Refrigerator Pickles

Turning cucumbers into refrigerator pickles requires little effort or time. Refrigerator pickles are a great way to use an abundant cucumber crop without the canning process.

All you need for quick, fridge pickles are a non-reactive container with a cover or lid, cucumbers, water, vinegar, sugar, and salt. I prefer to make mine in a half gallon glass jar, but any size jar will do. Reused commercial pickle jars work very well. I prefer white, distilled vinegar. Apple cider vinegar works well, as does rice vinegar.

Here’s the basic recipe: Equal parts vinegar and water and sugar; 1 teaspoon salt. What does this mean? 1 cup vinegar, 1 cup water, and 1 cup sugar mixed together until the sugar dissolves, then add the teaspoon of salt. If you want more liquid, just double the amounts.

Now, for the fun part: you can flavor the pickling liquid anyway you like. Add a few cloves of fresh garlic. Add a sprig of oregano. Add a half teaspoon of mustard seed. Add fresh dill and you’ll get a sweet, dill pickle. Add a teaspoon of crushed red peppers or a jalapeno sliced in half.  If you really like some heat, add a sliced scotch bonnet pepper.

Next, simply slice your cucumbers how you like them, place in the jar, and pour your pickling solution over them. Place in the fridge and wait a couple of days, then eat and enjoy. Fridge pickles will last a few weeks and are great for snacks or a quick dinner side. When you empty your jar, feel free to reuse your pickling liquid two or three times.

If you have an abundance of carrots, small onions, broccoli, cauliflower, or zucchini they can be quick pickled the same way. Just add them to the jar and wait. Carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower take a little longer to pickle, but zucchini slices or chunks take only a day or so. If you use a large zucchini, remove the seeds and pith before slicing. Feel free to mix your jar with any vegetables you have. Pickled kohlrabi taste great!

Another quick pickle favorite at my house is Sliced Cucumber-Carrot Salad.

Sliced Cucumber-Carrot Salad


What I did:

Slice cucumbers and carrots fairly thin and arrange on a plate, sprinkle with 1-2 tablespoons rice vinegar and ½ – 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil, add a little freshly ground black pepper and sea salt, wait 15 minutes or so, and serve. This makes a pretty potluck dish and is a great salad to serve with spicy dishes.  

Be creative. Let refrigerator pickles reflect your garden and your palate.


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Looking for some way to use the glut of food coming out of the late summer garden (including elephantine summer squash), I came upon this recipe in “Fried & True,” Lee Brian Schrager’s recent paean to America’s deep fried bird. The recipe has four main components: a yogurt/Sriracha marinade for the chicken, a rice flour and cake flour dredge that produces a thick, crunchy fried crust, a honey/vinegar glaze, and fresh vegetables charred in a skillet. The recipe calls for okra, tomatoes and onions, but I used what was available: fresh corn cut from the cob, summer squash, onion and tomato.

You’ll want some time to make this. It’s more suited to a lazy Sunday afternoon in the kitchen than a fraught weeknight at the stove.

For the marinade:
2 cups whole milk yogurt
1/4 cup Sriracha
1 tsp kosher salt
8 boneless, skin-on chicken thighs pounded 1/4 inch thick

Lay the thighs flat on a cutting board and cover with plastic wrap or paper towel. Pound with medium force until they are a uniform 1/4 inch thickness. Place thighs in a bowl or Pyrex storage container. Mix yogurt, Sriracha and salt and pour over pounded thighs. Mix with hands to make sure all surfaces of chicken are well-coated in marinade. Cover and refrigerate for 2-6 hours.

For the dredge:
2 cups rice flour
2 cups cake flour
1 cup cornstarch
1 tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Canola or peanut oil for frying (I used about a quart of canola in a 12 inch cast iron skillet. I found that this recipe makes enough dredge for a double batch of chicken, so I saved half for a later date.)

Mix dry ingredients well in a bowl or deep-rimmed baking dish. When chicken is finished marinating, remove and shake off some excess marinade.  The chicken will be pretty gloopy with the yogurt.  That’s good.  You don’t want to scrape it all off. Dredge chicken in the dry ingredients until it is well coated on all surfaces.

For the glaze:
1 cup sherry vinegar (I used good red wine vinegar)
1 cup honey
1 medium jalapeño or serrano pepper, seeded and minced

Bring all three to a boil in a medium saucepan, reduce heat and simmer until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon- about 10 minutes. The glaze will thicken substantially as it cools.

