This week’s share: Eggplant, Garlic, Lettuce, Onions, Parsley, Peppers, Newmex and Cherry hot peppers, Satina potatoes,Tomatoes, Acorn winter squash
I don’t know what to say to my eggplant patch.
On the one hand, I am tempted to praise its recent efforts. It had a rough start. We set out some nice transplants in the middle of May and had a frost a couple of days later. Though we managed to cover most of the patch, lots of the plants had some damage–more from the row cover than the frost, though they would have been worse off without the cover. Then we had a dry spell right when they wanted a good drink. And when they did start to grow the potato beetles and verticlllium wilt turned up. We had a decent early crop, but by early August the patch looked nearly ready to quit. Which is about when it stopped raining. Day after day storms coming from nearly every direction would find new ways to miss us. It poured in Stillwater and Schaghticoke and Argyle and Bennington, but not in Easton. When we dug carrots, they came up completely dry, and this on a farm that often seems eager to become a swamp. Even the pepper plants, with their sturdy root systems, started to look a little stressed. And as for the eggplants, well I have to confess I did not even pay them much attention. There are more things to do in August than I can get to–I go about my work with the constant sense that things are getting away from me–so I tend not to spend much time thinking about the crops that don’t require my attention. The eggplant patch had to fend for itself. Which clearly suited it just fine. Because when I really bothered to notice it again I found that it had flourished. The bugs were gone. The wilt was gone, which is not even supposed to happen. The plants were strong and tall and vibrant. It way well be the healthiest eggplant patch I have ever had. I feel I ought to walk up and down the rows patting the sturdy plants on their leafy heads–which I can easily reach now without bending over–and saying “good work, lads.”
Good work, but for what? It is late September. What precisely do they think will come of this? Were they in their native climes, some balmy Mediterranean or South East Asian patch of ground that has probably never seen a frost, all this effort would make sense. But in northern New York? There’s no doubt they have pulled off an impressive feat, but most likely a fruitless one. Truly. With all that new-found energy, the plants have set about flowering again quite heavily, which would lead to a bounty of eggplants in late October–if we lived somewhere else. Somewhere, to be more precise, where at that time of year the sun actually stays up all day and temperature stays up all night. Long before those flowers have become fruits ready for harvest we will have had a hard frost and probably a little snow and sleet and the plants will be dead, the dry leaves scattered on the ground, immature fruits turned to mush. “You fools,” I want to yell at the eggplant patch, “it’s too late.”
Not that it is really their fault. They are doing the best the can under the circumstances, circumstances over which they have no control. They did not ask to grow here. I am the fool planting a long season, hot weather crop in a place better suited to rutabagas and hibernation.
I know perfectly well that this is not a great place to raise eggplants. Which is why I go to some lengths to protect and nurture them. We start the seedlings in our heated greenhouse in March and set them out into raised beds sheathed in black mulch designed to get the soil as warm as possible, give them plenty of space to grow, tuck them in at night when it gets chilly, and do what we can when they are young to ward off anything that threatens them. All that to grow a plot of decent sized shrubs that bear a few fruits each over the course of three months and get cut off in their prime.
Sometimes this seems like an unsustainable luxury. I can get away with growing a number of crops less than ideally suited to this location because I have the propane heater in my plastic-covered greenhouse and the diesel tractor to pull the bed shaper/mulch layer that wraps the beds in bioplastic shipped from Italy. A time may come when this sounds like the work of a madman.
Surely, though, it is better to grow your own eggplant than to ship it from thousands of miles away. Certainly, in any event, the eggplant is better. Which I think counts for something. The only other option is to do without eggplant, and I am not ready to make that sacrifice yet. Well, or move to some Provencal village to tend my aubergines. Hmmm. Actually, that sounds pretty good. Oh, but the donkeys really hate to travel. I guess I am stuck here doing what I have to to coax some eggplants from my patch before the frost puts an end to all our efforts. Come on eggplants, hurry up.
Vegetable notes: I have never really understood the fame of Yukon Gold potatoes. Well, perhaps fame is too strong a word for a potato, even a golden one. But it seems apt in a way. So much fame has so little content when you tune out the hype and take a cold, hard look. So it is with the Yukon Gold. It is not a bad potato, but it’s not a great one either–for the farmer or the eater. It bears poorly and offers no notable culinary advantages. I can think of a number of yellow fleshed potatoes I prefer, including Satinas. They have a nice dense flesh that’s good for boiling and roasting and not half bad mashed. Sometimes I like potatoes prepared as simply as possible, boiled in heavily salted water and eaten warm with a good pinch of course salt and a bit of butter. And sometimes I like a gratin, thin sliced potatoes layers with sliced onion, grated cheese, butter, a touch of nutmeg, a bit of rosemary or thyme, covered in cream and a splash of white wine and baked until the liquid has thickened and the top turned brown and crisp. A satina is good prepared either way.
I usually just back winter squash whole, but I think Acorns may be best halved and baked with a bit of butter and maple syrup, a pinch of marjoram, a dusting of hot pepper. Or stuffed with a slightly spicy ground meat mixture with Middle Eastern spices.