Pumpkin Regatta

Happy Halloween! As a garden writer, my email sometimes brings strange and wondrous things. This has been a bumper year for pumpkins in Western Oregon but here’s a bit of fall fun that sounds like a blast. Just follow this link to read about a pumpkin regatta.

Stuffed Pumpkin “Smiling Jack”

Smiling Jack Stuffed Pumpkin

Tomorrow is Halloween and we have a porch full of squash and pumpkins. We’ll be offering trick-or-treaters mini pumpkins along with candy.


1 5 to 7 pound pumpkin
1 # Country “breakfast sausage”, ground turkey, or
crumbled veggie burger
1 large onion, diced
1 cup long grain brown rice
1 3/4 cups water or stock
2 cups chopped kale or mixed greens, freely mix spinach, chard leaves, parsley and mustard greens
1 tablespoon candied ginger, chopped (I use Nichols Baker’s Cut)
½ cup golden raisins or dried cranberries
/2 teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon ground allspice
1/3 cup chopped roasted chiles
1 medium apples, peeled, cored, chopped
½ teaspoon salt
fresh ground pepper to taste

I’ve played around with this recipe several times and encourage you to do the same. This makes more than enough to fill any but the thinnest shelled pumpkin.
Take a large lidded skillet and cook sausage slowly and gently so it release as much fat as possible. Break it up as it cooks into small pieces. When done mop up any fat with one or two paper towels, pressing down lightly on sausage or turkey to release fat. When meat is defatted add onion and gently cook about 5 minutes when it should turn translucent. Add rice and stir for a couple minutes then add liquid and cover with lid, turn stove top temperature to low. After ½ hour add remaining ingredients without stirring. Cook for another thirty minutes, stir ingredients together and stuff pumpkin. Cook stuffed pumpkin for one hour twenty minutes in a 350 degree oven. A couple of indications of being fully cooked is a little juice emerges around the lid and the rind has a slight give when touched.

Your pumpkin should be carefully washed and dried before the lid is cut free. Scoop out all the seeds and loose fibers from inside the pumpkin. Once it is stuffed place it on a cookie sheet. I make a sort of sling with two straps of folded foil that I use to move the cooked pumpkin to a platter. The foil keeps the base from over cooking and helps me avoid any tendency to klutz during one of those tense critical moments in the kitchen. I also wrap the stem in a couple layers of foil, shiny side out so it doesn’t burn. If you’re feeling artistic and in the spirit of Halloween it can even have a face. Just carefully cut the design and peel away the skin leaving the gold orange flesh glowing beneath. Slice into wedges to serve.


Three Sisters Layered Casserole

The tradition of the Three Sisters in Native American Gardening Three sisters casserolerefers to the practice of planting a mound of soil with 5 to 7 corn plants in the center. After the corn grows 6” tall 7-8 beans are planted around the corn which supports the beans. A week later 7 or 8 squash or pumpkin seeds are planted around the outer edge of the mound. The beans provide a nitrogen boost for the corn and the broad squash leaves suppress weeds and conserve moisture. Additionally, the three vegetables form a nutritional compliment.

After buying a few bags of fire roasted chiles at our local farmers market I wanted to make something new and special with them and use up some odd bits in the refrigerator. The result, featuring corn, beans, and squash is reminiscent of both a chile relleno casserole and stacked enchiladas.

6 roasted chiles
4 eggs
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons flour
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon dried, crushed oregano
4 corn tortillas, quartered
2 cups grated jack cheese or 1 cup jack & 1 cup cheddar
1 cup cooked, cubed, winter squash
1-2 cups drained black beans
1/2 cup or less diced chicken or meat (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove skins and seeds from roasted chiles, slice lengthwise into 1” strips. Whisk together, eggs, milk, flour, cumin and oregano. Take a 10″ glass pie plate or shallow casserole and lightly oil. Arrange half the tortilla pieces in bottom of casserole. Then lightly layer with half the cheese, ½ the peppers, followed by 1 cup beans and ½ cup cubed squash and all the chicken. Cover with 1/2 egg mixture. Give the dish a gentle shake so ingredients are evenly layered and tortillas begin soaking up egg mixture. Repeat layering beginning with tortilla pieces followed by remaining ingredients. Reserve 1/3 cup of cheese to sprinkle over the top as the last step. Bake on middle shelf in preheated oven for 45 minutes. Serves 6.
My beans were seasoned with salt, onions and garlic so I did not include salt, you may wish to add ¼ teaspoon.

