Lemon chill

‘Twas an odd fall.  Despite not being overly warm (thank goodness), we didn’t have a frost until late in the game (average local first frost is October 15).  Garden-wise, this meant that many plants that would succumb to frost, like peppers and eggplant, hung around for a long time.  We almost skipped a frost and went straight to a freeze.

We’ve also had continued vole trouble at the garden, which prompted Matthew to dig all the parsnips, carrots, and celeriac, which, sans voles, could have been “stored” in the ground for awhile.

The timing of the cold and the root vegetable harvest overwhelmed our second refrigerators (plural, because my MIL also has a second refrigerator — crazy, right?), and we have two 5-gallon buckets of parsnips out in the garage.  Our second fridge is also extra stuffed because we have most of a bushel of apples in there, as well as some cabbage waiting to become kraut.

The sudden turn to wintry weather also meant the return of plastic on our sun porch windows.  We knocked this task out last night, after Gabriel went to bed.  The job was complicated by the fact that after using the same plastic for two winters, I’d decided [somewhat] that it was time for new plastic.

Of course, the only old plastic that I had actually discarded was the sheet that covered the biggest side of our sun porch, and none of the new plastic that we had on hand came in large enough sheets to do the job.  In the end, we taped two new pieces together for the big wall, and then reused the two sheets for the side windows (now on it’s third year).

The trickiest part about reusing the window plastic is that you need new tape every year, and it’s hard to find just the tape (and if you do find it, you pay nearly as much for the tape as you do for a kit with plastic plus tape).  Now that we’ve learned this lesson, we plan on ordering the tape online, ahead of time, in future years (of course every year we tell ourselves that maybe next year we won’t be dealing with this because we’ll be in a house).

Among other plants (citrus, figs, and herbs), the sun porch is housing this baby:


A “dumpster dive” potted Meyer lemon that I found abandoned in an alley last year.  (Fortunately, it was next to, and not in, the dumpster — not sure I could have wrangled it out.)  As a thank you for rescuing it and giving it a good home, this little guy produced 25 lemons this year!


We’re enjoying lemon bars and lemony salad dressing.  G enjoys being the official lemon picker when we’re ready to use one.

The porch task took almost two hours, but I’m glad we went ahead and finished it last night (even though it meant opening a new window plastic kit to scavenge the tape) when it was seventy degrees on the porch instead of today when it’s forty degrees!

Garlic taste test

Guest post by Matthew; a follow-up to this post about growing garlic in the Midwest.

This was my second try at taste testing garlic, and I broke this year’s tests into two parts because I had 19 samples to try/compare.  I hope to do a tasting party at some point to get other opinions, but for now, all we have is my one set of taste buds.  (Melissa here to say that I did weigh-in on some of the garlic tasting!)

It’s also a tiny bit tricky thinking it was entirely fair, as some cloves were larger and needed longer to roast, or smaller and less time, and some seemed to sauté faster.  How do I get them all equally cooked?

That said, I think this is a reasonable testing and comparison.  I didn’t find the wine-like distinctions many garlic growers report in my cooked samples.  I don’t eat raw garlic (other than small amounts in pesto, hummus, etc.), so I didn’t bother tasting it that way.  I did find tastes that varied in being more or less full flavored, more or less hot, or neither and just downright watery.

My elephant garlic this year seemed to have an “off” taste in both roasted and sautéed tests.  Without the off flavor I don’t mind bland sometimes, for example, when I really just want the amazing creamy texture for a dip or soup that doesn’t need to be garlic-heavy.  Elephant garlic can be an easy way to get large amounts of mild, roasted garlic puree.

I don’t recall the off flavor from previous years, but coupled with my data that it just isn’t all that productive per square foot, it has been bumped way down in the pecking order of growing square feet.

I found my Inchilium Red to be rather bland, which is at odds with other taste tests, but could be my growing conditions, my seed stock, or weather conditions.  I’ll grow it another year or two, and do another taste test or so before I eliminate it overall.

I do have some low grade issues with brown spots on some of the garlic, possibly a fusarium (a fungus that can affect garlic) issue.  I rotate my crops, but I save my own seed stock.  I’m considering peeling at least one clove from every bulb next year to try to minimize how many spotted cloves get planted.

Otherwise, my tasting results are below.  You’ll notice that some are better roasters, others sautéed, and some are meh.  I’m using this data, and will be keeping track of how long each variety stores before deciding which ones I’ll grow long term, and which ones to cull from my stable.

