Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Garlic Growing Guide and THE Garlicky Spinach Artichoke Dip

So many people have asked me about growing garlic.  And lately, so many people have been needlessly lamenting the fact that they haven't gotten their garlic in yet that I thought it was high time I posted the skinny on growing garlic.  Well, the good news is that it is not too late, and if your garlic is already in, you are actually a bit early.

Here's the guide.

Choosing Seed Garlic:
Do no go to the grocery store and buy garlic to plant.  All garlic sold as food has been treated so it will not sprout in your drawer and it will not sprout in your garden either.  You need to purchase actual SEED garlic, which is just garlic that hasn't been treated.  There are lots of sources, but make sure they are not purveyors of those nasty GMO seeds.  Two outfits that I can stand behind are: Fedco ( and Peaceful Vally Farm ( There are lots more if you google organic garlic seed.  There are lots of varieties.  If you want to braid your garlic, be sure to buy the loose neck varieties (or not hard neck).  I haven't bought garlic in a long time, using part of my harvest for next year's crop, but last time I did, I bought Music and Siberian as I recall.   Each clove will become a head of garlic next year.  A very general estimate is about a dozen heads in a pound and about 5 cloves to a head, so about 60 plants per pound.  This is super general because the heads could be smaller and lighter or bigger and heavier.  You can always ask the seed company for a closer estimate.

You want to plant your garlic after there has been at least one killing frost and when you don't expect there to be a prolonged warm up before the onset of winter.  That is because you don't want your garlic to sprout immediately out of the ground and then the tender leaves to get killed in a frost.  You want the garlic to grow at an incredibly slow rate from planting until spring when it can sprout without the danger of getting frozen.  I use November 10th as my guide here in New England.  But this is only a guide.  The year that it snowed before Halloween, I had to wait until after Thanksgiving before the snow had melted and I could prep the beds and it was still fine.  On the other hand, you don't want to wait so long that the ground is frozen solid and planting is a chore and a half.  Again, November 10th is usually perfect around here. 

Prep your beds well as garlic is a heavy feeder.  Add lots of compost and/or composted manure.  Turn it over and dig furrows, at least two inches deep in rows about 10 inches to a foot apart.  Separate your heads into individual bulbs and plant FLAT SIDE DOWN, POINTY PART UP every 4 to 6 inches.  If you have a small space, you can cheat both how far apart the cloves are and how far apart the rows are a little, but you will most likely be sacrificing final head size a bit.  Really push your cloves down into the bottom of the furrow (I do a pushing, slightly twisting motion to get them lodged in their place) and cover with at least two inches of dirt.  You're done.  Until spring.

Caring for the plants:
In the spring, the little cloves will miraculously sprout maybe even before the snow has fully melted.  Garlic, as I said, is a heavy feeder.  It doesn't want to compete with weeds.  If you didn't amend your soil before planting (like I told you, tsk tsk), feel free to top dress with composted manure at this point.  Keep weeded and watered and wait for those delectable scapes!!

Scapes, or what would become garlic flowers will begin to grow the beginning to middle of June.  They will grow right out of the center of the leaves and will be sturdier than the leaves and round with a pointy head at the end that would, if left (but we won't) would become the flower.  I like to wait for the scapes to get long and curly before snapping them as I use them culinarily for a wide range of recipes.  Whether you snap them young and short or long and curly, IT IS IMPERATIVE that you snap them.  If you don't the plant will put it's energy into the scape and subsequent flower, seed cycle.  If you snap them, the plant puts its energy into bulb production.  So snap them and eat them, they are delicious!  It is kind of like two crops in one!!  Hint: sautee in a little olive oil and eat them plain, or add to pesto or to sauces, soup, pasta, in quesadillas, the list is endless.

If it makes sense in your garden to taper off watering at this point, do so.  If you are watering with a sprinkler and it doesn't make sense, don't worry about it.  That's the case in my garden and I always get big delicious heads, but I've read in more than one place that after you harvest scapes you should taper off watering.

After you've harvested your scapes, the leaves will start to die back.  You want to wait until about a third of the leaves have died back to harvest, generally about three weeks.  But feel free to pull a few, especially on the edge of your bed to check.  The heads should be tight and getting big.  If you pull one and the cloves are starting to pull apart from the heads, HARVEST IMMEDIATELY!!!  I generally harvest right after the 4th of July.  And I spot check the week prior.  The latest I've harvested is probably July 15, the earliest probably the 1st, so the window is pretty short. 

