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Sweet Corn – the Best Part of Summer

By Engrid Winslow

Photo of fresh sweet corn on the 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 sweet 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 sweet 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

 

A Packet of Golden Bantam Sweet Corn.

FOR THE LOVE OF LEEKS

By Engrid Winslow

A close-up 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.A packet of organic American Flag Leek seeds.

Plant Your Cool Season Vegetables Now

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 and your cool season vegetables. 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.

WHAT’S BUGGING YOUR GARDEN


By Engrid Winslow

Getting rid of garden pests.

Image by André Santana from Pixabay

Mysterious holes in the leaves of your favorite rose? Earwigs buried deep in the leaves of your lettuce? Flea beetles mangling your perennials and vegetables? Most people are averse to creepy crawlies in their gardens but, please, BEFORE you reach for the chemicals to blast them into the stratosphere, consider that all of the insects are essential to having a healthy garden and planet. So here are a few suggestions for less toxic remedies of getting rid of garden pests to try in your garden.

Slugs – small saucers of beer tucked under leaves will attract them and they will fall in and drown. Slugs aren’t picky so don’t waste a craft brew on them – Coors works just fine.

Earwigs – There are a couple of things you can try for these and one is a small saucer of soy sauce with a little bit of vegetable oil and you’ll get the same results as with the slugs, above. You can also roll up several sheets of newspaper and get them fairly wet. Slide them under your plants in the evening and throw them away in the morning.

Aphids – These are a very weak, soft-bodied insect that feed on tender new foliage and buds. You can bet that if you have aphids, you will soon have a host of ladybugs feasting on them. If you can’t wait, then use soapy water with a few drops of oil and spray or dab on the foliage. You can also use garlic spray.

Cartoon drawing of an aphid.

Photo courtesy of pixabay.

Flea and other beetles – Diatomaceous earth is a mineral composed of the skeletal remains of tiny sea creatures. It has edges that are sharp and will pierce the bodies of beetles and cause them to dry out. It will harm beneficial insects and earthworms, so use sparingly. Also, don’t breathe it into your lungs.

Cartoon drawing of a grasshopper.

Photo courtesy of pixabay.

Other insects – Use a lightweight row cover to protect young plants and the ones that are being chomped on the most.

There are other products available at most garden centers now that gardeners are more aware of the consequences of the use of most pesticides to insects, animals, fish and even people. Some of the best tools in your arsenal are: (1) creating biodiversity and selecting plants that attract pollinators and (2) nurturing the soil by using products such as compost and nettle teas. Recognize that most pests run their course if you are patient and wait for their predators to show up.

Preserving Foods

Food Preservation

by Rebecca Hansen

Many of us have tried our hands at the new Victory Gardens and are getting back to our roots in our community’s Grow Local movements.  With the flow of garden produce increasing each minute, we have donated excess to the local Community Food Share programs and, we are beginning to be mildly panicked at the thought of all of that fresh produce going to waste solely because we can’t use it fast enough.

With our neighbors slamming their doors when they see us heading their way with an armload of our best organically grown zucchinis we find ourselves wishing the bounty could be spread out over the year and last well beyond the late summer flush.  More and more people are turning to home food preservation as a way to keep the bounty of their hard-earned, organic, heirloom, non-genetically modified gardens coming.

Now is the time to start your research, before the tidal wave of tomatoes sweeps you away. The number of food preservation methods is exciting and a bit daunting.  Drying foods is one of the oldest methods of preserving foods. Also, canning, freezing, pickling, curing and smoking, and fermenting are ways to keep your pantry full during the winter.

What could be more fulfilling than pulling out a sparkling jar of homemade salsa when the snowflakes are flying to bring back warm memories of those beautiful heirloom tomatoes growing on the vine?  CSU Extension has a couple of great publications on how to dry vegetables and fruits with all that you need to know about nutritional values, methods and safety precautions.

Also in the extension’s Nutrition, Health and Food Safety publications, are fact sheets on smoking and curing meats and making pickles and sauerkraut and preserving without sugar or salt for special diets.  Check out the one on safe practices for community gardens for tips on ensuring safe food for all gardeners.

With all of our efforts to ensure that we each have gotten the most nutritious value from our fresh produce, it would be prudent to search for the newest scientific research into home food preservation methods.  We want to eat healthy fruits and vegetables even when they are not in season.  The USDA encourages us to use safe canning methods. Scientific developments have changed recommendations over time. Always use up-to-date methods and do not just rely on the practices of past generations.  A great place to start is by exploring the National Center for Home Food Preservation website from the University of Georgia.

Publications and resources are available at the center’s website with useful tips for proper preservation techniques.  Also, not to be missed is an awesome, free, online self-study course called;

Preserving homegrown food can be an economical and fulfilling way to enjoy quality, nutritional food from your garden all year long.  So when your heirloom tomatoes, squash, onions, peppers, beans, garlic, beets, and turnips cover every surface in your home and garage and the refrigerator is brimming with more fragile produce, you will be fortified with the knowledge necessary to safely preserve the bounty for the time when the snowflakes will inevitably fly.

 

Radical Ratatouille

A plate of tomatoes and other vegetables used to make Ratatouille.

Photo courtesy of Dgraph88 / pixabay

From the Kitchen of Engrid Winslow

Ratatouille screams to me of summer and there are dozens of ways to make it. The only real essentials are tomatoes, onion, eggplant and zucchini cooked down into a stew and seasoned with salt and pepper.  It is delicious as a vegetarian main dish and can be served hot, room temperature, or even cold. You can also top it with cheese, add chunks of chicken and serve it over rice, or roll it up in a lettuce leaves or a tortilla. It can be cooked in a crockpot, baked or stewed. Here is a “classic” preparation followed by a few variations for you to play with.  You can learn more about the history of this dish here.

 

Classic Ratatouille

Serves 5 to 6

3 TBL olive oil                                                             3 medium tomatoes, chopped or 14 oz. canned

2 medium onions, chopped                                        2 large crushed cloves of garlic

1 medium eggplant, cubed in 1” chunks                    1 medium green bell pepper, in 1” chunks

5-6 medium zucchini, sliced                                       1 medium red bell pepper, in 1” chunks

½ cup chopped fresh parsley                                      ¼ cup chopped fresh basil

½ tsp salt                                                                     2 TBL tomato paste

¼ tsp pepper                                                               1 cup shredded gruyere cheese (optional)

In a 4-5 Quart pot, heat olive oil and add garlic, eggplant, peppers and onions.  Cook over medium heat, stirring often until onions are crisp-tender (about 5 minutes). Stir in zucchini, tomatoes, parsley and basil.  Heat to boiling, then reduce to medium, cover and cook for 15 minutes.  Remove cover, season with salt and pepper and stir in tomato paste. Continue cooking, uncovered, for another 10 minutes. Serve as is or over hot cooked rice. Top with a sprinkling of cheese.

VARIATION #1

Make it Middle Eastern by omitting the basil and cheese and stirring in the following spices when you add the zucchini and tomatoes:

½ tsp ground cumin                ½ tsp turmeric                                    ¼ tsp coriander

VARIATION #2

Change up the vegetables in the classic recipe or just add more.  Some favorites are corn, peas and beans, or other summer squash such as patty pan.

VARIATION #3

Make it Italian: Melt a couple of anchovies into the oil along with the garlic and tomatoes.  This adds a layer of umami flavors that is quite good. Then add a sprinkle of toasted pine nuts and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar just before serving.

VARIATION #4

Consider serving it with a different grain besides rice. Quinoa, farro, couscous and others are a delicious and very healthy twist.