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Tag Archives: Dallas Farm to Table

Lemon Balm and Rainy Days

May 27, 2021

After two glorious weeks of puddle-filling, gutter-gushing rain, I’ve had time to think and cook a little more than usual. Initially, my thoughts turned to an experience shared with another master gardener a few days ago in the edible landscape.

The two of us were having a discussion about a big clump of the common herb, lemon balm, that had taken over a small area of the Hügelkultur bed. It wasn’t planned for the space but, this spring, had volunteered to take up residence in that location.  Now, completely covering a new rosemary plant and a low growing French tarragon, the space was too crowded for all three to survive. Too many plants in too small a space and that “real estate”, we determined, belonged to our ‘Arp’ rosemary plant. Patti offered to dig up the lemon balm and move it to an open spot in our newly designed sensory garden.  

Lemon Balm on the left, Variegated Lemon Balm right

Because lemon balm is known for growing like a weed, some gardeners choose not to have it their gardens. The big clump Patti dug up could just as easily have been tossed into the compost pile but then we would have missed the fun of using it in more beneficial ways. Thankfully, the rainy weather had given me some time to research and learn more about this fragrant and tasty herb. 

Lemon balm is a lemon-scented, aromatic perennial plant native to the Mediterranean. It belongs to the Lamiaceae (mint) family of plants with four-sided stems. The genus name, Melissa, is derived from the Greek word meaning “honeybee”. This herb’s lemony fragrance attracts bees. Hives were once rubbed with its leaves to bring in swarms.

Lemon balm is easy to grow, accepting partial shade to full sun exposure. You can expect the leaves to turn pale yellow green in full sun. Some gardeners believe the plant is happier and more handsome when grown in the shade. Prefers moist fertile soil with good drainage. 

Just a few feet away from the clump Patti transplanted is a new variety of lemon balm that we found at a local garden center this spring; Melissa officinalis ‘Aurea’ (Variegated Lemon Balm). It is a robust grower with variegated gold/green foliage. Like its cousin, the variegated variety can be used for many culinary purposes. 

A refreshing trio: Lemon Balm Shortbread, Roasted Blueberries and Lemon Balm Ice Cream and Lemon Balm Infused Green Tea

Acclaimed chef and cookbook author, David Leibovitz, combines lemon balm with roasted blueberries for a delicious ice cream treat. Other delightful recipes include Lemon Balm Shortbread with fresh Lemon Balm Tea. 

Give lemon balm a try this year. Hopefully, you will agree with poets and herbalists of old who referred to it as “heart’s delight” for its uplifting qualities. 

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

Edible Spring Blossoms…Our Top Ten

May 11, 2021

Want to bring some unexpected tastes to your palate? A recent walk around our edible landscape gave us the answer. Yes, we are growing kale for the foliage, chervil for its delicate, lacy leaves and chives to top baked potatoes and egg dishes but many other beautiful spring blossoms offer special gifts not to be missed.

Salads become more vibrant and enticing, soup receives a touch of elegance and lightly steamed or sauteed vegetables sparkle when flower blossoms garnish the dish. We’ve selected ten of our favorite spring blossoms to whet your appetite. Some are familiar, others may surprise you with their distinctive and very pleasant tastes. Enjoy your springtime visit to our garden to catch a glimpse of these lovely blossoms before they fade away.

#10…German Chamomile (Chamaeomelum nobile; Matricaria recutita)

Dainty, apple scented, daisy-like spring blossoms become the perfect ingredient for brewing a cup of German chamomile tea. To make the tea, place 1 tablespoon fresh (or 1 teaspoon dried) flowers in a cup. Pour 1 cup boiling water over the top and steep for 5 minutes. Strain out the petals before drinking or using in a recipe. Let the soothing taste calm and comfort you on a crisp spring morning. Petals can also be used in salads. 

#9…Scented Geraniums (Pelargoniums spp.)

