This year we’ve decided to try a new crop to our little urban garden. Potatoes! Yukon gold in fact. I tried going the cheap route and bought some from the grocery store. After a couple of weeks trying to sprout them, I read that sometimes potatoes are soaked in something to prevent them from sprouting. Euw! Not sure what that is.
So then I decided to order “official” seed potatoes. By the time they arrived my grocery store ones started to sprout. Of course! So if the potatoes work, I will be rich with them. The potatoes are from a place in Colorado called The Potato Garden.
And since my soil is lousy and filled with glass, I looked into suitable containers for growing them. You have to have something that is deep, so you can keep adding soil (hilling) as the plants grow. This keeps the potatoes from getting hit by the sun, which causes them to turn green and be bitter. I found Smart Pots and ordered 2 of them. They are made out of a sturdy fabric. I thought I would give them a try.
placing one of the seed potatoes
As usual, I have to put my garden behind bars to keep the squirrels from destroying the unestablished plants.
potatoes planted and behind bars
Okay, it’s bad when you are belated on your own birthday!!! But I’m so behind on everything that I thought I should just start here.
On my birthday, Neil and I decided to play hookie. It was a little drizzly, so we just put on the rain gear we bought for our trip to Iceland and went for a hike. There is a park in the middle of crazy, urban Queens, NY called Forest Park. And it is just that. A forest. It’s really a weird feeling to be walking in the woods knowing that you are in the middle of NYC.
Neil and I started learning about and hunting mushrooms last year. We’ve been lucky enough to find some delicious edible mushrooms. However, we were disappointed last Fall not to find hen of the woods (aka maitake). They generally grow under oak trees in the Fall. As we walked, we kept our eyes open for these mushrooms, and were lucky enough to find a few clumps of them.
They are beautiful mushrooms without poisonous look-alikes, which makes them quite safe for beginners. (Okay, now I must add that if you are ever going to hunt mushrooms, please consult a guide, an expert, or both. Do not go off the photos on this blog!!) These mushrooms have been described as resembling flamenco dancer’s skirts. Love these colorful descriptions!!
I asked some of my mushroom friends how they prepare hen of the woods. We decided to pull them apart like broccoli florets, brush them with olive oil, sprinkle salt and pepper and grill them on the bbq. They were delicious. What a lovely birthday present!
At the beginning of the spring, I noticed that my two tiny apple trees had a bumper crop of apples. There were easily 3 fruits per cluster, which was way more than the tiny trees could support. I was going to have to thin the fruit, which helps the remaining fruit grow larger, and also protects the young tree from broken branches.
Before I thinned the fruit, the tree did it for me. There are lots of tiny apples under both trees, and now there are no more than 2 fruits per cluster. Nature is amazing.
If you’ve spent time reading this blog, you will know that the soil in my garden isn’t great. The term to describe it is “rubble.” I don’t really trust growing food items directly in it. Besides the sunniest area of my garden is paved, so that limits my options. This has lead me to trying raised beds. I have a mish-mosh of containers that I hope are creative and fun and not reminiscent of the set of Sanford and Son.
These are the wine crates I salvaged last year. They are holding up well.
This year I’m not going to grow beans or try and coax tomatoes to grow in a partly sunny garden. I’m going to stick to herbs, which do very well in my yard. I love mixing flowers, herbs and vegetables together.
If a reader hadn’t asked, I might have forgotten to post about my little apple tree. In the early spring I posted about trying to pollinate my Sundance apple tree. I pruned branches from another tree and put the branches near my flowering tree in the hopes that the bees would do the cross-pollinating. You can read about the process here. The good news is that it worked and I had 5 apples growing on my tree. I don’t have any experience with dwarf apple trees, so I don’t know if this is a decent number for the first year of fruit. I also wasn’t familiar with this variety of apple, so wasn’t sure how it would look when the fruit was ripe. This apple is one of the 5 from my tree. The fruit is sweet and crisp and delicious. I’ve always dreamed of having a small home orchard, and although 5 apples is a laughably small amount, it is a beginning.
This past Saturday I went with my mushroom club out to New Jersey to look for mushrooms. I mentioned to the people I rode there with that I have been trying to find a Chicken of the Woods Mushroom (chicken mushroom for short). On the walk we found loads of boletes, which look a lot like how kids draw mushrooms. You might know them as cepes or porcini. Most of the mushrooms in the photo below are boletes.
