Archive for the ‘Fruit’ Category

Ladies and Gentlemen, please help me welcome back our dear friend and talented poet, Ruth Bavetta. Her poem “Autumn Sacrifice”, which originally appeared in Spillway, is the perfect way to show off the first pomegranate to come from my fledgling tree. Thank you again Ruth, for sharing your talent.

...Punica granatum - November 2011

Autumn Sacrifice

~ By Ruth Bavetta

When I bring the pomegranates into the kitchen,
already my hands are stained with red.

The bruised globes, with their gaping wounds,
ooze crimson onto the white tiles.

The hard dry skins resist my knife.
A slip, and my blood mingles with the fruit’s.

Cooked with sugar, thickened, poured into jars,
the jelly is both sweet and bitter.

(Previously published in Spillway)

...A plate of rubies


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I meant to do my work today,
But a brown bird sang in the apple tree,
And a butterfly flitted across the field,
And all the leaves were calling me.

–Richard Le Gallienne (1866–1947)

Miss Peanut answers the call of a Mint leaf

Well, the last week has simply been heaven. Every spare moment was spent planting the seedlings started during Spring Break. Several huge cans full of grass and weeds were pulled as well. There is still a lot to be done, but the garden looks tended again. It’s impossible to express just how good for me this process has been. My intellectual pursuits of the last 20 months were very intense and I had not been grounded in the way I need, which is that special brand of grounded I only get from, well, the ground. All head and no body makes one a bit insane after a time. The garden is medicine. My muscles are delightfully sore and I have a touch of color back in my cheeks. The weather was even on my side with cool cloud cover and a bit of rain midweek. The photos all came out with a bit of fog in the center, so I apologize for the quality – not worth retaking them though. Let’s just pretend that I was going for that vintage nostalgic hazy days of summer sepia toned wonder and call it a day. Later I’ll clean the lens, since I know I probably thumbed it with sunscreen. We get messy when we’re gardening 🙂

Somewhere around 42 Tomato seedlings went into the ground in various spots around the property. They had priority, of course. Those are the leftover winter peas drying on the tops of the stakes so I can plant them later.

the Brandywines are in the ground and all is right with the world

The Artichoke seedlings, 4 of them, came from last year’s fruit.

Artichoke seedling

I found a bird’s nest, probably doves, in a burrow on the ground in the meditation circle. This makes four nests that I save in a special place in the potting shed. They are among my favorite things.

I have quite a growing collection of bird's nests in the potting shed

The Hollyhock seedlings are from Andrea’s seeds, so of course I’m hoping for dark colored flowers!

Andrea's Hollyhock seeds are finally in the ground

Tom bought me an upside down hanging Strawberry planter so I would have more than just a few ripe ones at a time. He loves me.

Tom's Topsy Turvy

There were at least three of these cans full of grass and weeds pulled out to make room for seedlings.

out with the old - in with the new!

At a certain point, I had pulled out so many plants needing new homes, I had to spread out over the lawn. I find I have to make a mess before I can bring about any kind of order.

finding joy amid the chaos

There is still a lot of transplanting to do; finding new homes for what I dug up, re-potting things that have grown out of their pots, moving all succulents and cacti to pots leaving more ground for herbaceous plants, etc…

looking for new homes

When I get it all cleaned up, probably by the Full Moon this coming Wednesday, I’ll be able to sit in my rocking chair and celebrate with a juicy glass of wine. In the meantime, the bees are busy gathering pollen…

greedy little bee in an Agapanthus

…the flowers are blooming…

Roses and Grapes and Andrea's birdhouse

…completely oblivious to the fact that I’m literally turning the entire garden upside down. The only ones to really notice have been the spiders, but we get along famously as long as we respect each others space.

the ever-faithful Feverfew

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We’ve had our ‘Manila’ Mango, Mangifera indica, for three years.The first summer we had it we didn’t get any fruit, but I expect that from a sapling. Last year it put out fruit but it was all very tiny, like large jelly beans covered with ugly dark spots. The mini-fruits that I taste tested were so good, I couldn’t wait for the tree to mature and put out regular sized healthy fruit, and I was hoping the black spots were not a sign of trouble. This year, it looks dead in the water and there is no new growth and no sign of an impending inflorescence, and the spots are now all over the leaves. I’ve been painfully aware of its troubles for months and I finally have the time to investigate why.

Manila Mango

Mangoes do not need trimming or a lot of fussing, but they do need good drainage and I think this might be the issue here. It’s planted on a slight raise in the lawn but the soil underneath is heavy clay. Sometimes the water sits in the plant well for hours before soaking in and this could lead to root diseases. Time for mulching and soil amendment, and a good feeding since it has to compete with the lawn for nutrients.

poor thing

Also, I think it has a fungus called ‘anthracnose’, which is such an awesome name for a wicked fungus don’t you think?