Fry the chicken:
Heat oil to 325 degrees (use a candy thermometer).  (I set my burner midway between medium-high and high).  Use tongs to place thighs in oil, careful not to crowd chicken. I fried the thighs in two batches til crisp and browned, about ten minutes, flipping halfway through.   Allow chicken to rest on paper towels for a few minutes while you char the vegetables.

For the vegetables:
1 large summer squash cut into rings or wedges
1 large yellow onion sliced into thick rings
4 medium tomatoes of any sort
Corn cut from 4 cobs
2 Tbs good olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste.

Heat a large iron skillet on high without oil, add vegetables and cook until lightly charred, stirring often- 4 to 5 minutes. Toss vegetables in oil, salt and pepper.

We sauteed some collards with chopped onion, oil and a bit of wine vinegar- just to have something green on the side.

Place a mound of charred veggies on a plate, set a fried thigh on top and drizzle with glaze to taste. Chow down. Leftover thighs make fabulous, next-day sandwiches on toasted bread or bun with mayo, preserves, pickles, more Sriracha.

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In Missoula, August is a “glory” month for home gardeners. After planting, weeding, and watering the harvest can begin! Bumper crops of zucchini, green beans, basil, carrots, beets, onions, Swiss chard, kale, and lettuce are ready for picking. Now, the gardener’s dilemma begins: what to do with all the fresh food? One tasty solution in my kitchen is beet pizza. Yes, you read that correctly, beet pizza! And, you’ll use both the beet tops and roots in this recipe.

I make my own pizza dough (recipe below) but feel free to purchase pre-made dough at the grocery store. Many local stores carry Le Petit pizza dough which makes an excellent crust. You can also make your pizza on a French loaf, cut in half lengthwise, or on split English muffins (a favorite for the toddler crowd). Do note, if you make bread or muffin pizzas, your cooking time will be cut in half.

To begin, plan on making the pizza dough an hour or two before you cook the pizza. The dough will need time to rise. I often make mine in the morning before work and let it rise in the fridge through the day – just make sure you place the dough in a large enough bowl so it doesn’t “overflow” and make a mess!

Beet pizza

Beet pizza ingredients.

Pizza Dough

(recipe makes one large pizza crust or two small pizza crusts)

  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons ground flax seed
  • 1 tablespoon cornmeal
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 to 1 & 1/2  cups (or so) all-purpose, unbleached, white flour

I’m a fan of the one bowl, no mess on the cupboard, bread making. Here’s my bread/pizza dough process:

  1. Mix warm water, yeast, and sugar in a large bowl. Let sit 15-20 minutes until foamy.
  2. Add salt, olive oil, ground flax and cornmeal to the water mixture and stir.
  3. Add whole wheat flour and mix well.
  4. Add the all-purpose, white flour in ½ cup additions, stirring after each addition. Eventually, the dough will get too thick to stir with a spoon and will form a ball. At that point, knead the flour in with your hands. You can keep the dough ball in the bowl. Dust your hands with flour first or the dough will stick to you! Once you’ve added all the flour the dough ball will absorb, knead (in the bowl) for 5 minutes. Lightly grease the bowl and dough with olive oil, cover and set the bowl aside. Let the dough rise 40 to 60 minutes. When you’re ready to make the pizza crust, push the dough down, let rest for 5 minutes, then shape your crust.

While the dough is rising, get the rest of your pizza ingredients ready:

2 medium (or 3-4 small) beets: wash & remove the tops and reserve for later. Boil or roast the beets until done (30-40 minutes) then peel and slice thinly.

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

6-8 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 pound (or so) mixed greens, cleaned, stems removed, and chopped. I like a mix of Swiss chard, beet greens, and kale but use whatever is ready in your garden. Mustard greens make for a nice spicy pizza!

Sauté the onion and garlic in a tablespoon of olive oil for 5 minutes or so. Once they start to look opaque, add the greens and balsamic vinegar and sauté until the greens are wilted but not cooked all the way through. This will be your sauce base and they’ll continue to cook once you put the pizza in the oven.

¾ cup pecans, walnuts or almonds (or a mix of all three), lightly toasted. (To toast, place nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat for about 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently).

