GARDEN GOURMET-- February 2009
Well, there may be snow on the roof, but there is a gardening fire in
the furnace . . . And I fear it must be dampened, at least, or perhaps
allowed to wink out. It still is winter and it is likely to stay for a
That’s the way it is, and to place emphasis on the correct syllable,
giant snowflakes swirl in on the northwest wind as this column takes shape.
In trying to make some sense out of last spring/summer gardening efforts,
I asked Tom Waitt, a Boone County dairy farmer who hosts my garden, what
I (and hundreds of others gardeners) did wrong to create such miserable
conditions in our plots.
Tom’s terse tirade was simply: “You just started too early.”
Fortunately, Tom, who has been tilling the soil for many years . . .
though he is a young man . . . tells me it doesn’t make a lot of difference
when you put the seeds or plants in the ground . . . they are just going
to sit there like “the robin in a barn” until the temperature of the earth
is 60 degrees or higher.
Last spring and summer, when nothing seemed to grow (we were getting
a lot of cold temps and rain), Tom predicted it would be better in the
last part of summer. And it was. Growth of tomatoes and other veggies was
not as good as usual, but I laid that to earlier stunting.
Put seeds in the ground too early and they just sit there (maybe mold)
until the earth temperature is 60 degrees, says Tom
This could be traced last year to the extremely wet and cold spring,
and to planting without regard to the adverse conditions. I might add,
too, that some gardens were better -- especially those planted later.
Peppers followed the pattern of tomatoes as they came on good -- but
small -- in late summer.
What will the weatherman give us this spring? Who knows? But it will
be wise to keep a thermometer in/on the earth.
If you are not familiar with this concept, as it applies to gardening,
there are three types of earth thermometers available. They are not real
expensive. The Angled thermometer lies flat on the earth and can easily
be read. Sheathed thermometers and Insulated are a bit more complicated.
All three are available in some garden shops but may have to be ordered
if they are not in stock.
-- With winter holding full sway on culinary delights, I have done some
experimenting recently and found my departures from chilis of the past
to be good moves, maybe excellent.
Since chilis past have been downright edible, I had no reason to tamper
with my recipe. But with a keen desire to make my chili better (I also
was living up to my credo that any recipe can be improved), I set out with
a can (about 30 ounces) of crushed tomatoes, a pound of ground beef (in
a frozen chunk), a whole onion (baseball size, chopped) and a 15 ounce
can of cooked great northern beans, no red kidney beans). Also, one strip
of good bacon, cut (with sissors) into bite size pieces. Chili seasoning
is optional, as are salt and pepper. But I like the foil envelopes, and
pretty spicy-hot. Red pepper (dried or fresh) is optional, but use at your
own risk and with great care. I used two small dried and crumbled reds
from my garden two years ago.
I started by dicing the whole onion on a cutting board and dumping it
in a six-quart sauce pan. Then added the can of tomatoes and washing inside
of can with an ounce of water. When that mix warmed (medium heat), I added
the frozen beef and allowed the mix to thaw it as I broke it up with wooden
spoon. With meat thawed, I dusted in the chili mix before adding the can
Periodic taste tests indicated it needed more salt and pepper, so I
added this very slowly to the right taste.
Then, to bring out all of the various tastes, I simply simmered the
chili uncovered, allowing steaming to cook away excess moisture. The best
chilis are moist -- not soupy -- and the moisture is in the form of gravy,
not soup. Longer simmer time creates this feature. But the simmering must
be closely monitored (stirred often to avoid burning).
Note: The addition of a strip of cut-up bacon, and the change to pre-cooked
great northern beans seemed the big factors in changing overall taste.
-- More and more cooks are saving the broth in which they cook veggies
for use in preparing other foods for the table . . . even meats. Now, it
seems, we should be doing vice versa.
Liberal amounts of water -- and other liquids not only help render meats
(almost any of them) more tender and edible. But now, it seems, they will
do likewise for vegetable and other dishes. These liquids -- often almost
juice from the meat -- will offer excellent cooking agents for veggies
-- even mashed potatoes instead of milk -- not to mention dumplings, noodles,
and other residuals.
So save the broth, and use it.