I battle constantly between the forager and cook aspects of my personality, loving the fresh, crisp wonder of eating straight out of the garden but also marveling at the alchemy that takes place when transforming an ingredient into something more sophisticated than its humble beginnings. Blackberries off the vine burst with a riot of tartness and a surprisingly sweet finish; blackberry jam is a remembrance of summers past (and promise of those to come) on dreary winter mornings. Sometimes my preference is determined by the day of the week: in our house on Sunday we like to watch a good movie and indulge in finger foods, so when I found a few ripe banana peppers and French breakfast radishes this past weekend my decision was practically made for me.
Peppers and Radishes
The radishes were topped before slicing, the greens put in a drinking glass with water to be used later when juicing. Then the banana peppers were halved and mostly seeded before I moved on to a few cloves of minced garlic. It seems that whenever I’m doing the prep work I always have an assistant.
Mia Likes to Help
Once the jar was sterilized and filled with the peppers, radishes, garlic I put a pot on to boil with one part white vinegar to one part water, a few tablespoons of coarse sea salt, along with coriander, peppercorns and a bay leaf, as well as a tablespoon of sugar.
Ready for Pickling
After the brine mixture came to a boil I turned it down and let it simmer for about ten minutes.
Then it was just a matter of filling the quart jar with the brine, screwing on the lid, and waiting for it to seal. Once the jar was cooled to the touch I moved it from the counter to the refrigerator, where it will need to sit for about a week so that the flavors can blend.
Pickled Banana Peppers
I’m really looking forward to next month, when the San Marzano tomatoes are ripe and we can make sauce.
Farmers and gardeners spend an appropriately large amount of their time talking about the weather. It’s been an unnaturally cool Spring this year, with welcome rainfall and a few hail storms that thankfully did little real damage to the tender plants and shoots in the Little Texas Garden.
“Black Beauty” Zucchini Flower
The zucchini has really taken off, and we’ll begin harvesting them in the next few days. We’ve already enjoyed a few mild and crunchy “French Breakfast” radishes, and not nearly enough of the strawberries, which are incredibly sweet and juicy.
So far the Basil is heading for a record breaking year, the Kale and Swiss Chard are starting to thrive, and the mint, parsley and dill are all doing well.
There have been set-backs, of course. We lost all but one of the “Abraham Lincoln” tomatoes to some sort of virus, but the “San Marzano’s” are growing like champs and already setting fruit. The watermelons are still in the seedling stage, and I’ve only gotten a few of my beloved carrots to germinate. The corn is growing at a snail’s pace, but still growing, so I’m thankful for that.
“Thompson Dent” Corn
How is your garden growing?
It’s been too many years since I’ve had a proper vegetable garden, and I had forgotten just how restorative putting your hands in the dirt can be for the body and soul. We talk about being connected to the earth but for many of us it is an abstract notion rather than a daily practice. When I garden the metaphysical becomes physical as I plunge my fingers into the soil to check for moisture or to pull an unwelcome weed. I am forced to relax and walk slow out of necessity, looking for the hopeful sight of a seedling pushing its way toward the sun while checking the already established plants for color and vigor. The first flower on a pea shoot is a celebration, each grasping tendril on a cucumber vine a miracle of determination. The shocking red color of a ripe strawberry seems impossible after such a drab winter, and yet, there it is.
There have been set-backs, yes. The small patch of corn had to be replanted. I walked out one morning to find twenty eight perfectly spaced holes where the seeds once were. Now there are chicken wire cages over the corn until they finish sprouting, and I’ll have to do the same for the watermelon when I replant them later in the week. None of the hundreds of ten year old marigold seeds I planted came up (the only surprise here is that I stubbornly hung on to ten year old marigold seeds) so I’ll replant them with a fresh batch of seeds when I replant the watermelons.
Drought has become the norm in Texas, but the last day of March brought welcome relief in the form of two solid hours of a soft, gentle rain. Every plant in the garden stands a little taller and a lot greener, the Swiss chard and the kale already showing hints of coming magnificence. The next few days bring a good chance of even more much needed precipitation.
We have enough basil and tomatoes planted to keep us in Insalata Caprese and Neapolitan style pizzas for the entire summer, which makes me wonder what in the world we’ll do with all of the peppers, tomatillos, eggplant, okra and zucchini we’re growing. I’m certain we’ll come up with something.