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Growing Apples, Pears, Persimmons and Pomegranates

Apples, Pears, Persimmons and Pomegranates, nature’s grand finale!

Jeff Raska, Dallas County Horticulture Program Assistant, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service inspired us to start planting, growing and harvesting the fruits of the season. For Raincatcher’s, it was our last and final class of 2018 in the series.  With an abundance of fall fruits ripe and ready for harvest, we gathered up our pens and paper for a very educational presentation. Highlights from Jeff’s lecture included the following:

General Information for Fruit Trees

Your first consideration should be selecting the right variety for our climate and soils. Plant trees during dormancy, January to early February in a slightly raised mound rich in compost and top-dressed with mulch.  Bare root trees are preferred as they will outgrow a container plant. Want to know if you have a healthy tree? Scratch the root. If it’s the color of cooked spaghetti, it’s a viable tree.

All fruit growth happens within the first 45 days of fruit set (after bloom). At that time, the plant needs constant water (1-3” per week). The fruit won’t get any bigger or sweeter after the first 45 days, it just develops the seed.

In terms of “chill hours,” our Zone 8b previously was between 600-950 hours. Currently we are between 600-800 hours. Our winters are getting colder but shorter due to climate change.

Apples and pears need a cross-pollinator…another tree that blooms at the same time. Both trees grow spurs, short and stout twigs that bear the fruit buds year after year. That’s one reason  you can espalier the tree and have fruit on those limbs. This is in contrast to peaches that bear fruit on new growth every year.

The second consideration is pruning. As a ‘rule-of-thumb’, if you can’t see the fruit then you’re not getting enough sun. Thin the fruit when it’s the size of a nickel. The goal here is to have only 3-4 fruits per limb, spaced about 6 inches apart. Each flower will produce one fruit; too many fruits on a limb will create smaller fruit and risk the branch breaking under the weight.

The third consideration is fertilizer. Instead of fertilizer, mix finished compost into your mound, then top-dress 1-2 times per year. Finished compost is homogenous. When you hold a fistful, there are no telltale leaves or twigs in it. If you do choose to fertilize or use chemicals, don’t use them before a rain event. Rain doesn’t wash the chemicals in, it washes them out. Mulch for weed control. Not only do weeds take nutrients away from the plants, they are a home for the insects that attack the plant.

Apples (Best varieties for the DFW metroplex, with chill hours)

Gala (600)

Mollies Delicious (500-600)

Mutsu (500-900)

Golden Delicious (500-600)

Granny Smith (400-600)

Aim for a variety that has about 600 chill hours. A tree that has more, or less, will live but won’t bear fruit. When is the fruit ripe? Look for green that is starting to add color, or if a bird pecks at it. If you cut it open and find a black seed, it’s ripe. If the seed is green, it is not yet completely ripe.

Pears

(Best varieties for the DFW metroplex, with chill hours)

European varieties:

Warren (600)

Moonglow (700)

Ayers (600)

Asian varieties:

Shinko (500)

Shin Li (500)

In addition to chill hours, these varieties are resistant to fire blight. *Bartlett is especially vulnerable to fire blight and strongly not recommended for this area. All the above varieties can cross pollinate with one another.

Pomegranates

(Best varieties for the DFW metroplex)

Wonderful and Al-sirin-nar

The pomegranate is a part of the crepe myrtle family. It is a wild and unruly bush that needs to grow as a bush and fruits best when not pruned to grow as a tree. However, it can be trimmed to maintain an attractive form. It is self-fertile and doesn’t need another plant for cross-pollination. Pomegranates don’t ripen after being picked. Wait to pick until the fruit is ripe, it should give a little when you squeeze it gently.

Persimmons

(Best varieties for the DFW metroplex)

Eureka (a flat variety, less tannic and can be eaten when firm or soft)

Hachiya (this is the cone-shaped variety, very tannic and only edible when soft)

Based on the variety, persimmons can be self-fertile or need cross-pollination. Persimmon tree branches are thicker and can handle a heavy fruit load.

Immediately following Jeff’s presentation, members and guests were treated to bountiful buffet table bursting with seasonal flavor. It was a feast for both the eyes and the palate.

