Tag Archives: garden

Fall Harvest with Melissa Clark

Final Harvest

Like much of the world, we have been plunged into darkness and cold for the next few months of winter. The harvest is over and our final haul consisted of a few remaining ears of blue clarage corn, a sugar pie pumpkin, and a lone spaghetti squash.

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All were delicious and fun to cook with the squash being dressed in a spicy alfredo sauce, the pumpkin becoming a spiced trifle with nutmeg cream at Thanksgiving, and the corn going to the birds. We do our best not to waste anything around here.

Parsnips, a collaboration with Melissa Clark

The very final crop was a half row of turga parsnips. I was so proud of these and they were the very easiest crop of the season – just plant and forget them until the first couple of frosts roll through. They get even sweeter with those first few icy nights.

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A few years ago, a dear friend of mine in New York got me hooked on Melissa Clark from the New York Times. Her recipes are classically perfect and incorporate a variety of my favorite vegetables. She shows up in our meals at least once each week. Last week, her recipe for Pasta with Parsnips and Bacon showed up in my inbox. I couldn’t help but think that Ms. Clark was spying on me.

With all the ingredients at hand, I roasted the parsnips, filling the house with the most amazing fragrance. Combining them with the leeks, bacon, pasta, parmesan, and cream was the perfect marriage. I highly recommend trying it out for yourself and there’s a video with Melissa Clark on the recipe link above that walks you through the steps.

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It was a triumphant end to the harvest season, and the beginning of a time to regroup and collect one’s wits before spring. I hope everyone has a chance to read, be inspired, and find a few recipes or projects that bring you joy.

Summer’s Bounty

I can’t remember a summer where I’ve enjoyed the fruits and vegetables of the season more than this one. Although it was a busy summer with work and more house projects, there was always a chance to spend time in the garden, to stock up on local produce at the King George Farmers Market, and to get creative in the kitchen with fun ingredients. For the most part, baring a few calamities and skinned knees along the way, summer has been a very joyous occasion.

Blackberry Invasion

One of my favorite Saturday mornings was spent picking blackberries, trying to avoid the impending one-hundred-degree heat index that has pervaded the last month. With winding paths mowed through the tall grass, long sleeves, canvas pants, and enough DEET to take down a small elephant, I ventured out to return with more berries than I consumed. That’s a very tough order.

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I returned with just enough to get started on my favorite blackberry cobbler, which would be the primary course at lunch that day (don’t judge), with another made later in the week. (The second one would definitely be topped with vanilla ice cream). The recipe is a perfect balance of sweet, tender biscuit, and fruit juice that has simmered into a syrup.

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Over the next few weeks, we picked pound upon pound of blackberries that we froze or made into jam. Blackberry jam is one of my necessities for year-round survival, and sometimes I simply eat it with a spoon, it is so good! A few years ago, my friend Nicole told me that cooking jam in copper was the only way to fly. So last spring, I bought my first copper jam pan and gave it a try. I don’t know if it’s the increased evaporation, the contact with the metal, or just the sheer beauty of cooking in copper that makes the jam so much more delicious. Regardless, I’m hooked and will only go back to stainless for jam when it’s a necessity.IMG_0026

Five pounds of wild blackberries simmering in the copper jam pan. The fruit seems to glow!

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The first batch of blackberry jam for the summer

The Garden

In the garden, some of my favorite varieties have really taken off this year. I’m hoping it’s the hard work I put into amending the soil and preparing the beds, but somehow I think it’s just good luck. You might remember my love for white acre peas, which I planted extra of this year. Other favorites that made an appearance include bowling red okra, straight eight cucumbers, early yellow squash, and pineapple cossack ground cherries. What are you growing in your garden?

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The ground cherries look like small paper lanterns on the bottom of the basket

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The white acre peas have been prolific this year, much to my liking

With another few weeks of summer left, the final tomatoes are just now ripening and fall planting will be underway. Here’s to the dog days of summer as we all look to cooler breezes and another joyous season just around the corner.

Vegetable Garden Evolution

With it being nearly 100 degrees in Northeast Virginia with no pool in sight, writing about the garden seemed like a much better deal than working in it. It has been three seasons since I dug my first garden bed out here, and I thought you might like to see its evolution.

I’ve often heard Margaret, my friend who is a landscape designer, talk about the cultivation of new garden beds and how it takes about three seasons to achieve a mature space. While she was probably referring to flower and ornamental beds, I heard Margaret’s voice when we moved in two and a half years ago. I knew that getting started early, even with a basic plan, would yield a mature space sooner than later.

Season 1

The picture below is our first attempt at cultivating an old, fallow field that once held cattle. Ambitious at 40′ x 20′, we tilled in Spring 2014 with a questionable $100 tiller from Craigslist.  The combination of very clay-heavy soil and a cheap tiller made your whole body tremble for hours after, but we got it done and started planting.

