Friday, May 31, 2013

Fiddleheads and Rhubarb

Pop quiz: which of these plants in my shade garden is edible?

Many of you probably know that Foxglove is highly poisonous, which leaves the correct answer:  the Ostrich fern!

I'd heard before that young curled fern fronds, or fiddleheads, as they're known as, were edible; however, I've never seen them sold in grocery stores before I moved up north to the Boston area.  Either I have fancier grocery stores nearby now, or this is a more Northern delicacy.

fiddleheads at the grocery store!
Of course, I had to try them, being previously uncertain about picking them out of my garden.  Sautéed with garlic and butter, they were quite good, tasting rather like asparagus to me.  Mr. Red House maligned them as tasting 'green', but, well, this is the man that refers to salad as 'rabbit food'.   

Here I was with a garden of gourmet wild vegetables, and I didn't even know it!  Next time I'm at the store and see some fiddleheads, I think I have to try the University of Maine's recipe for Shrimp and Fiddlehead Medley (with linguini!)  Mmmmm....  To pick fiddleheads from your own garden, harvest them in spring when they are just a few inches high and still tightly curled. 

Cinnamon fern fiddleheads
Ostrich fern is the most common source of edible fiddleheads in the New England area.  Other edible fiddleheads include those of Lady ferns, Cinnamon ferns, and Bracken ferns - though debatably so, as Bracken ferns contain a carcinogenic compound that must be broken down by heat.  In fact, it is advised that all fiddleheads be thoroughly cooked, as if not some can be mildly toxic.

Ah, but fiddleheads were not my only find at the supermarket here in Boston.  Right nearby in the produce section was...


For you Northerners, I might have to explain how exciting this is.  In North Carolina, it was an annual ritual at the height of strawberry season - the finding of the rhubarb.  I would trek to every grocery store nearby looking for one that had rhubarb.  Oftentimes it would be on backorder at the upscale grocery stores - it was seriously hard to get!  

it even looks somewhat fresh!
Being relatively unknown in the South (this is a plant that needs cold!), if I did manage to find rhubarb, I would inevitably end up in a discussion with the cashier as to what it is and how to use it.  There are many different recipes that involve rhubarb, but I, dear reader, desperately needed it every year for Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie.

Our favorite pie of all time - Strawberry-Rhubarb
Once when describing the deliciousness of a Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie to a particularly dubious cashier, I told him that it was even better than Sweet Potato Pie.  His eyes grew wide, like I had just said a particularly terrible curse word.  (In truth, I was on shaky ground, since Sweet Potato Pie is my second favorite pie of all time - and I've only had store-made.)

Now that I live further north, I'm very excited to grow my own rhubarb plant
 - right next to my strawberry plants, of course!

Recipe for Indie's Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie

1 recipe pastry for Double-crust pie
3 stalks fresh Rhubarb, sliced
Strawberries, enough so that when chopped, the rhubarb and strawberries should add up to 5 cups of fruit
1/3 cup flour
2/3 to 3/4 cup sugar
secret ingredient - because you should always have one so that when someone particularly loves your pie, you can say the secret ingredient made all the difference!
(p.s. My secret ingredient is usually lemon or orange zest)

In a large bowl, combine the flour and sugar.  Gently mix in everything else.  Pour into a pastry-lined pie plate.  Place top pastry on filling, crimp edges, and cut slits on top.  Cover edges of pie with foil.  Bake in 375 degree F oven for 25 minutes.  Remove foil and bake for 25 minutes more or until the top is golden and the filling is bubbling.  Cool on a wire rack.  Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or eat cold with a glass of milk!

You're welcome.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Some New Gardening Companions

An update:  we have bought a house here in Massachusetts!  It is not red, sadly, (it's green!) but it sits on a nice large lot with lots of gardening potential!  We actually bought a house that is not completely finished, so it will be another month or so before we are able to move in.  In the meantime, we are living with my in-laws.  It is hard to not have my own garden during such a glorious spring, but my mother-in-law is graciously (and rather enthusiastically) letting me help establish her new garden while we are here.

One of the several piles of plants to plant in my mother-in-law's new garden!
Several family fêtes have been planned for this summer in connection with my sister-in-law's upcoming wedding, so the backyard is being slowly transformed into a lush oasis.

Beyond this fenced-in part of their backyard is a small pond connected to a wetlands area. While out gardening we get to enjoy seeing some of the wildlife that live in the area.  Mr. and Mrs. Mallard live in the area and are frequent visitors to the pond.  I haven't seen Mrs. Mallard very much the past couple weeks - she is no doubt laying on a clutch of eggs.  

I can't wait for little baby ducklings! 
The Mallards are not the only ducks that frequent the pond - a couple of Wood Ducks also live in the area.  They are shyer than the Mallards, but oh-so-beautiful to watch!

the Wood Ducks
On several occasions we have also seen a water creature swimming around that we have affectionately named 'Chuck'.

The Loch Ness Monster's baby?
Au contraire, it's a beaver!
In addition to the waterfowl, there are a number of birds in the area.  One of the more striking ones that I've seen is a partially albino Robin.

And this gardener can never seem to get away from members of the Rodent family.  I have seen many a Chipmunk scurrying to and fro.

I haven't seen too many of those devilish Squirrels around, but I'm sure they'll come out in droves just as soon as we put the bird feeders up!

By far the cutest animal seen in this garden, though, is this little fella:

This is my in-law's new puppy, who always likes to help in the garden..

... and you can all see what a big help he is!  Well, hopefully soon he will be a well-trained gardening companion.

token flower photo
Happy Gardening, everyone!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Saving the Best for Last - the Duke Gardens

So if you had enough time to visit only one more garden in the Raleigh-Durham area, where would you go?

Such was the quandary I found myself in as Mr. Red House and I visited North Carolina for the last foreseeable time to pack up our (sold! woohoo!) house.  Though it wasn't really that much of a quandary - I've long wanted to visit the Sarah P. Duke Gardens in nearby Durham.

Yep, it's that amazing!
(I wish I could say this was me, frolicking amongst the flowers, but, well, it's a slightly more talented performer than myself..)
Even with a couple hours to visit, we still only saw about half of the extensive gardens!  The Duke Gardens are broken up into several parts.  The Terraces is the oldest part, designed by Ellen Biddle Shipman in the 1930's.  It was incredibly stunning, overflowing with blooms.

The wisteria-covered pergola is the crown of the Terraces (and a prime spot for wedding photos).  Steps lead down...

 ...through lush terraces... 

...filled with blooms in all sorts of color combinations...

... and down to a koi-filled pool.

Did I mention it was impressive?

In total contrast, the H.L. Blomquist Garden of Native Plants, another section of the Duke Gardens, had a much more unorganized, natural feel, being essentially a 6.5 acre woodland garden.  

Opened in the 1960's, this garden holds more than 900 species and varieties of plants native to the Southeast.

Mountain Azalea
Many of these plants were rescued from land that was being developed, and it also holds some rare and endangered plant species.

Trumpet Honeysuckle
This garden is very wildlife friendly, and has a large, um, squirrel-feeding station?

We only had time to walk through a section of this garden.  It is too bad this is the first time I have gotten the chance to see it - I would have loved to see the different native plants blooming at different times of the year!  

Native dogwoods and columbine are in bloom along the path.
So if you ever get the chance to visit the Raleigh-Durham area in North Carolina, definitely check out the Duke Gardens.  I was so glad I finally got the chance!

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