 A few of the recipes that were developed for this special event will be posted tomorrow:

Baked Brie with Roasted Persimmons

Butternut Squash-Pear Soup garnished with Parmesan and Chopped Rosemary

Salad of Figs, Pomegranates, Persimmons and Pears with Pomegranate Dressing

Autumn Orchard Crisp

Persimmon Cookies

written by Lisa Centala and Linda Alexander from Jeff Rasks’s presentation

 

Fig Fest Dessert Recipes and Lecture 2018

Dallas County Master Gardeners Working Fig Fest

We had a great day at the garden on August 7th, out working early, tidying up the plants and helping them through this summer heat, and then inside to learn about the care and feeding of fig trees, a (relatively) easy and delicious plant we can grow out here in north Texas.

“Fig Fest” was the third in our series, “A New Crop of Classes.” Entertaining, informative, inspirational, flavorful and delicious were just some of the comments we heard from those who attended…77 to be exact. Jeff Raska, our Dallas County Horticulture Program Assistant, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, shared the biology, history, and how-to’s of growing figs locally, and Lisa Centala shared nutritional information about figs, which are a great source of dietary fiber and vitamins K and A.

Highlights from Jeff’s talk included:

  • Figs: You can love them to death. Figs love poor soil, but keep it well-drained and water consistently. You can even raise the bed a bit when planting with compost and mulch. Don’t add nitrogen – it will cut back fruit production.
  • The flower is inside the fig, and a tiny wasp pollinates it by climbing in and laying eggs
  • Figs are a Mediterranean plant and want no more than 800 chill hours. We are about as far north as we can be and still grow figs, which means the plant may die back in the winter. Allow your fig to have several trunks, and don’t worry if one or all die back – it will come back in the spring. In fact, don’t trim the dead wood away until the leaves come back in spring so you know which branches are really dead.
  • There are two varieties of fig trees: those that are everbearing, and those that bear once a season. Texas Everbearing (or Brown Turkey) will give an early crop in late spring/early summer, and the rest of the fruit will ripen from June through August. Celeste is also a recommended variety for our area, but it’s “one and done.” Celeste gives one crop a season but is a bit more cold-hardy than Texas Everbearing, which is why we chose this variety at Raincatcher’s.
  • Harvest your figs when they’re ripe (they have a little give when you squeeze them), because they won’t ripen off of the tree. And eat them quickly! They’ll start to ferment in just a couple of days.

For more information on cultivating figs, please visit this Aggie Horticulture site.

And, once again, following Jeff’s presentation we savored a fig-inspired lunch that would have kept Adam and Eve in the garden. We hope you enjoy the photos and recipes from a delightful summer class. Congratulations to a new crop of “fig experts!”

Trio of Fig Desserts

Fig and Strawberry Tart

Ingredients

For the Crust

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for surface

½ teaspoon granulated sugar

Salt

1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

¼ to ½ cup ice water

Directions

Make the crust: Pulse flour, granulated sugar, and ½ teaspoon salt in a food processor until combined. Add butter, and pulse until mixture resembles coarse crumbs with some larger pieces remaining, about 10 seconds.

Drizzle ¼ cup ice water evenly over mixture. Pulse until mixture just begins to hold together (it should not be wet or sticky). If dough is too dry, add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and pulse. Press dough into a disk, and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour or overnight.

Roll dough to a 14-inch circle (⅛ inch thick) on a floured surface. Fit dough into bottom and up sides of a 10-inch fluted round tart pan with a removable bottom. Trim excess dough flush with edges of pan using a knife. Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350˚F. Prick bottom of tart shell all over with a fork, and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove weights, and bake until set, about 5 minutes more. Let cool. Leave oven on.

For the Filling:

¾ cup blanched hazelnuts, toasted

½ cup packed light-brown sugar

¼ cup granulated sugar

½ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

Salt

1 stick unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

2 tablespoons Armagnac, or other brandy, such as Cognac

2 large eggs

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

8 ounces figs (about 7), trimmed and halved lengthwise

8 ounces strawberries (1 ½ cups), halved if large

Garnish: whipped cream

Make the Filling: Pulse hazelnuts in a food processor until finely chopped. Add sugars, zest, and ¼ teaspoon salt; pulse to combine. Add butter, Armagnac, eggs, and vanilla; pulse until mixture is almost smooth.

Spread filling evenly into tart shell. Top with figs and strawberries. Bake for 30 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325˚F; bake until set and dark brown on top, about 1 hour more. Garnish with whipped cream.

