Apple Pie Recipe Repeated

Apple Pie--An illustrated recipe

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Our tree with ripe apples. They are starting to ripen now. I plan to post a entry soon about the recent heat waves that caused some apples to be sunburned, but decided first to repost an older post that has become hard to find--for apple pie.

Start by peeling and cutting up 6 medium-sized apples. (Of course if they are from your tree, they may be different sizes, so you may have to do more or maybe fewer.) I have tried not peeling them, but our particular apple has a kind of tough peel, so I am back to peeling. I quarter them, then peel the quarters. I cut into the inward side of each peeled quarter-apple in a broad V, to remove the core. Then I slice the quarters crosswise, or, if they are wide, I may cut each quarter in half before I make the final cuts. To help remember how many apples I have prepared, I set the part of the core with the stem attached aside for each--one stem = 1 apple.

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Here you can see the little row of core sections with stems attached, the bowl for peels and cores, and the bowl of finished, chopped apple.

I used the 1953 Joy of Cooking when I first made apple pie. It's recipe suggests mixing the apples with 1/2 -2/3 cups brown sugar, 1 to 1 1/2 Tablespoons of cornstarch, and (optionally) 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and/or 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg. Joy of Cooking authors, writing at a time when many more people were cooking from their own tree, and more kinds of apples were being sold. They are clear that apples vary. "Only very tart apples need the larger amount of sugar, only very juicy apples require the larger amount of cornstarch." "If the apples lack flavor, sprinkle them with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice."

In my case, I usually add the lower amount of sugar, the cinnamon, extra cornstarch (maybe 2 Tablespoons), and a couple of teaspoons of lemon juice, since my apples are sweet, juicy, and don't have any acid tang to add to their flavor. In any case, add everything you are going to add, toss well, and set apples aside.

I think making pie crust requires a very personal interaction of cook and recipe. I tried several recipes before I found the one that makes good crust for me, and offer you the one I chose, but you may find another is better for you.

My father's mother used lard, baking several pies at a time for her large family. Lard didn't appeal to me, but her crust was quite delicious. I used to use butter. Now I use Smart Balance Buttery Sticks, a vegan, no trans fats margarine, and it works fine. The recipe I use is 1 1/4 cups unbleached white flour, 1 stick of the margarine, and a few tablespoons of icy water (2? 3? something like that).

The first step is to cut up the margarine and put it in a bowl with the flour.

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There's the flour with the cold margarine cut up in it. Next to it is a quarter cup, with some water and an icecube or two. And behind that is 1/2 of the paper from a large brown paper grocery bag, laid out for a surface on which to roll the crust, and the rolling pin, at ready.

Next, I crumble the margarine into the flour, using my thumbs and fingers to rub the two materials together.There's nothing tricky at this point, as long as you do it while the margarine is still relatively cold.

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When the mixture looks like coarse meal, it is time to add the cold water. I pour a little in and begin immediately to try to form a ball of dough. This is the sort of tricky part, because you don't want to actually work the dough. No kneading in this recipe, or the gluten will begin to develop and the crust will be tough. Just push the stuff together, getting it all moist until it will form a ball that isn't sticky but will clean the bowl if you dab it on the unattached pieces.If you run out of water, add a tad more to the cup with the ice and pour from it, a bit at a time.. Then smear some flour on the working surface, and set the ball on it.

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OK, now the fun begins. Roll the crust, gently at first, then more firmly as you begin to develop the round think shape you need. Roll from one direction and then another. Change directions if the shape isn't round enough. Make it pretty thin and rather bigger than your pie pan, which should be standing at ready on the table by now.

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If your dough has the right amount of water in it, it won't stick too much, but be ready to add a little more flour to the surface, or even lift a corner of the dough after you begin to roll it (using a knife to lift it if needs be) and add more flour. Also, if the dough is correct, you can mend it where it tears or cracks just by placing one piece over another and rolling it, or by moistening both sides with a little water and then rolling.But hopefully, you will have no problems with either, or only minimal ones.

When you get a nice large round, fold it in half, lift it carefully, and place it in one half of the pie pan. This one is a Corningware pan. It looks small, because the sides are vertical instead of at an angle like most pie pans, but it holds the same amount of stuff. I know because I filled it and a regular pan with water, and they held the same amount.

