The only bad thing about the good food coming out of the garden right now is that it all comes ripe at once.
|'Hungarian Yellow' sweet peppers|
Tomatoes – the Black Cherries and Yellow Pears that drop like candy from the plants. Meaty red 'Rutgers.' 'Cherokee Purple,' with fruits the size, shape and color of bruised fists.
Hungarian peppers as bright as bananas. Three kinds of basil, buzzing with bees. ‘Aristocrat’ Zucchini. The first zucchini came on so fast I didn’t realize the flowers had set until I poked around my ‘zucchini tower’ one day between rainstorms and discovered a squash as big as a loaf of sourdough.
I picked it for my daughter as she was heading home after a visit and she sent a photo of it ahead to her fiancé, the chef in the family, texting him, “How about dinner for 45???”
I’d hoped to outwit the squash vine borer this year by planting ‘Aristocrat’ in a new corner of the vegetable plot and by growing the plants vertically up through a wrought iron tuteur, making it easier to spot pests on the leaves and remove them. The tower has made for an eye-catching focal point and I felt like I did catch a lot of bugs that way, but ultimately the plants attracted every insect species known to plague squash, including the spotted orange cucumber beetle and the beetle-like squash bug along with my old nemesis, the borer, which ravages the stems from the inside out and causes the whole plant to wither.
I’m thinking the tower is to insect pests like a 3-story tall billboard is to tourists in Times Square. ‘I want to wake up in that city that never sleeps! I’m king of the hill! Top of the list! Head of the heap!’
|Zucchini Tower with pole beans|
|Compost bin volunteers|
|"I'm all tied up 'til October!"|
My pair of highbush blueberries have borne well enough but the fruit has taken longer to ripen this summer, probably because of all the rain, and because the mockingbird selects the best berries for his breakfast earlier than I can rise. I pick off the few ripe ones he’s left me every morning (like raspberries, blueberries are ripe when they come off in your hand without any resistance) and toss these natural anti-oxidants into whatever I’m cooking or eating that day – atop granola, tossed with sliced peaches and yogurt or a slice of melon at lunch – maybe in a green salad with arugula.
Now I’m watching the shiny clusters of muscadine grapes growing on the main arbor and plotting how I’m going to beat out Mr. Mocker when they ripen. I'd hoped Miss Billie would help me by guarding the arbor against his depredations, but so far she's seemed unwilling to take on such a formidable adversary, and naps safely in the strawberry patch while he's about.
The best part about having a summer garden is being able to take a break from meat when the vegetables and fruits are coming ready in a rush. Last weekend I finally made time from work long enough to cook my Garden Pie, and we’re still eating on it days later. This recipe is one I’ve cobbled together over the years from three or four quiche and tart recipes saved in my messy file of clippings. It embraces improvisation, so you can substitute or add any fresh vegetable you enjoy, so long as there’s room for it in the dish.
|Miss Billie on duty. Rudbeckia 'Cherry Brandy' in foreground, |
with pole beans
Leftovers for 45, anyone?
1 small (or ½ large) Vidalia onion, chopped
1 small sweet pepper, any variety you like, chopped
1 large zucchini (or 2 small), sliced, and the slices quartered
1/3 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped fine
1/4 cup parsley, chopped fine
2-4 (depending on size) flavorful, ripe tomatoes, sliced
1 cup shredded Italian cheese blend
½ cup cream mixed with ¼ cup milk
½ teaspoon salt
Additional salt and pepper
Dash of paprika, thyme, cayenne
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Slice tomatoes and place atop a sheet of paper towel on a plate. Sprinkle lightly with salt and let stand to drain while preparing the other ingredients.
Melt 2 Tablespoons of butter in a medium-hot skillet or pan and sauté onions, peppers and zucchini, about 5-8 minutes, until cooked through. Sprinkle with a dash of paprika, freshly ground pepper, crumbled thyme, and a pinch of cayenne, if desired. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Once cool, mix with shredded cheese and pour mixture out into prepared pie crust.
In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, cream, milk, basil, parsley, salt and pepper. Pour egg mixture evenly over vegetables in pie crust, shaking pie plate to distribute evenly.
If the drained tomato slices are large, slice in half – then place evenly on the surface of the filling, pressing into place in a mosaic pattern until the surface is covered. Sprinkle surface with freshly ground pepper.