SPRING by Dotti Hydue

 

This clever gal sports a unique garden-themed hat circa 1940.

This clever gal sports a unique garden-themed hat circa 1940.

WELCOME to the Levy County Kitchen. Spring is here and the Nature Coast abounds in fresh produce. Strawberries and leafy greens are at their peak. Kale is the new darling of the health food scene although it has been cultivated since ancient Greek and Roman times for its nutritive qualities. Its anti-oxidant rich leaves contain an abundance of vitamins and nutrients including potassium, vitamins A and C, calcium, and fiber. Some people add kale to their smoothies for a “green” drink. You can make a salad by massaging olive oil into young, chopped leaves to soften them. Add other salad ingredients of your choice and dress with a citrusy dressing. You can also steam, saute or stew kale. Substitute kale for cabbage in the classic Irish dish Colcannon, a mash up of potatoes, cabbage, and scallions. For an updated version of Colcannon, use six to eight ounces of kale, remove center ribs and chop the leaves medium to fine before proceeding with the recipe.

 

Colcannon

6 to 8 servings

2 pounds all-purpose or Yukon gold potatoes

2 bunches scallions

1 small head green cabbage, about 1 pound

½ cup milk

4 to 8 tablespoons butter, softened

Salt and pepper to taste

Peel the potatoes and cut into 1–inch chunks. Place in a large saucepan and add enough cold water to just cover the pieces. Chop the white part only of the scallions and spread them over the potatoes. Core and chop the cabbage into 1-inch pieces and place over the scallions and potatoes.

Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to maintain a gentle boil. Cook, covered, until potatoes are fork-tender, about 20 minutes. Drain well and return the mixture to the pan. Coarsely mash over low heat while gradually adding the milk and butter. Season with salt and pepper and serve hot.

 

Now is the time to dig into your freezer and rotate foods that need to be used to the top shelf. Make a meal entirely with food you’ve forgotten was in there. You might be surprised at what you find. Once there is room in the freezer, start to fill it with seasonal fruits and vegetables as they come into season.

 

 

I came across this easy, no-crust apple pie recipe and even though apples aren’t really in season, I recommend you try it. This recipe would also work using four or five large, fresh peaches instead of apples. Because peaches are juicier, increase the flour by a tablespoon or two.

 

You won’t miss the crust in this easy to make Crustless Apple Pecan Pie.

You won’t miss the crust in this easy to make Crustless Apple Pecan Pie.

Crustless Apple Pecan Pie

My pie was nicely browned after baking only 50 minutes, so watch the time so it doesn’t get too dry.

2 tart baking apples

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1 and 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 eggs, well beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Peel, core, and slice apples into a large bowl. Combine both sugars, flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt and mix into the apples. Add eggs and vanilla and stir well. Mix in the nuts. Scrape into a pie plate and bake 1 hour. Eat warm or at room temperature.

 

 

Red romaine lettuce plants send up flower stalks. Beneficial insects will appreciate having these food sources in the spring garden.

Red romaine lettuce plants send up flower stalks. Beneficial insects will appreciate having these food sources in the spring garden.

I RECENTLY took some free vegetable gardening and pest management classes at the IFAS Ag Extension office in Bronson. These classes were geared for the home gardener living in north central Florida. Even though I’ve been gardening for over 50 years, coaxing vegetables and fruits (and even healthy landscape flowers and plants) from our sandy soil has been a humbling experience. Here are a few tips you might find useful.

The time of year that you plant vegetables is critical for a successful crop. On average, we should plant root crops, potatoes, and greens in mid February, and spring and summer crops around the third week in March. The soil should be at least 60 degrees in order for seeds to germinate properly. High daytime temperatures negatively affect the formation of male and female flowers (you need both) on summer and winter squash, cucumbers, pumpkins, melons, and gourds. Corn pollen is also affected by heat. The more heat, the less pollen, which results in poor cob fill. Tomatoes will cease setting fruit when night temperatures are above 72 degrees and/or when daytime temperatures are above 90 degrees. That’s one reason we need to get plants in the ground early.

As our seasons progress, the increase in temperatures and humidity levels are ideal for the proliferation of fungal and bacterial diseases. Insects, which are vectors in infecting plants and fruits with these diseases, also thrive under these conditions. This is another important reason we grow our summer crops early in the year. If you plant too late, your crops will be maturing at the height of disease and insect activity. By mid-June and July, most vegetable plants are in decline. In case you have a hard time thinking about planting tomatoes in March, the instructor at these classes referred to winter as November and December, and spring as January and February.

There is still time to plant summer vegetable and herbs if you use starter plants. Make sure the plants are free of insects and signs of disease and are not root bound. Now is the time to dig in and get growing. The rewards benefit body, mind, and spirit.

The weather along the Nature Coast could not be better. Take advantage of the many opportunities available for outdoor recreation in our slice of paradise. Hike; bike; ride a horse; fish; or glide across the water in a canoe, kayak, or boat. Sit outside and listen to the soothing sounds of nature and let the cares of the world pass by for a spell.

 

All things have their season, a time to plant and a time to harvest, a time to come and a time to go. So, dear readers, do writers. I have decided to take a break from my Levy County Kitchen duties. I urge you all to continue to stir the pot and bake up a storm. Don’t be shy about trying new and different foods and recipes. But most of all, I want you to continue sharing meals with friends and family. Food is love. Thank you all for being a part of my kitchen family. Until next time, the kitchen is closed.

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