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The results were amazing to see (and eat!), and I learned so much about seed varieties, what worked, and what didn’t do so well. This would be the basis for the next two seasons. Vegetable Garden

Season 2

The second season was a bit tougher as the indoor renovations had begun and most reserve energy went into completing those projects. But I was still on a mission to keep cultivating the garden space, making it even better after year one.

A cold winter gave me the chance to ponder new designs and best practices. I stumbled across the book, A Rich Spot of Earth, an exploration of Thomas Jefferson’s gardens at Monticello, by Peter Hatch. I was mesmerized. Jefferson’s planning, thoughtfulness, and overall vision to create a diverse and beautiful garden was inspiring to me. After a visit to Monticello and some drawings of my own, I had a clear path forward.

Vegetable Garden Plans

Now knowing more about sun angles, wind, and the soil, we decided to rotate the entire garden angle just slightly to better meet southern exposures, and we expanded its overall size to 60′ x 30′. This increase would give me the ability to reduce some of the bed sizes for better access for weeding and planting, further reducing soil compaction from having to walk on it. One of my goals is to minimize the need for deep tilling altogether, emphasizing a low-impact approach at the beginning and end of each season. The garden’s size increase would also allow me to add walkways, fencing, and other design elements to the space.

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Before the second season ended, I was able to clearly define the new garden beds, adding topsoil and grass seed to the walkways. As Spring 2016 rolled around, I would have the new layout intact and be ready to focus on the beds and fencing. 

Season 3

As season three came out of a very cold winter, everything was well on its way. The many soil amendments were starting to yield a healthy loam, the grass seed had taken off to mark clear paths, and my own skills had hopefully gotten better with two seasons of learning.

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Miss Bit keeps an eye on work progress in April 2016 – the ultimate project manager

I still have a lot of work to do on the fencing and landscaping around the space, but that gets better too as I find new inspirations along the way. You might remember the dancing lady that was restored earlier this year and now graces the space. After the perimeter garden fence is complete, electrical and lighting will be installed, and water will be routed for irrigation.
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The vegetable garden, July 2016

Although we had a very prolonged, wet spring, I was finally able to get a few seeds in the ground. Many were new varieties that I had not tried before and some were old favorites that I’ve had great success with during past years. Here are some of my favorite heirloom varieties that you will find in my garden each year:

  • Cherry Belle Radish
  • Maxibel Haricot Vert
  • Straight Eights Cucumber
  • Hale’s Best Muskmelon
  • Lacinato Kale
  • White Acre Peas

With a new kitchen and a flourishing garden, I can’t get enough time to cook and create. Hopefully you can stop by and join me for a fresh garden meal one day soon!

Garden ShedMy garden hub

Miss Bit

Garden Oversight Consultant

Restoring a 19th-Century Garden Statue

With better weather also comes the time to catch up on old projects that got waylaid during winter. That includes going through the masses of antique cast iron lying around.

I admit, I have an issue buying “projects” that may or may not be expeditiously completed. Don’t judge. Perhaps it’s the same trigger that encourages me to buy books that I never read, artwork that I have no wall space for, and a creative vision for more.

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A future project discovered deep inside the smokehouse during a recent spring cleaning

I love the potential of something that could be repaired, “fixed up”, and returned to its former glory. The problem here is that not only do cast iron projects take up space, but they are ridiculously heavy to keep shuffling around. Someone once suggested that I take up painting matchboxes instead. (That person’s name shall remain omitted from this post.)

My most recent project has been a basic restoration of an antique cast-iron statue and pedestal, likely produced in France during the late nineteenth century. The woman (we really need a good name for her), draped in a Greco-Roman style, holds a torch in her left hand and has her right arm raised above her head. She was rescued at auction from a house where she had been left to rust under an overflowing gutter for many years. Her outer coat of paint had been compromised, letting water pool underneath, expediting corrosion. She was not a happy camper.

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Step 1 – Preparation

The first step was to manually remove as much of the outer shell as possible. Being attentive at this stage is important to reduce any risk of major damage or unnecessary pitting to the iron surface. This is one reason that sandblasting isn’t always the first recommendation for this type of project. (People always ask me why I don’t just sandblast the hell out of it.) Oh, and I really didn’t want to spend the fortune that it would have been to sandblast these two pieces.

I had four favorite tools for this and there wasn’t much that I couldn’t do with this combination: a stiff bristle wire brush, some fine steel wool, coarse-grit sandpaper for painted areas, and of course my trusty five-in-one tool. (Everyone should have a good five-in-one tool in their tool belt.)

Step 2 – Prime

After doing my best to clean and prepare the surface, I was able to prime the existing paint and newly exposed cast iron with a stabilizing primer. After testing a few different ones, I really liked the adherence of the Rustoleum Gray Enamel Primer.

I chose the aerosol for this stage of the project, because I wanted good coverage but with minimal pooling in some of the small grooves. There are already several coats of paint, and I didn’t want to obscure the statue’s details any further.