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Now carefully lift the folded over half and ease it into the pan. You have to kind of push a little from near the edge inward to get the crust to fall into the pan without tearing. That is, don't try to stretch it, as that won't work. Next you will make the crimped edges that make the pie pretty. You fold the crust under about 1/2 to 3/4 inch above the edge of the pan, and use your fingers and thumbs to make the fluting pattern. Any extra crust, extending below the crimps, on the outside of the pan, cut off with a knife. At any low places, where there isn't enough dough to make the crimp, use water to glue on more rolled dough from the pieces you cut off elseshere, and use that to make the fluted edge. (The crimp, or flute, is made to the measure of your fingers, a very individual form, unlike that of a machine crimped crust.)

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Here I'm making the fluted edge. You can see that there will be some extra crust to cut off in this part of the edge.

I like to cover my pie with a Danish apple pie topping. I put any extra bits of trimmed off crust into a bowl and add a little brown sugar (1/3 cup?) some margarine cut into bits (3 Tablespoons), a little flour (2-3 tablespoons?) and maybe 3/4 teaspoon of cinnamon. This recipe isn't exact, because it depends on how much crust dough was left over to use and how much topping you want on the pie. I crumble the ingredients all together with my thumbs and fingers.

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I put the prepared apples into the crust and then crumble the topping evenly over the apples.

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In baking the pie, I follow the recipe in my old edition of Joy of Cooking. First bake the pie at 450 degrees F for 10 minutes, or a little bit longer, to let the crust brown a little bit. (If you are going to let it go for longer than 10 minutes, keep a close watch on it.) Then turn the oven to 350 and bake until done, from 3/4 to 1 hour total. To tell if it is done, you can insert a knife in an apple to see if there is any resistance .

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Ta dah! The finished pie. Hope yours turns out to be delicioius!



Growing Good Food in Bad Air

It is Thursday, October 1st and the air in SF is filled with smoke again today, as it has been, off and on, for weeks. While I am glad not to be in the path of a fire, the smoke pollution is disturbing. Most of news coverage of the pollution concerns its effect on human physical health, which is, of course important. Air pollution causes lung inflammation and reduces our lung capacity. It is particularly dangerous for older people and children. Now, as the coronavirus is on all of our minds, and some of us try to go out less to reduce the chance of infection, the smoke is more disturbing than ever because it reduces our chance for outdoor exercise. For more on human health effects, see Washington Post on air pollution harm to health

While we need cloth masks now, due to the coronavirus emergency, I have learned these do not protect against air pollution. The only protection is an N95 mask or an N95 respirator mask, which most of us do not own.

Gardeners have special concerns. First, we are hesitant to garden in this bad air. I wanted to check apples for ripeness and harvest some that are ripe today, but may not do it as I look out the window and use online sources to confirm what my eyes tell me. Last month I was two days late in watering my community garden. (Fortunately, I didn’t lose any crops, but some of my lettuce was starting to droop.)

I have also had two questions concerning the plants I am growing. The first is what air pollution is doing to them, the second is whether they are safe for me to eat. The answer to the first question is that the effects of air pollution are not good—more on this in a minute. The answer to the second question is one of the only bright spots in my research: pollution does not affect healthfulness of a crop. If the food you harvest has ash or grime on it, wash it off. For good measure you can agitate it in a tablespoon of vinegar in 6 cups of water, then rinse it in plain water. (White vinegar is fine—no need for anything fancy.) You can’t wash off other smog, but plants damaged by it are perfectly safe to eat.

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White ash on tomato leaf in late September of 2020. I washed it off to let more light in. (Tomato leaves, which are not edible, are hairy, so they trap more ash than smooth leaves would, or than the smooth-surfaced tomato fruit.)

Back to the effect on plants. Days of smoky air and falling ash will result in a coating on upper plant surfaces. The main effect of this is reduced photosynthesis, since less sunlight can reach the chloroplasts. This will reduce growth of the plant. After a bout of smoky air, it’s a good idea to hose down your garden plants to knock the stuff off of them.

Worse for plants is the more common components of smog, such as oxides of nitrogen or lower atmospheric ozone. (Unlike the ozone layer in the upper atmosphere, ozone near the earth surface is harmful.) These and other polluting gases can enter the chambers in leaves where the plant carries out photosynthesis and interfere with the chemical process. Ozone is particularly harmful. At best, pollution damage will slow the growth of plants. They will make fewer leaves, and will have a smaller root system. This means our food crops won’t produce as much food or as produce it as fast as they would in clean air. At worst, susceptible plants will show symptoms, starting with tiny dead spots on leaves and progressing to dying older leaves. Susceptibility varies among crops and varieties of specific crops. Peas and beans and leafy crops are generally most susceptible, and one study found summer crops more affected than cool-season crops.

