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Heirloom: Black Vernissage Tomato

This has been a year of lamentations on the mass drowning of mine and everyone I knows’ gardens. A few plants, although stunted, have managed to put on but by no means in the quantities of a more typical season. As with every summer though, a standout has shown through, this one particularly impressive for not only putting on in mass quantities but for doing so under the strenuous conditions of down pours and unseasonable cool turning immediately into drought and heat. As a planned segment of Crescent in the Pines is to highlight prized heirloom varieties and other garden selections of note, this beaut seems an obvious choice for the first feature of the Heirloom series.

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That standout is Black Vernissage, a saladette sized tomato ironically sent to as a free gift with my spring seed order but one I will grow every year hereafter, not only for its deliciousness but for if prolific nature and its ability to make one of the best sauces I’ve ever gotten from any tomato.

bv2postBlack Vernissage features everything great about both paste tomatoes while also maintaining the best flavor qualities of chocolate and black toms and with a light acidity and nearly no sweetness it has  a sort of savory pepperiness en par with the scent of fresh sweet basil. That combination of rich flavor and being particularly meaty, the Vernissage lends itself well to a heavy red sauce where it needs little herbal assistance in creating a fresh, rich flavor.

 

Black Vernissage Tomato (solanum lycopersicum) originated in the Ukraine. Also known as Vernisazh Chernyi. Thick, crack resistant skin. Deep burgundy and fleshy pink, striped with green.  Prolific and easy to grow. Indeterminate, 70-75 days.

Peach Harvest Salad

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The weather is changing, away from this unseasonable cool and rain to the more familiar heat. But in spite of the heat’s belated arrival, the trees have already taken that golden dusky hue, still green leaved but dulled and with the faintest shiny tinge of yellowing. With their annual aging comes their fruit, peaches for this post’s purposes, so ripe, so sweet scented, they could not be turned down.

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Paired with the crisp fresh earthy greenness of late summer green beans, their sweetness is highlighted, making a salad side fit to complement any meal and so simple it can be made alone, just to enjoy with a glass of sweet tea on the front porch, watching the trees move in the faintest breeze and wondering if their shadows are getting long just a bit  earlier in the day than they did a week ago.

PEACH HARVEST SALAD
pb5post2 tbsp. olive oil
1 medium sweet onion, thinly sliced
2 ripe peaches, sliced
1 lb green beans, trimmed

For the dressing:
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
½ cup quality olive oil
1 tbsp honey
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

To make the dressing, whisk together all ingredients in a small bowl or shake together in a sealed jar.

In a skillet over medium-high heat, heat olive oil and cook onions until just softened, 5-7 minutes. Meanwhile bring a large saucepan of water to a boil; add beans and cook until crisp-tender, 1-2 minutes. Drain. Toss together green beans, onion, and peaches with dressing to combine. Can be served hot or cold, refrigerate to chill.

 

Summer Tomato Salad

ts6postPost downpours, this year’s garden is not as productive as those of the past. So for today, Thursday, a throwback, a post from last year and one of my favorite recipes during abundant tomato years for pure simplicity:

July has arrived all heat and humidity, blinding bright sunshine, and the urge to do little more than lay by the waterside. While I tend to wilt in the heat, the cucumbers and okra are putting on and my peppers and tomatoes are in heaven, producing in abundance. Inspired by the bumper crop of tomatoes this year I decided to share a simple recipe for tomato salad, a personal favorite and perfect treat on a hot day or a beautiful (yet easy) side for your next gathering.

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SUMMER TOMATO SALAD
ts7post4 large tomatoes of your choice, sliced
1 medium red onion, sliced
1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1 cup of fresh basil, chopped
¼ cup fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
¼ cup quality extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and fresh cracked pepper

For a decorative party approach as seen in the photo, arrange your tomato slices on a platter and sprinkle with feta, basil, and parsley. The more variety you have in your tomatoes, the prettier the presentation. Drizzle with olive oil and season to taste. For a less formal approach, quarter and slice or cut the tomatoes to bite size and toss in a bowl with the onion and remaining five ingredients.

Notes:
I use about a ¼ cup of olive oil to every four tomatoes, but adjust to your discretion. The key is to use high quality olive oil in an amount that does not overwhelm to tomatoes’ natural flavor. A dash of balsamic vinegar or fresh lemon juice is also a nice touch, depending on the type of tomato and again not using so much as to overwhelm the tomatoes. Hint: lemon juice is perfect with yellow and green toms as it brings out their citrusy acidity, while balsamic vinegar beautifully plays up the richness of chocolate and purple toms.