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Step 3 – Top Coat

For the top coat, I utilized an oil-based enamel in white to ensure the best weather protection and long-term adherence. After testing a few different finishes, the flat white was the winner, providing the best coverage and hiding small imperfections in the surface. I utilized the same process for both the pedestal and the statue with excellent results.

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I’m still dealing with a little rust bleeding through on the base of the statue where the corrosion was really bad from years of sitting in a pool of water, but I think that is at least stabilized and better protected at this point. It’s something that I can work on in more detail later.

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Step 4 – Enjoy

Standing about seven feet tall, and god only knows how many pounds, she now graces the north side of the vegetable garden thanks to the muscles of a few good men.

My friend Karen says it looks like she’s dancing – party style. I think that’s a great perspective – the more joy in the garden, the better. Maybe a little garden boogie will help the plants grow!

Memories of Grandy, Georgia, & Acre Peas Make a Summer Harvest at White Plains

Just before the Great Depression began to take hold, a new baby was born in Echols County, Georgia in the mid-1920s. The oppressive August heat was no match for the competing humidity, and you could barely hear yourself think for all the gnats swarming around your head. As I would lovingly call her many years later, Grandy, my grandmother, grew up on her family farm in rural southern Georgia, a place where the pine trees grew tall like matchsticks and the baked soil yielded the most delicious vegetables.

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Papa, my great-grandfather, and I, ca. 1982.

I remember visiting the farm often, surrounded by family and opportunities to appreciate the land. We gathered in the heat of summer to shuck and silk piles and piles of corn under the 200-year-old oak trees while Grandy and her sister creamed the ears, letting the sweet milk run from each kernel into the green plastic tubs. Others would be inside waiting to receive the tubs of creamed corn, ready to heat them over the stove, cool them, and then freeze them for a year’s worth of eating. Of course, a healthy portion was kept aside for eating that night at dinner.

The Farm, Echols County

Summer would also mean finding the rickety old ladder from the shed and the tin can creatively nailed to a long wooden pole to harvest the pineapple pears. Each pear would become a preserve, a jar of relish, a pie, or perhaps an afternoon snack as you sat in the grass, wiping the sweat from your brow.

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Grandy underneath the pear tree at the farm. Echols County, Georgia. Summer, 2004.

We gathered every February to prune rows and rows of wild grape vines, preparing them for spring growth. The muscadines, the scuppernongs, and the others we didn’t know the name for but loved to eat. The juice would run down your chin as you spit the thick skin into the grass.

My older cousin and I planted white dogwood trees at the farm. We named them Ozzy and Harriet, but I couldn’t begin to tell you why. If I remember correctly, Ozzy didn’t quite make it, but Harriet pulled through and is hopefully still growing strong.

And so, the farm was a place that held early memories of family fun and later memories of just Grandy and I. As I grew older and went to college, it was often just Grandy and I. Aunts, uncles, cousins, and family friends all lived close, but most nights were watching television in the den and weekends meant a trip to the grocery store and always the farmers market.

The Farm, Echols County

Grandy by the grapevines. Echols County, Georgia. Summer, 2004.

Carter’s Produce, the local farm market, was the only place she’d go since she never quite trusted the source at the “other” places. It was an open-air warehouse with piles of fruits and vegetables. It was there, under skilled direction, that I learned how to pick the perfect tomato, test cantaloupe, shell acre peas, pick the least-stringy sweet potatoes, select the most tender okra, and to always grab a bag of peanuts for later boiling. I didn’t know it at the time, but perhaps these transfers of knowledge would prove more meaningful than I could have imagined at the time.

Almost nine years after Grandy’s passing, when it came time to look at White Plains as a new home, it was hard to keep the farm in Georgia out of my mind. The farm that now felt lost to me could somehow be reborn. New traditions, new families, and new opportunities for the land.

Acre PeasAs I selected plants for my first year’s garden, there were easy answers – those that I remembered most fondly growing up and new ones to learn from. I excitedly  harvested my first acre peas this year and couldn’t wait to shell them. As my fingers ran along their edge, pushing the small green and white peas from their shell, I was transported back to Grandy’s round kitchen table where I first learned how to make it all work.

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My first harvest of acre peas. Summer, 2015.

 

Mystery Plant

DaffodilsSpring abounds here at White Plains! Some of you might remember a post that I made at the end of March 2014 with a picture of a mysterious plant that had risen from the ground, just under the old Linden tree. Since then, I’ve had a few people ask what actually bloomed from this beautiful stalk.

Unfortunately, nothing ever did. It simply wilted over the following two weeks with no bloom at all. When I made the original post, I invited my friends to guess what they thought the bloom would be. With lots of good guesses, I’m hoping that we actually find out this year! Below is another picture as it currently looks. Any guesses?

Mystery Plant