It’s always been like this but, more than ever, the garden becomes a retreat from watching the daily dismantling of our country’s reputation, stature and dignity. It’s always something.
This year, whatever it is in Washington, it’s eggplants here.
I’ve grown this vegetable before, several times. A strange semi-thorny little plant with alien, lovely light purple flowers and slow-growing fruit of a wide range of colors. If the Texas heat and the flea beetles didn’t suck them dry, we’d have a few tasty dinners in mid-summer. All that, I believe, has changed.
I bought this heirloom variety, Aswad. From the deserts of Iraq. Heat tolerant, incredibly prolific, with fruit the approximate size of your head, round and very dark purple. And the kicker: They taste great. The production is so high that you’d think these were hybrids instead of open-pollinated, but no. I will be saving their seeds for the foreseeable future.
So when I could only count on a harvest of eight or nine eggplants, I usually stuffed them in the Italian manner, and they were always good. But when the harvest is more likely to involve 30 or more 2- or 3-pounders, you find a need to broaden your repertoire. Thus have I learned the wonders of baba ganoush, among other things. This is a Mideastern dip with similarities to hummus, consisting mostly of grilled or roasted eggplant, lemon juice, minced garlic and a concoction of roasted sesame seeds and olive oil called tahini. At this point I’m really not sure how I got along without baba ganoush in my life before now.
A year ago, almost to the day, our entire yard was underwater, the Brazos River was washing over the entire neighborhood and the street was navigable only by boat. This year, the river is running at about 13 feet deep, instead of 55 feet, which is a relief. Nonetheless, we’ve had lots of rain, and “cooler” than usual temperatures, which in Texas means it hasn’t hit 100 degrees yet. That’s caused most of the garden to take off, including my home-developed Brazos Beefsteak tomatoes, the aforementioned eggplants, summer squash, zucchini, the ever-popular cucuzza, and various hot or hottish peppers.
Among that latter group is one I’d never heard of before this year: the Leutschauer Pepper, a somewhat-hot paprika pepper grown in Hungary since sometime in the 1800s, when the Hungarians brought the pepper back from neighboring Slovakia. Well. I’ve always wanted to try making paprika, and it turns out this plant grows easily in our weather, on big plants with lots and lots of peppers.
However, in order to make paprika, it’s pretty essential that you either have a food dehydrator or live in a climate dry enough to hang and dry stuff outside. That latter won’t work here, as humidity is kind of our state motto. So after some study, I bought us an Excalibur food dehydrator, the exact model of which you can see here if you wish. (I don’t do affiliate product advertising or any other kind of for-pay product placement from this blog, but Lord knows the Excalibur people should thank their lucky stars for the free plug. Actually, I don’t mind at all because I really like this gizmo so far and expect to preserve a lot of fruit and vegetables in it this year.)
For some of the best semi-hot paprika I have ever had, I take about six of the bright-red ripe Leutschauer peppers, cut them into four or so semi-flat pieces each, remove the seeds and membranes and spread them across one of my food dryer trays. Then I remove the rest of the trays, set the dryer on 125 degrees Fahrenheit and set the time for about 5 hours. Then I take the dried pepper chips from the dryer and put them in a cleaned-out coffee grinder. I press the button for a few second and then put the resulting powder into a jar. Yeah, buddy.
At 135 degrees, my new drying toy turns wet slices of fresh figs into sweet, dry fig leathers, which can further be preserved in the freezer. Good news, because it’s looking like we may have a bumper fig crop for a change.
Trump and the Republicans may still find a way to screw me out of my health insurance, but the good news is that they haven’t (yet) figured out how to cut off my food supply.