That Champion Red Oak tree drops a massive quantity of leaves and I’ve just spent much of the last week picking these up, schlepping each garbage can load to the compost pile. Phase two of spring gardening also included cutting back the few perennials I did not trim last fall and transplanting those I’d noted in need of a different location.
I’m happy that I’m home from Texas before anything here has bloomed and just in the nick of time for the always-early blossoms on our meadowlark forsythia.
Jim has removed the straw mulch from the garlic and I’ve removed the leaf mulch from the strawberries. He’s also trimmed back the raspberries and planted potatoes and lettuce and peas and more. I’ve removed the bittersweet vine that the rabbits severed last winter and found more serious rabbit damage to cuss at — will have to do something about that next fall. Lizzie, the springer spaniel, has done a real number on the grass this past winter, something I will need to attend to soon.
The tulips have emerged and will bloom soon, and the aspens are heavy with catkins. I’m relieved their tiny lime green leaves did not unfurl before I returned. It is dry here and we had to bite the bullet and start the sprinkler system.
The seedlings we started in the furnace room are thriving and Jim has given away all of his surplus tomatoes. He was so eager to get these planted and did so — 25 planted Monday. I’m the more cautious gardener and wait until late in May for my flower seedlings. Because these annuals are in an unfenced area, I have to wait until the seedlings are fairly large in the hopes that the rabbits won’t munch ‘em.
We’ve eaten the first of our asparagus and it was mighty tasty.
I squeezed in some birding Saturday morning with the Bis/Man Birding Club. Here at Red Oak House, the white-throated sparrows are passing through and I am listening to the buzz of the newly arrived clay-colored sparrows. Sunday brought the first chu-bek of the least flycatcher. We are eager for the house wrens to return.
I’ve made my first run at a nearby garden center and my list included grass seed for that hammered lawn. I’ve also done damage assessment, and two irises have died in an exposed area where I failed to mulch last fall. I should know better. I also found more damage from the danged rabbits. Jim knows when he hears me cussing out loud that it is likely at rabbits.
These are the days when most of our time is spent in our garden. We eschew meetings in retirement, but particularly during this time of the year.
For my birthday this week, Jim granted my wish and bought me this sweet Buddda for the garden, along with a marvelous trip to Adams County on a blue-sky-puffy-cloud-meadowlark-day. We devoured twist cones at the Hettinger cafe and went down many memory lanes.
“Beauty is no quality in things themselves: It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them.” — David Hume
March 15 is “plant the tiny tomato seeds” day at Red Oak House.
When I wandered into the kitchen this morning, Jim asked me, with great delight in his voice, if I knew what the significance of this day was. I had not yet had coffee and was stumped (I’ll admit that I didn’t try very hard).
This project is tedious joy for Jim, if I may use an oxymoron to describe this. You can see in the photo below that he has to use a tweezer (below).
Yes, he saves his seeds from the previous harvest, as shown here (above).
Wednesday he transplanted the pepper sprouts into small pots. Next week, we will celebrate the vernal equinox, the arrival of spring. We chose this date for our wedding date, after much thought. The days ahead will be busy with joyful tasks.
Note: I am reprinting (reposting?) below a story I first ran three years ago this week. It’s about tomatoes. I was thinking about it because today I am preparing my basement “greenhouse” for spring.
I’m getting ready to plant peppers, which need to be started indoors really early because they take a long time to ripen on the bush. We harvested about three dozen last fall, but last fall was an exception because we never got a hard frost in all of September, so we were able to leave them on the plants to ripen until Oct. 8, the day before the Weather Service warned us it was going to freeze.
Most of them still hadn’t turned from green to red or yellow or orange, like they are supposed to, at that time, so we put them in tightly closed big paper grocery bags (they’ll give you some at Dan’s Supermarket if you don’t have any) with a banana and an apple, and sat them in a warm place inside, and in about 10 days they had turned beautiful colors and were pretty much all ripe. Apples and bananas give off ethylene gas, which helps ripen other fruits, like peppers. And you can make banana bread or apple crisp when you’re done.
