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Category Archives: Fruit

We ‘Heard it Through the Grapevine’

Champanel grapes growing at The Raincatcher’s Garden

He may not have been Marvin Gaye, but our own Jeff Raska, Dallas County Horticulture Program Assistant, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, had us humming along during his presentation on growing grapes.  A bit of Texas history got us started.

Grape cuttings were first brought to Texas by Franciscan Monks to establish a vineyard in the 1660’s, predating California by almost a century.  The first vineyard in Texas was established near present day El Paso and stayed a viable producer until the early 20th century.

And it was a Texan, viticulturist Thomas Volney Munson, who literally saved the European wine industry when he grafted native American grape rootstocks (resistant to the phylloxera-aphid) to standard European grape scions that brought the industry back from the brink of collapse.

Grapes fall into two categories:

Citis vinifera – a European type grape typically used for wine, table and jams that has a high Brix unit ratio and a thin skin.  Recommended varieties for Texas include Champanel, Lomanto, Herbemont and Lake Emerald.

Muscadinia (Vitis) rotundifolia – a grape that is native to the Americas and thrives in more acidic soils. They are naturally resistant to many diseases and their genetic material saved the vinifera species. Recommended varieties include Carlos, Nesbitt, Tara and Triumph.

To grow grapes, take note:

  • Grape vines need well drained soil and a full day of sun.
  • Vineyards should be planted on high ground to help survive late spring frosts.
  • Good fruit production requires consistent pruning.

For more information Jeff recommends, “Growing Grapes in Texas” by Jim Kamas.

We also learned that grape leaves are rich in vitamins and minerals and low in calories. The U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services lists grape leaves as a healthy choice for your shopping list. https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2005/healthieryou/html/shopping_list.html

Immediately following Jeff’s talk we had the privilege of hearing another special presenter; Toney Davrados. With her rich Greek heritage, culinary skills as a trained chef, and love of gardening and growing her own ingredients, we were mesmerized by her demonstration the art of making dolmas.

Toney’s dolma demonstration

Some helpful tips shared by Toney;

Good dolmas need good leaves. Here’s what to look for; leaves with a smooth underside (hairy or fuzzy leaves are tough and not well-suited for dolmas). You can also purchase grape leaves bottled in brine at a gourmet or international grocery store.

Larger leaves are better – about 4 to 5 inches across. This size makes for easier folding.

Toney folding grapes leaves for dolmas.

Prepare leaves one of two ways:

Immediate use; boil 2 cups water with a heaping tablespoon salt. Toss in leaves for about 2 minutes. (Do no more than 3 or 4 at a time). Leaves are ready as soon as the color changes from bright green to olive green. Remove promptly. Leaves are now ready to use.

Future use: wash leaves, dry thoroughly, cut stems off and stack. Put stacks in zip-lock baggies, press out air and freeze. Wait one month for leaves to ‘cure’ before using.

Hope you enjoy the recipes as much as we enjoyed a delightful lunch experience. A heartfelt thanks to our presenters for sharing your wisdom and expertise. Recipes below.

The grand finale:
Frosted Grapes,
Toney’s Dolmas
(filled with ground sirloin, rice, parsley and special seasonings),
Watermelon and Radish Salad
Yogurt and Berries Dessert Parfait

Click here for Toney’s Dolmas Recipe

Watermelon Radish Salad

Ingredients

6 cups watermelon, cut into bite-sized chunks

2 cups thinly sliced and halved radishes

2 tablespoons finely chopped ginger

¼ cup chopped basil

¼ cup chopped mint

¼ teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons fresh lime juice (approximately 2 limes)

Directions

Combine ingredients in a large bowl. Mix well, serve chilled.

Yield: Makes 6 servings

Frosted Grapes

If you’re a grape grower, try this quick and easy summertime refresher as an appetizer or as a light finish to the evening meal.

