoes this summer. 

Some of last year's tomato harvest.

Some of last year’s tomato harvest.

Love Apple Season

Csikos Botermo, First Love

Csikos Botermo, First Love

Tomato planting is just around the corner in my North Carolina area and I am looking forward to putting my “babies” in the ground.  I am far behind the past few years’ planting schedule, but a long, cool, wet Spring has slowed my steps and the 2008 season is still fresh in my memory.  The cool, wet days of that year led to a blight that wiped out our 150+ tomato plants and I am just not ready to take the chance of losing my tender seedlings to Mother Nature’s unpredictable weather pattern.  Every plant in my greenhouse was started from seed and some of them look pretty fragile, but warm sunshine and just the right amount of rain will give them a needed boost and they will catch up with those department store plants I have grudgingly admired.  Although I am tempted to buy a plant that already has fruit hanging, I remind myself the plants I grow will produce tastier fruit than any of those hybrids. 

The first big crop of tomatoes at Heart & Sole was planted in 2008.  Richard and I were proud of the Big Boys, Better Boys and Romas that grew tall and became loaded with fruit, but we were devastated when late spring rains came and the plants developed late blight.  Within days, almost all plants were affected.  Although no tomato plant (or potato) is immune to blights, after our experience, we decided to grow only heirloom varieties, started from seed, in our gardens. 

          Our daughter, Kate, a self-professed tomato connoisseur, was suspicious of the various colors, shapes and sizes we planned to grow in 2009.  She asked that we plant “lots of those big red beefsteaks,” because they were her favorites.  I found an heirloom beefsteak variety and we did include plenty of those, along with intriguing new ones.  At the height of tomato season, we covered a huge platter with tomato slices and conducted a “taste test” lunch.  The only slices that were uneaten were red beefsteaks and Kate had to admit they were no longer her favorite!

Platter of sliced heirloom tomatoes.  A delicious luncheon taste-testing treat!

Platter of sliced heirloom tomatoes. A delicious luncheon taste-testing treat!

          After growing over ninety varieties of heirloom tomatoes, I am often asked which tomato is my favorite.  The answer: each one is a favorite for different reasons.  Cream Sausage, a white paste tomato, is best for canning and making white tomato bisque soup.  Amish Paste and Japanese Plum are best for fresh salsa.  Great Whites, with their huge size and slightly garlic flavor, are perfect for sandwiches.  Green Zebras’ salt content makes them the best choice for eating fresh, without added salt.  Red, Yellow and Ivory Pear, Black Cherry, Snowberry, Isis Candy and Fox Cherry make a beautifully colored addition to salads or pies. A. Grappoli D’Iverno and Principe Borghese are best for drying.  Reisetomate, with a strange brain-like shape, is a great conversation food and who could possibly resist tiny Sungold, eaten fresh off the vine? 

          Although each tomato I grow is a favorite, I have to confess there is one variety that holds a special place in my garden.  Csikos Botermo is not one of the more beautiful tomatoes.  With a thick skin, seedy flesh and a tendency to develop small spots on its striped top, this tomato is not easy to slice, is not conducive to juicing, is not suitable for drying or canning and does not really have an outstanding flavor.  So why am I partial to a tomato with a name that I am not even sure I can pronounce?  Because, in 2009, Csikos Botermo was the first heirloom tomato, started from seed planted in my basement, to ripen.  You could compare my relationship with this tomato to first love.  That giddy, joyous feeling that makes the whole world look brighter, prettier, and causes one to smile.  So, when I walk along my rows of tomatoes, I always pause to admire Csikos Botermo.  Maybe not the tomato anyone else would even notice, but the one I absolutely have to grow every year.  Csikos Botermo: First Love.  Easy to understand why the French call tomatoes pomme d’amour, “love apples.” 

          During the next few weeks, I plan to post notes about the various tomatoes we have grown at Heart & Sole Gardens.  Please remember that my notes are subjective and reflect opinions about tomato varieties’ productivity during particular seasons and growing conditions.  I encourage any gardener to plant a variety of heirloom tomato types and taste the fruits of each.  Taste is a personal prerogative and each individual needs to decide which varieties best suit a gardener’s needs and desires.  Undoubtedly, there can be no more satisfying “taste test” than a platter full of heirloom tomato slices, so enjoy the process!

Flavorful combinations of tomatoes make this sauce the perfect winter "fast food."

Flavorful combinations of tomatoes make this sauce the perfect winter “fast food.”

 

 

In The Weeds!

asparagusweedsAsparagus before weeding

To read my post for Our State Magazine, follow this link:  http://www.ourstate.com/grow-asparagus/ 

After yesterday’s drenching NC rain, a weak Spring sun was out today and I knew I had to face one of gardening’s most dreaded tasks . . .WEEDING!  When my son, an executive chef, says he is “in the weeds,” he means the kitchen staff is overwhelmed with orders and his staff has to scramble to achieve the optimum balance required to please restaurant guests.  When I am “in the weeds,” that term constitutes an entirely different meaning. 

Why is it that weeds triple in size in a matter of hours when it takes plants we try to grow much longer?  Also, have you noticed that many weeds mimic the look of plants growing nearby?  In my herb bed, I discovered a “new” weed this year, lurking in my thyme plants.  With its trailing tendrils and tiny leaves, I had to look closely (and even smell it!) to be sure it wasn’t thyme.  Last year, I planted black garbanzo beans, a new crop for me, and learned a painful lesson when they began to grow.  Unfamiliar with the foliage of young garbanzo bean plants, I mistakenly pulled many of them, thinking they were vetch, a weed that was growing alongside.  By the time I realized my mistake, the damage was done.  There are also weeds that look like marigolds, eggplants and mums.  I am grateful to my grandmother, Lora Minton, who gave me invaluable training in weed identification.  Recently, I saw a woman using a chemical spray to kill weeds in her flower bed, where her young granddaughter was playing.  I know herbicides make weeding easier, but I was saddened to realize the missed educational opportunity those two could have shared. 

