...Growing, Building, Cooking, Preserving, Crafting...

2006 began our urban homestead when I broke ground on a garden, which now includes perennial fruits, flowers, & many vegetable varieties. We dream of solar panels, keeping bees and hens. Until then we'll continue growing and preserving our own fruits and vegetables, building what we can for our home, cooking from scratch, and crafting most days.


What's Become of Our Cherries

The "Before" photo. (That jinxed it!)
I've called it a crime scene, it also reminded me of a page out of Orwell's Animal Farm, and it just keeps getting more interesting.  The word is out about the fruit-growing operations on our urban plot.  No, it's more like a newsfeed reaching the entire nocturne underground.  Bottom line is that the city critters have found our food and they don't seem to be leaving anytime soon.  It began with me admiring our close-to-ripe sweet Black Gold cherries on Friday night.  They'd just begun to blush (though according to this link they'd have gotten much more red) and get pecked and nibbled by various varmints.  I wasn't quite to the point of not sleeping at night, but going out and seeing the tree minus a few more cherries every day brought me slight anxiety.  All those worries were put to an end somewhere between Friday night and Saturday morning.  I was sipping coffee in the dining room Sat. AM when I caught a glimpse out the window of what appeared to be the top of the tree snapped off.  I dashed outside to find that, in fact, the top four feet or so were broken off and limbs, cherries, and leaves were everywhere in the garden and yard.  This along with my Egyptian Walking Onions lying on the ground, looking like they'd gone through a green bean frenching machine made the yard look like an opening scene from "Law & Order."  I salvaged what cherries I could from the injured tree then gave in and just picked the rest, much to the chagrin of the five different bird species and climbing rodents waiting patiently above and below for me to scram.  Despite being harvested a bit early, the cherries had decent flavor.  And I managed to collect about 3 lbs. even after the tree had been ravaged.  I pulled out my shiny new cherry pitter and made a quick fruit salad with a couple of handfuls of this homegrown fruit.  The rest I will save for a composed dessert.

Not only did we lose some fruit, but some great shade.
The "After" photo--Victim of the crime...
Using my new pitter.  Best impulse buy ever!
So back to the varmint infestation...our initial guess was that a fat, hungry raccoon shimmied up the tree to eat (though the way those critters climb, you'd think it would have been better able to judge its limit regarding weight versus branch fragility.)  I was watering some pots out front the following evening and met a possum nearly head on scittering out from between our house and our neighbors'.  Could have also been large and desperate enough to go for the tree fruits.  It continued Monday morning.  I was two inches from heading out back to hang laundry when "Napoleon" the head raccoon had his hairy snout in the glass louvers at the screen door sniffing around as if to say "hey, you got anything else to eat?"  I shooed him away, shouting a few insults at him.  But last night after returning from a concert in the park and putting V to bed, I saw not only the mama/daddy 'coon, but four little ones all sniffing around the garden and yard.  I made some noise and they scampered out of the spinach, peas, and basil towards a hole in the lattice under our neighbors' deck.  My chivalrous husband proceeded to grab an old rake handle from the garage (to protect himself, of course) and temporarily board them up under the deck.  ("Ben the mighty raccoon slayer!")  When he told me he had to poke one of them in the face to fend it off (yes, it growled at him), I instinctively softened and said "Aw, it wasn't one of the babies was it?"  As if it should matter at that point (after all, I am a nature lover.)  Hopefully the saga won't continue though I have a handful of friends cheering for the wild animals because they apparently find "The Raccoon Chronicles" quite entertaining.  It wouldn't be the first time in my life that others have gotten a laugh at my expense.  I'm trying to remain positive and find a teachable moment amid the gnawing and plundering--"See Vera, the raccoons like to eat spinach!"

