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From garden to Thanksgiving feast

Homegrown crops that can be worked into a holiday spread

As planning for a Thanksgiving feast menu ensues, I’m drawn to surrounding our locally raised, organically fed turkey with farm-fresh fixin’s sure to surprise all who gather around our table next week.

Chalking 2019 up to a brutally sparse yield year, no matter what level of effort, this holiday week reminds me to jot into the garden journal a reminder that canning is not just for bumper crops. There is no full winter’s store this year, but the six bags of sweet corn in the freezer and a pint of honey from my dear friend’s first-ever beekeeping season are like tendrils lifting me toward the sun as we share the bounty of our garden with family this week.

As is standard in our harvesting schedule, most of our first-pick sweet corn came off the stalks and into the pot. Much to our dismay, the second planting, albeit similar in looks and sweetness, was tough. Too tough to enjoy fresh off the cob. Dear Mr. Koster could not imagine serving up this corn on the cob and was quick to suggest it as dog treats.

Instead, I tossed it into the vita mix just after blanching, mostly as a matter of squelching improvidence, resulting in a glob of steamy, sticky sweet corn paste. Not a fan of cornbread (though tempted to bake some upon turning corn on a cob into this perfectly textured goo), the corn paste adds the perfect density and robust flavor to reconstruct Mom’s famed corn casserole. Now if only there were an actual recipe ...

Consistently successful sans recipe, yeast buns were always rising under the flour cloth towel on Thanksgiving morning. Timed perfectly to be pulled out of the hot oven as the turkey was ready to carve, I’ll dress them in savory holiday style with coarse rosemary sea salt and pumpkin puree. Ivory white pumpkin, to be more precise. A welcome proxy to enjoy seasonal pumpkin long before dessert.

A dear friend sent over a jar of honey from her first honey beehive. Of course, I want to eat the jar straight, but instead I believe it shall couple serenely with a batch of sage butter to exude my "dessert first!" attitude.

Adding sprouts to the menu

A heap of unopened seed packs: the antagonistic corollary of an extremely wet season with little opportunity to sow and grow. Rather than bet the farm on their integrity come spring, shoots and almost-microgreens get to deter hunger pangs wooed by the bird roasting in the oven with pinches of sprouts stacked atop fresh mozzarella, then drizzled in lavender oil. But shake that tail feather and select quickly sprouting seeds to execute this act of reclamation.

Jumpstart your spouts by arranging a layer of seeds in the base of a sanitized, recycled deli or bakery tray with a fitted lid. When possible, use organic seeds for best germination rate. Conventional seeds or a bag of storebought beans or sunflower seeds hinder success since much of our imported grocery stock is irradiated during shipping to prolong shelf life.

Remember, seeds do not need soil or nutrition until after the seedling stage, so seeds intended to be consumed just after sprouting can be layered in the bottom of a tray and drenched with water without the mess of any soil or potting mix.

Seeds need a period of blackout to soak up water and then burst into germination when provided light. Cover the tray with foil or a slightly larger tray and place it on top of the refrigerator during the blackout phase. For the germination phase, seal the tray with a clear cover to mimic a greenhouse. Mist every 12 hours during sprouting stage.

Upon harvest, soak in a 4:1 ratio of water to apple cider vinegar for 15 minutes to wash.

True microgreens are grown in soil and trimmed when true leaves appear but before stems get woody, between 14 and 45 days. What we are doing here is a down-and-dirty quick method for one-and-done conversation piece. Chances are, just like the roasted version of fall-harvested Brussels sprouts of past feasts, I’m the only one who will be eating them anyway, so it’s good enough for my house!

