Friday, August 6, 2010

Kitchen Garden

This year’s Birdland kitchen garden is a simple affair. I’m always in a grading crunch during planting season, and this year was especially bad. I tend to try to juggle too many projects anyway, and invariably I drop some balls. The garden coop has only four crops: tomatoes, chives, peppers, and the star of the show, cucumbers. The tomatoes are a little affected by one of the blights, but still producing, if not growing as big as you’d expect. Enough so far to garnish my salad, but not enough for drying or sauce. The peppers are doing so well that a branch, laden with peppers of various sizes broke off the plant, supplying enough to stuff for a couple of meals. Or, perhaps Ursula got into the garden again. I’ve never met a dog so fond of vegetables and fruit. I caught her jumping up to grab peaches from the tree. I can imagine her wreaking havoc in the garden coop, but maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to blame her. I think I’d have found bites in the peppers if she were the culprit.

Some days when I harvest my few crops I lament that I didn’t plant more variety. But when I fill a bucket with cucumbers every few days I think I could live the whole summer on them. We keep a bowl of cucumber salad in the fridge, and have it almost every day—sometimes every meal. It is a variation on my Grandmother Nanny’s cucumber bowl, with onions and tomatoes. On special occasions she’d add in a few dollops of sour cream, but always vinegar, salt, pepper, and sugar. Nanny sugared everything. Mine is based on her recipe, but a little looser, maybe a little healthier. Cut up fresh cukes, sweet onions, tomatoes, peppers, or any other fresh vegetable. Add vinegar. I use my biggest bread bowl, and add about a cup and a half of cider or balsamic vinegar (or any combination of the two), then water to cover. You can adjust the acidity to taste. Dribble up to a quarter cup each of olive oil and honey. Add any fresh herbs you like, chopped coarsely, and salt and pepper to taste. Let this marinate in the fridge and serve cold with a slotted spoon. I keep adding cucumbers for about a week as they ripen, then start again with a new vinegar marinade. If I’m feeling fancy I’ll add yogurt or sour cream. Sometimes this is my main course for lunch, with a handful of nuts or a little bit of cheese. Very satisfying.

The garden coop is such a tangle of vines and greenery that the cucumbers are easy to miss. Sometimes I don’t catch them until they are fat, golden, slightly prickly zeppelins, which are also good, but tend to get really soupy in the center. I have a little pile of the ripe ones now, which I’m dying to try baking, with a recipe I found in one of Gladys Taber’s Stillmeadow books. She would split them, scoop out the seeds, stuff them, and bake them in milk. I’ve only had cucumber raw, and it seems somehow sacrilegious to my Midwestern palate, but her description was so poetic and satisfying that I’m going to try it now that the heat has, for a little while abated. I’ll bake them with chicken tonight and let you know how it goes.

The chicks in the aviary are growing, and one has started crowing, and another has a suspiciously cockerel-like tail. Their combs are getting redder, but nobody has laid eggs yet. I’m hoping for at least two pullets and looking forward to adding hardboiled eggs to my cucumber salad. Maybe I’ll plant some late beets to pickle with the eggs to make Nanny’s purple eggs.

Harvest Beauty; Marinate Peace; Blessed Be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She loves to harvest fresh vegetables and eat them.

No comments:

Post a Comment