Jessica’s Garden: Gift of Quince

Making-Quince-Paste-with-Grayson

Making Quince Paste with Grayson

This week was fairly low key, much less the Russian roulette that was last week with the wild mushroom foraging and consumption. Although, I will not lie—I did attempt more foraging this week. I found a different wild edible mushroom commonly known as the Wine Cap Stropharia. But by the time I had it officially identified, it had unfortunately spoiled and was inedible. However, I now know for next time.

One of our work clients generously gave me about 25 pounds of quince this week. Last year, we were at her home and we noticed her quince bush was fruiting. She had let me harvest as much as I could carry between mine and my mother’s coat pockets. This year we were much better prepared with buckets and able to haul away the entire harvest. When we pulled into her driveway, we could smell the bush from her backyard, it was that fragrant. She enjoys the plant as a flowering shrub, but does not use the fruit. I will surprise her with a few jars of the finished products as a ‘thank you.’

Quince-Jelly

Quince Jelly

I made quince jelly for the first time last season. It is an easy preparation but an unfriendly fruit to have to pick, peel and core. We waited until the fruit had dropped from the bush on its own. I still have the battle scars from reaching through its thorny branches for its delicious and aromatic fruit hiding under fallen leaves and ivy. It was totally worth it.

On its own, fresh and raw, quince is rather puckering and sour. However, canned and preserved or cooked down with the help of sugar, it becomes exotic, fragrant and delicious.

Over the past few days, the quince began to yellow slightly and ripen. Much like Asian Pears, they will continue to ripen off the plant. It was time to get to concocting. Once canned, quince’s flavor is reminiscent of an apple. But then you notice the honey and floral notes also; they’re really quite a complex flavor.

Grayson-Scrubbing-Quince

Grayson Scrubbing-Quince

Yesterday Grayson and I began to tackle the two buckets worth of fruit. We only made it about a third of the way through, and are leaving the rest to continue to ripen on the counter. Grayson helped me fill up the sink and scrub the fruit with vegetable brushes before prepping it for canning.

I assure you, you’ve never seen someone so excited about a sink-full of water, a scrub brush and some fruit to clean-up as he was. First we made quince paste. After the fruit was peeled, cored and chopped, Grayson managed to put down the scrub brush and get to the real work.

Only after a quick wardrobe change, as obviously the previous task required getting soaking wet. He helped combine the fruit with sugar and water and stir periodically over a couple hours until it was ready for canning. The end result was a cloudy looking soft-set jelly, speckled with a very delicate pulp; perfect for pairing with soft goat’s milk or cow’s milk cheeses.

Ploughman's-Cheese-Tray

Ploughman’s Cheese Tray

We made a ploughman’s cheese tray for supper last night, just so we could have an excuse to try out the quince paste. Although the recipe suggested pairing with soft cheeses, we used a smoked mozzarella and a sharp cheddar; to which it paired with both beautifully. It was perfect drizzled on a wedge of sharp cheddar on a slice of sourdough with smoked turkey and hard salami. Understandably, Grayson’s attention dwindled drastically towards to end of this task.

When it came to making the quince jelly, I waited until after his bedtime to get to work. Quince jelly reminds me a lot of apple jelly, but if it also had honey. It is a rich amber in color and sweet and floral; delicious as an everyday kind of jelly on scones and toast. At the end of the day, about a third of the harvest ended up yielding twenty-nine jars of jelly and paste; perfect for Christmas and holiday gifts.

Gin-Infused-with-Quince-and-Garden-Herbs

Gin Infused with Quince and Garden Herbs

I also experimented with infusing gin with quince and thyme as well as quince and rosemary. This week, I once again harvested a few large bouquets of fresh herbs. The basil did not survive the first couple of frosts very nicely and is on its last leg. But the hardier herbs are still abundant. I coarsely chopped a few large fistfuls of fresh garden herbs and tossed them with coarse seal salt.

Seasoned Sea Salt

Seasoned-Sea-Salt

The salt should draw the moisture from the herbs and hopefully make a savory seasoned sea salt for cooking or rubbing on meat roasts this winter. I ended up combining nasturtium and pineapple sage flowers, sage, basil and thyme with the salt. Sometimes coming up with your own visions in the kitchen is what works out best. I try to not be afraid or hold back in the kitchen—because when it comes to cooking, there are no rules and it should be fun.