At Raincatcher’s we’ve fallen head over heels with scented pelargoniums (geraniums). Their fragrance is so captivating that we’re constantly searching for new varieties. This spring, we’re growing some of the following: chocolate peppermint, lavender, lemon fizz, rose, peach and pink champagne. From smooth-as-velvet rounded leaves to deeply lobed, the foliage of scented pelargoniums makes a lovely statement in the garden. Use scented geranium leaves to lend a nice fragrant addition to cookies, cakes, butter, drinks, and many other types of foods. Garnish the beverage of your choice with a tiny blossom. For a sweet finish, give it a gentle swish in the liquid before consuming.

#8…Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium)

After the deep freeze of February, chervil gave us a spirit-lifting surprise. Our tender little plants growing in the Hügelkultur stayed nestled in the ground just long enough to survive the bitter cold. Over the past few weeks, we’ve been drawn to tiny white anise-flavored blossoms covering the plants. Harvest chervil blossoms and leaves as close to preparation time as possible. Partner it with eggs, salmon, cream soups, and many classic sauces. Use the blossoms to garnish watercress for a simply divine salad.

#7…Begonias (Begoniaceae – Semperflorens Cultorum Group)

We are growing the wax leaf variety in our Statuary/Cottage Garden. The fleshy leaves and flowers are edible both cooked and raw. In Japan, India and Indonesia they have been cooked up as potherbs. The Chinese use them to make a sauce for meat. Children in northern Mexico and China eat them as a snack. Tuberous begonias are also edible. The flowers have a delicious, light, lemon taste and a crisp texture.  We hope to add some in the shady parts of our garden. 

#6…Rat’s Tail Radish (Raphanis sativus var. caudatus)

Edible podded radish plants look very similar to traditional radish plants except that the flowers are allowed to go to seed and form seed pods. Rat’s Tail radish is grown for its edible pods. The pods are green and pencil-thin with a smooth, somewhat lumpy appearance. Flowers can range from white to pink and purple and can be added to salads. Pods can be eaten raw or cooked, sliced and added to salads or crudité platters. Because Rat’s Tail radish plants are heavy producers, it’s fun to use both flowers and pods in different dishes.

#5…Kale, Red Russian (Brassica napus)

Kale is typically grown as a leafy green crop. But have you tasted the blossoms? Surprisingly, they are very tender and delicious. And, with the extreme cold in February, it brought out their sweetness even more. If fully opened, use them in salads. If they are still in the bud stage, try adding them to stir fry dishes. Or, after a light sauté, add them to soup or pasta. Other members of the brassica family also produce these tender flowering tops known as raabs. Raab is a tangible, edible sign that the kale (or broccoli or whatever you have) “overwintered” and survived into spring. 

#4…Calendula (Calendula officinalis)

With nicknames like pot marigold and poor man’s saffron, you might have missed the opportunity to grow calendula. At Raincatcher’s, we’re thrilled to have it growing alongside the greenhouse beds and in our sensory garden. Springtime is the best time to enjoy calendula flowers in the landscape and, especially, for culinary purposes. Calendula flowers have a spicy, peppery taste that give a nice flavor to cornbread, quiche, ravioli and sweets.

#3…Wasabi Arugula (Diplotaxis erucoides)

If you’re ready for tasting notes of horseradish and peppery aromatics, give wasabi arugula a try. It has deep green spoon-shaped leaves with slightly toothed edges and stems that are delicately crisp. Once it bolts, let the edible flowers attract pollinators or enjoy their tender, tangy bite in salads and as a garnish for your favorite bowl of soup. 

#2…Borage (Borage officinalis)

In our crescent bed, you’ll find both white and blue borage in full bloom. Bees are buzzing and can’t stay away from the striking star-shaped blossoms. Borage is an extremely old plant, originating from an area around Aleppo, a Syrian city that dates back to the eleventh century B.C. After spreading to Europe, Pliny the Elder wrote, “it maketh a man merry and joyful.” His comment, along with others, may refer more to the wine it was drunk in than the herb itself. Fresh borage flowers can be used in salads, dips and cold soups as a garnish.