6-8 ounces fresh goat cheese

1 cup (or so) fresh basal leaves, roughly chopped

Roll or hand shape your pizza crust, pinching up the edges to keep any liquids from spilling out. Before you place the crust on your pizza stone or pan, dust the pan with cornmeal. This will keep the crust from sticking to the pan.

Cover the crust with the greens, onion, & garlic mixture. Arrange the sliced beets over the greens. Sprinkle the nuts over the pizza. Dot the top with the goat cheese and spread ½ of the fresh basal leaves over everything. Bake in a preheated oven at 375-400 degrees for 20 minutes. Check the pizza at 15 minutes for doneness.

Once you take the pizza from the oven, add the rest of the fresh basil. You can also top the cooked pizza with freshly grated Parmesan to taste. Enjoy!

Putting the final cheese sprinkles on beet pizza.



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Hark! Fresh fava beans are coming at you in this week’s CSA share from Orchard Gardens.  Scroll down to cut to recipes.

When it comes to food plants, people have been growing fava (broad) beans for a long time.  At least 5000 years.  They are delicious, nutritious and easy to grow in a wide variety of climates.  They can withstand cold and prosper in poor soil.  Almost everyone eats them.  They are prominent in North African foods like falafel and the Egyptian national dish:  ful medames- a stew of cooked, dried broad beans, oil, cumin, chile, garlic, wedges of boiled egg, and lemon eaten with bread.  Food to fuel a revolution.  When I worked as a fire lookout years ago, ful medames was the one thing I could coax from my limited pantry that I never grew tired eating.  The Romans and ancient Greeks (with the exception of Pythagoras, who, for some kooky reason, disdained them) loved their favas.  Modern Romans cook fresh green favas with pork jowl and Tuscans like to eat them uncooked, dredged in salt with shavings of pecorino.  Uncooked favas have a slightly astringent tang and a rich, powdery sweetness.  Fermented favas are mixed with soybeans and chiles to make doubanjiang- the blessed paste used in mapo tofu and other transcendent dishes from Sichuan Province, China.  And they are eaten in many places as a fresh green vegetable, steamed, blanched or fried.



A field of favas in Tiger Leaping Gorge, Yunnan Province, China

Fresh, skinned favas fried with dried chiles, a vibrant dish on Chinese New Year 2010, Yunnan.

Fava beans are high in protein and fiber, folate, magnesium, manganese and potassium.  They are easy to cook and shelling them is a wonderful group activity.  Just grab a bowl and a bucket for spent pods and start popping!  You can have a fava bean battle, launching beans at your neighbor with your thumbs.

Fava rocket

Here are a couple of simple recipes, one using fresh beans and the other using dried.

Ful Ahdar bel Laban, Fava Beans with Yogurt

From The New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden.  This lovely Egyptian dish couldn’t be more simple or delicious.

  • 1 pound fresh shelled fava beans
  • salt
  • 1-2 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves crushed garlic
  • 2 cups plain whole-milk yogurt at room temp
  • pepper
  • 2 tsp dried mint or generous handful of chopped fresh mint leaves

Mix yogurt with salt, pepper and mint.  Boil the beans in salted water until tender, 2-5 minutes depending upon the age of the beans.  Drain. You can skin the beans for a smoother texture or leave the skins on if the beans are relatively young.  The skins make the beans a bit more chewy, but I think they add flavor.  Heat oil in a skillet on medium heat.  Add garlic and beans and stir until garlic aroma arises.  Serve beans with the yogurt poured over.  If you choose, garnish with preserved lemon and harissa, the mouth-watering North African chile paste.

Left to right: young, un-skinned fava, skinned fava, older, un-skinned fava


Ful Ahdar bel Laban with harissa and preserved lemon

Caldo de Habas, Dried Fava Bean Soup

From The Essential Cuisines of Mexico by Diana Kennedy

This tomato-based, cilantro-perfumed soup from Hidalgo uses dried, skinned fava beans available at Mexican or Middle-eastern markets.  I usually stock up when I visit a city.  The soup is traditionally eaten hot, but it is also wonderful chilled on a hot, smoky day.

