Kitchen Garden

Basil in the House

Pulling basil leaves from the stem.

This year I grew basil under row cover. It has been the best crop ever.

I harvested a full basket of it. When the leaves were washed and air-dried on the counter, I pulled them from the stems. The aroma of basil permeated the entire house. It is a welcome time.

The kitchen produces fresh pasta sauce when basil comes in. When I use fresh, home grown tomatoes and garlic, fresh basil makes pasta sauce that has me stopping to take note. It is that good!

Most of my basil goes into pesto. I’m still using last year’s production and the new vintage will keep in the freezer until winter. I experimented with kale pesto, mustard greens pesto, and others. It is a local tradition to make pesto with garlic mustard leaves after removing them in a futile attempt to control its invasive growth. It tastes good, yet it is not the same. I am a basil boy when it comes to pesto.

A few times each season I’ll make a cheese pizza with fresh basil leaves thrown on top after baking. In season, basil is a mainstay of our Iowa vegetarian kitchen.

Basil does not keep long, on the counter, in water, or in the refrigerator. I tried freezing the leaves on a baking sheet, although I find myself using dried basil leaves instead of frozen fresh. I put a batch or two of basil leaves in the dehydrator and let them air dry. It provides most of what we need until next year’s crop.

A kitchen is not as alive as it is during August when basil, tomatoes, garlic and onions are all in. It is a time gardeners and chefs await all year.

Kitchen Garden

Summer Begins

Vidalia onions, garlic scapes and fresh basil.

White butterflies flit around cruciferous vegetable plants laying eggs. It is a sure sign summer is here. I spend more time in the garden and noticed increased insect life. In addition to the green worm-producing butterflies, there are plenty of pollinators. Insect life is a blessing and a curse, something with which gardeners learn to live. There should be a big harvest this year.

Using a scissors, I clipped the top parts of chervil plants and held the herb in my hands. The mild anise fragrance was intoxicating. It made about two cups of loosely packed leaves which are washed, dried, and in a tub in the refrigerator waiting for me to figure out how to use the herb.

I plan to make my first batch of pesto today of mustard greens, garlic scapes, pine nuts, extra virgin olive oil, and salt. Mustard is strongly flavored and will dominate the pesto. There is little benefit to adding herbs as they would be overpowered. Will see how it tastes when I get into the project. I have plenty of basil yet I may reserve that for a more traditional pesto.

Today is the first day of summer and we ended spring with spaghetti and peas for dinner. The sauce was made of last year’s tomatoes, vidalia onions, garlic scapes and fresh basil. Tomato sauce so good I had to stop and consider how lucky we are to have a garden. It was a fine way to welcome summer.

Kitchen Garden

Weeds in the House

Wildflowers, July 11, 2020

I like my lawn. It is a great source of mulch for the garden, although it seems like there is never enough.

What is there transitions throughout the growing season. We are currently in clover and around the edges native plants come up like the ones in the photograph.

These are weeds, but they look nice on the counter.

When basil comes in I make pasta sauce of last year’s canned tomatoes, onions, garlic and basil. I’m trying to use up the old tomatoes to make room for new. Pasta sauce varies from preparation to preparation. Near as I remember, this is what I did yesterday.

Summer Pasta Sauce

Drain six pints of canned, diced tomatoes in a funnel. Once thoroughly drained, put them in a slow-cooker, reserving the liquid for another dish. Whizz them with a stick blender until somewhat smooth yet with a few chunks of tomato.

Ribbon all the basil you have (about a cup and a half of chiffonade). Put the basil in the slow cooker and incorporate with the tomatoes.

Dice two cups of onions and mince three or four large cloves of garlic.

Heat two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a frying pan. Once shimmering add the onions and stir gently until they begin to turn translucent. Salt to taste. Next add the garlic and cook until the aroma of garlic rises from the pan. After a couple more minutes transfer the mixture into the slow cooker and incorporate.

Turn the cooker on high heat and let it go throughout the morning. Around lunch time stir and turn the heat down to medium. Once it’s dinner time, cook pasta noodles, put the drained noodles in a mixing bowl and ladle a couple of generous servings of pasta sauce on top and mix gently with tongs. It’s ready to serve topped with Parmesan cheese, pepper and maybe thinly sliced green onions.

We served the pasta with steamed green beans picked that morning and simple cucumber salad. We’re in the cucumber season so we eat them constantly. There’s no room for more pickles in the ice box or pantry.

New potatoes are in so I tried a new recipe for potato salad. I cut it back to make less for two people, so it could be doubled or tripled for a dish for potluck. In the time of the coronavirus, there won’t be any potlucks soon.

Summer Potato Salad

Boil a pound of peeled, cubed new potatoes. Don’t boil them to mush. Hard cook an egg and put both in the ice box overnight.