#1…Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus)

Not surprisingly, nasturtiums are the number one pick in our edible landscape. There are almost a dozen varieties of nasturtium on the market but this year we chose ‘Variegated Alaska Mix’ for our Statuary/Cottage Garden bed. Their unique variegated foliage delivers a colorful display of gold, orange, salmon and mahogany flowers on compact plants reaching about one foot in height. A big attraction for growing nasturtiums is that the flowers, leaves and seed pods are all edible. Their tangy flavor is mustard like with an added perfume and sweetness. (For a special treat, go to our link for Nasturtium Risotto. This incredible recipe includes all parts of the nasturtium plant.)


(FYI…Come back in a few months for our next seasonal look at a Baker’s Dozen favorite edible summer flowers.)

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

Nasturtium Risotto

Nasturtium Pesto

Nasturtium Bouillon

Don’t forget our plant sale May 13th and 14th.

Arbequina Olives

We harvested the arbequina olive tree last November and preserved the fruit in a very strong brine. The brine leaches out the bitter oleuropein that makes olives straight off the tree inedible. The result was tasty but very salty!

Gardeners at Raincatcher’s took every precaution possible in mid-February to stave off sub-freezing temperature damage. Looking back, we wish we had double wrapped our precious Arbequina Olive. We don’t think our olive tree will survive but are waiting a few more weeks to see how it fared.

Brown leaves due sub freezing temps

In the meantime, we have olives to enjoy!

Beverly Allen, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2018


Paloma Eggplant…Creamy Texture and Slightly Sweet

Paloma Eggplant

Searching through the 2020 spring seed catalogs earlier this year, we found something that caught our eye. Entering into the new year, our garden “theme” had already been announced. The edible landscape would be adorned with the color “white”. From white pansies and alyssum to white carrots and white velvet okra, seeds were ordered and the fun began.

But, still needing that extra touch of white magic, we went back to the catalogs and started flipping through the pages. Almost immediately, we found the answer. A bell-shaped, velvety white eggplant named ‘paloma’ was the perfect solution. As soon as the seeds arrived, they were placed into our seed starting mix of perlite, vermiculite and sphagnum peat moss. After a few months in the greenhouse they were transplanted into several different locations in the edible landscape.

The summer heat seemed to slow down their growth initially but nearing the middle of August, things improved. We continued to keep them evenly moist in their sunny garden beds and waited for the first fruits to appear. And finally, over the past few weeks, we have been blessed with the most adorable little white eggplants you’ve ever seen.

Harvested Paloma Eggplant

Not surprisingly, the best part was yet to come. Anxious to experience the taste profile of our little gems, we tossed around a few recipe ideas for volunteers to try.

The one we chose to share with our readers is a favorite from a ‘Grow and Graze’ event last summer. We hope you enjoy revisiting Raincatcher’s Garden Summer Ratatouille with us.  Paloma’s smaller size makes it perfect to use with other vegetables in the ratatouille.

Linda Alexander

 

A Garden of Lettuce

April 26, 2020

Never in my wildest dreams did I think of growing Wasabi lettuce and that I would enjoy it so much. It has a sharp, wasabi-like taste just perfect when used raw in salads.   I planted it and several other varieties of lettuce in my garden in January after visiting the  Dallas Arboretum and their lovely edible landscape.

Something else I did not foresee was a pandemic with the shut down of our usual freedoms to work, shop, eat in restaurants and everything else we take for granted. I have not been inside a grocery store since early March so this little salad garden at my back door has been comforting to me and I have been able to share salad greens with neighbors and family.

If you would like a garden of fresh lettuce, consider planting some of these varieties next fall. I bought all these packages on the seed rack at Nicholson-Hardie Garden Center.

Left to Right as seen above:

Black Seeded Simpson Lettuce-a glowing, vibrant bright green

Forellenschluss Lettuce-freckled, also known as Speckles Trout Back, said to hold up well in summer heat. (We’ll see how that goes.)

