Posts Tagged ‘spring’

From Death Springs Life

With the danger of frost long-gone, and the weather finally turning warm (read: unbearably hot and humid), I thought I’d just quickly show what’s taken shape in The Scholar’s Garden thus far! Since it’s just the start of the season, there’s little fruit to show, so I’ll be trying a new camera technique to bring you a closer look at the seeds that will bring life to our soil! I’ve also added in a few of the flowers that have recently bloomed, as well as a funny little tortoise who seems to be residing near our Japanese Maple. Just so you know, I haven’t forgotten about my promised post on herbal tincturing – that guide will be popping up later this week! For now, though, enjoy an early look at The Scholars Garden!

Solum, Nocte, et Farinæ: Preparing Potatoes for the Plate (Part 1)

If there’s one thing I’ve learned during my brief lifetime in Central Pennsylvania, it’s that one must be willing to be versatile in order to fully enjoy this part of the world. When a single week in May can contain below-freezing temperatures on Tuesday,  top out at 82 degrees on Thursday, and all the while be intermingled with menacing storms and revitalizing Spring breezes, it’s clear that versatility is the key to contentment around these parts. So, with versatility in mind, I thought I’d make (and present) one of my favorite, flexible recipes that uses the potato, which might just be the most adaptably simple, yet continually rewarding ingredient I’ve yet found.

This Swedish style of potato prep is known as “Hasselback,” which simply describes the accordion-

Sliced potatoes ready for accenting!

Sliced potatoes ready for accenting!

esque manner of slicing your tubers before baking. As an inherent lover of all things different, I greatly appreciate the innovation this style of cooking brings to the time-worn baked potato, a culinary staple which has, I must admit, been boring me for years. The recipe I’m sharing with you today is a simple variation of seasaltwithfood’s original design, and is meant to be easy to alter to fit your favorite potato toppings!

Garlic Hasselback Potatoes: Ingredients

6 medium potatoes

4 – 5 cloves of garlic, sliced thinly

2 Tablespoons olive oil

2 Tablespoons butter (you may choose to use more or less, depending on your preference)

Salt and Pepper to taste

Directions

1. Preheat your oven to 425˚ F (220˚ C)

2. Place your potatoes on a cutting board so that they do not roll, and cut deep slits (almost to the base) into each potato, about an inch (3 mm) apart. I find that using a serrated blade gives you the most control for this step, which can help you avoid slicing straight through the potato.

I prefer a hefty amount of garlic with my potatoes, but you may certainly choose to use less (or more!).

3. Place your sliced potatoes on an ungreased baking tray, and insert the garlic into the slits.

4. Top each potato with an equal amount of butter and olive oil, and sprinkle each tuber with salt and pepper.

5. Pop the potatoes into your preheated oven, and bake for at least 40 minutes, or until the outer flesh of the potato is lightly brown and crispy, while the inside of the potato is soft and tender. Depending on your oven and potatoes, this step could take longer than 40 minutes (I usually need to leave my spuds in the cooker for at least an hour before they’re ready).

When your potatoes are out of the oven and on the table, your options for further garnishing

A cooked hasselback, just begging for some sour cream and fresh-from-the-garden spring onions!

A cooked hasselback, just begging for some sour cream and fresh-from-the-garden spring onions!

are only limited by your imagination! But, if you’re like me and would prefer some inspiration, here’s a link to a wide array of creative (and undoubtedly delicious) hasselback variations for you to try: Foodgawker’s Hasselback Offerings.

For part two of our foray into potato recipes, I’ll be giving baked potato chips a go (with hopefully successful results)! So stay tuned for (I promise!), the last potato post of this week!

Until next time, happy gardening, cooking, and doing whatever else brings you joy!
Nate

Solanum tuberosum Nocte: Preparing Potatoes for the Night

A blast of fungal color has accompanied the potatoes' search for Spring.

A blast of fungal color has accompanied the potatoes’ search for Spring.

As I mentioned in my last post, one batch of my ever-so-scholarly Solanum tuberosums (potatoes) did find its way into the soil at the “ideal”

Our on-time (and slightly cramped) potatoes!

Our on-time (and slightly cramped) potatoes!

time prior to this week (which contains our last-frost date in central PA). This means that in one cramped edge of the garden, a patch of potatoes has emerged from the soil, ready to greet the warm spring sun! And, with the leaves of the tubers emerging, there are four things to keep in mind to keep your potatoes as healthy as possible!

