Out on the prairie, in the southeasternmost corner of Iowa's Pottawattamie County, on the eastern slope of the Nishnabotna River Valley, located on the third terrace at the south end of my upper garden is my perennial vegetable garden.
This garden contains asparagus, rhubarb, garlic, horseradish and walking onions. Once these beds are established in your garden, they come back year after year and are usually the first things to pop through the ground in early spring. Let's talk about them.
Yes, it is a vegetable, although it is used almost exclusively as a fruit. As a young child on a poor dirt farm where candy and treats were scarce, we were given a small drinking glass with about a half an inch of sugar in the bottom. Then we would go to the garden, break off a stalk of rhubarb, dip it in the sugar and then take a bite. And we thought it was wonderful. Just the thought of it today makes me pucker up due to its bitterness.
Remember, the leaves of rhubarb are poisonous. You only eat the stalks of the plant. But there is nothing better than rhubarb crisp made with this recipe.
- 6 cups cut up rhubarb
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups brown sugar
- 2/3 cup flour
- 1/3 cup oatmeal
- 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
- 1 stick, or ¼ pound, room temperature butter
Put the rhubarb in a baking pan and sprinkle with the salt. Mix the remaining ingredients until the mixture is crumbly. Sprinkle it over the rhubarb and bake at 350°F for 50 minutes.
What can I say? If you have it, you use it and put it in everything. The tops of garlic plants (garlic scapes) are so elegant looking half way through their growing season. They appear to be the heads of graceful swans with spirals and designs that are hard to describe in writing.
It's always the first vegetable to eat from your garden every year. When harvesting asparagus, most people cut it off with a knife which is actually the incorrect thing to do. You should grab a stalk between your thumb and finger and then snap it off. It always snaps off at the exact point where it is edible and not hard and chewy.
Here is a fun recipe when you have some extra asparagus:
Bloody Mary Cocktail Garnishment
When most people look at the back of the middle shelf in their refrigerator, they will find a jar half full of dill pickles spears. First eat the remaining pickles, but save the juice and the jar. Clean your asparagus and cut it in lengths to fit into the pickle jar.
Drop the asparagus into a pan of boiling water for two minutes. Drain and rinse the asparagus spears in cold water. Place them in the pickle jar with the juice and cover with the lid.
Refrigerate for at least a day, and you will have a unique garnishment to add to your bloody Mary or martini.
P.S. I usually add a clove of garlic and half of a jalepeno pepper to mine.
The fun thing about Walking Onions is that they replenish themselves year after year by growing small bulblets at the top which then drop to the ground in the fall. They remain there until they sprout the following spring. Naturally, you do not harvest all of the onions each season so they can reproduce in their unique way.
They do not make big onions, but if you like to have small onions and green onions available from April to October, walking onions are the ones for you.
I wish mine were planted a little closer to the house so I could just hop out of the kitchen and harvest them as I need them. Did I mention that they are an heirloom?
Harvesting and processing horseradish out here on the prairie is a neighborly get-together event with several friends.
First you dig up the roots to be processed. And don't worry about killing the plants as the small roots left behind will grow like the dickens next spring. Then you wash and scrub the roots. Next, you grind the roots up with an old-fashioned hand grinder.
WARNING: Never grind the roots indoors. The fumes will take your breath away and burn your eyes.
You can mix small amounts of the horseradish with almost anything: cream, sour cream, yogurt, mayonnaise, cream cheese or any type of sauce.
My basic recipe for horseradish sauce is as follows:
Combine 1/4 cup of vinegar for every cup of ground horseradish. Add a little salt, and a little sugar to taste. It will keep forever in the refrigerator.
Yes, I get a lot of enjoyment out of my perennial vegetable garden.