Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Garlic Scapes

If you saw my earlier posts at the end of last year when I first started blogging, you probably know that we planted garlic this year.........or rather, we planted garlic last year.  Garlic needs a long growing season, longer than we have here.  So you plant it in the fall.  Mid-October is optimal time to plant garlic, but I think we got it planted around the first week in November (we always run behind!).  You need to get it in the ground before it freezes, and that can vary from year to year.  The garlic starts to grow right after you plant it and then will overwinter and continue growing in the spring and will be ready to harvest around July. 
We planted 5 varieties of garlic, and hopefully I will be able to find my diagram of what was planted where so we can decide what varieties we liked.  We planted both hardneck and softneck varieties.  Hardnecks have a hard stem coming out of the top and will usually produce larger cloves than softneck varieties.
During the growing season, garlic will produce a bloom.  This bloom comes from a hard stem that comes up in the middle of the garlic tops and they are called scapes.  You really don't want garlic to bloom.  When any plant blooms, it focuses its energy into the bloom and producing seeds.  In garlic, you want the plant to focus its energy into producing larger cloves.  So you need to cut off the scapes.
Garlic scapes can be tasty treasures from the garden and this year is my first experience with them.  I didn't get them harvested as early as I should have (I told you we always run late getting things done!), but I did get them harvested last week.  These scapes can be sauted, chopped and added to dishes, or pickled.
I got my information on pickled garlic scapes from Victoria Wesseler.  Victoria is an Indiana based food writer from Labanon, IN.  I met Victoria last year when she and her husband Robert did a presentation on pickles for the Herb Society of Indiana's Spring Herb Symposium.  Dill was the herb of the year for 2010, and they did a wonderful job of explaining how to make delicious pickles.  Victoria likes to eat as local as possible and she and her husband grow and preserve about half of all of the food they need each year on their "Dirtpatch" farm.  You can find Victoria's information on pickled garlic scapes at http://www.goinglocal-info.com/my_weblog/2011/06/pickled-garlic-scapes.html.
I didn't have nearly as many scapes as Victoria had, so I had to improvise.  I collected and washed my scapes.  I know that they say to discard the blooms, but I didn't have very many and I wanted to experiment -- so I used as much of the scapes as I thought could be usuable.
I cut the scapes and packed them into 2 pint jars.  Then I used 2 cups distilled vinegar, 2 cups water and guessed at the salt amount.  I put the vinegar mixture in a stainless steel pan to heat.  I didn't have any whole cayennes, so I used about 1/2 tsp. of pepper flakes, 1/2 tsp. dill seeds and 2 bay leaves in the bottom of each jar.  Once the vinegar mixture was hot, I poured it over the scapes, filling the jars.  I wiped the rims of the jars clean and put on the lids.  I did not process them in a hot water bath.  I am just keeping them in the refrigerator since I only had 2 jars.  I will let you know in 2 weeks how we like them!
My precious 2 jars of pickled garlic scapes.
I hope to find many ways to use these scapes and share those ideas with you soon.  Have you ever had garlic scapes?  Let me know how you like them!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Chive Blossom Vinegar

I've been so busy with garden shows and Farmers' Markets and trying to keep up with stuff at home.  I've been pretty good about taking pictures of the stuff I'm doing, but not so good about finding time to sit at the computer and blog about it.  This week I'm making an effort to try to get caught up and get back on a regular schedule.  It's just really hard in the summer to stay on much of a schedule!
One of the things that I love to do each spring is to make Chive Blossom vinegar.  If you have a clump of chives, you know that they are very hardy perennial plants and one of the first to break ground in the new year.  I generally see them start poking through the ground in February - although this year it was a little later since we were covered in 2 inches of ice in mid-February.
Around the first of May you will see plenty of bright pink blooms - which I always look forward to seeing.  They are one of the first things to bloom in the garden and the bees and butterflies are happy to see something with nectar and we are happy to see something with color!  The blooms are edible and I sometimes use them in salads and herb butters.  They have a very light, sweet onion flavor.  If you don't use the blooms, once they start to fade, they will produce lots of seeds.  If left on the plant, these seeds will drop and you will have chive plants coming up everywhere in your garden the following year.
I like to collect fading blooms and let them dry and then I will shake out the seeds to use the following year in the greenhouse.  I'll plant the seeds for my next batch of chive plants that I will sell at the shop, shows, and Farmer's Markets.

