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Posts Tagged ‘sweet potatoes’

Gardening Edibles on my Ping-Pong Table

Canna sprouts on my ping-pong table

I harvested roots from last year’s cannas and found many new “buds” on them. I broke apart the roots so that each section had at least one bud, and started all of them in containers in January. I started two roots in this container, and both have pushed up healthy leaves… they’ll look great in the garden in late May.

This time of year, if you’re at all interested in my gardening activities, the most appropriate question to ask is, “What’s up on your ping-pong table?” So far, I’ve only a few things going on there, but over the next two weeks, my ping-pong table will hold fully 75% of my gardening projects for 2017.

My earliest ping-pong table project was to start canna lilies from roots I harvested at the end of last season. One variety I grew last year took a very long time to flower, so I planted roots this year in January and they’ve gotten an appropriately slow start. I’ve heard cannas that spend too long in a container before getting planted in the garden tend to fall over. That would slow them down. So, I’m keeping the plants in low light and hoping they don’t grow too tall before temperatures rise in May.

I’ll be starting a second variety of cannas soon as well as some elephant ears. These will mostly go into our “Hawaiian corner” which will be in its third year this season. When the cannas and elephant ears mature in late summer, the Hawaiian corner becomes a dramatic focal point in the yard.

I started three other ping-pong table projects in February:

A sprout from grocery store ginger roots

I’ve never had trouble starting ginger plants from roots I bought in a grocery story. This one sprouted about a week ago more than a month after I planted it on my ping-pong table.

1. I planted several pots with ginger roots I bought at a grocery store. These languished for weeks under lights on the ping-pong table before I decided the basement wasn’t warm enough for them. I moved three of the pots into our living room, and in the past week sprouts have appeared in all three. With a single ginger plant I started in November from last year’s harvest, and the three new planters, I expect to harvest more ginger in the fall than we’re likely to eat in a year.

2. I planted two shallow trays with onion seeds. Generally, I start onions from sets that I plant directly in the garden. This year I found seeds in a department store for onion varieties requiring 170 days to maturity. That’s a crazy amount of garden time for home gardens in central PA; a responsible garden center in Pennsylvania wouldn’t stock seeds that require such a long season… it means planting before last frost in spring and hoping not to get shut down by early frost in autumn. Challenge accepted! My onion sprouts look great and I’d like to get them into the garden soon. They’ll go in my community garden plot, so I have to wait until the county finishes prepping.

Onion seedlings on my ping-pong table

A crazy buyer for a big-box store stocked seeds for onions that mature in 170 days! Those would be perfect for home gardens in Texas, and likely to cause the average Pennsylvania gardener aggravation. Being bull-headed, I decided to give them a shot. These sprouts are more than a month old and could probably handle whatever cold is still to come this spring… but they won’t get outdoors until my community garden plot is open. I’m ready, but I’ve no control over when the county lets me start gardening there.

3. I found a frisky sweet potato in the larder and decided to turn it into a slip nursery. There are more than 12 sprouts growing strong. In a few weeks, I’ll pluck them from the sweet potato and root them in water so they’re ready to plant out in late May or early June.

At the beginning of April, my attention to the ping-pong table intensified. I planted two containers with seeds from last year’s sweet pepper harvest: 25 orange bell pepper seeds in one planter, and 25 sweet Italian pepper seeds in a second planter. No sprouts yet, but they’re likely to pop in the next seven days. By then, I’ll have planted up about 14 varieties of tomato seeds and, perhaps, some lettuce and cucumbers.

But spring is finally feeling spring-like, so within a few days I hope to plant peas and lettuce in the garden. It all feels a bit daunting, but exhilarating at the same time.

Putting the ping-pong table to work in late winter and early spring has become a ritual I anticipate and enjoy. It teases me into the gardening season much as an hors d’oeuvre whets my appetite for a fine meal.

Starting sweet potato slips

Growers or distributors sometimes treat sweet potatoes with chemicals that suppress new growth so you may not be able to start slips from grocery store sweet potatoes. I suspect I bought this sweet potato from a local farmer at the market in December. The sweet potato was anxious to sprout, and it may provide more than a dozen slips for my garden. In a few weeks, I’ll pluck the sprouts from the tuber and set them in very moist soil so they develop roots. In late May I’ll transfer the slips to my garden and hope to harvest before burrowing rodents eat my crop.

