Spring is in full swing at the Gurney’s farm. We are preparing for planting, watching the bees visit sweet blooms and anticipating the garden harvests in the months to come. Here’s a quick overview of what’s happening now!
Spring is in full swing at the Gurney’s farm. We are preparing for planting, watching the bees visit sweet blooms and anticipating the garden harvests in the months to come. Here’s a quick overview of what’s happening now!
We’re finally experiencing weather that resembles winter, but that doesn’t mean our garden harvests are over! The kale trials look beautiful; some of our lettuces seem to be enjoying the cold; and the Brussels sprouts are at their peak.
We’ve received just enough frosty weather to really bring out the delectable sweetness in the sprouts. I’ve brought some Brussels sprouts-based dishes to both Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations, and everyone was quite impressed with what a tasty dish this lowly vegetable can be!
One of my favorites is an unassuming Brussels sprouts and sweet potato hash. I like it because you can pair the sweet potatoes you have in storage with the sprouts you pick in the early winter. Plus the sweet creaminess of the sweet potatoes really complements the flavor of the sprouts.
And it’s as easy as chopping your sprouts in quarters, roughly chopping your sweet potatoes, throwing everything in a cast iron skillet with some butter or olive oil, and cooking to your liking.
I prefer to cook until the potatoes and sprouts get golden brown and caramelized. This dish is excellent as is with some salt and cracked pepper, or you can cook some eggs over the top or even mix in some bacon for extra deliciousness!
Another delicious, easy and just slightly dressier dish is:
Pan Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon, Red Onions and Hazelnuts
Add Brussels sprouts and cook until they are tender-crisp and bright green (about 10 minutes depending on how thickly you’ve chopped or sliced them).
During the last few minutes of cooking, crumble bacon and add bacon and hazelnuts to the pan with the Brussels sprouts. Sprinkle with nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!
What are some of your favorite Brussels sprouts-based dishes? I’d love to hear how you’ve been enjoying your sprouts.
Before fruit, vegetable and flower varieties are sold in our catalog, they’re grown and tested at the Gurney’s Farm. Tucked amidst corn and soybean fields in Tipp City, Ohio (Zone 6), the 20-acre test farm includes an orchard, vineyard, brambles, various berry plantings, ornamental beds and a large vegetable garden.
We have two greenhouses that we use to extend the growing season. It’s also where we start most of our seedlings before transplanting them to the garden. A space dedicated to container trials allows us to grow fruit and vegetable varieties in Grow Tubs and determine which ones are best suited for container gardening.
Each year, we search for the best new varieties for our catalog. Finding the best means we must grow and test hundreds of plants. Our fruits and vegetables are grown with very little, if any pesticides, and we try to mimic home garden conditions. We do this because we want to know how each variety holds up to stressors like pests, diseases and inclement weather. When growing our ornamental plants, we don’t pamper them. We want to find the plants that perform best without lots of extra work.
How do we determine what to trial and test in our gardens? A dedicated group of horticulturalists work at our farm and devote their time to finding new and exciting plants. Throughout the year they visit plant breeders, universities, public gardens, horticultural classes, trade shows and field trials.
When they find interesting plants, they bring them to the research farm where we test how they perform in the field. Our Gurney’s team also conducts its own plant breeding and selection work at the research farm. This allows us to focus on the exact qualities we want to offer.
While we test and trial hundreds of varieties each year, very few of them are selected for our catalog. We are a choosey bunch of gardeners, and if the trial plants don’t reach our standards, we simply will not offer them to our customers.
Gurney’s has an extensive list of qualities that each plant must possess before we’ll consider putting it into our catalog. Superior flavor tops the list for edibles. If a fruit or vegetable variety has great flavor, then we examine additional traits, such as how easy or difficult the plant was to grow, its yields, disease and pest resistance, and overall appearance. For ornamentals we also look at ease of growth, disease and pest resistance, and overall appearance—but we find ourselves paying special attention to plants that attract bees and other beneficial insects, flowers that are especially easy to grow from seed and native plants.
