Soil and Cellar

Growing and preserving foods in Seattle


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Our new fig tree

Last summer, my coworker (KristinPotPie, read her blog here) gave me a bunch of figs from her tree. They were wonderful! I ate some raw and took a bowl home to make jam. Well, the jam didn’t turn out – probably because I didn’t use a recipe. But D and I decided we wanted our own bounty of figs every summer!

Emerging leaves on our Desert King fig

Emerging leaves on our Desert King fig

This year is the year we finally got fruit trees in our garden. We planted an Italian prune over the winter, and yesterday I planted the fig. It’s a Desert King, which we heard does the best here in Seattle. The fruit are green with pink flesh. I know we aren’t likely to get fruit for a few years, but the best time to plant a tree is always right now. How I wish we’d done it 5 years ago when we moved in!

After we decided where to plant it, I had to remove the “lawn” and make a bed. “Lawn” is in quotes because it’s just weeds, we’ve been trying to eliminate it for years and the only thing that keeps coming back are the weediest grasses, dandelions, and morning glory. At any rate, I dug the bed a few days ago, and yesterday was ready to plant.

Washing the root ball so I could detangle the roots.

Washing the root ball so I could detangle the roots.

The untangled roots, some of which were close to 3 feet long!

The untangled roots, some of which were close to 3 feet long!

The tree was in a pot about 8” across and was completely root-bound. What I thought would take 15-minute turned into an hour-long project. It’s not wise to plant a tree with circling roots – as the tree grows the roots will stay put and get thicker, eventually strangling one another and the trunk. So I teased out the roots, washing off the soil as I went. Once they were all loose I had to cut a few roots that were too thick to straighten out. This is totally fine, as long as you make clean cuts and don’t go too extreme.

Spreading the roots out in the planting hole.

Spreading the roots out in the planting hole.

I had to dig the hole wide to get all the roots to lay flat, but only about 3” deep! If you water in the soil as you go, it will settle amongst the roots naturally. You don’t want to step on them to compact the soil, at most use your fingers or hands, but I think water works best. I then added a top dressing of compost, for nutrients, and will be adding mulch as soon as I get some. Compost on top of soil has a tendency to dry out and become hydrophobic, so putting mulch over it helps it retain moisture.

So now I have a fig tree. I think I gave it a good start, and will soon be rewarded for my efforts. Fingers crossed!

Planted fig.

Planted fig.


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What I’m cooking this week – Quick Pickled Onions

It’s that time of year when I am ready for fresh vegetables strait from the garden, but don’t have anything to harvest. I mean, we are months away from harvest. Patience may not be my top virtue. But what can I say, spring makes me want to eat fresh, crisp, colorful foods.

One way to add lots of flavor and crunch is with quick pickles. They are easy to make, and really add an acidic spark to a dish. I have been adding pickled onions to all sorts of things lately. Salads, sandwiches, vegetable dishes, and I bet they’d be great on tacos or chili, too. Add them to a salad and you’ll be able to reduce the amount of dressing you use. They are crunchy, sweet, and sour all at once. And so easy – they are done in 20-30 minutes!

Pickled onions with zucchini salad

I made this zucchini almond salad (via the Smitten Kitchen cookbook). I added the pickled onions to the salad, and it was fantastic. And just look at that color!

I first found the pickled onions in Cooking Light magazine, to add to a baked open-faced sandwich (with asparagus, roasted garlic, and cheese, so good!) I still use the same general recipe, although in true Cynthia form I never measure anything. They are totally fudgeable, good results don’t rely on precision.

So here’s what you do:

(measurements are approximate)

¼ Red onion, sliced thin in half-moons

1 tsp sugar

½  tsp salt

½ cup red or white wine vinegar

Combine vinegar, sugar and salt in a bowl, mix to dissolve. Add onion, and let stand on counter for about 20 minutes. Stir occasionally.

If you have leftovers, you can keep them in a Tupperware in the fridge for up to a week, but they are best used within a day or two to maintain the crunch.


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Dill Pickled Asparagus

The other day, D and I were supposed to go to a potluck. We had just gotten back from the store ready to make au gratin potatoes, when we got word the potluck was cancelled. I had all this pent up cooking energy. What to do?

Pickle something, of course! I had bought a pound of asparagus from the store, an impulse item – they look so beautiful right now! With ingredients on hand I was able to complete this in about a half hour.

One of the frustrating things about pickles is that you can’t really taste test them right away, because the flavors change as they ferment. I am the kind of cook who throws things in the pot without measuring, and I adjust flavors constantly. Pickling is like baking, in that you don’t know how it’ll taste until it’s totally done and you can’t fix it anymore. This recipe is new to me, so we’ll see how it goes. This is also partly why I have only done refrigerator pickles so far – I haven’t yet found the perfect recipe.

I took the core of this recipe from pickyourown.org, my favorite site for basic pickle and jam recipes. Here’s how I made them:

Image

Asparagus cut to a little less than the height of the jar. I was going to roast the leftover bits but had room in the jar so ended up putting them in, too.

