Category Archives: Edibles

Chives – in vinegar form

Chives

Chives

 

Remember how Morticia Addams ceremoniously cut the rose blossoms off of her rose bushes?  Well, much to the objection of the many bees and other pollinating insects attracted to chive flowers, I do the same with fully opened chive blossoms. It’s not that I dislike chive blossoms, au contraire … Tish, you spoke French! … it’s that I love the flavor of chive vinegar, and without chive blossoms, vinegar is just vinegar.

To make chive vinegar, you first need a stash of attractive glass jars with corked or screw-on lids – our passion for homemade margaritas insures I have ample cork-topped Patron tequila bottles like the one in the photo below – but you can purchase fancy glass, cork-topped jars at many kitchen supply stores.  Just be sure to use glass jars (non-reactive to vinegar) and the openings are wide enough to accept the flowers without crushing them.

Chive vinegar after 2 days

Chive vinegar after 2 days

 

The Morticia Addams act comes next.  After morning dew has dried – when herbs are freshest – snap fully opened chive blossom off their stalks (in the photo above, the largest blossoms are ready for harvest).  Avoid those with browning tinges of browning on the individual florets, as these are past prime.rop about a cup or so of blossoms to a clean jar, and fill the jars with clear or cider vinegar.  Sit the jars out of direct sunlight – where you can watch the vinegar take on the color of the chives.

 

 

 

Chive vinegar - strained

Chive vinegar - strained

Over the next months, the vinegar will take on a chive flavor.  When ready to use, pour the flavored vinegar through a paper towel or coffee filter lined funnel to strain out the chive blossoms.  It will look similar to the jar at the right.

Make enough chive vinegar for winter use and to share with family and friends.  This concoction adds a distinct flavor to any recipe calling for regular vinegar, such as homemade salad dressing, vegetable marinade, and warm potato salad.  For the most tender and moist roasted chicken, pour one cup of chive vinegar over a small chicken and a few garlic cloves, sprinkle the chicken with your choice of dried herb (thyme, basil, rosemary), cover, and bake until done.

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Herb Highlights – Chives

Chives

Chives

Mention chives and most people think of the green, often freeze-dried, baked potato topping offered in restaurants.  Cooks who venture to try fresh or freeze-dried, store-bought chives may balk at their cost.  However, those who grow these perennial herbs can fully enjoy fresh chive flavor – at minimal cost – from spring through fall.

Chives grow best in rich, well-drained locations, in full to part sun, forming 12 to 18 inch tall clumps.  This, plus their eye-catching flowers make them attractive additions to herb, perennial, and vegetable beds.  Chives also grow well in containers and, like many herbs, are rarely attacked by harmful insects or nibbled by deer.  As a companion plant, chives purportedly benefit roses, carrots, grapes, and tomatoes when adjacently planted.  Just be sure to place your nursery-purchased or seed-grown chives where they are easily reached – once you experience them fresh from the garden, you’ll never be satisfied with freeze dried substitutes again.

Chives, foxglove, and iris

Chives, foxglove, and iris

The globe shaped flowers of Allium schoenoprasum are just now opening in my Connecticut gardens.  Their lilac to mauve tinted blossoms blend nicely with iris, and with blue and pink flowers. As I mentioned in my Herbs cultivate gardeners post, chive blossoms are also stunning with orange Oriental poppies – a combination I pulled off many years ago, before the age of digital photography.

Both chive flowers and leaves are edible.  Use whole flowers as a garnish or to make tasty chive vinegar (watch for a near future post on this), or break the flower globes into smaller pieces to add to green or pasta salads. 

When freshly snipped, the oniony flavor of  chives season marinades, and just about any type of vegetable, pasta, chicken, tuna, or egg salad.  Hint: cut chive leaves from the back, or unseen, side of the plant to keep clumps looking good; also, rather than slicing on a cutting board, simply hold a bunch of cut chives in one hand while snipping, with kitchen shears, from the tips of the bunch.  Snipped chives also freeze well in an airtight container, but use these in winter soups and cooked recipes, since thawed chives tend to become unappetizingly soft.  For a winter baked potato topping, either grow chives in pots in a sunny window and snip as needed, or sprinkle still frozen chives over baked potatoes.

Garlic chives in full September bloom

Garlic chives in full September bloom

Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) which, as you might expect, taste more like garlic, grow much like their oniony cousins and can be similarly used.  But I’ve found garlic chives don’t freeze well and, unlike their spring blooming cousins, the enchanting white blossoms of garlic chives open in late summer.  My one word of caution– read about my garlic chive faux pas – is to not let garlic chives go to seed unless you want many, many ‘volunteer’ plants in subsequent years.

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Mid-May Blooms

We’ve had a chilly, rainy May so far in southern Connecticut, but regardless of the weather, May always delights the senses.  Here’s what’s blooming around my piece of Earth.

Compact white lilac

Compact white lilac

 

 

 

 

 

 

lilac Syringa vulgaris 5-09

Common lilac - Syringa vulgaris

Lilacs – both a compact white variety and the common lilac-colored Syringa vulgaris.  For hints on bringing lilac blooms inside see a previous post.

