Bounteous Gardens

It’s that time of the year again when the folks who planted zucchinis are being inundated with piles of green sausages and requests for recipes are peppering Facebook and other venues on the internet.  Since a few friends are among those who are asking, it’s time to share a few of my family recipes to use up these delicious veggies.


 

Zucchini Raisin Nut Cookies

Coming from my Czech grandmother, these were like crack when we were kids.  Soft, lightly sweet, and almost impossible to stop eating once you’ve had one.  Double batches rarely made it to the end of the next day (unless Mom hid ’em away).  These are not your usual dry cookies, so don’t even try to store them for very long.  For the adult, these cookies would pair very well with malty, caramelly ales such as brown ales and Scottish ales.

  • 1 egg
  • 1c brown sugar
  • 1/2c sugar
  • 1/2c butter
  • 2c sifted flour
  • 1 1/2tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp clove
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4c milk or fruit juice
  • 1 1/2c minced or shredded zucchini
  • 1c raisins or currants
  • 1c chopped walnuts

    Beat egg, sugars, and butter together. Add flour and spices.  Add milk/juice and blend well.  Add zucchini, nuts, and fruit and mix thoroughly.  Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto greased cookie sheets.  Bake at 400*F for 10-12 minutes until golden and firm.  This recipe also works well poured into muffin pans (as normal, only fill them halfway).


 

Zucchini Soup

At an early age, my sister and I “decided” that we didn’t like zucchini.  Mom made us “Green Soup” and we loved it, could hardly get enough.  This is also a recipe that is great for those HUGE zucchinis with more texture than flavour.  It’s also wonderful when buried in piles of zucchini because it freezes very well and stores well long-term that way (best flavour is gotten adding the herbs after thawing, rather than before freezing).  With the combination of flavours involved, this soup pairs very well with rich, bold beers such as Russian Imperial stouts and barleywines – however something light and crisp, such as a Kolsch or extra pale ale would clear the palate and let the soup’s simple complexity be dominant.

  • 1# zucchini, washed and sliced or shredded
  • 1c water
  • 1 chicken or vegetable boullion cube
  • 1/8 tsp basil
  • 1/8 tsp thyme
  • 1/8 tsp marjoram
  • 2c milk
  • sour cream or yogurt
  • cheese croutons

    Bring zucchini, water, and boullion to boil.  Cover and simmer gently until tender.  Cool and puree in blender.  (Can be frozen at this point.)  Add basil, thyme, marjoram, and milk.  Heat, but do not boil.  Top each bowl with 1-2 Tbsp sour cream and a handful of cheese croutons.


 

Zucchini Cassarole

I think this one came from one of Mom’s friends at church, but she’s been making it since before I can remember.  Works well with zucchini alone, or mixed with summer squash or delicata.  I’ve never tried it, but using a combo of butternut and acorn squash would probably be very tasty too.  This recipe should serve 6.  A tough one to pair, there are a lot of flavours and textures in this dish.  It has a very creamy flavour profile that would be best complimented by earthy IPAs, Oktoberfest/Marzens, rustic farmhouse ales, and gueuzes.

  • 1/4c chopped onion
  • 2# (~6c) sliced zucchini
  • 1/2c butter
  • 8oz stuffing mix
  • 1 can Cream of Mushroom soup
  • 1c sour cream
  • 1c shredded carrot
  • 1tsp chicken boullion

    Cook squash and onion in boiling salted water.  Melt butter and combine with stuffing mix. Spread half on bottom of cassarole dish. Combine soup, boullion, sour cream, and carrot. Fold in drained squash and onions. Pour into cassarole dish and top with remaining stuffing. Bake uncovered at 350*F for 25-30 minutes.


 

I don’t have any of my own squashes planted this year (just hops).  If someone wants to gift me with some of their extras, I’ll be happy to make up all of these to add photos. 😉

Hop Update – Early Growth

I’ve been doing a lot of running around lately and haven’t had much time at home.  Thankfully, my bucket reservoir system (see my previous post on Preparing Hop Boxes here) has been keeping the rootstock at a nice level of moisture – never too dry and never too flooded.