Mustard Hybrid Salad Leaf Miz America-deep dark red color, mild tasting

Parris Island Cos Romaine Lettuce-crunchy sweet leaves, good texture

New Red Fire Leaf Lettuce- green at the base of the leaf and dark red at the ruffled leaf edge. Also said to be slow to bolt. ( I hope so.)

Mustard Salad Leaf Wasabina-light green serrated leaf with spicy flavor (This one is cold tolerant.)

Ann Lamb

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Bundles of Love

Our Edible Landscape’s Response to COVID-19

Sheltering in place has been a time of quiet solitude and reflection for me. My precious 91-year-old mother is being cared for by the staff in her memory care facility and I’m not allowed to visit at this time. (We are so grateful for their compassion and the care she receives from each one of them).  Our children and grandchildren send “face time” hugs and kisses but we are missing the warmth of their sweet touch. 

For me, the one familiar and unchanging experience is time spent in the garden. Early in the morning, with clippers in hand and a basket in my arm, the gathering begins. Late winter and into spring we’ve seen record high amounts of rain followed by temperatures dipping into the  30’s then soaring up into the mid 90’s. Somehow, this unusual weather has blessed our plants with the nourishment needed to grow and flourish. The garden has graced with a bounty of flavorful herbs and greens. 

Since the mid l980’s I’ve been smitten with herbs. Growing them is one of my simple pleasures. From sun to part sun, dappled shade to deep shade, over 20 different kinds of herbs make a seasonal appearance in my garden and in the edible landscape at Raincatcher’s Garden of Midway Hills. A few of the evergreens stay throughout the year while perennials come and go as they choose. Annuals fill in the gaps with seasonal color and interesting flavors.

This year as we started the gentle transition of winter into spring, wonderful things began happening in the garden. Sleepy little lettuce plants opened their heads with delicate green foliage to use in our spring salads. French tarragon, Mexican mint marigold and Italian oregano made a colorful statement from their country of origin. Alliums grew by inches, almost daily. The garden was ready to embrace the season. 

At Raincatcher’s garden and in my garden at home, I’ve been using the harvest of the season to create “bundles of joy” for my family and friends. Always careful to wear gloves and a face mask, if the garden is ready to share, I’m prepared to snip away. Look at each of these three bundles and see if you can identify the herbs and greens in each one. Everything you see is edible!

Did you find nasturtiums, blue borage, rosemary, kale (‘Jagallo Nero’-blue-green frilly leaves with a sweet, tender taste), rosemary, wasabi arugula with white blossoms, dill, thyme and rose scented geranium?

Look for the curly parsley, fennel fronds, spearmint, salad burnet, buttercrunch lettuce and German chamomile blossoms

In this photo you will find cutting celery (looks like Italian flat leaved parsley but has a taste resembling celery), calendula flowers, French sorrel, watercress, oak leaf lettuce and lemon verbena.

Note: These delightful little bundles should be shared with instructions to use soon after harvesting. Remember, leaves don’t like to be under water. So, keep everything fresh and snip from the top down. 

Included are a few favorite recipes but here are some suggestions for using more herbs in your daily meal planning:

Nasturtiums: leaves for pesto and flowers for butter, cookies, jams, salads, and tea sandwiches 

Borage: lovely blue blossoms as a garnish for cakes, salads and syrups

Rosemary: breads, cakes, cookies and soups

Arugula: leaves and blossoms in salads; leaves for pesto

Dill: breads, frittatas and fish

Calendula: flower petals for cornbread, cakes, cookies, quiche 

Scented geraniums: leaves for flavoring sugar, cakes, flowers and leaves for whipped cream

Curly parsley: parsley soup (recipe included), salads

Fennel fronds: salads and soups

Spearmint: tea, lemonade, brownies and in watermelon salad

Salad burnet: creamy dips and salads

German chamomile blossoms: tea and garnish for cakes and cookies, syrups

Cutting celery: creamy dips and young, tender leaves in salads

Marjoram: Italian foods like lasagna and pasta dishes

French sorrel: soups and as a wrap for oven roasted salmon

Watercress: leaves and blossoms for salads

Lemon verbena: breads, cakes, custards, sorbets and in iced tea, water or lemonade

Thyme: butters, soups, cookies and gougers 

Linda Alexander

And now for those recipes:

Parlsey Potato Soup

Lemon Verbena Bread

 

Raincatcher’s Garden Spring 2020

April 2, 2020

Most of us are at home this week and for the next coming weeks.

