Beauty and the practical beast

Today I put the sauerkraut I started at the beginning of the month into pint jars. The wine kraut fermented in a two-dollar two-gallon food grade bucket with an airlock. The regular sauerkraut fermented in a 10 liter Harsch crock with a water seal lid.

Plastic verses ceramic

Before we started the second batch of kraut, we needed a fermentation container. I really wanted another water seal crock but I didn’t want to spend the money for it. Harsch crocks are no longer available and the Nik Schmitt equivalent is even more expensive. We picked up the bucket and airlock at our local home brew store for under five dollars. I felt happy we saved money but bummed out because the water seal crocks are awesome.

After using both of them I was surprised at which one I preferred. The plastic bucket was easier to move, easier to fill, easier to clean and I didn’t have to worry about the water seal running dry. The down side was it didn’t have stone weights and it looks ugly.

The ceramic crock scratches the counter every time I move it (which will be a problem when we have nicer counters). The water seal gets slimy and ran out of water a couple times which made the brine inside evaporate a little. It’s a pain to move (HEAVY) and a pain to wash. I also chipped the lip a few days ago when I hit it with our glass flour jar. The only upside I can see is that it’s pretty–like leave on your countertop even when it’s empty pretty. It makes you feel equal parts posh hipster and authentic German grandmother.

The one difference I saw between the two sauerkrauts was that the kraut in the bucket fermented faster, so the kraut in the crock was crunchier. The ceramic crock has more thermal mass, so it seemed to stay cooler during the day and slowed the fermentation rate.

Kraut in the fridge

I’m loving the Wine Kraut I made. We have five pints of it and nine pints of regular sauerkraut. Some of our friends loved the sweet kraut I made last time, so I am anxious to see how they react to these new versions.

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The squash are taking over

We have two rows of squash that are trying to crowd their way into other rows. The rows contain a total of 12 plants: Jackpot zucchini, Baby cucumber, Tiny bottle gourd, Table Ace acorn squash, and two each of Marina di Chioggia, Galeux d’ Eysines, Silver Edge seed squash, and Tom Fox jack o’ lanterns.

Squash

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Rodents party in the pepper plot

We planted our pepper starts a month ago but many of them haven’t grown. We had been puzzling over this for a couple weeks. They show almost continuous signs of water stress, yet they get plenty of water. Some of the plants have grown a couple feet, and others are no bigger than their marker stake.

Tiny stressed pepper

Finally, we pulled back the paper weed block and found signs of rodent damage everywhere. Some of the most stressed plants have a rodent hole right against their stem, and the whole bed is lofted with tunnels. (Rodents seem to ping-pong down beds with moisture when you use point watering.) I don’t think we are going to get the harvest we were hoping for even though most of the tiny plants have managed to set peppers. The picture below shows two peppers of the same variety, both planted at the same time.

Different pepper sizes

Lee here. – I want to thank Sidney for leaving her toy wheel barrel near my corn plot. It’s great for the sense of scale. :)

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All Blue potatoes are feeling bluey

We planted about 7 feet of All Blue potatoes this year, with each plant spaced 18 inches. Since we were dry gardening them the potatoes only received water when it rained. This seems like a bad idea given Oregon’s long dry summers, but so far all the plants have done well. We were shocked how fast this first variety matured and today we harvested them. We got 12.5 pounds which turns out to be 2.5 pounds of potatoes per plant. The lbs/ft is a little lower than in past years, but the potatoes are in great condition.

I’ve never eaten an All Blue potato before but I’m looking forward to it. They are supposed to be good mashed or fried, just like a Russet. Yum!

All Blue potatoes

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Chuffa chuffa

We planted some chuffa seed this spring that we purchased from Baker Creek. It took a long time for them to emerge and less than half germinated. Every couple of weeks now a new one will sprout up from the original planting.

The chuffa plant seems to have a long history as a food source for many different cultures. Chuffa tubers are described as slightly sweet and nutty flavored which is the main reason I am growing them. I also like referring to them as chuffa chuffa (pronounced fast and always in doubles) any time I talk about them for the sheer goofiness factor. Goofiness is an important gardening strategy.

Has anyone else out there grown chuffa? I’ve seen a lot of negative things about it. If you want to know more, here’s an extension article which covers it in great detail.

Chuffa

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Painted Mountain corn

Lee is growing 330 feet of Painted Mountain corn this year. He was about a month late planting it but we are hoping with the hotter than usual temps the corn will catch up.

Painted Mountian corn

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Hush little zucchini

I’ve learned my lesson and only plant one zucchini per summer. While Lee and I like zucchini, we don’t love it so much we want to be inundated with it. Lee took the first zucchini of the season and grated it into hush puppy batter. Odd I know, but the combination of the two made for a much more exciting zucchini and hush puppy.