Fire Roasted Peppers

Last Saturday at our Corvallis Farmers Market many of us were following our noses to a special attraction, flame roasted chiles. A metal mesh roaster was full of peppers turning over a propane flame. The vendor, from Crossroad’s Farm, was filling plastic bags with chiles all carefully labeled.


Pepper roasting from Crossroads Farm

The beauty of a tumbler roaster is you can roast many peppers at once. Roasting chars the skin for easy removal, and seems to intensify the flavor without fully cooking the peppers.Roasted Peppers

If you want to try roasting at home on a grill or under a broiler it’s pretty easy. To grill, set close to the flame and use tongs to turn chiles so both sides have blistered slightly charred skin. To oven broil, place peppers on an oiled cookie sheet under a hot broiler and turn with tongs after 4-5 minutes. Cook each side until skin is blistered and slightly blackened. Place 6-8 roasted peppers in ziplock bags, they will sweat and further loosen skins. These store in refrigerator for a week and can be frozen for a year. When ready to use slip off skins, split open and remove seeds. I usually cut off the stem end unless I’m making chile rellenos where the attached stem adds personality.


We’ll harvest peppers until frost and tuck several bags in the freezer as pantry food. Use with eggs, in casseroles, quesadillas, rellenos, salsa and countless other dishes where rich roasted peppers add that special flavor.

Soup au Pistou, a Vegetable Soup Recipe

Soup with Pistou is a fragrant mixture of herbs and vegetables which originates from Provence France. In my mind it is an” end of the garden” soup, with a few basic ingredients and then a little of this and that is incorporated. It’s always served with a large dollop of Pistou. The Italians have Pesto containing pine nuts and the Southern French have Pistou which doesn’t include this Soup au Pistouexpensive ingredient. Both are served with pasta and spread on crusty bread. Indeed, this soup is much like an Italian minestrone.
Serve with a loaf of good bread, a light red wine, a little cheese on the side and a sweet, crisp, fresh apple for dessert. A feast for the gardener cook!

I small onion, diced
1 leek, chopped (optional)
2 large garlic cloves, minced or pressed
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium red or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced
6 Roma type tomatoes, peeled and diced
1- 2 medium zucchini, diced
2 cups cooked white beans
6 cups unsalted or low salt chicken broth, vegetable broth or 5 cups water and one cup white wine
2 bay leaves

Optional ingredients: one cup broken vermicelli, one cup diced winter squash, one cup green beans cut into 3⁄4” lengths, one cup chopped spinach or chard leaves, a few threads of saffron
Hint: Peel tomatoes by dipping in boiling water for 15 seconds, the skin just slips away.

Heat broth with bay leaves. Saute onion, leek and garlic in olive oil until transparent but not showing color. Add this mixture, potato, tomatoes, squash, green beans to simmering broth and cook for ten minutes. Add remaining ingredients and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let rest five minutes before serving. Remove bay leaves. Pistou should be served along side with each diner stirring in a generous spoonful. Add salt and pepper according to individual taste.

Pistou (Basil Sauce)*
3 large cloves garlic, minced
3 to 4 cups fresh large green or Genovese Basil leaves (2 oz.)
4 to 6 ounces shredded Parmesan cheese
1⁄4 cup olive oil
This is most easily made in a food processor or blender. Place garlic and basil in food processor with Parmesan cheese. Process for a few seconds, scrape down sides and drizzle in olive oil while turning processor on and off. Lightly process as pistou should be a little chunky. Leftover sauce can be kept refrigerated for 5 days or freeze in an ice cube tray for future use.

