August’s Abundance -August 2015
by: Russ Morash
This is the month when we finally have it all, and it may be too much.
After all, how many cucumbers can one family eat? I guess we could put up a few of them as pickles, but it seems like a lot of work, what with finding all the paraphernalia: the sterilizing boiler, the Mason jars, the metal lids, the bottle rack. Then cleaning all of it, prepping the brine solution – and all that salt. I’ve got better things to do with my time.
The tomato harvest is getting out of hand, too. Already those beautiful Sun Gold cherry types cannot be picked fast enough, and most are splitting on the vine since the main-croppers are ready as well and much more in demand. If I do it right, maybe I can coax Marian to make up a couple dozen quarts of her Fresh Tomato Sauce for freezing, an item that we will use and enjoy all winter. She puts that up in sturdy plastic containers, thus avoiding all that messing about with sterile glass jars.
As a young boy, I never much liked green peppers and we never saw red ones. Not so today, of course, where every food market will have racks of large colorful bell peppers flown here from Holland and elsewhere nearly every day. Greenhouse growers have mastered the art of growing these spectacular fruits nearly yearround under glass using lots of fossil fuel for the light and heat they need to develop properly. They certainly are pretty to look at, although the bland taste and high prices make me glad to grow sweet peppers myself.
Most “bells” start off green, turning red, yellow or even brown as they mature and sweeten. The green ones had a certain taste I couldn’t stand unless mother cooked them gray into scrambled eggs. I still don’t like the taste, preferring to let them ripen on the plants and turn color as the season progresses. Then, when fried or roasted, they really develop their true sweetpepper taste and we use all that we can grow.
The pressure on the onion crop continues as the kitchen calls for more and more scallions or “green” onions, as they are called. I take the trouble of transplanting them into rows from seed started on the bench which turns out to be a good idea, as the young seedlings can be used to fill in areas of the garden that held other crops when space becomes available.
The main crop varieties Walla Walla and Ailsa Craig will have reached their ultimate size by now and the taste is never sweeter. The onion tops will fall over without any help from me, signaling that the maturing process has begun. Leaving them in the ground they’ve been growing in will do no harm and is more likely to prevent damage while the drying off continues. There’ll be plenty of time next month to lift and put them away in mesh bags for winter storage, although the ravenous kitchen may take them all before that happens.
Dill is a customer favorite here so we grow a lot of it. I saved seed from last year’s crop and it has done well, providing plenty of foliage to chop into a yogurtbased sauce over cucumbers and much prized as a component with mustard as a sauce for smoked salmon. One can’t be stuck with too much dill as that which is not needed by the cooks is useful to the resident florist for flower-arranging.
Basil is a more complex crop to manage. It starts easily enough from seed in a small pot then transplanted to six-packs until the weather warms up and it can be set out in the open. Bugs and other predators seem to leave it alone, but it ages quickly and wants to flower and turn to seed which will “stop” the plant and stiffen the stems. To prolong that from happening, I try to pinch out any flowers that might think of blooming and head back the terminal shoots as they form. This makes for a bushier plant with more useful foliage, but the aging process as this old gardener will attest can never be stopped. Soon enough, as the summer garden cools into fall, all the basil will disappear and we’ll be back to buying it for our pestos.
Parsley – the type preferred here is the flat-leaved, Italian type – threatens to invade every nook and cranny into which we set out seedlings last spring. By now a mere six plants have satisfied the chef and even the wellfed rabbit is turning away from this fragrant delicacy.
August is sweet-corn month too, although we leave the growing of that favorite summertime delicacy to the professional farmers both here and on mainland America. We realize that growing enough to satisfy our
family’s appetite would require too much of our valuable garden real estate so we are willing to buy either off the farm stands or even (God forbid) at the supermarket. The reason may not be obvious. Today’s sweet corn is not your grandfather’s variety. Back then sweet corn needed to be cooked practically in the field to preserve sweetness. Any corn stored for more than a day or two would lose any of its sweet flavor and quickly become starchy.
Then along came Florida Stay Sweet, the first of the commercial varieties bred to remain sweet off the plant, slow to turn to starch, and perfect for those long delays getting it to the consumer as can happen with supermarket produce. Amazingly, the sweet corn tasted good picked days into storage. Today, no matter where we buy it or even if it’s been in storage for a few days, modern sweet-corn varieties will taste pleasantly sweet, have tender kernels, will not turn to starch any time soon, and be so much better than you might expect. Best of all, you can get it year-round in case you’re having a Nantucket clambake for Christmas. ///
Russ Morash is a life-long gardener and founder and former producer of PBS shows including “The Victory Garden,” “This Old House” and “The French Chef.”