But this year, I’m going to try to avoid the need to do that, by starting my peppers indoors next week, on Feb. 15, a month ahead of my tomatoes. The plants will be pretty big by the time I put them outside about May 15, but I have plenty of room inside, so it will be a grand experiment.
By the way, in case you’re wondering what I did with more than 30 sweet bell peppers last October, let me share a tip. I cut the tops off, scooped out the seeds and the membranes, and blanched them in boiling water for 5 minutes. Then after cooling them in ice water, I drained them and dried them with a dish towel and put them on cookie sheets and put them in the freezer. When they were frozen, I transferred them to big Ziploc bags. We’ve been eating stuffed peppers, which we love, all winter. This year, I’m going to try roasting some before I freeze them. I think they’ll be good in salads, soups and on pizza.
Anyway, this started out to be a reprint of my story about Golden Bison tomatoes, which, by the way, turned out to be a big hit, not just at our house but with lots of friends to whom I have given plants. I’ve been saving my own seeds every year since 2015, and I’ll start a bunch this year, too. If you want a plant or two, come by the house about May 15. Here’s the Golden Bison story. Oh, and Happy Belated Birthday, Clay.
It started last March when Lillian and I attended a presentation by Robert Hanna of the Lewis and Clark Fort Mandan Foundation at the former North Dakota Governor’s Mansion.
Robert’s Foundation has taken over the interpretation of the Oscar H. Will Seed Co., and has a display of the company’s early products at their Interpretive Center in Washburn, N.D. That cold March night, Robert spent about an hour telling us about the Will company, complete with displays of seed packets sold by the company more than 100 years ago. (For a brief history of the company, founded here in the 1880s, go here.)
What caught our attention was a handout Robert gave us at the end of the session, listing the various places you still could purchase seeds once sold by the Will Co. We read that a company in Oregon had preserved one of Will’s heirloom tomato varieties called Golden Bison. We ordered some of the seeds last spring, planted them, and they were our best-producing tomato last summer. And early. We were eating them Aug. 12. And they kept producing right up until freeze-up.
Fast forward to Jan. 21 when I got a call from my friend, Sheila (pronounced Shy-la), inviting me to a birthday party — a small, intimate dinner she and our friend, Valerie, were hosting on Feb. 4 for our friend Clay. Clay was going to turn 60 that day, so she said that, for a present, we should bring 60 of something. That’s Sheila.
We puzzled over it for a bit. Clay likes wine and books, but 60 bottles of wine or six 10-year-old bottles of wine were a bit out of our price range, even if we could find them, and 60 books would be insignificant in that house of his with thousands of books, even if we could find 60 he hadn’t read, which is unlikely, unless there are 57 more books in the “50 Shades of Grey” series.
But almost simultaneously, Lillian and I hit on the perfect solution: Seeds. And not just any seeds. 60 Golden Bison heirloom tomato seeds. Golden Bison tomatoes were bred in North Dakota in 1932 by horticulturist A. F. Yeager at the North Dakota Agricultural College (now North Dakota State University, winner of four straight national football championships — sorry, couldn’t resist). Yeager was a pioneer in developing tomato strains for the northern tier of states, with short growing seasons. He did much of his research in Bottineau County, North Dakota, which is about as “northern” as you can get and still be in the U.S. He is credited with developing 14 varieties of tomatoes. I don’t know what happened to the other 13, but the identity of Golden Bison has been preserved all these 80-plus years, and they are great tomato plants, as I mentioned earlier. You can read about them by going here.
You should know that you can’t just buy any old ordinary seeds for Clay. He is a devout North Dakotan and personifies all things Dakota. The Golden Bison would be perfect for him. The problem was, we didn’t have any, and time was short. We thought we could just write up a card saying they had been ordered and were on their way, and give it to him, which would have been fine, but not great.
So, Jan. 24, I went to the website of Adaptive Seeds and pulled up the order form for Golden Bison, and ordered three packets, each of which had 30 seeds — two for Clay (60 total) and one for us. When I clicked on “checkout,” there was a message that said they were really busy this time of the year, and we should allow a few weeks for delivery. That was OK because we were just going to give him the card with the note anyway.
