Houston’s winter has allowed me to grow many vegetables, but I do love fresh beets.
I came home Sunday afternoon to two excited little girls and a son who was happy that he was not babysitting anymore. The girls and I went out into the garden to harvest vegetables for lunch. We made a tuna salad that included cilantro, celery, kohlrabi, broccoli, carrot, and onion from the beds. This inspired the girls that our lunch should be a picnic. We made a quick soda bread, and then prepared our vegetables. All the children and I went to have our meal in the front yard. Katya decided upon a summer dress (it is a picnic Papa), although it was a bit cool. With so many flowers in bloom, they began to collect them for an arrangement, and to spill petals over my head. This is when we happened upon the glorious beets.
Do you eat beets? I know people who will not cook with them, but I grew up eating this root. Sometimes I wonder if my children will not want certain vegetables. I think the method of causing real interest in trying a vegetable is allowing them to harvest it from their own garden. We are having fun at our picnic, and I began to consider what we may harvest for dinner. I spotted the beets, and decided upon roasted root vegetables. How do you know they are ready? I was asked this question by a neighbor. Actually, with many root vegetables this can be a confusion. Some of my beets had lush leaves on top, but the roots were thin. If you look carefully, you will see the bulge at the base of the leaves. I was harvesting beets with at least an inch in diameter, or that was my intention- the girls became a little to excited. When you look at the top, you can begin to see how thick the roots are starting to become.
This is where the fun really began. The girls wanted to begin cleaning the beets outside by pulling off the thin taper root. They discovered what can be a bother to some cooks: the red juice which can stain. I joked that they could use this as make-up, particularly lipstick. This became quite the game. The younger daughter realized that this could also look like blood. Quickly the girls had my hands covered with beet juice, and I acted out my overly dramatic death from bleeding too much. By the time dinner was served, they were looking forward to their beets.
Another item to harvest at this time in Houston is a good compliment to the roasted root vegetables: dill seed. The girls were not too excited after tasting the seed directly from the head. However, collecting the seed to spread over the roasting pan worked. I took an onion, potato, and yam for my roasting as well. A drizzle of olive oil and rice vinegar helped things along. I placed these in a hot oven (425F) for a half hour. This was a hit.
I recently heard a gardener say that growing plants from seed is a waste of time. That may be true in general, but not for many vegetables. I broadcaster my beets over a new bed to obtain my plants. I did not have much problems getting them to grow. The leaves could be attacked by snails and other pests, but I did not have a bad year. I do like to harvest the leaves by themselves, before harvesting the plant. The stems have the same red juice, so you can still have staining. I sauteed the leaves like I would spinach. The roots can have a sweetness to them (sugar is produced from a beet variety), but the leaves do have a stronger taste, which does not appeal to all. I would suggest that you try growing your own beets for a little harvesting fun.
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As the days are growing hotter, some vegetables are beginning to fade. The drought has placed a strain on other plants. So I make my way through the garden looking for dinner ideas.
At the store this morning, I felt a bit of sticker shock. The can of coffee that was selling for $6.99 not too long ago was priced on sale at $8.99, and are those cans becoming smaller? Most of my surprises have been with staples other than vegetables, because I have not bought many. I am obtaining about 95% of my fruit and vegetable consumption from the garden. Yet, this has not been a great year so far. The drought seems to have played havoc with my loquat tree. This fruit is usually available to me by March, but I do not think that I will have any this year. The plums are coming, but the birds have gone after the unripe green plums. Still these setbacks have not been so detrimental.
The cucumber vines that were planted when the weather warmed have produced. My favorite cucumber preparation is to peel the skin; slice them; and marinate them in a rice vinegar/sugar mixture. This makes for a light salad. I also like making a more German style cucumber salad. The cucumber slices are salted. Later the water is drained off and the slices rinsed. The cucumber is mixed with onions, parsley, and a vinegar and oil dressing.
The lettuce is beginning to bolt. Once the shafts arise from the plant to produce the flowers, the taste becomes more bitter. Lettuce does not like the warm weather. The red lettuce is holding out longer. Salads are becoming common place for meals right now at my house. I made a salad with blackberries and chopped peanuts last night. The blackberries were macerated with sugar. The lettuce was dressed quite popular. I wonder how long before the red lettuce goes to seed.
The last of the peas were harvested. Peas are water hogs which prefer the cooler weather, so I was surprised that they lasted this long. Katya really took to the peas. The beans are starting to produce. Fresh young beans from the vine did not seem to need any cooking. A squeeze from an orange with a dash of sesame seed oil was great. A lightly boiled one collection of beans which were tossed with butter.
I had moved my kale to a section of garden which is mainly shade. This has left the plants vibrant with a good flavor to the leaves. This will probably end soon, as kale looses its flavor with the heat. Then it is attacked by the bugs. A few of my onions are large enough for harvesting, so I have done quick stir fries with the kale and onions.
The tomato plants have only green fruit, and the pepper plants have had smaller specimens, but the eggplants are producing. I think some gardeners avoid eggplant, because they feel that it is too much work. The plant has to be staked like a tomato plant, and then there is the concern over bitterness. Fresh eggplant is not bitter (at least, I have never experienced bitterness from this vegetable when I pick it out of my garden). I broil slices; fry cubes, or throw shreds of eggplant into a stew. No salting and draining required.
The squash has abundant blooms now. Maybe in a week this plant will give me my first zucchini or yellow squash. I planted the seeds when the weather warmed, so I have a good sized bush for many of my squash plants. Otherwise, I have been using a good many herbs in my meals. I mix handfuls of parsley into my rice, cous cous, or bulghur. I like had this herb is treated like a vegetable or salad item in the Mediterranean diet.
The best aspect for me is eating seasonally. The meals are changing over the course of the months. Yes, I would have liked a red tomato with my lettuce, but in Houston, these two plants will overlap in the fall. As a new vegetable grows, the smaller children have something new to excite them. What I did expect was for the family to become tired of winter vegetables. The two young girls became more fond of winter greens as the season for these vegetables progressed. Now, Katya asks if she will still be able to have her favorite kale for a meal. I wonder if she will feel this way about onions (if she can see the onion in the meal, she will not eat it). I hope to add more plants in for the summer, but if this drought persists, then I will have to reevaluate my plans.