Yacón harvest

Yacón is a South American tuber of the daisy plant family, Asteraceae, which among others includes echinaceas, sunflowers and jerusalem artichokes. It is a perennial and will resprout in the spring in regions with mild winters, but in harsher conditions the root crowns need to be harvested and kept cool but frost-free during the winter and replanted after the last frost in the spring.

We grew Yacón, Smallanthus sonchifolius, for the first time last year, from one small crown. The tuber yield was meager, which we attributed to cold, windy conditions, but there were crowns enough on that one plant to propagate several this year to give away to friends and fellow plant geeks, and grow four of them ourselves. This year we picked a sunny, sheltered spot and added a lot of compost to the planting hole. And what a response! Two of the plants are now harvested, yielding four kilos – almost nine pounds.  Big tubers just waiting to enhance our fruit salads, slaws, curries and culinary experiments. 🙂

Yacón tastes like a cross between jerusalem artichokes and sugar cane, it is wonderfully crunchy and pleasantly sweet, good for your digestive system, good for soil life and can keep for months. Mother Earth News provides a more detailed description of its characteristics.

Hopefully we can keep the crowns happy through the winter, we are sooo ready for new yacón adventures in 2013. =D

Advertisements

Multipurpose Jerusalem Artichokes

I couldn’t resist any longer, I just had to see what was in the ground under the jerusalem artichoke plants! Those jerusalem artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus) that have been guarding the garden against a recurrent blackberry invasion. They have grown to over two meters, flowered with their beautiful miniature sunflowers, held on to the soil on the slope and survived antler rubbing from the deer, all obvious to the eye, but how did they look underground? Turns out they looked goood…. 🙂 Smooth, lots of ’em, and the biggest were  almost the length of my palm. Tasty when diced and baked together with other root vegetables or in one of my favorite salads: grated jerusalem artichokes, carrots and apples. All in season locally right now. And another really nice thing about j. a. : they are really hard to get rid of, they keep coming back year after year, from overlooked tubers in the ground.  Oh, and they keep well in the soil through the winter, they can just be dug up when needed, as long as the ground isn’t frozen. It’s a win/win/win/win/win… many times!

Wild ketchup

All these years in this country – Denmark – I have been passing hawthorn (hvidtjørn) hedgerows, admiring their beautiful snow-like flowering that is a favourite with the bees, and later their bright red berries that the birds feast on. Litlle did I know that the berries were a feast for people too. Recently enlightened by a resident of The Toad’s Garden , I set out the other day to pick haws, Crataegus monogyna or C. laevigata, with the aim of making haw ketchup. I admit I was a little sceptical, the raw fruit is not a peak culinary experience IMO, but my curiosity and love of wild edibles won, and I came home with 2 kilos of fruit.  Half a kilo went into the freezer for later experiments, and 1,5 kilos were cooked up with 5 cloves of garlic, 9 dl. vinegar and 9 dl. of water. After boiling for about half an hour, the fruit was tender enough to be rubbed through a sieve. The pulp was returned to the pot and the pits and stems fed to the compost. I brought the pot to a boil again, and added:

480 g. of sugar

1 tsp. salt

ground black pepper to taste

1/4 tsp ground cloves

¼ tsp ground allspice

½ tsp hot paprika

I let it simmer while I washed and scalded the jars and lids, poured the boiling ketchup into the hot jars, sealed them and turned them upside down to further the sterilisation of the jars. Two of my store-bought canning jars did not seal, but spattered hot ketchup and had to be emptied back into the pot and re-boiled. After trying several unsatisfactory brands of canning jars this year, I find that I prefer recycled jars from jam, pickles etc… which have those neat “click-lids” that click when you open the jar, and you then know it’s been sealed well. When you use them for canning hot foods, they click down when they cool down. I like the fact that when I open one of these jars again, I can tell by the click that no air has entered it during storage, and even better, no gases from botulism bacteria have developed. Apparently, botulism bacteria can be present yet not develop gases, so botulism paranoia cannot entirely be eliminated… good hygiene in the kitchen is a must!

And while we’re at it with the health issues: haws are reputed to have a stabilising effect on the heart  and heartbeat, but also to increase the effect of heart medicine. So if you have any heart issues, please research this and draw your own conclusions.

So all this resulted in about 2 liters of haw ketchup – thick, yummy and a nice, deep red color. Next time I think I will give it a spin in the blender after sieving, this batch is a little bit grainy from my coarse sieve, it coud be more smooth, but no big deal. I will also be braver with the spices and try some tastier vinegars than the white vinegar I had at hand this time (plus a little apple cider vinegar and some raspberry vinegar, but I didn’t have much left of either of those).