            Most gardeners can easily name their nemesis, that most hated and hardest to control weed.  I once read that if you were unsure whether a plant is a weed or not, try pulling it.  If it comes out easily, it is something you wanted to grow; if it is resistant, it’s a weed. I love a morning glory for their beautiful blooms, but there is a kind of morning glory that grows at the farm that is very different from those pretty garden types.  I think the name of this particular plant is “Grab Ankle and Throw Person to the Ground” Morning Glory, but I could be mistaken.  Seriously, these weeds have sticky tendrils that are deceptively strong and the vines could probably be used in tractor pulls!  In addition to a tap root that can reach about 5 inches in length, these weeds grow at an incredible rate and spread in diameter.  Last summer, I witnessed an incident that made me realize weeds torment animals, as well as humans.  

 

I was cutting okra and noticed something small and brown jump from the weeds at my foot.  I first thought it was a toad because we have lots of those at the farm, but it was a baby rabbit.  He scooted off into another bunch of weeds (sigh) to hide and as I stepped by his previous hiding place, I heard something scurry out behind me.  Actually, it sounded pretty loud, so I expected a large animal when I turned to look.  It was the mother rabbit and she was running for cover when one of those killer morning glories became wrapped around the rabbit’s neck.  There was a moment of eye-rolling, flailing in all directions and a mad pirouette before the animal broke free and dove for cover.  I had to laugh aloud! 

Although weeds certainly make gardening more difficult, some varieties are quite tasty.  When my daughter was in middle school, she told me about a fast-food meal she enjoyed while visiting at a friend’s home.  “You,” she noted, “just go out in the yard and pick stuff for us to eat!”  Her comment was not meant as a compliment, but now that Kate lives a big-city life as a young career-driven professional, she has come to appreciate local food, even weeds!  If you have access to chemical-free weeds, try this tasty and healthy dish: 

Weedy Pasta 

3-4 cups dandelion greens, washed and shredded 

2 cups cooked pasta (any type) 

2 wild onions, washed and white parts diced 

1 tablespoon olive oil 

Sea Salt & Freshly ground black pepper, to taste 

Grated Parmesan cheese 

Cook pasta, according to directions, drain and set aside.  Heat oil in a Dutch oven, add onion and saute until translucent.  Add pasta and stir to combine with onion.  Add greens and cook with pasta until wilted.  Season with salt/pepper and top servings with cheese.

Asparagus after weeding

Asparagus after weeding

 

 

 

 

Sometimes, It is About Knowing the Questions to Ask . . .

Does this jar hold the seeds for this year's pepper crop at Heart & Sole Gardens?

Does this jar hold the seeds for this year’s pepper crop at Heart & Sole Gardens?

In the past few days, I faced the fact that the old seeds I rediscovered in my garage are probably not going to germinate.  Extreme temperatures and improper storage have robbed them of life and they do not appear to be viable.  I mourn their loss, but at the same time, I rejoice in the living seeds I have, treasured heirloom seeds that once thrived in my grandmothers’ gardens and now grow in mine. 

While planting pepper seeds last week, I recalled Granny dried her beautiful peppers and hung them from strings.  During the winter, she added them to many dishes she prepared, giving a spicy heat to beans, meats and other cold-winter meals.  When spring planting time arrived, her pepper pods served as perfect seed-storage containers.  With this memory fresh in mind, I called my mother.  I told her how I remembered the long strings of dried peppers and how I wished I had taken a strand from Granny’s home when she died, in 1986.  To my surprise, my mother asked, “Would you like to have the peppers I have?”  I never thought to ask if she had any, but Granny gave my mother a beautiful blue Mason jar, complete with a glass “sealer” in the lid, full of her dried peppers.  Her instructions, my mother said, were to put them in any cooked dish she wished to add heat.  The answer to my mother’s question was a joyous, resounding, “YES!  I would love to have the peppers!”  

After so many years stored in this beautiful jar, I had to taste the pepper seeds.

After so many years stored in this beautiful jar, I had to taste the pepper seeds.

I drove to my parents’ home and my mother handed me the jar.  I immediately opened the lid and removed a pepper, grown by Granny, and admired the beautiful color it still held.  Breaking the pod open, I placed a seed on my tongue and offered some to my parents.  My mother was brave enough to try, but my father, who is not a fan of spicy foods, declined.  The seed left a spicy taste, delightfully “hot,” but not painfully so, although I did accept my mother’s offer of a glass of cold water!

Even after more than thirty years, the peppers still hold color.

Even after more than thirty years, the peppers still hold color.

Back at home, I placed some of the pepper seeds in a small bowl of lukewarm water in order to give them a “boost” for germination. 

Seeds from two pods.

Seeds from two pods.

Many seeds immediately sink in water.

Many seeds immediately sink in water.

 

Many of them immediately sank to the bottom of the bowl, which I took as a good sign.  Seeds that sink in water usually are viable and I pray this is the case.  After an overnight soaking, I planted the seeds in a tray of potting mix, added water and prayers, and placed them under a grow light.  Will my Granny’s peppers be included in my heirloom crops at Heart & Sold Gardens this summer?  Is it possible for seeds, stored in the dried shells that held them when they were born, to germinate after more than thirty years?  I’ll let you know . . .