I ranked each type and preparation on a scale of 1-5, where 1 is awful and 5 is awesome.


Combining the taste test data with the productivity, I think I’ll give everyone another chance, but if the data remains stable, I’ll probably keep the eleven below, and possibly some of the new ones I’m trying this year. That said, I’m eliminating eight varietals, which is a huge step forward for me!


Creamy celeriac soup

Nothing says fall is here like beautiful (or slightly funky, in the case of celeriac) root vegetables and chilly weather that invites turning on the oven to roast said veggies.

This recipe started with a desire to make a creamy soup based on celeriac (AKA celery root). Celeriac is a rather humble vegetable.


Beneath the dirt and gnarly exterior is some good stuff.  (We sell a lot of our celeriac to Five Bistro; it’s on the menu now, in fact!)

You can always chop up veggies, boil, and puree them, but basing the soup on roasted veg really amps up the flavor.  I discovered that starting with a covered dish for the first twenty minutes of roasting, followed by spreading the vegetables in a single layer on a baking sheet and roasting for an additional 30-40 minutes, worked really well for both celeriac and carrots.

I used a fairly generous amount of oil for roasting and generous butter for sauteing the leeks.  This approach yielded a rich, creamy soup without actually requiring cream.

Recipe by Melissa
Serves 4-6


2-3 celeriac, depending on size
8 carrots (you won’t use all of these in the soup, but you won’t regret having extra roasted carrots, trust me!)
1 large leek
4-5 small potatoes (or equivalent larger)
1 bay leaf
butter and/or olive oil
salt & pepper

Preheat the oven to 425° F.  Prep the celeriac by cutting off the tough outer layer, then cutting into large chunks.  In a large, lidded Pyrex baking dish, toss the celeriac chunks with olive oil and salt.  Bake in covered dish (use a baking sheet set on top of the pan or aluminum foil if you don’t have a lidded dish) for about 20 minutes.

Prep the carrots by cutting into carrot sticks.  Wash and chop the leeks.

Once the celeriac has roasted in the covered baking dish for 20 minutes, use a slotted spoon to transfer to an oiled baking sheet (minus any accumulated liquid in the pan).  Roast on the baking sheet, uncovered, for 30-40 more minutes, stirring once.

In the same baking dish you used for the celeriac, toss the carrots with some olive oil, cover, and roast for 20 minutes.  After 20 minutes, follow same procedure for transferring to a baking sheet and roasting, uncovered, for an additional 30 minutes.

Chop the potatoes (large chunks), and cook with a bay leaf and 5-6 cups of water, and 1 t. salt.

Saute the leeks in butter, over low heat.

Once your celeriac and carrots are roasted, potatoes are boiled, and leeks are sauteed, you’re ready to blend.  For this soup, I pureed all of the potatoes, most of the celeriac (reserved some to chop smaller and add to the soup as chunks), most of the leeks (again, reserved some to garnish the soup), and about 1/4 of the total carrots I roasted.  Use the cooking water from the potatoes as your broth (just remember to remove the bay leaf before pureeing!).

Working in batches, blend until you have a nice, smooth, creamy soup.  Add more or less of the broth (or additional water) to reach a consistency of your liking.  Salt and pepper to taste, and add the reserved leeks and celeriac chunks.

We rounded out the meal with a side of greens and [whole wheat] bread spread with roasted garlic.  Oh, and some of the extra roasted carrots!

Growing big, beautiful onions

I must say that, as the end-user, the larger onions Matthew grew this year are fabulous.  It’s a lot easier peeling one big[ger] onion than lots of tiny ones — this chef is very happy!  Now on to the guest post by Matthew . . . .

I’ve been trying to grow an onion that I’m satisfied with for years.  I kept getting small onions.  Finally, this year, things went well.  I started last December by planting four seeds per 1.5″ x 1.75″ soil block.  I believe this careful regular spacing was important.  Previous years I scatter-seeded and wound up with plants too dense to grow well.  This year I got nice thick pencil-sized of onion starts for transplanting.

I grew Aussie Brown, Stuttgarter, Brown Spanish, Red Amposta, Bronze Amposta, Valencia, and Sierra Blanca.  The Bronze Amposta, Valencia, and Sierra Blanca are sweeter onions without a lot of storage life, but they produced very well for me.  The Bronze Amposta is supposed to have a 3-6 month storage life, so that’s probably my best bet of the bunch, and what I focused a lot of production on this year.