            (Please note that we are here thinking about pollution of the air, not the soil. If you are worried about soil pollution, you should have it tested for lead and cadmium, and follow the lab’s instructions for what you can grow in it. Also, don’t grow food in a garden that is immediately adjacent to a busy road, especially where vehicles often brake.)

When it comes to air pollution, there is another concern that we should be aware of. When air pollution prevents a plant from photosynthesizing, either by blocking sunlight or interfering with the chemistry of the process, it will reduce the amount of CO2 that plant is removing from the air. This means that pollution-challenged plants are making our excess atmospheric CO2 problem just that much worse. It means that air pollution creates a negative feedback loop, making global climate change happen just that much faster.

Happily, we can safely eat and enjoy any food we succeed in growing in our gardens in polluted air, and are probably not so dependent on our garden that the little bit less production is a problem, but remember agricultural production is also threatened. Our understanding, as gardeners, of what increased air pollution means, not only for humans, but for plants, gives us an early distant warning, and more reason to act, and encourage others to act, to reduce the pollution of our air.

Where and when is air pollution a problem?

Large urban areas across the earth have bad, sometimes chronically very bad air, but it is also a problem in many places we think of as “pristine.” So, for example, Denver has a problem, but so does Rocky Mountain National Park.

One of the worst pollutants is lower atmospheric ozone (O3). It forms when oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) interact in sunlight. The warmer the day, the more ozone forms, so it tends to be worst in afternoons and later in the summer season (just when we are counting on harvesting summer crops).

Where do the components of air pollution come from:

--Well, obviously from fires. And one of the scariest results of recent fires has been the understanding that when modern structures burn, not only is it a horrid loss to the owner, but some of what is released into the air is toxic compounds from the many synthetic materials we use today in building, furniture, and other objects in our homes.

--The biggest other sources are electricity generation (if the plant doing the generating is coal or petroleum-fueled) and gasoline-fueled transportation.

--Agriculture and industrial processes add some to the mix. One study, in Colorado, found that plants making fabrics added significant pollution, because it used petroleum as a fuel and because polyester is a petroleum product.

--Volitile organic compounds (VOCs) come from products like paint or paint thinner, asphalt, oil and gasoline.

What can we do to reduce air pollution:

--Drive less, keep your car well-tuned, keep tires inflated properly, and buy automobiles that burn less gasoline—fuel efficient, hybrid, electric.

--Avoid idling car motors unnecessarily.

--Avoid using other gas-operated motors as much as possible—for example by using an electric lawn mower.

--Avoid using products that add VOCs to the air. Check paint cans and labels of other suspect products for an indication that they are VOC-free.

--Avoid toping off of gasoline tanks when filling them at a gas station. (When you smell gas, it is going into the atmosphere.)

--Do yardwork that might add to pollution in the evening, so pollutants can dissipate before the warm part of the following day.

--Try to reduce the amount of petroleum-source materials you use in your life, for example plastic, polyester in clothing, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Eliminate their use if you can, reduce, reuse, and recycle if you do use them.

--Spread the word about what causes air pollution and encourage others to reduce their contributions to it.

Here are two links you can use to learn more:

To check air quality: purpleair.com. Zoom in on specific locations using their world map.

To learn about ozone gardens that assess damage to plants, watch a video on ozone pollution and a lecture by a researcher who studies ozone damage:  Ozone Gardens and Ozone Pollution


Redworm Compost in the time of Covid

Faced with continued store closures and shortages, and anxiety about going shopping, some people have been growing a sourdough starter in their kitchen. As a gardener, in the same spirit, I decided to start up a new redworm compost bin. I’m glad I did so, since the redworms are happily eating away at a portion of our household’s food scraps, though the process has also been a reminder of the patience required to depend on nature to do its work rather than being a consumer who can drive out and buy what you need after somebody else provided the patience. I will tell you how to create and tend your own bin to make worm casting compost, though you will have to provide the patience.

            To start the bin, you will need: ½ to 1 pound of redworms (a special kind of earthworm, of the species Eisenia fetida), a container, a handful of soil, some bedding, water, and food scraps. The worms will eat the bedding along with the scraps, producing a batch of compost every 2-3 months. The redworm compost can be added to your soil or to potting mix where you plan to grow vegetables or flowers. It’s a good soil amendment and a high-quality fertilizer.

