The end of gardening season is almost here. Sure, there is still baby spinach and red mustard that may or may not bring harvest before the frost, and a lone Tuscan kale plant, that I am half heartedly guarding against the critters…The days are short, shadows are long, and there is only enough warmth and direct sunshine to sustain less than an hour of sitting in a garden with a good read.
Before the backyard disappears into a soggy and eventually a frosty, entangled mess, here is a reflection of what did well, and what was only a tease in our city backyard this year. I now strongly believe that documenting is the only way for growth and progress, and it has certain, almost soul nurturing, quality. Teaches patience, and makes the home grown food, when it eventually reaches the table, feel so special. Also, and that is a huge part of why we grow food in containers and even the tiniest of city plots, makes it almost impossible to let the food go to waste. After so much wait and effort (watering by hand with rain water) would you really allow it to spoil? The garden also feels like an extension of our home, generously lending space to alfresco meals, (for us and the neighborhood bees) and offering what is seems like an attractive stopover to occasional dragonfly. Which happens to be my favorite insect of all times!
Winners this year:
- – Pepper Bianca
- – Eggplant Fairy Tale
- – Japanese cucumbers
- – Tomatoes: Sungold, Sweet 100, Black Cherry
- – Garlic German Red
- – Basil Genovese and Thai that were, and still are in late October, an absolute delight
- – Cilantro: both as a fresh plant and dried seeds it produced.
Only a tease category:
- Any large heirloom tomato, maybe with exception of Green Zebra
- Zucchini that only produced gorgeous flowers
For the longest time I could not make this desert ‘properly’, not because of its complicated recipe, or ingredient list, but simply because I did not have the right vessel for it. Custard glass cups from the supermarket just would not do it. My lucky break came earlier this summer at a small yard sale north of the city. I instantly scooped up a set of four. They remind me of much larger ones we had always used for desserts in my family. They still sit on the upper shelves in my parents’ pantry in my hometown in Poland. They don’t make appearance all that often now, everyone seems to gravitate to either ice cream or cake these days at the family gathering. But my heart is firmly with this simple jello dessert of my childhood.
The key is to use the ripest fruit that gets submerged and set in jello – raspberries and wild strawberries work particularly well. Once set for a couple of hours in refrigerator, out comes the topping. This should be done just before serving. No real rules here. I tend to add a dollop or two of homemade whip cream, shaved bitter chocolate, sometimes chopped hazelnuts, and always more fruit. Childhood treat that pleases children and adults alike!
Lets’ continue our summer backyard entertaining series, shall we? By the time the 2nd pick-your-own strawberries adventure happened this June, we were already through strawberry dessert, strawberry pierogies, and generally eating strawberries and (and cream!) for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It was time for some experiments to get through the rest. Looking at a huge basil plant in the back yard with its glossy, bright green leaves, an idea hatched. I remembered that I have seen a recipe for a strawberry and basil lemonade with bourbon, another ingredient from clean-your-pantry-shelf list. The loosely adapted recipe follows.
Start with ripe strawberries, and I promise, it will work, everything else is just a matter of personal taste, more sweet or more tart…or more bourbon!
For about 3 drinks (I used small jam jars) I used:
- About 1/2 pound strawberries with green tops removed
- 2/3 cup sugar
- juice from one lemon
- 6 basil leaves, chopped and lightly smashed with a wooden spoon
- 3 oz of bourbon, depending on taste
Puree strawberries in a blender with a bit of water, add a cup of water and heat on the stove until puree boils, add sugar and stir until dissolved. Cool completely. Strain through a mesh sieve (do not discard solids, more on this later!) Chill sirup for at least an hour. In a pitcher, combine syrup, ice water, lemon juice, and basil. Stir. Serve over ice decorated with basil sprig, blooming, if you have it!
As for the solids saved from the puree, I find it irresistible as a sauce for french toasts, used instead of maple syrup. Assuming the strawberries were ripe, you cannot go wrong. Just save little of the puree to dilute, if needed. Would be as good on crepes, too!
Once a year, when the strawberry season is in full swing, we head to Cape Ann in Massachusetts, to our favorite pick-your-own farm. I confess, I only eat strawberries when in season, and when I pick them myself. The entire experience can sustain me for a year. I get the fix of all things strawberry by making the seasonal treats that childhood memories are made of: strawberry pierogies, strawberry sirup for winter tea, and this Polish dessert. Recipe below.
3 tablespoon flour
300g powdered sugar
250g unsalted butter
very ripe strawberries
2 packages ladyfinger cookies
Boil milk and completely cool. Beat eggs with flour and bit of milk. Place milk back on the stove and on low/med heat, pour the egg mixture slowly into milk, constantly stirring, until it boils. Let it cool completely.
Beat butter with powdered sugar in a mixer, and start adding, one spoon at a time, the cooled off egg mixture. Again, let it cool.
Arrange ladyfinger cookies on the bottom and sides of a springform, trimming as needed to fill the smaller gaps. I trim the ends of the side pieces by about and inch, so they stand up easy and evenly. Start filling the springform with above cream and strawberry layers. Decorate with strawberries. Chill for at least two hours to set initially, but it is best enjoyed at room temperature.
The hot and sunny summer this year brought an abundance of tomatoes. Out tiny city yard was just big enough to fit few bushes of Sungolds, some Roma, and a plant or two each of red cherry and big burgundy slicing tomato, which name escapes me now. It is dutifully noted at the bottom of the planter, but it is a jungle out there… It is a a container jungle, but far from being contained. The Sungolds are reaching the top of first story window, tied with – what else – ties made from Liberty fabric scraps. Slicing tomatoes are taller then the fence, all thanks to strictly organic fertilizer, which was only used once, despite best efforts to keep “schedule”. And this is how we roll in our tiny city backyard, if you squint hard enough you can pretend it is a country garden shack. Welcome.
This year’s culinary discovery for me was tomato confit. Mine is lightly cooked in oil with home grown thyme an some garlic, just so the skins burst. Tomatoes are peeled when cooled, and frozen whole with leftover oil on top, for winter pizza and pasta. The fragrance permeating the kitchen when I make it it just a bonus.