Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Fat Little Dragon

A much-munched group of angel trumpet leaves by the garden bench caught my eye as I strolled through the gardens Thursday morning. I immediately knew who the culprit was, for, as much as the hornworm loves tomatoes, he seems to love angel trumpets even more. A quick search of the plant turned up the fat little dragon.

I had a chuckle recently as I read Eleanor Perenyi's Green Thoughts when her thoughts turned to the hornworm. It seems that Ms. Perenyi braces herself and cuts him in half with scissors. How ladylike! I just stomp him with my garden clog. Fifteen years ago, when I gardened in my bare feet -- how unladylike! -- I smushed him between two rocks.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Uncle Dillon's Grape Vine

Two summers ago, we visited my uncle in northern Florida, and I brought home a tiny grape vine. Now, Uncle Dillon told me I could buy a grape vine much more easily than I could carry this one home to Arkansas on an airplane and set it out in the heat of August. But I value heritage plants above all else. It doesn't matter to me that he bought it down at Wal-Mart, my vine came from his garden (and he has a wonderful one).

So, I set it out. It lost all its leaves and looked quite dead. But it came back to life before the end of fall. It survived the winter and put on leaves nicely the next spring. Then the Easter Freeze of 2007 zapped it. It came back, though, and went wild with growth.

This spring, when it started leafing out, I got out the gardening books and figured out how to prune it. I cut it to one main stem, as directed. It looked pretty pitiful, but then it started growing like mad.

Jump to this week. Skye had a friend over to hang out, swim, and pick blueberries on Wednesday. Her mom just happens to be a daughter of Matt Post, fourth generation owner of Post Familie Vineyards, one of the top wineries in Arkansas. When J spotted it, she went to work on it. I had the good fortune to have Uncle Dillon's grape vine pruned by a Post girl! Now it looks much more orderly, it has two cordons selected, and the tendrils have been trimmed off the main shoot to prevent those from cutting into the wood.

One the down side, J also told me that if the grape vine was a seedling that it will probably never produce grapes. I'm pretty sad about that, as I think it may have indeed been a seedling. So I'll watch, and if it doesn't bloom next year, I'll pull it out and start over with a plant from a nursery. I love those heritage plants, but I love grapes more!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

When Life Gives You Green Tomatoes, Fry 'em!

While weeding the vegetable garden yesterday, I knocked off a nice-sized green tomato. Love asked if it would ripen off the bush, but I didn't think so, since it had no pink on it. So, what else was there to do but fry it?

Now, I've lived in the South my entire life, but I've never eaten fried green tomatoes. My mother never cooked them when I was a kid, and I've always loved ripe tomatoes much too much to bother with green ones. But, what's a girl to do?

So, I pulled out my trusted Southern cookbook, Thirty Years at the Mansion by Liza Ashley. But Liza let me down. So I resorted to Mother's old copy of Looking at Cooking by Mildred Swift. Fried Green Tomatoes is the last vegetable recipe listed. Mildred says:

Remove the hard stem end from the tomato. Cut into slices about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roll each slice in corn meal, and fry in hot fat until brown. NOTE: Bacon drippings are good for frying tomatoes.

Can you tell that Mildred wrote the cookbook before cholesterol was in our national vocabulary?

I fried the tomato as directed, although I used canola oil. Not only could I just not get past the idea that frying anything in bacon grease would take years off my life, neither could I spare any off my precious stash of bacon grease. Because, yes, I do use bacon grease in my kitchen, but I use it sparingly for flavoring, not as a frying medium.

The tomatoes fried up nicely, and the entire family tried them, a first for all of us. We thought they were OK, but fried green tomatoes won't become a summer staple at our house anytime soon. Now, if I could just find some okra, we'd be in business....

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Just Passing Through

Skye and I were headed into town this morning for onions and eggs from the Farmer's Market and her piano lesson, when we encountered this fellow crossing the road just south of our place. We swung around and grabbed the camera. By the time we got back, he was probably ten yards down the side road ditch. I didn't know turtles could move so fast!
We sat down a while ago to report him to the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission as part of their citizen science Box Turtle Survey, but it turns out that he's not a box turtle. Or at least I don't think he is. But I'm not sure what he is. Does anyone out there know? I know the picture of his carapace (top shell) is not that great, but his plastron (bottom shell) doesn't seem to match up with any of the pictures I can find for Arkansas turtles. He also had a much flatter shell than the "box" that box turtles have. We surely would like to know the name of this fellow who was just passing through.
Update: The nice gentleman at the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission tells me the turtle looks like an adult red-eared slider. How would you like to go through life with a name like that?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Skye Blue Berries