Chives in full bloom.  Beautiful color in the garden!
My dad has some chive plants in his garden.  He likes to get rid of the blooms so he doesn't have plants popping up all over his garden.  So each year he calls me and asks if I want his chive blooms.  I always say YES -- I never pass up free stuff!  He collects the blooms, or I go out there and collect them and then I bring them home and make vinegar.
Making herbal vinegars is VERY EASY!!!  Take your plant material (chive blossoms, or whatever you would like to flavor your vinegar) and simply add it to vinegar.  You can use almost any kind of vinegar, and I use a variety of vinegars, depending on what herb I plan to use.  With the chive blossoms, I like to use white wine vinegar.  It is almost clear, and the pink chive blossoms will color it up beautifully!  It also has a nice mild flavor which lets the light onion flavor of the chives come through.  You can use distilled vinegar, but I find the flavor of distilled vinegar to be VERY sharp, which I don't like.  And distilled vinegar is also made from by-products from the wood pulp industry, which I do not find appealling for food products. 
You can simply put the blossoms in a glass jar and add your vinegar.  Let it sit for 3 to 6 weeks and the vinegar will draw the flavor and color out of the blossoms and into the vinegar.  Or you can use the quick method and heat your vinegar before you pour it over your blossoms.  Once cooled, it is ready to bottle.
Chive blossoms in vinegar.
When working with vinegar, always use glass, stainless steel, ceramic or enamel coated items.  Vinegar can react with other metals.  And ALWAYS use a vinegar that is 5% acidity (it will list that somewhere on the label).  Bacteria cannot grow in acidity of 5% or more.  I used to use a rice vinegar that was 4.3% acidity. The last time I used rice vinegar and bottled it with a few stems of chives in the bottles -- after a month the chives had mold growing on their stems.  So 4.3% acidity is not high enough to prevent bacterial growth.
I like to use the quick method, but don't always get it bottled that same day.  For this batch of chive blossom vinegar I divided my blossoms into two quart glass jars (I use what I have on hand - don't feel the need to go buy new stuff just to make vinegar).  I also purchased 3 bottles of white wine vinegar.  I poured the 3 bottles of vinegar into a stainless steel pan and put it on the stove.  I heated it until just before boiling - there was a little steam coming off of the top and a few tiny bubbles starting to form in the bottom of the pan.  I poured the hot vinegar over the blossoms (splitting the vinegar between the 2 jars of blossoms).  Then I just let it set until cooled. 
Meanwhile, soak the empty vinegar bottles in some hot water to remove the labels.  Then put the bottles and caps into a pan of water (covering the bottles) and boil them for 5-10 minutes.  This will sterilize the bottles and you can use them for your vinegar.  (Like I said -- I use what I have on hand.)
Bottling this beautiful vinegar.
I put a coffee filter into a funnel and pour the vinegar back into the bottle.  If you don't have a coffee filter, use a plain white napkin or paper towel.  This will filter out any little plant particles.  I even dump the blossoms into the funnel and squeeze them out to get all of that delicious vinegar that I can back into the bottles.
Dump the blossoms right into the funnel.
Squeeze out as much vinegar as you can without tearing your filter.
If you cannot bottle your vinegar right away, put a lid on your jar and it will wait until you have time to bottle it later.  I put a piece of plastic wrap over the jar first, then put on the lid so the vinegar won't have a reaction with the metal lid.  This batch of vinegar waited another 2 weeks until I had time to wash the bottles and finish it up. 
Herbal vinegars can be used anywhere a recipe calls for vinegar, lemon juice, or wine.  I use my herbal vinegars to make viniagrette dressings, meat marinades, and I also use it as a splash of flavor for greens and other vegetables as well as cole slaw.  I use the chive blossom vinegar in a cucumber dill salad that I make (recipe follows) and I like to use either tarragon or thyme vinegar for cole slaw.  I usually make single herb vinegars, but you can mix several herbs together for many vinegar blends.  You can even use garlic, peppers, and fruits for vinegars!
My pretty, pretty chive blossom vinegar!
 Herbal vinegars should be stored in a cabinet or dark pantry to preserve their color and flavor.  (Unfortunately, the color of chive blossom vinegar will not last much beyond 6 or 8 months.  The flavor is still there, but the color fades.)  Vinegars will last indefinitely.  They may get cloudy, but that doesn't mean that they are spoiled.  You can always re-filter it if cloudy.  Another way to use up the vinegar if it gets past your comfort zone of shelf life is to add it to your bath.  Vinegar in the bath is very good for your skin and an herbal vinegar would be even better.  So add a cup of vinegar to your bath water and relax for a beneficial soak.
Here is the recipe for the cucumber salad:
Dilly Cucumber Salad
8 Tablespoons rice wine vinegar (I use my chive blossom vinegar)
¼ teaspoon coarse ground pepper
8 teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
4 Tablespoons chopped fresh dill
¾ teaspoon grated lemon peel (optional)
Mix these together in a glass or stainless steel bowl.  Stir until the sugar dissolves.  Then add:
2 cucumbers sliced in ¼ inch slices
6 or 7 radishes, cut into match sticks
2 tomatoes, chopped
Toss well to combine flavors.  Refrigerate for ½ hour, stirring a few times to marinate well.
You may also add:
Onion slivers
Green peppers
Sliced button mushrooms

