Thursday, September 29, 2011

Listen to another pawpaw story

This is just a quick post to bring to your attention another pawpaw story, this one on the radio. Listen to it from today's Morning Edition show on National Public Radio. And let me know if you've tried a pawpaw and what you think about it.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Garden dreaming

During my walk today I saw garden flags faded by the summer sun looking forlorn without the growing green abundance that embraced them just a month ago. Yes, fall is here and the warm, green days are slowly turning to autumn gold.

This is the time of year when I remember the garden dreaming I did during the past winter. I wanted to create a garden that would be like an exquisite collection of jewels, all neatly displayed and tenderly cared for throughout the season so I could show them off and feel proud of my work.

Reality always looks somewhat different.

There was that celery experiment that ended in lifeless plants.

My parsley came up later than usual and is just now producing nice-sized leaves.

I wanted to have a fall crop of greens. The first planting only grew weeds. I’m afraid my follow up is having the same result.

I’m still thinking about the “no till” method of gardening that begins in the fall when you layer cardboard, organic fertilizer (more commonly known as manure) and straw. If I get my act together and gather all of those items, I’ll try it on at least one third of my garden. If.

But I have had some successes, also.

The new greenhouse gave us healthy seedlings to plant.

The jicama, my new, successful crop, is still flourishing. I’ll let it grow until frost is nearer then I’ll dig and see what I have under the ground.

I’ve planted tomatoes in pots to try to grow in my green house after frost arrives. That will be a fun experiment.

And we still have tomatoes, peppers, beets, beans, carrots, raspberries and herbs to enjoy this month. Plus the turnips will be maturing.

Yes, there have been some successes. I’ll use the good energy that gives me to move some of my perennial flowers and herbs to new spots where they’ll do better next year then I’ll map them so I can remember where I put them.

Gardens thrive with planning, work and dreaming. Here’s to making a plan, with resolve, that can turn a dream into reality.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Plumbing tool helps with canning

Weekends still equal canning time in our home as fall fruits are ripening. Yesterday we worked on the bucket of pears a friend of ours gave to us. As I read instructions for canning pears, Jim went out to his shop to create a “corer.” I didn’t understand what he was doing or why until I saw the magic happen.

As we all know, one of the time consuming tasks of preserving fruit is peeling and cutting. Jim’s idea was to make it easier by turning a ¾” piece of copper pipe into a corer. All he did was cut it to the correct length to core a pear then attach a joint piece of pipe to the top to use as a handle.

To core the pear, he sat it upright on a cutting board, placed it over the core then pushed down. When he showed me the perfectly round hole it made, leaving us with less cutting to do when we quartered the pears, it looked like a big of magic.

So now the pears are on the shelf and we’re looking forward to delicious fruit this winter. It pays to have a husband who’s in the home repair business. Who knows what tool he’ll put to work in the kitchen for our next time consuming task.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Closing thoughts about pawpaws

Since I was attending a conference in Lexington on Saturday, I spent my lunch hour wandering around the farmer’s market downtown. Beautifully colored and shaped vegetables, along with some wonderful fall apples, pears and berries, filled table after table. And yes, I found a few pawpaws. They were small but ripening nicely and sure to be tasty very soon.

I was hoping to wrap up this pawpaw series with a recipe or two but I’m still perfecting them, so I’ll post them later. The smoothie I made last week was quite good, although a bit heavy. I need to adjust amounts of everything. The muffins were scrumptious but didn’t have quite as much pawpaw flavor as I had aimed for. So again, I’ll adjust, try again, then feel better about sharing those recipes.

However, I don’t want to leave the subject of pawpaws without pointing out their phenomenal nutritional benefits. Dr. Hideka Kobayashi, KSU, gave a presentation at the conference about the research he has done on the antioxidant capacity and anticancer properties of the North American pawpaw. He noted that pawpaws have more nutrients than bananas, apples and oranges. They are especially high in Vitamins A, C and niacin. Their phenolic content (which is related to their antioxidant capacity) is comparable to that of a superior strawberry, peach, orange or banana. And their antioxidant capacity is comparable to some varieties of blueberries. Dr. Kobayashi concluded that the fruit offers great potential for their antioxidant and anticancer properties.

You can find a nutritional comparison chart and a portion of daily needs chart comparing pawpaws to bananas, apples and oranges at the KSU website. So read it now then run out to purchase the last pawpaws of this season.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Plant your own pawpaw trees

As I scooped out pawpaw flesh from the fruits last night and put it into my food processer to puree and freeze, I thought about all I had learned over the weekend about growing the trees this wonderful fruit comes from. There are many fine points to learn that experienced growers can share. I’ll give you the basics. For more information, be sure to visit the Kentucky State University pawpaw page.

Dr. Kirk Pomper, Principal Investigator of Horticulture at KSU, presented the session on growing pawpaw trees. Remember that growing conditions vary geographically (some attendees were from Romania, the Netherlands and Canada) but you can learn how to adjust tree care for your local climate and soil conditions.

