Wednesday, July 8, 2020

POINSETTIAS TO THE RESCUE IN SUMMER


Poinsettias are one of my favorite types of flowers.  They come in endless patterns and colors in the most vivid of reds you can imagine. They bring joy and happiness all through the holiday season, seldom stopping there. Quite often they lend color for Valentine’s Day, blooming well into spring.  Poinsettias are resilient and remain beautiful even with the summer weather challenges of the Midwest. 

As the summer begins to wane, they can step in to pinch hit when other container flowers have withered away.  A friend just gave me three beautiful potted pointsettia plants.  Having a container whose inhabitants could not take the heat, I decided to build a grouping using these three plants along with some caladiums and a bunch of lemongrass for the central thriller. 

 Yeah, I know, they are no longer red, but the green is deep and rich and really sets off the colors of the caladiums. 

As a final touch, several smaller Wild Poinsettias, (Euphorbia cyathophora) were popped into the corners.  I discovered them while running along a road in North Carolina and dug some up to bring home.  They have naturalized in my garden and reseed ever year.  They too are hardy and the very top of the plant turns brilliant scarlet just like their big cousins without having to be pampered or placed in the dark.

Poinsettias will even blend nicely with fall mums and grasses in fall containers.
You may have pitched your poinsettias by now, but if you still have them around, put them to work again!

Saturday, July 4, 2020

PAPRIKA PEACH PIE


Laurie came home from the store with bag of fragrant ripe peaches. We made peach pie with a twist containing paprika, white pepper and Angostura bitters. The amount of sugar is also reduced further emphasizing the flavor of the fresh fruit. The recipe came from the Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book, my favorite pie shop in Brooklyn. They do a great job with pie and these unusual ingredients always small in amount, are way big on flavor.  Here's the recipe.

Paprika Peach Pie

Make your favorite crust for a double 9-inch pie.

5-6 cups sliced peaches
2 TBS fresh lemon juice
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 packed brown sugar
3 TBS cornstarch
1 TBS sweet paprika
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Egg wash (1 egg whisked with a teaspoon of water and a pinch of salt)
Sugar for finishing

Roll out bottom crust, fit into 9-inch pie pan and place in the refrigerator.

Slice peaches into 1/2 inch slices, add to large bowl and sprinkle with the lemon juice. (Note: I don't peel my peaches but if you prefer, do this before slicing.)

Add the sugars, cornstarch, spices and bitters. Toss well to combine. Spoon the filling into the cooled pie shell.  Arrange the lattice or pastry round on top
and crimp.  Brush crust with egg wash and sprinkle with finishing sugar.  Chill the pie in the fridge for 15 minutes to set the pastry.  

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.  shift baking racks to the bottom and center.  Place a rimed baking sheet on the bottom rack.

When the the oven reaches temperature, place the pie on the rimmed baking sheet on the bottom rack of the oven and bake 20 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees F, move the pie to the center oven rack and continue to bake until the pastry is a deep golden brown and the juices are bubbling through, 30-35 minutes longer.

Allow to cool 2 hours and serve slightly warm with ice cream.  Ahhhh...heaven!



Sunday, June 7, 2020

GARDEN TIME STRAWBERRY-LEMON PIE

GARDEN TIME STRAWBERRY-LEMON PIE


Ingredients
         
LEMON BASE
1 single pie crust rolled and fitted into a 9" pie pan
1/2 cup unsalted butter
about 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice from 2 lemons
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon cornstarch
4 large eggs, lightly beaten

STRAWBERRY GLAZE
1-pound bag frozen strawberries, thawed
2 cups fresh berries, washed and stemmed
3/4 to 1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons lemon juice
pinch of salt

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 375°F.  Melt the butter, and stir in the lemon
juice, salt, sugar, flour and cornstarch. Add the eggs and
whisk until the mixture is well combined.
Pour the mixture into the unbaked pie shell.
Bake the pie on the bottom shelf for 30 minutes until the
center is set. Remove the pie from the oven and allow it to cool.

Make the strawberry glaze in a medium saucepan, mix the thawed frozen berries and their juice with the sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice and salt.

Bring the strawberry mixture to a boil, stirring constantly.
When it is clear and thickened, remove it from the heat and cool.
Fold in the fresh berries, and mound the glaze atop the pie.

Garnish with whipped cream, sliced strawberries and lemon balm leaves. Store the pie, covered, in the fridge.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

GROWING YOUR OWN SWEET POTATO STARTS

Growing Your Own Sweet Potato Starts  


We love sweet potatoes and they grow very well here in the Heartland with our long warm growing season.  I usually order my sweet potato starts via mail order but this spring I experienced “sticker shock” when I discovered it would cost me $31 with shipping for 12 measly sweet potato starts!   “Too much”, I said, “there has to be a better way”.  I was having lunch soon after with a librarian friend who has been a life long farmer and described to me how she creates her own sweet potato starts every spring.  
She picks up a couple tubers from the produce department of her local grocery store. After washing them gently, she inserts 4 toothpicks around the middle and sets the tube upright in a glass of water.  Finally she places it in a sunny window and waits.  

