The spring beets should be sizing up right about now, so how about making some tasty pickles for summer BBQs? This is my mother’s beet pickle recipe, simple and yet delicious.
And of course, since it came from her and it is food I loved as a child, it always takes me back to my North Dakota farm roots.
I don’t know what variety beets she grew, but for pickles I like to grow Detroit Dark Red or Early Wonder Tall Top for the rich burgundy color.
Remove beet tops, leaving 1 inch of top. Boil the beets in lightly salted water. When tender enough for a knife to pass through them, drain. Cool the beets in icy water, slipping the skin off them while they’re still hot. When cool, cut into 1-inch chunks.
Simmer the water, vinegar, sugar and spices for 15 minutes.
Pack the beets into jars and cover with liquid to within 1/2 inch of the jar top. Process for 30 minutes in a hot water bath.
Makes 3 pints.
p.s. For details on growing successive plantings of root crops, including beets, for fall and winter, see my column in the July-August, 2016 issue of Edible Seattle.
It was the best of weather, it was the worst of weather.
Memorial Day Weekend in Seattle will bring up brooding Dickensian thoughts. What should herald the start of summer here often disappoints. When all you want to do is take your kids hiking, go to a music festival, wheel off on a nice long bike ride, or simply just host a BBQ, you have to look to the skies, and judge the depth of the grey.
Why, then, would I start this post so optimistically? The best of weather, by what standards? Well, my Brussels sprouts love it.
At this stage of the year—what I call mid-spring in my catalog of mini-seasons—I am engaged in a garden tug-of-war. Part of me wants to grow the fattest red tomato on the block, so juicy it drips down my shirt. I want big pepper plants heavy with spicy pods. Some years, I even yearn for a stand of corn.
But my muscles yank me back to cool-season crops too, and possibly more to reality. Mid-spring is a time for struggle on the part of my tomato plants, and the peppers can stay under cover or fight for their survival. But it’s a glorious time of growth for cool-season vegetables. They celebrate this dreary holiday weekend weather like twirling hippies at a Phish concert.
And now, when you’re focused solely on getting those hot crops of summer in the ground, let the cool breezes of a maritime spring clue you in: time to give those long-season vegetables of next winter some love.
Here’s a quick list of what to sow now in pots for planting out in June and July:
And here are some things to plant directly in the garden in mid-July for fall and winter eating:
There are many other, shorter-season veggies that can be sown later in the summer and into the fall for fall and winter eating, but for right now, instead of trying to jump-start summer, skip over it and look to fall. Put on a Dead record and rave on with your brassicas.
Final presentation at City People’s
Many Seattle gardeners are mourning the impending loss of City People’s Garden Store on Madison, which got the land sold out from under it for the inevitable mixed-use development. It was the first nursery I used when I moved to Seattle in the mid-1980s, and I still hold it fondly in my mind. When it closes at the end of this year, it will be a major loss for city gardeners. I will miss it.
I’ve been giving a series of edible gardening talks there for years, and my last talk is coming up next weekend. On Sunday, June 5 at 11 a.m. I’ll do a seminar on starting long-season vegetables. Hope you can join me, support the store with some purchases and give City People’s a proper send-off.
I’m not Bob Flowerdew, but tomorrow I get to play him on the radio.
You’ll get that reference if you’re a fan of the British radio gardening show Gardeners’ Question Time. I get the BBC 4 show via podcast, and greatly enjoy the experience of listening, learning and laughing along with their panel of witty experts.
And tomorrow, I get to channel a little bit of Mr. Flowerdew (yes, his actual name) on the KIRO radio show of Ciscoe Morris, Seattle’s own version of a beloved expert radio gardener. Gardening with Ciscoe is on at 11 a.m. every Saturday on 97.3 FM.
Ciscoe’s program can also be heard via podcast, in case you’re not near a radio on Saturday mornings or not within range of KIRO’s towers.
Interestingly, many of the gardening questions posed to Ciscoe and his guests could be lifted (minus the lilting British accents) from GQT. Our Maritime Northwest climate has a lot in common with the mild climes of the British Isles. I often hear advice on that show that is applicable to my own yard–another reason to listen, if I needed one. For example, the British grow familiar vegetables on a similar timetable in their “allotments” as we do in our P-Patches.
GQT has been educating and entertaining gardeners since 1947, inspired by the country’s postwar “Dig for Victory” campaign, similar to the “Victory Garden” program in the U.S. that urged people to grow food as a method of self-sustainability during wartime. Its amazing longevity can be attributed to the British love of gardening, although you could say that it has contributed to their perennial plant fever.
As proof of my GQT fandom, I even have attended a live taping. Amazingly, the GQT’s website provides the proof. Two summers ago, my wife and I took a walking trip in England, and after strolling the farms and gardens of the Cotswolds, we ventured to Wales for a weekend to attend GQT’s Summer Garden Party at the National Botanic Gardens of Wales.