1) You can save seed from the pawpaw you buy. Do not let it dry out. Store it in moist peat moss or in a plastic bag with a damp paper towel in the refrigerator for at least three months before planting.

2) There are a few nurseries that sell seedlings if you prefer to start that way. Growers sometimes raise seedlings to sell, also, so if you find someone to purchase the fruit from, ask about the fruit tree.

3) Look for an appropriate site for the trees. Although they are shade tolerant and grow naturally in the forest, without sun the tree will be less productive. Once you select an area for planting, begin eliminating the weeds. An organic way to do this is through “solarization” in which you cover the area with clear plastic for one year to let the sun kill the weeds. Follow that with an organic ground covering such as hay or a nitrogen-fixing plant.

4) Test the soil for a pH between 5.5 and 7.0. The site should also have good drainage.

5) Dr. Pomper recommends spacing trees 6.5 feet apart in rows 18 feet apart. If planting at home, remember to leave adequate space around the plant but also keep in mind that you’ll need to mow around them.

6) During the first year of growing, the plant needs to be shaded for protection. Growers seemed to have some disagreement with this recommendation but there are tree shelters you can use if it sounds like something you want to try. I didn’t hear any disagreement about the importance of irrigation during the first two years.

7) Another important factor—fertilization. Organic growers say there are organic fertilizers available that work well.

8) Pruning is important. The pawpaw tree is tough (stands up against ice storms) but delicate (the wind can blow off a limb filled with heavy fruit). To strengthen the tree, Dr. Pomper recommends pruning. Pruning might result in waiting for a longer time for the tree to produce fruit, but the results can be better.

9) These trees seem to be relatively unharmed by pests and diseases. Leaf and fruit spot have been the most common problem KSU had identified. One way to diminish its occurrence is to clear away any fruit that drops onto the ground and rots.

Before planting, take note: pawpaw seedlings begin producing fruit in seven to eight years; grafted trees produce in five to six. So while you wait for your trees to grow, don’t lose track of your local pawpaw grower.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Tasting the pawpaws

Pawpaw Extravaganza Dinner
September 10, 2011
Kentucky State University
Kentucky Freshwater Prawn Tails with Pawpaw Cocktail Sauce and Pawpaw Smoothies
Meal: Curried Pawpaw‐Butternut Squash‐Sweet Potato Soup
Hearts of Romaine Salad with Pawpaw Vinaigrette
Pork Loin Medallions with Sweet Pawpaw Sauce
Baked Kentucky Tilapia with Fresh Pawpaw Salsa
Roasted New Potatoes
Mixed Fresh Kentucky Vegetables
Dessert: Pawpaw Crème Brulee ‐ Courtesy of Chef Robert Perry, University of Kentucky Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems Working Group
Pawpaw Ice Cream and Cookies – Courtesy of Master Baker Gary Gottenbusch, Servatii Pastries, Cincinnati, OH

That was the menu Saturday evening at The 3rd International Pawpaw Conference at Kentucky State University in Frankfort. The conference brought together scientists, growers, preservationists and sustainable agriculture aficionados to share information about pawpaw growing and marketing. Of course, you can’t talk about those things without also doing plenty of pawpaw sampling. Saturday night’s closing conference dinner provided opportunities for that.

Because of its creamy texture, pawpaw cooking works best when the pulp is removed from the fruit then pureed. Then it can be used in numerous ways, always retaining at least some of its unique, sweet flavor. Dishes prepared with pawpaws generally have a faint yellowish to orange color, depending on the amount of pulp used and the other ingredients added.

I began the evening with the Pawpaw Smoothie. I’m a smoothie fan so I knew I would like this version that was slightly sweet with a subtle pawpaw flavor. When we heard from the cooks later in the evening, we discovered the pawpaw had been mixed with a couple of other fruits in the smoothie. So if you want to try this at home, choose your favorite fruits and see what you get.

Since I’m not a prawn fan, I relied on Jim to rate the Pawpaw cocktail sauce. It was too sweet for his taste. It likely didn’t stand out because it was prepared from a bottled cocktail sauce to which the cooks added pawpaw puree.

Next we moved on to the meal. As a soup fan, I looked forward to the Curried Pawpaw‐Butternut Squash‐Sweet Potato Soup. I enjoyed tasting a pawpaw dish that wasn’t so sweet, thanks to the curry spices. Rather than a silky, smooth soup, this was thick and slightly chunky. Although the appearance wasn’t the most attractive, it tasted good and was a favorite of one person at my table.

I moved on to try the Pork Loin Medallions with Sweet Pawpaw Sauce. I’m not a big pork fan but truly enjoyed this dish. The sauce was good without being too sweet. This was the favorite of the three men at the table. The chef generously shared the recipe with me (below).

The next item I tried had the most colorful pawpaw mixture— Baked Kentucky Tilapia with Fresh Pawpaw Salsa. This was my favorite pawpaw dish of the evening. The salsa had the typical ingredients—red peppers, jalapeno, cilantro, a very smooth pawpaw. The flavor was excellent with the fish and I would definitely try this at home. One cook at my table said it was similar to the mango salsa she had made.