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A worm bin can be kept indoors, with a drip pan beneath to catch extra liquid (which is also good fertilizer), or it can be put outdoors in a shady spot. If winter temperatures drop below 40, move the bin to a shed or garage, but in milder parts of the Bay Area it can stay outside all winter.

Start by learning if you have a friend with a worm compost bin who will share some worms with you when they next renew their bin. Redworms are also available from several online sources, which may also sell them as red wrigglers or composting worms, at a cost of $25-50 for a pound. (These are not, by the way, regular garden earthworms, but a smaller species that thrives in a compost bin, but would die out in garden soil.)

            As a container, one can purchase complicated, several-tiered bins, but all you really need is a shallow (10 to 16-inch deep) box with a lid and a few drainage holes in the bottom. Because I was committed to using, as much as possible, what I already had, I repurposed a large plastic storage bin by drilling a few holes (only ¼ inch, so rodents can’t enter). If you have the wood and tools, you can make a wooden bin. One common plan requires a single 4 x 8 foot panel of ½ inch plywood, as shown on this information sheet from Washington State University: http://whatcom.wsu.edu/ag/compost/wormbins.htm. Or you can make a smaller one from a half sheet of plywood using this plan from the Alameda county StopWaste web site: http://www.stopwaste.org/at-home/home-gardening/all-about-compost/backyard-composting/build-or-buy-a-compost-bin/two-person. In either case, a prop stick is handy to keep the box open while you work in it. A wooden box keeps best if you can paint it inside and out with food grade mineral oil, but this step can be skipped or postponed.

            Next, add bedding. Good options include newspapers or brown cardboard torn or cut into strips, dry leaves, hardwood sawdust, or straw (but not glossy paper). Fill the bin about ¾ full of bedding, then moisten it to wet but not dripping, using a spray bottle or sprinkling can and fluffing it to moisten throughout. Mix in a handful of soil, which the worms use in their gullets.

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            Tuck the worms under the bedding surface and add just a few kitchen scraps. Eventually the worms can process about a pound of scraps a week for each square foot of surface area, but they can only eat a little for the first few weeks, so don’t overfeed them. They can eat vegetable and fruit trimmings and peels, crushed eggshells, tea bags (minus the staple), coffee grounds, and small amounts of rice or torn up bread. Avoid oily foods, meats, or dairy products. Cover the bedding surface with a piece of plastic sheeting to keep in moisture and reduce the chance of fruit fly infestations. Remoisten lightly if the top of the bedding is dry—check especially in warm weather.

            When you see the process is near completion, move the contents to one half of the box and add fresh, moist bedding to the other half. Put new kitchen scraps only in the fresh bedding. Most of the redworms will migrate to it in a few weeks, and then you can harvest the finished compost. (If you put little piles of it in bright light, any remaining redworms will hide in the centers of the piles, where you can find them and move them to the fresh bedding.)


Gardening in a Crisis--Resources

If you have a food garden these days, while we are sheltering in place, I know you are grateful for whatever it produces. I am harvesting lettuce and other salad greens (including miner's lettuce and some mesclun), Swiss chard, collards, parsely, cilantro, wild onions, and still have some maggot-free radishes too. I have on the way: globe onions, carrots (still tiny seedlings), mustard greens, snap peas, peppers, and tomatoes. 

One issue for many gardeners right now is where to find seedlings and soil products. I have just discovered that the Garden for the Environment has a new blog and one of their entries is where to get garden supplies. They have information on hours, curbside pickup and delivery for several nurseries and hardware stores. It was posted on March 25th.

https://www.gardenfortheenvironment.org/growing-gardeners-archive/2020/3/25/garden-supply-delivery

There are other useful topics to explore on this blog. 

Hope your garden is going well and that you are staying safe!


Grow Mesclun for Delectable Mixed Greens

Often the crops you can grow in a garden turn the price calculations of the grocery shopper or the restaurant customer on their heads. Mesclun is one such case. The mixes of baby greens that are used to make a pricy salad or elegant stir-fries are fast and easy to grow.

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Use scissors or flower shears to cut sections of mesclun greens an inch or so above the ground. Let cut sections regrow before you cut it again. 

            Mesclun, a word from the old Provençal language, literally means mixture. It hails from the days when gardeners of Southern France and Italy did not always separate out seeds of leafy vegetables and plant them in rows, but sometimes sowed mixed seeds of different kinds of greens closely together, then cut sections of the resulting plants when they were still very small and threw them into a bowl to make a salad of the baby greens.