The list below is organized as follows:

Seed : Blackout Days : Germination Time (sprouts) : Days to Microgreens

(Asterisks indicate hard shelled seeds, such legumes, sunflower, grains, peas, etc., prefer an eight- to 12-hour soak, then a cold rinse of fresh water prior to blackout period)

• Brussels Sprouts : 3 : 1-2 : 8-10

• Broccoli, Cauliflower, Arugula : 4-6 : 2-3 : 8-12

• Lettuce, Kale, Cabbage, Choi, Radish, Mustard, Sunflower*, Beans* : 3-5 : 2-3 : 8-12

• Wheat*, Barley* : 2 : 1-2 : 8-10

• Corn* : 6 : 1-2 : 6

Some seeds like amaranth are sensitive to light or fickle with watering due to mucilage, such as basil or cress, or do notably better in soil media such as with beets and celery. You might want to leave extensive exploratory microplay for less notable gatherings.

A touch of garlic

Less particular when it comes to sprouting conditions are the bins of tiny garlic cloves I dug up in May to thin out the rows of garlic. I just love garlic. Especially when bright, green centers revealed themselves while julienning a few lengthwise last week for a rib roast. Draping the chive-like greens of new garlic across a roast melds a mild garlic flavor during roasting. Whisk away wilted, browned stems and replace them with dollops of split budding garlic cloves just before guests drool over the masterpiece.

This succulent garnish shall also spruce up cubes of cardamom-roasted purple potatoes drizzled in rosemary-infused avocado oil. Cube potatoes or other tubers and winter squash, coat in salt, pepper and cardamom, toss in oil and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, checking every five minutes and removing when a fork easily pierces the cubes. Blend together with steamed rice and browned sausage. Serve warm.

An edible flower

The whole family will be thrilled that all of our hemerocallis are newly installed, so there will be no uprooting of flower tubers for our Thanksgiving gathering this year. Commonly called daylily, many of the more than 60,000 varieties of hemerocallis are grown and a some, such as hemerocallis fulva, are wholly edible, including buds, blooms, stems and roots. With merely a day of showing off an open bloom, it feels totally acceptable to pluck a few unopened flowers and attempt drying them next year, known in Asian cultures as Dried Golden Flower.

In traditional Chinese medicine, dried lily buds are thought to help with insomnia, treat anxiety, and alleviate a cough. The buds are also known to promote healthy brain function and assist in blood clotting. Dried lily buds are a good source of vitamin C and potassium, as well as magnesium, copper, and manganese.

On farms, growing daylily as a core tuber crop, established clumps are uprooted in the fall to harvest smaller white tubers that are prepared like genuine yams (not sweet potatoes).

Daylily thickens soup and suffuses a musky, sweet pungency into ramen broth.

The mention of daylily jelly has me adding to my goals list for coming seasons. To concoct such farm-crafted sweetness, wildflowers, herbs and tender stems are essentially steeped to make juice that becomes the basis of the jelly recipe along with lemon juice for acidity, pectin for thickening and, optionally, sugar for sweetening. Violets, honeysuckle, basil, lavender and clover top my 2020 wildflower wannbe jelly list.

Before you go, try oregano

As everyone gets sugared up hitting the dessert table, consider brewing up a round of oregano tea.

Fashioned in Greek cultures with the goddess of universal remedy, oregano is considered a panacea and hailed to prolong life infinitely in ancient cultures. I’ve found over the years that lots of plants labeled oregano are really not oregano at all.

If you love oregano as much as I love garlic, cold hardiness may matter more to you. Hardy in zones 4 to 9, choose Greek Oregano Origanum vulgare var. hirtum, an herb in the mint family that prefers a well-drained, sunny spot in the yard in average to poor soil with very little watering and even less attention for harvesting well into cool fall months.

For best plant maintenance, stem, leaves and flowers can be harvested and dried by autumn, allowing roots to spread for additional herb come spring. If underground invasion is a concern, choose less hardy marjoram (Origanum majorana) or Syrian oregano (Origanum syriacum or Origanum maru), leaving end-of-summer blooms to self-sow next year’s crop.

Share your family harvest traditions and recipes with me at gardenmaiden.com. The garden is a bountiful place to give thanks for all that is life. Happy Thanksgiving, one and all.

HOLLY KOSTER is a University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener who resides in Grand Ridge. She can be reached by emailing tsloup@shawmedia.com; via Twitter, @gardenmaiden9; or on Facebook, facebook.com/gardenmaiden9.

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