But down at the bottom of the order form was a box that said “Comments welcome.” So I thought, what the heck, I’ll send them a note. I wrote that the seeds were for a birthday present for a friend having a 60th birthday on Feb. 4 and that their Golden Bison seeds would be special for him because they were bred in North Dakota, and he was a true North Dakotan, and if there was any way they could get the seeds to us before Feb. 4, that would be appreciated, but if not, that was OK, too. I pushed “send” about 6 p.m. Saturday evening, Jan. 24.
On Jan. 27, the mailman brought us a manila envelope full of seeds from Adaptive Seeds, postmarked on their end Jan. 25. Sunday. The day after I had ordered them at 6 o’clock in the evening.
Inside were three packets of Golden Bison tomato seeds. Along with most of our other garden seeds for the year — I had liked their website so well — it was so friendly — that I decided to just forget the other 32 or so seed catalogs we had on the shelf and get most of this year’s stuff from them.
So there were carrot seeds, beans, mesclun, basil, lettuce, sugar snap peas, radishes and three other varieties of tomatoes. The whole order, most of what we would need for this summer’s garden, was just a shade over $50.
At the bottom of the receipt, it said the order was processed at 5:13 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015. Just 23 hours after I had ordered.
But the best thing was the handwritten note at the bottom of the receipt. It said “Thanks for your order! I hope your friend has a Happy Birthday. Happy sowing. Sarah” Accompanied by a drawing of a happy face.
Seeds ordered from Oregon on Saturday night. Seeds delivered to Bismarck on Tuesday afternoon. That is incredible customer service. Generally, when you buy things online, there is little or no human contact. One computer talking to another. Not with Adaptive Seeds. They have real people there. Real friendly people.
Better yet, to paraphrase, the proof of the tomatoes is in the eating. We ate them last year, and they were great. Even better than that, they are North Dakota bred, identity preserved, heirloom tomatoes.
When we gave them to Clay on Wednesday night, we offered to start some for him when we start ours in March because we know he is on the road a lot. We’re going to start a whole bunch anyway. So, if you are in Bismarck, or close by, and you want a couple plants, let me know, and come by May 15 to pick them up. That’s the day we plant outside. We’ll have plenty.
Or, you can just go to the Adaptive Seed website, order some, along with your other garden seeds, and start your own. As Sarah would say, “Happy Sowing.”
There are a lot of jambalaya recipes floating around the internet. Just how many of them are authentic is anybody’s guess. The way I figure it, for a jambalaya recipe to be the real deal, it must be from someone with ties to Louisiana.
The one I’m going to share with you today is just that. It comes from an old friend and colleague, the late Sue Ellyn Scaletta. Susie was awful proud of her jambalaya, which she often shared with her co-workers at the Grand Forks Herald. Along with her red beans, it was a testament to her Louisiana roots.
I had Susie’s recipe at one time but over the years seemed to have misplaced it. It wasn’t until a recent get-together with some former Herald newsroom employees at the home of Naomi Dunavan that I was reacquainted with the Cajun classic.
When Susie was fondly recalled, Naomi and another co-worker, Ann Bailey, said they had the aforementioned jambalaya recipe. I asked Naomi if she could make me a copy of the recipe, and she reciprocated.
Almost immediately, I made up my mind that I was going to make some jambalaya for supper. So, on my way home, I stopped by our local supermarket and purchased some shrimp and bell peppers. I had the rest of the ingredients, including a pound of andouille sausage, on hand.
The result exceeded my expectations and although the jambalaya may not have been quite as good as Susie’s, it surely was better than anything I could have created from a Web recipe.
And it gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling knowing that Susie would have approved.
