Last week’s blog seemed to generate some very visceral reactions in my audience. A few were supportive, many more had an “Ewwww!” sort of response, but it was all about the bugs! Even our local fish-wrap, the Westminster Window, wrote us up as tasters. Well, in honor of Earth Day on April 22, I want to dig a little deeper into the sustainable food sources in the backyard.
(Author’s Note: I know that every time someone opens their yapper about “recycling” this or “sustainable” that, the conversation spirals downward to preachy elitism. The cars have become pretentious, the jargon has become pretentious, the shopping has become pretentious. Unassuming has become the new pretentious. Rubber bracelets and bicycle chain jewelry is eco-fashion? In my day we called that punk rock. Anyway, I’m trying to have fun in addition to being educational. Take it for what it’s worth.)
Most basic: weeds. You don’t really even need a backyard for this one. This time of year, here in Colorado, many tender shoots of edible plants sprout up all over the place. Sourdock, Dandelions (below), Wild Asparagus, Cattails, and more, all a short walk from our home. (Again, I recommend using caution when harvesting wild plants. Know what you’re eating (good identification) and know what’s been sprayed on it. If there is the possibility of pesticide or insecticide, it’s best to leave it alone.) Think about how much fun it would be to get off the beaten path, leave the noise and exhaust fumes of the roadways, get some well-deserved sunshine and exercise and harvest your dinner all at the same time? A little dorky? Too crunchy-granola hippy for you? Perhaps, but far less so than your annual visit to the Renaissance Festival. Or Boulder. (You know who you are!)
Fruits on trees and shrubs. From early summer to late autumn, fruit of every kind can be found everywhere in the neighborhood. On our little slice of suburbia, we have Raspberries, Sour Cherries and Gooseberries. Our backyard neighbor has Apples. A two minute walk from here and we can have big juicy Crab Apples. I know that Grapes, Peaches, Apricots and more can thrive in our climate. And anyone who has fruit trees is more than happy to let you pick from the over-hanging branches that escape their yard–but it’s always polite to ask first. Offer them a little of what you’re cooking up and you may make a new friend!
Backyard gardens. Little windowbox herb gardens, the classic whiskey barrel tomato plants, Victory Gardens. All have their place in the happy kitchen. As a matter of fact, in many of our greatest American legends and lore, the home’s garden figures prominently as a symbol of industriousness, generosity and optimism. The legends of the first Thanksgiving celebrate the autumn harvest. Known for his magnanimity, Johnny Appleseed began in his own backyard before heading out across our young nation. Started by Eleanor Roosevelt during World War II, and recreated by Michelle Obama in 2009, The White House Kitchen Garden embodies ideals our leaders want to model for our country.
In our garden we have Broccoli, Carrots, Rutabagas, Swiss Chard, Cabbage and Sunflowers started with a couple of types of Tomatoes and Squash planned. We also several have pereneal herbs: Mint, Lemon Balm, Sage, Thyme, Oregano, Parsley, Rosemary and Chives.
So below are recipies and a guide to grow potatoes.
Pick dandelion greens before the blossoms go to seed. Wash them thoroughly as you would any leafy vegetable from the garden and discard anything getting too close to the root and turning pink. If the leaves are exceptionally long, tear in half. Toss in a salad as bitter green to adds depth and variety.
Cattails Braised and Glazed
8 stalks of Cattails, greens and outermost flesh removed (about 4-6 inches long)
Salt & Pepper
1/4 cup Balsamic Vinegar
1/4 cup Sugar
Pick cattails while they are young. You should be able to grab the plant 6-12 inches from the ground and pull gently, but firmly straight up to harvest easily. Discard all but the tender hearts at the base of the plant.
Make the glaze. In a small sauce pan combine the sugar and balsamic vinegar. Cook on medium heat, stirring frequently. Reduce to 1/2. Cover and remove from heat.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Rinse the cattails well and split lengthwise. Place in ovenproof pan, cutside up. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook until the oil in the pan is hot, then reduce the heat to 250 degrees and cook for 5 minutes longer. Remove the cover and brush on the glaze. Cook, uncovered, in the oven until tender, about 10 minutes.
This one comes to you courtesy of my Mom who got it from someone who got it from someone else who got it from Tammy. Tammy who, you ask? That’s a wonderful question. I’m glad you asked. I have no idea, so I am going to guess the Great Great Grandaughter of Johhny Appleseed, who, in a fit of rebellion, left the apple franchise and started La Pomme de Terre business instead. Or maybe not.
TRASH CAN POTATOES
Get a clean plastic trash can. (having on wheels would help as it will get heavy)
Put 3-4 large holes in the bottom for drainage.
Put broken pieces of pottery (or even coffee filters) over the holes to keep the soil from getting out.
Put in 6″-8″ of soil in the bottom of the can.
Cut up a potato, having each piece be 1″-2″ in size and having one “eye” each. Put these on the soil, spacing 4″-6″ apart. (Tammy starts with one in the center of the can first)
(you can get organic potatoes at City Market, and even look for the “Fingerling” potatoes.)
(If you get regular potatoes from the market they might be sprayed so they don’t sprout, or just have pesticides sprayed on them. Best to get organic. )Cover the potato pieces with 4″-6″ of soil.
Keep the soil moist.
When leaves just pop up through he soil, add 6″ more soil.
Keep doing this as the leaves pop up until the soil is about 3″ from the top of the can so that there is room for watering.
Water every 2-3 days.In July or August when the vines turn yellow it is time to harvest. Put the can in a bed where you would want the soil to go. Dump it over and see all of the potatoes that fall out. Watch for all sizes.
Tammy got about 20# of potatoes out of one trash can.