In between the pawpaw dishes I gratefully ate the vegetables and bread to try a little palette cleansing before I tasted the next item. I left the salad for last and must say the pawpaw vinaigrette rivaled the salsa and someone at our table chose it as her favorite. It was pretty, tasty, and according to the chef (Sheri Crabtree of KSU), easy to make. She mixed it with white wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper and created something unique that I’ll definitely try to imitate.

I must admit that by the time dessert came, I had just about had my fill of pawpaw. Earlier in the day, I had tasted a “Pawzel,” a pretzel made of pawpaw. It reminded me of a bagel and was good with cream cheese. I had also sampled various types of pawpaws and eaten a pawpaw cookie. So when dessert came, I had already had my “sweet” allotment for a week. Still, I never turn down dessert.

Typically, I don’t waste calories on dessert unless chocolate is included. There was no chocolate on the dessert plate, but it was still a nice ending to the evening. The Pawpaw Crème Brulee was really just Pawpaw Crème since it was served in plastic cups and couldn’t be torched. It had an odd, greenish cast to it (maybe because of the black cup) but it was silky, smooth, rich and good. I also enjoyed the ice cream with its mildly fruity flavor. The fried pie was a bonus thrown in by a KSU student who turned out to be a good cook. Just as he described, it was reminiscent of the fried pies you can find in various places in Kentucky, but this one had pawpaw in the middle of it.

Luckily, when I was in the hallway I met Eddie Reed, the Farm Manager who created the Sweet Pawpaw Sauce for the pork. He and Sheri Crabtree, KSU Co-Investigator of Horticulture, led the cooking crew for the evening. Here’s the recipe he shared.

Sweet Pawpaw Sauce
(This fed nearly 100 people, so adjust as necessary.)
8 cups pawpaw pulp
4 cups brown sugar
3 whole cayenne peppers
12 oz. peeled, roasted red peppers
4 tbsp. butter

Heat butter and sugar then add pawpaw pulp to warm. Add red peppers and boil. When boiling, split cayenne peppers and add. Simmer 1 hour then remove cayennes. Now you have sauce.
Eddie said he was hoping the sauce would have more bite to it, so you might need to adjust the cayenne usage if that’s what you’re hoping for.

On Tuesday, look for my post about how to grow pawpaws. And in the meantime, get your pawpaws now if you want to try cooking with them. In Kentucky they’ll be out of season in just a couple of weeks but you can scoop out the pulp, puree and freeze to experiment with one day this winter.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Pawpaw news is coming!

I have just discovered the fruit of the gods—the pawpaw. Creamy, silky, sweet but not too much so. It is my new favorite fruit.

Since I met my husband, he has lamented that we don’t have pawpaw trees. Are you asking: pawpaws? What are they? I had never heard of them until I met Jim but they are so scrumptious that I want to learn. And it is pawpaw season!

A quick web search told me that they are native to the temperate woodlands of the eastern U.S. That includes Indiana, where I grew up, and Kentucky, where I now live. Another name for the pawpaw is the Hoosier Banana. It is the largest edible fruit native to America. Shaped liked a large egg, it can weigh five to 16 ounces. Its green skin turns black when ripe—much like an avocado which you peel the same way.

So what about the taste? I think it’s like a combination of a peach, mango and banana. This morning I was sucking off the pulp stuck to the large seeds because I couldn’t stand the thought of even a small bit of it going to waste.

During my web search, I discovered that Kentucky State University is hosting a pawpaw conference Sept. 9 and 10, concluding with a Pawpaw Extravaganza meal Saturday evening. Two days letter, I received an unexpected invitation to attend and cover it for this blog. You can bet I accepted that invitation. So look for a detailed report of what to prepare with pawpaws, along with photos, next week. In the meantime, see if you can find pawpaws where you live.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The woes of the dry weather

When even the weeds in the garden are drooping, you know it’s bad.

I returned from a few days away to find most of the squash vines in the garden dried up. I’ve already harvested plenty so I’m not concerned about that but the tomatoes are just now starting to produce well, as are the peppers.

When I get concerned about feeding my garden, I do have a sprinkler to use. But I also use the method gardeners have employed for generations. Put a tub or bowl into the kitchen sink and save the wash and rinse water from the dishes. I have three large pitchers that I fill then out I go to find a faithful, growing friend to reward.

Another gardener who I know puts a bucket into her shower to catch water as well. It must sound crazy to the victims of Hurricane Irene along the East Coast, but yes, we’re searching for water while you’re dealing with its aftermath. I do send out prayers of support for the farmers who have lost acres and acres of crops to that storm.

Dry days also remind me of the benefit of mulching. Mulch in the garden helps the soil retain moisture rather than allowing the sun to suck it dry. So don’t forget your mulch. If a storm isn’t so severe that is carries it away, it can be a huge benefit.

Time to eat lunch, then wash the dishes, then water again.