Through the active spring, summer and fall growing season, our horticulture team inspects the plants frequently; we photograph the plants and take notes on how they are performing; we meet and discuss which varieties are impressive and which ones fall short.
We also conduct several types of taste tests. During blind taste tests, we’ll try several different varieties and note their flavor and texture. We also taste test produce right off the plant. Many a summer day you’ll find us in the vegetable garden or out in the orchard with juice dripping from our chins; we’ll have notes in one hand and a knife in the other.
Our gardening team also tries our test varieties in recipes. This helps us determine what varieties are best for fresh eating, best for baking, best for grilling, and so on.
We could fill our research farm with new vegetables, fruits and landscape plantings every year and always want more. When the time comes to make our wish list for the year, we often have to make cuts, as we tend to get carried away with all the wonderful new varieties we want to trial. Like you, we are passionate about gardening. One of the things we love most is that there is always more to learn, more to explore, more to create and more to eat!
Dwarf cherries manage to combine the best of all cherry worlds. These outstanding trees have the compact plant size and excellent hardiness of Mongolian cherries (Prunus fruticosa—a medium-sized suckering shrub with edible, cherry-like fruit), the heavy fruiting capabilities of sour cherries and the sugar levels and texture of a sweet cherry.
Bred in Zone 2B (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan), dwarf cherries will survive winter lows of -40 F without damage and begin bearing within 3 years of planting. Harvests of 20-30 pounds of fruit are typical by the time a dwarf cherry reaches 5 years old.
Because of their compact size, it’s so much easier to grow, care for and harvest cherries from dwarf cherry trees than traditional cherry trees. Dwarf cherry trees usually mature at 6 feet tall, although it can range from 5-8 feet. This means the cherries are easily within reach when harvesting. While Juliet is not bothered by too many pests or diseases, birds do love her fruits. We highly recommend netting the bushes after fruit turns red.
While their smaller size makes them easy to incorporate into any landscape, dwarf cherries also work beautifully in a container. Ornamental showy white blooms appear in the spring and glossy green foliage provides the perfect backdrop for jewel-like red fruit in the summer.
We currently offer 3 varieties of exceptional dwarf cherries: Juliet, Romeo and Carmine Jewel. Carmine Jewel is a great variety for drying; Romeo is tops for juice, wine and jellies; Juliet truly is the tastiest of the dwarf cherry bunch. While she’s a superb cherry for fresh eating, don’t expect the exact same experience as popping a Bing cherry into your mouth. While Juliet’s sugar levels are actually higher than a sweet cherry like Stella or Bing, Juliet also has a much higher acid level. With Juliet, you get a more complex, sweet-tart, taste sensation!
One thing to keep in mind with Juliet cherry is that there is quite a variance in fruit color as the cherries ripen. Though the cherries on the right are simply gorgeous to gaze upon, the fruits on the left are actually at their peak ripeness and flavor levels.
While Juliet cherries are fantastic for fresh eating, don’t stop just there. I’ve found that they freeze beautifully, retaining their texture, color and flavor. Half-thawed Juliet cherries spread over the top of premium vanilla ice cream and sprinkled with dark chocolate shavings is an indulgence you must try.
Juliet cherries also make an excellent ice cream or gelato. Their rich sweet-tart flavor complements the creamy sweetness of the ice cream base, while their rich red color creates the most beautifully pink-tinted ice cream.
For a slightly healthier treat, try Juliet cherries in a low-fat sorbet or blended into your favorite smoothie recipe. They also work wonders in traditional baked goods such as pies, crisps and clafaoutis (a traditional French desert made with fruit covered with a thick flan-like batter. It’s very easy and very delicious).
The New Gurney’s Spring 2016 pre-season catalog is arriving in mailboxes everywhere—and we have lots of new fruits and veggies for spring. While it’s hard to pick a favorite, I’ll share a few that really stand out.
