Tuesday, July 15, 2003

The harvest is coming on hot...

purple coneflowers (Echinecea purpurea) and bee balm (Monarda)[butterfly (center), purple coneflower (Echinecea purpurea) and bee balm (Monarda) on left]
The harvest is coming on hot and heavy. The weather is almost too hot to cook other than barbecue, but the vegetables are beckoning. The salads are wonderful.
Oh, to go out in the morning and pick snow peas dripping from vines almost as tall as me. The perfect basis for a stir-fry. Delicate salad greens that could never survive shipping, but are a work of art on a salad or even placed on a sandwich for that moment before the top bread goes on. And the asparagus is still coming! Lightly steamed, they just hardly need anything--maybe a bit of butter, a splash of balsamic vinegar or lemon juice.
Soon it's time to let the asparagus grow up its hairy ferns to build strength for next year. The peas, and then the snow peas start to decline, and the lettuce begins to bolt. Pick quickly and enjoy big salads! Let some plants go to flower to collect seed later.
Now the attention is drawn to the fava beans. Even the august Sundays at Moosewood cookbook says that fresh fava beans are not available in Ithaca so they only used dried. I bet they're available at the Farmers' Market now. Beloved by Italian and Middle Eastern cuisines, they are a cinch to grow. Hardy plants, the seeds may be started in late March when there was a lull in the weather and all the early crops (carrots, radishes, spinach, lettuces...) may be sown. The big fat seeds are perfect to give to a child to sow an inch deep; nine seeds per square foot. The youngest ones are ready in June and just need to be shucked and briefly cooked, but with the abundance of vegetables available at the same time, I wait til July to use the favas when they are bigger. To cook these, pluck the beans from the big plush pods. After a few minutes in boiling water, cool them down under cold water, and then squeeze the light bright inner green bean out of its skin. Dress it up as you will. Good in stir-fries and even burritos.
The Chinese cabbages that I started indoors in April, and transplanted out in May, are big now. I've been picking the outer leaves as needed and they keep growing. Spinach, mustard greens, garden cress, and arugula have bolted in late June, but small leaves of a second sowing of arugula, sown just one month ago, are already available. The wild form of arugula, Rucola selvatica, has been slower growing and slower to bolt, so the finely-indented, flavorful leaves from the March sowing are still available. When there is the time to deal with it, collect the purslane, amaranth and lambsquarters that are now growing all over the garden and need to be weeded anyway, and clean and cook them up. (See June.)
One of my favorite meals for this time of year is some kind of variation on peanut sauce with noodles. It's flexible for the warm weather days, when appetites diminish. You can make a big batch of it and refrigerate it and serve it later for days afterwards. It's actually most ideal to eat at room temperature in the summer. I was first acquainted with peanut sauce from the Moosewood Cookbook at a time I lived with about eight people (it fluctuated regularly, of course) in the early eighties. I had to cook once a week or so and was always looking for recipes. I became hooked on Indoneasian gado-gado after the first time I tried that recipe. Since then I've seen it and eaten variations of the same in other Asian cuisines. I'm big on vegetables, and like meat, more or less, as a condiment, so I feel a certain kinship with Asian cuisines. Almost everyone seems to like it, once they taste it, even kids. The nice thing about serving it to kids is that you can sneak in a few vegetables and they hardly notice.

Here's the basic recipe: Lightly saute some fresh vegetables, like greens or well-chopped broccoli, with some minced garlic. work best. Thin natural peanut butter with liquids (like vinegar [balsamic is my favorite], lemon juice, toasted sesame oil, tamari or soy sauce, a little bit of honey, and water) in a good-sized bowl. Get it to a saucy consistency. Add minced ginger, garlic, and some kind of hot pepper to taste. Cook up some thin spaghetti or Asian-type noodle--and mix well in the bowl with the peanut sauce. If you break the spaghetti in half before cooking, it makes it much easier to mix. Add green onions, garlic chives, or what-have you. Mix it all together. When available, chopped cucumber is the perfect refreshing addition. The cucumbers should be along around here later this month. Experiment!
So many of the perennials are starting to bloom. The delicate purple hyssop spikes look fine next to the soon-to-be magnificent golden yarrow. White yarrow brightens up the red bee balm. Bright yellow coreopsis and heliopsis show that it is really summer. Catnip is blooming all over the place. One plant is about six foot high and three wide. Why can't I get myself to tear it down? Valerian is done blooming. Still some coral bells. Poison hemlock is lovely in bloom--another volunteer--it must like that wet weather we had for a while. The purple spots on the stem give it away--beware! Queen Anne's lace is another from the same family--umbelliferae---as the poison hemlock, and another which I allow to volunteer in certain spots for its beauty and the beneficial wasps it attracts that eat the not-so-nice insects that would like to eat the other plants in the garden. Beloved parsley is a domesticated plant from the same family, a biennial, blooming in its second year. Its flowers which are also just starting to open have the same attractive qualities to both wasps and humans. Although mullein is so tough it grows in the gravel by railroad tracks, I love the tall yellow spikes and it has found its way into my garden somehow and one is starting to open its lower blossoms.
What a pleasure to pull back the hay mulch from the potato plants and reach my hands into that dry soil to find a bunch of new potatoes for dinner!