Dice the potatoes into a bowl. Grate the egg into the same bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste, a quarter cup prepared mayonnaise, a tablespoon Dijon mustard, and a generous tablespoon of chopped sweet pickles. Stir gently with a spatula until incorporated. Put the mixture in a refrigerator dish, level it out, and sprinkle paprika on top for decoration. Leave it refrigerated a couple of hours before serving if you can resist eating it at once.

Potato salad has many variations and this is most like what Mother made for us when we were graders.

Kitchen Garden

Kale and Garlic Scape Pesto

Garlic Scapes

Here’s a second recipe for kale and garlic scape pesto. The first uses walnuts and Parmesan cheese and can be found here.

Get out the food processor and place it on the counter.

Measure the following and place in the bowl of the food processor in the same order:

Two thirds cup raw pine nuts
One third cup thinly sliced garlic scapes
One and one half cups roughly chopped kale, packed
One third cup whole basil leaves, packed
One teaspoon sea salt
One half teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Two tablespoons lemon juice. If fresh lemon, peel first and add the yellow rind
Two thirds cup extra virgin olive oil (reserved)

Turn on the processor and grind the mixture until it starts to break down.
Drizzle the olive oil into the mixture as the machine runs.

Scrape the bowl into a quart canning jar with a spatula.

Spread some immediately on a slice of sourdough bread toast for the cook and any kitchen visitors. Screw on the lid and refrigerate until ready to use.

Fresh pesto keeps only briefly without oxidation in the ice box. If you want to use it way later, put the jar in the freezer.

Kitchen Garden

Season’s New Hope

Sundog Farm in Late Winter
Sundog Farm in Late Winter

My first work day at Local Harvest CSA, was spent organizing for the season and soil blocking for the first seedlings.

I made two trays for myself as part of the barter deal with the farmer.

In one I seeded basil, Conquistador celery and Tall Utah celery. In the other was four kinds of kale: Dwarf Vates Blue Curled Scotch, Scarlet, Darkibor and Starbor. The growing season is here.

Basil and Celery
Basil and Celery

We never know the outcome of gardening. Tall Utah celery seeds are very small. It was difficult to get only one or two into each dibbled cell — I didn’t. I bought them on special from the Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa where they don’t pellet seeds. Like with so much about gardening it is another experiment to see what grows well and tastes delicious. The pelleted Conquistador celery seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Winslow, Maine were easier to plant. A controlled germination house environment should encourage the best from these seeds. We’ll see how it goes.

3,120 Soil Blocks
3,120 Soil Blocks

Soil blocking is endemic to Community Supported Agriculture projects. Like much of our work, it is done by hand. Getting the moisture content of the soil mix right is a constant challenge. It is dry as it comes out of the bag into a tub. Watering is done in stages, testing the moisture content after each round of turning with a transfer shovel. Moisture management continues as the soil blocks are made. The pressure of the soil block tool squeezes moisture from the mixture as the blocks are made. It makes the soil mix wetter. It took 3.83 hours to get organized and produce the first batch of trays. As the season progresses, I’ll get faster.

The farmer went to town to get some supplies for the germination shed leaving me alone with two dogs and partly cloudy skies. I took a moment to breathe the fresh air and look at the sky. Hope springs from days like this. New hope for a successful season.


Erasing the White Board

To-do List
To-do List

Snow fell in darkness leaving a thin blanket of white.

The pin oak tree began shedding last year’s foliage indicating warm weather activated new leaf buds and pushed out the old.

Seems weird to rake leaves in February. More to the point, it’s not normal.

In a couple of hours I return for a fifth season at Local Harvest CSA. The main spring task is soil blocking 72 and 120 cell trays for seed starting in the germination house. Part of my arrangement is keeping some of my own seedlings there. When I’m finished with the farm’s trays, I’ll make one 72 and one 120 tray for myself and seed them with kale, celery and basil. I’m hopeful they will do better than in the south-facing window in our bedroom. Getting my hands dirty with soil is a great way to get ready for spring, three weeks away by the calendar.

Other chores on my white board include doing taxes, computer file backup, cleaning the car, preparing the garden for spring and Belgian lettuce planting this week (traditionally March 2). I made extra servings of spaghetti with tomato sauce for lunches and want to make a batch of taco filling for breakfast on work days at the home, farm and auto supply store. There’s also more writing projects.

During a Climate Reality Project conference call on Thursday, a friend from Waterloo and I decided to work on a project with other friends from Waterloo-Cedar Falls. I’ve done two presentations there and look forward to more meaningful work. We’re planning luncheon, maybe next weekend.

This last lap in the workingman’s race looks to be action packed with local food, environmental and cash producing projects coming into focus.

Night’s snowfall melting in the sun makes way for budding plants in a grey and brown landscape. It is almost time to wipe the whiteboard clean and begin anew.