Walla Walla Onion Sandwiches

Sweet, juicy and mild, Walla Walla Sweet onions came from Corsica to this Eastern Washington valley in 1905. Today this large, delicately flavored heirloom is considered by many to be the world’s sweetest onion. We sow these seeds in August and use the thinnings all through spring. We spring plant onion starts. In June, bulbs mature and we enjoy them through the summer. Gardeners grow this celebrated onion from Southern Missouri to British Columbia, though only those grown in The Walla Walla Valley may be sold as the true onion. Our Nichols Garden Nursery seeds and onion starts come from a Walla Walla Family that has been growing these onions for many generations.
James Beard, a native Oregonian, pioneered the movement to use and celebrate local foods. He created this simple sophisticated canape’, ideal with summer drinks.
This sandwich has only five ingredients and is a snap to put together. The key is locating the right bread. It needs to be thinly sliced and firm. If you can find Pepperidge Farm thin white sandwich bread that works well. A loaf of brioche and some baguettes will be quite satisfactory. Avoid a standard slice of white sandwich bread, these are delicate tidbits.

Ingredients:
Thin sliced white bread cut into rounds with crusts removed. Rounds may range in size from 1″ to 3″. You will need two slices for each sandwich.
Unsalted butter at room temperature
Thinly sliced Walla Walla or other sweet mild onion. If you can successfully cut and remove a slice the diameter of your bread that works. If not, cut into quarters and make a small dainty pile on the bread.
Salt, sea or kosher
Mayonnaise…the real stuff is best
A pile of minced curly parsley,previously washed and removed from stems.
Preparation:
Lightly butter bread rounds, cover with onion, sprinkle with a touch of salt. Gently press on sandwich so pieces adhere. Cover the edges with a light coat of mayonnaise. Now roll the edges in parsley. You want a generous coating of parsley to get that herbal flavor balanced against the onion.
When I made these for our staff, Helen and I added a few nasturtiums for the photo. I came by a few minutes later to see only a few wilting nasturtiums remaining on the plate. Nasturtiums, I find are a good addition to these sandwiches when layered in with the onion but I wanted to give you the true James Beard onion sandwich.

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YaYa Carrot & Spinach Beet

YaYa F1 Carrot is a Nantes type, delightfully crisp and sweet. The bright orange roots are so tempting I like to pull them fresh from the ground, and eat while  standing in the garden. Our last summer trial plantings were so popular we hardly had any left for cooking.

YaYa Carrot is a great example of modern selection and breeding. For such a sweet carrot it is unusually crack resistant. The texture has a perfect crunch that makes it a pleasure to eat. It draws admiration from all who may have forgotten how good a fresh carrot can be. It requires no complicated preparations with Vichy water and butter to coax forth flavor. Scrub and cut this carrot into sticks for enticing before meal snacks.

I’ve listed these two varieties together because they share top selling honors on our Nichols Garden Nursery website. One is a brand spanking new outstanding hybrid, the other, Spinach Beet, is an ancient green.

Spinach Beet is a variety we have fought to maintain in our seed collection. When there is a variety you love the best way to ensure it’s continuing existence is to grow it, eat it, share it, and talk about it. Heirloom seeds must be planted, eaten and enjoyed if the selection is going to endure.

Too tender to travel to markets it almost disappeared from the seed trade for several years. Spinach beet has a small taproot with large tender leaves and stems. It combines characteristics of both spinach and Swiss Chard with lots of tender leaves and excellent tolerance to heat and moderate cold. The planting I recently made will last through the summer and into early winter. It is marvelously productive and I recommend it for container growing since it can be recut so many times. The flavor is milder than spinach and not quite as earthy as chard.

Nichols Plant Day 2010

Every May, we at Nichols, have our annual Plant Day, the Saturday after Mother’s Day. May 15th is the date for 2010. This is when we bring out unusual plants, run a good sale, and get our gardens spiffed up for company. Shopping is always interesting, we’ll have a huge selection of tomatoes, peppers and other veggies and flowering annuals.

Of course a few herbal or fresh from the garden treats keep your strength up as you watch Jennifer Ewing show how to build a raised bed in only a few minutes. I’ll demonstrate planting in straw bales. An addition this year is a herb spiral garden that is under construction. This is a great way to fit a large collection of herbs into a small space.

