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A Summertime “Pop Up” Pepper Class

August 2, 2021

A pile of vegetables

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It was a sizzling hot morning with no breeze other than the gentle air provided by fans turning overhead in the shade pavilion. Our pepper class and tasting event started at 10:00am but even by then, the temperatures were already in the low 90’s. We knew it was going to be a hot one! Thankfully, those who came were seriously interested in learning more about peppers.

Highlights from the Class, Pepper Tasting and Lunch

*Peppers are in the Solanaceae family of nightshade plants as are tomatoes, Irish potatoes and eggplants. There are over 50,000 varieties of peppers. The two broad categories we discussed during the class were sweet peppers and hot peppers. 

*Peppers originated in the Mesoamerica territory which includes Central Mexico down across Central America and as far as northern Costa Rica.  In the ancient Aztec and Mayan cultures of Mexico chili peppers were prized for their fiery flavor and spicy kick. These native tribes had fully domesticated chili peppers as far back as 5,000-6,000 BC. The word “chili” can be credited to Nahuatl, the Aztec language from which many modern terms are derived.

*Christopher Columbus was one of the first Europeans to encounter the chile pepper. When eating the fruit he felt the same “burn” or “heat” as from black pepper, so he called it “pepper.” This the reason today that chile peppers are called peppers.

*Is it a fruit or a vegetable? Depends on who you are talking to. 

Botanists see it as a fruit. A botanist would use the botanical classification which is based on the plant’s physiological characteristics like the structure, function and organization of the plant. Botanically speaking, a ‘fruit’ is the seed-bearing product that grows from the ovary of a flowering plant. A nutritionist or chef would use the culinary classification system. The culinary explanation says that a ‘vegetable’ usually has a tougher texture, tastes blander and often requires cooking. A general consensus finds that peppers are both a fruit and a vegetable! 

*Thick Walled/Thin Walled 

Peppers are a flavorful addition to a wide variety of recipes. In general, thin walled peppers work well fresh in salads and sandwiches. They may also be sauteed or grilled. For example, shishito peppers may simply be tossed into a pan with olive oil and sauteed until they blister. 

Thick walled peppers are excellent for stir frying, stuffing or roasting. For easy oven roasted bell peppers, cut them into strips and place on a sheet pan with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast at 450˚F about 25 minutes or until tender.

*Understanding the Scoville Scale 

Bell peppers have zero Scoville Heat Units (SHU), jalapenos have around 5,000 and habaneros have in the neighborhood of 300,000. What does that mean? The Scoville Heat scale measures the concentration of capsaicin, the chemical compound that makes peppers hot. Wilbur Scoville, a pharmacist, invented the scale in 1912. Originally it measured the dilution needed to make the heat in an extract of a pepper undetectable to a panel of 5 people. A SHU measure of 300,000 indicates that the extract would have to be diluted 300,000 fold before the capsaicin was undetectable. 

Now High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) gives us a direct measurement of capsaicin that is more accurate than sensory methods and is reported in American Spice Trade Association (ASTA) pungency units. One ASTA pungency unit is equivalent to 15 SHU’s. The Scoville scale remains out of tradition so ASTA pungency units are multiplied by 15 to convert them to SHU’s. 

*Recommended AgriLife Varieties 

Sweet Peppers: Bell Tower, Big Bertha, California Wonder, Gypsy, Jupiter and Yolo Wonder

Hot Peppers: Hidalgo Serrano, Hungarian Wax, Jalapeno, Long Red Cayenne and TAM Mild Jalapeno

*Hottest Pepper in the World  

With a rating of 2,200,000 SHU’s, Carolina Reaper holds the record since 2017 for the world’s hottest pepper. (FYI…We aren’t growing it anywhere in the Raincatcher’s Garden).

*Our Favorite 2021 Selection Growing at Raincatcher’s 

2021 Grower’s Choice: Jimmy Nardello

We just adore this curvy little pepper with waxy skin and a sweet flavor. Jimmy Nardellos’ parents immigrated to the United States from Southern Italy in 1887 and brought their beloved pepper seeds with them to their new hometown of Naugatuck, Connecticut. Before his death in 1983 Jimmy donated the seeds to a seed preservation organization. Since then, this delicious chili pepper plant is known as the Jimmy Nardello pepper worldwide.

