Monthly Archives: March 2013

Snow White Awakens!

Since I discovered “treasures” in January, I have planted ninety of the three hundred and four tomato seeds in rich potting soil and have supplied them water, light and prayers, but so far, there is no sign of germination.  While I wait for that first tiny seedling to emerge from a thirty-year dormancy, I remain hopeful and although I realize the odds are not in favor for these seeds to become plants, I still “feel” life in them after they soak.  Perhaps that is imagination or a connection to my grandmother, but time will tell and there are two hundred and fourteen remaining chances.  Although Granny’s tomato seeds have yet to emerge, other heirloom plants are beginning to grow, continuing a life cycle I regard as miraculous.

Celebrating the first day of Spring, my son, Clark, and I planted a salad bed in the small kitchen garden at our home.  A variety of lettuces, radishes, onions and shallots will offer delicious treats that are more easily accessible than plants grown at our farm, a ten-mile drive from home.  Since the lunar calendar dictated that March 20th was also a good day to start seeds, we filled trays with potting soil and 257 seeds.  Forty types of tomatoes and twenty-eight pepper varieties are represented in our carefully labeled trays.  As we talked about the different peppers we were planting, I remembered the many strands of dried peppers hanging from a door in Granny’s home.  Mental head slap; that’s where she kept her pepper seeds!  Dried peppers could be used for cooking and the remaining ones would have been used to start the next year’s plants.  Even dried, the colors were beautiful and I wish I had kept some of those for my own garden. . .

The following day, I filled an aluminum baking tray with soil and took two of the five Sungold tomatoes from a bowl in my kitchen, where they had rested since last Fall.  Although a bit dried and a little rubbery, I could feel the juice inside and after I squeezed the tiny cherry tomatoes over the dirt, I licked my fingers and the taste of heirloom tomato, pure Summer goodness, was still there.  I then put twelve more of Granny’s precious seeds and a jalapeno pepper, dried from my garden two years ago, in small bowls, filled with lukewarm water, to soak.  The following day, I placed those seeds in the “birthing chamber.”  

On March 25th, my daily morning check of seed trays was a time of joy.  Two tiny green shoots had emerged and I lifted the interior tray to read the label.  Snow White!  Isn’t it interesting that, of all the hundreds of seeds I planted in March, the first to emerge from that state of suspended animation is none other than Snow White?  A lovely cherry tomato, Snow White was one of the most prolific producers at our farm last Summer and I am thrilled to have her rejoin us this year.  Just in the past two days, a few eggplants, numerous celery seeds and several other tomatoes have germinated, including eight Sungolds, the very ones that were planted from leftover tomatoes just four days earlier.  

Although our North Carolina days are still chilly and the nights have been downright cold, the bright green seedlings in my greenhouse and “birthing chamber” are harbingers of Spring and I welcome them with gratitude.  

Sungold tomatoes, six months after harvest.

Sungold tomatoes, six months after harvest.

Of Seeds and Weeds

Every morning I rush to the seed tray to check Granny’s special seeds for germination and, so far, I have been disappointed.  I talk to them, I mist their little cells with rain water, and I continue to pray for them.  I know the odds are not in favor of these tiny treasures, but I am hopeful.  I will continue attempts to “start” Granny’s seeds until there are no more left and, when I see that first shoot of green leaves, clasped in the hold of a seed shell, you will probably hear my shout of joy.  As I wait for the first emergence of Granny’s long-dormant seeds, I content myself with starting other heirloom seeds for my garden.

After an almost killer season last summer, (400+ tomato plants really IS too much for just two people, at our ages, to maintain!) Richard and I promised ourselves we would downsize this year.  According to the lunar calendar, March 6th and 7th were good days to start seeds, so I filled seven 72-cell trays with artichoke, eggplant, tomato, herb, and pepper seeds. A smaller tray contains celery seeds and, if those plants thrive, rather than take them to the farm, I plan to capitalize on my shady, somewhat cooler, front lawn and plant them among the hostas. Attempting to learn from past mistakes, I carefully labeled each tray and recorded the varieties and the date in my trusty gardening notebook.  

