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.

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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.

Plants, Plants, Plants

Spent the day packing plants for my Bountiful Container Gardening talk at the New York Botanical Garden on June 27th. Preparing for a cross country trip with more than a hundred vegetables and herbs in various stages of growth is a challenge. Fortunately, Helen, our nursery shipping expert has it all down. Last summer she test packed plants in various ways for shipping and took their temperature to learn the best way to avoid heat buildup. When shipping in warm weather ventilated plants arrive in good condition and grow best. There is a science to everything and healthy plants mean happy customers. My plants are vented, have ice packs, cushioning, and are separately boxed.
I am looking forward to my time at NYBG, it’s our first visit to this famed historical garden. Keane and I will be taking photos and will post them when I return. I’m taking Amy Stewart’s new book “Wicked Plants” to read on the trip and Keane and I will visit the poisonous plant collection at Cornell. It’s maintained by the veterinary science department and should be very interesting.

Arugula & Rigatoni with Tomato Sauce

If you have arugula or “garden rocket” growing in your June garden, it’s probably become a little spicy and is ready to bolt. Try this delicious pasta recipe. You will easily use up a couple fistfuls of arugula and have yourself a salad and side dish in one. The arugula flavor mellows when combined with the hot pasta and savory sauce.

We were having fish for dinner so I made a few changes. Didn’t seem as though we needed cheese tonight so this was omitted. Our tarragon is still tender so I stripped the leaves from three long stems and threw those on top and that was a good partner with the fish. Decided to eliminate the basil.  Arugula pastaAlso the onions need to be used before I take off to the New York Botanic Garden to speak about and demonstrate how to grow a food garden in containers.  Next I chopped an onion and stirred it around in the  olive oil and garlic. There is nothing like travel time away from the summer garden to send us bustling around trying to get everything done.

4 cups arugula leaves washed, drained and trimmed
1 pound uncooked rigatoni or other small pasta
2 cups chopped fresh or canned tomatoes
3 garlic cloves pressed or minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or 2 teaspoons dried
salt & red or black pepper to taste

Tear arugula into generous bite-sized pieces. Lay the leaves in a large, heat resistant, shallow serving dish. Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling water until it reaches that barely tender stage. Remove and drain. While the pasta is cooking prepare this easy tomato sauce: Heat olive oil and stir garlic around until softened and fragrant. Add tomatoes and seasonings and heat to a simmer. Remove bay leaf.  Pour the hot, drained steaming pasta, over the bed of arugula.  Spread the tomato sauce over the pasta. Let a few bright green leaves show around the edges of the pasta. Do not toss together. Serve with grated parmesan cheese. Serves 4-6.

Salad of Swiss Chard, Beets and Fruit

Swiss Chard and Beet SaladCooked greens make a delicious salad base. This was an evening to find a purpose for accumulated ingredients. We had leftover multi-colored Swiss Chard which was braised in a little olive oil and garlic. The stems and garlic were cooked for three minutes before coarsely chopped leaves were added.

Our other ingredients were also ready:
2 medium baked beets
1 orange, peeled
1 mango, peeled
1 tablespoon wine vinegar
1 tablespoon walnut oil
1/4 cup crumbled goat or feta cheese
1/4 cup chopped parsley
salt to taste

Slice beets, orange and mango into a dish. Dress with vinegar and oil. Layer over greens, sprinkle first with parsley and then cheese. A few added walnuts would be good. Another version for  beet and salad would be sliced pears and a sprinkling of dried cranberries.   Fresh tarragon would be a good herb along with parsley.

Our Neon chard is large leaved and quite beautiful in mid spring. This is from last year’s planting and chard makes great regrowth once spring arrives. Chard belongs in every garden and is pretty enough to add to a flower bed. Leaf miner can be a problem in some areas and now is safely controlled by using organically approved spinosad applied as a light spray.  We use and offer it as Monterey Garden Insect Garden Spray.

Miner’s Lettuce Salad

Miners Lettuce, Claytonia perfoliata grows wild up and down the west coast. It’s a lovely little plant for spring salads and is easy to grow. Rich in vitamins A and C, it was an important food for Native Americans, early settlers andminers-lettuce gold rush miners. A few seeds sown in bare spots will show up as clusters of rounded leaves with tiny white flowers in the center. Stems as well as leaves are edible. Best picked when budded or blooming and before seeds form. The flavor is freshly green and grassy and melds beautifully with other ingredients.
A few years ago I was talking with Pam Peirce, author of Golden Gate Gardening, a year-round guide to food gardening in the Bay area. I asked if she liked mache/corn salad and she said “it’s ok, but I much prefer Miner’s lettuce”, so I began paying more attention to this garden green. Both now have an important space in my garden. With only a little encouragement both these plants will obligingly self sow.

Serves 3-6 depending upon appetites. miners-lettuce-saladA generous serving is a light main course.

4-5 cups Miners lettuce with stems, rinsed & trimmed
2-3 tablespoons fresh spearmint, finely chopped
6 small baked beets, peeled & sliced
2 tablespoons red onion finely sliced
4 teaspoons walnut oil
1 tablespoon red wine or sherry vinegar
salt & pepper to taste
1/3 to 1/2 cup cup walnut pieces or halves (toasted)
1 teaspoon salad oil
½ teaspoon sugar
2 to 4 oz. crumbled feta or goat cheese

To avoid tossing the delicate miner’s lettuce make this a layered salad. Spread out the greens on a serving dish and sprinkle with fresh spearmint. Combine beets, red onion, walnut oil, vinegar, salt & pepper. Spread beet mixture over the greens. Toast walnuts in a small skillet set on medium heat with oil and sugar. They’ll become fragrant and ready to use in 3-4 minutes, watch carefully as they can quickly go from perfect to scorched. Sprinkle cooled nuts over beets and last drizzle with cheese.

Chowhound Indoor Herb Gardening

Recently our daughter Katie, who lives in a San Francisco apartment with good western exposure asked for tips and plants to start an indoor herb garden. She has no outdoor growing space but lives close to Golden Gate Park where a nature is never far away.

I began looking at the new style fluorescent bulbs, some are daylight and some are full spectrum, great for growing plants. Screw these into a reflector with clamps that squeeze open and it’s pretty simple to develop an economical indoor herb garden. Fluorescent lights don’t have the heat buildup of incandescents and are economical to use.

Serendipity often occurs. While I was in the midst of figuring out how to do this, Roxanne Webber, an editor for Chow.com called with a few questions about growing herbs indoors for city dwellers, just like my daughter. She was writing an article that would be posted in a few days. I offered to watch for comments to her article an trouble shoot if needed.

When I was in San Francisco, a few days ago, I met Roxanne and we visited about chowhound, gardening, and all those things discussed with a new friend. Her article is posted at Chow.com. My dialogue and Q&A follows at Chowhound. I will answer questions until next week.

The discussion has been lively and I do encourage questions on indoor herb gardening.