*Growing Peppers 

Pepper plants like warm weather. Plant in heavier, well drained soil. Direct sow seeds or move transplants outside late April to mid-May. Give them at least 6 hours of sunlight each day.

Water plants enough to keep them from wilting. Harvest peppers as they mature as this will make the yield greater. Store in the vegetable crisper of the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks. Do not wash before storing. Peppers can be frozen.

For more information on growing peppers go to: https://agrilifeextension.tamu.edu/library/gardening/peppers/

A Delightful Pepper Themed Lunch Menu

Griddled Quesadillas with Mexican Three Cheese Blend, Baby Spinach and Sauteed Peppers-

We layered the tortillas with Mexican Three Cheese Blend, Baby Spinach and Sautéed Peppers. Neil Bolich cooked them on a griddle over heat onsite. We topped them with a dollop of  Jalapeno Pepper Jelly from our Raincatcher’s Jam and Jelly Team and a Hot Chili Pepper.

Mexican Fruit Cups Drizzled with a Squeeze of Fresh Lime and Sprinkled with Tajin

Jalapeno Shortbread Cookies Dipped in Ghirardelli Chocolate

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

Beverly Allen, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2018

The Edible Landscape and North Vegetable Garden theme for 2022 is still four months away from being revealed. Here is the August clue.  This very important person is known for calling agriculture “the crown of all the other sciences” as it required knowledge in many other sciences like botany and chemistry. Have you guessed it yet? If not, check back in September for yet another insightful clue

Summertime

July 23, 2021

“Summertime is always the best of what might be.”

—Charles Bowden

When you think of summer, think of The Raincatcher’s Garden!

Cool off in the shade of Japanese Maples in our courtyard.

Drink in the beauty of this Crinum. We think it is a variety called ‘Super Ellen‘ described as a monster super hero crinum!

“Chill out” by thinking of our rain garden’s purpose. Hint, it nature’s best response to summertime downpours.

Quench your thirst for the unexpected with iron cross oxalis.

Like a hummingbird be refreshed by Turk’s Cap.

Dallas County Master Gardeners welcome visitors. If you would like to come to our garden at 11001 Midway Road while we are working, come Tuesday mornings. For a planned visit, leave a note in our comment section.

Ann Lamb

Pictures by Starla Willis


Sign up for our Taste the Heat Pepper event. The educational class and lunch will be at our garden on Wednesday, July 28th. Deadline to sign up is Sunday.

https://www.signupgenius.com/go/805084eafad22a4fc1-pepper

Aji Dulce – Paco’s Peppers

April 29, 2021

This article is about my friend Paco.  We met on a pickleball court 5 or 6 years ago and have been good friends ever since.  The first time I stepped into his backyard, I discovered we had something other than pickleball in common – gardening!  Paco is from Puerto Rico and he has turned his backyard into a tropical paradise.  Last year at a summer pool party, I noticed a pepper plant with small, wrinkly looking red and green peppers.  He explained that he collected the seeds from peppers he got in Puerto Rico because it is an important ingredient for sofrito.  I left the party with a baggie full of seeds.

The Aji Dulce peppers (Capsicum Chinese) are small, sweet peppers.  They have the shape and size of a habanera pepper but without the heat.  They start out light to dark green and eventually turn red and orange if left on the plant to mature.  Aji Dulce is used to season dishes in Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Cuba.  My research found that in Puerto Rico, it is most commonly used in sofrito (which translates to stir fry or sauté in English).  It is a perennial in the tropics but is an annual here.  

With the seeds Paco gave me last year, we have been able to start a number of these pepper plants for the Raincatcher’s Garden annual plant sale which will be held at the garden on Thursday, May 13th.  I am looking forward to growing a couple of these plants myself this summer and will be looking up sofrito recipes once I get a good crop going!  

This plant goes by several names.  In Puerto Rico it is know as aji dulce, ajicito or ajies.  In the Dominican Rebuplic it is called aji gustoso and in Cuba it is aji cachucha. To me, this plant will always and simply be referred to as Paco’s peppers!  

Jackie James

Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 1993 

We will be posting more details on this blog about the May 13th plant sale in the near future.  

