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Monday, May 30, 2011

Victorian Kitchen gardens II grapes, & So Coast Table grapes

The Victorians loved their glasshouses and some are still in operation like the one at Blenheim, which still produces enough grapes for the ducal family every year--- until January.

 This gardening feat requires a glasshouse (warm ), and a fruit house (cool). In addition, the bunches of grapes are supported in a mesh bag as they mature, and shaped by hand to be pleasing. (You can read about Blenheim's present  inhabitants in this month's Vanity Fair Magazine. A new duchess has enlivened the place and repaired the ducal fortune, and hopefully--the roof.)

Once the grapes are harvested from the glass house, each bunch is racked with a wine bottle of water in which the grape stem is placed  (same idea as our florist bottles used to keep cymbidiums fresh.) This method, and the cool fruit house will keep the grapes fresh for 6 months after harvest.
You might yearn for such a set-up growing table grapes on the Central Coast. It can be done, but not as easily as you might think, given the wine producing grapes that grow so well here ---Syrah, Merlot, Chardonnay. Table grapes need a lot more heat to mature to the required sweetness.

The interior valleys are table grape heaven, and along the coast is wine grape heaven, but growing edible table grapes along the coast is a crap shoot. If you are going to try it, now is the time to plant. First find a warm, south facing wall, if possible.

Or, if you plant a grape arbor, and sit under it, the grapes are a decorative bonus, even on the sour side. (Having grown Thompson Seedless in the foothills at 1000 feet,  I can attest Thompson’s are edible and pretty, but not very sweet.Crisp! ) If you are serious about growing table grapes right along the coast, a greenhouse is your best bet. Or a 15 gallon pot along a south wall.....

Thomacord growing on an arbor
You can, along the coast grow wine grapes very happily. See, and even have your grapes made into wine. Home vineyards are popular from San Francisco to San Diego. All over Europe people grow wine grapes in their backyards . We can too.

Posted by PicasaThis beauty is a Chardonnay wine grape. A quarter of an acre and you've got a crop that can be made into wine. Along the coast there are wine collectives for small vineyard owners which will make your grapes into wine  This looks like a good place to start:

But we  still want a table grape for our backyard. It's going to take a hybrid of European and our native American grapes. ( Vitis viniferax= European; Vitis labrusca is a native, of which there are a couple more: Vitis bouquiniana, native to Texas** and  Muscadina rotundafolia, native to SE US.) What we need has to be mildew resistant, and ripen either very early or very late to catch the autumn heat. Mid-season grapes are going to hit May Grey and June Gloom---they won't ripen until fall, and may sulk as a result. A sulky grape is a sour grape. Here's one that won't be.

Local  nurseries carry Himrod, a cross between a native grape and a Thompson Seedless. It ripens in late August or September. A man up in San Luis Obispo has a Concord x Thompson cross with a six inch trunk that has borne heavily and sweetly every year for many years .Another of the same native parentage is Niagra ( Vitis labrusca 'Niagara' ) a white seedless.

The University of Washington recommends Black Monukka Seedless Grape which requires less summer heat than Thompson Seedless. It's an EMS*** which U WA considers the best grape for home gardens.Self fruitful, good zones 6-10. This European variety has been in cultivation forever and was brought to California early. (It is also blamed for taking the dreaded  Phylloxera aphid to Europe--which is probably unfair, but the French had to blame somebody!) Steamships were the most likely cause, as they travelled so much faster than the sailing ships, the Phylloxera  aphids didn't die  en route as they had before.

Black Manukka

Shocked, shocked to discover commercial growers treat their grape crops with gibberellic acid.  It's a plant hormone used to  increase the size of the grapes. Backyard grapes are not going to easily achieve the glamour of supermarket grapes.

 Local nurseries carry Flame, Ca. Concord, Thompson Seedless, Perlette  and Ladyfinger . Ladyfinger is good zones 6-10. My well-informed readers know ladyfingers are sweet, and elongated green grapes--- named variety is Lady Patricia. Last but not least is Black Rose.

 "Black Rose is a table grape that was produced from a crossing of the vinifera Ribier with a separate crossing of Damas Rose and Black Monukka. The grape was developed  in 1941." (W). It was created by the legendary Dr. Harold Olmo in 1941 at UC Davis. Black Rose a rather hard grape to find but this nursery carries it . (.  ). Since Olmo was such  a genius at hybridization think I'll have to try it. Who could resist a grape named Black Rose?

Best advice: hedge your bets with an early variety and a late variety. Chances are one of them will do well in hot years, and the other one in the cold.  


 ** see *** Early Midseason

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Fava & Scarlet Emperor Hummus ???

Fava's at Pike's

These Favas are fully developed in May even in the NW climate. If one were growing them in SoCal, it might be worth an experiment to plant them as late as January. Cold ground doesn't bother them. They've been an early spring staple in  N. Europe for centuries.

