THE BEST PART OF SUMMER

By Engrid Winslow

Photo of fresh corn on hte cob.

Image by Couleur from Pixabay

“The first ear of corn, eaten like a typewriter, means summer to me—intense, but fleeting.” ― Michael Anthony

There are two flavors of summer that I will unapologetically eat until bursting with absolutely no apologies because they haunt my food memories in the dead of winter. One is tomatoes fresh from the garden and the other is corn.

Sweet corn is a vegetable that originated in the Americas and has spread worldwide. Originally referred to as maize the cultivation of corn was introduced in South America from Mexico in two waves: the first, more than 6000 years ago, spread through the Andes. Evidence of cultivation in Peru has been found dating to about 6700 years ago. The second wave, about 2000 years ago, spread corn through the lowlands of South America. Around 4,500 B.C., maize began to spread to the north; it was first cultivated in what is now the United States at several sites in New Mexico and Arizona, about 4,100 B.C.

During the first millennium AD, maize cultivation spread more widely in the areas north. In particular, the large-scale adoption of maize agriculture and consumption in eastern North America took place about A.D. 900. Native Americans cleared large forest and grassland areas for the new crop.

Corn is used in many foods including grits (in the South), polenta (in Italy), cornstarch, chowder, cornbread, cornflake cereal, hominy, popcorn, corn dogs, tamales and tortillas. But fresh corn on the cob has to be the most popular and is a sure sign of summer.

Be sure to visit a farm stand that picks their corn daily and cook and eat it on the same day it was picked. The intensity of flavor will be at its peak and you won’t want to go back to the supermarket for corn ever again. Resist the urge to open the ears as that can cause the ears to dry out. Just feel for firm kernels and fill up your bag to overflowing with fresh, delicious sweet corn.

Last year a friend shared her secret to cooking corn easily and I now use this method exclusively. Instead of boiling a pot of water, shucking the corn and trying to remove all of the silk, use your microwave. Just pop un-shucked corn into the microwave for 4 minutes per ear, up to four ears at a time (16 minutes). Let cool slightly and then see how easily the shucks and silk come off the cooked ears. From there you can do all sorts of things with it. It’s easy to scrape off the kernels with a sharp knife and stash them in the freezer to bring back a taste of summer when you need it the most.

Here is one of my favorite ways to combine my two summer favorites – corn and tomatoes. It is delicious and you will want to make it as often as possible while these two summer vegetables are at their peak.

CORN AND TOMATO SALAD

Serves 2-4

Slice one pint of cherry tomatoes and salt generously (at least 1 teaspoon)

4 ears of corn, prepared as above and scraped from the cob

6-7 leaves of fresh basil, chiffonade

The key to this mixture is to set the salted tomatoes to the side for at least 30 minutes so that the tomatoes give up some of their juice and become slightly jammy.  Add cooled corn and basil and enjoy. It keeps well and is one of the best things you will ever eat.

There are many add-ons you can do for this salad. It’s great with a few squeezes of lime juice, a drizzle of olive oil, or you can add chopped sweet onions, drained and rinsed black beans and cotija cheese for a great vegetarian taco or salsa fresca for fish tacos, a dip or topping on grilled fish or chicken. You can also substitute the cilantro, chopped parsley or thyme for the basil.

“A light wind swept over the corn, and all nature laughed in the sunshine. “ Anne Bronte

Picture of a packet of Golden Bantam Corn seeds.

 

FOR THE LOVE OF LEEKS

By Engrid Winslow

Photo of sliced leeks.

Image by Susann Wagner from Pixabay

“If you can mock a leek, you can eat a leek!” ― William Shakespeare, Henry V

Since you planted leeks in the spring, now is the time to pat yourself on the back and enjoy the harvest. One of the simplest ways to enjoy leeks is to sauté them in butter and olive oil with mild peppers. It is also a good idea to slice them thinly and freeze them for adding to soups and stews during the winter.

Leeks are related to onions as they are both in the Allium family) but have a much more mild flavor. The Hebrew Bible talks of leeks, and reports it as abundant in Egypt. Dried specimens have been discovered at archaeological sites in ancient Egypt along with wall carvings and drawings, which indicate that the leek was a part of the Egyptian diet from at least the second millennium BCE. Texts also show that it was grown in Mesopotamia from the beginning of the second millennium BCE. The leek was a favorite vegetable of the Roman Emperor Nero, who consumed it in soup or in oil, believing it beneficial to the quality of his voice.

Some of the most common uses of Leek are as an ingredient of cock-a-leekie soup, leek and potato soup, and vichyssoise, as well as plain leek soup. But here are a couple of other ways for you to enjoy your harvest of leeks:

 

LEEKS AND CHICKEN

Serves 4

4 TBL extra-virgin olive oil                                             4 medium leeks, white and tender green parts, thinly sliced

1 lb cremini mushrooms, sliced thinly                      2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut in 2-inch pieces

¼ cup flour, plus 1 TBL more, if needed                  3 cups chicken stock

1 tsp fresh thyme, leaves only                                   2 TBL nonfat plain Greek yogurt

4 tsp Dijon mustard                                                         1/3 cup water

Salt and pepper

Heat 2 Tablespoons of oil in a skillet and add leeks, sauté for a few minutes until they begin to wilt, then add 1/3 cup of water and cover. Let the leeks steam for up to7 minutes until very soft and melted, stirring every minute. Add the mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook until the mushrooms are tender, about 5 minutes. Empty leeks and mushrooms into a separate bowl or plate.