Enchanted

It was the sweet, anise like fragrance of Mexican Mint Marigold that drew me into the garden on the morning of October 18th. Brushing up against the plants, I yielded to the temptation and immediately tasted one of the delicate yellow blossoms surrounded by slender green leaves. My garden journey was just beginning.

Landscapes bursting with brilliant color, leaves gently tumbling down from trees and pumpkins spilling out from the porch and into the yard welcome fall in all its glory. I find myself truly enchanted, wanting the experience to linger beyond this moment in time.

Spending one blissful day after another outdoors renews my spirit and encourages me to immerse myself fully in the shimmering days of October and November. I’m immediately drawn to the garden where beauty abounds throughout. Join me on a creative journey of discovery among the flowers and foliage of the season.

Bringing the natural world indoors reminds me, once again, that Autumn’s gifts never fail to bring happiness to my home. From soft whispers of golds and ochre to vibrant shades of burgundy and orange, fall arrangements lend themselves to a more simplistic style. Gathering your treasures is almost as joyful as placing them in a cherished vase. Let nature speak to you in a soft, sweet seasonal whisper. Savor every precious sight, smell and color of this magical season.

My first experience with frostweed was in 2008 as an intern in the Dallas County Master Gardener Association. It was a “give away” during one of our classes. For the past twelve years it has continued to grow in my garden.

Frostweed growing in the garden

Grow It, Use It – Frostweed is a lovely perennial plant native to Texas and many other states. It is a member of the Sunflower Family. Frostweed grows from 3’-6’ and is covered with white disc-like blooms from late August until November. It is an exceptional nectar source for butterflies like Monarchs and Great Purple Hairstreaks. It grows well in dappled shade.

During the month of October Red Rubin Basil delivers a vibrant splash of deep purple in the garden. Paired with purple-veined kale leaves in a mustard colored French olive pot, the only elements needed to complete the picture are two glasses of robust Pinot Noir and freshly cut Black Mission Figs. Cheers!

Grow It, Use It-Plant Red Rubin Basil in April and watch the colors intensify as the months pass. A location with morning to mid-day sun followed by dappled shade in the afternoon will reward you with that spectacular fall foliage. Bees and butterflies will visit the spiky blossoms until the first frost ends its growing season.

A simple bouquet of Mexican Mint Marigold surrounded by the bold, deep red and purplish savoy leaves of Red Giant Mustard pair perfectly in an unassuming pedestal vase.

Grow It, Use It – Mexican Mint Marigold can be planted in the garden after the danger of frost has passed. It tolerates many different soil types but must have good drainage. Plant it in a location that receives early morning to mid-day sun. The distinctive anise flavored leaves can be harvested throughout its growing season from spring through frost. The real show-stopper attraction begins around late September when bright yellow, marigold-like flowers attract migrating butterflies and other pollinators. Mexican Mint Marigold is a perennial that usually freezes to the ground in winter but reappears in spring.

Red Giant Mustard gets two bonus points; it has good cold tolerance and is more insect resistant than other varieties. Start outdoors in late September and continue growing until late spring. Plant in partial shade. Enjoy its beauty as a dramatic landscape plant but harvest the spicy mustard flavored leaves for eating.

When the glossy dark-green leaves of Japanese Aralia began to lose their color, consider using them in unexpected and unusual ways. As the browning tips gently began to curl and turn upwards, create a sense of drama by giving each uniquely faded leaf its place within the arrangement.

Aralia and Dried Hydrangeas

Aralia growing under an arbor

Grow It, Use It – Japanese aralia is grown around the world as a cultivated plant. Enjoy adding a tropical feel to your landscape by using it as an understory plant beneath trees or large shrubs. Plant it in rich, moist soil that drains well. Aralias prefer part sun to shade and will typically grow to around 8 feet. Try to avoid afternoon sun which may scorch the leaves. Flower stalks with creamy flowers followed by black berries appear in late fall or winter.

Freshly squeezed rosy grapefruit juice is your invitation to come for a perfectly planned fall brunch in the garden. Cascading branches of ‘Rose Creek’ abelia create a relaxing and peaceful environment where you are embraced by nature. Dreamy blush colored blossoms found in this simply elegant tabletop setting create a calming effect.