I guess I will just have to settle for eating weeds and bolted,otherwise compostable garden produce if I don't get any of the good stuff this season.  I freed my bush bean bed of its prolific purslane on Sunday and made this simple Turkish Purslane Salad to serve alongside grilled fish and fresh radishes.  One of my strategies for using leftovers lately has been to throw them into lightly grilled [gluten-free] wraps.  This vegetable salad was incorporated last night into a salmon salad wrap with fresh beet greens.

Purslane and Hothouse Cucumber Salad
Baby Bok Choy from the farmers' market--seasoned and ready to grill
How to eat radishes:  Dip in butter, Dip in salt, Eat
I also harvested all the bolted brassicas--mainly radish greens and mustards--for pickling...and my preservation goal for the season was born!  Even if it means making lots of little batches of refrigerator pickles, I'm determined to preserve extra or bolted vegetables from our garden.  Stuff that would otherwise just be composted will become a condiment, side dish, etc...in an effort to squeeze every last bit of food out of our space.

Pickled Radish Greens (or other spicy greens)
Makes about 2 qts.

Pickled Brassica Greens
I intend to use these to give veggie stir-fry, salads, or burgers a little lift.  Get creative and try fermenting or even using them to make a salad dressing.  Since they are just refrigerator pickles, the acidity level isn't as important as with shelf-stable canned products so use whatever vinegar you wish.  I tried a combo of rice wine vinegar/coconut vinegar.  You could also try white balsamic or white wine vinegar.  

1 huge mixing bowl (or plastic grocery bag) full of bolted greens
2 c. water
4 t. granulated xylitol (or sugar)
4 t. sea salt
8 t. rice wine vinegar
4 dried hot chilies, snipped into pieces (with seeds)

Wash and trim greens very well and spin dry.  Coarsely chop any large leaves, put into small bowl with hot chilies.  In saucepan, measure remaining ingredients and heat over high until xylitol/sugar and salt are dissolved.  Pour over greens and toss to coat.  Pack into clean quart jars and press down with tamping tool or mallet.  Pour remaining liquid from bowl over greens.  Let cool slightly.  Cap, label, date, and refrigerate.  Should last for a few months in the refrigerator.

Two quarts were packed down from this HUGE bowl
In using all we've got from the garden, I'm also aiding the neighbors in working through their backlog of spring lettuce.  A gorgeous head of their Galisse went into a version of this Chilled Lettuce Soup this past steamy Monday night (topped with a little fried bacon end pieces, anything is delicious!)

Chilled Lettuce and Spring Onion Soup (w/ Bacon!)
Every girl should have one of these!
We've gone over the lowlights of the week (the critters) so I must share the highlight.  I gave my first sewing lesson on Monday.  An acquaintance who had attended one of my cooking demonstrations and shares a mutual friend contacted me about bartering for a lesson.  I'm always looking for affordable babysitting options so I took her up on this idea with that trade in mind.  She had done a bit of mending before so was versed in the basic workings of a sewing machine.  We jumped right into fabric and pattern basics.  We cut out a pattern for a smock/apron from one of my vintage patterns.  It's a pattern I've had in my personal queue for years so this may prompt me to make one for myself as well.  I had a great time sharing my love of sewing with her and was channeling my talented ma the whole time.  (Perhaps this will eventually lead to a little side business.  I should sniff out the neighborhood 4-Hers and make some contacts.)  Can't wait till the next lesson with her!  And can't wait to take her up on babysitting to give myself a break.

Minted Strawberry Mango "compote" for our
Sunday pancakes
Yesterday found V and I at our CSA Farm for the first time this season picking sun-warmed strawberries.  A friend and fellow mom had her boys in tow in the field; I will never tire of the vision of these young, healthy kiddos plucking fresh ruby-colored fruits and enjoying them right in the field, juice dripping down their chins...and wonder if any of the berries will make it home outside of their bellies.  Looking forward to shopping at our neighborhood farmers' market starting this weekend and putting together some sort of strawberry/cherry dessert to savor the fruits (whether by default or on purpose) of early summer.

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