Archive for the ‘Vegetables’ Category

Romanesco: My favorite Autumnal Fractal Fare.

Posted by Mark Wessel on November 28th, 2013  •  Comments Off on Romanesco: My favorite Autumnal Fractal Fare.

Romanesco Cauliflower

Romanesco Cauliflower

“We thought it was kind of handy, take a trip and never leave the farm”. Those were the words that popped into my mind after I harvested my first head of Romanesco cauliflower. It may not be quite the same trip that Mr. Stafford is referring to in the song “The Wildwood Weed”, but what a long strange trip I have been on with this freakish vegetable.

“Cauliflower on acid” is how one garden described this fractal fare in the Fedco Seed Catalog. Take care not to gaze too deeply or else you may be sucked into its infinity. The three dimensional self-similar patterning creating a mathematically correct recursive helical arrangement of cones can take you to the edge and beyond.

roman close

Romanesco sucking you in.

 All the psychedelia aside, Romanesco is more than just eye candy. It is a lovely alternative to the many more common cole crops on our autumn table. Mild earthy flavors with nutty overtones set Romanesco apart from standard cauliflower. Some people feel its flavor is a cross between broccoli and cauliflower. I do not find this to be the case.

 Romanesco can be used in any recipe calling for standard cauliflower.  It is fine for cream soups and gratins, but I prefer to use recipes that keep the florets in tact for eye appeal.

Fasciation as flower head matured.

Fasciation as flower head matured.

Several seed catalogs and many gardeners refer too Romanesco as Broccoli. It is actually a cauliflower. Kale, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Collards, Broccoli and cauliflower all belong to the species Brassica oleracea. Kale and Collards most resemble the wild relative. Within the species there are seven cultivar groups. Broccoli has been placed in the Italica group and Romanesco in the Botrytis group along with cauliflower and broccoflower. Recent DNA evidence also places Romanesco into the Botrytis group. The best evidence resides in its growth habit. It looks like cauliflower.

romanesco flowering

Bolting Romanesco.

In the Ohio River Valley, Romanesco is best grown as a fall crop. It needs to mature in cooler weather to produce large tight heads. Spring plantings maturing into the warmer temperatures of summer often form small loose heads and bolt prematurely.

Seeds are sown late May to early June into plug trays, moved to 3” pots  and finally  moved into the garden in late July.

roman rossette

Broken yardstick across rosette after harvest.

Romanesco is a heavy feeder. Without ample fertility to promote luxurious  growth, small or no heading will occur. A non-brassica green manure crop tilled in several weeks    prior to planting is very beneficial.



Although the recent 14 degree weather put an end to this years Romanesco season, the 2014 seed catalogs have started arriving just in time to start planning for next years freakish fall fractal fare.




Posted in : Vegetables  •  Tags: ,

Heirloom Tomato Plant Sale and Garden Mart: Trinity Episcopal Church Covington.

Posted by Mark Wessel on May 10th, 2013  •  Comments Off on Heirloom Tomato Plant Sale and Garden Mart: Trinity Episcopal Church Covington.


Friday May 10th and Saturday May 11th one of the finest selection of Heirloom tomato plants will be on sale at the annual Garden Mart at Trinity Episcopal Church in Covington Ky.

Amy Powell, co-owner of Atwood Village Family Farm, will be offering 70 varieties of heirloom tomatoes. Most are tried and true heirlooms selected for superior flavor and performance. Amy has grown hundreds of varieties over the years and has few peers in our area with her knowledge and experience. In addition to many of her favorites there will be several varieties offered for the first time.

The Heirloom Tomato

You can read about many of the selections in Amy Goldman’s fabulous book, The Heirloom Tomato.


The Garden Mart will also have vendors selling perennials, annuals, herbs and many other great gift and garden products.

Posted in : Uncategorized, Vegetables  •  Tags:

Would you eat this? Two cabbages from the Root Cellar.

Posted by Mark Wessel on April 18th, 2013  •  Comments Off on Would you eat this? Two cabbages from the Root Cellar.

Napa Cabbage straight from the cellar.

To many of my readers this may look as appetizing as a six month old crock of Kimchi unearthed in the Korean hillsides.In this age of lacto-fermentation some of you may truly understand what I am talking about. This picture is not from a fermentation vessel or any other well controlled environment. This ball of slime is straight from the fungal and bacterial playground I call my root cellar. The root cellar is actually our garage which is built into the side of the hill. The humidity levels stay incredibly high and the temperature never drops below freezing.