I am often asked how I decide which plants to grow and there really is no crystal-clear answer.  A spring flood and early summer heat wiped out the artichokes I started last year, but I am once again trying the small purple variety that is supposed to do well in my area.  My family loves artichokes and I hope we will be able to enjoy them, freshly cut, from our own plants.  Our favorite eggplants, Japanese Pickling, Malaysian Dark Red, White Egg, Thai Round Green and Ping Tung, are invited back to the farm and will, fingers crossed, be joined by eleven other varieties.  Several herbs, both medicinal and culinary, are represented in one tray and thirty-nine pepper varieties are planted in two trays.  Our pepper crop did not perform last year, so I am doubling my efforts to grow these this year.  Luckily, I froze a good supply from 2011 and we have enjoyed them in a variety of recipes.  One of our favorite appetizers is to remove peppers from the freezer, slice them in half and seed them, and then fill them with goat cheese.  Roasted in a hot oven (about 425 degrees, Fahrenheit) for ten to fifteen minutes, they are delicious.  We use both sweet and hot ones for this dish and love to rotate between the flavors.  One of our favorite peppers is reminiscent of a bell, but in miniature form.  Sweet Stuffing Peppers, in dark red and bright yellow, are a visual delight and a tasty treat. 

Of course, I always get carried away with tomatoes and I am sure I will be sharing “extra” plants with friends and family.  So far, there are thirty-six varieties planted, not counting Granny’s special seeds, but I am sure there will be more.  After growing, canning and cooking with white tomatoes, they will always have a special place in my summer garden and I have not yet started those seeds.  My son, a chef, hopes to open a restaurant in the near future and last Saturday evening, he hosted a dinner for people who might be interested in providing some financial assistance for his North Carolina-driven cuisine.  Along with other delicious and beautifully presented dishes, paired with Laurel Gray Vineyards’ exceptional wine, guests were served a white tomato bisque soup that received rave reviews.  In a blind taste-test, I dare say white tomato soup would prove to be a favorite with almost anyone.  If you seek to grow a tomato that is perfect for canning, Cream Sausage is my top recommendation. 

Today and tomorrow, according to the lunar calendar, are weed-killing days.  Richard absolutely HATES to weed; he will spend hours on the tractor, he will happily till garden space and he will even strap on the weed-whacker to tackle overgrown areas, but don’t ask the man to pull weeds by hand.  I have learned, over the years, to accept this fact and I usually manage to do all the meticulous hand-weeding by myself.  Today, while Richard worked at his office, I weeded my herb bed and a small kitchen garden space that hosts about fifty asparagus plants, a small warmup for tomorrow’s work.  Richard and I will join forces to kill as many weeds as possible at the farm.  He will run the weed whacker over our impossibly long asparagus rows and I will rake the debris.  While Richard uses the disc attachment on the tractor to “chop” as many field weeds as possible, I will kneel for hours as I use a hand tool to pry weed roots loose from my 650+ asparagus crowns.  We love fresh asparagus, but what could we have been thinking to plant so much a few years ago??  Thankfully, asparagus has a short season. . .

While there is no better way to enjoy asparagus than to cut it in the field and eat it raw, this recipe for asparagus rolls is definitely worth trying.  Shared with me by a former home economics teacher, I make hundreds of these while asparagus is in season and store them in plastic bags in the freezer.  Somehow, they always disappear before the first asparagus spears appear in the spring! 

Miss Mary’s Asparagus Rolls

20 slices sandwich bread, crusts removed (any sliced bread will do), 12-14 lightly steamed asparagus spears,  3 ounces cream cheese, softened,  4 ounces blue cheese crumbles, softened,  1 egg, beaten, and  3/4 cups butter, melted.  Using rolling pin, flatten bread slices.  Combine cheese and egg.  Spread cheese mixture onto read slices.  Place asparagus spear onto bread and roll tightly.  Dip rolls into melted butter and place rolls on cookie sheet, lined with parchment paper.  Place in freezer and leave until rolls are firm, but not frozen through.  Remove from freezer and slice into thirds.  Store frozen rolls in bags.  Bake in preheated, 425 degree oven, for about 10 to 15 minutes, or until golden.  Serve warm.