Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Roadside garden

When I was a kid in the city, choke cherries and crab apples were curiosities, or at best an occasional treat. They were few and far between as well.
The was a rumor around my group of friends that if you ate choke cherries and drank milk, the milk would sour in your stomach and you would vomit. So naturally we used to dare each other to do it.
It never worked.
I don't know how the rumor got started. Likely someone's mother said "don't eat those choke cherries. You just had milk" and we extrapolated the rest. Who knows. Needless to say, something you eat only on a dare is not a food you relish.
Always wear your hat outdoors mother said. Luckily I listened. I came back with my hat full of blackberries.

Crab apples I genuinely loved. Once when I was nine, an older boy in the neighborhood came back from a camping trip with a knapsack full of green apples. Three of us sat for about two hours on his back veranda with a salt shaker and that knapsack, and had a feast.
This year we had a really warm summer, lots of humid days, and a fair bit of rain. It was a banner year for the roadside garden.
So far we have made choke cherry wine, choke cherry jelly, rhubarb strawberry wine, blackberry jelly, cranberry jelly. There are still three bags of chokecherries in the freezer, enough for more jelly and a batch of chokecherry/grape wine this time.
I also found a beautiful new (to me) crab apple tree, with a variety of apple I have never had before.  Fantastic just to eat, even without salt. Next year I plan to revisit that tree and try my hand at crab apple wine. We have eaten sugarplums too, the ones the dogs didn't get first. Some folks call them Saskatoon berries or service berries. Around these parts, we, like our neighbors in Michigan's UP, call them sugar plums.
These beauties grow in the next county, five minutes from home

This past weekend we went for a drive on St Joseph Island, 20 minutes or so from home. We were searching for cranberries and crab apples and we weren't disappointed.
A big mess o' cranberries simmering on the stove.

So get out there and explore the roadside garden. There is a ton of delicious food there. Sure it takes a fair bit of labor, and some sugar and pectine. But you didn't plant it, you don't have to weed it, you haven't stressed about it, you've lost no sleep worrying that hail or hoppers would get it before harvest.
All it asks of you is that you stop and enjoy it. And appreciate it. Is that so much to ask?

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Beans, beans

The purple and green beans make a nice contrast when they are raw

Beans, beans, we sang when we were kids, the musical fruit. Those were baked beans, those delicious little things swimming in rich tomato sauce. But today it is string beans about which I - er - wax poetic (sorry).

When I plant the garden in the spring, my head is full of anticipation of the eventual harvest: ripe tomatoes off the vine, carrots pulled and rinsed off with the garden hose, beets boiled, buttered and salted, sweet yellow corn similarly prepared. For some reason, I don't think about the beans. And yet, every year, I go crazy for them when they are ready, and I want them with every meal. And every year, the garden produces enough for every meal for many, many days.

The other night I spent a few seconds picking at the ends of the bean rows to get a handful of beans. Just standing in one place at the ends of the rows. And as I looked at them I realized how great they are. For the last three years I have been growing two varieties of string beans. The familiar green guys, and lovely purple ones.The purple ones turn a deep olive green when you boil them, sort of like a built in doneness indicator. In case you have never had them, I should tell you the taste is similar to the green ones but the texture is different. They are more tender than the green beans, at least the green beans I grow. So I went to the kitchen for a bowl and in no time I had a bowl brimming with purple and green beans.
Two minutes worth of picking
Purple beans turn olive green - time for butter

If you use the beans raw - say in a salad, the green and purple beans would make a nice contrast. Also, the purple ones contrast with the foliage of the bean plant, making them really easy to pick.
We just throw them in the pot together, boil them until the purple ones turn green, then drain them and throw in a little salt and pepper and too much butter. Put a lid on the pot and let them sit for a few minutes while the butter melts and the beans soak up the seasoning. Then toss them around. Then eat 'em. Then cook another batch to go with dinner. Trust me, when you plant beans, you will have enough beans to do this. Everyday.

I planted two ten foot rows of purple beans this year and one row of green beans. Two weeks into the bean harvest both are going strong. Both varieties have flowers still, so there are many beans to come. They are easy to grow, too. Do a reasonable job of weeding, of course, so they don't get choked out. But even in my garden, where I manage to grow as much switch grass and alfalfa as I do vegetables, I have an abundant bean harvest.

So grow some beans. You'll be glad you did. If you can find them, try the purple ones.

You'll have to excuse me now; I have to run to the store. Seems we're out of butter...