Potato Maintenance:

1. Weeding: Potatoes, being a tuberous plant, need as many nutrients as they can store, so they prefer to grow in areas free from weeds and close companions. This is especially important for me, since, as you might be able to see from the picture on the right, a host of other little greens have joined the burgeoning tubers. And, while I have equal respect for all plants, my respect is a bit more equal for the plants I actually try to grow, so the weeds and things inhabiting my potatoes’ space will have to relocate!

2. Watering: From the day you plant your potatoes, try to keep the soil around your potatoes moist. However, to avoid contracting a blight (a variety of fungal diseases that can plague potatoes), try not to water the leaves of the plants, and ensure that your potatoes have sufficient drainage (potatoes and standing water tend not to get along).

3. Insect Control: While the potato can be munched on by a select few insects and pests, their ties to the nightshade family renders much of the potato plant poisonous to most insect invaders. Having plants that can defend themselves is always a plus for the busy gardener!

Baby potatoes all tucked in for the night.

Baby potatoes all tucked in for the night.

4. Temperature: Even though potatoes are touted as a cold-loving crop, their tender shoots and leaves can still be crippled by an unexpected frost; so, even though the plant under the soil can survive a frigid attack, it will take another two – three weeks for an exposed potato to regrow its above-ground energy source. This means that proper precautions must be taken to keep potato greenery warm overnight.

Here in PA, we’re expecting an unseasonably late frost (only a day before the last frost date!), so we’ve covered our potatoes with a sheet secured with rocks. You could use anything from newspapers to halved gallon jugs to keep your fragile plants safe from any arctic invasions!

That’s all the time I have for now: the rest of my shivering plants are in need of blankets before the night falls! Be sure to stop in soon to catch the third and final part of my potato triad: Solum, Nocte, et Farinæ: Preparing Potatoes for the Plate!

Until next time, happy gardening!

Nate

Solanum tuberosum Solum: Preparing Potatoes for the Sun

These pink dogwood bracts are a sure sign of Spring around here!

These pink dogwood bracts are a sure sign of Spring around here!

As I emerge from the haze that’s enshrouded my past four years as an undergraduate student, I’m coming to the startling realization that Spring has finally unfolded across central PA!

Mucking through the forest to find signs of life.

Mucking through the forest to find signs of life.

And, while I am eagerly awaiting May 15 (our last-frost date here), I’m having to rush to complete my early-Spring gardening checklist in time, which would, of course, be far easier if I actually had an early-Spring gardening checklist prepared! As it stands, however, in the madness of graduation, certification, job hunting, and substitute teaching, fragments of my gardening knowledge are slowly resurfacing to remind me of what needs done before the illustriously imminent last-frost date arrives!

The Task at Hand: Finding the Right Time

First on that ever-expanding list of things to do? Finally plant my favorite member of the Solanum, or nightshade, family: potatoes! The best time to plant potatoes is, ideally, two – three weeks prior to your area’s last frost date, as the potato shoot takes about this long to emerge from the ground; however, in our garden, only one set of potatoes actually got planted at that time, so the other two varieties we’re currently growing have only just been put into the soil. As the potato is a cold-friendly plant, try not to wait too terribly long past your last-frost date to  put these spuds in the ground! You can find your last-frost date (in the United States) here! 

How to Prepare and Plant Your Potatoes

Each year when I go to plant my freshly-purchased bag of seed potatoes, I find that I’ve long since forgotten how to go about planting these admittedly odd-looking tubers.

A truly unique bit of flora.

Forgetting to plant your potatoes will turn those slight sprouts into truly unique bits of flora.

So, I thought I’d compile a step-by-step guide to prepping and planting potatoes (for my benefit and hopefully yours)!

Obtaining and Preparing:

1. Find a source of seed potatoes in your area (avoid planting grocery store tubers, as these tend to be treated with chemicals to prevent sprouting), and choose the varieties that speak to you. This year, I’ve gone with Reds, Russets, and Kennebecs, just for these varieties’ “cookability.”

2. Place your seed potatoes in a cool, dark place for two – three weeks to allow them to sprout (if they haven’t already).

3. When the sprouts are about a 1/2 inch to an inch (1.5 – 2.5 cm) long, they’re ready to plant.

4. Using a non-serrated knife, cut your seed potatoes into chunks with at least two eyes/sprouts each. You may choose to let these chunks sit for a day or two to allow a “skin” to form over the cut edges. I’ve heard conflicting reports of whether this step is necessary, but, so far, I’ve yet to hear that this is detrimental to your future crop, so I’ll let you decide whether or not to “skin” your potatoes!