Note: If you didn’t receive a catalog, just click here to request yours!
AsparaBest® Asparagus—I love all asparagus in any shape, form or variety, so AsparaBest has perhaps an unfair advantage. But with 2 to 3 times the production of the common Jersey asparagus varieties, AsparaBest is a shoe-in for my home garden. I garden in Zone 6, so cold hardiness in asparagus is not a huge issue for me. Gardeners who struggle with hardiness will love AsparaBest! It was developed in Ontario and bred to be late emerging and extremely cold hardy. It’s perfectly sweet, tender and tasty, all while offering outstanding health benefits including high levels of Vitamins K, B, C and E, folic acid, copper and selenium.
Chocolate Sprinkles Hybrid Tomato—We’ve been trialing striped tomatoes for the last 5 years in hopes of finding one worth the effort of growing. Most of our efforts ended with flavorless, unexciting fruit that cracked and rotted. This past summer we trialed Chocolate Sprinkles and for the first time were rewarded with beautiful brick red and green striped fruit that resisted cracking and disease. With delightful flavor, it quickly became my favorite variety for snacking and salads. The yields on this one are phenomenal, so be prepared for a lot of tomato enjoyment!
Honeygold Hybrid Corn—With so many great corn varieties on the market, it’s sometimes hard to choose. While Gotta Have It remains my perennial favorite, I fell in love with Honeygold at last years’ sweet corn variety trials. With big, striking golden ears, Honeygold packs a flavorful punch. I find that some modern hybrids are almost too sugary sweet for my tastes and lack any real depth of flavor. But Honeygold combines the right level of sweetness with a rich, robust corn flavor for a truly fantastic eating experience. The large ears have very deep kernels—so you really feel like you’re sinking your teeth into something when you eat it. These nice deep kernels make Honeygold a great variety for freezing as well. I typically cut all my corn off the cob before freezing and ended up with a very high volume of cut kernels with Honeygold.
Casper Hybrid Eggplant– I was struck by this variety when I first tried it in California field trials. The breeder cut off a hunk of the raw eggplant and handed it to me. I wasn’t exactly looking forward to eating raw eggplant, but I was pleasantly surprised. It was mellow, silky and even a bit sweet. The next year we planted it in our trials in Ohio. These lovely creamy white eggplants converted even eggplant haters with their pleasing texture and superb flavor. Casper was excellent sautéed and is my favorite variety for placing on skewers and grilling with onions, squash and tomatoes.
Purple Queen Improved Bush Bean—You could grow these beautiful, glossy, deep purple beans just for aesthetic appeal. The plants are lovely, with rich green foliage tinged with deep purple, and the lavender blooms herald the way for deep violet beans. This variety would make a lovely addition to a mixed edible/ornamental bed or patio containers. But Purple Queen Improved is not just a pretty face, it was a real workhorse in our trials. Yields were far better than older purple varieties we compared it to, and plants remained healthy when others began to falter.
Chiffon Hybrid Summer Squash—Sometimes it’s hard to get excited about summer squash and zucchini. You plant it; it grows; you end up with so many squash that you’re leaving them on your neighbor’s porch in the middle of the night to try to get rid of them (or maybe that’s just me). They all pretty much taste the same. So when everyone that tried Chiffon in our 2014 trials remarked on what a nice variety it was, I took notice. The pretty creamy yellow fruit (almost the same color as the light, fluffy chiffon cake) caught my eye. Then I noticed how healthy and attractive the deep green, compact plants appeared compared to others in our trials. But the clincher came after tasting the squash. With tender, delicate texture and thin skin I thought Chiffon would just turn to mush when I cooked it. But it cooked up delightfully, and the flavor was superb. Sautéed with a bit of olive oil and sea salt, Chiffon simply cannot be beat. By the way, yields are so high, you still might resort to leaving squash on your neighbors’ doorsteps, so be forewarned.
