Accidentally Cooking

Documenting my mistakes in the garden, kitchen and pantry


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Carrot Review and Pickled Carrots

The carrots I grew were absolutely gorgeous. Today I’m posting a review of the carrots I harvested, along with a recipe for pickled carrots.

At the time of writing this, there are a few small stragglers still in the ground not ready to harvest (they were overshadowed by larger siblings and need some more time in the sun), and I have several still in a bucket on my porch waiting for the right time to be harvested. If I learn any new information when the remainder come in, I’ll include that in a separate post.

Carrot Review

St Valery

The St Valery were a creamy orange color on the outside, with a vein-like appearance when peeled. The flavor was good and carroty, but not nearly so sweet as the Nantes and Danvers you find in the grocery store. Yield for the St Valery was decent, with a few caveats:

  1. They were inconsistently shaped. A few of the harvested carrots were short and stocky, while others were longer and thinner.
  2. They had a tendency to branch. In one or two cases I think the carrot hit a rock and went two different directions, but many of the carrots came up, branched into two or more parts, for no discernible reason. These branches make peeling, cleaning and storing the carrots more problematic, and decreases the overall size of the carrot.

Dragon

True to their description, the Dragon carrots came out a gorgeous purple color. However, much to my intense displeasure, they are pale yellow or mottled orange on the inside. When you peel them, the great color goes away.

Unlike the St. Valery, the Dragons were much more consistently shaped and had a much lower rate of branching. Like the St. Valery, they were not nearly so sweet as the supermarket varieties.

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Here you can see that I couldn’t get a single picture of these things before breaking them open and eating half a jar.

Pickled Carrots

In my book, The Joy of Pickling, I found an interesting recipe for carrots called “Pickled Bay Carrots with Dill”. I made several changes, not the least of which being my use of mature sliced carrots instead of the tender baby ones called for. The recipe also called for a hot pepper, which I thought I had in reserve from my adventures with the dehydrator last year. I took a look through my stash, and the remaining ones were looking a little brown and creepy. I don’t know why. Maybe there was just too much moist air in the fridge? In either case, I substituted some crushed red pepper flakes instead.

I made this recipe per-jar, using half-pint jars instead of the quart batch the recipe calls for.

  • Carrots, washed, peeled and sliced
  • 3.5 cups water
  • 3.5 cups apple cider vinegar
  • Black Peppercorns
  • Crushed Red Pepper
  • 1 Sprig of Fresh Dill
  • 1 medium-sized garlic clove
  • 1.5 teaspoons salt
  • 0.25 cups sugar

In a pot, mix the water, vinegar, salt and sugar. Bring to a boil.

Blanch the carrots in boiling water for 2 minutes, and immediately move them to an ice water bath to stop the cooking process.

In each jar, place 1 garlic clove, a dash of red pepper flakes, about a dozen pepper corns, and the fresh dill. Add carrots to the jars, loosely packed, to fill within a half inch of the rim.

Pour the vinegar over the carrots to fill the jars with 1/2 inch head space.

Burp the jars, put on a clean lid and band, and process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand at room temperature overnight.

 Results

Let just say one thing: Pickled carrots are probably my favorite new type of pickle. The carrots are soft but not mushy. The flavors are perfectly balanced and absolutely transcendent. I’ll be making more of these this year, next year, every year.


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Garlic Harvest

All my garlic is finally harvested, and there are some clear winners among the bunch. Here’s a review of what I got. I broke the counts up into three categories by amateur visual inspection.  The ones marked “Large” are the ones I will try to plant again this fall, the small ones will probably end up in some pickles, and the medium ones will mostly be kept to eat and use in the kitchen.

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Music

  • Small: 4
  • Medium: 3
  • Large: 3

Music was a pretty good performer this year, though there were a few small cloves in the bunch, and this count doesn’t include the ones that went weird on me.

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The Music plants were among the earliest to sprout last autumn, and were second in vigor through the spring only to German White. In one case, I had two Music bulbs in the same hole so I had to dig them up and separate them half way through the growing season. Both of those two bulbs were on the smaller side. I suspect that if I had broken them up sooner (or been more careful when I planted them in the first place) they might have grown larger. Overall, I am happy enough with the Music cloves that I will definitely plant them again.

German Red

  • Small: 4
  • Medium: 6
  • Large: 1

German Red came out smaller than Music, on average. The plants were the second smallest (larger only that the Italian Purple, on average, though much more plentiful). They seemed to be sprouting well last autumn and had decent vigor through the spring, but they just didn’t produce as much as I was hoping for.