Posted By: Jessica J. Crawford Behnkes Garden Blogger

Jessica’s Garden: Backyard Bounty

Morel Foraging in the Spring

Morel Foraging in the Spring

Well, I felt adventurous this week. Amongst many other mini adventures, my main excitement came from foraging in the backyard. I spent a little time scouring the trees, plants and grass for potential crafting materials while Grayson tortured wildflowers and swung around big sticks. This time of year, once the weather starts to cool, I find that all kinds of new stuff start popping up to save and craft with later. I picked up a few handfuls of acorn hats, as we call them, out of the lawn and combed the yard for bright fall leaves for pressing. For the sake of experimentation, I also picked a handful of gooseberry and black nasturtium leaves out of the garden for pressing.

Nasturtium-and-Gooseberry-Leaves-for-Pressing

Nasturtium and Gooseberry Leaves for Pressing

But the biggest excitement of all was certainly of the fungal variety. I was combing the woodpile, looking for funky fungi when I spotted about four clumps of an alluringly bright mushroom growing from the oak logs.

Something in my head sparked and I felt like I had seen and heard of this particular mushroom before. I checked with a few reliable resources and did quite a bit of research online, and sure enough, it was exactly what I had hoped it was.

It turned out to be an edible wild mushroom commonly called Chicken of the Woods but also referred to as Shelf mushrooms. I’ve only in very recent years gotten into foraging for wild edibles, so I am naturally still tentative and suspicious.

We’ve been foraging morels at my parent’s house now for a couple years. They have an extensive patch of earth that sprouts these nutty and delicious wild mushrooms in the Spring. My aunt and uncle introduced me to morel hunting several years ago. Keeping in mind that I am not an expert in wild edibles, particularly foraging for wild mushrooms as this can be very dangerous, I’d like to share a bit of my newly gained knowledge.

Note from the Editor at Behnke Nurseries: We would like to emphasize strongly that you Must Know What You Are Doing if you are foraging for wild mushrooms/fungi. There are many mushrooms out there that can make you very ill or even kill you. Take a class, take a field guide, and make sure your will is written. Just sayin’. Larry Hurley

Fresh-Chicken-of-the-Woods

Fresh Chicken of the Woods

Chicken of the Woods are proposed to be a great mushroom for beginner foragers. There is no other look-a-like mushroom that could confuse someone into eating a potentially dangerous version; they range from bright yellow-orange to orange to salmon in color and fade as they age.

Usually Chickens grow in clumps on decaying hardwood. You will never find a shelf mushroom growing out of the earth; it will always be on a tree or stump. Most commonly, they are spotted on hardwood trees such as oaks but are known to grow on other trees.

The research I encountered all advised not eating if harvested from a conifer, cedar or eucalyptus tree, as this may cause stomach upset. These mushrooms must be cooked before consumption – they should not be consumed raw. Also, research also advised going easy the first try as some people are inclined to gastro upset if too much is ingested. If you are interested in trying one, I highly advise it, but also do a little of your own research first, of course.

As we had never tried this variety before and were heeding the warnings of taking it easy during the first encounter, I mixed the Chickens with Shiitake mushrooms for my meal. I was amazed at how delicious and meaty they were. The rumors are true; they did taste and look a lot like slices of cooked chicken. I had also read in my research that they are a number one vegetarian choice for a chicken substitute, and I can definitely understand why. Everyone in the family enjoyed them and no one experienced any sort of gastro upset.

I have had two harvests now from different locations. The first harvest contained four clumps. I cooked fresh with one cluster and cleaned and sliced the other three into strips and laid them out in the dehydrator for cooking with in the winter. They can be used as a chicken substitute in most recipes. In addition to dehydrating which they seem to do very nicely, they can be sautéed in oil or butter and frozen. The second harvest is patiently waiting in a paper bag in the fridge for inspiration to strike. But last night’s supper was truly delicious.

Wild-Mushroom-in-Red-Wine-Sauce

Wild Mushroom in Red Wine Sauce

Wild Mushrooms in Red Wine Sauce over Fettuccini
Serves 2-3

1 C Wild Mushrooms; sliced (I used ½ C Chickens and ½ C Shiitake)
1 Red onion; diced
1 ½ Tbsp each olive oil and butter
Spring of Fresh Thyme
1-2 Cloves Garlic; minced
¼ C + some for garnishing; Shaved Parmesan Cheese
½ Lb Fettuccini Noodles; cooked
¼ C Red Wine
½ C Fat Free Half & Half
1 ½ C Vegetable Broth (Reserve 1 Tbsp)
1 Tbsp Flour
Pinch Red Pepper Flakes
Salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter and olive oil together in cast iron pan. Caramelize onions and mushrooms on medium to medium/high heat; let them get nice color to them by not turning too often. Add garlic, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and thyme. Turn down heat to medium/low. Make slurry with 1 Tbsp vegetable broth and flour; set aside. Deglaze pan with red wine. Add remaining stock and half and half; Simmer, do not boil as dairy may curdle. Slowly add about half of slurry while stirring.