            Related terms are used in the marketing of mixed greens. Supermarkets sell “spring mix.” Restaurants serve “field greens.” There is no set list of component greens for these mixes, though some may be marketed as if there were.

            As a gardener, you will find seed packets of mixed lettuces, or of lettuce and greens with a more robust flavor, or only of the stronger-flavored greens. They may be labeled “mesclun,” or something else. I found one that is called “Quick Stirfry Blend,” consisting of various mustards and kales. Choose the seed mixture you like, depending on your preference for mild or robust flavor, and whether you want to serve them raw, in a salad, or cooked, in a stir-fry. (Be aware though, that plants that usually have strong flavors, such as chard or red mustard, will be fairly mild when they are eaten this young.)

            What all of these mixes have in common is that they are meant to be scatter-sown so that plants will come up close together, probably too close to grow into large plants, and then cut a half inch to an inch from the ground when they are 3 to 7 inches tall. You should be able to cut the plants and let them regrow several times. The ideal mix will include greens that grow at a similar rate, so you can have all of the varieties in the mix each time you cut.

            When seed marketers choose plants for these mixes, they usually include at least one red-leaved kind, for visual interest, and leaves with different shades of green, different shapes, and degrees of curliness. Some popular components are mizuna, a spiky-leaved mild mustard; tatsoi, an Asian mustard with thick white stems and small dark green leaves; arugula; and frisée, an endive with curly green leaves.

One plant that is not to be found in seed mixes for mesclun is radicchio, a red-leaved chicory. If it is in a grocery store’s “spring mix,” it was added separately, since the plant only forms the wonderful deep-red, white-veined leaves when it has made a mature head. Young radicchio leaves are green. So if you like this “green,” you will have to grow some separately.

You may, of course add to your salad the leaves of any other crop you have on hand. If it is winter, you may have some of the round leaves of wild miner’s (or Indian) lettuce, or the small, tender shoots of wild chickweed. Or you may want to combine a robustly-flavored mix with some mild lettuce you have purchased or have grown separately. Mix the ingredients you will enjoy seeing and eating together.

The best way to grow mesclun or other seed mixes to cut and use as baby greens, is in a container, in potting mix. This makes sure you are not growing any weeds along with your greens. While wild dandelion leaves and other wild plants were a part of some traditional mescluns, you will not want to cut something you shouldn’t eat.

I suggest that you make a 1 1/2 x 1 1/2-foot wooden box, 6-8 inches deep (with a few drainage holes drilled, and couple of 1 x 1-inch runners on the bottom to further help drainage). Sow the first seeds in all of the container space in about February, and resow as long as the weather is cool. (For coastal gardeners, this may mean from February well into fall. Inland gardeners will find summers too hot, but can catch a crop again in cooler fall weather.) Cut sections as needed, letting plants regrow as you cut another section. If you have two such boxes, you can have two different mixes and/or can stagger planting times for a more continuous supply.


How to "Know Your Onions"

 

Old farmers would say of a farmer they admired: “He knows his onions.”

Old farmers are few and far between these days, as is any urban gardener who knows his/her/their onions. In addition to the basic knowledge needed, producing globe onions (also called bulb onions) in California Bay Area gardens is complicated by our many microclimates. But with a little planning, we can harvest the big, sweet and pungent globe onions that we see in grocery stores.

Before you start, there are two factors to understand: The first is why you shouldn’t plant too early. Onions should be planted in fall or winter. But if by December, the stem of an onion plant is thicker than a pencil, the plant is likely to flower in the spring, and thus form no bulb. (In fact, it won’t form much that is edible, and then will produce seed and die. Not what you had in mind!)

The second factor is that onion plants start to form bulbs in response to the day’s length. At our latitude, even the longest day, June 21, is not long enough to stimulate a long-day variety to form bulbs, so avoid planting them. Short-day varieties start forming bulbs as early as the third week of January. Chances are the plants will be so small when they get the “bulbing signal” that the resulting bulb will be rather small.

So what are we to do? The key is to look for varieties labeled “intermediate day” or “day neutral” (such as 'Candy' or 'Red Candy Apple'). Then plant seed as early as you can (more on this below) without letting any seedlings grow to have stems thicker than a pencil in your garden in our coldest months, which are December and January. Not every seed source tells the day length adaptation of their onion varieties. If you are not sure, ask the supplier.