  • 1 1/2 cups dried, peeled favas
  • 2 Tbs veg oil
  • 2/3 cup chopped white onion
  • 2 chopped garlic cloves
  • 1 1/3 cups chopped tomatoes, canned, fresh or frozen
  • 10 cups hot water
  • 10 sprigs chopped cilantro
  • salt to taste

To serve:

  • 6 Tbs fruity olive oil
  • 2 pasilla chiles, fried and crumbled

Rinse the beans, drain and fry them in veg oil in a heavy-bottomed pot on medium-high with garlic and onions til onions are translucent.  Add tomatoes and turn heat to high, stirring constantly until almost all the liquid has evaporated.  Add hot water, cilantro and salt and let soup simmer until the beans are mushy and disintegrating, 2-3 1/2 hours.

Fry your chiles in a bit of oil in a medium-high skillet, turning them to brown (not blacken) all sides.  Remove them from heat and let cool.  Crumble or snip with kitchen scissors over bowls of soup and drizzle olive oil over each bowl.  If you have some fresh mint and/or dill on hand, these also go nicely with the flavors in this soup.  Chop finely and add to hot soup before serving.

*** Allergic reaction to fava beans — rare, but serious — if you have never eaten fava beans, and are of Mediterranean descent, you should check out this article and know what symptoms to look for. ***

Coming soon at  Egyptian falafel made with dried fava beans.


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I have heard many people say over the years that the one hard thing about getting a CSA or growing their own garden is figuring out what to do with all those veggies.  Are you in this situation?  Maybe you are just getting to know your way around the kitchen.  Or maybe you are like me.  I love to cook and have a pretty broad selection of recipes up my sleeve, but I have been known to get in a deep, dark, boring rut wherein I have no idea what to make for yet another dinner.

Enter:  Cooking Classes!  Learn a new trick.  Get acquainted with a mystifying vegetable.  Try a well-known vegetable in a new get-up.  Find kitchen inspiration.

Kitchen Inspiration via Color

The Leadership Committee of Orchard Gardens Community Garden has dreamed up an exciting series of cooking classes and we think it will be a great place to jump out of your cooking rut.  The classes are taught by Rachele, a recent graduate of the Culinary Arts program of Missoula College.  She is a natural teacher and she knows her stuff.

It’s a four part series, with each class addressing a different course of a meal (like a really, really slow progressive meal).  The courses are as follows:  Soup-Salad-Entree-Dessert

I know there will be some kale in the soup, fennel in the salad, homemade pasta in the entree and berries in the dessert.  Each class will involve both demonstration and hands-on learning.  You will be introduced to the kitchen techniques of a professional, such as proper knife handling.  And you’ll get to sample.  Yum.  Take them all or pick and choose.

Here’s the details: Seasonal Cooking in Four Courses

  • Wednesdays, July 23, 30, August 6 and 13
  • 5:30-7pm
  • $20 per class
  • Orchard Gardens Community Barn, 210 N. Grove Street, Missoula
  • RSVP or Questions:  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


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On the Farm

Garlic recipe below. . . Scroll down!

We are getting into our rain gear, then our sun gear…then our cold weather gear, then wait…back into our sun gear! Yep, it’s that time of year, where the weather is changing just as fast as weeds are starting to pop up!  We are taking it all in stride out at the Youth Farm.

Leah and her dog BOB

Leah and BOB her dog

New friends, and old

Meet Leah: Ready to take on the challenges of farming, weather and a good hard days work, Leah enthusiastically joins the Garden City Harvest team! You may recognize her most recently from The Red Bird restaurant, but don’t be misled.  She loves playing in the dirt, and is enjoying growing food for the local Missoula community out at the Youth Farm.




Tracy at the Youth Farm

Tracy with one of our first poppies of the season

The Youth Farm has been blessed with two returnees from last season — Tracy and Courtney. This will be the third season these gals have worked on the farm. We are excited to have harvested beautiful veggies for our CSA members going on three weeks now. After the fall/winter without fresh greens, all seem excited to get some hearty green stuff in their bellies!

In other news. . .

This week marks the start of the Youth Homes day programs. Thanks to all the Teens going through safety trainingteen Youth Homes, the Youth Farm is kept in tip top shape and the CSA is harvested with tender loving care. We make and share delicious lunches together and are working rain or shine.

We were all excited to join the Tom Roy teens at Home Resource for a wood working workshop.  The birds of Missoula will be happy to gather in their ten new homes created by the hands of the Tom Roy gang!

Ceara drilling the birdhouse doorThank you to all the fantastic Youth Farm volunteers and employees for all your work!