Wait to see if the stock thickens a bit. Add Parmesan and gently stir in. If sauce is not to desired thickness, add more slurry and let cook to thicken. Serve over fettuccini and with more Parmesan. You can substitute any mushroom you are comfortable with consuming. I imagine oyster, beech or baby portabellas would also be tasty. We had fresh steamed green beans and a slice of rosemary bread on the side.

PepperHarvest

Pepper Harvest

In addition to the Chickens, I also dehydrated a number of jalapenos and fish peppers as well as a volunteer pepper that spouted from the compost that I showed mercy and let thrive. I am unsure of the volunteer pepper variety, but it has a very mild flavor similar to a green bell pepper with thinner flesh and a pointier shape. This should be an easy addition to homemade spaghetti sauce this winter and the hot peppers will be great for chili.

Coffee-Sack-Memo-Board

Coffee Sack Memo Board

My mother rescued a vintage frame from the side of the road for me a couple weeks ago. This week it was transformed from a rather filthy and dingy grey to a distressed and bright sky blue. I made a hemp criss-cross with vintage-style upholstery pins, a flea market coffee bean sack and corkboard. What was a shabby frame last week is a now shabby-chic-meets-coffee-shop memo and cork board this week. The moral of this week story is you never know the amazing things you can find in your own back yard…or your neighbor’s trash.

Posted By: Jessica J. Crawford Behnkes Garden Blogger

Behnke’s Fall Fun Area Makes Memories

Fall-fun-area

Behnke’s Fall Fun Area

When I was growing up here on the nursery one of the very best places to be was at our playground. We had the most awesome sliding board. It was so very tall and I remember taking waxed paper to make it slipperier. And the old seesaws… oh the splinters I got….. Ouch! But best of all was the merry-go-round. Over the years for all sorts of reasons we had to take the play ground away. I bet many of you also fondly recall our playground.

1964-Behnkes-playground

1964 That’s me! The blond on the right, my cousin
Jeanne on the left and my brother behind our neighbor

1959-Kindergarten-field-trip-to-Behnkes

1959 Kindergarten field trip to Behnke’s

A few years ago, our garden center manager, Sissy McKenzie, came to us with a idea! A FREE area for kids to be kids–to play games and have fun. As a result, you will be seeing a lot of activities geared to our young gardeners throughout the year. From “Easter Egg Hunts” to this Fall’s FREE Fun Area: and I heard we will be having a “Pumpkin Hunt.”

Yes there are rules. Simple common sense rules, starting with “don’t leave your darlings alone in the area.” Bring your kids, your parents and your camera and create some more Behnke Memories (that’s not a rule, just a suggestion.) Post them on our Facebook page or Instagram at #behnkes.

straw-pirate-ship

Behnke’s Straw Pirate Ship in the Fall Fun Area

I can’t wait for my grandson Aaron to come out and check out this year’s new addition, The Straw Pirate’s Ship.. fantastic! On weekends (in October) we will have face-painting from Noon to 3 pm.

Posted by: Stephanie Fleming

Jessica’s Garden: Oodles of Zoodles

Grayson Checking on the Garden

Grayson Checking on the Garden

What a beautiful week! It’s been sunny and warm during the day and crisp and cool at night. We’ve had all the windows open for a couple weeks now just airing out the house and soaking in all the fresh night air. This weather has been a perfect start for the Fall seedlings. The transplants that were added to the garden over the past couple weeks are looking great.

They seem to be enjoying the bright sun during the day and the relief of the coolness at night. The little beet seedlings have made their appearance too. I planted a mix of heirloom beets about ten days ago and they have already germinated nicely. Grayson crouches down low to the ground and lovingly calls them beet babies– and makes sure to add that he himself is not a baby.

We had a few friends over this weekend for supper and while I tend not to try out new recipes on company, I took a risk this weekend, and luckily it panned out. I had roasted another sugar pumpkin (see last week’s entry for recipe) earlier in the week and needed to use it up. Lots of magazines and food shows say that pumpkin in such a versatile fruit. I’ve seen lots of recipes using it as a pasta sauce. Now I love carbs, a lot, but I try to stay away as much as possible from empty carbohydrates to make a valid attempt at eating healthy and wholesome. Sometimes I cheat with wholegrain pasta. At this point, my husband Chris can hardly tell the difference between regular pasta and wholegrain.