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I probably will not plant German Red again or, if I do, will not plant too much of it.

Italian Purple

  • Small: 4

I planted as much Italian Purple as I did any other variety, but got terrible yields. Only 6 of the plants survived the winter and two of those went weird, splitting into multiple small cloves early in the season. There isn’t enough of the Italian purple to attempt planting again this year even if I wanted to, which I don’t.

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The Italian Purple sprouted well last autumn, but as soon as the spring growing season started they were far behind the other varieties. The Italian Purple plants were all the shortest and had the fewest leaves of any of the varieties, and their resulting bulbs show that they just weren’t doing too well. Maybe it was because of their location: right in the middle of the bed. I suspect this variety is just not right for my particular microclimate.

Leningrad

  • Small: 2
  • Medium: 5
  • Large: 4

The Leningrad cloves were slightly larger than Music, on average. They were among the latest to harvest also, though only later by about a week. The plants did not sprout well last autumn, and I was worried I had lost the lot. However, they popped right up come spring and were some of the largest and most lush plants through the growing season.

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(Shown in the picture is only about half of the Leningrad. The remainder were as large or larger than what is pictured here). I will definitely be planting Leningrad again.

German White

  • Medium: 1
  • Large: 7

I planted fewer of the German Whites because there are fewer cloves per head. Most heads that I planted only had 4 cloves. Those few cloves really aimed for the sky, though. The German white cloves were almost all the largest cloves in my bed, and every single clove that I put in the ground made it to harvest without any issues. They sprouted most vigorously last Autumn, they came up fastest and largest this spring, and they produced the biggest, most reliable bulbs.

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(Two bulbs not shown, including the smallest one) Because the German White were doing so well, and because I was curious about it, I let one of them put up a scape and go to flower. That one plant, perhaps coincidentally, produced the smallest bulb of the bunch. Though, even that single “small” bulb was on the high side of “medium”.

I will definitely be planting several of the German White heads again this year, though not all of the large ones. Because of their fantastic yield, several of them are heading straight into my kitchen for cooking and other projects. I would like to put more than 8 cloves in the ground though, so I can get even more next year.

When you plant garlic, you’re supposed to plant only the largest cloves from the largest heads, to ensure the best yield. I will be planting the largest from German White, Music and Leningrad (Maybe, MAYBE one from German Red), and will fill in any additional space with new varieties. I’ll post more about planting plans when the time comes. I’ll also be posting some of the recipes I’m using the garlic in soon.


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Cherry Harvest

Cherries, so far, have not been an easy or rewarding crop to grow. I know that the trees are still young and they are bound to increase output with age and proper care. Last year I didn’t get so much as a single pretty flower, much less any fruit. This year we seemed to be on track for a decent crop but it never materialized.

The tree that showed the most promise, the Black Tartarian, put out tons of flowers and originally set dozens of fruit. Many of these fruit were stunted, never growing and eventually withering off. Others were attacked by insects. The rest were gobbled up by birds before they even had a chance to get ripe. Bummer.

The smaller and more spindly of the two, the Stella, had fewer flowers and set fewer fruit. However, the few fruit it did set managed to survive long enough for me to take some action. I tied plastic bags around the few cherries that made it, to keep the birds away, and I’ve been doing what I can to keep bugs away (I’ll need to do a MUCH better job of that next year). Finally, with some serious effort and daily observation I managed to harvest some cherries:

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I know what you’re thinking. “That sure is an attractive representative sample.” No. That’s the entire harvest. 6 Cherries, and two of them had insect damage on the back that made them mostly inedible. With the family gathered around, I cut up the good ones and we all had a taste.

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The color, obviously, was good. The texture and flavor of them was great as well. Xander kept asking for more until there weren’t any. We’re all pretty excited for next year, especially if we can do a little bit better than this year. The question is “how?”

Challenges and Plans

The Black Tartarian tree was the better performer last year. It had more leaves and put on more growth than the Stella. This year the tide has changed: The stella put on more leaves, larger leaves and more new growth.  Next spring I’ll have to be more aggressive about fertilizing it. I may pull up grass around both cherry trees, mulch, and apply some serious fertilizer and compost. Nitrogen is sorely needed, and probably some trace nutrients as well.

The Black Tartarian tree also had a problem with Black Aphids, with many of the newest leaves being completely infested and deformed. Next year I’ll look at some agricultural oils to control the aphids and maybe some products to control the ants (which help “farm” the aphids).