Ingredients

4 ounces cream cheese, softened

½ cup sugar

4 ounces sour cream

2 pounds seedless grapes, red, green or a mixture

Brown sugar (start with about 2 heaping tablespoons)

Chopped nuts (start with about 1 ½ cups)

Directions

Mix cream cheese, sugar and sour cream together until smooth. Toss grapes in mixture until “frosted”. Combine brown sugar and nuts. Roll grapes in mixture until coated. Chill until ready to serve.

Yield: Serves 6 to 8

Peach and Berry Parfaits

For breakfast or dessert.

Ingredients

12 ounces Greek yogurt

2 cups granola*

1 pint fresh blueberries

4 peaches, peeled and chopped into small pieces

Texas Clover Honey, to taste

Directions

Layer in parfait cups in the following order;

Yogurt, drizzle of honey, granola, peaches, berries. Repeat, as desired.

*For a dessert option, use Fresh Peach Pound Cake (crumbled).

Toney Davrados sells her products:  dolmas, Greek yogurt, spanakopitas and more on Saturday mornings, April through October at the St. Michael’s Farmers Market, 8100 Douglas Avenue. Arrive early as the products sell out quickly.
Lisa Centala and Linda Alexander
Pictures by Starla Willis

 

 

 

 

 

Another Sign of Fall

Many people associate the arrival of fall by the appearance of red, gold, and yellow leaves on trees or seeing groups of pumpkins suddenly pop up on people’s front porches.  However for those of us who have native trees/shrubs, fall also means seeing the clusters of purple berries on our American Beautyberry.

Callicarpa americana

Callicarpa americana

American Beautyberry grows best in partial sun and often used as an understory tree.  Found growing wild in East Texas thickets, this deciduous, 4-6 foot shrub or small tree has small, unspectacular greenish-white flowers in the spring, but is known for its showy clusters of purple berries in the fall.

It prefers moist soils but can be grown in the sun with supplemental watering; and it is tolerant of various soil types.  Aggie-Horticulture suggests pruning its long, arching branches back by 1/2 in the winter if a more compact shrub is desired.  Most Beautyberries have purple berry clusters; however there is a white-berried variety, C. americana var. lactea.  The Demonstration Garden grows a Mexican variety called Callicarpa acuminate ‘Texas Maroon”  which has maroon berries.

Callicarpa acuminate ‘Texas Maroon”

Callicarpa acuminate ‘Texas Maroon”

There is some controversy about whether the berries are toxic to humans.  Several sites say that unripe berries should never be eaten.  Native Americans used the roots of Beautyberry as a diuretic, the leaves for dropsy, and a tea made from the roots and berries for colic.  The leaves and roots were used in sweat baths for the treatment of malaria, rheumatism and fevers.  The leaves themselves can be rubbed on the skin as an external mosquito repellent.  Some sites however, including Aggie-Horticulture  say that jelly made from ripe Beautyberries is excellent.  However, as with many plants that are foraged from the wild, “diner beware.”

There is no controversy however that ripe Beautyberries are one of wildlife’s favorite foods.  In my own yard, I only able to enjoy seeing the ripe purple berries for about a week before the mockingbirds have eaten every berry off of my large tree.  Green Dean, who writes about foraging for wild edibles, reports that the Beautyberry is a squirrel’s version of take out.  Other birds that enjoy eating the berries are robins, catbirds, cardinals, mockingbirds, brown thrashers, and finches.

So, if you want a shrub/small tree that will provide fall color and feed the wildlife (and perhaps you too), think about planting an American Beautyberry.  You won’t be disappointed.

Carolyn

October In Our Garden!

Our garden at 2311 Joe Field Road in Dallas, Texas has turned delicious!

This is Salvia greggi ‘Raspberry’, a perennial you will want in your water wise garden! Hmmm…looks good enough to eat, but please don’t.  Plenty of edibles  from our garden are coming.