If you’re itching to walk through a garden, why not take a tour of ours through the eyes of Starla, our photographer who took these pictures last week.

New decomposed granite walkway flanked by beds of  Canyon Creek Abelia, Hamelim Dwarf Fountain Grass, and Texas Sage, “Compactum” (Texas Ranger) Read a full description of this new memorial garden here.

Veggie beds full of turnips (mostly gone), mustard greens (lots), collards (gone), carrots, and onions. Meanwhile Jim, is nursing 6″ pots of tomatoes and peppers for the garden.

Pollination of a blackberry blossom

The color wheel garden with a pretty apricot iris. Jim has repotted 40 zinnias and has 20 more to repot for the color wheel.

Redbud tree in bloom

The rain garden, our unsung hero! It has been channeling rain from our full rain cisterns to this sunken garden.

Garden questions? Send us a question by making a comment.

Ann Lamb

Pictures by Starla Willis

Scented Geraniums, An Olfactory Pleasure

Raincatcher’s Garden of Midway Hills is hopeful that by June, social distancing and shelter-in-place restrictions will be lifted. However, the health and well-being of our community is, of course, our highest priority. We will review the official guidance from health authorities and our local government, particularly Dallas County, as well as guidance from the Dallas County Master Gardener program, as our June 2nd date gets closer. If you purchase a ticket, you will be notified via email if this event must be postponed or cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns.Taste of the Garden

 

Scented Pelargoniums (Scented Geraniums)

“An Olfactory Pleasure”

Snowflake geraniums and chocolate geranuims growing in The Raincatcher’s edible landscape

Learn how to bring color, variety and a whole spectrum of fragrances into your life. Following an enlightening talk about growing their aromatic foliage you’ll be treated to a tasting table of flavorful treasures.

Tuesday, June 2nd

Raincatcher’s Garden of Midway Hills…11001 Midway Road

Program 10:00 – 11:00am with
Dallas County Master Gardener, Paula Spletter
Free and open to all in the Sanctuary

‘A Taste of the Garden’ 11:15 – 12:15
$10.00 per person in the Community Hall

Reservation Deadline, May 26th

Menu

Rose Geranium Italian Cream Cake with Rose Cream Frosting

Strawberry Rose Geranium Ice Cream

Rose Geranium Buttermilk Pie

Rose Scented Geranium Lemonade

Sign up here and keep up with any news about this event on our blog:

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/taste-of-the-garden-scented-pelargoniums-scented-geraniums-tickets-101252956318 

 

Questions? Leave a comment on this blog or contact lindawalexander@sbcglobal.net

Calendulas in My Garden

Above: Calendula in Linda’s garden

There’s a new herbal flower growing in my garden that makes my heart happy. Calendula, sometimes known as pot marigold, signifies sacred affections, joy, grief and remembrance. With such a wide range of emotions, there are countless reasons to include it in your garden landscape design. 

 With hues from golden to apricot, deep yellow and bright orange, calendula flowers are eye-catching in any setting. An early morning walk in the garden will tempt you to take a handful of clippings for a lovely bouquet or gather up the flowers for some edible delicacies. 

Growing calendulas is quite simple. Plant seeds in good garden soil, keeping the ground moist until the plants appear. If planted in late summer or early fall, there’s a good chance that they will produce flowers from spring into summer. Some years it might flower almost year-round.

My calendula plants were put in the ground in mid fall, started blooming in February and are continuing to produce new buds weekly. The flowers are harvested often to use in cut arrangements and for ingredients in butter, cookies, cornbread, quiche and a scrumptious calendula cake. They can also be sprinkled on soups, pasta, rice dishes and salads. The Raincatcher’s volunteers recently sampled calendula quiche. The recipe is given below.

