Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Edible Plants of Thanksgiving!

My New England grandmother put on a classic Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving dinner each year. Many of you could probably recite the menu, and it never varied. Oh, at one point she added mashed turnips to the fare, because my father's mother had told her that my father loved them. This was patently untrue, and neither did anyone else, but there were some things you just didn't tell Grandma. So year after year the dish of lovingly mashed and buttered turnips sat untouched. But now I have a son who loves braised turnips with the holiday meal.

The modern menu has become a mix of foods from around the world. But it is still heavy on the fruit, roots, and grains of our American natives—albeit eastern natives and plants originally domesticated from central and South America. Cranberry sauce, succotash, the starchy side dishes and pies all have American origins. Some of the plants can be grown here; others have special requirements that would make it difficult.

I have a vivid memory of a rather tense discussion between my father and grandfather about the origins of that hard, candied fruit that sticks in your teeth when you eat fruitcake. One said it was a citrus, the other said it was a melon. These were two proud men, each sure of his position. The oldest child was eventually dispatched upstairs to look it up in the encyclopedia. The answer is at the end.

So to help your family resolve these factual disputes, here is some basic information about the Thanksgiving comestibles!

Vegetables and snacks:

The colonists didn't have any of these!

Vegetable sticks:

* Carrot -- Daucus carota sativa, and
* Celery -- Apium graveolens dulce.

These are cool season annuals; celery is from Europe and Asia, and carrots are probably from Afghanistan. Planted in early fall for winter and spring crops. Celery is surprisingly easy to grow, but a little tricky to blanch for the pale stalks you see in the store. So garden celery is green and has strong flavor.Carrots require loose soil or the roots will be misshapen, and the seed takes a long time to germinate. So it is often planted together with'

* Radishes -- Raphanus sativus

From the Mediterranean. Family: Brassicaceae (Mustard). Radish seeds germinate in days, and are ready to harvest in 3 – 6 weeks. Planted in fall or early spring in loose soil. The carrot seeds will just be sprouting as you pull the radishes.

* Olives -- Olea europea

Small tree, grown in full sun. Easy, ornamental, drought tolerant. Common allergy plant.

Mediterranean. Family: Oleaceae

Soaked in water, brine or lye to remove the bitter glucosides. Usually cured from green olives in California, then some are processed by bubbling air through the solution to make them turn black. Black (ripe) fruit are used for Italian and Greek-style olives.

Read more....

Written for the Davis Enterprise, November 24, 2005

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Noshing in November!

November is all about food.

"You should make a harvest calendar," someone said to me recently: a list of what we can harvest, month by month, from our garden and landscape. I like a challenge. It's easy to have bounty from your back yard, in, say, July. One peach tree can produce hundreds of fruit. With stone fruit varieties available to ripen as early as May and as late as October, a well-planned and rigorously pruned family orchard can readily yield from late spring into early fall. Citrus varieties ripen winter and spring, with some outliers into the summer and beyond (kumquats and Meyer lemons can have ripe fruit all year).

By now most gardeners have pulled their tomatoes, perhaps planted a few winter vegetables. The fruit trees are dropping their leaves. Perhaps grandmother made jams and preserves from the summer garden to enjoy during winter, but "putting food by" is a less common practice nowadays. What could be in your harvest basket in November and December?

A November harvest basket!
Clockwise from the upper rose: 'Owari Satsuma' mandarin, Feijoa; turnips, sweet peppers, rose hips; walnuts; hot peppers; Arbutus (small white blossoms). All surrounded by Ginkgo leaves.

The vegetable garden.

We almost always have sunny, dry weather here in the fall. While I have pulled most of my tomatoes, I was still harvesting fruit into November. Nights in the 40's and a couple of rainstorms put an end to that. But don't pull your pepper plants, if you have room: the green fruit that have set in late summer will continue to ripen nearly until frost.
This year we built a new vegetable planter primarily for root vegetables. I was curious if we could get winter vegetables going early enough to harvest for the Thanksgiving meal. Root vegetables like loose soil, and I decided that the easiest way to accomplish that was with a raised bed. So 2 x 12's were hammered into a 4 x 8 rectangle. The soil was amended with 2 parts compost to 1 part native soil, dug thoroughly to a depth of about 18 inches. A mini-sprinkler water line was attached and run nearly daily. Seeds were planted in early September: radishes, carrots, turnips, and beets. I could have planted parsnips, but my suspicion is that nobody would eat them; maybe next year.
Voila! Radishes were ready in October. Turnips will be on the Thanksgiving table, parboiled and then braised in butter and pepper. Beets are just bulging, so they will be later holiday fare. And the carrots look to be at least a month or so away. Brussels sprouts planted nearby have just begun to form their odd little side sprouts; six plants may produce enough for a small side dish now, with lots more to come as they mature up the stem. Lettuce and other salad greens can be harvested within a few weeks of planting; likewise Pak choi and Swiss chard. And all of these will continue to yield through the winter and spring, until hot weather returns.

Continue reading....

Saturday, November 7, 2009

De-puckering persimmons?

Puckery persimmons?

From the Davis Enterprise, December 27, 2007

We get questions....

I've heard there is a way to pick persimmons and ripen them so they aren't astringent.

Of the dozens of Oriental persimmon varieties, two are commonly grown in California. Fuyu persimmons are flattened on the bottom and are non-astringent. They can be eaten as soon as they turn orange (November), having a mild, sweet flavor and a texture firm enough to munch like an apple or add to fruit salad. They also dry nicely, sliced thin and layered in a fruit dehydrator for a few hours. Dip the slices in melted chocolate for an elegant touch.

Hachiya persimmons are elongated and have a point on the bottom of the fruit. They turn color in November but aren't edible until December. Hachiya and other astringent persimmon varieties, including the native American species, are famous for their astringency when under-ripe, and for their gelatinous texture when ripe. Many people are put off by the gooshy ripe fruit, but Hachiya has a richer flavor and is more prized for cooking.

Astringency in persimmons is caused by tannins, the same chemicals that make tea, red wine, and unripe bananas and peaches cause your mouth to pucker. Tannins cause the surface of your tongue and mouth to constrict and stop salivating: 'it will drawe a mans mouth awrie with much torment,' said Captain John Smith upon tasting the American 'putchamin' in Virginia. Mmmm. Yet fully ripe, with the flesh nearly liquid, they are described as luscious and honey-like.

The USDA tried over a number of years to introduce persimmons to growers and consumers, and sought to overcome the astringency and mushiness of the fruit in order to broaden its appeal. Observing the process of ripening employed in Japan and China, they saw the hard, unripe fruit:

--immersed in a mix of water and lime for several days.

--sealed in a covered earthenware jar with a burning stick of incense for a day or two.

--buried in mud for several days.

--packed in sake casks just after the sake was drawn off, immediately sealed air tight.

Each of these techniques left the fruit firm, ripe, and non-astringent.

Continue reading.....

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Plants with colorful winter fruit!

Pyracantha berries are turning color, citrus have their first ripening blush.
Here's a list of plants to provide color in the landscape in the winter.