 Fava's were somewhat displaced in N. Europe by the potato--unfortunately-- considering the potato blight and the resulting Irish Famine. Potatoes are grown, even by the totally clueless--- (which is often how I feel in the vegetable garden.) In a rainy climate about all you have to do is stick the seed potatoes in the ground and stand back. (Until the blight strikes!) The resulting-- easy to grow-- crop kicked off a population explosion in Ireland in the 19th c. (It has been estimated an Irishman ate 12 lbs of potatoes a day. You'd have to have a lot of Fava's to match that calorie count.)

N. European settlers in Ireland (mostly German) survived the Blight because they never stopped growing Favas and were generally more canny farmers . The Irish were basically cattle herders and had not developed sophisticated farming skills to match those of many European countries. Hence the imported N. European farmers, brought in by the English landlords  as an attempt to make farming more profitable in Ireland. Not for the Irish, of course, but for the English landlords.

( Ignore  digression ....must be channelling  Irish grandmother.)
Growing   Beans takes a little more skill than growing potatoes--though not much more. (My Scarlet Runners are flourishing--supposed to be a perennial in this climate--a native of the Mexican high plateau.) So exciting to see them growing like Jack and the Beanstalk beans that I returned to Ken Albala's book , BeansA History, to read up on them.

Then, looking for recipes for SR Bs and Favas,  discovered....
Scarlet Emperor Runners
                                       (Image from W Commons) the darker seeds are the more mature.


 Unless they are eaten fresh, very young, SR Bs are stronger," more bean-y" than many. You might not like them.  Same is true of Favas . But hummus  made with mature beans--and garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, cilantro or Italian Parsley combined  in a food processor served with pita or tortilla chips might make you a  passionate convert to home made hummus. However, don't try this at home without boiling the beans --please. Raw SR Bs are not good for you.

 Wing it on the recipe with the amounts you use--about a cup of boiled beans*, save some bean water to use in processing-- a whole Meyer lemon's juice, 2 or more cloves of garlic, sesame seeds if you have them around (or tahini, or peanut butter ), cilantro or flat leafed Italian parsley to taste, salt /pepper. Make a well in the top for olive oil.

Hummus originates in the Levant and  traditionally uses garbanzo's .You can  (be daring) use  favas or Scarlet Runner beans, even though you can't find a recipe using them very easily, since neither is a traditional crop in the Middle East.)

 Besides hummus----- Hummingbird's love Scarlet Runners. Who could ask for anything more?                                                     


 Note for SoCal bean growers- planted 2 sets of SRunners- one started in doors in plantable pots, 4 seeds simply put into the ground after a 12 hour soak in water. All the potted seeds survived, but off to a slow start. One of the 4 planted in the ground seeds survived, but it took off at top speed and will soon outstrip the earlier ones.

* 1 c. of beans= you can combine SRB, Fava's or garbanzos (chickpeas)--any one, or the combination will work .I seem to end up with handfuls of this or that---not cups.

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Friday, May 6, 2011

Vegetables for Coastal fog from SF and Seattle


Since our climate in SoCal has decided to mimic an English spring (cold and  rainy) vegetables from San Francisco and Seattle are suddenly apropos.

Cardoon, a favorite in Victorian kitchen gardens, could  be a fall planted vegetable in SoCal. It needs 5 months of cool weather--we've got 'em. Cardoon is  spectacular and still highly favored in parts of France, Spain, Italy and New Orleans where ..."chef Mario Batali calls the cardoon one of his favorite vegetables and says they have a "very sexy flavor"  (W)
 In San Francisco, Chinatown has an array of vegetables to puzzle and inspire.
Daikon an astonishing radish, is rich in magnesium, vitamin A, copper, --all this and pickles  too.  (Japan, Korea, see W)  In Pakistan, the leaves are used ---"flash fried in heated oil, garlic, ginger, red chili and a variety of spices".

Bok choi, kohlrabi ---  don't usually think if that one--- pale celadon with odd bumps here and there. See -

Kohlrabi (W)
 "a stout cultivar of the cabbage that will grow almost anywhere.."(W) It's somewhere between a turnip and a cabbage.... the reader is warned. If you like turnips or cabbage------ kohlrabi is a star.

Slim  Japanese eggplant  are  wonderful for grilling. Likes our foggy  coastal summer weather just fine. Also makes superb pickles. Easy to grow.

Japanese eggplant

Bitter melon (Momordica charantia), is a staple in Chinese cooking,
It would be a summer vegetable for us. It's bitterness is prized. Bitter Melon is anti-viral, increases insulin sensitivity (good!) and is used for folk healing all over Asia.

Bitter Melon Sambal
For adventurous cooks and gardeners. The vine looks a lot like a cucumber.
If you go to Seattle, Pikes Market is a fabulous place to see vegetables you've only encountered in seed catalogs.

Fresh truffles and mushrooms beyond belief -- like fresh shitake , and decorative
romanesco and baby purple artichokes.
Romanesco-right- artichokes- middle
 Can't leave Pike's market without seeing the fish market, where a whole wild salmon affordable at $7.99, filleted free.

Seattle has two gigantic nurseries, Swanson's (  see their website   which has lots of detailed notes on growing edibles.. Swanson's has a glass house the size of the grapery at Blenheim Palace.

Rain may be falling, but who cares?