So, I have treated it with a fungicide and I’m hoping for the best. It has the entire summer to rest and recover in the sun and let the medicine do its job. If it doesn’t improve or show some signs of forward-moving life in the next few months, it will have to be pulled out and replaced, or moved to a pot where I can air out the root system. We do our best, but sometimes a plant is beyond recovery. Sadly, I have not been entirely happy with both of the fruit trees I bought at this particular nursery. Both trees were stunted in severe ways and have not done well.

My sister-in-law, Lori, really loves mangoes and this one is planted in between our houses just for that reason. For her sake, I hope it pulls through…fingers crossed!

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When we were little, our mothers sent us outside to play when we were getting on her nerves. We thought she was being sweet and encouraging us to have fun when all she really wanted was a moment alone with her thoughts and perhaps a Highball or two. Well, I’m on my own nerves lately, so the moment I get free from work, rain or no rain, I’m going outside to play and I’m dragging Tom with me.

Carrots get curly if the soil isn't loose enough - be sure to prepare your soil!

In gardening news, it’s an excellent time to plant anything with an underground harvest such as root vegetables, like carrots before it gets too warm, or bulbs. Today I’m planting the garlic that was leftover from an olive oil roasting I did on Monday. When the garlic you use in the kitchen has little green centers, it means the garlic is growing again in your pantry and it will most likely be bitter tasting and it’s past its prime. Bury it and you’ll have fresh garlic later. I know I’ve said it before, but I really really want you to plant garlic! It helps keeps aphids off your roses and vampires will think twice before messing with your garden.

red Dragon Carrot - sweet and adds color to salads or cake - did someone say cake? 🙂

It’s also a good time to plant radishes if you live somewhere with a cool spring. I just harvested mine, so I won’t be planting more, but it’s not too late if you want to get another batch through before summer. I had the “Easter Egg” blend and they were delicious!

Spring Radishes - Easter Egg Blend - April 2011

The Moon is waning so it’s also a good time to prune where needed. My pruning is done for now, so I can take a break on that front. In fact, the garden seems to be doing her own thing quite effectively right now, so I can take a little breather. I have some extremely feral patches around the property, but I’ve put those off until summer when school is over. Thanks to the budget cuts, summer classes have been canceled so I have no opportunity to change my mind about taking the summer off. Tom and I are going to plan a little trip someplace we’ve never been. It’s very exciting.

I didn't really like carrots until I grew my own

This is also a good time to think about feeding your garden. Spring is a time when nature has a voracious appetite and plants need food and mulch and compost-y nourishment to reach their full potential fruit and bloom-wise. I like the pellet kind of food because I can walk around the garden with a bucket of it and toss toss toss. I’ve tried the Miracle Grow liquid with the hose attachment and, although the food itself works well, it’s not a great way to apply it and I think it wastes a lot of water while being inconsistent with the delivered amounts. I did see an ad in Sunday’s paper that they have a fairly new device with premixed solution, but I have not tried it yet. The bucket/toss method seems to work for me, for now. That’s the key with this gardening thing – do whatever works for you and you alone. Gardening is a much easier task than it was even a decade or so ago. When I started gardening seriously about 10-15 years ago, there wasn’t a huge online community of plant enthusiasts, garden blogs were rare, websites that explained how to care for plants were terribly incomplete, tools and products were still old fashioned and not much of it was geared toward those of us who choose the organic way. Now, the world is your oyster, or pea, if you want anything from a tiny pot of herbs on your urban balcony, to a farm in the backyard, and anything and everything in between. Information is instant online and there’s a huge community of people just like me writing about gardens just like mine and sharing information. It’s awesome, easy, rewarding and healthy, and will improve your mood considerably. Even if it’s just one Strawberry plant – the fresh and pristine pesticide-free fruit will have you hooked in no time. So, what are you waiting for? Go outside and play!

Inside a sea of Nasturtiums - March 2011

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This week, I finally got an extra afternoon hour to go outside! I decided to hang the beautiful birthday gift from my friends Matthew and Sherry: the perfect box for strawberries! Now perhaps I can enjoy my strawberries before the sow bugs get to them. Strawberries, by the way, are not actually berries. They are an ‘aggregate accessory fruit’ which means that the edible part is not a single fruit from the plant’s ovary, which basically defines a berry. What you’re eating is fleshy tissue that surrounds the ovary and those tiny seeds on the outside are actually ‘achenes‘ or tiny little crunchy ovaries with teeny tinier seeds inside. Now you know.