On May 18, the first shoots broke ground, all reddish-pink mini phalluses (phallusi?) poking through the top layer of peat moss almost obscenely:

First Tettnanger shoots, May 18

First Tettnanger shoots, May 18

First Cascade shoots, May 18

First Cascade shoots, May 18

A bit of time, and a nearly two-week road trip later, I returned home on June 18, to find some nice bines stretching out and rigged some short climbing lines out of some cheap twine I had kicking around.  As I want to be able to move if the fiscal opportunity arises, I really don’t want the bines to wrap the porch railings too tightly.  Side shoots I can untwist later, but the main shoot needs to avoid being woven through the wooden structures – I can lower the line and gently coil the bines on the buckets if need be to move.

Tettnanger Hops, June 18

Tettnanger Hops, June 18

Cascade Hops #1, June 18

Cascade Hops #1, June 18

Golding Hops, June 18

Golding Hops, June 18

Amallia Hops, June 18

Amallia Hops, June 18

Cascade Hops #2, June 18

Cascade Hops #2, June 18

Two days later, the lines already needed extending as these hungry gals climb for the sky:

Tettnanger Hops, June 20

Tettnanger Hops, June 20

Cascade Hops #1, June 20

Cascade Hops #1, June 20

Golding Hops, June 20

Golding Hops, June 20

Amallia Hops, June 20

Amallia Hops, June 20

Cascade Hops #2, June 20

Cascade Hops #2, June 20

They are starting to take hold solidly in their buckets.  They will soon be ready for some ground cover in the form of creeping thyme and oregano.

I noticed that one plant (a Goldings) had a single leaf well-chewed up by some itty critter, but no sign of the critter.  There are no signs of mildews, root rot, or other possible bugs. Nutrients from the M-G dirt are still holding strong – I’ll probably dose a little fertilizer near the end of the month.

I also noticed that there was a 1.25″ hole extending into the dirt on my last bucket (Cascade #2).  It’s possible that my neighbor bored the hole with the garden hose (he just told me that he’s watered lightly a couple of times…but he can be rather uncoordinated when he’s drunk – which is most evenings), but it extended past where I could reach with my finger with pretty parallel sides…thinking maybe a mouse…also thinking it may have munched the Golding rhizome that was in that bucket, as it’s the only one that didn’t sprout yet.  Seriously debating a thorough flood of the bucket – see if I can flush out the bugger before the bucket drains (if I do, I’ll have to remember to fertilize to replace whatever nutrients I flush out).

Homebrewing a New eIPA

Finally found time for another brew day at home!  I have a nzIPA ready to bottle and need to recycle the yeast for today’s batch (more on that later).  Continuing one of my experiment series, today I am brewing another full-flavor, light-bodied India Pale Ale.  Today’s IPA is focused on earthy English IPA flavours.

The grain bill includes a majority of Maris Otter malt for full English flavour.  There is a bit of domestic 2-Row too keep it from being too rich (remember I’m shooting for a light-bodied beer).  A small portion of Crystal 60 to round out the flavours and scents while enhancing the viscosity and some White Wheat Malt to add a balancing tang and aid the head rounds out the grain bill.  To ensure a drier, more complete fermentation, the entire grain bill is reduced slightly and replaced with a portion of post-boil dextrose.

The grains sat through a long lower-temp mash before a combined vorlauf/mashout.  The tun was drained onto Fuggles first wort hops for 6 gallons of 1.038 first runnings.  Another 4 gallons were added as a batch sparge and drained for 1.018 second runnings.  Pre-boil collections came to nearly 11 gallons at 1.034.  Roughly 8.5 gallons was left in my 10gal kettle (that spans 2 burners on my natural gas range) and the remainder of the second runnings was reserved in my 5gal side kettle.  During the boil, all additions were made to the larger kettle, as the smaller one was left to caramelize a bit with only the FWH floating around (and later, a small bit of whirlfloc).

A fistful of Fuggles and Columbus went in at the start of the boil for bittering, followed up by some Hallertau Tradition (with the whirlfloc) at the 20 minute mark for some noble flavor.  I inserted the immersion chiller some time between the 10 and 15 minute marks to sterilize in the boil.  Yeast nutrients, dextrose, and more Fuggles dropped at the 5 minute aroma mark . . . followed by a bit more Fuggles right after flameout (just to be sure – LOL).

