Wednesday, October 10, 2007

What to do with less-than-perfect apples and pears

I have a confession to make. I'm a neglectful gardener. Benign neglect is my standard gardening technique for nearly everything, which is why my garden is always weedy--and my apples and pears are sometimes wormy. I know I'm supposed to put out pheromone traps for coddling moths and use dormant spray on my trees. In fact, every fall, when I'm facing a pile of less-than-perfect apples and pears on my kitchen counter, I swear that next year I'll do it right. It's a bit like the drunk who, in the throes of her Sunday morning hangover, promises anyone who will listen that she will never, ever, drink that much again. Yeah, right.

So once again I face a pile of Asian pears that I cannot trust. They look fine on the outside, but I know that about half will have a brown, disgusting surprise in the center. Everyone in my family has learned to cut the pears in quarters before eating them. But there are too many to eat fresh, and I don't want to give them to people I like (or have to face again) for fear of what will happen after they chomp into one first thing in the morning and spend the rest of the day blowing chunks. What to do?

In the last few years I've found good uses for this slightly-substandard bounty. I make jam and pear butter. Lots of jam and pear butter. Then I have Christmas gifts for my co-workers, as well as the friend who pops by at holiday time with no notice, bearing a gift. My family's favorite is pear-apple jam, which captures the sweet scent of ripe fruit and cinnamon (along with the sweet taste of an obscene amount of sugar). I've seen this recipe in several places, including the Michigan State University Extension site. If you peel, core, and chop the fruit by hand, it's a lot of work. I'm lazy, so I use a peeler/corer/slicer gadget designed for apples (which works great on Asian pears since they're the same shape) and a food processor to do the chopping. That makes the task pretty easy, even for a novice jam-maker like me. Here's what you need:
Ingredients for pear-apple jam

And here's what you get:
Pear-apple jam


Monday, October 08, 2007

Award-winning horticultural books

As we gardeners contemplate the end of another season, it's time to start looking for some indoor activities to help us pass the cold, dark days (which seem to be starting earlier than usual this year, darn it). One of my favorite winter pastimes is reading gardening books, and I just found a site that will help me pick some good ones. The Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries gives an Annual Award for a Significant Work in Botanical or Horticultural Literature. Their site lists the winners back to 2000 with links to press releases that describe the books. The neat thing is that these are books you might not just casually pick up while strolling through your local bookstore. They're a little more specialized than the typical gardening book, but they all look interesting. I'm looking forward to diving into a few of them while curled up in front of my fireplace this winter.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Flowers, giant vegetables, and even tomatoes -- gardening in the Last Frontier

Back in August, I went to Alaska on vacation. My travelogue is posted on my personal blog, so I won't bore you with that here. Instead, I'd like to share a few garden-related observations from my trip.

  • Anchorage is filled with flowers in the summer, with colorful planters all over downtown. According to the Anchorage Convention and Visitors Bureau, Anchorage is the City of Flowers, with the city planting 461 flowerbeds and hanging baskets every summer.
  • I went to a small farmers market in Anchorage, where I learned about the Alaska Grown movement. Alaska does have agriculture, especially in the Mat-Su Valley. Cool-season crops and berries predominate. According to some literature I picked up at the Alaska Grown booth at the farmers market, the long summer days up there speed growth; 30 days of an Alaska summer creates the same amount of growth as 60 days in more temperate latitudes.
  • Giant vegetables are a big thing (hardy har har) in Alaska--especially cabbages. Several Alaskans have grown world-record vegetables in recent years:

  • Alaskans grow--or attempt to grow--tomatoes. Tomatoes up there need nighttime protection (the temperature dropped below freezing at least once while we were in Anchorage, and we were there in August), but they do grow. I saw several makeshift greenhouses, while I was there, including this one behind an apartment in Whittier:
    How to grow tomatoes in Alaska

I doubt I'd last long up there. I complain because I can't grow citrus in Portland without a greenhouse.