Summer Lemon Balm Chicken

In the heat of summer, when the temperature climbs well past the point of comfort in a hot kitchen, the slow cooker that typically goes unused suddenly becomes a go to. And while this summer is unseasonably cool, my lemon balm has spread like mad, leaving plenty to spare for a simple summertime favorite.

A play on the usual lemon balm and sage blends used on roast chicken, this relies solely on lemon balm and lemons for a delightfully citrusy lightness and the addition of garlic purely for a rich balance. None too heavily flavored, this chicken recipe is delicious on its own or ideal for pre-roasting chicken for future meals as the meat lends itself beautifully to other dishes.

lbc5postSUMMER LEMON BALM CHICKEN

1/4 cup lemon balm leaves, divided
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tsp white pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup softened butter
Salt and pepper to taste
3 lemons, 1 sliced, 2 halved
2-3 heads of garlic, halved horizontally
1 3-4lb whole chicken

Set aside 1/3 of the whole lemon balm leaves. Chop the remaining lemon balm. Place the chopped balm and thyme, white pepper, and garlic powder into a mixing bowl with the butter. Remove insides from chicken, rinse chicken and pat dry.

lbc4postLoosen the skin of the chicken, and rub the butter mixture underneath the skin, over the breast and legs. Brush the outside of the skin with olive oil and sprinkle salt and pepper. Place the reserved balm and one garlic head cut in half into the cavity of the chicken, tie the feet. Cut remaining garlic heads and lemons in half and lay in bottom of slow cooker. Cut the bottoms off the lemons so they lay flat. Rest chicken on top of garlic and lemon halves. Cover top of chicken with additional lemon slices. Cook on high for 3 hours then reduce heat to low and cook until chicken is very tender and an instant-read meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of a thigh, not touching bone, reads at least 160 degrees, 2 to 3 more hours. Optionally, the chicken may cook on low setting 6 to 8 hours. Slow cooker cooking times vary, so be sure to use a meat thermometer to check for doneness. Remove chicken and place in a 9×13 glass or ceramic baking dish. Place baking dish in the oven under the broiler for about 4-5 minutes, just until the skin darkens to a beautiful rich brown. Allow chicken to rest after removing it from the broiler for 5-10 minutes. Carve and serve.

Sacked.

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And the rain keeps coming, in downpours, torrents. With flooding all around us, they say this is a record breaking year. It is also a garden breaking year if it keeps up. With only a couple of types drowned, the beans are surprisingly unphased and the melons and then some are trying to put on, but most plants have been stunted. Next year, perhaps. In the meanwhile, attentions have turned back toward the house between summer vacations.

Specifically the handful of flora planted have done well and while working on a few decorative projects for them it occurred to me to share a sort of addition to a previous post.

rb15postWhile the five gallon bucket container concept may not be the most attractive of planters, they can be both hidden and dolled up. A group of them can be corralled in lattice of equal height to the buckets, lending a quick camouflage. But if you would like to use them as a light weight container for dwarf elephant ear rather than having to dig up your bulbs each winter or lift ridiculously heavy pots, 5 gallon buckets are perfect. And all that burlap everyone goes mad for on pinterest? Equally perfect.

A rat packer of all things I might later find useful, I keep such things on hand as burlap bags for storage typically. With a batch of coffee ones recently found, I couldn’t pass up a rustic sort of look for my little elephant ears. Potato burlap sacks would look adorably country around buckets used for tomatoes and other common vegetables, but print on the burlap is by no means necessary. The burlap itself is just a sturdy, easily cleaned, and inexpensive option for jazzing up what would otherwise be a perhaps too bold statement in plastic.

As popular as it is currently, burlap is not a difficult commodity to find, but whether you use bags or yardage of burlap will determine how you tackle this project. Using cut yardage, you will be limited to wrapping your buckets and tying them at the top, but with bags you can either wrap your bucket or set it in the bag and tie the top. (I dislike the baggy look of setting the buckets in the bag, no pun intended, and like to remove the burlap regularly for airing out, so I wrap mine.) Tie a short length of rope at the neck and fold over the top and voila!

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Campfire Sweet Potato Hash

In a collage style frame I keep snapshots from my first birthday spent with Josh, a birthday on the Illinois River, camping and floating and lazily enjoying the day. E frequently asks about those pictures, about “daddy’s river” as she calls it, one of his favorite places. And so, in spite of the river being up from all the rain, we decided to take E to her daddy’s river to camp.

