Monthly Archives: January 2010

A Paean for the Pea

I try to heed the wisdom in not wishing one’s life away, but I confess my chilled bones are giving a little leap of joy at the prospect of January finally ending this weekend. February should bring a little stir of activity — my seed orders have arrived, and I’ve begun to clean out the potting shed and make room for flats on top of the warming mats and beneath the grow lights. Soon they’ll be chock full o’ Swiss chard, salad greens, kale, arugula, and cilantro. For starters.

Sugar snap peas, a cool season joy

And in keeping with my grandmother’s no-fail practice, a ritual I have adopted as my own for the past sixteen years, I will plant four rows of peas — sugar snap peas, to be precise — on Valentine’s Day.

Indulge me for a moment whilst I lift my voice in praise of the pea. There is so much about it that is gratifying. The pea is eager to please — the sugar snap, in particular. Peas aren’t picky about soil; they like a generally balanced pH and whatever you may happen to have put in their bed in the way of compost a few months before. And in fact, peas themselves are fertilizer.  After harvest, if you turn the spent vines back into the soil, they happily bestow a bit of nitrogen for future crops. This is what we are delighted to call “green manure.”

You can plant them in a spot that is shady in the summer, because right now, all the leaves are off the trees and the sun fills your prospective pea patch. Pea seeds are relatively large, so if you spill some in planting, they are easy to recover. They sprout quickly and consistently. As you know, dear readers, I have had many problems with squirrels consuming my crops, but the peas they don’t seem to care about. If you want to be extra-sure, though, a layer of human hair clippings over your rows seems to keep them unmolested.

My friend Daphne julienned fresh, raw sugar snaps from my garden last year . . .

You can start eating almost within a couple of weeks after planting. How is that, you ask? You have planted your pea seeds an inch apart, and now you need to thin the seedlings. Who knew those pea sprouts were so delicious? I love them in a stir-fry with lots of other veggies and some tofu. Eager to please, those peas!

The only real TLC your peas require are some good trellises to hang onto as they grow. I use my tomato cages folded out flat. They work well because by the time the peas are done, the tomato plants are ready for caging. You might want to watch the weeds, but a good layer of mulch (I just use newspaper and leaves) will keep that from being an issue.

This is when the peas really start to show you some love. Lest you think Valentine’s Day is just too darn early to plant a spring crop, I remind you, Southern Urban Homesteaders, to trust the pea. It knows what it’s doing. A cold snap? Worry not. The peas love a good freeze. It seems to invigorate them. March winds and April showers? The thriving pea does a happy little pea-dance. Pests? None that I have ever encountered. Disease? Nope.

. . . which she then put into cous cous along with some garden mint, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper. We ate it with our fish and salad. Amazing.

And then the best part. One mid-spring day, tiny little pea blossoms turn into tiny little pea babies, and then a week or so later, you’ll find yourself standing in the midst of your pea-patch, plucking a plump sugar snap and taking a crisp bite, hull and all. The sweetness! The crunch! You think you want to eat them all right then and there, but they grow so abundantly, you have plenty to bring inside for even more stir-fries. Or you might steam a few and drench them in butter. Or saute in a little garlic, or maybe ginger. And still they will be sweet, crunchy, pleasing little peas.

All we are saying is . . .

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Filed under Feasting, Gardening

A good yarn

Some weeks back, I reported on my feeble attempts at learning to knit. It wasn’t an easy start, but I am beginning to appreciate the zen of the craft. Once you figure out the pattern, it transcends thought. There is a grace and rhythm that visits your fingers, and all you do is relax and let them take over. And then you wake up, and you have a hat.

Entangled in texture and color

Or maybe three or four or more. Once I figured out the nifty hat trick, I lost all self-control. Partly it was the yarn. I love a good yarn. I found this super-bulky woolly stuff in great colors on sale, so I bought piles and piles of it. But I had a reasonable justification: this coming weekend is the Rabun Rendezvous, the big annual fundraiser for the Rabun Chapter of Trout Unlimited, a wonderful natural resource conservation organization that my family has been involved with for nearly twenty-five years. Every year I try to come up with some interesting and creative items for the silent auction — a gift basket, some homemade goodies, one year I contributed two dozen eggs. This year, it’ll be hats and fingerless gloves.

Energized by my purchase, I started giving my creations names: a red hat was “Ruby,” a green child’s hat is “Li’l Peahead.” Then I began mixing and matching colors and bestowing flyfishing inspired names: “Riparian,” “The River,” “Hemlock Grove.”

