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I don’t recall this woman’s face. Her e-mail reads, “Hi Nancy! I went to Findlay last Saturday to get squash blossoms from you and no one knew where you were!”

That tells me 1. she doesn’t read her newsletter very thoroughly – or she’d know I’ve been at Bellevue FM since April ’11. 2. She doesn’t go to Findlay very often, either, or she’d know I haven’t been there. 3. She couldn’t be bothered to e-mail back (as anyone is welcome to) to ask me to hold her a few blossoms. Or she would have found out where I’d be.

Actually it’s just as well.  I can’t make a living on squash blossoms. Buying a dozen once in two seasons is not much business, and I’d much rather they go to customers who show up consistently and buy what I have….  or what my neighbors have: we’re building a community out there.

Next week, I’ll get an e-mail from a second woman, wanting  to know when I’ll have pawpaws, so she can ship 5 pounds to her friend in Oregon, where they don’t grow. Last year it was easy: the pawpaw crop was non-existent. This year, they’re looking pretty good. So I may have to come out and say, “I am sorry: any pawpaws I have will be reserved for customers who shop here all season.” I can’t make a living just on pawpaws, either.

You might have seen “Crash,” a movie about West Coast social fabric, wherein everyone said whatever they were thinking. Politically waay incorrect, hilarious and thought-provoking. If it happened at Market, here’s how “Crash” would sound.

Customer: (well, actually not, as it turns out) We don’t need anything today, but it all looks lovely!
Farmer: That’s OK Lady, I just brought it for decoration.
(Note to readers: “destination shopper”)

C: $3 a pound is way too much to pay for tomatoes! I don’t need them that bad!
F: Really? You pay that much for potato chips, and nobody needs a pound of potato chips!

C: Look at those big white carrots!
F: Sir those are daikon, Japanese radishes.
C: They look like big white carrots!
F: (Patiently explains again that No, they’re radishes)
C: Never heard of ’em! (suspiciously)Where do you all find this stuff?
F: (cheerfully) Made’em up!

C: (has just been told how to fix Baby Squash) Oh, we don’t cook.
F: (surprised, worried frown) You don’t? You eat everything raw?

C: (picks up jelly jar) $ 6 a pint! That’s ridiculous! I useta pick berries, and know what they paid me? A dime a quart!
F: (eyes all big) You did? Wow, I’m short of help – want to come out and pick berries for me? I’ll pay you a dime a quart.
C: (indignant) I ain’t gonna pick berries for a dime  a quart!
F: (takes jar and sets it down gently) Well, sir, neither am I.

C: (has just done the math on how long it takes to shell beans, vs the price) You know, you aren’t making any money!
F: No? How much do you get paid to sit on a shady porch on a hot day?

C: (reads sign) “Basil picked while you slept?” Oh no, young lady (F</cringes>), you’d have to be up awwwful early to pick it while I was sleeping!
F: (eyes all big) Really, sir? What time do you get up?
C: (impressively) Six o’clock!
F: (Pllttt) Six o’clock, I’m in the truck, Pops!

All customer quotes are real. Readers, don’t worry: that kind of comment is SO not you.  The answers are wishful thinking, so thanks for listening. In return, here – a few very low-key (not to say flat boring) images form a realistic picture of a gardener’s life.


Roasting Garlic

Easy – and you don’t need a fancy-schmancy ceramic garlic roaster, either. Use a whole bulb of garlic, and remove most of the papery outer wrapper. Snip the tip off each clove. Set the bulb on a square of aluminum foil, fold the corners up, and add a tablespoon of water. Fold the foil together and pinch to seal. Set on a baking sheet in a 325 oven for 15 minutes or until the cloves feel soft.

Let cool a bit, then just force the baked pulp out of each clove, onto a slice of toasted crusty bread. Spread, and add sliced tomato, basil, a drizzle of olive oil, and whatever else is handy.

But if you’re going to light the oven anyway, why not roast a dozen! Add the roasted (mellowed, sweet, rich) puree to homemade salad dressing, broth, pasta sauce, juiced vegetables, gravy, pesto, risotto, scrambled eggs or a marinade. Keep the extras in a covered container in the fridge.

Sunrise on a hot Midsummer’s Day: perfect for curing Garlic

Garlic Pasta

Start water boiling for a pound of pasta. If this were me, it would be fettucine.  Separate and peel cloves from a bulb of garlic – about a dozen. To peel easily, lay on cutting board, lay a knife flat over it and whap it with the heel of your hand. Remove skin, leaving cloves whole.

Start the pasta cooking. In a saute pan, heat a quarter inch of olive oil till it ripples, then add garlic and brown. Yes, brown! As long as it doesn’t char, it won’t be bitter. Then chop coarsely a big bunch of chives, add to oil, saute’ a few seconds and turn off heat.

