Friday, September 28, 2012

Indian Summer

Oh what a beautiful day it was today! It started off cool and gray but by noon the sun was shining and the temperature glorious - a perfect Indian summer day and how hard it is to believe it's already the end of September! My Dad used to recite the poem "Along the line of smoky hills, the crimson forest stands and all the day the blue jay calls throughout the autmn land . . ." a sure sign to us that autumn was here. And here in Muskoka, the hills are coming alive with their annual colour show.


Although parts of the garden are well past their prime, other parts are just coming into their true glory - the burning bush is now aflame, rudbeckias are at their peak of golden beauty and my David Austen roses continue to bloom and bloom, and oh what a fragrance they give. And my climbing rose that only blooms in June has produced a multitude of fat rosy rose hips, an antidote for winter colds. I just noticed today that my wegeilia is starting to bloom again. After a crazy summer of too little water and too much heat, the  past couple of weeks of cooler temperatures and a few days of rain have given everything a renewed boost.

A few days ago I harvested the last of the tomatoes, as we've already had frost, and cooked them into delicious roasted tomato sauce for enjoyment during the long cold winter days when one needs a reminder of summer's harvest. And yesterday I picked and cooked my grapes. I then froze the juice which I will make into delicious grape jelly on the next Saturday that I have free. Another taste of summer to be savoured in the depths of winter.

In the next few days we'll be taking down the gazebo and putting away the garden furniture for another season. I hate to put everything away when the days are still warm and sunny but before you know it there will be snow in the air and I'll be cursing that I didn't clean up everything when the weather was nicer. But today I'll just enjoy the blue jays calling to each other and visiting my garden to partake of the berries on the shrubs and trees. Aaah! Indian summer days!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Harvest Days - Tomato Time!

Oh, nothing says summer more to me than the red, ripe tomato. I love biting into a red, ripe tomato fresh from the vine, warmed by the sun, and feeling the juice drip down my chin as I enjoy the sweet delicious flavours burst in my mouth. Working in the garden it is a joy to be able to reach down pluck a tiny red jewel, like Red Candy, a quick, handy and tasty snack. And how appropriately named, for Red Candy, pictured above, tastes just like its name, like candy.

And to enjoy that taste of summer all winter long, I also grow Roma-style tomatoes which I make into tomato sauce to fill the freezer, so on a cold winter's night I can make a pizza or a pasta dinner enlivened with that delicious full bodied flavour of tomatoes. Yum! Yum!

This morning the rooftops were white with the first frosts. So with the nights getting colder as the thermometer dips with the anticipation of winter, it's time to harvest the rest of the tomatoes before we lose them to autumn's chill. I'll make the Red Candy into a tomato salad or bruschetta with the addition of some sweet onion and simply dressed with extra virgin olive oil, some white basalmic vinegar and sea salt and fresh ground pepper. The Romas and Carolina Gold will be transformed into tomato sauce.
Tomorrow we resumed the Community Kitchen cooking sessions we hold once a month where I teach some great ladies from our community a variety of recipes that are inexpensive, easy, use the freshest of ingredients and best of all taste delicious. So tomorrow we are celebrating Harvest Days by making Roasted Tomato Sauce which can be easily stored in the freezer, for thhose who are not comfortable with canning. I'll be showing them easy ways to harvest and store fresh herbs for use during the winter too as herbs you grow yourself really do taste best. If you have an abundance of tomatoes then why not try out this recipe, its easy, quick and you'll love the taste that roasting the veggies gives to the sauce.
Roasted Tomato Sauce
This recipe doesn't have any specific quantities as you can make as much or as little as you need and you can add whatever additional veggies you want. It's a great sauce to make for those picky, non-veggie eaters in your family as once the vegetables are roasted and processed together you can't taste individual veg except for the tomato flavour.
Cut into eighths a quantity of tomatoes and place in a large roasting pan. Add quartered medium sized onions, as many cloves of garlic as you want (remember that when roasted garlic loses its pungency and becomes sweet so you can add more than you think), then I add red and/or green pepper, celery, zucchini and any other vegetables you want. Drizzle over extra virgin olive oil and stir to coat. You can also add fresh herbs like basil, thyme, oregano and sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste. I roast for about one hour at 300 degrees. Remove from oven and let cool slightly.
Process the roasted vegetables in a food processor until smooth, you may have to add some vegetable stock or tomato juice if the mixture is thick. (I find that using Roma tomatoes creates a very thick sauce which definitely needs to be thinned. If you're using ordinary or beefsteak tomatoes which are juicier, you might not need to add much additional moisture.) Use immediately if you can't help yourself or place in plastic containers in the freezer to be used in winter when you need a summertime pick-me-up.
Celebrate the end of the summer season with Harvest Days!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Food, Fun and Friends - Stokes Garden Visit