A box of strawberries - March 2011

Also, I got to play in the grass! This is what our grass looked like that day. This was two days ago, so it’s even taller now. It’s up past my knees. I’m five feet tall so that’s not saying much, but it is like a prairie in the backyard, thanks to the last rain. I haven’t watered the lawn in months and this is how good it looks!

back home on the prairie! March 2011

I really love the color and texture of spring grass! We could hide some wicked eggs in this.

what the world looks like to a grasshopper

What I really wanted to do was grab a blanket and take a nap in the afternoon sun. Today is Friday, the normal day for the man who mows our lawn….I hope so anyways!

time for bare feet and a good book

In the world of agriculture, the name for what happens when a rice crop falls over, like the grass in my photo below, is called ‘lodging.’ It’s bad because you cannot harvest a plant when it’s laying flat on the ground. So, the agri-dudes in charge crossed tall rice plants with shorter rice plants because shorter rice plants don’t ‘lodge’ and now they get higher crop yields. Now you know. See, there are times in life when being short is ideal – ha!

lodging! March 2011

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A couple weeks ago in botany class, I had to write an essay about a plant that was used as a food. We could choose anything we wanted, as long as our professor hadn’t done a lecture on it already. His lectures focus on major ‘agribusiness’ types of foods like corn or wheat, so I chose to report on the fig. There’s a tree in the backyard, so it was a perfect choice. It contains a bit more commercial information than I usually write, but I had no choice about that aspect and actually learned a few things. Since I haven’t had a moment to do much here, I thought I would post the essay as a ‘ready made’ blog post as soon as I got my grade back. So here it is, my boring essay on the fig, which I did not have time to edit much for a website, so it may fit a bit awkwardly into this space – and yes I got an A 🙂

Spring Fig - 2010

The Fig
Ficus carica

My earliest memory of figs has to do with cookies. Our family cookie jar always had a variety, but the one constant was a sleeve or two of delicious Fig Newtons. My mother thought they were healthy, so she kept them in stock and the family never really discussed what was in the middle of the cookie. In fact, it was not until I was well into my 30’s that I encountered a fig in its natural state, fresh from the tree and not in a cookie. They instantly became a favorite fruit and I eventually bought my own tree so I could eat them fresh. It still amuses me when I offer one right off the tree to a houseguest and they look at me funny because they have never had a fresh fig. Everyone thinks of the cookie first. So, what exactly is a fig and why don’t more people know more about this delicious and nutritious little fruit, apart from its cookie fame?

Figs actually have a long and rich history and a high profile in our collective mythology. The Bible alone mentions the fig fifty seven times, the most famous reference being of Adam and Eve using the leaves as clothing. It is one of only five fruits mentioned in the Quran, and the Ficus religiosa, or Holy Fig, is the tree believed to have adopted Buddha when he received enlightenment. A fig tree is said to have adopted the ancient Roman god, Mithras. This view of the fig tree as a “Great Mother” also figures into the mythology of the Babylonian Ishtar and the Gaulish gods, Dusii. Even Hindu mythology has a story of the “Cosmic Fig Tree” which has the power to grant wishes. Figs were used in love spells and fertility rituals, grown around the home for good luck and prosperity, and the leaves have been used in divination. Sixteenth century herbalist John Gerard credited the fig with curing tumors and “…roughnesse of the skinne, lepries, spreading sores, small pockes, measles, pushes, wheales, freckles, lentiles and scurvinesse of the body and face…” (Herbal or General History of Plants, 1597).

Botanically speaking, the common edible fig, or Ficus carica is of the:
* Subkingdom: Tracheobionta – making it a vascular plant
*Superdivision: Spermatophyta – making it a seed plant
*Division: Magnoliophyta – making it a flowering plant
*Class: Magnoliopsida – making it a Dicotyledon
*Subclass: Hamamelididae: meaning its flowers are often unisex
*Order: Urticales
*Family: Moraceae or Mulberry – which makes it a relative of the rubber plant

Fig Preserves - August 2010

The fruit of the Ficus carica is actually a Syconium, or the inverted inflorescence of the tree. This means it has no visible flowers and the flowers are female, so do not require pollination. The fruit is extremely fragile when ripe and must be consumed or processed immediately. I always use gloves when harvesting because the white sticky sap irritates the skin. The trees grow quickly and can be propagated by cuttings or grafting. They are also deciduous. In fact, my fig tree is always the first plant to lose its leaves in the winter. They thrive in areas with a long hot growing season and a mild winter. Their shallow root system makes it possible to grow them in containers, which can be moved indoors in cooler climate winters. In my experience, they are a relatively easy tree to care for. The only time I need to prune is when the tree gets too tall or develops ‘suckers.’ There are also few pests to worry about, so it is compatible with my organic gardening style. There are usually two crops per season. The first comes from the ‘embryo figs’ which are like leftover fruits from the season before, and the main summer crop, which lasts all summer and into the early fall.