Full Moon Hybrid Honeydew—Let me start out with the statement that, as of a year ago, I would have sworn, “I HATE honeydew melons.” One of the few things I will not eat, I’ve been guilty of picking them out of fruit salads, even going so far as to completely avoid them in those self-serve breakfast buffets. I’d take all the grapes and pineapple instead and leave some poor soul with a bowl full of hard, tasteless green chunks. Full Moon changed all that for me. Tender, sweet, juicy and downright addictive, I was caught red-handed in our melon trials eating Full Moon melons with my bare hands. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this melon is that we actually got melons. The past 3-4 years have been really tough on our melon trials. Between disease, poor weather conditions and insects, we’ve barely gotten a crop off the many varieties that we’ve trialed. But Full Moon came through with shining performance. Laughing at weather, pests and disease, the full, vigorous vines gave us a beautiful melon harvest in the midst of a lot of other varieties’ dead vines and rotting, immature fruit. To say I was impressed would be an understatement!
Mara Des Boise Strawberry—Sweet, delicious little bursts of heaven… and only 6 or so more months to wait for fresh strawberries! Mara may be slightly smaller in size, but she makes up for it in flavor. Some call this the perfect strawberry, with its rich floral sweetness and intense aroma reminiscent of wild strawberries. No need to add sugar, as Mara is one of, if not THE sweetest berry out there. I’m sure it would make a delicious jam, but I’ve never been able to stop all the berries from getting eaten up fresh, right out of the garden. With a soft, juicy texture, don’t look for Mara to show up in grocery stores. It does not ship well, but it makes a perfect variety for the home garden where it can be enjoyed freshly picked.
Juliet Dwarf Cherry—A cherry by any other name would not taste as sweet! Juliet truly is the tastiest of the dwarf cherry bunch. She’s a superb cherry for fresh eating, but don’t expect the same experience as popping a Bing cherry in your mouth. While Juliet’s sugar levels are actually higher than a sweet cherry like Stella or Bing, the difference is in the acid. Juliet has much higher acid levels, so you get a more complex, sweet-tart, taste sensation! Juliet’s virtues are too many to extol here, so please stay tuned for my next post focusing on Juliet – “How do I love thee, let me count the ways”!
This summer, we grew Black Futsu, a highly ornamental and tasty pumpkin that’ll we’ll be offering to Gurney’s customers in Spring 2016. Black Futsu has a flattened round shape, deep ridges and a rind color that ranges from dusky orange to powdery blue to deep rich chestnut brown. The rich orange flesh is drier than and less sweet than many pumpkins and lends itself wonderfully to savory dishes. It’s been compared to the rich flavor of toasted hazelnuts.
Black Futsu is also lovely as an ornamental, lending itself perfectly to fall displays. It holds up extremely well in storage, so you can use them in your Halloween décor and then store them until use in your favorite pumpkin recipes. They’ll store well until midwinter. Look for this pumpkin in our new item selections for Gurney’s Spring 2016!
Just in time for pumpkin season, our farm manager shared her mouth-watering recipe for Stuffed Black Futsu Pumpkin.
She says “I thought it was pretty amazing. I was just going to roast and pulp it for other recipes, but when I cut the tops off and scooped it out, it was begging to be stuffed. I made up the attached recipe based on what I had on hand. I’m usually not big on eating pumpkin or winter squash unless it is baked into something (think chocolate chip muffins), but this had a different flavor. It was also gorgeous as a fall decoration. I had one sitting in my kitchen and everyone who walked into the house commented on how cool it looked. It seems to store well and tastes great. Also, the seeds were nice and tender, and the kids devoured them in a matter of minutes of toasting!”
Vegetarian Stuffed Black Futsu Pumpkin:
Slice tops of pumpkins, scoop out seeds and stringy pulp. Save the tops to use as lids and save the seeds for toasting. Discard pulp. Mix all ingredients except butter in a large bowl. Divide stuffing mix equally among the two pumpkins, filling the cavities. Top each stuffing mix with a pat of butter and cap with the pumpkin tops. Roast in the oven at 400 degrees for about an hour.
