Archive for the ‘Gardening & Cook Books’ Category

The Compleat Squash: A Passionate Grower’s Guide by Amy Goldman

This is my favorite of her books by far. My only complaint: it’s not long enough! I’ve read it straight through a bunch of times and it gets shorter each time. I love this book, and I love that we have the same taste in squash so I can be absolutely sure of her recommendations. I’d already determined that Buttercup squash was the most delectable of the grocery stores selections, and here is Amy confirming that fact and adding more to it. I can understand now why Buttercup tastes so superior, it is a different species (C. maxima) versus regular old pumpkin, which is C. pepo or Butternut, which is C. moshata. I’ve read some complaints about knowing the genus-species of the squash types, and referring to them often, but really people, it’s mainly just the three groups. And gardeners need to know what they’re planting for seed saving. If all you’re planting is C. pepos, then you’ll have to tape flowers shut and hand pollinize. But if you’re growing one each of the three species, then you won’t get any cross pollination and you can relax about it.

This book has excellent text about growing squash, and the paragraphs of her describing her adventures in fair growing had me reading out loud to my mom, who used to compete in the handmade clothing categories. Amy actually grew zucchini and yellow squash into plastic bags so they wouldn’t get scratched by the plants barbs! Hilarious, but it must have worked as she won the top prize not just once but several times.

As usual, the photographs of each variety are superb! I absolutely love all the shapes, textures, and colors that squash can create. And the history of each kind is so fascinating! I loved reading about the Iran squash [in case you don’t know, Iran’s vegetable history is being erased by the effects of war there.], Triamble and all the blue squashes of Australia, and the Japanese squashes. They all look so amazingly diverse, yet they all mostly kinda taste pretty much the same. It’s amazing!

That’s another thing I love about squash, is their absolute versatility in the kitchen. They can be breakfast, lunch, or dinner, savory or sweet, or even desserts. One of the best moves I made in 2009 was making tons of puree and stocking my freezer with it so we could have pumpkin bread for breakfast almost every week throughout the winter. And Amy is always right: maximas make the best “pumpkin” puree. The c. pepo pie pumpkins were better than the field pumpkins (yes, that’s right, I cooked field pumpkins), but they couldn’t compete with the maxima squash for color, texture, and flavor. And when Amy said that the Rouge d’Vif Entemps would be watery, she was right again.

My top picks for squash based on her picks are: Thelma Sanders acorn squash, Seminole pumpkins (she says the vines are vigorous, so I can be assured they won’t accidentally die in my garden), Essex Hybrid (not actually a hybrid, but an heirloom, oddly), Lemon squash, and many more.

Yes, squash make me smile!


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The Heirloom Tomato: From Garden to Table, by Amy Goldman

This is the quintessential book on growing tomatoes. Everything about it is superb: the time and effort that went into creating it is obvious on every page and paragraph, making the value of the book on par with the price. Having read this book many many times now, I’ll just go over my favorite highlights.

The book is well-organized, covering history, growing information, pollination and seed saving. She divides up the varieties by size, shape, and color and gives her criteria for judging flavors, and colors.

Her descriptions of the 250 varieties go far beyond seed catalogs in that she brings back the gardener behind the variety. Each of these tomatoes isn’t just a tomato. It is a living memorial to a real person who saw something special in their garden and took the effort to save the seed or cross it with something else to make it even better. The epitome of this storytelling comes with the variety German Pink, which comes from the recent ancestors of the founders of the Seed Savers Exchange. These people saw so much heritage and memories in this one variety of tomato that they labeled the seeds “Tomato #1” out of maybe 5000 today. This is also the tomato that graces the cover of the book, reaffirming Goldman’s level of seriousness about the tomato’s heritage and tomatoes as a heritage for future generations.

Another great example of the gardener behind the variety is the full page she devotes to telling the story of Green Zebra. This was a variety that was bred by Tom Wagner when he was just a kid tagging fruit trusses with his sister’s hair ribbons. And to think that this variety provokes so many smiles from gardeners and chefs alike. It might not be an “heirloom” variety depending on your definition, but it has definitely become part of our seed heritage.

Other varieties with fascinating stories: chili verde (which is now commercially available), Goldman’s Italian American (stabilized by the author and now commercially available), San Marzano and cousin Tillie’s canning factory and forbidden romance, Thai Pink and the inclusion of a fabulous flower arrangement on page 248, Purple Calabash and it being described as the color of a bruise, Pruden’s Purple, and gardeners everywhere looking for a “true” purple tomato., Orange-Fleshed Purple Smudge (which is now commercially available as a plum sized fruit, not the beefsteak she tests). Hollow stuffing tomatoes that look just like sweet bell peppers, Risetomate, the traveler’s tomato that breaks apart like a clump of grapes. And who knew there were 16 different Mortgage Lifter varieties? The “original” if you want to call it that (really the most famous) is Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter which puts out huge pink tomatoes. Versus McGarity’s Mortgage Lifter which made tomatoes so small and poor, Goldman writes “I don’t think you could pay off a car loan with it.” Thankfully in this case, the McGarity’s is not commercially available.