Cheap planters for sweet pepper seeds

Two one-gallon milk jugs with the top halves cut off serve as planters for my sweet pepper seeds. I planted 25 seeds in each container. In early June, the roots of the plants should be intertwined throughout the soil. I’ll cut or tear the seedlings away from each other and plant them in the garden. Usually, they recover from “transplant shock” in six to ten days and deliver a decent crop starting in late August.

 
Small Kitchen Garden – Gardening Edibles on my Ping-Pong Table

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Sweet Potato Soup from the Garden

Sweet potato blossom

Harvest sweet potatoes after blossoms emerge on the vines. That’s the rule of thumb, but it can create timing issues: Ideally, you harvest while there are still some hot days left on the calendar; sweet potatoes should cure at 80 humid degrees for ten days before you put them in storage. On the other hand, vines need a very long season to produce flowers—sometimes long enough there aren’t any hot, humid days left in the year.

We had dinner guests last weekend and there was a catch. One of our visitors was having discomfort with her teeth. She reported that she was on a soup-only diet; chewing was out. I was excited to make up a pot of curried squash soup.

There was a problem. I visited the community garden and harvested what was ready, but not one of my winter squashes was ripe. On my way home, I passed two farm stands selling winter squash but decided not to stop. Eight miles north I’d visit the flea market where one of my favorite produce vendors would, no doubt, have a decent selection of squashes. Or not.

There was no winter squash at the flea market. I got involved with a familiar vendor in a discussion about winter squash timing. It’s still summer, he pointed out. I should shop for winter squash in winter. Then he asked what type I wanted and assured me he could have it for me on Wednesday at the farmers’ market. Except, I told him, I was going to eat the squash tomorrow (Sunday), so Wednesday just wouldn’t do, thank you.

He suggested I visit a grocery store, but I had another thought: Forget winter squash, instead I’d make curried sweet potato soup.

Surrounded by sweet potatoes

I didn’t plant the cucumber in a sweet potato patch. No, the sweet potatoes were so happy in their patch they decided to take more ground, surrounding cucumbers, zucchinis, and peas.

Sweet Potato Harvest

My sweet potato patch is one of the season’s great successes. You can’t see the mulch for the vines, and tendrils reach into the pea patch, the cucumber and zucchini patches, and through the garden fence onto the lawn. Flowers emerged about a week ago, so by the rule of thumb (don’t harvest until the vines flower), there must be sweet potatoes ready to dig.

I think I dug up two plants. The vines are such a mess, it’s hard to tell where one plant ends and the next begins. In any case, I ended up with two large sweet potatoes, one of medium size, and several small ones that together might have made up one large one. I’m so looking forward to harvesting the entire bed; there must be more than 50 pounds of food in it.

Curried Sweet Potato Soup

The soup was amazing. I made it up as I went along, and it was a tad complicated but worth the effort. Here’s about what I did, written as a recipe:

Sweet potatoes for soup

What was probably two plants yielded about three pounds of gorgeous sweet potatoes. Every tuber in this photo went into the curried sweet potato soup described in this post.

Ingredients for Soup

~3 lbs of sweet potatoes
1 medium onion
16 ozs of mango pieces (I used a pint jar of home-canned mangoes)
1 pint of heavy cream
1 – 2 cups milk

Seasonings:

1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp garam masala (or substitute curry powder)
¼ tsp beri-beri seasoning or cayenne pepper
1 tbs amchur powder (if you can find some)

Wash and skin the sweet potatoes and slice them into ½-inch thick filets. Brush these with olive oil and grill for about 3 minutes on each side. You’re trying to develop a little char, but don’t worry about cooking the tubers all the way through. Set them aside while you work on the curry.

Set a one-gallon pot on the shy side of medium heat and add the butter. As the butter melts, chop the onion and stir in the pieces. Grate a chunk of fresh ginger into the pot—½ inch of a piece the thickness of your index finger—and mix it with the onion and butter.

Stir in each of the seasonings in the order listed in the ingredients box, letting each cook for about a minute before adding the next seasoning.

Stir and scrape the bottom of the pot to keep things from sticking and add the grilled sweet potatoes. Stir thoroughly to coat every piece with the curry mixture.