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We scavenged a collection of rocks, driftwood, feathers, and shells, played in the late afternoon sunshine, and taught E to make daisy chains and how to improve her rock skipping game. And after dinner and a visit from a less than skittish raccoon, E had taken in all the excitement she could. Josh and I stayed up, watching one of the most beautiful moonrises I’ve ever seen, the sort of thing you can’t quite justly describe in words but it stays with you until the end, locked away forever in memory. The river whispered by, swift current and humble power, and we talked nonsense, relaxed, laughed.

ch5postAwakened by the first light, campfire hash was first priority, as always. I adore a good sweet potato hash and this is my frequent go to for camping trips, although it can just as easily be made at home on the stove and is just as good then, almost. While the other ingredients remain the same, the meat used can vary with the evening prior’s meal so as to make the most of hauling the fewest possible ingredients. In this instance, our butcher had some amazing looking rosemary breakfast sausage that couldn’t be passed up, but bacon, sliced up smoked sausage, or even beef can be quite good. No matter the meat, it’s where this hash is eaten, there by the smoldering ashes, wrapped in the warmth of the early rising sun, steeped in laughter and the lingering scent of campfire smoke that make this a meal to cherish.

 

CAMPFIRE SWEET POTATO HASH
ch4post2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
Olive oil
1 lb breakfast sausage or other preferred meat
1 medium sweet onion, diced
1 medium yellow bell pepper, diced
1 medium green bell pepper, diced
1/4 cup green onions, sliced (green tops reserved for garnish)
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Eggs and hot sauce for garnish

Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a large cast iron skillet over campfire (or med-high heat if cooking on stove), and add sausage. Just as the meat begins to brown, add the sweet potatoes. Spread them out as much as possible so that they lay on the bottom of the skillet in a single layer. Cook the potatoes until they begin to brown, about 5 minutes. Toss the potatoes frequently until most of their sides are lightly browned and the sausage is cooked thru, 3 to 5 minutes longer. Then add the onions, garlic, peppers, green onions, and spice mix with a dash each of salt and pepper. Toss continuously until the peppers and onions are just cooked, about 2 to 3 minutes. Separately, fry eggs to desired level of doneness. Serve hash topped with one or two eggs per serving and garnished with hot sauce and leftover sliced green onion tops, if desired.

Notes:
For camping purposes, you can pregame by having your vegetables diced in advanced and mixing the spices ahead of time so that they can be carried in a single container.

Springtime Pasta Primavera

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This spring has come bearing all the rain our drought ridden region has been missing for half a decade. The issues brought with that amount of rain in a matter of weeks make me feel like I’m in Louisiana again, another home, in the swamp and the green and earthy damp smell of rebirth. pri2postBoudreaux, get the pirogue. And on the downside, the garden frequently takes on the look of a water feature, plants are being lost to root rot and powder mildew and nothing is growing at the rate it should. Except the weeds. Oh the weeding. Tedious would be understating the situation, but spoiled for some time by container gardening, any weeding had become nearly a foreign concept. But for all the challenges, as always it is worth it for lettuces, greens, peas, early tomatoes, and new potatoes.

And nearly as much as I adore all those early harvest goods, I adore this recipe, a light pasta playing less on the sauce and more on the quality of the pasta and freshness of the early harvest veggies it features. All last spring I could not for the life of me remember where I had put this recipe and although I know the basics of it came from somewhere online, I had no luck in my searching. This year, so hankering for it, I dug through every file of clippings until I found it. Worth it? So much so I’m sharing it here for you to enjoy.

SPRINGTIME PASTA PRIMARVERA
12 ounces campenelli pastapri3post
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup haricots verts, ends trimmed
1/2 cup thin asparagus tips and stalks, sliced in 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup fresh peas
1/2 cup white mushrooms, thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup half-and-half
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
A mix of halved or quartered cherry or plum tomatoes and snipped fresh chives for garnish

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until just tender, about 12 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Melt the butter in a large pot over medium-low heat and quickly sauté the vegetables until just tender. Do not overcook. Season well with salt and pepper. Add the half-and-half and cook to thicken the sauce, 5 minutes. Season to taste with pepper. Toss in the drained pasta and sprinkle with Parmesan. Garnish with diced tomatoes and chives or pea shoots, if available. Serve immediately.