The temperatures are finally cooling off, the leaves are changing, and I’m finding big, fat garden spiders draped all over the landscape. It’s official, fall is here! While in some aspects I’m suffering from garden burnout after tending to my garden (and its weeds) all spring and summer, I still want to reap the bounties that a fall garden has to offer.
Fall is the perfect time for an extra crop of nutritious leafy greens, root crops and Brussels sprouts (just to name a few). And, until your ground freezes solid, you can plant garlic to your heart’s content.
At the Gurney’s farm we are enjoying some late summer-planted bulb fennel. The attractive ferny fronds can double as an ornamental and are delightful for adding an anise flavor to recipes. The bulbs make a sweet and crunchy addition to salads and are lovely for roasting.
Our basil crop is looking beautiful this fall. We’re especially excited about this new variety with purple blooms and excellent flavor. It performed well for us all season, and even held up to the terrible Downy Mildew that hit many other varieties hard. Look for this variety to make its debut in a future Gurney’s catalog!
We’re also looking forward to the harvest of our fall-planted beet and radishes. We planted in a raised bed this year, as our hard clay soil often makes growing root crops difficult. We’re testing a new baby beet and several quick maturing radishes. Radishes make an excellent last minute fall crop, since many varieties can be ready to harvest in 3 weeks and they prefer cooler temperatures.
In the coming months we’ll have our hands (and bellies) full with our Brussels sprouts trials. We’re growing 4 different varieties this year with attributes ranging from bite size, super-sweet, kid-friendly sprouts to plants with very large sized, richly flavored sprouts.
In our area, Brussels sprouts often reach their peak flavor after several frosts have enhanced their sweetness—or around Thanksgiving time. And what perfect timing, as a side dish of roasted Brussels sprouts is perfect Thanksgiving fare!
We’ll also be looking at cabbage, broccoli, greens, onions, leeks, cauliflower and kohlrabi as the season progresses. This winter, we’re hoping to use row covers and mulch and try our hand at some overwintering trials.
I’m making applesauce today from the Pristine apples we recently harvested at the Gurney’s farm. Introduced by Purdue University in the 1990’s, Pristine is still one of the highest-quality, early apples on the market.
Typically ripening in July (we were a little late this year due to a cooler-than-normal start to the summer), Pristine exhibits pretty, pale to bright yellow skin, sometimes with a slight blush and creamy flesh. It’s a good fresh-eating apple if picked at its peak. It is crisp and juicy with a mild, sweet-tart flavor and far exceeds the eating quality of other early apples such as Yellow Transparent. Its only drawback is that is in not a great storage apple. It only holds 2-4 weeks without losing quality. So you’re often left with a large crop of apples (far more than I could ever eat fresh in a couple of weeks) that will need to be preserved in some way.
While you can use Pristine for drying or baking, it is truly a great sauce apple. Its tender texture cooks up fast, and its skin is so thin and tender you don’t need to peel the apples prior to saucing. Here’s how I make my Pristine applesauce:
Clean the apples
Because I don’t peel my apples for sauce, I make sure to wash them quite well. I like to put a few drops of Dr. Bronner’s liquid castile soap in my sink and let the apples soak for a while, then scrub and rinse. White vinegar in water also works well for a fruit bath.
Chop the apples
Since I don’t peel, all I have to do is quarter, remove the core and seeds and roughly chop my apples before throwing them in a large cooking pot.
Cook & Blend
I add a little water just to keep the apples from sticking to the bottom of the pan, cook on low for about 30 minutes and then smoosh up all my cooked apples. I’ve used a stick blender, thrown the cooked apples in a blender or used the apple screen for the Food Strainer and Sauce Maker, all with great success. If you like your applesauce extra chunky you can even just mash it up with a spoon and be done with it. Just be very careful if you’re trying to blend up your boiling hot apples. I still have a nickel-sized scar on my hand from when hot applesauce splashed out of the pot and landed on me!
