Friday, October 03, 2014

My deck garden and it's lessons...

Growing up, my great grandmother always had a garden. It was the first time I was really exposed to the amazing flavors of food grown just a few feet from the house. She'd pull these huge cabbages, some carrots and a couple onions out of there and turn it into something amazing. She'd put the seeds in the ground and something would grow! As a small child, that always impressed me. As I got older, and especially as a chef, I've always loved to plant a garden where ever I could. In the back yard of a couple of the places I've lived in the past, behind a country club I worked at, helping kids plant and grow their own too, gardening has always intrigued me. 

When I moved back to New Hampshire a few years ago, I moved into a townhouse with very little land. Yes, the view of the river and railroad tracks is nice and I don't have to maintain the yard but there is just no place to plant food! But wait...there's this huge deck with nothing on it but wasted space! Of course, we have neighbors and planting a bunch of produce in pickle buckets wasn't going to fly, especially with my better-half. 

As you can see below, I picked up a few planter boxes and a few seedlings from my local hardware store. A few varieties of tomatoes, some hot peppers, lots of herbs, watermelon, cantaloupe, a couple types of summer squash, strawberries and more. Everything I love to eat and that are easy to can for the winter (I learned that from my great grandmother too). 

At first, it seemed like my green thumb was kicking in and all was going to be well. Stuff started sprouting immediately and I had this abundance of flora to look at out my back door. 

But, as it became time to harvest my wares, seemed everything was coming out in miniature. The strawberries were basically snacks for my dogs, the melons and summer squash never happened and the watermelons were the size of softballs. My green beans produced a meager 6 beans, I pulled a mere three cucumbers off the vines and fought the good fight with a million aphids on my lettuce and basil leaves. 

Magically, however, I ended up with a ton of all the varieties of tomatoes and hot peppers and there was no shortage of herbs. I made this amazing gazpacho that was cold and refreshing in the summer months. Basically, it's a cold soup with all the great flavors of summer. In my recipe, I basically rough chopped some tomatoes (the garden produced a great mix of heirlooms, roma, cherry and beef steak), a cucumber, smashed a couple cloves of garlic, mince a shallot or two, tossed in some basil, oregano and parsley, a couple chilies, rice wine vinegar, some really good olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper. Couple pulses in the old vita-mix and we are golden! There is really nothing like it and nothing else captures summer like a really cold cup of gazpacho. 

I smoked a few tomatoes. None of my tomatoes got much bigger than golf balls but had a lot of great flavor. This batch was smoked in apple wood and turned into a nice sauce. I canned it and should have enough to get me through winter. This batch made 12 pints.

With the cukes, hot peppers and herbs, I made this fresh pickle; cold and crisp. The radishes and carrots were from a local farm stand. This recipe is simple; equal parts vinegar and water, little sugar and salt, dissolved together and allowed to marinate for a couple days. Great on burgers or as a snack.

I love ketchup, but tomato jam is, jam! I just chucked a few rough chopped tomatoes in a crock pot along with some spices, some sugar and a splash of white wine. Covered and cooked it for 8 hours then uncovered it, pureed it with a stick blender and let it simmer for another 6 hours. Better than anything Heinz can make!

At the end of my "harvest" I had loads of green tomatoes, a few chilies, some sweet peppers and herbs. Pickling these seemed the best idea. I basically took that same simple pickle recipe above, boiled it and poured it over a few jars packed tight the leftover goodies. I cant wait to try them in a few days. 

The reason everything came out so small, come to find out, was that the plants weren't getting enough sun. They were only getting about 2 solid hours of sunlight, which is far from enough. I'll need to revisit this issue next year. Meanwhile, I'll just enjoy what I have and scratch it up as an amazing learning opportunity!