This really works!  Even though spring is over, you can try this because our growing season is plenty long to grow sweet potatoes. I had one potato upside down, but as soon as I righted it stem-side up, it sent out shoots. In a few weeks, the eyes of the potato begin to sprout and grow.  When they get to 3 or 4 inches tall, you can snap them off at the tuber and place them in a jar of water whereupon they will immediately send out roots.  Once rooted, pot each start in a small pot with potting soil and place outside in a protected place to acclimate and to continue to grow before setting into their permanent growing area.  

If you are really feeling adventurous, you can make your own Sweet Potato Composting Tree.
This compost tree allows you to grow sweet potatoes on the lower level while feeding them with kitchen scraps and yard waste at the top.

What You Need

Plastic-covered work surface
Large batch of Hypertufa 
 Instructions here:

Black marker
Large piece of cardboard
2” wide masking tape
Large plastic bag
Stack of scrap paper or newspaper

Concrete trowel 
A brick
Four foot length of rebar or pipe
Pair of mud gloves
20-ounce tin can with bottom and top removed.

What You Do

1. Draw a large half-circle on the piece of cardboard with the black marker.  A hula-hoop is a good size if you must trace something, but I suggest just free-handing it and a bit larger, because larger is easier.  It will be wonky and uneven and that’s OK for this part.

2. Roll the half circle into a cone and secure with masking tape.  Pack the cone with crumpled scrap paper to make it solid and crisscross the bottom of the cone with tape to hold the paper inside. 
3. Cover the cone with a large plastic bag, pull it tight around the form and secure with masking tape.  You’ll use quite a bit of tape for this process.

4. Place the prepared cone mold on a plastic covered work surface.

5.  Mix up a large batch of Hypertufa.  If you run out, just mix more.

6. Start packing the hypertufa around the base of the cone, making a complete ring around the base of the cone.  Punch and press into as close to a circular shape as possible- it does not need to be perfect. The thickness should be at least 1 ½”. 
 7. Continue to pack the tufa onto the cone forming it ring by ring until your reach the top.  To finish at the top, make a softball -size ball of tufa, place it on the top peak and mold onto the form to shape.  This will ensure you have adequate material at the tip.
Tip: Stick a small piece of rebar into the top to hold an ornament for a nice finishing touch.

8. Allow to sit for several hours to stiffen and then use the concrete trowel to divide the cone into three sections. Slice all the way through the tufa touching the cone form with the trowel. You want to thoroughly divide the cone into three sections.

9. Once divided into sections, use the can to punch four holes in each of the bottom two sections. Twist the can into the tufa surface until you reach the cone form. Stager the holes in the second section form those on the bottom.  
10. Allow to set overnight or even a day or two until the tufa has set and hardened but is still “green” ( dark gray and still damp).  Carefully remove the sections from the mold and clean the edges using gloved hands.  If the hole centers have not come out, carefully punch them out and smooth the edges.

11. Allow to cure and dry out for several days.  Meanwhile, find a large pot to serve as the base for your compost tree. Cut a circle from a ¾ inch piece of scrap plywood that is a bit larger than the rim of your pot but under the measurement of the bottom of your compost tree base. Cut out the center as well.  I ended up with a ring about 4 inches thick.  Center this on top of the large pot stand.  
12. Place the bottom section of the compost tree on top of the plywood ring.  Fill the bottom of the pot and the lowest level of the compost tree with good garden soil.  Plant a sweet potato start in each of the four holed of the base section.

13. Position the middle section of the compost tree on top of the base section and fill the edges with dirt, leaving a bowl-like depression in the center to receive compostable material. Plant four more sweet potato starts on each of the holes of the middle section.  Water from the top and put the cone lid in position.

14. When the sweet potato vines begin to grow train them around the hypertufa cone and soon you will have a green compost tree as a functional yet interesting feature in your garden.  







Saturday, May 30, 2020

FOUR AND 20 BLACKBIRDS RHUBARB PIE

Pie is one of those foods that consistently remains at the top of my food chain and the pie that tops my list is made from the common "pie plant", Rhubarb...not strawberry-rhubarb, not apple-rhubarb...RHUBARB. I am a purist and do not want anything messing with my rhubarb.
Last year on a trip to Brooklyn, we discovered an absolutely delightful pie shop called Four and Twenty Blackbirds. Their pies and cookbook have fast become favorites because they are also pie purists and their rhubarb pie is unique and delicious. It is so because the recipe includes cardamom and Angostura bitters. This is one heck of a good pie.