Can, Freeze & Enjoy
Applesauce is one of the first things I learned to can and is quite easy to process. If I’m really in hurry I’ve also found that it works quite well just to ladle it into freezer bags and throw in the deep freeze. Most of my family loves applesauce with a sprinkle of cinnamon, but I have what is probably the only 3 year old who does not like it. I use a lot of applesauce blended with other fruit to make delicious homemade fruit leathers as a treat. It also works wonders in bread, cookie and muffin recipes. However you use your applesauce, I’m sure it will be delicious.
Preserving your homegrown fruits and vegetables requires an array of kitchen gadgetry. My cabinet space is at capacity, and I’ve become rather choosy about which items stay and which items are not worth the shelf space. The Steam Juicer will always have a spot in my kitchen.
The possibilities of the Steam Juicer are truly endless. The glory of this device is that there is little to no preparation required and very little waste. Forget about seeding, peeling, grating and straining. The Steam Juicer does all the work for you! Below are some of my favorite items to juice and some uses for the juices.
Cherries: Dump cherries into basket and steam about an hour. No pitting is required! This juice is a favorite. We freeze it in ice cube trays and add it to lemonade, orange juice, water and anything else that needs a burst of cherry flavor.
Grapes: Dump grapes into basket and steam about an hour. Enjoy a grape juice that is so much better than store bought.
Apples: Quickly chop into large chunks; no need to peel or seed. Steam for about an hour. Apple juice goes quickly at my house; fresh apple juice goes even faster.
Rhubarb: Chop stems into 1-2″ pieces and steam for about an hour. Rhubarb juice is one of the most gorgeous colors I’ve ever experienced. Freeze it in ice cube trays and add the cubes to all kinds of drinks.
Tomatoes: Chop into large chunks and steam about an hour. This juice looks similar to vegetable broth and can be used similarly. I use it for cooking rice or instead of water for soups. It’s full of flavor, so a little goes a long way. Freeze or refrigerate for up to a week.
Vegetable broth: Throw whatever you’ve got into the basket and steam about an hour. Try onions, garlic, herbs, carrots, celery, etc. You can’t really mess this up. Freeze or refrigerate for up to a week.
Is there anything more refreshing than a crisp, cool cucumber in the sweltering heat of summer? Cucumbers are one of my favorite summertime vegetables—and so easy to grow. While this year’s above-average rainfall has left water standing in my garden, the cucumber crop is excelling.
Two of my favorites this year are Perseus and Tasty Green. I’ve been enjoying my Perseus Cucumbers for several weeks now, and they are absolutely unparalleled for fresh eating. I like to grab 2 or 3 and throw them in lunchboxes for my daughter and me. They’re perfect portable snacks. Sliced into chips they also make the perfect dipper for chicken salad, hummus or ranch. With thin, tender skin, wonderful crisp, juicy texture and a mild almost melon-like flavor, Perseus is sure to please kids and adults alike.
While also delicious for eating fresh, Tasty Green has become my favorite for tzatziki-inspired cucumber salad. A quick and easy lunch when it’s too hot to cook, I just take some plain yogurt, lemon juice, garlic and dill, roughly chop my Tasty Green cucumbers and toss it all together. As soon as my tomatoes are ripe I will enjoy my Tasty Greens chopped with tomato and onion, tossed with olive oil, cracked pepper and sea salt. Yum!
Soon my pickling cucumbers will be ready, and I can jump back into the world of fermentation. Gurney’s Perfect Pickle Cucumber really does make a perfect pickle, and I am amazed at how well it retains its crunch when pickled. I have found that putting a few grape leaves in the jars helps the pickles to retain a crisp texture as well. I prefer a pickle fermented with whey, sea salt, dill, garlic and hot pepper flakes, but refrigerator pickles are just as delicious (and so easy). I love that you can preserve some of the summer’s bounty and enjoy it when the memory of fresh-picked cucumbers is long gone.