Lemony Rice Pudding with Figs and Saba

Ingredients

1 cup uncooked long-grain rice

1 tablespoon powdered sugar

7 cups milk

¾ cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon lemon zest

½ teaspoon salt

1 vanilla bean, split

1 pint fresh figs, quartered

Saba is an ancient sweetener traditionally made from freshly squeezed grape juice, known as must. It is basically a sweet grape syrup. Order online or purchase at specialty grocers. After opening, refrigerate up to one year.

 

 

Directions

Bring 4 cups water to a boil in a large saucepan. Stir in first 2 ingredients, and cook, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes; drain.

Return rice to saucepan; stir in milk and next 4 ingredients. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; reduce heat to low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, 45 minutes or until thick. Remove vanilla bean. Remove from heat, and transfer to a glass bowl. Let stand 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Cover and chill 8 hours.

Spoon into serving dishes; top each with figs and a drizzle of Saba.

Yield: Makes 10 servings

Fresh Fig Ice Cream

Ingredients

1 (15-ounce) can condensed milk

2 (13-ounce) cans evaporated milk

Juice of ½ lemon

3 pints peeled, fresh figs, mashed

2 cups sugar

Whole milk

Directions

Put all ingredients in freezer container. If the figs are very ripe, you may not need as much sugar as called for. Add whole milk to level freezer calls for to ensure proper freezing. Freeze in a 6-quart freezer according to directions.

Yield: Serves 20

Note: In the dessert picture there is a grilled fig spread with a dollop of mascarpone cheese and a drizzle of honey. No recipe just buy and prepare!

Linda Alexander and Lisa Centala


*Our fourth and final class of 2018 is scheduled for Tuesday, October16th.

Apples, Pears, Persimmons and Pomegranates promises to be a another educationally inspiring class. And following Jeff Raska’s presentation; don’t miss a bountiful lunch buffet filled with seasonal flavors.  Information about the class will be posted on this blog in early September.

Hope you can join us!

Recipes from the July Master Gardener Meeting

 

Update on the July 24th Grape Balls of Fire event-we will be indoors, it’s too hot to be outside in our garden and reservation deadline has been extended to Sunday, July 22,2018.

https://dallasgardenbuzz.com/2018/07/16/whats-happening-at-raincatchers/

And now here are the recipes:

Bacon-Wrapped Jalapeño Poppers

Ingredients

½ cup cream cheese

½ cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

12 jalapeño peppers, halved lengthwise, seeds and membranes removed

12 slices bacon

Directions

Preheat oven to 400˚F.  Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

Mix cream cheese and Cheddar cheese together in a bowl until evenly blended.  Fill each jalapeño half with the cheese mixture.  Put halves back together and wrap each stuffed pepper with a slice of bacon.  Arrange bacon-wrapped peppers on the prepared baking sheet.

Bake in the preheated oven until bacon is crispy, about 15 minutes.

Tomato & Basil Soup

adapted from Cold Soups, by Linda Ziedrich

volume = 1.75 c

1 Tbsp + 2 Tbsp olive oil

1/4 med onion, chopped

1 pound tomatoes, cut into chunks

1/2 cup basil leaves, packed loosely

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1.5 tsp balsamic vinegar

Heat 1 Tbsp oil, add the onion, and sauté over medium heat until soft.

Add the tomatoes, and cook until the tomatoes are soft, about 15 minutes.

Put the remaining 2 Tbsp oil, basil, garlic and vinegar in blender and blend.  Add the tomato mixture to the mixture in the blender.  Blend until smooth.

Chill and serve.

*For a fun presentation, cut off the tops of a Campari tomato and scoop out the insides.  Fill with soup and garnish with a basil leaf.

Strawberry Balsamic Popsicles

adapted from Perfect Pops by Charity Ferreira

volume 1 cup

1/2 pound diced strawberries (1/2” dice) – about 1.5 c after hulling

2 T sugar (white, granulated)

1 t balsamic vinegar

black pepper

Pulse the strawberries and sugar in a food processor to get a fine chop – juicy, but chunky

Add the vinegar and a few grinds of pepper (a coarser grind gives you a more pronounced bite)

Let the mixture sit out a bit, say 30 minutes, to allow strawberry juice to accumulate

Stir, pour into molds and freeze

*Using the mini-ice cube molds (they hold 2 tsp each), the above recipe will make 24 popsicles.

Cinnamon Basil Polenta Cookies

Ingredients

½ cup yellow cornmeal, preferably stone-ground

¾ cup bleached all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch of coarse salt

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 tablespoons (packed) whole cinnamon basil leaves

½ cup granulated sugar

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

2 tablespoons vegetable shortening

1 egg yolk

2 tablespoons half-and-half or cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Confectioners’ sugar to garnish (optional)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350˚F.