We were also looking for chanterelles, which are a bright orange color. We found a few, although many were past their prime. We also found some Jack O Lantern mushrooms, which besides being poisonous, also glow in the dark. So when one of my car mates spotted something orange from the trail, we thought it was probably a group of Jack ‘O Lanterns. I was absolutely thrilled to discover chicken mushrooms. These tasty little mushrooms cook up to taste like chicken. What’s really nice about them is that when you find them, you really have a meal on your hands. There are also really no other mushrooms that look like these, so they are a very safe mushroom for beginner hunters like myself.
Our ground cherries are ripening now. I was taken with this unusual fruit a few years ago when visiting a garden in Berkeley, CA. The little papery balloons turn a creamy yellow and fall to the ground when they are ripe. Inside is a small round fruit that’s smaller than a regular cherry. Actually, other than the roundness of the fruit, it’s really nothing like a cherry.
If you’ve never had one, try and track them down. A bowl of them for guests to peel and eat is quite special.
Elderflower syrup is one of those magical liquids that is a perfect mix of sweet and floral. It is the G-rated version of St. Germain. You mix a tablespoon or two with seltzer and you have a refreshing summer drink. Syrups aren’t as common here as they are in Europe, and therefore are generally pretty expensive. The one I have was brought to me by friends visiting from Austria.
With all the beautiful, creamy white blossoms popping last weekend, I decided to try making my own syrup. I did a quick search and found this recipe. It calls for citric acid, which I didn’t have on hand. I substituted a packet of EmergenC and hoped that it wouldn’t give it a strange flavor (which it didn’t).
You have to brace yourself for the insane amount of sugar used in the recipe. Also, I suggest having everything on hand, because elderflower blossoms are very delicate and start to wilt very quickly.
Recipe adapted from Hunter Angler Gardner Cook:
3 quarts water
entire bag of sugar
juice of 6 lemons
zest of 6 lemons
2 packets of EmergenC or 6 T citric acid (to prevent spoilage)
75-100 elderflower flower heads (I just filled the jars to the top) with the stems trimmed
Fill a bowl with the flowers, lemon juice and lemon zest. Heat the water and sugar on the stove until the sugar dissolves. Add the citric acid. Pour liquid into the bowl and stir.
Cover the bowl with a cloth and let sit for a few days. Strain the liquid through cheesecloth into clean jars.
Since our trip was ending, I didn’t have the time to let everything sit in a bowl. I put the flowers and lemon juice and zest into jars and poured the sugar syrup into them. I saved some extra syrup, which I used to top off the jars once I strained out the flower heads.
The flavor is nice and lemony, but I still prefer my expensive Austrian syrup. I have to figure out how to get more of the floral perfume to infuse into the syrup. I’m not too disappointed because I know that we will happily use up our homemade elderflower syrup.
We just came back from our annual July 4th visit with friends up in Rhode Island. Every year at this time their elderflowers are blooming all along the roadsides. A couple of years ago I made french toast, where I dredged the batter-soaked bread in the blossoms. That was really good. This year we made various items including fritters, liqueur and syrup. I’ll post about each until you won’t want to see another elderflower!
Okay, so for the liqueur, it is ridiculously simple. All you need is about 20 flower heads, a quart jar and a bottle of vodka to begin.
• Carefully inspect the flowers for critters. My daughter was particularly good at spotting tiny inchworms and ants.
• Trim the extra stem off of the flower heads and drop the blossoms into the clean jar.
•Fill with vodka and store in a dark place for 1 month.
•After a month, strain out the flowers and mix in about 1/3 cup of sugar until dissolved.
My batch has only sat for 4-5 days, so while I wait, I’ll have to satisfy myself with St. Germain. Neil makes a great version of a cosmo using St. Germain instead of Triple Sec.
Another refreshing summer drink is 2 parts sparkling wine (proseco, champagne, cava, whatever) mixed with 2 parts seltzer and 1 1/2 parts elderflower liqueur.
After getting hit hard with morel fever, I started to wonder about something. Perhaps you’ve heard of endless summer, where surfers travel around the globe chasing summer. I started to wonder if you could do that with morels. I figured that the Berkshires were a few weeks behind us here in NYC weather-wise, so the morels would probably be still coming up when ours were done.
I couldn’t go the weekend I thought they would be best, but we all went up Memorial Day weekend. I joined the Berkshire Mycological Society’s hike that Sunday and sure enough there were morels! Most of them were past their prime, but we still managed to find enough to make a delicious morel scrambled egg breakfast the next morning.
This group is much smaller than the one here, and in fact only one member went that day. My mother-in-law and I felt as though we had a personal guided tour. I am definitely going to join them again when I’m up visiting.
I’ll post photos of the mushrooms I found up there on that hike. I’m just trying to identify some of them, which I’m not great at.