Luscious Figs

My favorite part of eating the fruit is to break it open and study the insides first. It truly looks like an ‘inside out’ flower and the gritty seeds add a fun crunch to whatever dishes I decide to make. When I bought mine, it was no more than three feet tall and now, 6 years later, it stands about nine feet tall and produces more fruit than my family can eat. We like to slice the fig onto a square of puff pastry and bake it in the oven with a dab of goat cheese, honey, and walnuts. We also like to dip them in chocolate. Honestly, I think they are best right off the tree while standing in the garden. Mother Nature must agree with me because every year the ripe fruit attracts possums, rats, mockingbirds, and large yellow birds, which I believe are Hooded Orioles. If you want a fresh ripe fig for breakfast at my house, you have to get up earlier than the wildlife!

Chocolate Dipped Figs and Fig Bread Pudding...drool

Because of the fragility of the fruit, they are not commonly found fresh in the grocery store. This may explain the fact that my guests have rarely had one before I offer. Most of the figs produced are processed and sold dried or canned to manufacturers of jams, jelly and preserves, cookies, trail mix, and energy bars. The fruit is generally the only part of the plant processed, although the leaves can be used for teas or yellow dyes. California produces about 40,000 tons of figs a year, 98% of all US production. Turkey grows about one fourth of the world’s figs, followed by Egypt, Greece, Iran, and Morocco.

Figs were originally cultivated in Asia Minor as early as 9400-9200 BC, based on fossilized fruit found in the Jordan Valley. This information means that the fig predates barley, wheat, and legumes in terms of early agriculture. They eventually spread through the Mediterranean areas and were brought to California in the 1700’s by Spanish missionary priests. Black Mission Figs get their name specifically from being planted at the Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala, by Franciscan missionaries.

Ripe Fig

My mother may have been right about the nutritional value of the fig cookies kept in the family jar. Figs have a higher fiber content than any other common fruit, vegetable or nut. They have the highest level of calcium of all plant sources, higher even than cow’s milk, and their potassium content is 80% higher than a banana’s. They are also excellent sources of protein and iron. They contain flavonoids, which have value as antioxidants. Even the Roman scholar Pliny claimed that figs were a main component in slaves’ diets because of the high nutritional value and availability.

In recent years, I have noticed an increase of fresh figs on the menu in restaurants due to more chefs using local fresh foods. I find this trend exciting now that I have a tree of my own for inspiration. It is a delicious, interesting, and versatile fruit. The more I learn of its history and nutritional value, the more I look for ways to serve it and to share it with friends. Sometimes, this backfires because I have initiated so many fig fans that my harvest gets smaller every year as people arrive with empty bags in hand.

Well, that’s the end of it. A fairly enjoyable essay to write since the parameters of the assignment included personal experience as well as mythology and folklore, which are among my main interests regarding the plant world. I deleted the bibliography, but if you’d like to know where all the info on commercial food plants can be found, just ask me. There was so much more information about figs, but I had to limit my paper to a certain size – I was amazed at how many fig types there were and how they were all a bit different. At a certain point I could have written a book! Speaking of school and books…I’m off to attend class as soon I can find my sneakers. I think today’s lecture is on plants used as psychoactive drugs. For some reason, I have this feeling there will be a few more students in attendance than there were last Thursday, when the lecture was on plants used for aspirin and birth control pills!

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The sun, with all those planets revolving around it and dependent on it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the universe to do.

~ Galileo Galilei

Grapes Leaves and Sky

Several years ago, Tom and I bought a Cabernet Grape vine while out on one of our shopping excursions. In fact, I think we were at Costco buying food. I always run through the garden section, simply because I cannot “not” go into the garden section. There they were, so we brought them home and planted them by the Gothic iron archway that Gina and Lori had gifted me for my birthday.

Gently Sun-Kissed

They’ve done really well and we’ve had fun watching them grow. The leaves are always beautiful and it amazes me how the vines themselves reach out in fearless exploration, sometimes climbing over the fence into the neighbor’s yard.

I'm always awestruck by ripe clusters of grapes in my very own garden

This year, we decided to try our hand at making grape jelly. The grapes are not sweet enough to really be table grapes and we’re still experimenting with what else to do with them.

Bacchus would approve

We cooked them in a pot with a little sugar.

..in a cauldron...

Then we put them through the food mill to get rid of skins and seeds and ‘whatnot’.

grind and grind and grind and grind

Then back in the pot for the final cook. This is where all the Magic happened. They wanted quite a bit of sugar. We put the final product in jars and ate it on toast. It was delicious!

There is definitely some High Magic going on here!

Next year, I’d like to try making Dolma with the leaves, and maybe a different kind of jam or some juice. Who knows.

Late summer grape leaves and Queene Anne's Lace

As the year fades, the leaves turn yellow then orange and finally, bright red. They dry up and fall, leaving naked vines which I cut back in February with the Roses…and we start all over.

Fading into the Sunset

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