In the previous paragraph, I wrote “as early as you can.” That sounds vague, but it is determined by your microclimate and you can learn it quickly by trial and error. If you are inland, the colder winters will slow the growth of onion seedlings, so you may be able to start seeds in the fall and have them still be so small by December that they will form bulbs in the spring rather than bloom. Try September. Near the coast, with a milder winter, the seedlings might grow bigger, so the safest idea is to wait and plant seed at the start of February.

Alternatively, in any microclimate, you can plant out onion sets or transplants. Onion sets are little bulbs that have been forced into dormancy and then are sold in packages at the nursery. (If you buy them in advance, store them at room temperature to avoid providing the cold that would stimulate any that are already thicker than a pencil to bloom.)

You can grow your own transplants, starting seeds a couple of months before you plant them in your garden. If you grow them indoors on a windowsill, they will not get the winter chill they would get outdoors, so when you plant them out, in February, even if they have pencil-thick stems, they should form bulbs instead of blooming.

You can also buy bundles of bare-root seedlings from a nursery (local or mail order) to plant at the right time.

Green onions (scallions) are the same species as globe onions. You can pull any young onion plants to eat as green onions before they form bulbs. Some gardeners sort the sets, then plant the smaller ones to make globe onions and use the larger ones — which might be big enough to cause them to bloom — to grow green onions. (If you know which you plan to harvest as green onions, plant them a bit deeper, for a longer white base.)

While correct variety choice and planting time will take you far toward success, make sure the soil is fertile, keep weeds down (the narrow onion plant has little defense against shading by weeds), water regularly until the bulb is formed and lower stem begins to flatten, then stop watering to reduce the chance of decay.

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When the stems near the ground allow it, bend the plants over; this will help the plants go dormant, so the onions will last longer in post-harvest storage. When the stem and leaves are all brown, dig the bulbs and keep them in a cool, dry place.

May you “know your onions,” and may they be big, juicy and delicious!


Try Growing a Pawpaw, a Hardy Fruit with a Tropical Flavor

I’ve heard about pawpaws all my life, but only recently had a chance to taste one. I knew they were a delicious wild fruit one could find in Midwestern woods near where I grew up, if one knew where to look. When I finally did taste a pawpaw, I understood what all the fuss was about. It has sweet, soft, fragrant, pale yellow flesh similar to that of the botanically relatedwhitesapote, or custard applea tropical fruit native to Mexico. Since the pawpaw I tasted was from a tree grown near San Francisco, I wondered why this delicious fruit was not anywhere to be found in Bay Area markets. 

Pawpaw3Pawpaw fruit ripening on a Bay Area Tree

The book “Pawpaw: In Searchof America’s Forgotten Fruit,” by Andrew Moore (Chelsea Green, 2015), explains why. First, pawpaws do not ship well. They bruise easily and become soft when ripe, so the source needs to be near the market. Second, they have a very short season, so unless an eager public is waiting for them, they may all spoil before they’re sold. And because they are still unfamiliar, only the rare aficionado notices that it’s pawpaw season.

Moore’s book traces the history of this largest fruit native to the U.S., and explains how to grow it. Moore also tells about the dedicated researchers who have been breeding superior varieties and about efforts to promote and sell the fruit. 

Where does the name pawpaw come from? Europeans, or possibly African slaves, who had come to the mainland from the West Indies, first called them by this name, a variant of the word papaya. They apparently simply didn’t choose a new name for pawpaw fruit, just used one they had used for a rather different one they had eaten on the Caribbean islands. 

Pawpaws (Asimina triloba) taste tropical, but are hardy to about 20 below zero. They grow along rivers in much of the eastern U.S. — from southern Michigan and Pennsylvania west to eastern Kansas, south to midway down the states of the Old South and then up the eastern coast. They were relished by many native American tribes, who ate them fresh or dried. George Washington liked chilled pawpaws. Lewis and Clark ate them when passing through a region where they grew. American settlers sometimes removed the trees in favor of planting cornfields, but many wild groves remain, and many a child or adult has delighted in finding them.

Pawpaws were recently sold at the Ferry Plaza Building Farmers Market, but the one nearby farm that sold pawpaws couldn’t make a go of the crop, so took it out to expand other crops. Still, pawpaws make a handsome, easy-to-grow garden fruit tree, so many Bay Area gardeners could be enjoying the fruit while we wait for solutions to the marketing problems.