 

 

 

 

Sweet Woodruff

Sweet Woodruff

Lily-of-the-Valley

Lily-of-the-Valley

Parital shade lovers – Sweet Woodruff above and Lily-of-the-Valley to the left.

 

 

Eastern Red Columbine

Eastern Red Columbine

Eastern Red Columbine, one of my amateur phenologist choices for Project Plants.

 

 

 

 

Azalea flower

Azalea flower

 

Azaleas –

raspberry-colored,

 

 

 

 

 

 

Compact pink azalea

Compact pink azalea

 

 

and a compact pink variety.

 

 

 

 

Wood hyacinth 5-09

Wood hyacinth

 

 

Wood hyacinth just starting to open.

 

 

 

Just opening chives

Just opening chives

 

Chives – newly opening.  Watch for my future post on how to use chive blossoms.

I’m closely watching for iris, peony, and clematis blossoms, and waiting for columbine  – shared from my sister’s northern California plants – to brighten some shadier spots.

To experience blooms elsewhere, visit the Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day links at May Dreams Garden – a true mid-month treat.

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Enticing Edibles: Alpine Strawberries

Looking for an easy to grow plant that provides edible fruit, and holds it own next to flowering container and bedding plants?  Try Alpine strawberries.  I grew Fragaria vesca ‘Semper-florens’ (hardy to zone 4) for the first time last year as part of my continuing integration of edibles into a new – fenced in, deer protected – planting area.  I’ll not go without these prolific beauties again.

I purchased three good-sized (6 inch pots) nursery plants and potted them into a large shallow planter, but could just as easily have put them in hanging planters or mixed them with flowering container plants.  Since they were new to me, I kept my Alpine planters in a sunny spot (at least 6 hours) on my deck to ease observation.

My plants supplied enough half-inch-inch berries to dress many morning cereal bowls, and continued producing berries intermittingly throughout the summer – well after traditional strawberries had gone by.  The plants looked good into August, when I moved them into the ground.  Both while potted and in the ground, they required no more care than any other perennial.

Alpine strawberry 5-09_edited

Unlike traditional strawberries, which send out numerous runners in all directions after fruiting, Alpine strawberries grow in mounds, about 8 to 10 inches tall.  The photo above shows one Alpine strawberry plant in early May, after one season in the ground.

The mounding growth habit, combined with Alpine’s intermittent white flowers will make them a nice edging accent for my four established blueberry bushes, which is their planned permanent home.  The fact that Alpines attract butterflies only makes them more visually pleasing.

Alpines have similar scent, but slightly different flavor from traditional strawberries.  But Alpine berries are smaller and softer, making them best used immediately after picking.  The trick is to get to the berries before the birds.  I thwarted a fair number of thefts last season by picking ripe berries early.  It was a simple pleasure to watch visiting birds fly off, empty-beaked, as I enjoyed fresh picked berries on my morning cereal.  I hope that planting Alpines around my blueberries will ease netting them both from flying marauders.

potted Alpine strawberry

potted Alpine strawberry

Two weeks ago I dug up two plants – one pictured above – which now serve as early container accents on my deck.  These red-berry producers will soon go into the ground around the blueberries.  But I may choose some yellow-bearing varieties to see if their fruits are as luscious tasting as their red-fruited cousins.

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Gardening Oops – GOOPs

Welcome to Gardening Oops Day – GOOPs for short.  Here’s the first of my many GOOPs.

I love chives and many years ago when I ‘discovered’ garlic chives (Allium tuberosum), I had to have them.  They’re easy care, attractive, and edible by humans but not sought out by deer.  They send up fresh white flower clusters in August, a big plus in my south-central Connecticut (zone 6) garden, and they attract a ton of pollinating insects.

late summer garlic chive blooms

late summer garlic chive blooms

The first couple of years I allowed my small stand of garlic chives to self seed to insure I had ample offspring for salads (green, potato, egg), marinades, salsas, stir fry, and to provide enough flowers to flavor vinegars for winter salads.  But one year – GOOPs #1 – I missed that critical time between flowering and seed production in what had become quite an extensive garlic chive collection in my perennial, herb, and rose and vegetable garden beds.  Then – GOOPs #2 – when I finally cut the flower stalks I added them to my compost pile … damn-I-wish-I-hadn’t-done-that!  The following year I found garlic chives growing between fieldstone paths and in just about every nook and cranny that was downwind or in the general area of a garlic chives clump.  Plus, since my compost is not really hot, I had garlic chive volunteers the next spring in every area that received compost.  I finally cleared volunteers from the vegetable garden, but years later I’m still digging garlic chive volunteers from between many stone walkways, as shown here. 

garlic chive volunteer

garlic chive volunteer

These babies are not easy to dig from between fieldstone paths.  You need to get down to the bulb, a difficult task in tight areas.