"Keepin' Warm Kit"

I decided I needed to put together a couple of gift baskets. One is called a “Keepin’ Warm Kit,” and it includes a bundle of fatlighter (courtesy of my dad, who found it in his yard and split it up so it’s just like the stuff they sell at L.L. Bean), hot chocolate, some spicy cheese straws and a jar of homemade green tomato relish to go with them, and a knit wool cap. The other is “Sweet, Spicy, Savory”: the muscadine jam I made this summer with plain cheese straws (the “sweet”), homemade roasted tomatillo and tomato salsa with chips (the “spicy”), and more of the green tomato relish with some rosemary crackers (the “savory”). Bounty from the Southern Urban Homestead.

"Sweet • Spicy • Savory"

I still want to make a few more hats — I can probably turn out two or three before the weekend: “Foam is Home,” “Out Past Hiawassee.” And I’m making fingerless gloves to go with some of them (I actually sold a pair of those recently to a very gifted artist friend whose studio is not heated). I am trying hard not to turn into Madame Defarge or one of those sweet but dotty ladies with cats and a house full of precious knitted objects.

That’s why I keep giving things away. I am blessed with understanding friends who have accepted my slightly eccentric creations.

The Rabun Rendezvous is this Saturday, January 23, at the Dillard House in Rabun County. The Dillard House smokes a whole pig, and we’ll pick at it starting around 5 p.m. Come on up and join us — there’s a ton of good stuff on the auction and raffle tables, incredible food, fabulous entertainment, and a superb program.

Friend with slightly eccentric creation

Plus, you’re supporting a grassroots organization that does great work cultivating the next generation of  stewards of our region’s trout fisheries and conserving, protecting, and restoring its treasures.

And you’ll definitely hear a good yarn or two.

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Filed under Community and Citizenship, Feasting, Making things, Putting Up

Reminding us that life springs back

Zinnias from my garden last summer, along with a touch of eucalyptus and rue, the herb of grace, which we could all use from time to time.

Alas, my dear friend, my laptop, has developed a case of the vapors and has taken to the spa, where she remains for at least a week. So my blogging capacity is somewhat limited.

Know, however, that life still stirs on the Southern Urban Homestead. For one thing, my seed orders have begun to arrive. For another, I have knitting news to share soon.

In the meantime, let us keep the people of Haiti in our hearts with this vivid reminder that life has this way of springing back — always.

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Filed under Community and Citizenship, Gardening

Snow Day on the Southern Urban Homestead

Well, one can hardly call it “snow,” because it was less than an inch, but in classic Atlanta style, our roads are sheets of ice. The world (around here, anyway) has ground to a halt. Here are a few scenes from our silent, frozen morning.

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Filed under Flockkeeping

Seeduced

Seed catalogs ought to come in the mail in brown paper wrappers. That’s how shameless they are: gardener porn. Growing season aside (I start my spring garden in February), it’s a devilish trick to send such prurient reminders when we gardeners are at our most vulnerable.

It’s 25 degrees outside this morning, and the garden is shriveled and still. There are no sleek curves, deep hues, or tantalizing perfumes of a basil plant at its most succulent; no juice dripping down your fingers from that perfectly ripe strawberry you have just plucked; no enormous yellow squash blossoms opening themselves to the honeybees’ promise of fertility. But the seed companies have deliberately stirred my desires. And shortly I will give in to my cravings and order more seeds than I will ever have room to plant, ever. And it will feel good.

Inside front page

So it begins in the bleak midwinter (as a great poet of the sensual, Christina Rosetti, once wrote), when the earth stands hard as iron and water like a stone. Shockingly vivid catalog covers assault the eye — ripe, round, bulging fruit, glossy vegetables in colors so vibrant that they couldn’t possibly be found in nature. But they really get you when you flip open the first couple of pages to the new offerings for the year, in all their exotic color, flavor, and texture — the bluer berry, the sweeter tomato, the plumper pea. And all I want to do is hold them in my hot, trembling hand.

And then there’s the prose that is purpler than a pingtung eggplant — a pepper is a “cayenne hottie”; a beet has “sweet, juicy flesh”; a cabbage says come hither with its “pure white ribs.”

Are you panting yet? A little feverish? Here — here’s an order form. I’ll give you your privacy. Go ahead. It’s perfectly natural, and everybody does it.

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Filed under Gardening