The tree can reach 35 feet, but might reach only 10-15 feet where summers are cool. Its leaves, up to a foot long, give the tree a tropical look. It’s dormant in winter, then bears small, maroon blossoms before leaves return in spring. The fruits, up to 9 in a cluster, ripen in late August or September. They are 3-6 inches long, weighing 5-16 ounces oz

Gardeners are growing pawpaws in San Jose, Los Altos. Berkeley and Walnut Creek. The trees have few pests. Deer, rabbits, even goats, are rarely interested in nibbling the strong-tasting leaves, though raccoons, squirrels or opossums do like the fruit, so could be a problem in locations where these pests are active. The tree needs well-drained, fertile soil, with a slightly acidic pH (5-7), and a site out of strong winds. The best time to plant it (a potted seedling is best) is in spring, just before it leafs out. See the website of the California Rare Fruit Growers for more growing tips https://www.crfg.org/pubs/ff/pawpaw.html.

You can purchase plants from Raintree Nursery, (800) 391-8892, raintreenursery.com, or One Green World, (877) 353-4028, onegreenworld.com, or try local nurseries. 


Scarlet Runner Beans--and the White-Flowered Variety Too

Want to grow plants that produce lots to eat, are ornamental and grow well in cool microclimates? Try runner beans. You can eat the young pods as a green bean (a.k.a. snap bean or string bean) or you can harvest older pods when the beans have formed inside them, shell out the beans to cook and eat, or harvest mature, dry beans later. The flowers are big and bright, attract hummingbirds and are also edible.

Young Runner Beans in the Author's Garden with spring cabbage, and the flowers Cineraria (right rear) and Malcolmia maritima (in front). 

This bean (Phaseolus coccineus) is a Central American native, and a different species than other garden beans. Its name means “red-flowered bean,” though there are varieties with pink-and-white or white flowers. Its native home is in tropical uplands, which gives it an ability to produce where summer days, and summer nights, are cool. This trait makes it well adapted to much of the Bay Area.

For a food crop, choose from varieties listed among vegetables rather than those sold among the ornamentals. The flowers will be just as pretty, but the pod and bean production is likely to be greater.

The most common varieties have bright red flowers with beans speckled purple and black. The white-flowered variety has pure white beans.

Runner beans are popular in Britain and Canada, where they are most likely to be eaten as green beans. The dry beans are popular in many parts of Europe; the white beans, which are especially popular in Spain and Greece, are sometimes called gigantes. The red-flowered variety is grown in mountainous parts of Japan and used both for its green pods and its dry beans. 

Growing Runner Beans

Plant runner bean seeds directly in your garden in April or May. Plant three seeds at the foot of a 6-foot pole, or set seeds 3 to 4 inches apart along a trellis. As with all beans, for best germination, plant on edge, with the flat side down.

An ideal trellis for climbing beans will be sturdy, 6 feet tall and roughly 4 feet wide with uprights every few inches for the plants to twine on. An excellent material for making it is a fencing called hog wire, which has openings that measure 2 inches by 4 inches. Beans will also climb a chain-link fence. Just be sure the trellis openings are large enough for the stems of the twining beans; chicken wire won’t do as the openings are too small. If you have room, you could grow climbing beans on a bean “teepee”: Set several tall poles in a circle and fasten them together at the top.

Snails may damage the young plants. You can use row cover to protect your seedlings, or cover them at night with a quart yogurt container or similar cover. Later in the season, hunt for snails on the plants and remove any you find.

Remove the dead vines before the following spring, but spare any that seem still flexible, as they may be still alive and ready to sprout new leaves in April of next year.

Eating Runner Beans

Eat the green pods when they are about ½- to ¾-inch wide. Wider pods become unpleasantly fibrous (the length of pods will vary and is not important). Use them as you would any green bean. They have a fine, sweet, bean-y flavor.

You can shell the not-yet-hardened beans out of larger pods to cook them, or let the pods ripen on the plants until they are dry and crisp and the beans are hard and dry. (Once you let any pods mature dry beans, the plant will make fewer new pods, so it is best to wait until late in the season before you let some pods ripen and form dry beans.) You can store the mature, dry beans to use later or for replanting.

These big, fat beans are delicious in soup or chili. They can be used wherever dry beans (including dry favas) are called for.

I often use equal amounts of the big runner beans and a similarly colored small bean together in a recipe.