Abelia ‘Rose Creek’ at Raincatcher’s Garden

Grow It, Use It – Monrovia best describes this variety of abelia as having showy clusters of small, fragrant, white flowers that emerge from rosy pink sepals in summer. It is best planted in rich, well-draining soil in a location that receives full sun.

Come visit our blog again Wednesday morning to see the remaining photos plus a spectacular ‘Grand Finale’ arrangement.  We encourage you to stroll through Raincatcher’s anytime this week to experience the full seasonal beauty of our garden.

Linda Alexander

Arbequina Olive Tree in the Edible Landscape at Raincatcher’s

Olive tree surrounded by garlic chives.

It was just over one year ago that a quick trip to a local garden center had surprising results. After visiting with the owner for a few minutes, I was convinced that nothing would be statelier in front of our greenhouse than a five-foot-tall arbequina olive tree. Ruth, the owner, was already growing olive trees at her house just minutes away. She assured me that all twelve trees had been thriving in her garden for over eight years. 

An on-the-spot decision was made, and Ruth helped me select a nicely shaped olive tree that just fit into my vehicle. Back at the garden, one of our strong and capable male volunteers dug the hole and lifted our arbequina olive tree in place. Carefully staked and secured with rubber tubing, our tree was ready for late fall and winter weather in its new sunny location.

We were so pleased to watch as it continued to grow through a mild winter and into spring. But the real thrill for us happened this summer when the tiny little green olives started popping out on some of the lower branches. 

Ripening olives

Now, at the end of September, it is exciting to see the olive harvest multiplying. As we arrive at the garden each Tuesday to tend to our chores, we’ve noticed that the olives are slowly transitioning from green to rose and then a deep, dark purple. By mid-November the olives should have ripened enough to be harvested and ready for the next step. 

After searching through various internet sources, we’ve decided to experiment with two different methods for enjoying our olives. 

#1 – Curing and Brining (Water Method)

#2 – Curing and Brining (Salt Method)

If you’re interested in growing an olive tree in your garden, here are some helpful facts that we learned about the Arbequina variety:

*It is one of the most extensively planted olive cultivars in the world (USDA hardiness zones 7 through 11).

*The name comes from the village of Arbeca (Spain) where it was first introduced to Europe from the Ottoman Empire in the seventeenth century.

*Arbequina olive trees are hardier than other varieties and are resistant to drought and pests. 

*Arbequina olive trees prefer four to eight hours of full to partial sunlight. They are adaptable to different conditions of climate and soil but do best in alkaline soils. 

*Arbequina’s are often described as a small olive that packs big flavor. They have a rich and flavorful fruity, buttery taste with a texture that is meaty and firm. 

Linda Alexander

Click here to read about brining olives.

 

Edible Landscape Garden Tour

Tracy and Aaron

Tracy and Aaron McLaughlin live only a few miles away from the Raincatcher’s Garden of Midway Hills. But after an hour and a half tour of the edible landscape last week, visits to the garden may be happening on a regular basis. 

Tracy first discovered the garden a few weeks ago when dropping her 3-year-old son off at preschool. A casual stroll around the garden resulted in a friendly conversation with several master gardeners working in the edible landscape. Sensing her desire to know more about the garden, an appointment was scheduled for the upcoming Friday evening with Tracy and her husband, Aaron.

 

Our tour began with an overview of the edible landscape garden objective of using only edible plant material to create a visually stunning design spanning all four seasons of the year. Tracy and Aaron were anxious to learn as much as possible during our visit. As we emphasized during our conversation with them, composting is the core project of building healthy garden soil. The method we use in the edible landscape was carefully explained. They were ready to give it a try. 

Time seemed to pass far too quickly as we toured each unique feature of the edible landscape. From the white velvet okra standing like soldiers in the Hügelkultur to the Stonescape surrounded by impressive mounds of Mexican Mint Marigold and the feathery gray, green curry plant, our guests left with hearts of gratitude and happy smiles across their faces. 

Following their visit, Tracy and Aaron shared some highlights of the tour:

We found a lot of awesome plants that we want to incorporate into our garden. Overall, we thought that learning about the expanded shale to help improve our soil was a huge discovery. We will be incorporating it into our garden beds! 