1 pound large shrimp
2 16-ounce cans tomatoes
2 bell peppers (1 red)
2 to 3 stalks celery
20 ounces chicken broth
½ cup water
1 pound hot sausage
1½ cups uncooked rice
2 large onions
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons seasoning salt
Chop vegetables, setting aside half of the onions and peppers. Saute other vegetables in 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large pot until tender. Add chicken broth, water, rice and 1 can tomatoes after chopping them in a blender. Add seasoning salt, garlic and at least 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper. Bring to a boil, then put lid tightly on pot, turn down heat and steam for 20 to 30 minutes or until rice is done and liquid has cooked away.
Boil water seasoned with prepackaged shrimp boil seasoning. Only leave shrimp in the water until they turn pink. Drain and set aside.
Brown sausage that has been cut into small pieces in a frying pan. Set aside.
In another pot, saute the set-aside onions and peppers in olive oil. Add the second can of tomatoes that also have been chopped in blender. Season with cayenne pepper, seasoning salt and about 1 teaspoon sugar.
Add the cooked shrimp and sausage to the cooked vegetables and cook slowly for about 5 minutes then mix thoroughly with vegetable/rice mixture.
Well, on Thursday I said it to Jim. That statement that comes around every year:
“I don’t want to see another tomato again for quite awhile.”
By this point, we’ve converted thousands of tomatoes (Jim says over 1,700, plus my sister gave us some of hers) into salsa, juice, marinara — and Thursday, I canned 14 quarts of tomato basil soup. Oh, and all of those BLTs we ate for several months.
Peeling all of these takes hours, on my feet, nine gallon bags worth this morning. I started to whine that I feel like a canning factory worker rather than a retiree. But … but … but …
This will all be mighty tasty all the long North Dakota winterlong, and I finished in time to take in this afternoon’s Cinema 100 matinee. It was, in my humble opinion, a boring movie, and I wish I had instead gone for a bike ride on such a beautiful day.
On Wednesday, I converted all the bacon fat we’d accumulated for the last year into suet for our feeder. Thank heavens for this beast, my trusty KitchenAid mixer.
It had been our plan to have tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches for supper, but we got a better offer, a night out with some of the best friends we could hope for in our revolutions around the sun. We are richly blessed.
On Wednesday, I commandeered the canner from Jim so that I could make the season’s first batch of marinara at Red Oak House.
He grows a variety of tomatoes, including paste type, starting these from seed in the basement in the early spring. As I’ve previously written, he has harvested more than a thousand tomatoes and cans many jars of his specialty — juice. For marinara, he freezes the paste tomatoes, cuts off the tops and places them in Ziploc bags.
Tuesday night, he carried up the bags and placed them in the kitchen sink to thaw. The skins slip off easily, and I peel a total of 81, which will make a nice thick sauce. While I work, I listen to Prairie Public Radio and watch the world from my kitchen window.
Jim peels a couple of big heads of garlic, and I chop and saute the garlic in about 2 cups of olive oil.The garlic is fresh, a gift from our friend, Mike, who has a huge garden at his home near Gilby, N.D. (Our crop was paltry.)
I roughly follow the recipe in Marcella Hazan’s “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking,” with my own variations. Making the marinara at this time is ideal for several reasons, including that I have an ample supply of fresh basil and oregano from my garden.
After I have the tomatoes in the pots, I wash the bags and dry with one of the hand-embroidered dish towels that my mother stitches for us. I do this because we are thrifty and as environmentally conscious as possible. The tomato skins get dumped into our compost pile.
While the sauce simmers, I wash the quart jars in hot, soapy water. As the tomatoes “cook down,” I mash with my old-fashioned masher.
To stir the sauce, I use my favorite spoon, the one that was my mother’s all of her years raising children. It fits in my hand perfectly and is sturdy. If that spoon could tell stories…
The smoke from forest fires in the western U.S. is so thick today in North Dakota it is as if it is foggy. The amber light, although beautiful, is unsettling. In contrast to the smell of smoke outdoors, the aroma in my kitchen is divine. This makes us both happy, and we savor the thought of how delicious the marinara will be when the winter snow is deep.
After several hours of simmering, I add the chopped herbs and my secret ingredient, and ladle the marinara into the jars for processing, according to the Ball canning guide.
