Tuesday, July 31, 2012

One of my new neighbours was walking by a few weeks ago on her way to buy sugar at the local grocery store. She was making blueberry jam since with the berries she had just picked that morning. I instantly began to salivate thinking of fresh, local berries, and blueberry pie.

I asked her directions to the farm and the next day we invited some friends and family to join us as we packed up the kids and headed out with our baskets. It was to Northfield Blueberries (map), a beautiful farm in Scotland, Ontario. The bushes were packed with fruit, and bringing along some competitive young pickers filled our baskets (and bellies) rather quickly.

We left with 27 pounds of blueberries. After eating more than we should have, we needed to figure out what to do with them. The first idea, and probably the best idea was to make pie! And my theory is, if you are making pie on one of the hottest days of summer, you might as well fill that oven with as many pies as possible.

We didn't just make blueberry pie. The girls who helped us pick them pitched in to help us make blueberry, blueberry-blackberry and pumpkin pies.

I may have secretly been more excited to make a butter crust with my last half pound of Stirling, extra-fat, European Style Butter that I had been saving, hidden in the back of the freezer for such an occasion.

My lovely little helpers mixed the fillings, made and rolled out the dough, and they were patient enough to wait for the pies to cook, and somewhat cool, to have a taste of their creations.

The blueberry pie was the lucky one to be wrapped in the Stirling butter pie crust. It was delicious. Regular butter had to do for the rest of the crusts. This is the recipe that I use for the pastry. We're eventually going to be using the lard from our pig to make the best crusts ever, but we're not terribly comfortable using the standard factory-farmed pig lard from the grocery store, which is also usually hydrogenated.

The pumpkin pie was made with pumpkin puree frozen from last summer's garden, using the same old tried-tested and true recipe. We already have some pretty sizable pumpkins in the garden and before long we will be preserving them, so we're happy to use up last years' puree.

The blueberry pies weren't made with the same tiny wild blueberries that I grew up on from northern Ontario, but picking them ourselves and having them so fresh made them taste nearly as good. They were delicious and loaded with anti-oxidants and we certainly got our fill, made some pie and froze a pile to use on waffles, in muffins and pies, or even just eat straight out of the freezer.

If you are in our area, Blueberries should be on into mid-August, so go and get your pick on. And who knows, you'll probably run into us there getting another fill of them fresh before the season is out.

Garlic Flowers

Friday, July 13, 2012

At first glance they look like garlic cloves, but they're actually about the size of a pea. They're "bulbils" or the little cloves that form in the flower pod if you don't snap the scape off of your garlic.

I've been doing a little work in our garlic patch to try to figure out how garlic works, and it has led me to leave a handful of scapes on some of our garlic to see what happens. This mostly stemmed from reading that garlic is almost sterile.

When we plant garlic, we take a bulb and divide up the cloves and individually plant them to make new bulbs. Essentially it's a clone of the parent plant and carries all of its goodness, but also all of its shortcomings. In our case one of the shortcomings is a pest called a bulb and stem nematode. Every year it hitches a ride on a clove into the new garlic patch and spreads. It doesn't make the garlic inedible, but the odd bulb is rotten when we harvest.

To the left is a flower just opening, and to the right is the flower after I've picked all the bulbils out.

When offspring comes from the parent without using seeds, it's called asexual reproduction. Potatoes, apple trees (cuttings), grape vines are all reproduced this way. You can continue a good trait by doing this, like the wonderfully sweet Concord grape, but the one negative is that it's still technically the same plant as it's parent, so there's little room for the genetic improvement that comes with a new generation. Bugs and disease learn to like it, and it can't learn to repel them.

So I'm going to see if our garlic is actually capable of producing true seed. An ability that's been nearly lost over the centuries.

If you have chives in your garden and let them flower, each flower is actually made up of hundreds of tiny flowers with each one eventually making a seed. Garlic on the other hand, in some cases, has less than a dozen flowers. They're being choked out by bulbils. I'm speculating, but bulbils don't seem too natural up in the flower. In some of our varieties, there is a second bulb full of them, just above the ground on the stem. Weird.

It's hard to find much information on garlic bulbils and true seed, so what I'm doing is a lot of guesswork. This study has been very helpful. It has made me realize that even if there are just a few seeds that are produced from my garlic, they'll still mostly be duds!

For now, we're beginning to pull up our garlic, but we're leaving the ones with the flowers to see what happens. Every day I'm checking to see if a flower is opening and if so, I'll pick out the bulbils to give the tiny flowers room. If I don't get seeds, that's ok. At least I got to spend some time in the garden eating bulbils. And I won't have to worry about vampires.