Zucchini

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Dinosaur kale and smoky monsters

Lee and I love kale. We like it so much that we have no plans to grow collard greens again. Kale is flavorful but not bitter, it’s more tender then collard greens, you don’t have to cut out the stems, and it cooks faster. I love how we can start 6 plants in the spring and harvest leaves all summer. Our favorite variety is Dinosaur kale, also called Lacinato kale.

Dinosaur kale, Italian kale, Tuscan kale, etc.

Lee here. — The best collard greens I’ve ever had come from a small Alabama-style food joint in our area. (If you live in the south Willamette Valley, here’s a link. I recommend their whole menu.) Their version is slow cooked in a spicy sauce with smoked meat. It’s amazing, but it can’t be easily reproduced at home on short notice. I’ve scoured the web for a simpler spicy greens recipes and turned up empty. Either I have the wrong search terms, or the good ones are all buried under a murky lake of kale smoothies.

Since I couldn’t find a decent recipe, I invented my own. It took a few tries to get the details right, but Robin makes a good test subject for my food experiments and Sidney eats almost everything. Even if you don’t generally like collard greens, you might find that this version makes you want to work on your hypothyroidism (a potential side effect of eating too much kale).

Smoky Monster Kale Recipe

Prep time: 20 mins – Cook time: 20 mins

Ingredients

  • 2 slices of bacon (or substitute 2 Tbsp olive oil)
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced or crushed
  • 1 onion sliced
  • 1/4 cup whiskey or scotch* (it doesn’t need to be top shelf, but it needs to be smoky)
  • 1 bunch of Dinosaur kale (8 oz), chopped across the leaves into 1/4″ slices
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock (or water)
  • 1/2 Tsp salt
  • 2 Tsp cumin
  • 1 Tsp chili powder
  • 1/4 Tsp cayenne pepper (optional, if you like heat)
  • 1/4 Tsp pepper

Method

  1. Slowly cook the bacon in a large saucepan until crispy. While you wait, chop your garlic, onions, and kale. Turn bacon occasionally. When the bacon is done, remove to a paper-towel lined plate. If the bacon was particularly lean, add a bit more olive oil.
  2. Sauté onions in rendered bacon fat over medium heat. Add garlic a few minutes later. Cook until onions are translucent.
  3. Deglaze pan with whiskey/scotch. Scrape up any bits of fond. Cook briefly until most liquid evaporates.
  4. Lower the heat a little and add chopped kale in handfuls, stirring to encourage them to wilt so they all fit. Add chicken broth or water to provide liquid for steaming. Add salt and stir. Briefly bring to a boil and then reduce heat and steam with the lid on for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Add remaining spices and fresh ground pepper. Continue cooking greens with the lid off for another 10 minutes.
  6. Taste for tenderness, salt and spice and adjust accordingly. Spice experimentation is encouraged. Perhaps you’d prefer smoked paprika instead of cumin?
  7. Serve into separate bowls and top with crumbled bacon. This dish holds well in the pan at low heat, so it’s a nice one to pair with other items which have less predictable timing.

* Footnote: The whiskey/scotch provides an important smoky flavor which cannot be omitted to the same effect. We discovered the joys of cooking with whiskey a few years ago when we substituted scotch we didn’t like for the wine in a roast recipe and it turned out wonderful. If you don’t have any handy bottles of scotch you don’t like, there are a few alternative sources of smoky flavor: use extra smoky bacon, add a smoke flavoring such as liquid smoke or ground Lapsong Souchong tea (which smells exactly like a campfire), use smoked spices (such as smoked cumin or paprika), or use fresh Dashi stock as the liquid.

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Mammoth gopher defeated

For the last 6 weeks, nearly every morning has started out with an optimistic Lee running out to the garden to check his traps. Soon he would come trudging back in defeat, having found only empty traps, fresh dirt mounds, and the garden air heavy with the scent of shredded onions. It was becoming quite comical.

Each night Lee would think of some new trick to setting the traps or covering the holes. We had some serious Swiss Family Robinson traps by the end. The final trap consisted of a hole dug 18″ down to the main tunnel, a box trap (thanks John) facing one way and a cinch trap the other. A plastic bucket lid fitted over the traps and dirt was piled on top of the lid so moisture and light conditions would stay the same.

The big cinch trap was the one that got him. It wasn’t a clean kill as the gopher was so large the trap was basically just hugging him. Lee had to dispatch it.

Here is our onion and leek patch at the moment. The gopher ate almost half the onions. Some of remaining onions will not bulb well because of constant tunneling through their root zone. Thankfully it didn’t like leeks (or it was waiting for them to get bigger).

Onion rows and leek row

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Summer sunflower

This is a volunteer sunflower from two summers ago. I should have saved all the sunflower seedlings that came up in the garden rather than weeding them as the sunflower seeds I planted were a bust.

Sunflower

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