April 26, 2009

April Snows, April Flowers

The weather is its normal fitful self, 75 degrees one day, thunderstorms at midnight with hail, then wind and clouds. . . and inches of snow an hail. To celebrate the opening of the Farmers' Market, one supposes! But there are hyacinths in bloom, snowdrops, forsythia, drumstick primroses, the lovely furry Pasque flowers. And robins singing, chickadees greeting me, the great horned owls murmuring in the dark. I am really beginning to think they will raise a family here again, the summer I had enormous baby owls about was magical and I look forward to a repeat.

The start & stop weather makes it a bit hard to be in the garden digging, hail banging about the ears is no fun, so transplanting and soaping get tended to, garden planning & re-planning, and shipping plants starts tomorrow!

April 10, 2009

Strawberries

This week's springs work includes setting out some new strawberry plants; I like to renovate the beds every few years with new stock, and this year I am going to put in new Honeyoye (to replace those in a bed that got eaten by quack grass) and new white fruited alpines.
The latter I divide until I have a nice long row, but I've decided that rather than always do from one seed packet (or sometimes, even from seed from one fruit!) I should intersperse with fruits from another grower. I am trying not to put all my berries in any one basket, so there are now going to be back up beds and stock in waiting, plus different sources of genetic material, especially after the Musk fiasco (voles eating a bunch one year, and disease decimating most of them the next year).
So, it will be interesting to see if there are discernable differences in fruit and habit in the white fruited ones---or if, as I suspect, they are all basically the same, just going about under a range of names. I have grown out several strains of red fruited alpines, and can't see or taste any difference, really.
Unless I see evidence to the contrary, in the future, from me at least, they will just be called 'White Fruited Alpine' and 'Red Fruited Alpine' and let go at that. I can see that after many years, there could be selection at various hands to merit the different names (Ivory, Pineapple Crush, etc.), but in the garden here I haven't seen any difference. I will be sure to note any I find, here.

April 5, 2009

Vanilla Bean Extravaganza: Beans Galore

I got some amazing Vanilla beans recently, and have been experimenting in the kitchen with ways to get the fullest YUM quotient from them. As the varieties were new to me, I first put up some in sugar and let sit for a week or so, then tested in coffee (and also just off the spoon, of course, need you ask? It's the Swedish Way). I have generally used Madagascar vanilla, a nice deep rich complex vanilla and the easiest for me to come by, and what I have made extract from in the past. The new ones are:

  • Bourbon: has a wine-like top note, and raisin-y mid notes. Rich and aromatic. On the tongue: shouts "Cookies!"; would be good for making extract.
  • Indonesian: Creamy, floral. Sweet, classic "vanilla" taste with almost marshmallow notes. This would be marvellous in a cream anglaise or vanilla syrup.
  • Tahitian: Fruity, almost grapelike notes. Highly aromatic, intensely floral taste.
I was expecting I could choose one to be an addition, or even a replacement, for my Madagascar--but I think I want to use all 4 kinds now!

For true vanilla extract, you need 13.35 oz vanilla beans per gallon of alcohol; this translates out to (generally) about 8 beans per cup of vodka (get not the most expensive, nor quite the cheapest; the cheapest has some rough edges even vanilla can't round off). I usually go more like a dozen per cup. Split and chop the beans, wiping the knife on the rim of the jar to get all the delicious little seeds into the extract. Cover with the vodka, stopper tightly, and set in a dark warm place for at least 6 weeks, but you can go longer--it gets richer and nicer as it ages.

A third or half of a bean simmered gently in cream or milk for a pudding recipe will flavor and scent it amazingly; and a bean per jar of sugar is just the thing for sweetening your berries or coffee, or a piece of toast. You won't even need butter, which is almost sacreligious for me to say.
  • I got enough extra beans to share the wealth; they will be listed on the availability page with pricing. As they are comparatively light and fluffy, they can ship in a bubble envelope.

April 2, 2009

Blooming today

(Besides the crocus outside!): Rosemary Tuscan Blue, Grape Sage and Texas Hummingbird Sage, Pulsatilla patens, Asarina procumbens, Primula cortusoides, frondosa, auricula & denticulata, Arabis Red Sensation, Lobelia, dwarf Narcissus and Salvia roemeriana---all in the cold (heated a bit) greenhouse. The Salvias have been blooming basically all winter.