Mmmmmm… Mediciney

Yesterday was glorious, and I made all sorts of spring cleaning-y progress in the garden, including spreading some leftover compost on a few beds and doing some early planting. This year is a late one—some beds still have frozen soil—but for the most part it’s all workable and good to go. Last year’s parsnips are as sweet as bananas, especially with some of the homemade maple syrup; the last batch went a bit long on the stove and became a surpassingly splendid burnt caramel with many possible applications. I’ll have a post or two elaborating on that combination at some point soon.

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Winter Thorns

Today brought the fifty-seventh snowstorm of the winter; another three or so inches brought the depth in the yard to about two feet or so, making my shortcut into town a vigorously aerobic trudge. That path takes me by the garden, where I took this picture. It has a suitably prison-y vibe to it, given how confining this climate gets around this time of year, especially when it keeps snowing so there’s no trace of bare ground or greenery anywhere. It turned out that my decision to skip any winter gardening under cover was prescient; all this snow would have crushed the hoops and merely opening the gate would have required a ton of shoveling.

But sap season has begun, and the sun climbs noticeably higher in the sky (on those few days when it comes out) so soon enough the snow will inevitably retreat. When it does, I am going to crawl around on all fours eating all the wild chives, ground ivy, garlic mustard, and nettles I can find, and I’m going to comb the garden for the first new sprouts of volunteer cilantro and returning chicories. There are plenty of vegetables in the stores, of course, this being the land of plenty and all, but they all come from California and I’m sick of buying them. They taste like shit compared to homegrown produce, and after this year I don’t think it’s sound planning to expect those crops to be as available in the future. This may be the . . . → Read More: Winter Thorns

I Pity The Fool

Sometimes a meal just comes together, like George Peppard’s plans always did on the A-Team. This almost always happens as a result of careful listening to what the garden, fridge, and pantry have to say. Ignore them at your peril.

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In My Time Of Drying

After a sublimely warm and clear September, October’s colder and wetter demeanor imparted an urgency to my hitherto lackluster gleaning in the garden. It’s nice again now, but in my tizzy of frantic autumnal gathering I did manage to get a fair amount of food harvested and arrayed on various surfaces to dry out for storage.

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The Pie Is My Shepherd

I do so love these late summer days: warm enough to frolic, cool enough to actually cook food in the evening. And the garden is banging right now, despite June’s woodchuck invasion and the powdery mildew and squirrels, which between them devastated all of the cucurbits. The mildew killed the cucumbers and zucchini, and the miserable rodents nibbled a little bit of each winter squash so they all rotted. Their thick, waxy skins make squash impervious to the wet ground, but once punctured they turn to much in no time. How dumb does an animal have to be to see a squash, say “I wonder if that’s good to eat?” and take a bite, decide that it is not in fact good to eat, and then see another, identical squash, say “I wonder if that’s good to eat?” and take a bite, decide that it is not in fact good to eat, then see another, identical squash, say “I wonder if that’s good to eat?” and take a bite, decide that it is not in fact good to eat, and so on until they’re all ruined. I’m getting an air rifle.

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This Is Just To Say

It has been hot as balls around here, which will not be news to you if you live on the East Coast. While outside, though hot, there has been a breeze and thus in the shade it is not too too bad, inside without air conditioning is a wretched sauna of hatred, trickling sweat, and fetid stench. Also, the other night a skunk got spooked right outside the front door and sprayed all over a corner of the house, so with no rain in sight for weeks the air is seductively perfumed with a sulfurous reek redolent of nothing so much as a smoldering corpse wrapped in plastic that you forgot about in the trunk of your ’79 Chevy in the Nevada desert while you attended Burning Man. Good times.

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Fight, O Nutrients!

Today—after what felt like at least a month of fetid, slug-covered, swelteringly humid torpor, interrupted by days of rain that only augmented the ambient moisture—dawned dry, clear, and breezy. I wasted no time, rushing out to attend to the neglected garden, mustering hours of energy despite a shitty, insomnia-dented night of inadequate sleep. There’s a lot going on, not least of which is the full arrival of what I like to call the “round food.” No longer are leaves the bulk of each day’s harvest; they’re shrinking into the minority as the roots and fruits gain girth by the day. Yesterday saw the first new potatoes of the year, roasted along with a spatchcocked chicken, taking advantage of a cooler evening to use the oven (and bake some much-needed bread). Today, thanks to a basket piled high with the various thinnings, cullings, and eager grabbings that attended my earnest horticultural ministrations, dinner comprised a perfect, seamless conclusion to the most pleasant summer day of the year so far.

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Et Tu, Crouton?

The Kid loves Caesar salads. He’s keen on salad in general, especially with lots of vinaigrette—heavy on the homemade vinegar, especially blackcurrant—and is an exemplary eater of vegetables in general, especially for an eight-year-old. But he will murder a bowl of romaine and croutons with the eggy, cheesy dressing. Of course most restaurant versions flat out suck, what with the inferior ingredients and all, so I planted extra romaine this spring in order to ensure a steady supply. Leading actor thus covered, the other components were easily secured: homemade apple/sumac vinegar, a duck egg from a nearby farm, the heel of a homemade sourdough boule, pecorino from Dancing Ewe Farm, good oil, and anchovies.

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A Zoo In My Lovage

By the end of the last post, I had figured out that one of the prominent flavor notes in lovage is quite similar to fenugreek. If you cut some, or, better, tear it, your hands will become insistently perfumed with the persistent aroma of the plant. When people dismiss it with variations of the “it’s like celery” line, that’s a cop-out on par with the “tastes like chicken” descriptor so loosely applied to things as different as mushrooms and alligator. Lovage doesn’t taste like celery, though it approximates it visually, up to a point. It’s much closer to fenugreek, with a whiff of caraway and a citrusy tang.

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It Takes A Pillage

This is a shot of my little ramp patch. (Likers of the blog on Facebook already knew that; just saying). I planted these about four years ago, near the stream, under some trees. They have taken hold quite well, and are beginning to spread. It’s hard to resist pulling them up, but I do, so they will continue to multiply. What I do instead is to cut one leaf off, leaving the rest. Thus do I get to have my ramps and eat them too.

*Edit* It’s worth mentioning that they like to be under deciduous trees, not conifers, and thus be mulched naturally with leaves. Full sun is not advised. They evolved to thrive on forest floors, near water, so do your best to provide them with that sort of environment. The North side of your house, mulched with whatever you rake off your lawn, can work. I tried a few spots and this was the clear winner.

While the rest of the world goes bananas for them, remember that growing your own is the only sure way to protect wild populations from the depredations of both amateur and professional foragers. Ramps spread slowly, and can take years to recover from overeager harvesting. If everyone eats wild ramps, they’ll disappear. Cultivating your own patch(es) is the way to go. They transplant well, especially earlier in the season, so when I do forage them I always set aside a meaningful percentage to stick in the ground. Over time this should wean me off . . . → Read More: It Takes A Pillage

Yours Truly

I'm a painter who happens to also spend a lot of time growing, making, and writing about food. I'm particularly interested in the intersection of frugal peasant cooking techniques and haute improvisation. And I have a really great personality.

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