After you have harvested, there are a number of ways you can dry them.  The important thing is that you cut off the roots.  Use a sharp knife and cut just below the roots to make a clean smooth surface at the top of the head.  Then you can braid them, or hang them of lay them out on a rack.  I cut off the leaves as well, so I have a finished head of garlic.  Then I give it a one second rinse to get the bulk of the dirt off and then I lay the garlic on a screen propped up on bricks on a table so there is airflow above and below the garlic.  I put an oscillating fan on the garlic for a full month before I remove the garlic to mesh bags.  This may be overkill, but I dry in my barn which is moist and I've had mold problems in the past, so better safe than sorry.  Once dried, I separate my garlic by size, the biggest ones I reserve for next year's seed.  Since I grow enough the whole year, I check my garlic every few weeks to make sure it is neither sprouting nor molding.  Molding is caused by heads that were not dried sufficiently.  Sprouting just happens eventually.  If I see any beginning to sprout, I inspect all of them carefully and any that are sprouting go in the fridge.  This will mellow the flavor :( but will slow down or stop the sprouting.  :)

There you have it!!

Here is the recipe for the most amazing spinach artichoke dip ever!


2 or 3 cloves garlic
Two cups spinach leaves
Two can artichoke hearts or bottoms
One package cream cheese
1/3 cup romano cheese (or to taste)

In a food processor, whir up the garlic, add the spinach, process until it there is nothing left to process, add the artichokes, puree, add cream cheese and process until the cream cheese is totally incorporated, add cheese and again, process until fully incorporated.  Smoosh down any stuff that has crept up the sides and process once more for about 30 seconds for good measure.  Put dip into an oven safe bowl.  I like to make mine a day in advance and let the flavors meld in the fridge, but you can go right from processor to oven as well.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees and bake dip for about 40 minutes or until bubbly.  I like to serve with pita chips while it is still warm.


Monday, September 2, 2013

Canning 101: Jam and Perfect Peach Jam

Canning 101

What you Will Need:
  • Fruit (the freshest, ripest, most amazing fruit makes the most amazing jam and conversely: yuck in, yuck out)
  • Sugar
  • Pomona Universal Pectin  (the one in the blue box).  This pectin has two parts: calcium water which activates the pectin and the pectin itself.  Mix the calcium water in a small jar according to the instructions and set aside.  You'll add the calcium water to the fruit and then mix your pectin in with your sugar.  Please note, this pectin reacts differently than Sure-gel.  It may take a few hours for it to set fully, even a day, so don't panic if your jam isn't completely set out of the pot or even the canner.  As long as you've added enough, it will set up.  Also unlike Sure-gel, I've never had a failure with this pectin.  And it allows you to use MUCH less sugar.

  • Water Bath Canner
  • Large mouthed funnel
  • Tongs or magnetic wand
  • Jar Grabber
  • Wooden Spoon
  • Ladle
  • Jars (pints or half pints for jam)
  • Lids and Rims (lids never used, rims can be recycled)

Step 1: Preparing the Water Bath.
Remove the rack and fill the water bath halfway and put it on the stove to simmer.  Just before you start filling your jars, turn it up to high.  

Step 2:  Preparing the Jars and Lids.
Wash jars with hot soapy water or run through the dishwasher.  Inspect for chips or cracks, especially on the rim.  Put a pan with 2 – 3 inches of water on the stove to boil and put jars face down.  Add the lids with the rubber side down (VERY IMPORTANT!).   Once they’ve gotten really steamy, you can turn the water down to simmer until you are ready.  Set the rims aside. 

Step 3:  Preparing the fruit.
If your fruit is not sandy or covered in dirt, avoid washing.  Washing adds water which adds liquid and can make your jam watery and prevent your jam from setting up.  Pick through your berries and remove any stems and leaves. If you are working with strawberries or blueberries, you may want to puree them in the food processor.  Otherwise, you can mash them with a potato masher for a chunkier jam.   

Step 4: Making the Jam.
Measure your fruit into a pot.  Mix your calcium water following directions from the pectin package.  Add the right amount of calcium water and begin cooking on medium heat.  While the fruit is cooking, mix together sugar and pectin, again following the directions from the pectin.  When fruit has boiled, add sugar mixture and stir constantly for about 2 minutes to fully incorporate.  Bring back to a boil, then remove from heat. 


Step 5:  Filling the jars.
Make sure your jars are still really hot.  If not, turn the pan back up to high for a minute or two.  Once they are hot, set them up on your counter.  Quickly sterilize your ladle, your tongs and your funnel.  Put your ladle in the berries and the funnel on one of the jars.  One by one, fill the jars with the jam, leaving half an inch of headspace in each one.  If you have one that is not full at the end, you can put this one in the refrigerator for immediate use.  Dip the end of a paper napkin or paper towel in your hot water pan.  Thoroughly clean each rim with the damp papertowel to make sure there is no jam on the rim.  Jam on the rim will prevent sealing.  Once the rims are clean, using your tongs or wand, remove a lid, place on top of a jar, cover with the rim and tighten.  Repeat for all the jars.

Step 6: Processing the Jam.
Place the jars carefully in the rack and lower into the canner.  Once the canner is boiling,, process the jars for 10 minutes. 