The tips about composting were especially helpful. Also, locating plants with similar watering needs together was good information.  And, using a variety of plant material in the garden.

We loved the scented pelargoniums. The overall beauty of the garden was inspiring. Going forward we would like to learn how to rotate crops and always plan ahead.”

Tracy and Aaron McLaughlin

 

Linda Alexander and Beverly Allen

Garden Tour Guides

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

 

Amaranth

Hopi Red Dye Amaranth Growing at The Raincatcher’s Garden

The leaves of Hopi Red Dye Amaranth are edible and the plant is commercially grown in southeast Asia and India for this purpose.  I haven’t eaten the leaves but was told by a neighbor that in India the leaves are quickly cooked in a hot pan with garlic and chilies and are delicious.

The tiny seeds are also edible and are often part of ancient grains mixtures.  The seeds have to be separated from the flower petals which is harder than it sounds.  The high price of amaranth products is justified!  When just a few plants are grown, which is usually the case since they are huge, one could try popping the seeds in a hot dry skillet and using them for a snack or for salad topping. This has been my plan for a long time; this may be the year!

Close Up View of the Beautiful Amaranth Seeds

Amaranth were once very common plants and should be again.  They are not difficult to grow and add that touch of drama every garden needs.

I will be glad to share seeds just come and ask. You can usually find me at The Raincatcher’s Garden in the butterfly habitat on Tuesday mornings. The seeds should be ready to share in a month or so.

Susan Thornbury
Pictures by Starla Willis

The Raincatcher’s Garden, Has a Purpose Even Now.

Tomorrow we will explore our garden through pictures. Please join us.

Try the Herb, Papalo!

Are you familiar with papalo? We first learned about papalo last summer. This year we found a seed source online, placed the order and started growing it in the edible landscape. Papalo is an ancient Mexican herb whose ancestral home is thought to be South America. Today it grows wild in Arizona, New Mexico and West Texas. And now, as you can see from the photo, right in the heart of Dallas County.

Papalo growing at Raincathcer’s Edible Garden

Papalo’s bluish green leaves have a somewhat complex, distinctive flavor reminiscent of cilantro and arugula. But unlike cilantro, it grows throughout the summer and does not bolt. It is best used fresh as it doesn’t dry well. Once cool weather arrives, the growing season is over.

Papalo seeds

When starting papalo from seeds you must be very careful not to separate the seed stem from the umbrella-like top. Master Gardener, Gail Cook, started the seeds for us in March. She carefully laid them on top of the potting mix in 4” pots. They were then covered lightly with more of the mix. Once the seedlings were about 3-4” tall, around mid-May, we transplanted them into our Ole Garden.

Plants are thriving in well-draining soil in an area that receives mid-morning to late afternoon sun. After that, they are in full shade. Just last week we noticed that the plants are producing those uniquely shaped seed heads that will be harvested for next year’s crop.

If you’re looking for a vibrant herb substitute for cilantro, check out our Ole Garden by the red shed in the edible landscape. You’ll find a large patch of papalo growing in an area immediately south of the sidewalk. Feel free to snip some for a taste!

A few ideas for using papalo include the following:

Chopped up in guacamole, leaves as a topping for a pimento cheese topping and shredded over fresh tomatoes. Enjoy!

Guacamole with Papalo

Ingredients:

1 or more (to taste) jalapeno or serrano chili peppers, finely minced (optional)

2-3 tablespoons finely diced yellow or red onion

1-2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1-2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh papalo

Coarse salt to taste

 3-4 avocados

½ cup finely diced fresh tomatoes

Topping: ¼ cup finely diced fresh tomatoes, 1 tablespoon finely diced onion, 1 teaspoon finely shredded papalo leaves 

Garnish: whole papalo leaves

Directions:

Crush the onions, chilis, salt, lime juice and papalo in a mortar and pestle or a molcajete until they are just paste-like. Add the avocado flesh and mash it roughly into the paste until well mixed. Stir in the tomatoes and place the guacamole in a serving dish or molcajete. 

Mix the tomatoes, onions and shredded papalo that were reserved for the topping. Pile on top of the guacamole. Garnish with whole papalo leaves and serve.

Linda Alexander

Photos by Linda and Starla Willis

 

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