The Antes Garden – October 2015
With very little rainfall since before the Festival in early August the Goschenhoppen region is really drying up. Even with irrigation the kitchen garden is becoming stressed. With Festival over we pulled the mature bean plantings and those areas have been reseeded to fall beets and late turnips. The yudda kasha, exuberant during the Festival, was past its prime and that, too, was removed after harvesting a large crop, now safely stored to fill delicious pies over the winter months.
The fall cabbages, cauliflower, and kale plantings are on schedule to mature before the first of November, and early date for our first killing frost. With our warming climate the growing season is lengthening and we may need to modify our planting and harvesting schedules accordingly. Contrary to the general warming trend, this past spring was an excellent example of how delayed the first plantings can be if snow cover and frozen ground persist well into March. However, once the ground does warm up hours of sunlight, which don’t vary much from year to year, are the most dominant factor in plant growth and fruit/seed maturity and most plants seem to overcome a late start by midsummer.
The gherkin cucumbers (taxonomic name: Cucumis anguria; Schtachelgummer in dialect) got a late start this year as a result of delayed germination, and the densely vining plants had not covered their tepee-like staking system by Festival time as they usually do. Now, however, they have engulfed their supports and we have had to drastically trim them back to prevent their overrunning adjacent walkways and planti
ng beds. They are very prolific producers of the small, spiny cucumbers used for pickling in the 18th century. Indigenous to Africa the Gherkin or Bur cucumber most likely reached Pennsylvania from Jamaica in the early 18th century as a consequence of the slave trade, and rapidly was adopted for pickling. Today it is grown more as a curiosity while the more familiar “true” cucumber (Cucumis sativus; Gummer in Dialect) that originated in India and was grown throughout Europe from early Roman times has become the dominant cuc
umber species. Even today’s spine-free “gherkins” used forpickling have been bred from the more common
sativus, picked while they are still young and small.
As an indication of the almost singular use of cucumbers for pickling among the PA Dutch in the Goschenhoppen region, the dialect word gummer is used interchangeably for both cucumber and pickle, while in English many local folks still refer to cucumbers as pickles. The Boyertown Cookery book of Pennsylvania Dutch recipes notes that, “When the Dutchman puts cucumber seeds into his garden, he is ‘sowing pickles.’” Pickling as a means of preserving meats, vegetables, and fruits has an extensive history. Roman sources include recipes for making “crock pickles” similar to methods we still use today. Essentially the produce is preserved in a strong solution of vinegar and salt with various herbs and spices added for taste and coloring. A typical early 19th century recipe for pickling gherkins calls for placing the cleaned and dried gherkins into a stoneware crock over which a boiling brine solution is poured to cover them. (Editor’s Note: a typical light brine solution would use one part sea salt to 20 parts water) After a day the gherkins are removed, dried and placed into another crock with several bay leaves, then covered well with a pickling solution of vinegar to which ahs been added an ounce and a quarter of salt, a quarter ounce of black pepper corns, and an ounce and a half of sliced ginger, and two small blades of mace for every quart of the vinegar. The crock is covered loosely for two days when the pickle is reheated to boiling at which point the gherkins are added back in and the whole is lightly simmered for two or three minutes. The whole is then returned to the crock and tightly covered until completely cooled when an airtight seal of two or more layers of brown paper or a pig’s bladder is applied. Pig’s bladders, only available if you do your own butchering, are uniquely suited to sealing small crocks and stoneware jars as they shrink and conform to the top edge of the container as they dry, creating an airtight seal over the container. Modern recipes do away with the two-step process, considerably simplifying home production of pickles.
As the fall season approaches the garden will take on a different character. Many of the perennials arranged around the perimeter will change into their fall coloration. The Blackberry Lilies have already begun to exhibit the reason for their name, as the opening seedpods resemble ripe blackberries. The few hops produced in this dry year have been harvested and the vines are dying back. Soon the first hints of green will show where the fall blooming (saffron) crocus have been hiding all summer and it will be time to dig the horseradish roots for grinding into yet another Dutch culinary treat.
We continue to work in the garden on Tuesday evenings and look forward to seeing more people involved in keeping it a year round activity. If you are interested in getting involved in some manner give us a call at 215-234-4119 or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bill and Jacquelyn Daley
October - 2015