The pasta will be nearly done: now ladle 2 cups of the cooking water into the pan of sauteed garlic. Season with a little fresh-ground black pepper.  Drain the pasta and divide into 4 bowls. Top with crumbled Romano, or well-rinsed Feta, then spoon the garlic and broth over all.

The small amount of starch in the cooking water carries the flavor better than just adding seasonings to the pasta, yet it’s a light sauce. You could add a few peeled, chopped ripe tomatoes, or fold in some soft goat cheese. But it’s excellent as is: a first course, side dish or main meal.

Garlic Soup

Simmer 12 cloves garlic, 6 sprigs fresh sage, 2 bay leaves, a celery heart, 12 cracked black peppercorns, and 2 tbsp olive oil in 6 cups water, covered, for ten minutes. Strain, mashing garlic to release flavor.

Spoon a cup of the broth over a slice of day-old country bread and top with a poached egg.

Or use the  savory meatless broth in any soup recipe. Store in a glass jar in fridge up to 2 weeks.

Maybe because I grow Garlic, I consider it not just a seasoning, but a vegetable in its own right

Using Garlic

1. Peel and coarsely chop 4 or 5 cloves, and cook in butter over low heat until soft. Add some chopped fresh parsley, and toss over pasta. Top with grated hard cheese.

2. Peel cloves of garlic and split lengthwise in 4’s. Make slits in any thick cut of meat you are preparing, and insert slivers of garlic – 2 or 3 per planned serving – then proceed with roasting or grilling.

3. Peel 3 or 4 cloves of garlic, and puree in blender with one-half cup each mayonnaise and buttermilk. Season with cracked black pepper. Use as a dressing on blanched, chilled vegetables.

4. Toast some slices of crusty bread lightly. Then spread with a mixture of 2 tbsp butter, 1/4 cup shredded parmesan, 3 tbsp minced flatleaf parsley, 2 tsp ground black pepper and 4 finely minced cloves of garlic. Set under broiler just till golden. This is the definitive answer to soggy “garlic bread.”

5. Peel and mince coarsely 5 or 6 cloves of garlic. Toss in a quarter inch of hot olive oil, being careful not to scorch them, till they’re brown and crisp. Pour them, oil and all, over steamed broccoli.

No, not at all. A dollar’s worth of Garlic, ten dollars worth of information.

It happens every year when freshly harvested Garlic reaches Market. I should charge for advice, or say,  “I’ll tell you if you buy some Garlic.”

So, here you are: Garlic FAQ!

“When do you plant yours?” October-November. “October? Really?” “Yes, really.” It will send up a small leaf or two. Mulch it with dry leaves, and the roots will develop underground all through cold weather. When the soil begins to warm (February or March), gently rake the mulch aside and cultivate between the bulbs.

Dry leaves keep soil warm for root growth

What’s a Scape? You’ll see these at Market in May or June: they’re the “flower stalk” of some Garlic varieties. But instead of seed, they make small “bulbils” which can be replanted to (eventually) grow into bulbs. Usually we just snap off the scapes when they’re still tender, to use as a vegetable. This also leaves more nutrition for the bulbs.

A mature scape of Spanish Roja that I’ll save to plant the bulbils

How do you tell when it’s ready to dig? One way to keep track is to plant small irregular cloves thickly in their own row, and harvest them at scallion size for delicious Green Garlic. You will notice them begin to bulb around late April, so you can tell that the bulbs on the good thick stalks are developing too.

Delicious way to use small cloves

Should you wait till the leaves are all brown? Absolutely not. Each long flat leaf extends down to make a layer of wrapper around the bulb. Every one that withers is a layer of protection lost. When the bulbs are a good size, dig the garlic, no matter how green the leaves still are.

Good solid bulbs, still with leafy green stalks

Should I cut the tops off or leave them on? Ever buy supermarket garlic and had it shrivel up inside the skin in a week or two? That’s because large-scale growers do cut the tops off to dry the garlic quickly and keep it in storage, and may use heat to dry it. They don’t care: it’s a commodity.* You leave the tops on, so the garlic will cure properly (see next FAQ). Yours is food.

Carefully cured for long storage

How long should I let it dry? Ack! Bulb garlic doesn’t “dry,” it cures! That means that the moisture and nutrients in those green leaves are absorbed and sealed into the cloves. This keeps them plump and solid even in storage. I used last June’s garlic harvest well into this Spring.

Sorry, ain’t no short answers. Leave the tops on till they are completely dry and brittle and can be twisted off by hand. With hardneck varieties, you may have to cut the stalk.

What do you do with it?  Geez, lady, what do you do without it? (The young lady had sniffed disdainfully and said she only liked Garlic Powder)  See Recipes, next post.

