JANINE PINEO

Last of the tender crops picked as hard freeze threatens

Posted Oct. 28, 2011, at 4:41 p.m.

When the first threat of frost loomed, out came the row covers to shelter most of the vegetable patch.

When the second frost threatened, out came the same row covers, but only to make a triple layer to tent over the very middle of the garden where the peppers, celery, eggplant, herbs and flowers were still trucking along.

When the third threat of frost came this week, I just sighed and thought about what a blessing the vegetable garden has been with its steady stream of food since June.

Then I picked up the Gerber daisy with the gray tree frog resting comfortably under a leaf and carried it to the wee pop-up greenhouse in what may be a vain attempt to winter over the plant — and maybe the frog.

It has been a good growing year.

From oodles of potatoes to a plethora of peas to an excessively productive cabbage patch, which was really more a cabbage line, there has been a lot of produce come through the kitchen.

With reliable rainfall, the two dozen celery plants just kept going. I cut the plants down on Monday, sifting through the woody stalks to find the still-tender center heart of each.

I planted ‘Golden Self-blanching’ this year, because that’s what I found at the greenhouse in May. And I have to say it was a better variety than the Utah strain that has been the staple in years past. Don’t get me wrong, I would still plant Utah if that’s what was available. But ‘Golden Self-blanching’ was tender, had less obvious strings as it aged and offered a strong but not overwhelming flavor.

Plus, it was golden and self-blanching.

Not that I ever bothered to blanch celery before. I know it is supposed to make the stalks tender and pale, but I just never found the time to fuss over the celery because I was too busy trellising beans and peas and tomatoes and then weeding and watering and pruning.

That makes ‘Golden Self-blanching’ celery a lovely heirloom to try, if only because it requires little work. Introduced in the 1880s, it has withstood the test of time to deserve a place in the vegetable garden.

Once I finished hacking the celery down, I stepped over to the peppers to start picking the last of the fruit. I planted several varieties this year, including cayenne and jalapeno plants that simply ran amuck. I mean, who could possibly need that many hot peppers?

It was a good harvest for a new-to-me pepper that I stumbled across at a greenhouse this year, one I’d been longing to try but never got to plant because I never had a good place to start seedlings.

One can only admire the good looks of ‘Corno di Toro’ — the bull’s horn pepper. The near-delirious enthusiasm in the descriptions for this heirloom Italian variety that produces a brilliantly red, horn-shaped fruit made me wonder what I was missing all those years.

Folks would wax about the flavor. Some said it was the best for frying. Some would say it was the best for roasting. Others said it was the best for stuffing.

So when I spotted the plants during a shopping spree in spring, I knew I had to try some.

It is a lovely pepper. I didn’t fry, roast or stuff it, but I did put it in soups and stir fries and even used it in a new pickle recipe I tried, a giardiniera with its lovely mix of cucumbers, onions, cauliflower, celery and peppers all grown in my garden.

Since I haven’t had a chance to try ‘Corno di Toro’ in all of its forms, I hope to find it again. But with my wee pop-up greenhouse, I may try to start a few seeds of my own when spring rolls around next year.

Actually, I may need to be restrained from going too crazy with my wee pop-up greenhouse. But that will be a story for winter’s end to see how many seedlings I can cram into a 6-by-6-foot space.

And so what did I do with that basket of celery and peppers I was saving from the frost?

Oh, the irony.

I froze them.

jpineo@bangordailynews.com

www.janinepineo.com

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