As we come to the end of our second summer in our new home, we’ve racked up another bunch of firsts, in the garden and elsewhere. The quiet success of the gardening season has been a fine selection of winter squash which has been building up in recent weeks. Pictured here: Long Island Cheese, Guatemalan Blue Banana, Butternut, and Fordhook Acorn. We’re particularly rich in the Guatemalan Blue Banana squash, but have a nice selection of all four, and frankly managed to grow a lot more than I expected. I’d grown squash before, but only one or two, here and there.
Also a first for us this year was potatoes, planting three 20-foot rows at the start of the season. As we experienced a pretty serious drought for much of the summer, the resulting harvest was modest, but I still have one of the rows left to dig and will look forward to enjoying these into the fall months. Just knowing that we can grow potatoes here was thrilling for us, as it’s all still about experimentation on our clay ground.
One of new favourite quick dishes, on heavy rotation in the second half of the summer, was roasted potatoes, carrots and green beans from our garden, tossed with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and fresh herbs (I loved my red basil to death this year!).
Another first this year was rhubarb, thanks to the generous donation of several stools from a garden being wound-down by a friend of my mother’s. Throughout rhubarb season we produced crumbles, cakes, muffins and purees, and there is much more I’d like to try next year. I particularly enjoyed the blueberry rhubarb crumble from the Museum of Forgotten Pickles, and the rhubarb spelt muffins that I whipped up in July.
I made no secret of my new bond with chard (over my usual love, kale!), and continue to enjoy both the Lucullus and Swiss Rainbow varieties into the early fall. Lucullus was the newcomer this year, and it found its way into many delicious dishes.
My greatest sense of amazement likely came from growing Red Rock Cabbage, a truly impressive thing, both in our greenhouse and outdoors in a bed up at the house. I’ve got another head ready for harvest now, and the plant in the greenhouse has two small heads on it…we have been promised an extended summer, so who knows?
Casting about for something different to do with the first head of cabbage earlier this season, I tried out Roasted Sesame Winter Slaw from My New Roots (I guess the winter in the name comes from the fact that some cabbages are good keepers in storage), which was really quite good, if in need of a bit more of a kick (for me). While the original recipe called for Savoy cabbage, purple cabbage and kale, I instead used my red rock cabbage, lucullus chard and rainbow chard, for a lighter treatment overall.
I made many old favourites with kale, but also ventured into new territory, making kale chips for the first time, as well as a kale based version of Colcannon. The kale chips (with a bit of sea salt and some red pepper flakes) were good, although acquiring an oil sprayer would seem to make sense, as it’s hard to distribute the small amount of oil evenly in any other way.
The canning season is not yet past, but I’m already ahead of myself from this time last year, having made strawberry jam, apple marmalade, apple chutney and experimented with veggies packed in oil as well as more short-lived quick refrigerator pickles.
I also gave canning pears in a light syrup (water and honey) a whirl, but failed to pack them tightly enough to give me any confidence in long-term storage. Having only canned four jars, I happily deposited them in the fridge, knowing that we’ll easily consume them in the coming month.
We’ve already found them absolutely delicious on oatmeal with dried cherries on several mornings.
The tomatoes were really reliable and showed up on the 29th or 30th of July, like a well-oiled machine, and are still coming in wonderful waves. I still don’t seem to have the knack of planting enough of them to end up with the crazy glut required for urgent canning, but I’ll keep trying (perhaps I can blame it on the drought, as I do have close to 20 plants). As with my potatoes, I think I just need to plant some really serious amounts next year to get closer to my target. With another 24 twenty-foot beds to be dug in the next six weeks or so, we’re certainly planning on having enough space for the harvest that we’re trying to achieve.
Our biggest first, perhaps, is about to arrive, in the form of two six-week old Americaunas. Chickens? When I basically said ‘not over my dead body!’ to my husband after acquiring a dog this year? Yes, I’m eating my words, folks, after being gifted two chicks by a wonderful older couple at our farmer’s market who convinced us that it was indeed time to get going on that front. We’ve spent this whole weekend preparing for their arrival (we’re supposed to collect them early tomorrow morning), which is a story in itself. I can’t believe I’m still correctly spelling any words right now given how exhausted I am (my husband has been putting the finishing touches on the coop in the garage, with help from me in between some late night cleaning up and baking as we spent the whole weekend outside). An update will be coming pretty soon!
I would truly love to hear about any firsts for you and yours this summer!