Season chicken with salt and pepper and toss in ¼ cup of flour. Heat remaining oil in skillet and brown chicken until golden brown, add stock and thyme and simmer until chicken is just cooked through (about 1 more minute). Transfer chicken to bowl with vegetables.

Simmer the stock over moderate heat until reduced by half, 4-5 minutes. If the sauce is not thick enough, mix  1 tablespoon flour into vegetables and chicken. If too thick, add additional stock. Return vegetables and chicken to skillet and simmer until warmed through, about one minute. Blend yogurt and mustard together and stir into the stew. Season with salt and pepper, if needed and serve over rice.Leek, Organic American Flag

Now’s the Time to Plant Your Cool Season Vegetables

by Heather Stone

Photo of a hand holding two red radishes.

Photo courtesy of pexels – skitterphoto 9301 (1)

Mid- August to Mid- September is the prime time to start planning and planting your fall vegetable garden. Even though it’s still hot outside, the nights are getting cooler and the days shorter. Now is the time to get those quick-growing, cool-season vegetables in the ground. For bountiful late-season harvests here are a few guidelines to follow.

-Know which crops to plant and when. Here’s a list of our favorite cool-season vegetables and their days to maturity.

  • Kale should be planted 85 – 90 days before the first frost. The leaves can handle a few light touches of frost and become sweeter each time.
  • Carrots can be planted 80-85 days before frost.  They can be harvested when young and tender.  Even after the cold temperatures shrivel the tops, they can be dug, sweet and juicy, from the ground throughout the fall.
  • Beets can do double duty with green tops for salads and tasty roots as well.  Plant seeds about 65-70 days before frost, depending on the type you choose.
  • Leafy greens such as spinach and leaf lettuces, arugula, mustard greens and Swiss chard all do best in the cooler temperatures of fall. Plant seeds about 50-60 days before frost depending on the type of green chosen. These can be harvested when young and immature for delicious baby greens.

    Photo of leafy green seedlings.

    Photo courtesy of pexels by kaboompics 5809

  • Radishes are always great to spice up salads. These are fast-growing and can be planted 30-35 days before the first frost. Pull them when young and tender.

 

 

 

 

 

-Keep moist. The garden will dry out more quickly in the warm days of late summer than it did in the spring. Keep a close eye on new plantings to make sure those seeds or seedlings stay well-watered. A light covering of grass clippings or straw can serve as mulch, helping to retain moisture. Using a light row cover over newly planted areas can also help retain moisture, provide shade and protect against light frosts further down the road.

Fertilize once a week with an organic fertilizer with nitrogen and enjoy delicious salads and veggies all fall long.

August Garden Chores

Photo of gloved hands working in a garden.

photo courtesy of pixabay – photoAC 2518377_1280

We are deep into August. Here are a few tips and reminders about where should we be focusing our time and efforts in the garden this month to make the most impact.

For many, August in the garden is an explosion of flowers, fruit and vegetables. Keep on top of harvesting! A daily inspection of zucchini plants ensures none escape your eye and turn into what more resembles a baseball bat than a vegetable. Check tomatoes for blossom end rot and adjust watering if needed.

 

Start gathering recipes for the crops you have in abundance. Hit up some of your favorite websites or blogs for recipe ideas. Check out our reader shared recipes here.

 

Harvest herbs for either fresh use or to save for later. Here are some tips for preserving herbs by freezing, drying or in vinegar.

 

As crops are harvested and bare space appears in the garden protect your soil by covering it with mulch or planting a cover crop.

 

Side-dress your warm-season crops with a little compost to give them a boost to finish out the growing season.

 

Now is the time to plant another sowing of cool-season vegetables like lettuces, chard, kale, radish, spinach, arugula, beets, carrots and peas. This doesn’t have to take long and you’ll thank yourself later when you have fresh salad greens throughout the fall. Plant another row of bush beans too for a fall harvest.

Photo courtesy of pixabay – couleur 3702999_1280

Keep weeds under control in both the perennial and vegetable gardens. Weeds rob moisture, nutrients and light from our desired plantings.

 

Keep perennials deadheaded and cleaned up. Tuck a pair of pruners in your pocket while walking through and enjoying your garden. I little clean up here and there helps keep pests at bay and saves on time later.

 

Continue to care for your plants in pots by deadheading, removing dead and diseased foliage and regularly fertilizing.

 

Take notes and/or pictures of what worked and what didn’t in your garden. These reminders will help next spring when it’s time to plant again.

 

Start planning your fall bulb plantings.