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Garlic Status

My Garlic crop is the largest and most interesting right now, so I decided to write a hole post on just that.

Notes By Variety

Music is growing quite well. They are the second-largest, on average, of all the garlic varieties. I had one Music that seemed to separate into two heads (or, I accidentally planted two in the same hole). I dug that one up, carefully broke them up and planted them separately. I lost a few roots in the process, and for a few days they looked a little droopy (and lonely), but now they are doing well with no problems.

German Red is slightly smaller than Music but still pretty big. I’ve had no problems with these and nothing interesting to report.

Italian Purple is by far the smallest  variety, with the slowest growth. I don’t know if the plants are supposed to be smaller, if my microclimate just isn’t right for it, or if the dirt in that part of my garden is particularly devoid of nutrients. Only time will tell if these produce good bulbs.

Leningrad are about the same size as German Red, and are growing quite well.

German White are the largest of the plants. They are about 3-6 inches taller than the other plants. Hopefully this translates into large cloves at harvest time.

Oddities

Last year, all my garlic looked the same and I had no issues. This year….there are a few. One problem I’ve noticed is that of multiple shoots. It appears as if new garlic heads are growing in the middle of the other garlic heads. Here’s a picture of a normal garlic, with a single shoot, with leaves alternating on each side:

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…and here are some of my weird garlics, with multiple little shoots coming out of the middle:

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It’s hard to find information about this on the internet, because I don’t know what this condition is called. What little information I have found suggests that this shouldn’t be a problem. The only varieties that seem to have this issue are the Music and the Italian Purple. Again, I don’t know if this is an issue with these varieties, if it’s totally normal, or if something in those areas of my garden is causing the abnormalities. I know I have a few voles scurrying about in that bed, so maybe they are up to some hijinx.


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Late May Garden Update

Early spring is a difficult time for blogging for me, because the garden isn’t moving at an appreciable pace, I’m not cooking anything interesting (in anticipation of the growing season) and generally because I’m a lazy sack. Knowing that I wasn’t doing anything worth writing about, I put together a fluff piece about the status of my garden in early April. I didn’t post it, because I had to upload some pictures (pictures which I already took, no less) and that was just too much work.

Now it’s the end of May, and I don’t have any better ideas, so I’m going to just post the same thing.

And if you’re expecting me to write a big long blog post to make up for all the weeks of nothingness, I have only one word to say….Nope! I’m putting together a few small stupid blog posts and scheduling them ahead of time so I can not worry about writing again for another couple weeks. You could say I’m a genius.

Late May Garden Status

Garlic is growing extremely well. So well, in fact, that I’m going to talk about it in a separate blog post. Next week or something. Don’t quote me.

Onions seem a little bit small but they are growing at a consistent rate. Two of them are already putting out little scapes, which I think is weird but the weather has been weird. Hopefully this doesn’t eat up too much of my yield, but we won’t know till harvest.

I planted two varieties each of Carrots, Green Beans and Lettuce, since I either haven’t tried or have tried without success all of these and I wanted to start making some comparisons. All of these were bought from Seed Savers Exchange, an heirloom seed outfit. I picked varieties that would be visually distinct from each other so that I would be able to tell which varieties were doing well and which weren’t more easily.

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I planted two varieties of Carrots, both heirlooms. I picked “Dragon“, a beautiful purple variety that I’ve wanted for a while and “St. Valery“, which is a variety that looks different from Dragon. I knew I didn’t want a Nantes or Danvers relative, so both of these should produce some interesting results come harvest. Rabbits have already started attacking the leaves, so I had to cover them up with chicken wire to keep them safe. In addition to planting three rows in my garden, I planted several in a large bucket (one of my potato buckets from last year). If the ones in the bucket work out, next year I may do that exclusively and save the garden space for something else.

I picked two varieties of Pole Beans, and have them running up some of my unused tomato trellises. The first variety is “Kentucky Wonder Pole“, which would definitely be my stage name if I lived in Kentucky and was considering a career in porn. Kentucky Wonder Pole is supposed to be a popular variety with high yields. The second variety was one I picked mostly because it was visually distinct: “Rattlesnake Snap“. This is a green bean with purple stripes and good reviews.

The two varieties of lettuce I picked were: “Crisp Mint” (a mint-shaped, but not mint-flavored Romaine) and “Red Iceberg“. The two varieties promise great flavor and were interesting-looking. So far they are growing well (the Crisp Mint better than the Red Iceberg).