What’s growing and getting harvested this week on the farm: Expect to continue receiving delicious hearty greens. With a little color of radishes next week, and keep your fingers crossed for baby carrots.

A recipe of sorts.  If you have some stored garlic from last summers harvest, here is a great way to continue receiving the powerful garlic benefits when you think it is past its prime!!! AND get ready, fresh garlic is just a month away!

Rub the excess skin off the head of garlic, but do not separate the cloves!  Next, slice off the top of the garlic head, exposing the ends of each clove.  Place the head (or multiple heads), exposed tips up, in a piece of foil.  Drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil over each and close up foil.  The garlic should be all enclosed in the foil packet now.  Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes to 1 hour, or until garlic is tender all around.  Unwrap the foil packaging and let sit to cool. garlic
Go to this link for some great Dressing recipes that utilize roasted garlic!

Or…spread the roasted garlic over freshly baked bread!!! YUM!  This can be a hit at your next spring BBQ!

If you would like more information about the Youth Farm and our goings-on, please check us out at and, and check out more blog posts!

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(Makes 2 salads)

4 cups spinach divided onto two plates or shallow bowls (if the spinach is small, leave as is; if the leaves are large, you may want to coarsely chop). Big appetite? Add more spinach.

4 slices bacon cooked until crisp & crumbly (my favorite bacon comes from Farm to Market Pork in Kalispell, you can find them at the Clark Fork Market on Saturdays or order in bulk via telephone: 406-755-5326).  Once you’ve cooked the bacon set it aside and drain all but 2 tablespoons of fat from the pan.

Not a carnivore? Substitute 1 cup sliced mushrooms sautéed in 2 tablespoons olive oil. Fresh morels make an over-the-top delight. You can cook the mushrooms and onion together if you like.

½ large onion, sliced. Any color will work, but red makes for a pretty salad. Fry the onion in the bacon fat until transparent and just softened, 5-6 minutes.

Once the onion slices are ready, add 2-3 tablespoons red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar, 2 teaspoons sugar or honey to the pan, and cook 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently, until the vinegar is heated through and sugar or honey has dissolved.

Depending on your appetite, cook 2 or 4 eggs anyway you prefer. I like poached, my husband scrambled. A poached or over-easy (or over-medium) egg will give your salad extra “sauce” from the runny yolk, but some folks like their eggs cooked through. Either way, the salad will be tasty.

You’re now ready to put your breakfast salad together.

For each salad: on the bed of spinach, crumble 2 slices of bacon (or ½ of the mushrooms), add ½ of the onion sauce mix, and top with 1 or 2 eggs. Add a dash of pepper and breakfast is ready to go!

This salad is versatile and can be made with kale, Swiss chard, mustard greens, and arugula. For kale, Swiss chard, and mustard greens, I suggest a quick “pre-wilting” in the microwave. Just microwave the greens with a few drops of water on the leaves for 1-2 minutes, they’ll soften and wilt slightly.

Suggested additions for the extra-hearty breakfast eater, to be split between two salads:

  • 4 tablespoons feta or goat cheese (or a few slices of the cheese you prefer)
  • ¼ cup dried cranberries or cherries (tart cherries are great!)
  • ½ cup fresh raspberries, blueberries or strawberries
  • ¼ cup chopped pecans, walnuts or almonds
  • ½ cup thinly sliced carrot, green or red pepper, zucchini (raw or briefly sautéed)
  • 1 sliced tomato or whole pear tomatoes




Posted in Community Garden News, Northside Community Garden, Recipes | Leave a comment

Bok Choy at Orchard Gardens

What to do with all those greens filling the CSA baskets this time of year?  Does it feel as though you need to build yourself a boat to stay afloat on the lake of greens gathering in your crisper?  Of course there are stir-fries, but what if you’re stir-fried out?  If you’re not in the mood to pickle them, ferment them, tear them fresh into salads, wrap a cold slice of pork roast in a tender leaf of napa cabbage with some chili sauce or fold chopped and cooked chard leaves into pasta with butter, Parmesan, lemon zest, salt, pepper and perhaps a pinch of nutmeg, well, there’s always soup.

