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The Garden as Scrapbook

 Pitchfork Diaries


When I refer to our microfarm, I am talking about just over five thousand square feet of heirloom gardening spaces, that my husband and I have carved out, cared for, slowly added to and greatly benefitted from for the last almost decade.  Our home sits on a very rural, mostly wooded, forty-five acres, so anytime we felt like we could handle a little more weeding, or heard from enough friends what a thrill it was to dig up potatoes in the fall—in went another sizeable garden space.  Until we are now left with our own personal work camp in the Catskills.

Collectively, this year is the largest to date.  Two summers ago I was well into my pregnancy, and not so agile in the bending-digging-weeding routine.  Last summer we had a seven month old son who cut our two-person-powered time to bend-dig-weed exactly in half, needing to be nursed or held or kept out of the fierce sun by one of us almost at all times.  Each season we vow to go easy on ourselves.  Each season we do just a little more than what would be considered sane.

Compared to previous years, we felt like we had it wholly together this time, and are planted to capacity—despite the fact that the plan had been to leave our oldest and largest space empty for a season to sensibly replenish.  But I once again fell victim to the gorgeous seed catalogues, web sites, and that plant pusher, Trina, at the incomparable Silver Heights Farm, and can not cut myself off once my palms get sweaty and pulse quickens.

Because in the end it is about food!  Food I remember from some meal, food I can’t easily buy around these rural parts, food I can’t get until this time of year, food I have been dying to try to cook with, and more than anything, food I am picturing laying out on a giant rustic white platter and presenting to a dozen or so dear friends seated around the table made of antique barn wood on our porch.  How can I possibly expect to limit myself?

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Pumpkins: More than a pretty face.

Dame Paula Deen, amid mass fan hysteria (hysteria!), posing next to a pumpkin of her likeness (and Cat Cora's) at the Food Network festival at Chelsea Market a few years back.  We were completely unsuspecting shoppers, caught, literally, in the swell.  (Not unlike that terrified-looking couple coming out of the fish market behind her.)


I am as big a fan of pumpkin carving and jack-o-lanterns as anyone, and definitely considered finally having a porch to put one on, one of the bigger perks of moving out of NYC.  But I am equally as big a fan of pumpkins themselves, pumpkin seeds, pumpkin flesh, pumpkin vines, all of it.


This time of year it is easy just to see said pumpkins as holiday flare.  But particularly with tons (and tons!) of them at the markets right now, it is time to stock up and revel in all things orange and round.


Seed Saving


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Market Watch: Watermelon Radish
 



At the Union Square Greenmarket, this past Saturday in Manhattan, I came across giant, stunning Watermelon Radishes.  A relative of the Daikon, it is also called Chinese Red Meat, Beauty Heart, and Rose Heart.  This is one of the most mild radishes (which, incidentally was the one food I wouldn't touch as a child), with just a slight peppery bite, along with some sweetness and a lot of crunch.  But the colors are the real standout here.  Off white to lime green on the outside, giving way to brilliant magenta, flecked with tie-dye-reminiscent streaks of white when cut open.  Jaw droppingly beautiful on the plate.

We have somewhat successfully grown these in our garden the last two summers, but have never had them get quite so big.  From some further research I have learned that this variety of radish actually does the best when planted in cooler weather, growing through the winter--which most likely accounts for its sweetness.  The ones I found this weekend were nearly four inches in diameter, and about six inches long.  But ours at home, grown over the summer in much warmer months, did get to be about twice the size of a golf ball, and still as gorgeous.

Due to their unimposing flavor, these can be added to a large variety of dishes, particularly when you want an impressive pop of color.  Slice them thin and add to a salad, cut into matchsticks for an extra hue on a crudite plate, lightly pickle to finish off an asian noodle dish, or my favorite, a slice of crusty baguette slathered with really good butter, topped with radish slices and a sprinkling of crunch sea salt.

This heirloom radish has gained a lot of popularity in the past few years and is much easier to find as a result.  Keep an eye out for the next few weeks at your farmer's markets, or grow some yourself this summer.



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Food of the (near) Future




Despite the fact that I haven't seen but a mere patch of ground at our home since prior to Christmas, despite the fact that we still have a foot of snow almost everywhere I look, despite the fact that just looking at flip flops gives me chills, the eternal optimist in me spent the balance of the weekend ordering thousands of heirloom vegetable seeds for this year's crop at our little micro farm.

Ideally, if the sun and rain cooperate, (and the sheep don't bust through the fence and help themselves to beds upon beds of gorgeous heirloom kale, leeks, peppers, brussels sprouts, beets, salad greens, and herbs, as happened briefly on one unfortunate day in October), those seeds and their resulting crop will then become a huge percentage of our food for the coming year, and many of the ingredients that I will cook for you here.

If you are bitten by the promise of dirt under your fingernails and eating within a five minute radius bug too, here are a few of my best resources for heirloom seeds and plants.  Each offer a mind-bloggling assortment of vegetables, fruit, and herbs.  They also fiercely protect seeds of endangered heirloom varieties so generations to come will have a vast diversity of produce available as well.


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Catie Baumer Schwalb is a chef, food writer and photographer, who splits her life between the city and the country. Not too long ago Catie was a New York City based actress and playwright for more than a decade. She has her Master of Fine Arts from the National Theater Conservatory, and her Grand Diplôme in classic culinary arts from the French Culinary Institute in New York City. ... Read More

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