Berry season is in full swing in The Berry Patch. We started eating berries off the blueberry bushes around June 14th; Skye started picking in earnest on June 20th. By now, we've put up 6 jars of blueberry jam, made a Blueberry Brunch Cake, have eaten berries at breakfast, lunch, and supper (Skye and I are eating bowls of blueberries for breakfast), and we have a gallon or so in the frig reserved for the firt person on our sales list. Plans call for blueberry muffins, blueberry pancakes, experiments with new blueberry recipes, frozen blueberries, dried blueberries and more blueberry sales.
So why is the picture of blackberries? The blackberries have arrived as well! This is our first year to have more than a few blackberries to eat. Pearl, our octagenarian next-door neighbor and gardening sage, gave me the plants 2 years ago in the heat of the summer. She didn't tell me the variety, but I'm guessing they are Apache, a thornless variety developed right down the road at the University of Arkansas, the leader in development of blackberry varieties for the United States. I lost several to the heat that summer, got a handful of berries last year, and now the plants are going full force. I had to sacrifice a couple of plants this spring that showed early signs of orange rust, but all signs are gone and the berries are beautiful.
Yesterday, I made my first blackberry cobbler, from my mother's recipe and in the cobbler pan she gave me last summer. She undoubtedly baked thousands of cobblers in the pan during the 34 years that she was raising kids. Here's the recipe:
Mother's Cobbler
1 quart fruit
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1/3 cup shortening
1/3 cup cold water (colder than cold tap)
1/2 tsp baking powder
(cinnamon for apples)
sugar & butter
1. Cook fruit with sugar until softened.
2. Mix flour, shortening, water, and baking powder. Might take more crust.
3. Put cobbler pan on fire. Layer fruit, dumplings, fruit, dumplings, dabbing dumpling layers with sugar and butter, (sprinkling apple layers with cinnamon) and ending with fruit layer. Top with solid crust, split crust with knife, dab with butter, and sprinkle with sugar.
4. Bake at 350F until crust is brown (40 minutes).
We've harvested a few strawberries along for nibbling, but the spring has really been too wet for strawberry production without resorting to using lots of antifungal agents.
We've also picked a handful of raspberries from the floricanes of our oldest raspberry variety shared with us by friend Wisty years ago. The new Heritage plantings are just beginning to show small green berries.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Standing by the Dumpster in the Rain...

You just never know what the day will bring. There I was after a long day at work, putting my mixed paper in the recycling bin behind the school, when one of the Agri teachers pulled up to drop off a load of trash. And in the back of his truck, he had beautiful little herb plants that he was trying to find a home for before leaving for the beach for a week. So, I stopped in the rain to recycle my junk mail and soap wrappers and came away with five little pots of herbs: an oregano, a thyme, and 3 basils. Pennies from heaven!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Patience and Frugality Pay Off

This morning, a year's patience finally paid off, as my Longiflorum-Asiatic (LA) Brindisi lily bloomed for the first time. I rescued this beautiful pink lily from a sale shelf at the back of Lowe's last summer. (You know, that shelf where the unfortunate flowers that are past bloom are doomed to a slow death from dehydration.) Now it is showing off with a mass of buds and a little plant coming along beside it.

Yesterday found me in Lowe's buying landscape fabric and cruising the sale shelves once again. I picked up two Asiatic lilies, Tiny Todd and Tiny Ghost, for a great price, and they still had the last bloom on them. Todd is another pale pink, and Ghost is a burgundy. They have already found a home in the Cottage Garden near the path, as they are small varieties.

Thanks to Skye for the picture!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Hello, Stranger!

I was surprised to find this friendly face yesterday in the section of the garden that is on stand-by, waiting until next year to be transformed into the second installment of the Kitchen Garden. Taylor's Guide to Perennials identifies it as rose campion. I have no idea where it came from -- did someone give me a plant I forgot about? Did I buy it off a sale table somewhere? Did a bird drop the seed? Taylor's says it's a short-lived perennial or biennial that will self-seed. I dug it up and moved it into the Cottage Garden, where I hope it will live a long and happy life with lots of children.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Aunt Beedie Mae's Amaryllis

This lovely amaryllis joins the Cottage Garden all the way from Aunt Beedie Mae's home in south Florida, by way of my sister's garden in north Louisiana. It always amazes me that it can thrive here in north Arkansas, but I guess it has a pretty wide range of hardiness zones. Besides that, my sister sliced the edge of the bulb when she dug it for me three years ago.

It was in bloom about a week ago. It's showy for a few days and then fades away. The Cottage Garden is heavy on pinks, blues, and purples (lots of cornflowers and larkspurs right now), but there are touches of red and yellow here and there.

Thanks to Skye for the picture, as usual.