Add the mangoes and the liquid in which they were canned (if you’ve used fresh mangoes, add about ½ cup of water at this point), stir it all together, cover the pot, and lower the heat so it simmers without burning. Cook until the sweet potatoes are soft—about 15 minutes.

Transfer the hot curried sweet potatoes and mangoes to a blender and puree until the mixture is very smooth. Add some of the cream if necessary to make it blend.

Rinse the pot to remove any chunks of food and return the pureed sweet potatoes and mangoes to it (for a perfectly creamy soup, work it through a sieve on its way back to the pot). Raise the heat and combine the cream into the pureed sweet potatoes and mangoes. Stir to prevent burning.

The combined cream and curry mixture is likely too thick to serve as soup. So, stir in milk to achieve an appropriate consistency. I like it crazy thick, but it’s a very rich soup, so you can cut it quite a bit and retain its character.

Serve the soup hot. While we didn’t eat it this way, I imagine the soup would be very nice served over a mound of basmati rice.

 
Small Kitchen Garden – Sweet Potato Soup from the Garden

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Thanksgiving 2012 Post Produce

Green beans for casserole

Every bean in the casserole came from my small kitchen garden! I harvested and froze several gallons of beans in 2012. Most were yellow wax beans, but I had enough green beans to make a double-sized casserole following the French’s Fried Onion recipe that my mom used when I was a kid (except I use cream of chicken soup instead of cream of mushroom soup).

Post Produce landed a few days late this month. People trying to manage link parties do well to anticipate holidays so they don’t leave participants hanging. I’m not well enough organized for that. I’d have broken several natural laws if I’d written my article early and set it to post automatically while I was baking pies.

It occurred to me: Why not make Post Produce about Thanksgiving? I hope at least some of you used homegrown produce in your Thanksgiving meals. Even more, I hope you’ll  share your stories about it! Thanksgiving gives me extra thrills when I can serve goodies that I grew myself.

Photos tell the story. I hope you’ll have a look and then write your own Thanksgiving post. Once your post is up, return here, scroll to the bottom, and add a link back to your article. What did you eat from your garden this Thanksgiving?

homegrown sweet potatoes

My homegrown sweet potatoes looked reasonable, though they hadn’t filled out completely. Sadly, many had started to rot—which you couldn’t see until you peeled and cut into them. So, we (my son, actually), cut out large sections. By the time the pot was full, it contained seven or eight commercial sweet potatoes and as many of my crummy homegrown ones. I hope next year to plant sweet potatoes early and harvest them before frost; two things I failed to do this year.

neck pumpkins in rocking chair

Not surprisingly, neck pumpkins played a role in my Thanksgiving dinner. These three grew in my garden, and I used the largest—a 17 pounder—to make pumpkin pies. I cut up the squash on Tuesday and baked it for about 90 minutes. Then I pureed the flesh in a blender, and packaged the very smooth pumpkin mash in two-cup portions, most of which I froze. I saved seeds from neck pumpkin and will include them in a giveaway on my blog(s) in January or February.

pureed neck pumpkin for pie filling

I was a machine filling sandwich bags with pureed neck pumpkin before I realized I’d filled too many. I managed to put the last portion in a reusable container which I stored with one bag of puree overnight in the refrigerator. On Wednesday, I used these four cups of neck pumpkin puree to make pies. Sandwich bags, by the way, aren’t impermeable enough to preserve food in a freezer. Each holds enough puree for one pie, and I put four or five bags in a single gallon-sized freezer bag.

pies on the day after Thanksgiving

Didn’t think to snap photos before the gang had dessert. After lunch on the day after Thanksgiving, I photographed what remained of five pies I’d baked on Wednesday. We had already finished off a sour cherry pie (frozen during cherry season), and a pumpkin pie. What remained was part of an apple pie, most of a second pumpkin pie, and about half of an apple/pear/raisin spice pie I improvised from stuff in the fridge. To be clear, only the pumpkin pie contained homegrown produce, though I made from grapes the raisins I used in the apple/pear/raisin spice pie.

Post Produce on your blog, then return here and add a link back to your post. Because Post Produce is late this month, think of it as Post Produce weekend rather than Post Produce day! Share the produce you served at Thanksgiving from your own garden:

 

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