Now I’m ruthless.  I never let flowers seed to maturity, and spent flower stalks go to the outdoor fireplace for burning rather than to the compost pile for composting.  I’m also very careful to not let my garlic chives spread to the wilder edges of the native woodlands in my neighborhood since I can see these plants easily becoming invasive.  I still love garlic chives … their flavor is unique and garlic chive flavored vinegar is my favorite for winter salad dressings.  But now I have enough, and I work hard to keep my supply at enough, rather than too much.

Now share your GOOPs … either add it in a comment below or give a GOOPs tease and a link to your blog’s account of your GOOPs … share every dirty detail.

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The big ‘O’

The big ‘O’ has finally reached the Big House and seems to be spreading to landscapes beyond.  The big ‘O’ I refer to, of course, is Organic.  Gardeners who have used organic gardening practices in their edible and other landscapes were heartened to hear the First Lady announce her big ‘O’ plan for the White House edible garden.  Then we learned of the Earth Day unveiling of the People’s Garden plan for property surrounding the Whitten Building – headquarters of the US Department of Agriculture in Washington D.C.  The People’s Garden will serve as a model for how to incorporate sustainable gardening and landscaping practices to all who visit.

 

peoplesgardenlogo-smThe People’s Garden plan involves a redesign of lawn, trees, and shrub areas to include an organic garden that will go through the official 3-year designation process to become Certified Organic.  The People’s Garden will also include a Potager (French for kitchen garden) design that incorporates edible and flowering plants into pleasing garden beds, and a Pollinator garden filled with flowers that attract bees and other pollinating insects.  The People’s Garden honors Native American tradition through a Three Sisters Garden – the Native American tradition of interplanting corn, beans, and squash (beans provide soil nitrogen for heavy feeding corn, corn provides stalks for beans to grow up, and large squash leaves hinder weed growth).  Additionally, the People’s Garden will display crop rotation methods required to transition from so-called ‘conventional’ gardening/farming to Certified Organic in Transition Field Plots.  The People’s Garden plan will also incorporate stormwater collection using porous paving and bioswales to filter and infiltrate runoff; rain garden depressions that capture stormwater exiting from bioswales and allow excess water to more easily soak into the ground; bat houses, green roofs, and the use of urban grown wood from trees felled by storm or old age to create steps and raised bed planters.

 

The areas are to be maintained by USDA’s landscape contractor, a non-profit organization created to serve individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, but UDSA employees may also work in the gardens.  Additionally, USDA Secretary Vilsack challenged USDA employees at other facilities to create sustainable landscapes, thereby launching the People’s Garden Initiative.  Read more about the People’s Garden and follow its progress at the USDA website.  Finally, it seems government agencies are focusing on sustainable gardening and landscaping practices – this big ‘O’ project is going to be a blast to watch.

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Herb Highlights – Cilantro

In my southern Connecticut garden, cilantro is an easy to grow “annual” herb.  Cilantro is the leafy portion of coriander – making this herb doubly useful if you are also looking to harvest coriander seeds.  Generally sowed in early spring, this 18 inch tall – or so – airy plant quickly provides enough greens to add a fresh zip to salsas and Latin dishes but, like dill, it does not take up a lot of space.

Overwintered cilantro by April

Overwintered cilantro by April

 

 

Sow seeds directly into the garden in early spring, keeping the soil evenly moist while waiting for the seeds to sprout and the plants get established.  Then water regularly and thin out plants (using any tiny thinnings in the kitchen) so they are about 4-5 inches apart.  As the plants grow use the leaves as much as possible before the temperatures warm and the plants go to flower.  Snipping the tops of the plants slows flowering, but only somewhat.  Once the plants decide to set seed, I leave a few in place to allow seed heads to ripen to a light brown and harden. Then I sprinkle them in assorted bare spots in the garden and water/watch until they sprout.  These late sown plants provide a late summer harvest, but I always save some to overwinter under a cold frame.  As the weather chills in early fall, I transplant small cilantro plants into pots (to keep them from becoming vole food), sink these in the ground, and cover the area with a small cold frame.  I water these plants about once a week or as needed until the real cold sets in.  Then I forget about the plants, only checking on their need for water during winter thaws.  When spring nears I pick up on the watering and vent the cold frame so the plants don’t cook on warm, sunny days.  Once nighttime freezing temperatures stop, I remove the cold frame to allow the plants’ rapid growth.  The overwintered plants provide an even earlier supply of cilantro than their early spring-sowed cousins.

 

Even with limited edible gardening space, I have yet to plant too much cilantro.  Any freshly harvested stalks not immediately used will store well with stem ends set in a small amount of water in a refrigerated container.  Alternately, washed stems and leaves can be loosely rolled in a paper towel and stored in a plastic bag in the frig (this method works well for most small leaved herbs).  When left to go to seed, dried coriander seeds are also easily stored and supposedly make nice additions to chili and homemade soup, but mine never make it this far as I cannot resist spreading seeds throughout the garden in hopes of a bumper cilantro crop.

 

Cilantro ‘Delfino’ (Coriandrum sativum), a 2006 All America award winner, grows well in my garden.  I cannot attest to whether or not deer forage on cilantro since I have always planted it in a fenced edible garden where I’m sure to closely watch for flowering.

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