I’ll do a short demo on how to sow carrots. We all love those fresh from the garden carrots but they take their time in becoming established. It’s important to keep them moist and I’ll share a few tips with you.
Hope you can join us. Our gardens and retail shop are open Monday through Saturday, closed Sundays.

Violet Jelly

The elusive sweet fragrance of violets tells us spring is really here to stay. I love the way they naturalize in a garden with clumps spreading here and there. Not only are violets charming they are edible. I recently made a single layer cake, dusted it with powdered sugar and sprinkled it with violets.
Our old website had a number of archived recipes that I will gradually add to this one.
Violets are beginning to appear in our garden. When we first saw our present home, the garden was awash in violet blossoms. Our daughter, who was then barely three, knelt down in the purple carpet to smell their perfume, forever creating a picture in our minds. In spring, we like to make violet jelly. This recipe is adapted from Stalking The Healthful Herbs by Euell Gibbons. If you are interested in additional violet recipes, look for his book which contains six more.
2 cups fresh violets
2 cups boiling water
juice of one lemon (4 tablespoons)
1 package of powdered pectin
4 cups sugar

Make an infusion with violets and water by placing your blossoms in a glass jar and covering them with boiling water. Put a lid on the jar, and set aside for 24 hours. The infusion will turn a murky bluish green. Strain and discard the violets. Add the lemon juice to the violet infusion, and it transforms to a clear lavender pink. Stir in powdered pectin, and bring to a boil. Add 4 cups sugar, bring to a boil again, and boil vigorously for one minute. Skim if necessary. Pour into sterile jars and seal. Makes approximately 2 1/2 cups jelly.

Anniversaries-Let Us Celebrate

Nichols Garden Nursery is celebrating our 60th year of offering seeds and plants by mail for home gardeners across the country. It’s been a joyous ride as our family has introduced and developed scores of unique selections for home gardeners. We’ve just returned from the Portland Yard, Garden, & Patio Show and are inspired by the vitality of a gardening renaissance that includes children to great grandparents.

Today Keane and I learned our good friends, Pat and Becky Stone, publishers and authors, have announced the 20th anniversary of their own publication, GreenPrints “the weeders digest”. This delightful quarterly has published articles from an array of some of our finest garden writers. I find reading it contributes about equally to an understanding of gardening and humankind leaving me feeling a bit better about both. Congratulations to the GreenPrints Team!

And a Partridge In a Bay Tree

Years ago I gave a Golden Bay “Laurus nobilis” to a friend whose daughter’s name is Laurel. We dropped by last night with a little Christmas token. They’d strung their Christmas tree with lights in anticipation of Laurels arrival Christmas Eve. As my daughter, Katie, and I were about to leave there was a cry of you must come into the garden. It was dark and somewhat cold so hard to imagine what it might be.
In the back corner the bay tree was dazzling with dozens of lights. The branches seemed filled with hanging pears. What a delight to see such a wonderful transformation. Four of us began merrily stumbling through The Twelve Days of Christmas.
Only the next day did I learn the pears were actually Satsuma Oranges wrapped in netting and hung. These photos give you a view of the tree. Once more the darkest time of year is transformed by friends, gardens, lights, song and sharing. A Merry Christmas to all.

Frozen Pipes – Disconnect the Hose

Have you ever wondered why we’re told to disconnect the hose from pipes during a hard freeze? We usually did this but I always wondered why thinking the worst that could happen would be a split hose.
Yesterday, we saw why we always get this warning. In our case the hose froze solid forcing water to back up into the faucet and pipe and they broke. Other pipes were disconnected, this one is fairly hidden in a yew hedge. It formed this dramatic water sculpture and fountain. We’ll forever faithfully disconnect hoses when we no longer need to water.

We know there will be plant losses revealed as weather warms. Our demonstration salad gardens are worse for the weather and we do love salads. The tunnels warmth will encourage greens to regrow. As soon as there is a warm spell a light fertilizing of seaweed or fish emulsion will give plants a kick start.
Recent winters have been warm and we’d stopped taking all the necessary precautions against cold. We’re still learning and relearning the lessons we forget and winter does have it’s distinct power and beauty.