Five hours and six quarts down, along with a half-quart fresh on pasta for supper, with shrimp. I tuck my apron away in the drawer, a good day’s work done.
Over an inch of rain in the gauge when we returned from Colorado and some showers this week reminded us that it still “can” rain in this country, and for this we give thanks.
I spent Saturday afternoon sitting on the patio, nursing my knee injury and reading a book that I’m reviewing but eventually retreated to the house to listen to Prairie Home Companion and catch up on some work on my laptop.
Jim dug half of the Pontiac Red potatoes, and he cooked two for supper, along with broccoli, accompanied by grilled steaks from our brother-in-law. The broccoli has been abundant, from a few small plants we bought last spring from Cottontail Greenhouse south of Mandan, N.D.
The freezer is almost full and just needs an infusion of walleye from the fall Missouri River bite and some pheasants and goose. Then, it is “Bring on the Dakota winter”! My sister gifted us with some of her beautiful garlic, to supplement our pitiful harvest.
I’m not sure why, but I’ve put the autumn decor out early this year. Perhaps it is a sign of weariness of this hot and dry summer and readiness for the glorious cool and blue days of September in North Dakota. Perhaps my cue is the arrival of the chrysanthemums. Listening to Jim and Jeff talk about the fall bite on the river puts me in the mood, for certain. None of us particularly like hot weather.
Jim is coaxing hundreds of green tomatoes to ripen, in the face of soon-to-come frost. He applied fertilizer to hasten the process as per the advice of my Aunt Frances, and he is severely pruning the plants, too. Hopefully, this week’s return to high 80s will do its magic.
A couple of late daylilies have peeked out, the last of this season. Soon enough, it will be time to cut back all of the foliage to prepare for winter. But for now, we enjoy the fruits of our labor, and I hope you do as well.
Here at Red Oak House, we’ve established a tradition, an annual mid-August BLT party with our good friends Bob and Jodi and Larry and Charlotte. Some years Clay attends if he is in town.
We cook up the bacon from Crow Butte Mercantile and slice up a bunch of our home-grown tomatoes. We were pleased today because, usually, our garden lettuce is not growing at the same time as our tomatoes, however for some reason this year, it is, so our guests also got lettuce freshly picked this morning. (I think it was because Jim planted it where there is quite a lot of shade.) For the toast, we served Bread Poets Maah Daah Hey Trail bread and fresh sourdough.
For a very special dessert, I created my special yellow tomato lime sorbet, using my sister’s ice cream maker. This is very popular and a surprisingly tasty treat. I mean, who would think that yellow tomatoes would work out this way?
The conversation is scintillating, and we have lots of laughs, too. Sadly, the daylilies have waned, but the day dawned nice and cool, so we won’t broil on the back patio, our preferred spot for this party. We’ve had two very nice rain showers in the past two days, and for this, we rejoice.
Earlier this spring, I planted 80 gladiolus bulbs, and a few are now blooming.
In case you were wondering, my German chocolate cake was a big hit with my family last night. It was wonderful to have many of us together on a summer’s night, celebrating another year for my pa. We didn’t opt for 90-plusl candles.
When I was a little girl, Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman” was a big hit on AM radio. Somehow, because my father had been a lineman in Mississippi in the time period after World War II I got confused and for a little while and was pretty sure he and Glen Campbell were one and the same person. I eventually got this sorted out and understood the truth, but I’m still rather fond of the song.
Other musings: This photo was a happy reminder for me of a past hike, taken five years ago today. I so love Theodore Roosevelt National Park that I’ll climb the tall bison fence to get into the backcountry. My husband took this photo. My sister, Sarah, joined us for the hike and just as nimbly clambered over that fence.
Garden news is that I planted the hosta seed I’ve been harvesting. We’ll see what happens. A seed can be magic, a miracle in the palm of my hand.
On the way to pick up supplies at the grocery store, I spotted this sign. Good sentiment.
Other tiny seeds have turned this summer to these beauties.
In the kitchen, I’m converting the bounty to yellow tomato lime sorbet and listening to Campbell’s last release as I putter.