Other Ideas for Cooking with Runner Beans

Small Green Pods: Roll them in olive oil, sprinkle with salt and roast at 450 degrees for about 17 minutes, or until they have brown but not black areas.

Dry Beans: A traditional use for gigante (white runner) beans is to marinate the cooked beans in a savory vinaigrette or in tomato sauce. In a less-traditional option, a friend uses the dark-seeded runner beans to make a vegan snack by boiling them until nearly tender, then reducing the amount of water and adding sweet sherry and soy sauce, plus ample chopped fresh ginger; then boiling again until they are tender. Refrigerate marinated or flavor-infused beans. 

 


San Francisco Community Garden Report--Spring 2019

Since the demise of the private nonprofit San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners (SLUG) in about 2003, there hasn’t been umbrella organization overseeing SF’s community gardens, but the gardens themselves have continued to thrive. About 40 percent are located on San Francisco Recreation and Park Department property, the rest on both private and public lands.

Rec and Parks Community Garden and Urban Agriculture Program Manager Mei Ling Hui helps match aspiring urban gardeners to plots and answers other questions along the way. She can be reached at CommunityGardens@sfgov.org or 415-831-6846. The program’s website (https://sfrecpark.org/park-improvements/urban-agriculture-program-citywide/community-gardens-program/) is in the process of being updated with a comprehensive list of gardens on both public and private land. 

            While I hope to have more to report soon, there are upcoming free San Francisco events hosted by Rec and Parks’ Community Gardens Program to announce now. 

Saturday, April 27, from 11 AM till 4 PM, there will be an Earth Day Celebration at Alemany Farm, 700 Alemany Blvd. Details are still being decided. You can learn more, closer to the date of the event, at the Alemany Farm web site (AlemanyFarm.org) or you can email your query to CommunityGardens@sfgov.org.

On Saturday, May 4, there will be a Seed Saving and Plant Propagation workshop at Potrero del Sol Community Garden (Potrero and Cesar Chavez), from 10 AM to Noon. RSVP required at CommunityGardens@sfgov.org or 415-831-6846.


Daffodil Aftercare

    Daffodils thrill us with cheery yellow, white, or bicolor flowers in February, or even January. They often do naturalize in our region, coming back to bloom again year after year.

            If they are growing in pots they are unlikely to bloom the following year, and are probably best discarded after you enjoy the flowers. If the daffodils are growing, instead,  in your garden, you have a good chance of getting them to naturalize.

Your first post-bloom task is to remove any stems that bore flowers. This keeps the plant from wasting energy on them, especially should the spent flowers form seeds.

Your second task is to care for the post-bloom leaves. They need water and unshaded light until they start to die back, but not fertilizer. (Add fertilizer as you plant the bulbs in fall and work a little into the soil in future autumns.)

Do not tie daffodil leaves in knots. I don’t know how this common practice began, but it limits the plants’ ability to photosynthesize, so they can’t make good bulbs to bloom the following spring.

Finally, keep the soil where daffodils are planted relatively dry in summer. Daffodil ancestors are from summer-dry Mediterranean regions. The bulbs may decay in wet summer soil.

Gardeners experience two problems in following this advice. They are: 1. unsightly leaves after bloom and 2. Finding a place where daffodils will not be too wet in the summer.

If these problems seem insurmountable, you could treat the bulbs as annuals. Just dig them out, as you would non-naturalizing tulip plants, discard them, and buy new ones in fall.

To hide the leaves as they decline, you can use companion plants. Good choices include many small flowering annual plants, including nigella, viola, sweet alyssum, or, my favorite, the pink and lavender-flowered Virginia stock (Malcolmia maritima). Taller plants, such as California poppy or nasturtium, must be managed so they don’t over-shade the daffodils.

While daffodils can take some summer water, don’t try  to naturalize them in a bed you will be watering amply in summer. Make sure nearby plants are somewhat drought-tolerant, and if you use drip irrigation, make sure you don’t have an emitter right next to a daffodil. You can put daffodil bulbs among other summer-dry plants, such as succulents, for a fresh and attractive combination.

000000010004 Hand Garden copy2

I took this photo in the wonderful garden of Harland Hand, in on a west-facing hillside in El Cerrito, some years ago, when he was alive and tending his own garden. It changed the way I understood daffodils. They are well adapted to a climate with wet winters and dry summers. So are the Babiana bulbs blooming in the lower right. The succulents in this small bit of garden are adapted to low moisture in general, but can tolerate our winter rain if the soil is well-drained.