Thursday, July 7, 2011

An Edible Landscape

The smell of lavender in the morning. Lazily picking raspberries and blueberries in the afternoon. Clipping herbs from my herb garden for our evening dinner. There is no greater simple pleasure in my world than having an edible landscape.

My husband and I planted our first garden in our backyard four years ago when we moved into our new house. It was all going well until we realized our dog Scooter was watering our kale and tomato plants himself. This lead to the evolution of our side yard, outside the fence and away from Scooter's male tendencies to mark anything with height. We have been slowly creating a beautiful "secret garden" full of tasty little treats.

I prefer the edible variety of plants over ornamentals for the mere fact that they actually reward you for being good plant-parents. It's like an adult easter egg hunt when looking for ripe raspberries and blueberries among all the leaves.  This year we planted a row of blueberries along the edge of our property that borders a walking path. In a few years, these blueberry plants will turn into beautiful big shrubs with spectacular fall foliage. The only important thing to know when growing blueberry plants is you need at least two different varieties next to each other for them to produce blueberries. I can't explain the biology of it, but I trust the nursery folks know what they are talking about. Blueberries also need lots of sunshine and water. We found this one out the hard way by having two plants in the absolute worst place in our backyard. They barely lived, and now, after being transplanted to this nice new location, they are happy and growing like crazy.

Blueberry Plant
5 Blueberry Plants along the Gravel

Last year we planted a few raspberry plants and this year we have our first harvest of raspberries! I can't tell you how excited I am by this because raspberries are my all time favorite summer fruit. I was told that in the plant-world, the first year a plant is "alive", the second year it "survives", then the third year it "thrives". This means that next year we should be knee-deep in raspberries. Raspberry plants do have thorns, so I would advise not planting them in an area where kids actively play. They also send up shoots to make more raspberry plants. If you dont have a lot of room to give the plant, you may have to be diligent to keep it under control.

One of our Raspberry Plants
Beautiful Little Fruit!

I have been growing herbs annually in pots for years, but this is my first year to have an actual herb garden. I planted the perennial herbs sage, thyme, mint, dill, and chives. (Perennial = comes back every year; Annual = must plant annually.) I also have basil planted next to my tomatoes, which is supposed to help the flavor of the basil, and oregano planted near the basil. It is so rewarding (and cheap) to plant these herbs once and enjoy them for years.
From Top Down: Mint, Chives, Parsley, and Sage.

Maybe I'm just cheap, but if I am going to go through the pain of digging holes in our rocky soil to plant perennials as part of my landscape, I would much rather have them become an established part of my landscape instead of having to buy starters every year.

In honor of my first raspberry harvest, I made this Raspberry Clafouti on the Fourth of July. It was such a nice treat to eat this lovely dessert and watch Yakima's big firework show from our deck.

Raspberry Clafouti
adapted from Bon Appetit's Cherry Clafouti recipe

2 cups raspberries
1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream  (I used half and half   
   and it worked just fine)
4 large eggs
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 tsp finely grated orange or lemon zest
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp kosher salt
Powdered sugar
SPECIAL EQUIPMENT: 10" springform cake pan or eight 2/3 - 3/4 cup ramekins or custard cups

1. Preheat over to 375 degrees. Butter cake pan or ramekins. Arrange raspberries in a single layer in pan.

2. Combine milk and cream in a small saucepan; bring just to a simmer over medium heat. Set aside. Combine eggs, flour, sugar, lemon zest, vanilla, and salt in a medium bowl; whisk to blend. Gradually whisk in hot milk mixture; whisk until custard is smooth. Pour custard evenly over raspberries in pan. If necessary, gently shake pan to allow custard to settle. 

3. Bake clafouti until custard is set and top is golden brown, about 30 minutes for ramekins and 45-55 minutes for cake pan. Let cool 3 minutes, then run a knife around pan sides to loosen clafouti (if using a cake pan). Dust top with powdered sugar; cut into wedges and serve.

You can substitute 1 lb fresh cherries, stemmed and pitted, for the raspberries to make a Cherry Clafouti.

Happy Eating!  ~NM

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