In this photo on their website, you can clearly see me in my green shirt (and Susie next to me) to the left of the sign, waiting for the taping to begin. We were present for the taping of two shows, but alas did not get any of our questions chosen for consideration by the panel.
And what an amazing panel of experts on their stage. Flowerdew, Bunny Guinness (which reminds me, Happy Easter!), Pippa Greenwood (you can’t make these names up!), Toby Buckland, Chris Beardshaw, James Wong and other panelists are certainly pedigreed.
Guinness is a landscape designer who has won six gold medals at the Chelsea Flower Show (and is the niece of rose breeder David Austin). Beardshaw is a landscape architect, BBC television garden program host, and was a judge at this year’s Northwest Flower & Garden Show (also presenting some delightful seminars). Wong is a botanist, and Greenwood is a plant pathologist. Buckland heads London’s oldest plant nursery. Flowerdew is one of England’s leading organic gardeners whose family has been farming in East Anglia since the Tudors ruled the land in the 1500s. All of which makes me realize that I should study more and work on my credentials.
Although I can’t hope to match either the panel’s expertise or their wit (a recent edible gardening discussion devolved into testing the soil temperature by getting naked in the garden to decide whether it is warm enough to plant), I will try to pass on my vegetable-growing tips and inject levity where possible in with Ciscoe’s banter. He’s a great host, an expert in just about everything green, and a fun person to chat with, and I always look forward to the show.
So listen if you can, call in if you’d like, and don’t worry about the weeding. As they say on GQT, “you’ll be back to the garden in 45 minutes.”
Here are a few photos from the National Botanic Garden in Wales, which is about an hour north of Swansea. It’s an amazing place you should visit if you ever get the chance.
The garlic has just begun its sun salutations. Bouquets of fava bean leaves are catching the spring rains as they emerge on sturdy stems. The promise of these two early summer delicacies is just coming into leaf, but already it’s blooming in my mind. What awaits is a rich, savory saute of succulent beans and fiery garlic in butter and oil.
So it’s a little early yet, but I’ll share one of my favorite recipes:
Fava Beans in Spring Garlic
4 handfuls of fava bean pods (pick when the pods begin to droop on the plant; use immediately, as the bean’s sugars will turn to starch in 1-2 days)
2 heads spring garlic (pull while tops are fully green and perhaps 12 inches high; choose plants that have ended up overly close to their neighbors, thus enabling the adjacent plant to fully develop its bulb)
3 T olive oil
3 T butter
Shell the beans, and drop the bean seeds all at once into a pan of boiling water (enough to cover). Swirl and cook for a very short time, perhaps 30 seconds, until the beans begin to turn brighter green. Use a sieve to quickly remove the beans and drop them into a bowl of icy water to stop the cooking.
As the beans cool, pluck them from the water and pinch off their rubbery outer skin. It will be loose and easily removed, the bean slippery within. Use a knife to cut a slot in the skin if necessary to pop the bean out. Discard the skins and reserve the beans to dry.
Rinse and trim the garlic. Discard the outer green leaves. The young garlic bulb will not have differentiated cloves, and you will use the entire thing, plus some of the greens. Roughly chop the garlic into half-inch chunks.
Warm the olive oil in a saute pan to medium heat and add the garlic to the sizzling oil. Cook the garlic for a minute or so, tossing regularly, until limp and giving off a pungent odor.
Add the fava beans. Add the butter. As the butter melts, stir to coat the favas. Reduce heat if sizzling and cook for up to five minutes, testing the beans for doneness. When the beans have softened and can easily be speared with a fork, remove from heat.
Sprinkle with sea salt and eat immediately. Serves 2 people.
Worth waiting for
I love this recipe for its simplicity, and its fresh taste of spring. In fact, watching these plants develop is one of the joys of the spring season.
Young garlic, pulled before the bulb has had a chance to differentiate into cloves, has an onionlike texture and a flavor that is equal parts spiciness and grassiness.
Fresh fava beans, freed from their tough, grey seed coats, seem to be equal parts sugar and substance. Once cooked, they retain a meaty toothsomeness like the interior of a firm baked potato, but with only a light starchiness.
It’s too soon to be whipping up this recipe, but I mentioned it in my column in the current issue of Edible Seattle. (If you’ve come to this site because of the column, thank you for supporting that fine magazine!) You might not have these two crops growing in your garden right now. Plan to grow them next year, and this spring, look for fresh favas and young garlic at your local farmers market. The dish is worth the wait.
Back from my annual visits to the region’s garden shows, which filled my head with ideas for pathways and fun garden additions. I was also amazed at the materials used for the hardscape and water features, and had a very enjoyable time helping one display garden become reality.