Autumn has arrived yet again and I want to share with you some of the wonderful things I grew in my veggie garden this year. I wish that I could have featured all of these in recipes but in a gardening and cooking blogger’s life, everything in one’s head (and garden) doesn’t always make it to print. I know you’ll recognize some of these though, so I wasn’t a total slacker.
While it may sometimes sound like I’m a paid spokesperson for certain seed companies, I assure you I’m not. One of my favorite seed companies, which I’ve mentioned in previous posts, is Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. They have a fantastic selection of heirloom and unusual seeds and I typically have very good luck with growing their vegetables.
Early in the spring, I started with planting their Garden Pea Desiree Dwarf Blauwschokkers (say that 3 times fast!). These are gorgeous purple peas that can be harvested young and eaten like snow peas or left to mature and eaten as regular peas. The packet states they don’t require staking, as they’re a dwarf variety, but I think mine appreciated the fence support I gave them. Even their blooms are beautiful.
Here’s a shot of the peas on the vine after a rainfall:
And here’s my first harvest of them:
My first few harvests, I picked them young and then my last I let them go to regular pea size. Here in zone 5, I planted them in early May and they were done by early July.
Early spring I also planted their Aurora Mixed Orach which, if you’ve never grown or seen it, is simply gorgeous. I’ve read where some people plant it strictly as an ornamental which, in my opinion, is a waste of a delicious green.
Orach is also called “saltbush” and “mountain spinach” and one the great things about it is that it’s slow to bolt, unlike real spinach. It’s very versatile, as you can enjoy it raw as a green (or purple, if you will) or cook it like you would spinach or Swiss chard. (Here’s my easy Swiss Chard Recipe, which works great with Orach)
Some other greens I grew this year were spicy mustard greens and my usual microgreens for fresh salads. Mustard greens have some serious kick when eaten raw, but it mostly disappears when you cook them.
My husband and I love beets just about any way you can serve them. Roasted is our favorite and easiest way to enjoy them, but I also make a Grated Beet and Carrot Slaw and Refrigerator Pickled Beets out of them when I have an overload and want to preserve them. I like to grow the rainbow variety, for their beautiful colors.
Fennel is another early summer favorite; it’s delicious raw and roasted and easy to grow. Be careful of planting them too close together though, as they won’t form a nice bulb if you do. I still always pick some early, because I’m too impatient to wait until they’re all fully mature.
We toss our fennel right on the grill or pop it under the broiler to roast it. Raw, we enjoy it in salads or by itself.
My simple Fennel, Tomato, and Cucumber Salad is a favorite in our house. Cool and crisp, it’s an easy summertime salad.
Even I’m willing to admit that I went a little bean crazy this year, but Bakers Creek had such a nice variety that I got a little carried away. Pictured below from left to right are Red Swan beans, Green Bush beans, and French Velour beans. As a side note, the Red Swan and French Velour all turn green once cooked but their flavors are distinctive. The Red Swan beans are very buttery if picked while young and the French Velour beans have a sharper, grassier flavor. They all worked well in my Sesame Green Bean Recipe, which I made quite often this summer.
If you’re a fan of peppers with a little heat, shishito peppers will not disappoint. They mature quickly and continue to produce all season, turning red (and hotter) as the season winds down.
Roasting or charring them is the easiest way to prepare them – check out my recipe for Charred Shishito Peppers for the full scoop on making them.
This year was one of the best tomato seasons that I’ve had for a number of years, despite the cooler-than-normal August temperatures and very dry end of summer.
My selection this year was Roma-style Corleone tomatoes, smaller Black Vernissage, big, beefy Paul Robeson’s and Blue Gold Berries cherry variety.
Here’s a photo of the first three:
And here’s a shot of the Blue Gold Cherries:
And here’s a photo of the gorgeous Golden Gazpacho I made with them:
What do you do with a ton of tomatoes? Well, if you’re a regular follower of mine, you already know some of the easy ways I like to enjoy and also preserve them. Here are my current top 10 tomato recipes:
- Homemade tomato sauce recipe
- Easy, no-cook tomato sauce recipe
- Garden fresh gazpacho recipe
- Golden yellow heirloom gazpacho recipe
- Roasted tomato and garlic soup and gazpacho recipe
- Fried green tomatoes with fresh tomato salsa recipe
- Trinidad scorpion pepper salsa recipe
- Chunky canned tomato salsa recipe
- My famous ghost chili salsa recipe
- Pasta with shrimp, fresh tomatoes, and basil
Whew! See, I know what it’s like to have an overabundance of tomatoes.
A new favorite pepper of ours is the ajvarski pepper. I don’t always have great luck with my peppers turning red in large quantities but these sure did. Large, heavy-skinned and extremely fragrant, I’ll be growing these for years to come.
My husband and I have fallen in love with making ajvar from these and, since we also grow our own eggplant, it’s an easy dish to make fresh from the garden. Roasted peppers, eggplant, and garlic, blended together with vinegar and olive oil is a healthy, easy spread to enjoy with a loaf of crusty bread and a glass of wine.
Another Baker Creek pepper I had great luck with this year are these Sweet Yellow Stuffing Peppers:
Yes, my peppers are orange and not yellow, but I’m not complaining. As you can see in the photo, they go from green to pale yellow to bright orange, which is when I harvest mine. I’m not sure why they’re called “stuffing peppers”, as they’re only a few inches tall but they’re very sweet and ripen very quickly – a definite garden win, in my book!
Also, a note on my peppers and tomatoes – I start my pepper plants indoors in mid-February and my tomatoes in mid-March. This way, I have a headstart on the growing season.
So now, we’re almost to October and some plants are being pulled as the growing season winds down. My tomato and pepper plants are always my last holdouts, as I’ll take whatever I can harvest before the first frost.
Soon enough, I’ll be planning next year’s garden and seeing what new vegetables I can find.
Happy Autumn everyone!