And then there is the recipe section. The recipes I’ve tried are

  • Corn polenta with tomato sauce (I don’t think I like polenta, sorry!),
  • Cherry Tomato Focaccia (it was hard to follow it since she divides up the quantities of flour needed—makes it difficult to divide in half, etc. but the roasted garlic was excellent),
  • Fried Green Tomatoes (I like these as FGT Parmesan—as in topped with marinara sauce. So tasty!).
  • Her original “Tomato Sauce” made with celery and carrots is as good as you can get, even with dried herbs. It is a very good hearty sauce with a bit of a zip to it and no added sugars.
  • And finally, I’ve made the Ketchup recipe. I had to simmer mine way longer because I started with regular tomatoes over plums. It turned out good, with a distinct homemade taste that is different—not superior to the “red stuff” as she calls it—but worth the effort nonetheless. She doesn’t say, but I’d remove the spice bag after 1 hour if simmering longer than that.

Overall, I really appreciate Goldman’s scientific approach and her historian’s accuracy. It makes this book so complete and timeless. It will stand on gardeners shelves for years and years and will always be relevant. Tomatoes are not going away anytime soon, but these varieties might if we don’t make the effort of seeking them out and growing them, plus saving seed for yourself and some gardening friends too. It gives us hope.

Varieties I’ve grown that are included in the book:

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Melons for the Passionate Grower by Amy Goldman

This is Dr. Goldman’s first book and unlike her next two, is much smaller (in dimensions) and includes less of herself as both an author and gardener/seed historian. In that respect, there is probable demand that it needs to be republished to the standards of her next two books. But that aside, this book features 100 melons, both watermelons and other melons which are categorized by species and varieties or types.

It also includes a lot of recipes, considering melons is not something we normally cook with or alter other than just putting it in our mouths and chewing. Her growing notes are top notch, as always.

It might be my lack of appreciation for melons, but this is my least favorite of her books. I’ve never really had a taste for muskmelon (which we continue to insist on calling cantaloupe—it’s not), nor honeydew, and despite my appreciation of watermelon, my tummy rejects it. But I still enjoy growing watermelon unless the slugs continue to decimate my seedlings. But maybe, oh maybe we’ll grow something new and if so, I’ll pick based on her recommendations. So far my top picks are: Bidwell casaba melon, Orangeglo watermelon, and Blacktail Mountain watermelon.

Here’s my pic of my home grown Sugar Baby watermelon, mentioned in the book:

So cute and cuddly!

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The Heirloom Tomato Cookbook by Mimi Luebbermann

This is another tomato book with great photos. It has lovely recipes with lots of uses for tomatoes in all courses. The growing and variety information is pretty straightfoward, and is geared much more towards the beginning gardener.

Great info on seed saving but not much on keeping seed pure when growing multiple varieties in close range. Also, the paragraph about fermenting seeds isn’t clear about the process after mold has formed in the seed cup. It seems to imply you need to ferment the seeds over and over, which is not true. Once is fine.

I don’t think I’ll make any of these recipes, but they are great for inspiration.

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In Praise of Tomatoes: Tasty Recipes, Garden Secrets, Legends & Lore by Ronni Lundy

This book has great full color photographs, includes a pretty comprehensive history of tomatoes, and includes recipes that are unusual but look pretty simple. I don’t think I’ll be making anything out of this, though.

Their huge spread of tomato varieties leaves a lot to be desired: there is more info about varieties in seed catalogs.

Looking at these kinds of books is very much a delight to the eye and the imagination. The text is just filler… I especially enjoyed looking at the vintage tomato can labels, and tomatoes in art. Pages of them!

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How to Pick a Peach: The Search for Flavor from Farm to Table by Russ Parsons

This book was so good, I couldn’t put it down! I recommended it to my mom and my mother-in-law. It is so detailed and interesting, and tells exactly how to get the very best produce from the grocery store! I can face the fact that a lot of people are “armchair gardeners”–they like the idea of gardening but don’t want to put in the effort. This book is great for them because they can still use the knowledge to get great flavor out of the store.

It also reinforces the idea of eating seasonally. I love this idea so much, and the very purity of it has been corrupted by our culture of importing all the produce we can get. But when your tastebuds get used to it, they will reject anything made with seasonally opposite ingredients. [The best example is when my mom made pumpkin lasagna with both pumpkin and zucchini. Zucchini is great during the summer; pumpkin during the winter. They don’t go together, see? So the lasagna wasn’t very tasty.]

And the recipes in this book are excellent, too! The one I’ve been dying to try so far has been the Pear Clafouti w/ Pistachio Topping. Yum!

The only question remaining is: is this a gardening book or a cook book? Or merely an agricultural book with recipes?

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