One of my favorite things to do with Chinese greens and mustards is to make a simple pork and mustard greens soup from The Hakka Cookbook, by Linda Lau Anusasananan.  The Hakka people are Han Chinese who are thought to have originated in Henan province and are now in diaspora throughout southern China, Taiwan and many other countries.  They share a dialect and an outstanding cuisine.  I first made this soup just to try a new way of using up some greens.  I thought it’d be pretty good but maybe a little lackluster.  I couldn’t have guessed how delicious and satisfying it is.  Now it’s an old standby.

The recipe calls specifically for mustard greens, but pretty much any of the Chinese greens will work just fine (bok choy, napa cabbage, chinese broccoli, even kale).  Like most soups, this one starts with a stock- chicken stock to be precise.  Store bought works well, and, if you have the time and materials, a homemade stock performs wonderfully.  I happened to have a lazy Saturday afternoon and a tough, old laying hen in the freezer so I boiled her for four hours with a few cloves of crushed garlic, three scallions and 8 thin slices of ginger.

Pork and Mustard Greens Soup

serves 6 to 8 as side dish, 4 as main course

  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • 3 thin slices of fresh ginger
  • 2 large cloves of garlic
  • 8 oz ground pork
  • 2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp corn starch
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 12 to 14 oz greens (bok choy, Chinese broccoli, mustards)

I like to get everything prepped and chopped before I actually start cooking.  First, I minced my 2 tsp of garlic and added it to a big bowl with the ground pork, corn starch, salt and pepper.  Mix all together with a couple of forks or your hands and form the pork mixture into 1/2 inch lumps- being careful not to overwork.

Trim and discard the tough parts of your greens (I used a head of bok choy in this case).  Cut the rest into 2 to 3 inch pieces and rinse or soak in cold water to get the dirt off.

Peel two large garlic cloves and smash them lightly with the side of a knife.  Bring the stock to a boil on high heat in a large pot with the smashed garlic and ginger.  Once the stock is boiling, add the lumps of pork.  Return to a boil, reduce heat and cover.  Simmer until a tested lump is no longer pink in the center, 3-5 minutes.  Add the greens, return to a boil and cook 3-5 minutes until bright green and tender, but not limp.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Ladle into bowls.

I made a mixture of 1 tablespoon of dark sesame oil, 1 tsp of soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of rice vinegar and a half tsp of Korean red chili powder.  I spooned a couple of dollops of this mix into each bowl.

Slurp hot on a cool evening or afternoon.

And remember:  enjoy those greens because they will be gone before you know it!

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Screening compost

My old, tattered copy of Webster’s New World Dictionary defines community as any group living in the same area or having interests, work, in common and also a sharing in common. Webster’s defines garden as both a piece of ground for growing flowers, vegetables, and an area of fertile ground; as a verb, to make or work in a garden.

For me, nothing defines community and garden more than a communal work day. Gardeners work together toward common interests, creating and enhancing fertile ground both literally and figuratively. Tasks are shared out, “many hands making for light work” to use an adage my grandmother was fond of. Conversations are started, acquaintances made, the possibility for friendships opened. As the garden is weeded, watered, organized, and tidied, gardeners (the community!) gain a sense of investment and pride in their garden. It’s a wonderful process to watch and to partake of.

On Thursday, May 29th, the Northside Community Garden hosted its first work day. Brian Herbal, gardener and leadership committee member, said, “My favorite aspect was seeing such a great turn out and how everyone so easily set to task, we got a lot done. Was a very community feeling day with great accomplishment. Also everyone had time to work in their respective plots, and I think the garden is looking great.” Twenty gardeners joined in the communal tasks: turning compost, weeding, rock removal, apricot tree maintenance, and general organizing.

The compost crew added leaves and some kitchen scraps to the stage one pile, after turning the stage one into the stage two pile, and then two into the stage three pile. Some finished compost even got screened and is now ready for application onto plots. I heard gardener Ken say, “Those piles represent a lot of shovels full. We got a lot done!”

The communal potato, garlic, and onion patches were thoroughly weeded as well as the path running beside them. Gardener Karen focused her energy on path weeding and was very happy with the results, “That path is clear; it looks great.” Gardeners also worked on weeding the rhubarb plants and the food security plot.

Heavy lifting, one bucket full (or half full) at a time was accomplished by the rock crew. The edges and pathways of garden are cleared of wheel barrow stopping stones and ankle turning rocks. One of our youngest participants, two-year-old Fletcher, was delighted to help with the rock picking. Once he determined where the rock pile was, he wanted to lead everyone with a bucket to it. I must also say his help, and his mother Sarah’s, was much appreciated in digging sod from beneath the apricot tree. Another young gardener, seven-year-old Cooper, helped with adding mulch and sawdust underneath the apricot tree. In conversing with Cooper, I learned that while my gardening skills are passable, my computer game knowledge is seriously lacking!