Rhubarb grows as a weed in Wisconsin and with little effort. In Kansas, growing rhubarb has been an annual challenge which usually ends up with me losing. I have grown flats from seed to end up with one plant that languishes in our hot humid summers. This year, the planets have aligned and I have been able to make a real purist pie from my own rhubarb.  

How did this come to pass? First of all, we've enjoyed an absolutely perfect spring. Rhubarb loves this weather. Secondly, several of my plants from last year made it through the winter and produced plenty for my pie.  
This spring I have planted two new varieties of rhubarb, bred to outlast the heat and humidity of middle America. I will not mention how much i had to pay for these new varieties...let's just say it was less than a chief's ticket!
The first new variety's called Hardy Tarty
and the second, Kangarhu.
I am waiting patiently,
to see how they will do!

Here's the Rhubarb Pie recipe.
Four and Twenty Blackbirds Rhubarb Pie

 Pastry for double crust pie

6 cups fresh or frozen rhubarb, diced
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
3 to 4 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Egg wash: 1 large egg whisked with 1 TBS water
Several dashes Angostura bitters
Sugar for finishing

Prepare pastry.  Split in half and roll out the bottom and line a 9” pie pan with the crust and crimp edge.  Whisk egg with water and brush bottom and sides of crust with egg wash. Reserve 1 TBS of the wash for the upper crust.  Place in refrigerator to chill while you mix the filling.

Pour the remaining egg wash over the diced rhubarb in a large mixing bowl.  Add sugars, spices and flavorings and stir together.

Roll out top crust and cut into lattice strips. 

Remove bottom crust from refrigerator and fill with the rhubarb mixture. 

Weave a lattice crust and crimp the edges.  Brush with reserved egg wash and sprinkle with decorative sugar. Chill the pie in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes to set the crust.  Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F and position racks in the oven to the bottom and center. Place a rimmed baking sheet on the bottom rack.

Place the pie on the rimmed baking sheet on the bottom rack of the oven and Bake 20-25 minutes or until the pastry is set and just beginning to brown.  Lower the temperature to 375 degrees F and move the pie to the center rack of the oven.  Continue to bake until pastry is deep golden and the juices are bubbling, about 30-35 minutes longer. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack.



Friday, May 8, 2020

SPRING STUDIO SALE OPENS THURSDAY, MAY 21


Skies are bluing up in this gray time and it looks good for us to open our Spring Studio Sale on THURSDAY, MAY 21. We will be open 10:00 am to 5:00 pm every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday through May up to Sunday, June 21.  
This includes Memorial Day, Monday, May 25.  
Most of the sales environment is already outside and the inside studio portion will be wide open as well. Lots of safe social spaces here- Plan on getting outta the house and joining us!

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

SPLURGE STORY

Steve Aiken is editor of my favorite gardening magazine, Fine Gardening.  In this this month's  issue
his opening editorial really hit a cord with me as a avid gardener..and my name is Steve too!

Splurge Story
by Steve Aiken

From what I understand, avid gardeners can go a bit overboard when buying plants.  I don’t ever do this, but I know it happens because people have told me.  It reminds me of something that happened to a friend of mine, not to me.
He was shopping at a local nursery widely known for its outstanding selection of cool and unusual plants.  Sure, I shop there too, and am male, but this story is not about me.  It is about my friend, who is not me-and who happens to be quite handsome for an  older fella.
Amid all of the treasures at this nursery, he spied a shrub with glossy burgundy leaves shining in the sunlight, as though the gardening gods had focused a spotlight on this very plant so that he might gaze upon it.  He was drawn to it, and reveled in its beauty.  
As he bent down to add the plant to his cart, he happened to notice the price tag. Immediately, clouds obscured the sun and a cold wind blew.  It was way too expensive.  He placed it back where he had found it-with, it seemed, a little piece of his soul.

He continued shopping but his attention always went back to those glossy burgundy leaves. He looked at the carts of the other customers hoping that none of them had bought the coveted plant either.  

That’s when he came up with a plan.  He would buy the plant (car payment be damned) when he knew his wife wouldn’t be home. He would plant it immediately and once the plant was in the ground, he would cover up the evidence.

With the course of action clear before him, he returned to the plant where he had placed it, slightly obscured from the view of less-discerning customers.  He placed the shrub in his cart and felt the warmth of the sun on his back. A bluebird perched on a near-by tree and chirped its approval.  His soul was restored.  And he marched triumphantly to the cash register, thinking to him self, “Nice choice, Steve!” Oh, my friend’s name is also Steve. This didn’t happen to me. Did I mention he was handsome?