 Now I can think of no better way to spend a summer's day than with a group of good friends, like my garden writing colleagues, at the Stokes Seeds Trial Gardens in Niagara with a host of garden growers wandering the fields tasting right of the vine tomatoes and peppers. But boy was it hot as you can see by those who were smart enough to bring umbrellas. Each August a group of garden writers get invited to Stokes by Peter Cantley from Loblaws to help them select the next year's offerings of tomatoes, peppers and eggplants in their Gigantico Series of vegetable plants. Sometimes we see and taste a veggie that on first bite seems great like last year's Turkish eggplant, a small round striped orange eggplant that looked like a tomato but when grown and eaten on a regular basis was agreed by all to be less than best. So next season President's Choice will offer a new variety of eggplant.  Similarly this year we tasted the Kapello pepper (below). It was OK but there was another pepper with a much sweeter flavour. It's kind of neat to be a part of the selection process and to see our choices for offer the next season in the garden centres.

And after a trip through the fields tasting all those tomatoes and peppers, we are treated to a lovely lunch featuring fresh local produce from the Niagara region - fresh BLT sandwiches, a delicious salad with yummy chunks of peaches, a flat bread pizza with tomatoes and a young creamy goat cheese, pasta salad, bruschetta and large slices of delicious fresh peach pie with crumble topping and slices of sugar cube melon, accompanied by local Niagara wines. Yum! Yum! Yum!

And after lunch a group of us met with J.B. Hopkins, Parks Supervisor for Niagara-on-the-Lake who gave us a walking tour and talk on design, implementation and care of the beautiful floral displays that grace the streets of Niagara-on-the-Lake. As a provincial judge for Communities in Bloom I'm always interested to learn how communities fund and implement their displays so I can pass on tips to smaller communities who are interested in achieving similar displays. The displays are based on some years previous designs and some updates that are made on a yearly basis, sometimes colour themed as this year's tribute to the War of 1812 incorporating lots of red plant material. Displays are maintained by 2 fulltime staff and 2 seasonal staff. And for those who like flowers, these floral displays certainly draw visitors from around the globe.

We ended the day at one of the growers home to see his beautiful gardens and a few of us enjoyed BBQ burgers and a discussion on a potential new event at Stokes in the future. So needless to say, for us from Bracebridge it was well worth the  drive to Niagara. Thanks so much to Peter Cantley, Bob Martin and all the folks at Stokes Seeds for another great tasting event.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Celebration of Citrus

Here is the delicious Grapefruit Pie the signature dish of Lang Sun Country Groves in Florida.

This is an unusual variety of lemon called Fingered Citron. Originally from China, Japan and Indonesia it was grown for many centuries for its religious and ornamental value. The thick peeled fruit is yellow with no flesh that opens into fingers.

Who knew there were so many varieties of citrus grown around the world and we were able to taste the many kinds of citrus marmelade made from this tangy fruit.

Well March is almost over and all those snowbirds will soon be returning home. (Snowbirds are those people who make a hasty retreat once winter comes to vacation in the warmer climates of the sunny south of Florida, Arizona and Latin America). And while they were away, I'm sure that they enjoyed eating a lot of locally grown citrus fruits. What could be better than picking oranges and lemons off a tree right in your own backyard.

It reminded me of two trips I have taken in recent years which involved seeing citrus up close and personal. The most recent trip was to Tuscany in Italy where we visited a museum where a large collection of unusual citrus are being grown, preserving this unique varieties from extinction. I never knew there were so many varieties of oranges that didn't even look like oranges. You can see one of those novel kinds above in the Finger Lemon (and don't you agree that it actually looks like fingers!). At the end of our tour, we had the opportunity to taste (and then purchase) bottles of delicious, tangy marmelades from each different variety. Yummy!