Ingredients:

1 – 2 pounds asparagus; washed and trimmed to fit the jar. (You snap off the bottom of the stem with your hands, right? Just hold the stem in both hands, towards the bottom, and bend until it snaps. The stem will break at the point where the tough flesh meets the tender flesh, leaving you with none of the chewy bits. You can then trim the ends so they are tidy, if that’s what you’re into.)

2 large cloves garlic, peeled and halved

1 driedchile de arbol pepper or red pepper flakes (optional)

2 stems fresh dill (the original recipe called for dill seeds, which I didn’t have on hand)

1 c white vinegar

1 c water

1 Tbsp salt (pickling or kosher, not table salt)

Image

Isn’t that pretty with the green spears and the red pepper?

Steps:

Place the garlic, asparagus, red pepper, and dill in jar (I use jars with the clamp lids for refrigerator pickles like these).

Bring vinegar, water, and salt to a boil. Pour immediately into jar over vegetables.

Close the lid while still warm, and put the jar in a cupboard to keep it in a dark cool place. After 3 days put the jar in the fridge. They should keep up to a month in the fridge, which is perfect because the Preservation Society is coming over in 2 weeks and they can help with ideas on the recipe.

Crunchy!

Crunchy!

Results:

These turned out nice. I will say that the asparagus flavor is a little lost amidst the dill and vinegar – I might use less dill next time, or use dill seeds as recommended. They weren’t spicy at all, to me. And the white vinegar has a harsh flavor to me; I might try a cider vinegar next time. But the texture is perfect, crunchy and bright. Overall, I’d say they are a success, with a few ideas for improvement next time!

Edit: D had these with pan-fried trout yesterday, and said it was a great combo.


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The Mighty Pea

Pea plant in early April

Pea plant in early April

Peas are one of the most wondrous plants to me. They’re so simple, but they pack a wallop of flavor. And they carry the weight of the world on their little pea shoulders. There’s a beautiful symmetry in growing peas. You put a pea in the ground, and you harvest many peas a few months later. All that is added to that little pea – nutrients, water, and eventually sunlight – produces a huge plant AND multiples of itself. There’s just something about the mirror image – pea in, peas out, really hits home for me. Which is part of what I love about gardening. You never know when the earth will hand you a revelation, or even just a reminder of the depth and complexity at work all around us.

I planted pea starts this year. I know, it’s more expensive and less likely to succeed than seeds, but I got excited by them at the nursery. Plus, prepping the earth as early as February just wasn’t going to happen this year. But it’s been probably 3 years since I grew peas, so I’m excited! I didn’t do any soil prep other than weeding, so fingers crossed.

I added compost around the base to help keep moisture in the soil and hopefully add a few nutrients.They’ve been in the ground about 10 days, and they have really grown! They are over a foot tall and are twining nicely on on each other and on the extra twine I put on the trellis.

There are a few that look like they won’t make it. See photo for an example of what I mean.

Withering stem of pea plant

Withering stem of pea plant

See how at the base it’s brown and thin? I’m not sure if it’s a root fungus or something introduced in a wound in the stem. There are only a couple that look like this, which makes me think it was a combo of damage during transplant (they were quite a tangle) and a pathogen – like an infection in a wound. I assume the plants will die, but I want to observe for a bit. If it looks like its spreading to others, I’ll pull them.

Should my harvest come through, here are my ideas of how to use the peas:

  • snacks (because let’s be honest, most of them won’t ever see the inside of my kitchen)
  • spring vegetable risotto (with asparagus, chard, or any tasty greens)
  • pesto pea salad (previously made with delicious but complicated fava beans)
  • green salads, and maybe even a soup? Recipes and ideas welcome.

I probably won’t preserve any this year. Normally peas are preserved by drying, or you can freeze or can them. I don’t think I’ll have a large harvest all at once, so snacks it is!


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Welcome to my garden!

I’m so glad you came to read my blog! The topic is growing food and preserving food, and I’ll be writing about my experience and also my new experiments.

I’ve been gardening for years, and have been growing veggies on and off all my life. Mostly easy stuff like tomatoes, peas, beans, squash, carrots, garlic, that sort of thing. This spring, I am unemployed and hope to have a lot more time for my garden than I have recently. Since I’ve taken on this blog project, I hope it will inspire me (yay for peer pressure!) to keep up with the garden and maybe even try something new.

For food preservation, I’m mostly interested in canning. I love making jam and pickling things – you can read about my history with it in my “About Me” section. My current obsession started from reading a book where a main character was canning peaches, and it felt like such an idyllic way of life – growing and preserving your own food. Mainly it was about the peaches, though. Then, after reading some dystopian novels, I want to be ready should the apocalypse arrive (something I nervously refer to as a “The Road” scenario). All this was in the back of my mind, but it wasn’t until my mom passed away that I realized how important canning was to my sense of family and home.

On this blog, you can expect to see posts about:

  • Gardening (Soil)
  • Canning and food preservation (Cellar)
  • What I’m cooking this week
  • What I’m preserving this week

I hope you’ll check back from time to time. I don’t claim to have any great secrets, but I am trying to get there. I see this blog as a documentation of my trials. Let me know what you’re working on, too!

Yours

-Cynthia