At flameout, both of my kettles had reduced in volume due to boiloff evaporation and I was able to combine them into the larger kettle, leaving me with slightly under 9 gallons of wort.  Before combining, the larger kettle (with the sugar addition) was at 1.051, while the smaller caramelizing kettle (that is pure second-runnings) had concentrated to 1.032.

My 50′ immersion chiller is running now and a final OG reading will be taken after whirlpooling and separation to fermentors.  Now, off to get some bottles filled and wash some yeast real quick!  Have a good night, y’all!

Preparing Hop Boxes

I am an apartment dweller, and am trying to keep my mobility options open, should the right brewing job upgrade suddenly require relocating . . . <whine> but I wanna grow hops!

My first hop bines - Cascade, Willamette, and Fuggles

My first hop bines – Cascade, Willamette, and Fuggles

I previously grew some hops in 24″ round pots on a second-floor west-facing porch with moderate success.  They only got direct light from early afternoon on.  After three years, they were still going great.  Some upheaval and a move and they are gone . . . but I’ve ordered new rhizomes and they have arrived!

Now, I need someplace to grow them.  Hops have a number of needs to grow properly, and I have a few wishes of my own, so my background in engineering has me screaming for a “requirements list” – something no engineering design starts without.  So, let’s see:

  1. Cheap
  2. Large volume
  3. Durable
  4. Potentially portable
  5. Reliable water supply
  6. Good drainage through soil
  7. Enough nutrients
  8. Soil that remains loose
  9. Hop bines must be supported
  10. Pest protection
  11. Mildew/root rot protection
  12. Ground cover

So taking a look at this list, some ideas started to take shape.  I don’t have a lot of extra cash, so would much prefer to scrounge from what I have and put on my Handyman cap.  After getting some Red Green episodes playing in the background for inspiration, I discovered that I had (with minimal dumping/recompacting) several Rubbermaid storage buckets that were not being used (the lids of several were in use under fermentors to protect my hardwood floor).  They were definitely cheap (#1) and larger than the 24″ rounds that I had used before (#2).  As far as durability (#3), they were certainly able to withstand weather and wet conditions – but have you ever filled one to the brim with water and just stepped back?  They tend to bow out and half-collapse (NOT something I wanted to happen to my hops).  Trying to move one (#4) filled with wet soil and fragile roots without flexing it all and snapping roots is also difficult.

Returning to the cheap scrounging, in my woodpile was a large number of narrow slats cut from quality cherrywood.  They were from a project that was not finished when 1/3 of the raw materials were stolen from me (I’d been cutting small cubes for my smoker since, but hadn’t used it for much else).  Using these and a couple of wider planks, I built support frames for each of the buckets.

Wooden support frame for hop buckets

Wooden support frame for hop buckets

Every connection is double-tapped with 2-3″ outdoor-grade drywall screws.  All of the holes were pre-drilled.  I built the frames to be tight just under the rim and the bottom to just brush the ground when empty.  To make it nestle in, I had to cut the handles off of the ends of the bucket (a set of wire cutters made short work of them).

Hop buckets framed up

Hop buckets framed up

Now that I had containers, the next step was to consider their contents.  A huge problem with potted plants of any kind is water management.  Potted plants cannot rely on the root systems of other plants, hidden aquifers, etc. when they get dry – and it is all too easy to forget about them for a few days on the WRONG few days.  It is equally disastrous when potted plants can’t drain and simply sit in a flood of stagnant dirt-water – the plant literally rots right off of its roots.  I’m planning to have these hops in the buckets for a couple of years, so I want this to work right.

My plan is to build is a holding reservoir with a wicking siphon system.  It sounds impressive in engineering terms, but in practice it is quite simple once you understand how it works.  To make sure that my plants don’t go dry, I am setting aside the very bottom of the containers specifically to hold water (#5).  This means that instead of putting my drain holes on the bottoms of the buckets (like most plant pots), I drilled them partway up the sides.  Also, since I am intentionally storing extra water (and will be supplying it back to the soil), I can let new water drain quickly from the soil to the reservoir or out of the bucket – in other words, I can use MUCH bigger drain holes (#6).  There are 2 holes on each side and one on each end – all are 1/2″ diameter and approximately 2″ up.