I planted tomatoes late, because I had to completely redo that garden bed and we were saving money in the early spring. They are in the ground now though, so hopefully they can make up for the lost time. I received as gift two “Orange Wellington” plants, which were doing well but looked a little starved for nitrogen. At the store I picked up one each of “Roma”, “Big Mama”, “Homestead” and “Big Beef”. Homestead is the first Determinate variety of tomatoes I’ve ever planted, so I’m looking forward to seeing how that works out. I’ve thought about doing tomatoes in pots, and if I have success with Homestead this year I may try it next.

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My Blueberries are growing well and are putting on quite a large crop of berries compared to last year. I’d say the berries are about a third of the way to maturation, so we are looking forward to harvest with licked lips.

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The Cherries are putting out a very small harvest this year. This is fine considering I got nothing from them last year, and they are still getting established. Some of the pollinated flowers made cherries which were (for lack of a better word) stillborn, in that they seemed to have gotten fertilized but the little cherry never grew. Instead, many of them just shriveled up and fell off. Some other cherries grew about half-way and then shriveled up. If all the cherries that had been pollinated had grown, we might have ended up with a pint or two. Now, I expect to only get a handful (and I will cherish every last one). The ones we do have are looking a little smallish, but they are already starting to blush. I expect to be tasting them as early as mid-June.

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Mid-March Garden Prep

I am just bursting at the seams with anticipation for the coming growing season. Progress is happening, slowly but surely, on a number of fronts. Also some of my plans are starting to crystallize as I purchase and prepare to purchase seeds and plants.

Cherries

The cherry trees are looking great, with plenty of buds on each. The Black Tartarian tree is looking healthier than the Stella, with more growth through last season and more buds. The Stella looked like some of its buds last year had been stripped off at some point, which meant less growth through the season and fewer buds over the winter. I didn’t fertilize last year, on recommendation from several sources, but I’m looking into some kind of fertilization this year. Fertilization may be indicated this year because the trees are more established and because there was relatively little growth of twigs and shoots last year. A few sources online have suggested I put down something to feed the trees before the buds open, I am still trying to figure out what and how much.

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We’ve had a few warm days here and there in March, and I’m really hoping that my Cherry buds don’t start trying to open prematurely.

Blueberries

I took a pH test of the soil in the blueberry pots, and the result was far too high. The soil was nearly neutral (7.0) when Blueberries seem to prefer soil which is acidic (5.5 or thereabouts). Blueberries need Iron for health and production of large crops of berries, but the roots can’t absorb and transport the iron unless there’s some acidity around to help. Some sources suggest using Iron Sulfate as a fertilizer, to both add extra iron to the soil AND produce sulfer-related acids to decrease the pH. I couldn’t find that, so I just picked up a bag of elemental sulfur soil acidifer. I added something like a cup and a half per pot, mixed in with the top level of soil (being careful not to disturb the shallow roots). The sulfur requires some water and some time to turn into acids and permeate the soil, so I’ll test the pH again later and see how things are progressing.

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Garlic

The garlic survived the winter with ease, and now is starting to grow a little bit when the days are warmish. Even the Leningrad garlic, which probably the slowest to sprout in November and had me worried that it was dead on arrival, is poking up with some deep green leaves. The German White garlic, which had the largest cloves but also the fewest, has the biggest leaves and is looking like it’s ready to explode when the weather gets warm.

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Miscellanea

Some Daffodils and Tulips are starting to sprout in one of the flower beds. Some leaves had blown into the bed during a recent storm, so when I raked the leaves out I saw the wonderful little green shoots. It doesn’t look like all the bulbs we planted survived the winter, but that just means we have some space to put more flowers this year. We can’t (or, shouldn’t) eat these flowers, but I mention them here anyway because I’m super-excited about anything that appears to be alive.

I have some Rosemary and Mint in pots that I kept over the winter. I was hoping both of them would come back but I’m not seeing any signs of life  yet. I’m making sure the pots are getting as much light as we can get on these short, dreary winter days. I’m also giving them a little water when the days warm up. If they do come through, I may try to find a permanent in-ground home for them this year.

I tried to identify the large maple tree in my front yard, and I think it’s a Black Maple. At least, I think so. Black Maple is one of the two species that can be tapped for maple syrup, although the time to do so has just barely passed. When some leaves come out I’m going to try to confirm my identification of the tree and maybe next winter I’ll try to tap it for some syrup.


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2014 Garden Plans

Last time I posted a retrospective for my various projects in 2013. Today I’m going to outline some of my plans for 2013, especially as regards my garden.