Whisk together cornmeal, flour, cornstarch, baking powder, salt and cinnamon; set aside. In a food processor or blender, whiz cinnamon basil leaves and sugar until leaves are finely ground. Transfer to a medium bowl; add butter and vegetable shortening. Beat on high speed until light and fluffy. Scrape down sides with a spatula and add egg yolk, half-and-half and vanilla; beat until combined well. With mixer running, slowly add flour mixture until combined.

Scoop out heaping teaspoons of dough onto parchment paper-lined baking sheets, placing them 2 inches apart. Bake 10 to 12 minutes, until golden. Remove to racks and let cool; dust with confectioners’ sugar before serving or storing, if desired. Store in an airtight container.

Yield: 3 Dozen Cookies

 

 

Grazing Thru The Edible Landscape

The July Master Gardener meeting was a tasty success – a wonderful, informative speaker on our favorite topic – food!   …Well, to be more precise, the topic was about how to incorporate food plants into our landscapes.  Cheryl Beesley, a master gardener, horticulturalist, and landscape designer with an emphasis on edible landscapes was gracious, entertaining and educational.
Before the meeting and her talk, we gathered to graze in Raincatcher’s own edible landscape. Culinary creations from our own fruits, vegetables and herbs were offered and gobbled up.

Our culinary team showing off our tasty treats!

Through the garden gate – a glimpse of the landscape.

Starla with a photo-retrospective of our journey from old playground to new edible landscape.

Our guests enjoying the tasting; that’s the hugelkultur in the foreground.

Three of our planting scenes: our southern border lined with okra, our ‘rock garden’ with herbs, and the transformed swingset, now home to peppers and cucumbers.

Abbe sharing the chilled tomato-basil soup served in mini-tomato cups. Recipes coming!

Lisa with glazed lemon zucchini bread.

Lavender shortbread cookies – yum!

Passion fruit and tarragon truffles by Ana made with plants from our edible landscape.

Annette and Starla’s friend, Marsha Adams, enjoying a seat in the shade.

Cynthia Jones with our speaker, Cheryl Beesley and her husband, James.

Written by: The Edible Garden Team and Lisa Centala

Pictures by Starla Willis

Bye-bye Parsley, Thanks for the Greens!

We pulled up our beautiful, gorgeous, healthy, vibrant parsley today.  Why would we do this to our stunning, laugh-at-freeze-and-drought plant?  Because we are creating a landscape, not just a garden, and one of the tenants of landscape design is repetition.  A standard front-yard landscape may have only three different types of plants, but they may be used over and over in different areas of the yard.  With an edible landscape, we usually want to eat more than three different types of plants, so we find ways to modify the rules of landscape design.

 In this case, our parsley was living in a low wooden bed underneath the old swingset. Along the length of the swingset are four other low wooden beds, and for this season, they’ve been planted with peppers – five peppers per bed.  Four beds of peppers with one bed half full of parsley looks, well, odd. So we removed the parsley, added five more peppers, and created repetition – and cohesion – under the swingset.

Don’t cry too much for the parsley, though.  Big, green, vibrant and fragrant, it went home with our volunteers to be made into tasty morsels.  Do you have some parsley in your yard or garden? (Or local grocery?) Consider using some to make:

  • pesto – substitute it for the basil
  • tabbouleh – a wonderful summertime salad made with bulgur
  • chimichurri with it – an  Argentinian sauce for grilled foods
  • fry up sprigs – your choice if you want to dip them in a light batter first
  • ravioli – chop it up, mix with some ricotta and egg, salt and pepper, and fill ravioli with it
  • toss it into your next omelet or frittata
  • vinaigrette (or make a green goddess dressing)
  • how about a cream of parsley soup?  or in a falafel?
  • add it in to your regular salad, potato salad, meatballs, you can stick some practically anywhere you want a little – or a lot – of green

One last note:  There are three cultivars of parsley – curly, flat-leaf, and root.  All are biennials in our temperate climate, and this was the second year for this parsley plant.  The cultivar we were growing was the curly variety. The root variety will create a nice, edible taproot you can eat raw like a carrot, or cook like a turnip.  Look to central and eastern European dishes to see it featured. Flat-leaf is more commonly listed in today’s Western recipes, but curly and flat leaf can be used interchangeably.  Middle Eastern recipes are more likely to use the curly variety. Most people think flat-leaf is more flavorful, but if you grow your own, you’ll see that there’s plenty of flavor in the curly variety as well.