Drainage holes above water zone

Drainage holes above water zone

To isolate the water reservoir and prevent it being filled with soil, we need some sort of separation.  There are fancy screens and false bottoms (sound familiar?), hydroponic rocks, and expanded stone fillers that all work well and have their strengths . . .  price is not one of them.  However, the kitchen at work had some equipment come in packaged in odd-shaped beadboard (white styrofoam) – an inert buffering substance that does not break down in wet conditions and would otherwise take up space in a landfill . . . and (dum- da-da -dum!) free (#1).  I broke the styrofoam into mid-sized odd-shaped pieces and layered them into the bottoms of the buckets, making sure that there were at least 2-3 layers.  As these layers settle under the weight of wet soil, they will press down without crushing, creating a coral-like network of water caves.

Water zone buffer with cotton rope wicks

Water zone buffer with cotton rope wicks

To seal it off from the soil that wants to drop through, I will be covering the beadboard with a thick layer of peat moss.  The peat moss will act as a filter bed – it is porous enough that it tends to stick to itself and allow the liquid to drip through.  It can also trap some nutrients that the soil can wick back up from direct contact.  However, the soil can’t get to the water at the bottom in the reservoir (#5).  A wick is one of the simplest forms of on-demand siphons.  A rummage through my camping gear (#1!) turned up a chunk of nylon-cored, cotton-wrapped 1/4″ rope.  I cut a few lengths and coiled some across the bottom of each bucket, under the beadboard.  In each bucket, I pulled both ends up through to make two wicks.  The nylon threads at the core will help keep the wicks in place all the way up through the soil while the water will slowly travel along the cotton fibers as the soil drys and absorbs more water from the wick (#5).

Cotton rope wicks

Cotton rope wicks

Once the wicks were in place, as mentioned, a 1-2″ layer of broken-up peat moss was layered over the beadboard and wetted down.  Once the layer was more cohesive and less dusty, alternating layers of soil and peat moss were layed in, always making sure to continue keeping the wicks penetrating each layer (#5).

hops-soilwickBy using good-quality pre-mixed potting soil (on a budget, so I used Miracle-Gro Potting Mix), I ensure that I have a solid set of both quick-use and long-term nutrients in my soil (#7).  Alternating 1-1.5″ layers with peat moss distributes the nutrient-rich soil to all areas for roots, while preventing any compaction or “rocking up” that would present problems for the roots (#8).  Each peat layer creates a buffer drainage zone where over-wet potting soil may find close drainage relief that can transfer it across the layer to a drier area.  The peat also acts as buffer filters, helping to retain more of the nutrients being leeched by drainage or being added with watering later in lifecycle (#7).

Hop bines need to climb and this is a good time to consider how your are going to support them.  If you need to mount a pole, ring, tiedown, etc. to your bucket or frame, it is easier to make those modifications now than when you have a big plant in your way.  I will be letting them climb the railings along the 3-story outdoor stair on my apartment building, so that’s done-and-done (#9).  (I have wool twine ready if I need to direct it more).

Two of the biggest threats to hops are bugs and molds.  In NH, the bugs are relatively a non-issue (for the plants, anyway – we have tons of mosquitos and blackflies).  Some birds munched the first couple of shoots and I think a mouse or squirrel was digging for seeds, but I covered the tops with a thick layer of peat moss as a mulch and that stopped (#10).  Downy and powdery mildew are concerns even here in New England.  Having my plants isolated in pots, starting high above the grass and not near any other shrubs gives them an advantage, as does the steady light breeze (#11).  Once the bines reach a few feet high, it is also good to strip the leaves off of the bottom 1-3′ for further isolation.

Once the bines have become established strongly, I will be adding some ground cover to protect from critters and heavy rains/dry spells.  I have seeds for ground-cover-style thyme and oregano.  Neither of these plants reach down more than a couple of inches, and create an aromatic (i.e. anti-pest) layer of edible greenery that also acts as a mulch (#12).