Remove the jars from the canner and place on a dishcloth to cool.  You will start hearing little popping sounds.  That’s GOOD!!  That is the sound of the jars sealing.  It may take awhile for all the jars to seal. Once they are cool, check to make sure they are sealed by pressing down on the middle of the lid.  If there is any give, it is not sealed and you must open it, replace with a new sterilized lid and reprocess. 

Voila!!! Jam!!!


Perfect Peach Jam

 8 cups of peaches (the fruit has been peeled, pit taken out and cut into big chunks)
1/4 cup lemon juice
zest of one lemon
4 cups sugar
Pomona Universal Pectin (the one in the blue box)

Put peaches in the food processor and process until most of it is pureed with a few bigger chunks.  Add to pot with lemon juice, zest and calcium water (from the pectin package) and then follow directions as above.  

Monday, July 22, 2013

Planting a Fall Garden and Japanese Coconut Soup

When I started gardening all those many year's ago, first in my parents backyard and then in Grandma Gerarda's backyard, across the walkway from her awesome garden, I thought you planted in May and maintained whatever you planted until the frost.  When I moved to the country, the size of the space I've been gardening for the last 22 years necessitated prolonging the planting season, but that's different than succession planting.  It just took a month or more to get everything in.  Over the years, I started practicing succession planting, but it was more about planting a couple crops of lettuce because that spring lettuce bolts and unless you have more coming, you are without garden lettuce after about July 1.  That's just wrong.  My successions have extended over the years.  With the addition of the greenhouse, I can pick lettuce from about March 15 to the first of the year.  The garlic came out around the 4th of July to be replaced by fall brassicas: cabbage, cauliflower and kohlrabi.  It takes planning for brassicas, but there are plenty of veggies that just need a packet of seeds and a spot in your garden.

And it is that time: to think about planting veggies to take you into the frost.  What a weird thing to think about on July 22, when the green beans are flowing, the tomatoes are turning and you're getting the wagon dusted off so your kids can walk door to door hawking all that extra zucchini (true story: my sister and I shlepped zucchinis the size of baseball bats up and down our suburban neighborhood, selling them for 50¢.  More often than not, the wagon was still heavy with green clubs on the return loop and my family overdosed on ratatouille).

Despite today's bounty, this is your window.  Your window into fall greens.  You can plant lettuce, arugula, spinach, bok choi, kale, even beets from now until the first week of August.  With the earlier nights, nights that are getting cooler, it is the perfect time for these cool weather veggies.

Don't worry if you don't have seeds.  You have plenty of time to order, if you get on it!!  The most important thing to remember with seeds is that they are certified nonGMO.  (All organic seed is nonGMO.)  As we're learning, this is not only important for the environment, for the integrity of our food supply, to maintain the viability of small farms, but it is increasingly important for our health.  If you haven't seen Genetic Roulette or any of the other documentaries that are exploring the effects of genetically-altered food, they are real eye openers.  Here's a link to some nonGMO seed companies if you need to order:

For local folks, Roots has organic, nonGMO seeds on sale.

In case you aren't motivated, today's recipe, once you try it, will find you pulling up the flowers to make room for more bok choi in your garden.  You could say I'm a bit obsessed.  The only thing keeping me from making it twice a week is that my son doesn't like coconut, so he eats a soy dog when we have coconut soup and I can't justify him eating soy dogs more than once a week.  Sacrifice.  Parenthood is all about sacrifice.

Japanese Coconut Soup

For the Broth:
2 TBS. Miso (I like white, but any kind is fine)
4 cups water
1 tsp, crushed garlic or 2 cloves minced
1 tsp. minced ginger
1 TBS. sesame oil
1 TBS. lime juice
1 TBS. maple syrup or agave or sugar, whatever you have on hand
1 TBS. tamari, shoyu or soy sauce
1 can coconut milk
Salt and pepper

peanut oil for sauteeing (you can use olive oil as well)
1/2 cup chopped carrots
1/2 cup chopped onions
1/2 cup shitake mushrooms sliced
1 package extra firm tofu, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
1 cup roughly chopped bok choi, tatsoi or if you do not have Asian greens, you can substitute spinach or chard or kale

Rice noodles (optional)

Add miso to a large bowl.  Boil the water and add to the miso, stirring a couple times to help the miso dissolve.  While it is dissolving, heat some oil in a pot and add carrots.  A couple minutes later, add mushrooms and onions.  Sautee for 3 to 5 minutes.  Meanwhile, add all the other ingredients for the broth to the bowl.  Stir and taste, adjust seasoning, then add the broth to the pot.  Add the tofu and bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. If you are adding noodles, put the noodles in the bowl you used to make the broth, boil water and pour over the noodles.  Let stand for 4 minutes, then drain.
Just before serving, add the bok choi to the soup.  Put the noodles in the bottom of the bowl.  Ladle the soup over noodles and voila.  Perfection!