* Difference between a “crop” and a “commodity:” a crop is meant principally to be grown, and eaten. A commodity is meant principally to be bought and sold. My investment broker friend Mark tells me the problem with commodities is that “the producer doesn’t get quality signals from the consumer.” So if something you like (apples, houses, health care, information) becomes a commodity, watch out!!

You are all friends, so I say this without fear of sounding condescending. (It will sound condescending, I just don’t fear it. ) I chuckle at NYT Food writers all of a sudden “discovering” things that I’ve been promoting since 1996, like Green Garlic, or Epazote. Like this makes them so cool. (It’s like 7th graders and sex: okay guys, you discovered it, you didn’t invent it.) This week, it’s foraging in your own yard. I won’t even include the link. You don’t need it, you have me.

A relative of Spinach, Beets and Chard, it was brought to North America as a garden vegetable, but escaped and got labelled “weed.” Still delicious.

Yesterday at Market, all 5 lb of Lambsquarters  I brought were sold: some to brave new customers (hope you love’em), some to long-familiar cooks. So we (ahem) are ahead of a lot of Times readers, writers and their pet chefs.

It’s been a while since my last Recipe page, and Lambsquarters are good right now, so here. Recipes call for a half pound, which is the size bag I sell. In the country this quantity is termed a “cooking mess.”

“Spinach” Crepes with Goat Cheese

1. Queso Blanco: mild, crumbly, fast-to-make.
In a copper bottomed stock pot, heat 2 quarts fresh goat’s milk to 180 and keep hot ten minutes. Stir in 2 tbsp lemon juice or white vinegar. You will see the curd start to separate. Line a strainer with a large coffee filter or clean white handkerchief. Ladle curds and whey in and leave for an hour. Turn curds into a bowl and add 1/4 tsp kosher salt. Toss to mix thoroughly, and refrigerate till ready to use.  Let stand at room temp while you do the other stuff.

3. Blanch lambsquarters just till bright green and limp. Drain well, reserving a cup of liquid, and turn out on  cutting board.  Chop very fine, cutting in several different directions until all leaves and stems are reduced to quarter-inch pieces or smaller.

4. Chop a medium onion very fine. Melt 1 tbsp butter in a saute’ pan, add onion and saute till soft and golden-brown.  Add lambsquarters, and season to taste with salt, pepper, nutmeg and a little cayenne. Add reserved blanching liquid, cover, reduce heat and simmer ten minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Turn off and cover.

1. I am not going to tell you how to make crepes. Make a dozen unsweetened ones. Stack on a plate and keep warm. Or make ahead and refrigerate.

5. When the greens and cheese are done, fill crepes by spreading 2 tbsp cheese along one side, then top with greens, and roll up. Lay side by side in a shallow baking dish: may make 2 layers.

6. You can warm them a little and serve as is: or, top with a rich bechamel sauce, some shredded Swiss cheese and place under a broiler for a few minutes.

                                            “Saag” with Lambsquarters

Among my favorite Indian recipes are those featuring Saag. These include Saag Aloo (potatoes), Saag Paneer (cheese) and Saag Ghosht (lamb stew). It’s been explained to me that Saag is a general term for various tender cooking greens, some of them foraged, that are available in India. Western-adapted recipes call for chopped frozen spinach, or for chopping and sauteeing fresh. Prepare Lambsquarters as for the crepe recipe above, and omit the seasoning: then use as spinach in any Saag recipe. Lambsquarters will be a little more substantial than spinach: I don’t consider this a bad thing.

Braised Lambsquarters

 Chop 2 or 3 cloves of garlic, or a stalk of green garlic, coarsely. Saute’ in 1/8 inch olive oil till golden and sizzling. Add washed and coarsely chopped lambsquarters, with some water still on leaves,  reduce heat, cover and cook till a fork goes through them easily. Serve over cooked pasta (I like fettucine) and top with crumbled Feta.

Korean-Style “Spinach” Salad

Blanch whole lambsquarters just till bright green and limp, then drain quickly and plunge into ice water. Let stand till cooled, then drain, squeezing out as much water as possible.  Toss with 2 tbsp sesame oil, 1/2 tsp each garlic powder and cayenne (or if you have green garlic and chiles, chop very fine and throw ’em in), 1 tbsp soy sauce, and top with sesame seeds. This is great over cold rice on a hot day. It keeps a long time because of the sesame oil, which is a natural preservative.

The image above, if I do say so myself, is a very accurate one of Lambsquarters. So now you may find it in your own garden. Just snap stalks where they’re tender. Cut it back like Basil to keep it leafy, and leave a plant to self-sow in Fall, in a spot that won’t be disturbed.