Notes:
Any pasta you prefer may be used, but keep in mind this is a light sauce intended to feature the pasta itself and the vegetables. Be sure the pasta you use is fresh (homemade is ideal) and intended for a light sauce and of course be sure to use the freshest possible vegetables.

Rainy days and container concepts

Early harvest time is here and every day brings more lettuce and spinach. And with the daily harvest comes nearly constant rain, storm after storm. While some storms are more nerve-wracking than others, being trapped indoors has led to a spike in productivity on a laundry list of new and old projects, a boon since recent work trips out of state have left no days to be lost.

But the downside of the constant rain, among other things, is hoping all the young plants don’t drown, mildews and molds don’t take hold, and plants aren’t lost to sogginess. The first bed of potatoes is in a spot that seems to hold water especially well and they are developing what looks like early signs of rust. Next year’s rotation will be a completely different lay out, living and learning as it were. But the first corn seedlings made it up and all the beans are growing except the newly planted cowpeas which may or may not rot in the ground if this weather keeps up. Half the greenhouse yield is now transplanted and the recently seeded winter squash is already starting to show. The variety planted, hoping this year isn’t another year of vine borer issues, should make for a beautiful supply of overwinter options. And in spite of all the rain, in the orchard the trees are positively dripping with fruit and the grapes are climbing and filling out beautifully.

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Though it is the season of roughage, with tomato transplanting in full swing it seemed a good time to share an excerpt from one of last year’s blog entries. Tomatoes and gardening in general last year were a completely different experience in that we did not own our home at the time and thus most of my planting was done in containers. Anyone who has rented and likes to garden knows the dilemma you face, of having only a patio and no yard at all to work with or having a yard but not wanting to be trashy and tear up your landlord’s landscaping to build a garden. However, both dilemmas are easily solved with this simple container solution, perfect for those folks in search of a simple means to grow larger vegetable plants without the availability of or desire to create a full scale garden space:

As a quick preface, I am by no means cheap. In fact, dislike all things cheap or poorly made. I would rather have a handful of high quality items than a plethora of disposables. But, with the need to reduce the cost of my steadily expanding container garden a stroke of genius hit me; five gallon buckets. They are inexpensive, tougher than most of the cheap planters these days, and ideally sized for many plants.

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The idea is simple enough, you’ll need buckets, rocks, soil, fertilizer, and a power drill. Prep your bucket by drilling out enough holes for proper drainage. You’ll need to vary this depending on rainfall in your area as you neither want tomatoes standing in soup or drying out. I find that a circular pattern of five to six holes drilled in the bottom of the bucket and a row of holes at two to three inch intervals around the outside of the bucket within an inch or two of the base works well and I am in a drought prone climate. Be sure to put a layer of rocks in the base of your bucket for additional drainage.

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The amount of soil you add will depend on the size plant you are planting. For example, when I transplant my seedlings, I fill the bucket about half of the way up and make a hole a couple inches deep for the baby plant’s roots. As it grows, I trim away leaves that would get buried and add dirt, thus creating a stronger hold and no need for later transplant. (Each of those little hairs on your tomatoes’ stems will become roots when buried giving it a very sturdy footing.) garden3post If however, I am planting a more mature transplant as I do at the first of the season because heartier, larger plants do better in the fluctuating spring temperatures, I will fill the buckets almost completely, or about three quarters of the way full depending on the size of transplant and whether or not I want to add soil after more growth. If you don’t have time for seedlings and want to just plant a few transplants, the later will apply to your planting.

As far as your soil blend goes unless you compost your own, for simplicity’s sake, go with a container ready moisture control product of your choice. With regard to fertilizers, being container grown, an initial dose of plant food is ample to start and be cautious not to add more nitrogen heavy fertilizer after that. They will produce more leaves than fruit if you do. Keep in mind one of the disadvantages of containers is that you need to fertilize more often than ground grown plants, so expect to fertilize about every couple of weeks. Phosphorus laden fertilizers are perfect for plentiful fruit, but keep the amount to a minimum. Balance is key with container gardens. Aside from fertilizing, maintenance is simple: water, prune and add cages as necessary.

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Garden photo guide: 1. Radicchio 2. Red romaine, my favorite new go-to. 3. Cabbage 4. Cauliflower 5. Broccoli 6. The sunflowers bordering the garden are up. 7. & 8. Most of the beans have survived the downpours. 9., 10. & 11. The orchard is working alive. 12. In the greenhouse, the last transplants are ready to go out. 13. Transplanting the peppers has begun. 14. Some of the tomatoes putting on.

