Sunday, December 12, 2010

October 19, 2009 - Chayotte, Squashes and Wild Cucumbers

October 19th, 2009 – Chayotte, Squashes and Wild Cucumbers.
Time of chayotte, young squashes, wild cucumbers. None of them I planted. Chayotte vines were planted by MC’s husband who also put together good size tutoring for six seeds. Some kind of rust took over the vine a few months ago. I cut them down in attempt to eliminate the plants, but they grew back stronger and now they are yielding several bland tasting pear shaped fruit vegetables. I love them. I cook them every day. I steam cook after sauteeing in oil and garlic. Or boiled them to make a salad seasoned with sliced onions, soy sauce, lime, and olive oil. In my daily walk around I bring back from six to eight chayottes, as they grow very quickly, and in one day, the skin can become tough and prickly to touch. The rain helps to fill up the fruits which must be 99% water. A popular saying says that chayotte is the fourth stage of water along with solid, liquid, and gas.
Squashes appeared spontaneously in several points of my orchard-vegetable garden. At least three different varieties of it. One is round, the other one has a neck, and the third one may be cabocha. But only the first one has been maturing quickly, and I have collected many of them and given away. Some fruits were left on the spreading vine, while other young ones I harvest to sautee with garlic, or to make a savory baked cake with tuna. Another tasty way of eating that is to shred it and mix with a batter and other seasoning to be deep fried.
Wild cucumbers are prickly fruit with taut skin with lemony flavor, being shorter than pickling cucumbers. Most farm people love to eat it cooked with some meat or sausage. I usually sautee it with garlic.
Along with these little gifts from Nature, I harvested yellow onions. I let them sun dry properly to produce the papery skin. My main mistake on this crop was not to transplant them and to offer a little space for them to develop. Most of them have a small head. They could be bigger as a few of them showed where I transplanted properly. Now, the pickling white onions were a complete failure. They never developed a head, becoming slim just like leeks. I pull them anyway and I am letting them dry on the ground. As it rained, I may have lost the whole thing that I didn’t care to start with. My plan now is to try to sow head onions between the coffee bushes, so they can have large space to develop.
My salad tomato suffered terribly from pests and diseases, as I didn’t spray them preventively. The vines ended up dying. Yet, I ate a few tomatoes riped on the vine. To my frustration, even ripe tomatoes are not sweet as they are found at organic farmer’s market in California. Or even in Florida. To overcome a bad crop, I planted long cherry tomatoes which don’t become blood red, but rather a whitish red, looking pale. They do the trick, but the sweet ones are only the spontaneouly grown cherry tomatoes. I just wished they were bigger so I could prepare sauces and eat less of the skin.
Even though the “glorious” winter garden are gone when I had beets, carrots, brocolli, lettuce, collard greens, and many more vegetables that I can’t recall all of them, I still harvest timid portions of green beans, peas, bell peppers. Cayenne peppers and chocolate kiss shaped little peppers are now ripening. I have made a batch of hot sauce with cachaca (sugar cane alcoholic drink) and presented my dear neighbor dona Rosa. She told me that would go well with coxinha, a national favorite deep fried croquette like finger food made with mandioc and filled with chicken. Yum! I just bought chicken and bread crumbs required for the recipe.
I am eating a second crop of salad bowl lettuce. For some reason (it may be my lack of enthusiasm for the novice has gone to this variety), the heads didn’t develop as big, but they are still delicious. Collard greens get harvested constantly. They are either given away to friends or eaten sauteed with garlic. Yes! One of the best way of eating any vegetable is to sautee quickly in hot oil with garlic.
To my big surprise, we are getting strawberries steadily from on single bush that were told to be sterile. They are sometimes sweet, sometimes sour, and most of the time, small, but they still make a beautiful delicacy fruit to my 8-year old daughter that used to have easy access to strawberry while living in the US.
Three other vegetables have a very small growth. It may be due to very short winters here. The celery is dark green with strong flavor and aroma. It is even hard to eat it raw. The leeks do not get fat easily. The white part of my giant green onions may have a similar use in case leeks fail. The third vegetable is Brussel sprout. The heads don’t develop while the leaves are lush.
I am finally understanding and having to accept a few basic things: sow disease resistant varieties for our climate by using hybrid seeds (which costs a small fortune) and grow what everybody else have. No novelties. Have to build a greenhouse or at least a mesh covered area so the vegetables don’t grow too tough and strong flavored.
I understood why most people don’t grow brocollis. Of course, it takes almost the whole patch! Besides, they need constant care. The same is valid for tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplant. What most people have in their garden are green onions, parsley, cilantro, wild chicory and collard greens. Some more dedicated ones would have lettuce and New Zeland spinach. Rural people would have those three above mentioned veggie fruit vines (chayotte, squash and wild cucumbers), mandioc which is the most amazing root, and perhaps yam. Speaking of it, dona Rosa gave me young white skin and purple meat yam. I soon asked for shoots for me to plant in my garden. They are happily growing without any death among them.
My neighbor and I continue in our trade. She bakes the bread and gives me what I don’t have on my farm. She is a simple farm woman who doesn’t own the land. Yet, she knows what good food is. So do I. Our language is food. A few days ago she came with her son and daughter-in-law to make tapioca starch from mandioc roots. She takes our roots and uses our electric grater my father adapted from a saw. I served them some savory baked cake made with ground beef. She brought me next day fresh organic chicken properly cleaned. I made a tuna squash savory cake in return. She gave me deep fried mandioc starch doughnut. And so our endless trade continues.
I try to involve my daughter in my gardening experience. She collects tomatoes and green beans, and also some bugs to drop them in soapy water. She only touches beetles but refuses to handle caterpillars. I soon overcame my disgust and started to pick them by bare hand. Clara and her cousin sowed some beans in a wet toilette paper. Later, she wanted to transplant outside as she saw me transplanting other seedlings. I didn’t believe that they would succeed. But they did and they are now full of mature grains in the pods ready to be harvested. She can’t wait to eat them. We may get half cup of it.
While most vegetables get eaten by me or by pests (such as mustard greens), the herb garden flourishes. I don’t use these seasonings very often, specially because my father doesn’t like them. “The food smells like grass”, he grumbles. Also, Brazilian food almost doesn’t take Mediterranean herbs, except perhaps for store bought dry oregano. In spite of that, the patch grows with added herbs I have been getting or exchanging with acquaintances: anise seed bush, thyme, cavalinha, more mint varieties, and other native medicinal herbs. Thank God I don’t need them. Most of the time, I only resort to bitter boldo leaves after a heavy meal. Nonetheless, I am very interested in growing the medicinal garden to 400 varieties, just like the gentleman I saw on TV. We call it “alive pharmacy”.
I have projects and dreams. My dream of transforming this piece of land in self-sustainable, self-suporting farm. I want to have a variety of animals and plants, and still make money. The project I have is to start a milk farm with Jersey cows on a very small plot. It is going to have a rotational pasture. The most ambitious part is to transform the milk into cheeses and the best gourmet ice cream a la creamery fashion.

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