Caragana has a reputation similar to that of poplar trees, verging on “weed” status. The growth has a spiny appearance that most find unattractive. The plants sucker, and produce exploding pods that throw seeds everywhere. Plus they require lots of trimming just to stay presentable.
Caragana is native to places like (go figure…) Siberia, and was brought to the Canadian west in the 1880s. It is extremely drought-resistant and was used extensively in farmhouse shelterbelts. I would guess that it’s the second most common hedge in Edmonton, after cotoneaster, though you are much more likely to see it in older communities like Garneau than, say, Terwilliger. It also grows wild in the Edmonton river valley.
In the early summer, … Continue reading.
This past Saturday was the last harvest day at Tipi Creek CSA. All the remaining vegetables were picked and divided amongst the shareholders.
As one of our farmers put it, this was a mushroom year, and a cold crop year: we got lots of moisture, but very little heat. Hence the plentiful, but mostly green, squash. The last few weeks of overcast drizzle stalled two of the corn varieties, and the fall spinach. Other crops, notably cabbage and broccoli, flourished in the cold. Risk is mitigated by crop diversity.
Here are some photos and notes from the harvest day.
With the potato foliage long killed off, a potato digger is dragged over the rows. The digger lifts masses of … Continue reading.
My mind is still reeling from the Labour Day weekend, when Lisa and I attended the Great Alberta Foray in the Bow and Kananaskis valleys. The foray was run by the Alberta Mycological Society.
One month ago, I didn’t know what mushrooms were. Of course I had cooked and eaten them, but I didn’t understand, for instance, their anatomy (why do they have gills?) or their role in my front lawn (why do they grow in rings?).
Here are some mushroom basics I learned that weekend.
1. Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of fungi.
I was sure of one fact before attending the foray: mushrooms are fungi. (Mycologists, however, pronounce the word with a soft “g”, which precludes any … Continue reading.
Two years ago, I had no place in my heart for tomatoes. With the stiff, pale burger-garnishes in mind, I wondered how anyone could get excited about them.
Then a few potted tomato plants in the backyard taught me how much heat they need to mature. Once they started to fruit, the woman next door was in awe, as not thirty feet away she had tried to grow tomatoes to no avail. We decided it was the exposed, south-facing cement wall behind my plants, storing heat during the day to pass to the tomatoes at night, that let them flourish. After harvest, I built a special room in my heart for tomatoes, the demanding plants that grow best in greenhouses … Continue reading.
We didn’t eat spicy food when I was growing up. Not at all.
I didn’t learn to appreciate spicy food until I was in my early twenties, and it was at an Italian restaurant, of all places. I patronized Mercato in Calgary throughout high school, then later I had the opportunity to work in their kitchen. They make food from all over Italy, but the owners are Calabrian, and there’s always a few pastas on the menu made by infusing olive oil with garlic and hot chili flakes. I remember the first time that I realized how effective a little heat can be. It wakes up your mouth, and it elongates the sensation of the dish, as your mouth is … Continue reading.
I come from a land of “refrigerator pickles”: cucumbers steeped in syrupy vinegar and spices, and stored in the fridge through the fall. There is another type of pickle called a lacto-fermented pickle. The idea of producing an acidic pickle with only brine was a revelation.
There are two ways to apply the salt and control the salt concentration: either dry salt can be added directly to the ingredient, or the ingredient can be submerged in a brine.
Direct Salting. This method is more common when the ingredient to be fermented has been sliced or chopped finely. Sauerkraut is the most familiar example in the west. For this method we typically add about 2% of the weight of the ingredient … Continue reading.
This post is about simple potatoes dumplings, served in an interesting potato broth.
Conversations about potato dishes usually focus on texture (the ideal French fry has a crisp exterior and fluffy interior, the ideal mashed potatoes are smooth but not gummy…) I love this broth because it makes you think about how potatoes taste. Potato skins are used to infuse a vegetable broth with potato flavour, without any of the thick starchiness we associate with potato soups.
Let’s start with the dumplings. The key to pillow-like potato dumplings is to have very little moisture in the potatoes. This way the milled potatoes will require less flour to form a dough, and there will be accordingly less gluten in the finished … Continue reading.
Since 2009, Lisa and I have been members of the Tipi Creek CSA. CSA usually stands for community supported agriculture, but at Tipi Creek Farm stands for community shared agriculture.
Here’s the skinny. In March we pay a flat fee. Three times between planting in May and the last harvest in September, we go to Tipi Creek and spend a few hours helping out. This may involve planting, weeding, or harvesting. In return for our money and labour, every week from roughly July to the end of September we get a shipment of vegetables.
Last year we received salad greens, spinach, Swiss chard, onions, leeks, kale, radishes, peas, beets, cucumbers, zucchini, broccoli, rhubarb, corn, pumpkins, squash, watermelon, potatoes, kohlrabi, beans, … Continue reading.
If you think that it’s weird to eat dandelion, or you find the bitter flavour unpalatable, you should try eating another common weed: lamb’s quarters. It is the perfect gateway weed, very approachable, with a texture and flavour quite similar to spinach. Lamb’s quarters are popping up everywhere, and now is the best time to pick them, when the plants have only a few leaves, for the following reasons:
- The young leaves are the most tender.
- The young leaves taste the best. Older leaves are a little more bland, with a wood flavour.
- Picking the leaves prevents the plant from going to seed. Once the plant goes to seed, it stops producing leaves, and it doesn’t taste as good.
… Continue reading.
Part I: Horseradish as Weed
Horseradish is a common weed in Edmonton, as invasive as it is delicious. The plant is pretty easy to identify by its distinctive curly leaves. If allowed to flourish, they eventually grow into wild, drooping masses that look like Sideshow Bob’s hair. There happens to be a particularly robust example in a friend’s back alley. I visited it this morning to see if my clumsy attempt at harvesting it last summer had killed it. As you can see, it’s doing fine. You can also see all the dead stalks from last year’s growth around the base. It’s a very prodigious plant.
Last summer I was invited to help myself to the spicy root of … Continue reading.