Above: Petals to be eaten!

In the vegetable or herb garden, calendulas encourage pollinators and other beneficial insects. If you’re looking for a plant that flourishes in cooler weather, blooms often and is easy to maintain, give this versatile herb a sunny location in your garden. 


Calendula Quiche

Above: Calendula Quiche surrounded by Calendula Flowers at Raincatcher’s Garden

Ingredients

3 cups loosely packed fresh spinach

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

4 eggs

1 cup heavy cream

¼ cup (6 ounces) soft goat cheese, crumbled

½ cup calendula petals (from about 20 flowers)

½ teaspoon salt

Directions

Preheat oven to 375˚F. Liberally butter a 9-inch pie pan. 

In a skillet over medium heat, cook spinach in olive oil until the leaves are fully wilted, about 3 minutes. Drain. 

Whisk eggs and cream together. Add goat cheese, calendula petals and salt and whisk again. 

Arrange spinach in the bottom of the prepared pie plate and pour egg mixture over the top. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the custard is set in the center and the top is golden brown.

*Option: If you prefer, follow directions for the ingredients but pour into a prebaked pie crust.

Yield: One 9-inch Quiche

As in true Texas style, we suggest a few drops of Tabasco sauce on each slice for extra zing.

Linda Alexander

Photos by Linda and Starla Willis

Click here to learn how to pronounce Calendula correctly.

Blood Orange Cake with Cardamom and Sugared Rosemary

Have you “sugared” your rosemary this year?

Neither had I. Until we went to our nephew’s wedding last weekend in Tucson, Arizona, sugaring rosemary wasn’t on my list of things to accomplish for the new year. But then, everything changed.

The morning of his wedding was one of those sun-drenched, crystal clear days so typical of winter in southern Arizona. It was a wonderful day to be outdoors. After a mid-morning breakfast, we took a short drive to see the charming 1929 casita he and his bride-to-be had purchased only a few weeks prior to the wedding. Driving down a tree lined, winding road we caught a glimpse of the property.

As is common in the desert, his one-half acre yard was missing the lush lawn and greenery that is found in Dallas. Instead, pebbles and stones provided the foundation for a lovely display of cactus and willows. Citrus trees dotted the landscape with their yellow, orange and lime green polka dot affect. Walking along the enchanting pathways, we felt the serenity and peacefulness of this quaint desert setting.

But it was the blood orange trees that called my name. They were putting on a spectacular show with colorful hues of red and orange. Branches were drooping with the weight of a plentiful crop. It was time for harvesting and I was ready to take on the task. With clippers in hand and a 6’ 4” husband by my side, we harvested our way through every blood orange tree on the property. It was a delightful experience.

 

 

 

Once back in Dallas, and thanks to a sister who drove out for the wedding then delivered our blood oranges a few days later, we are enjoying our bushel basket full of my favorite citrus fruit.

Linda and the blood orange tree.

Art harvesting blood oranges.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anxious to try a recipe that I stumbled across right before Christmas, our Arizona trip gave me the main ingredient; blood oranges. After a little experimenting, I finally settled on the combination of two similar recipes and prepared Blood Orange and Cardamom Cake for my husband’s birthday this weekend. If you’ve never made a blood orange cake accented with the fragrance of ground cardamom, be prepared for a flavorful and moist treat.

Linda’s Blood Orange Cake with Cardamon and Sugared Rosemary

*Note: Many local groceries are currently hosting citrus-fests, etc. Now is a good time to use those sassy little blood oranges in your favorite recipe. Or, search the internet for a blood orange cake recipe. There are some fun ones to choose from. Just don’t forget the “sugared rosemary” for a nice Texas finish!

Linda Alexander

To Make Sugared Rosemary:
Dip fresh rosemary sprigs into a cup with water. Drip off excess and set on a parchment lined baking sheet. Generously sprinkle the wet rosemary sprigs with sugar, flip them over and repeat. Allow to dry for about an hour or more.

If you would like the blood orange cake recipe, please let us know in the comment section.
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