So, bye-bye parsley, and bon appetit stomach!

Lisa Centala and Edible Landscape team

Save these dates June 26 and 28th. 

The Peach Fever lunch on June 26 is sold out but class is open!

 

Wonders of the Garden

Is it true that sometimes good things come in small packages? In this case, yes, except for me it was a box. Waiting on my doorstep was the package clearly marked ‘Please protect from freeze and extreme heat’. With the thermometer quickly climbing to the 100+ mark, heat was the main concern of this precious piece of cargo. Why all the fuss?

In March of this year our Raincatcher’s edible landscape team had just started to install the first green material for our newly redesigned garden. Converting the church’s abandoned children’s playground into a place of tranquility and sensual delight was a challenging task.

It had already been determined that one specific area, a 12’ square to be exact, would be anchored by a stately bay laurel. Surrounding it in grand Victorian style, would be those aromatic jewels of the garden, the fragrantly pleasurable scented geraniums.

Numerous trips to our local garden centers yielded a disappointingly small number, 4 chocolate scented and 8 nutmeg. Call, after call resulted in the same answer; “No”, we don’t have any old-fashioned rose scented geraniums this year. Finally, after one month of searching, the answer we had hoped for came from an internet supplier. “Yes”, we only have 8 left and this is the last of the crop. “I’ll take them”, was my immediate answer!

Carefully opening the box and sifting through layers of slightly dampened newspapers, my eye caught the tip of a jagged little leaf peaking through. And then, there they were in all their Victorian glory, 8 beautiful…happy and ready to be planted in our garden…’Old-Fashioned Rose’ Scented Geraniums. After a moment of delicately crushing and bruising the leaves, my head was filled with their heavenly scent. Yes, of course, it was worth the wait. And, we promise next month to share photos of their progress along with a few recipes using the leaves in some of our favorite baked goodies.  

Scented geraniums to be planted in the edible landscape at The Raincatcher’s Garden.

Note: If you happen to notice more than 8 plants, SURPRISE, I couldn’t resist the temptation when the lady from Georgia taking my order said that she also had 4 peach scented geraniums available. Rubbing their fuzzy little leaves in between my fingers, I caught the gentle scent of a fresh Texas peach. For me, it was a moment of pure summer bliss.

After a night at my house, our precious cargo will go to its new home; the Raincatcher’s Garden of Midway Hills. Please visit us at 11001 Midway Road. We’re in the garden every Tuesday from 9:00 – 12:00noon tending to our babies.

Linda Alexander

Two events coming up at Raincatcher’s:

Peach Fever-June 26

Edible Landscaping Lecture and nibbles from the edible  garden-June 28

Harvest It and They Will (be) Come(ly)

One of the concerns about edible landscaping is that if you eat your edibles, you’ll lose your landscape!  That’s a valid concern.  So here at the Edible Landscape of Raincatcher’s garden, we have pictorial proof to poof away your fears!  We planted our circle of greens in our shade bed about two months ago from 6-inch transplants.  The bunnies in our neighborhood really liked the swiss chard, so we added a little fence to discourage their visits.

Our bed of greens this morning when we arrived.  Full and lush and beautiful.  Can’t you see that gracing your front yard?

Our bed of greens this morning when we arrived.  No, wait!  This is After we harvested from it.  Can you tell the difference?  Maybe it looks even a little more neat and tidy.  I guess maybe we didn’t harvest too much from it.

Our harvest.  Really!  How many people could you feed with all these lovely greens?  We’ve got kale, mustard greens, French sorrel,  parsley and spinach and we can use them raw in a salad or steamed, tossed in a little cream sauce over pasta, or chopped up and thrown into a soup.  If you like a little challenge, how about juicing them and using the juice to make a green pasta?  Or chopping  and mixing with bread dough for rolls?  If this was in your yard, you could harvest a little every day and no one would know you’ve been eating your landscape.

There’s going to be a talk on Edible Landscaping at 11001 Midway Road on Thursday, June 28 at the June Master Gardener meeting. Lecture starts at noon.  Come join us and see our edible landscape in person.  Or stop by any Tuesday morning, we’ll be out there, harvesting our greens.

“This post comes from The  Edible Landscape team at Raincatcher’s,
Lisa Centala
Pictures by Starla Willis
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