This year was also complicated by a trip out of town right when the Ampostas and the Valencias were wanting to finish growing.  I compromised and harvested most early, to avoid risk of them rotting in the ground, but I left a few Valencias to see what happened, and, wow, did they bulk up in that last two weeks the others didn’t get.  Granted that could have also been all the extra space they had, but I expect it was mostly the time . . . .


As you see, my Valencia late harvest was the champion.  The Bronze di Amposta may have rivaled them had I let them keep growing.  The Sierra Blanca mostly grew to maturity, so I think that is about the size I can expect.

I’ll probably keep brown Spanish in the mix as a longer storage onion (10 months), and do a very few of the others I grew this year to repeat the experiment, but I think I have my primary four onions I’ll be growing unless any other onion wows me.


These were transplanted out at 6” spacing, kept well weeded, and heavily mulched with leaves as soon as they were big enough.  I think I might mulch first and plant through the mulch next year.

I’m also growing leeks, shallots, Egyptian (top-setting) onions, and potato onions (from SESE).  Leeks and Egypt onions for greens are certain keepers.  So far the shallots and potato onions are looking pretty good, too.

Stuffed peppers

One for my foodie readers (I know it’s been a lot of bike stuff lately, but that’s life!).  Anyhow, I was beginning to despair of ever having peppers, and then, voila!  Grocery bags full of gorgeous sweet peppers!

We also had a few large green bell peppers, which Matthew suggested stuffing.  I made these based on [a vegetarian adaptation of] his grandmother’s recipe.*

In the interest of not reinventing the wheel, the recipe here is adapted from the stuffed zucchini recipe I shared earlier this summer.  To make this recipe similar to Matthew’s grandmother’s recipe, simply use tomatoes for most of the veggies to make a nice amount of tomato sauce.  Thicken the sauce with a couple tablespoons of flour, which you mix in with the sauteing onions and other veg before adding the tomatoes. IMG_5805

Stuffed Peppers

Recipe by Melissa
Serves 4-6


4-6 large bell peppers, any color
1 onion
6 cloves garlic
1.5 c. uncooked grain (brown rice, quinoa, millet, farro)
1 c. cooked lentils or 1 8oz package of tempeh
4-8 c. vegetables of choice (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, kale or spinach, fennel)
fresh or dried herbs (thyme, oregano, parsley)
4-6 oz. cheese, cut into small cubes (I used Havarti and Gruyere)
olive oil and/or butter
salt and pepper


1. Prep the peppers: cut off the tops, and scoop out the seeds.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Parboil the squash for 1-2 minutes (it doesn’t take long with these guys), until slightly tender.  Drain well.

2. Prep the grain.  To up the flavor, add a bit of salt, plus some onion powder and a pinch of tumeric to this step.  If you want to conserve water and energy, use some of the already-heated water from step 1 to cook the grain.

3. Prep the veggies: You want everything fairly tender and ready to eat.  Chop everything into bite-sized pieces.  Sauté onions, then add other veggies to sauté.  I used a mix of butter and olive oil, plus about 1/2 t. of salt.  If you’re using tomatoes, you can just throw the chopped, uncooked tomatoes into the filling, or cook them down into more of a sauce.

4. Prep the tempeh, if using: I basically followed the method I use to prep tempeh for vegetarian reubens, except I crumbled it up first, instead of leaving it in a slab.

5. Combine it all: In one large pan or bowl (one of the ones that’s already dirty is fine, if it’s big enough), combine everything from steps 1-4.  Toss in any herbs.  Taste for overall salt and flavor level, and adjust as needed.

6. Stuff it and bake it: Preheat [toaster oven] to 400F.  Arrange peppers, open side up, in a baking pan (for four peppers, a bread pan worked well, and allowed me to use the toaster oven).  Sprinkle halves with salt.  Add the stuffing.  Bake for 15-20 minutes — long enough for cheese to get melty and flavors to meld a bit.

*The original recipe uses ground beef in place of the cheese and tempeh.  My MIL’s veg adaptation uses all cheese.  This version lightens it up a bit by replacing some of the cheese with lentils or tempeh.  Matthew said it was good, but he still wants the cheesy version sometime.