Finally Planting Your Potatoes

1. When your Solanum tuberosum chunks are ready to plant, find a sunny spot in your garden to

Not exactly a standard trench, but it will do!

Not exactly a standard trench, but it will do!

dig your potato trench. The trench should be long enough to allow for about 12″ (30 cm) of space between each potato, and between 3″ and 6″ deep (9 – 15 cm).

2. Line the bottom of your trench with rich organic compost or rotted manure, and fully incorporate your chosen fertilizer with the soil (this will give your tubers the boost they need to emerge healthy and ready for the sun!).

3. Place your potato chunks into the trench with their sprouts pointing up, 12″ (30 cm) apart.

4. Cover completely with soil and keep moist. You’ve just successfully planted a potato crop!

While putting in your potatoes is just one aspect of the early Spring countdown, it’s certainly one of my favorites! Of course, once your potatoes start sprouting, they will need to undergo some slight maintenance to ensure a solid harvest, so stay tuned to my coverage of potato upkeep in Solanum tuberosum Nocte: Preparing Potatoes for the Night!

As always, happy planting!

Nate

A Scholar’s Return

If you’ve been counting (and I really hope you haven’t), it’s been a good year or more since I last wrote of my own volition. Throughout this past year, I have had to write countless classroom management portfolios, several declarations of teaching style, at least two reports on my effectiveness as a prospective educator (complete with pie charts and bar graphs), and, interestingly enough, one analysis of the Biblical book of Esther; but, until now, I have not  truly written for myself. And, for quite a while, I was more than ok with that. For a time.

Recently, however, my attempts at staving off the desire to assemble words have failed, and I have been led to attempt the act of literary creation anew. The first method which I found capable of sparking my writing spirit came in the form of a new haiku-themed Twitter account (which you can follow in the top-right corner of the main page), wherein I have been attempting to limit my thoughts to seventeen syllables (a delightfully mind-bending, yet altogether peace-bringing exercise). But, while I continue to enjoy the realm of measured, poetic language, I felt that a fresh foray into the unfettered fields of prose was in order. So, at long last, I will be again presenting you with written snapshots of the photographic records I’ve kept over the past year, as well as detailing my favorite plants, hobbies, and recipes that I’ve picked up throughout my travels in the Scholar’s Garden.

Since my time today is a bit limited (no matter how much you prod them, cowpeas just won’t shell themselves!), I thought I’d leave you with my most fun-to-make recipe from this past spring: robin’s nest cookies. I attempted this recipe during the Easter season, when my fascination with the rebirth of plants and animals was at its peak. And, while this cookie may be geared more for the vernal months, it really is perfect anytime you need a dash of springtime in your life!

Robin’s Nest Cookies

Ingredients for the Nests

1 cup of softened butter
1/2 cup of packed brown sugar
2 eggs, separated
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups of all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups of finely chopped walnuts

Ingredients for the Eggs

2 tablespoons of softened butter
3 tablespoons of light corn syrup
Approximately 2 drops of blue food coloring
Approximately 1 drop of green food coloring
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups confectioners’ sugar

Instructions

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C)

2. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks and stir in the vanilla. Stir in the flour until everything is completely mixed.

3. Beat the egg whites in a shallow dish (I used a small bowl) until foamy.

4. Spread the chopped walnuts on a flat surface, such as a plate or waxed paper.

I had a bit too much fun with my fondant...5. Roll a spoonful of dough into a ball, roll the ball in the egg whites, and then roll it in the walnuts. Place the balls 2 inches apart on a cookie sheet. Indent each cookie with your thumb, so that they take on a nest-like shape.

6. Bake nests in your preheated oven for 12 minutes.

7. While the cookies are baking, cream together the last 2 tablespoons of butter with the corn syrup, food colorings, and almond extract. Gradually stir in the confectioners’ sugar. After the mixture incorporates into fondant, begin rolling 1/2 teaspoons of the fondant into egg-shaped balls.

8. After the cookies have finished baking, place your eggs in the nests!

And that’s all there is to making a nutty set of robin’s nest cookies! Due to my lack of proper food coloring (I actually had to rehydrate the few flakes of pigment still left in the bottles), my eggs didn’t exactly capture the brilliant greenish hue that robin eggs are known for having; but, I did discover that if you add a touch of color to the fondant ball after its already in its final form, and then continue to fold it, you can create a rather striking marbled effect with your eggs.

Well, the garden, and its never-ending list of tasks, is calling my name; so, I must bid you a fond farewell for now!

Until next time, happy gardening, baking, and doing whatever else brings you joy!

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