Archive for July, 2008

Thoughts on Sweet Corn

July 29, 2008

It is late July here in NE Ohio and that means the first crop of sweet corn. I don’t grow it since it would take up too much room in my small’ish raised bed garden and,as we all know, corn likes to grow and be pollinated in goodly sized blocks. So, off I went to two of our local market garden farms to buy my first sweet corn of the season … and it was awful. I don’t know about most people but I loath the new supersweet varieties … too damn sweet. Cloyingly sweet. What makes matters worse is that there are no options. Everyone grows it now because it holds so well that they can make one planting last a lot longer in their coolers. And, supersweet corn cannot tolerate cross pollination from other varieties so a given farm ONLY plants one variety. Not only are we forced to either grow our own or eat what we don’t like but we are headed down a path of too little bio-diversity. Let’s go back to open pollinated varieties or, at least, sugar enhanced.

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The very versitile black currant

July 22, 2008

I have been gardening for a long time and for most of my 35+ years I have been unable to grow the black currant. It had been an intermediate host for the white pine rust and I have always lived in a white pine state. I always grew gooseberries, a cousin, and was happy at that. I happen to think that gooseberries are greatly under-appreciated. They make great crumbles and even better jams and jelly. As a matter of fact, one of the best jellies for aging, yes jelly does age positively, is gooseberry. Five year old gooseberry jelly is to jelly as a twenty year old Burgundy is to wine. But I digress.

So, a few years back, new cultivers of black currants came along that were able to be planted in most states. Raintree Nurseries has a large selection. One of our favorites is Ribes odoratum ( ‘Crandall’ Clove Currant ). Raintree just calls it a Crandall Black Currant. It not only produces great late crops of black currants but its yellow blossoms in the Spring smell distinctly like cloves. Here is a picture of mine in fruit.

Ribes odoratum ( 'Crandall' Clove Currant )

Ribes odoratum ( 'Crandall' Clove Currant )

We do two basic things with our crop of black currants. My wife makes preserves which I do love. I often use them with yogurt and granola as a breakfast in the winter. We also make Cassis … an aperitif that we make with either brandy or gin. It is often mixed with white wine to make a drink called a Kir. Black currants are hard to kill, hardy in the winter, take little maintenance and are nice ornamental shrubs. The fruit are one of the best sources of vitamin C you can find

All you need is a sunny space about 3′ or 4′ square and you can grow one.

New favorite bean

July 21, 2008

I have always been a bean purist … were talking green bean here. When I grow beans I grow Kentucky Wonder and always the original pole variety.  Sometimes I will grow blue lake but once again, the pole variety. I love the rich, mealy, beany flavor of Kentucky Wonders and we have always enjoyed a traditional dinner of mature KW beans with new potatoes and a ham butt all simmered together (add a wee bit of onion and some herbs too).  As for the Blue Lake, who cannot like their snap bean quality … and great productivity, especially their first flush.

So  last year I was somewhere (maybe Whole Foods)  that had an end of the year sale on Botanical Interest seeds and I bought a packet of Tavera beans.  These are the French filet type and a bush bean. I was skeptical but I was intending to put them in very early under a hoop of plastic sheeting and see what I could get that might be ready before my direct seeded pole beans. What I got was amazing.  I got about a half bushel of beans from about 10 feet of row (actually, since I do raised beds there were three rows, one foot apart and each row was about 3 feet and change long). Not only were they prolific, they were also delicious and they held well … they gave me about three weeks of beans. They are very small … each bean is about 3-4″ long and about half of the diameter of a pencil. They have a crisp snap bean flavor, more like a blue lake than the mealy beans. We had them just steamed with home made mayo and also lightly steamed and marinated in vinegar and oil with onions and herbs. They were, in their own way, as good as the standards I am used to. I just put in a planting for late summer and I’ll do them again next spring.

Here is the link ; http://www.botanicalinterests.com/store/search_results_detail.php?seedtype=V&seedid=355