*Edited October 29, 07. When making the pistou tonight, I discovered my late harvested basil doesn’t have the moisture content it had a few weeks ago. I added three tablespoons water and an extra tablespoon olive oil to get a sauce-like consistency.

Deer, Oh Dear!

I’m trying to address the problem of deer in the garden in a constructive manner and not just rant. Our in town garden, mostly of edibles, is  favorite target of the rising deer population. Because it is rather large and spread out the cost of fencing is prohibitive. So what do we do?

Two days ago, it was dry and I sprayed a sticky blood based product all around, especially the areas where I know deer walk. Roses and pansies that the deer browse have been sprayed. It doesn’t look very attractive but should keep them from being browsed. The straw bale garden now is caged with wire fencing and covered with bird mesh. This too was sprayed as there will be nothing harvested from eaten down bales for a few months. Our raised beds are covered with bird netting which is nearly invisible and the best thing I’ve found for protecting areas. It needs to kept quite loose but fastened in place. If it is taut the deer will start ripping away at it, when loose they apparently don’t like it slipping under their hooves and are afraid of getting tangled into it. I used this at a public garden planting we maintain and planted a twenty foot circle of salad greens this summer. It took two overlapping packages of bird netting pegged in place with small bamboo stakes. This is the first year we’ve successfully protected this area.

I know there are recipes for eggs and pepper spray, bloodmeal, and other potions but in a wet climate like  Oregon they tend to wash away. Perennial herbs, with their strong aromas aren’t much bothered. Our herb garden which include various edibles was heavily damaged. We had prepared it for a photo shoot and they ate down some plants enough that we had to replace them on short notice. An evening ritual became surrounding this area with a large circle of wire. Since a newly planted fig was just defoliated last night it will get the wire circle treatment and such damage this time of year won’t really harm it. I’m tired of the deer and wish they would go away. I certainly don’t feel one with nature when they go traipsing down our street at high noon.

Those Terrifying Thai Peppers

Some days begin with a good chuckle. This morning I opened BBC news and read about a terrorist alert in London. You can go to this url for the full story:Burning chilli sparks terror fear. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/london/7025782.stm It really does sound right out of Monty Python. However, since this blog is The Gardener’s Pantry, I remembered my container planting of Demon Red Thai Peppers surrounding a plant of Thai Basil. This container will move indoors for a few months as I continue to harvest those little red hots and basil.

Thai Pepper and Basil

When I bring a container indoors I check it for insects and anything that might be living near the drainage hole. Insects on peppers and basil aren’t usually much of a problem outdoors but may emerge inside your home or greenhouse. Keep an eye on plants and wipe off any eggs you see on the underside of leaves. if you see those little round pillbugs coming out of the drainage hole place the container on a tray filled with cornmeal. If something is flying around or on the leaves figure out what it is before trying to treat the problem.

Broccoli & Aphids

I’ve had several questions come to our Nichols Garden Nursery website asking what to do about aphids on broccoli, kale and other cole crops. The critters gather in the crevices and are not always removed with a stream of water. Insecticidal soap prepared according to the recipe on thecontainer works for plants growing in the garden. Use a hand sprayer and try to get those hidden spots.

However, many gardener/cooks encounter multiple clusters of aphids when they’re ready to prepare a meal. When this happens to me, as it did this evening, I give the broccoli a good rinse and trim it. I then prepare a deep pan of warm water and pour in salt (about one rounded tablespoon per quart and drop in my prepared vegetables. Let this sit for a few minutes and the aphids will release. I swished it around and scooped my purple sprouting broccoli into a colander, rinsed with tap water. The pan with saltwater was emptied and filled it with fresh cool water and I transferred the broccoli to it. Yup, there in the pan were some aphids. Again, I rinsed in the colander and repeated one more time in fresh cool water for aphid free broccoli.

If you’re going to be a gardener and not use heavy duty insecticides you will likely see a few insects. It’s part of nature and we are all participants, including the birds and beneficial insects that eat aphids. Freshly harvested delicious food is worth the nuisance and this is actually an easy solution.