Matriarchy

In the South, a beautiful system of family code exists like nowhere else: the matriarchy. The importance of the familial matriarchy cannot be understated, although perhaps it’s something you only understand if you grew up in it, something that seems unbalanced or foreign to others, these strong women who oversee their families with the deepest rooted love. But in reality it is she who reaches out with a seemingly unlimited number of arms holding everyone together, taking all the weight of her brood’s troubles on her own back, all with a gentle smiling demeanor and the politest of charm. Like other matriarchies, the females make all mtr3the necessary decisions for the family and take the gentlest control in nearly every situation. This is not to downgrade the importance of the paternal figures, but in reality the women maintain the home and family to the fullest extent. The difference between Southern matriarchies and those elsewhere is the emphasis Southern women put on their good graces and charm which precludes brash harshness or unladylike forceful rudeness, making their authority so subtle that if you aren’t looking for it, it is sometimes not even readily noticeable. They are neither domineering nor controlling, but rather know how to solve problems rather than fret and do their level best to take care of all that’s best for their kin.

These are the women who hold entire families together singlehandedly when everything seems to be coming undone. These are the women who break their backs to further their family, whatever it takes. These are the women who wake early to greet the day and all it will involve perfectly coiffed and manicured, not because of some Stepford-esque urge, but because they don’t know any other way than to present themselves proper and well put together even when every part of their world is in turmoil. I know this from experience because I come from such a matriarchy.

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The women in my family play the dominant role, and that is not to say that my Papa isn’t the most important man in the world to our family and our patriarch, but when it comes to the actual family breakdown, my Granny, mother and aunts have always been the main decision makers, the worriers, the toilers, just as Granny’s mother and the women before her were. My admiration for them cannot be understated. Every day, my Granny is up in the dark a.m. hours, drinking her coffee and planning her day, and by sunrise she is neatly pressed and dressed, hair just so, and by noon she’s accomplished more than most people a third of her age do in a week. My mother and aunts have followed suit, each of them in their own way like our forerunners, and every day I see more and more how much I take after them.

So today, inspired by mother’s day and the women of my family, I decided to share a remarkably simple recipe that was a favorite of my great granny, my granny’s mother, skillet apples. She adored apple, really fruit of all kinds, and insisted no meal was complete without dessert. This recipe can be either a dessert or a sweet breakfast when paired with biscuits. mtr4The brown sugar coating and juice from the apples heats into a glaze, while the cinnamon and spices lend a warm comforting flavor, beautifully matched with a hot cup of coffee. A little like apple pie filling for breakfast, these fried up beauties are a perfect topping for fluffy homemade biscuits and butter.

SKILLET APPLES

5 large apples of your choice, cored and sliced evenly
4 tbsp butter
2/3 packed brown sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp cardamom
1/8 tsp allspice

Melt butter in a large cast iron skillet over medium high heat. Add apples and other ingredients, stirring to coat. Lower heat to medium and sauté apples for about 20 minutes. Serve over warm biscuits with butter.

 

Spring Salad with Honey

 

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The days are rainy and a little chilled lately, but tromping around the muddy orchard and garden in worn green rain boots, weeding and admiring, it becomes a welcome rain dance. And life has given me a mess of baby lettuce and greens and I’m making salad. Upon discovering a selection of almost empty microgreen and lettuce seeds in my seed box, I decided to dump them all and see what came up. Happily, they’ve produced more than enough to keep me in salads until my larger leaf lettuces catch up and there is nothing, I mean nothing, like fresh lettuce for a salad. So in spite of these rainy cool days, there’s lettuce, green onions, and strawberries to enjoy, thinking of the warmer days around the corner and splashing through the puddles until then.

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SPRING SALAD WITH HONEY

4 cups mix of baby greens and lettuce of your choice
1 ½ cup strawberries, sliced
½ cup slivered almonds
4 green onions, sliced
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup crumbled bleu cheese
Honey Balsamic Vinaigrette (recipe below)

Toss together the first five ingredients in a bowl. Top with crumbled bleu cheese and Honey Balsamic dressing.

HONEY BALSAMIC VINAIGRETTE
¼ cup honey
¼ balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
Sea salt and freshly cracked pepper
¾ cup extra vigin olive oil

Add the first three ingredients to a bowl. Sprinkle with a dash each of salt and pepper. Whisk to combine. Continue whisking while pouring in the olive oil in a slow, thin stream. Whisk until all the ingredients are incorporated. Additional salt and pepper may be added to taste.

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