This sauce works well cold, as a ketchup, but I think it will also make a nice sweet n’ sour sauce when warm.

Winter warmer chilies

This winter there will be plenty of warming dishes on the table! It will soon be time to harvest this first attempt at growing my own chilies, and I’m preeetty happy with the results. 🙂 Not only does the harvest make me happy, but just looking at all the shapes and colors releases endorphins… =D Eating chili is also said to release endorphins, so what a great way to make up for any winter blues! How hot chilies are, varies with the chili variety and growing conditions, the spice heat being measured in Scoville Heat Units (SHU). The SHU are a measure of how much capsaicin – the hot substance – the chili contains. A bell pepper with no heat rates 0 and the strongest chilies rate around 2,000,000. Pepper spray, btw, is stronger than that.

Below are pictures of the chili varieties I am growing this year, and their estimated SHU.

Cucurbitaceae

What a beautiful and impressive plant family, the cucurbitaceae are! Pumpkins, squashes, melons, cucmbers, cahiuas – such a varied, delicious and highly productive bunch. The hügelbeet is camouflaged by them these days, along with corn, sunflowers and a bunch of salad greens trying to defend their spot in the corner farthest from all the vines.

Ten kilos of pumpkin is a lot of food. We had pumpkin for days, in many ways, and all worth cooking up again, so for those of you who have bountiful pumpkin patches, here are some recipes we like, in more or  less detail:

Pumpkin soup

Put chunks of peeled and de-seeded pumpkin in a pot.
Add a few cms of water and boil until the pumpkin is tender.
Blend smooth and return to the pot.
Season to taste with lemon juice, finely grated lemon rind, finely grated fresh ginger, salt and finely chopped chili.
Bring to a boil and stir in a few spoonfuls whole cream.
Serve with sour cream or cottage cheese in the middle and a sprinkle of chopped bronze fennel or parsley.

Pumpkin lasagna

500 g.  sliced fresh mushrooms
2 large chopped onions
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon good quality vegetable oil
6 dl. grated pumpkin
2 dl. reduced fat cream
2 tablespoons sage leaves
pepper to taste
½ package lasagna noodles
5 dl.   cottage cheese
2,5 dl.   mozzarella cheese
2 dl.   grated parmesan cheese

Saute the mushrooms, onions and half of the salt in the oil until tender and set aside.
In a bowl, combine the pumpkin,cream, sage, pepper, and remaining salt.
Spread a thin layer of pumpkin sauce in a pan.
Cover with a layer of noodles.
Spread a thin layer of pumpkin sauce over the noodles.
Spread another thin layer of the mushrom mixture, cottage cheese,  mozzarella and a sprinkle parmesan cheese.
Repeat layers, ending with pumpkin sauce.
Cover and bake at 175° for 30 minutes. Uncover and sprinkle with mozzarella. Bake for another 15 minutes.

Pumpkin chutney

700 g. peeled, de-seeded and diced pumpkin
500 g. peeled, cored and diced cooking apples
2 large chopped onions
100 g. dried apricots or cranberries
100 g. raisins
2 teaspoons salt
60 g.  finely grated fresh ginger
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
2 teaspoons ground allspice
2 tablespoons  mustard seeds
1-2 finely chopped red chillies (to taste)
6 crushed garlic cloves
6 dl. apple vinegar
200 g. sugar
250 g. brown sugar

Mix all the ingredients except the sugar in a large pan.
Simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the sugar and stir until dissolved.
Continue to simmer uncovered for about 1 – 1 ½ hours until the chutney is thick.
Pour into sterilized jars and seal.
Goes well with pumpkin lasagna, among many things!

Baked pumpkin

1 kg. pumpkin
½ dl. olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon salt
pinch of  pepper

Mix all the ingredients except pumpkin in a bowl.
Cut the peeled and de-seeded pumpkin into large chunks, and add to the bowl.
Spread the pumpkin in a baking pan and bake at 180° for 45 minutes.

Pumpkin cake

500 g. sugar
3 eggs
500 g. flour
3 teaspoons vanilla sugar
250 g margarine
½ liter grated pumpkin
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
3 teaspoons cinnamon

Mix all ingredients.
Pour into a greased and flour-dusted baking pan.
Bake in a pre-heated oven for 40 minutes at 175°.

Pumpkin smoothie (surprisingly good!)

In a blender, combine:
Peeled and de-seeded pumpkin in chunks
1 teaspoon vanilla sugar
1 tablespoon honey
Apple juice to desired consistency.
Optional: ice cubes, if your blender can handle it, otherwise add them after blending.

Blend, pour, enjoy!