Zoodles with Sausage and Pumpkin Pasta Sauce

Zoodles with Sausage and Pumpkin Pasta Sauce

But this week, we had sausage and pumpkin sauce over ’zoodles’ (julienned zucchini) and carrots picked fresh from my Dad’s raised garden. They are a delicious, vegetarian and healthy alternative to traditional pasta. It was colorful and delicious and healthy and wholesome; a satisfying and guilt-free meal. I had searched the internet for a of couple recipes and adapted my own based on what I like and what I had already in the pantry. And then I went to Wegman’s. As someone who enjoys cooking and food, this was an overwhelming and awesome shopping and culinary experience. I put my blinders on and went straight for the few things I needed.

I like to include protein in my meals so that they are tasty and filling. Who knew that you could find so many kinds of sausage?! I was under-prepared for the selection that awaited me. After several moments of deliberation at the meat case, I settled on a ‘Wine and Cheese’ pork sausage that paired wonderfully with the sauce. I served my creation with a side of roasted heirloom rainbow carrots, onions, cauliflower and parsnips and a slice of fresh rosemary bread.

Zucchini (Zoodles) and Carrot Noodles:
Serves: 4

4-5 Firm and Fresh Zucchini or Yellow Squash
5 Medium Sized Carrots

Peel carrots. Julienne both carrots and squash into long and thin strands. Set aside. Bring large pot of water to boil, add a generous amount of salt to water (about 1 Tbsp). Once water boils, add vegetables and boil for about 2-3 minutes. Drain and serve topped with sauce.

Tips: Avoid the seeded centers of the squash; they are a less pleasant texture than the meat of the vegetable, especially if the squash aren’t small and tender. I like to cook them only for a couple of minutes because I like a little bite and crispness to the veggie noodles; it adds texture to the meal so it’s not all mushy and soft. I’ve made zoodles with red sauce and that is also fantastic.

Pumpkin Pasta Sauce
Serves 4-6

1 Lb. Savory Flavored Sausage (Italian, Sage, etc…)
15 Oz (About 2 C) Pureed Pumpkin (See last week’s entry for easy homemade recipe)
Coarse Sea or Kosher Salt and Fresh Cracked Pepper to taste
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Tbsp Fresh Rosemary
1 Garlic Clove, finely chopped
¼ C Fat Free half & half
¼ C Reduced Fat Sour Cream
1/3 Cup Fresh Shaved Parmesan
½ C – 1 C Dry White Wine (Depending on how much you like wine; I used a full cup)

Cut sausage into 1” sections. In a large skillet, brown sausage and cook all the way through. Remove from pan and set aside. Drain off rendered fat. Add olive oil and rosemary. Gently fry rosemary until it is crispy but not burnt. Remove rosemary with slotted spoon and set aside until the end. Add pumpkin, salt, pepper, garlic, half and half, sour cream and white wine. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook lightly; about 3 minutes. Do not boil; boiling and over-cooking will cause the dairy to curdle. Add rosemary again. Serve over zucchini and carrot noodles garnished with shaved parmesan. I did not try it this time, but will the next round; a pinch of nutmeg for good measure.

Flea Market Haul

Flea Market Haul

Flea Market Coffee Bean Sacks

Flea Market Coffee Bean Sacks

I cannot wait to share my newest upcycling adventures with you all. I am currently under the process of transforming a $2 vintage coffee table/yard sale find into a funky and functional ottoman. I also woke the little monster up early Saturday morning, gave him a few coins to jingle in his pocket and dragged him to the most amazing flea market I’ve scoured yet.

I walked away with $36.50 worth of fantastic finds including the 6’ shipping crate that is begging to be transformed into a linen closet for the farmhouse. I’m working on convincing my husband to let me whip up some coffee bean sack curtains for our back pantry. It’s a farmhouse; it’s meant to have burlap. But that’s a battle for another day.

Posted By: Jessica J. Crawford Behnkes Garden Blogger

One Of My Four Favorite Seasons ~ Fall

Pumpkin-DisplayI admit it, I love Maryland. You can drive to the beach or the mountains in 3 hours and you have 4 beautiful seasons. And while Winter can be challenging for me I really do love them all!

This week was the beginning of Fall. A time of cool nights, football, chili and of course decorating with all the colors of Autumn. Today I noticed the first leaves changing which for me means time to get my porch ready. This year since my grandson, Aaron is 2 1/2 and of course loves everything he sees I have decided to go all out.

I have not told my husband yet but I have ideas! Lots of ideas! That include, a visit to our church’s thrift shop for some old clothes, some straw and my husband’s old hat. Then I need pumpkins! Lots of pumpkins and of course some mums and pansies. I have been all over Pintrest saving everything I can find to create just the right look that will make Aaron giggle. Yup, Fall one of my very favorite seasons!

Posted by: Stephanie Fleming

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