Feel free to add comment about what kind of herbs you like to use in your vinegar, or if you have any questions about making herbal vinegars.
Later this week we'll talk about medicinal gardens, fairy gardens and garlic scapes!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Herb of the Week

I'm baaaaaaack!  Actually, I didn't go anywhere, but just have been toooooooooo busy to spend time at the computer.  The past 2 months have been filled with garden shows, programs, work in the greenhouse, 4-H projects, yard work (that never seems to be caught up!) and now I am into Farmer's Market season.  Whew!  That's how spring is here every year.
I had a brilliant idea a last week and thought I would put it into action.  Herb of the Week.  Each week I would like to present to you a specific herb or group of herbs that we can identify, learn about, see pictures of it, and learn how to use it.  Maybe I can expand your horizons and also expand your herb garden.
This week my Herb of the Week is Pineapple Sage.  It is a delightful plant to grow.  When you rub the leaves, it smells just like fesh pineapple.  It is in the Salvia family which includes regular sage (for Thanksgiving dressing), ornamental sages like scarlett sage and blue bedder sage, ceremonial sage like white sage used in smudging, and even salvia seeds that they use on Chia Pets.
It is easy to grow, but is a tender perennial - meaning that it will not take our cold winters here in Indiana.  You can try to keep it in a pot and take it in for the winter, or just treat it like an annual and buy a new plant each spring.  Many people do that because they love having pineapple sage in their garden and it gets so big it is difficult to take in for the winter.
It grows quickly, so allow plenty of room in your garden for it as it can grow up to 3 or 4 feet tall and almost as wide!  That was one of many mistakes that I made in my very first herb garden.  I planted not 1, but 2 pineapple sages!  And they quickly overtook almost everything else in the garden because they got so big!!!  Life is full of learning experiences, isn't it?  Plant it where it will get at least 6 - 8 hours of sunlight a day and make sure it gets plenty of water, especially on hot summer days (but don't keep it constantly wet).  In late summer or early fall it will be covered in bright red tubular flowers.  The butterflies and hummingbirds just love it!!!!
The beautiful blooms of pineapple sage.
Pineapple sage is a great tea herb.  It can be dried and used for winter tea making, but it does lose a lot of its flavor once dried.  So use it fresh for teas and maybe freeze some of it for fresh-tasting teas in the winter.  Pineapple sage can also be used in cakes, pies, fruit salads, sweet vinegars, marinades, and I even found a jelly recipe that I plan to try later this week.  Look for it at my Farmer's Market booth soon!  You can add it to puddings, salads, cream cheese, and the flowers are edible and add great color!  You can also add fresh pineapple sage leaves to lemonade or iced tea.  You can make a delicious sun tea by simply putting equal parts of pineapple sage leaves and lemon verbena leaves in a jar and fill with water.  Set the jar in the sun, and brew a naturally sweetened and refreshing iced tea.
Like cake?  Who doesn't?  Here is a yummy recipe for a Pineapple Sage Pound Cake:
Cream together 1 cup butter and 1 cup sugar until very light and fluffy.  Beat in 1/4 cup honey.  Add 5 eggs, one at a time, making sure to beat for one minute after each addition.  Beat in 2 Tblsp. chopped pineapple sage leaves, 3 Tblsp. pineapple sage flowers, 4 Tblsp. well-squeezed, chopped pineapple, and 1 tsp. grated lemon peel.  In a separate bowl, stir together 2 cups flour and 1 tsp. baking powder.  Fold the dry ingredients into the beaten ingredients until just blended.  Pour into 4 mini loaf pans (6" x 3" x 2") and bake at 350 degrees F. for 45 minutes.  Cool 10 minutes before removing from pans.
Want to grill out this weekend?  Try this lovely marinade for Pineapple Sage Chicken:
1/4 cup Teriyaki or Tamari or Soy sauce
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup olive oil
2 Tblsp. lemon juice
2 Tblsp. apple juice
2 tsp. freshly grated ginger root
Handful of Pineapple Sage leaves, chopped
Add some chopped jalapenos if you would like a little more kick!
Marinade chicken in the above ingredients and cook on the grill.  Serve with pineapple kabobs.
So there is some information and recipes to get you started.  Come see me a my Farmer's Market booths or visit the store and get at least one pineapple sage for your garden!  I'll have them on special while supplies last!
More news to come.  I have been taking pictures of various events, experiments, and projects and hope to post them in the next few days.  But now, I'm off to make blueberry jam!!!!!