Blooming Salvia Greggi, raspberry color

Jim made pumpkin pie for us after cooking up these pumpkins we grew!

pumkins and squash on countertop

We have been picking pomegranates in our garden and are ready to make our famous pomegranate jelly again.

Two Master Gardeners holding a bucket of pomegranatesLisa picked pomegranates from a neighbor’s tree; after asking permission. Imagine they didn’t want the fruit!  Should we share a jar of our pomegranate jelly with them?

Master Gardener holding a bucket of pomegranatesIf you would like to buy a jar of pomegranate jelly made from Sarah’s recipe and these pomegranates, come to our Dallas County Master Gardener meeting on Thursday, October 24th at 11:30 am at the Farmer’s Branch Rec Center.  All welcome!

Ann

Growing Blackberries in Dallas

 Blackberry Class in our Blackberry Patch at Demonstration Garden

When Tim gets an idea in his head, you might as well step back and let him go.  A few years back, Tim set his eye on a row of unplanted soil at the Demonstration Garden. Next thing we knew, he was planting blackberries.  Four kinds: three with thorns and one without. (Guess which one won the popularity contest.)

blackberry patch looking south

 Up till now, I lumped blackberries in with blueberries. I have even picked black/blue berries in East Texas’ crushing heat and humidity. (Now I buy them at the farmers market.)  I assumed that blackberries, like blueberries, had to have only acid, sandy soil. 

But listen up here: We can grow blackberries in Dallas! If you amend Dallas’ heavy, alkaline clay with expanded shale, cottonseed, and compost, and plant in raised beds, you will have enough berries for all the pies you can eat.  Blackberries like lots of moisture and full sun; run a drip irrigation line down your row of plants. 

blackberry canes

If you look at a blackberry leaf, it doesn’t resemble the smooth oval leaf of a blueberry.  Turns out blackberries and raspberries are not true berries; they belong to the Rosaceae family and are kissing cousins with roses.  Maybe that explains those worrisome thorns.  The “berry” is actually a collection of many drupelets; each holds a seed surrounded by the luscious berry flesh.

Blackberries can’t decide whether they’re a perennial or a biennial.  The roots aren’t going anywhere (perennial).  But the top canes do a two-year production number before their curtain call (biennial).  The first year, the new canes “primocanes” grow vigorously but don’t have any flowers.  The second year the same canes, now called floricanes (flori=flowers), get busy housekeeping, have flowers and berries and retire.  Tim says to cut back all the blackberry canes that have produced in July –August, leaving the primocanes for next year’s crop.

Blackberry Primocanes

Which variety to plant? Tim planted these thorned blackberries:

‘Brazos’ was developed at Texas A&M and introduced in 1959.  Most of the thorned varieties have Brazos in their heritage.  The Texas standard for years, Brazos is a large, erect growing, high yielding blackberry.

‘Rosborough’ was released by Texas A&M in 1977.  It ripens just after ‘Brazos,’ and has firmer, sweeter berries and smaller seed.  ‘Rosborough’ is a large plant, disease resistant, and very popular throughout Texas.

‘Womack’ is the smallest of the TAMU releases, with fruit that is firmer and better quality than ‘Brazos.’  Also released in 1977, it performs best in Central and North Texas.  It is not recommended for southeast or northwest Texas. 

Tim planted one thornless variety, ‘Natchez,’ which in our small trial produced more than the thorned plants.  Released in 2007 from the University of Arkansas, ‘Natchez’ has firm sweet fruit and upright growth.  It ripens early and has good disease tolerance.

Natchez Blackberry

 Plant blackberries in the fall.  Tim suggests purchasing plants from Womack  Nursery in De Leon, Texas.  

Right now, I’m scouting the yard for a sunny spot to fill with blackberries this fall. 

Elizabeth

Pictures by Starla

Buy local blackberries at farmer’s markets and use our recipes being posted yesterday and over the next few days to satisfy your cravings.  Next year maybe you will have your own producing patch!

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