As the evening wound down and group tasks were completed, people drifted to their individual plots to water, weed, and plant – the essence of maintaining the garden overall. As I left for home, gardener Sue continued to organize the unruly bunch of tomato cages, stakes, and miscellaneous gardening materials outside the shed.

Everyone’s efforts in the Northside Community Garden help to make the space beautiful and fruitful; everyone’s efforts help create a community of sharing fertile ground.

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Rhubarb leaves welcoming spring.

As Missoula’s fickle spring presents warm, then cold, then warm, then colder weather I look forward to spring’s garden champion: rhubarb. After pushing through the ground like the reddish brain coils of a soil bound alien, my rhubarb is a spectacular display of ruby stalks and elephant-ear-sized leaves. When I glance out my kitchen window through sheets of freezing rain, I can almost hear the rhubarb saying, “Bring on the 38 degree weather. Bring on the sleet. Bring on the hail.  I can feed you all.” And at the size of large washing machine, my rhubarb patch can certainly provide for me and any of my neighbors hankering for a tart, sweet treat.

Rhubarb is a very hardy perennial. (Perennials are plants that come back every year after dying back through the winter.) Easy to grow and care for, I recommend planting rhubarb to anyone who likes its tart taste. Typically, rhubarb is usually grown from root divisions. You can purchase root stock from nurseries and seed catalogs or if you see a garden with a large rhubarb patch, ask the gardener if she’s ready to split the rhubarb roots. Once you have a root ball or piece, select a site to plant that’s sunny or just lightly shaded. And remember, rhubarb is a big plant and you can estimate that it’ll eventually grow to be four by four feet and three feet tall. 

One thing to note about the plant: it’s a heavy feeder. If you want succulent, delicious stalks, you’re going to need to provide compost and fertilizer in the spring as the leaves emerge and in the middle of summer. In the fall, as the plant becomes dormant, mulch with compost and cover with straw or leaves.  Rhubarb can survive in Missoula without watering, but if you water regularly, say twice a week, you’ll get a much better crop.  A quick reminder: the only edible part of rhubarb is the stalk. The leaves are poisonous as they contain oxalic acid; compost or discard the leaves. If you purchase rhubarb in the store or at the farmer’s market, the leaves will already be removed from the stalks.

As the first food plant that produces in my garden I take full advantage of rhubarb, cooking rhubarb pie, sauce, crisp, and bread. In addition to the sweet rhubarb treats, I also like to make a few savory rhubarb sauces like rhubarb chutney and rhubarb barbeque sauce.  Here’s a rhubarb barbeque sauce for canning, based on the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving recipe:

Rhubarb Barbeque Sauce (makes about 4 pint jars)

8 cups chopped rhubarb

3 ½ cups lightly packed brown sugar

1 ½ cups chopped raisins (I like to mix black & golden, or even dried currants)

½ cup chopped onion

½ cup white vinegar

1 tsp ground allspice

1 tsp ground cinnamon

2 tsps ground ginger

1 tsp salt

  1. Prepare canner, pint jars, and lids (If you don’t know how to do this, look it up!)
  2. In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine rhubarb, brown sugar, raisins, onion, vinegar, allspice, cinnamon, ginger, and salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently. Reduce heat and boil gently, stirring frequently until mixture is thickened to the consistency of a thin, commercial barbecue sauce, about 30 – 45 minutes.
  3. Ladle hot sauce into hot jars, leaving ½ inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace, as necessary, by adding hot sauce. Wipe jar rim. Center lid on jar. Screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip-tight.
  4. Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water. Bring to a boil and process for 20 minutes (I’ve already adjusted for Missoula’s altitude for you). Remove canner lid. Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars, cool, and store after making sure your lids have sealed.

NOTE:  You can freeze this sauce rather than water bath canning, or halve the recipe and just refrigerate and use within two weeks of making.

While thinner than commercial sauces, this is great with chicken and pork. It also makes a wonderful grilled cheese sandwich paired with brie or other soft cheeses. Or spread on sliced baguette with goat cheese and toast under the broiler – yum!

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