My other real experience with citrus was during a media trip to Polk County, Florida. We visited a Citrus Research station where we learned about the pests and diseases that affect citrus plants. We also had a tasty stop at Lang Sun Country Groves, a grower and shipper of citrus to the US. and Canada. At the end of this tour, we sat down and tucked into Grapefruit Pie, the signature dish of Mary Lang. I had forgotten about this delicious dessert until this past month when my Probus Cooking group chose the theme "Citrus". I wanted to do something different so I looked up the recipe I had been given and made the pie (it's so easy). It was a great hit. My daughter, who admitted later that she didn't think Grapefruit was a good ingredient for a pie, loved it and the next day made her own Grapefruit Pie to take to her function.

Citrus is delicious, tangy yet sweet. It brightens the flavour of other foods and it only take a squeeze. And who doesn't love biting into a juicy orange and having that sweet juice drip down their fingers. Celebrate all things citrus by making your own Grapefruit Pie, it will make you feel like a kid again.


Mary Lang's Grapefruit Pie

Yield: 8 servings Preparation: 15 minutes Cook: 10 Minutes Refrigerate: 2 to 3 hours

1 (6 ounce) graham cracker crust

2 large or 3 medium red Lang grapefruit, sectioned

1 cup sugar

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1 1/2 cups water

1 (3 ounce) package strawberry flavored gelatin1

(8 ounce) container frozen non dairy whipped topping, thawed (I used real whipping cream)

Arrange grapefruit sections in graham cracker crust. Set aside.In a medium saucepan, combine sugar and cornstarch. Add water and cook over medium heat until thick and clear. Add gelatin and stir to dissolve. Let cool slightly. Pour gelatin over grapefruit sections in crust. Refrigerate until firm.Top with whipped topping.

Courtesy of Lang Sun Country Groves, Florida – Lake Alfred, Florida

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Market Day in Tuscany

A bountiful array of fresh market produce in Pistoi, Tuscany.

Sometimes life rushes past you and you don't even realize. Such as been the case for The Cottage Gardener. This past fall my life has been taken up with our newest and most ambitious project for our humanitarian charity in Wongonyi Village, Kenya where we are just starting on construction of the Mghongo Leadership Centre, Eco Lodge and Demonstration Farm. But more on that another day.

Today as the snow softly drifts down is a great day to spend perusing the seed catalogues and making selections for our upcoming summer season. These photos from our trip last summer with Donna Dawson and to Tuscany are a delightful reminder of the fresh produce soon to be picked from our own home garden. Just looking at these photos I can already taste those sun warmed fresh tomatoes, oozing juice that drips down your chin. The squeak of fresh beans lightly steamed and drizzled with the olive oil we bought from Marco, our tour guide and a farmer who grows olives and produces delicious honey from his beehives.

I distinctly remember the day we happened upon this market. It was raining and we travelled down a little laneway coming out into this small market square where local farmers had brought in their produce from the countryside. It all looked so delicious as we passed through the square on our way to lunch that I had almost rather been able to purchase some of these delicious and new treats and find a kitchen in which to prepare them. I just wanted to linger and see all that was available, especially garden produce that I was not familiar with (can you tell that I'm a foodie).

I simply love to try new things and also to share that knowledge and love of food with others. Currently I am working with Susan Biehn-Smith, the local co-0rdinator of the Community Garden program and Fresh Food Basket program in Bracebridge. We meet with women once a month on the delivery day of the Fresh Food Baskets and we cook with items that arrive in the baskets. Although we choose a dish or two each month, we sometimes need to substitute with what we get in the baskets. It has been great to see these women embrace new foods and recipes as we have presented them ranging from African recipes like Vegetable Curry, Pojo (lentils with tomatoes and onions), Dovi (a chicken peanut butter stew), and sprouting lentils to this month's offering of Oriental Stir-fry, Sushi and rice paper wrapped vegetable rolls. On a trip to Toronto this week I loaded up on some unusual oriental foods for a taste testing session. And with oriental veggies a continuing trend, we'll be exploring the seeds they can plant in their garden plots this spring. As well we'll be showing them seed producers and sellers like Renee's Garden who package their seeds with 3 varieties in one package, perfect for those with small garden plots or limited space.

If you haven't got your seed catalogues yet or had time to sit down and take a look, it isn't too late to order some seeds. Just remember spring is right around the corner and soon we will be able to once again enjoy fresh produce from our own gardens. What can be better than produce that is simply picked, prepared and plated in only minutes. Yum!