Last frost date in my area, according to the farmers almanac, is around April 22nd. Several seeds will probably start in mid-February, onions go into the ground around the beginning of April, tomatoes and many other plants get transplanted out starting late April or early May. Most of my catalog seed shopping will need to be done in the next few weeks, and I’m trying to go to some new companies, and look at some heirloom seeds of seeds of particular interest.

This year I’m going to get serious about crop rotation and start a pattern that can be followed in future years.

Bed 1

Last year Bed 1 was newly dug and filled with tomatoes. This year, I’m going to try a few new things there, especially things that can get two plantings (spring and fall).

I’d like to try Carrots again. I’ve found a few varieties in my catalogs that I want to try, but I need to winnow them down because space is limited.

Broccoli and cabbage might be interesting. Broccoli will certainly get eaten more, between the two.  I have no particular interest in other Brassica varieties, like cauliflower, Brussels sprouts or kohlrabi.

I’m looking for some kind of bean variety (or several) to plant. Peas are probably no-go, and most dried bean varieties really aren’t popular around here, and I probably couldn’t get them in sufficient quantities anyway. Green beans or snap peas might be cool to try.

Lettuce or spinach might be nice to try again. I will start these indoors first and transplant them, because the last time I direct-sowed them and the results were terrible.

Many of the crops I’ve listed can be good for two plantings: spring and fall. That kind of setup appeals to me.

Last year I had tomatoes planted in all three of my beds, which makes crop rotation plans…difficult. Bed 1 had the most tomatoes, so this year it will have none. Next year I’ll move my beans, leaves and brassicas to bed 2.

Bed 2

The middle of the three, and the first one I dug back in 2012, is falling apart and needs to be rebuilt. I’m going to try to reshape it to be closer to 4×8, and fill it up with new soil and fresh compost. I’ll be out with my trusty shovel, Shovescaliber, the very first warm, dry day.

Into this bed I’m going to put a few tomato plants, probably two slicers and two plums. The slicers will be for casual eating, the plums will end up in salsa or bruschetta and will be dehydrated again. We’re not doing cherry tomato plants. I may consider one or two more plants, if I can find a novel variety we want to try.

Whatever space the tomatoes don’t fill, I’ll probably do herbs or something. I’ve done enough hot peppers and have no use for them this year.

Bed 3

I have about two thirds of Bed 3 planted with garlic. The remainder, and any spots in the garlic rows that don’t survive the winter, will be filled with onions. I’m probably going to stick with sweet yellow onions, since they go so well in soup. If I could buy onions in batches smaller than 50, I might try a red onion or something, but with such small space and such large bunches, it’s hard to get much variety.

I’ve thought about shallots, but I don’t have enough space for them without crowding, and I don’t like shallots nearly as much as garlic or onions.

This bed will be empty by mid July. If I can find anything else to put here that I can transplant in around that time, I’d gladly do it.  Otherwise, I may wait till August, and plant a fall crop of something.

Patio

I still have the buckets I drilled for potatoes last year. I will consider doing potatoes again this year if I can get good, professional-quality potato sets for a decent price. I’m not planting some spuds that were leftover from the grocery store, ever again.

I’ve thought about doing cucumbers, but only if I can find a variety that grows nice in pots and is resistant to powdery mildew. I’d consider other curcubits or melons, with the same caveats.

We have a few pots where we’ve done well with herbs. I think I have a better handle on how to care for basil, so I expect to do lots of that. Basil, rosemary, thyme, mint, all of these were done last year. The mint and rosemary, I hope, will come back next year.

Fruits

I’ve got two cherry trees and, so long as they produce this year, I’m perfectly happy with that. A third tree would be nice, of course, but I don’t know where we would plant it (or how quickly my wife would murder me for even bringing the subject up). If she were up for more plants, I could go for a pear tree or a peach tree or….

The blueberries did well last year and I expect an even better crop this year. I’m going to lightly fertilize in the spring, then I won’t need to do much to them except keep them well watered. Since we’re doing the blueberries in containers, I’d definitely consider getting another plant (or two, or ten). Dana has already given me the green light for a third blueberry plant this year, and I’ve got one in mind that I really want to try.

We’ve talked about starting grapes before. I’d do it in a heartbeat if the time were right (and if Dana would look the other way for a few minutes).

Other

I’d really like to make a little asparagus bed somewhere, if I could decide where to dig it. The problem with asparagus, of course, is that it could take a year or two before it was ready to be eaten, and then it could keep coming back for decades.That’s a lot of investment and a lot of commitment. Planning it out and planning it well would be key.