Napa peeled of rotten layers.

This is a Napa cabbage which I picked in November 2012. Who would have thought such a tender leafy vegetable would last this long. I should not be too surprised. When I store them in the refrigerator, they never seem to go bad. Just peel a few layers off and good as new.

Storage #4 before

The other cabbage in the root cellar is the more traditional european cabbage. This variety was specifically bred for storage. It was also picked in november 2012 and still has many months left in the tank. They are solid as rocks, with not even a hint of space between the layers. In our two person family, one goes a long way.

Storage #4 peeled

Even though this is the time to start planting early season cabbage, with six still in storage I do have my reservations about adding to the cabbage load. However, the storage cabbage has lost a bit of its appeal and something fresher may be in order.

Storage #4 sliced.

I raised both cabbages from seed. The Storage #4 was started in late may and planted in the garden in July. The napa cabbage, Rubicon, was started in late july and planted in early September. Both were purchase from Johnny’s Seeds.

Napa from storage starting to bolt or flower.

Posted in : Vegetables  •  Tags: , ,

Tale of Two Turnips

Posted by Mark Wessel on December 2nd, 2011  •  Comments Off on Tale of Two Turnips

Hakurei and Scarlet Queen Red Stems

Hakurei and Scarlet Queen Red Stems

For centuries the turnip has provided sustenance for peasants and livestock, often thwarting starvation in the lean winter months. What does the lowly turnip get in exchange? It hardly garners second-rate status. Times are a changing. Newer varieties are raising are the bar. Two Varieties, Hakurei and Scarlet Queen Red Stems, stand at the top of my list.

Hakurei is a small white turnip with short tops. The pure white flesh has a delicate sweetness and smooth texture. Hakurei, a quick maturing variety, is excellent for spring and fall sowings. The skin is nearly non-existent and doesn’t require peeling like some of the older varieties. As they age or get frosted, some of the smoothness transitions into a crispy texture. The short hairless greens are fine when picked young, but toughen quickly.


The majority of my Hakurei crop is eaten raw, often not making it out of the garden. If you are a radish lover and haven’t tried raw turnips, you should. A raw Hakurei is like a radish but with much more substance and refinement.

Scarlet Queen Red Stems is bright red turnip with tall leafy stems. The crisp white flesh, often splashed with red, has a subtle sweetness and a bit of spice from the skin. It may be necessary to peel the larger sized turnips.

Scarlet Queen Red Stems cross section.

The tall tender hairless foliage with thick succulent red stems is why Scarlet Queen stands out from the other varieties. The mild flavor and excellent cooked texture makes this one of our favorite greens. Good for either spring or fall sowings, the greens hold much better when maturing into the cool weather of autumn.

Scarlet Queen Red Stems

Both varieties are best eaten when two to three inches across. Successive sowings every few weeks will ensure a steady supply of tender roots.

So don’t look down on the turnip. This multi-use crop could keep you from starving in the leaner months and taste good at the same time.

Posted in : Vegetables  • 

Winter Luxury Pie Pumpkin

Posted by Mark Wessel on November 24th, 2011  •  Comments Off on Winter Luxury Pie Pumpkin

Winter Luxury Pie

Sorry Virginia, there is no pumpkin in your pie today. Most of the canned pumpkin filling on the market is from another type of winter squash. Traditional pumpkins, the ones we carve at Halloween, belong to the species Cucurbita pepo. You would end up with a bland and watery pie if you used the pulp from this group. Other members of this species include Zucchini, Acorn Squash and Delicata.

Libby’s uses a variety name Dickinson, which is a different species — Cucurbita moschata. This group includes Butternut and Cushaw and Long Island Cheese.

Winter Luxury Pie Note the long stem.

The fact is many types of winter squash will make great pumpkin pie filling. If you have a Butternut or Buttercup or Blue Hubbard, bake them, remove the pulp and proceed with your favorite recipe. It is fun to make your own. It is even more rewarding if you have grown your own. Here is the ironic twist of the whole process; canned filling is nearly as good.

Winter Luxury Pie Russet netting

There is one pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo) that stands above all others in quality of flesh — Winter Luxury Pie.  It is a beautiful small pumpkin with a long handle and fine russet netting over an orange base.

Winter Luxury Pie Starting to dehydrate.

The one flaw with Winter Luxury Pie is short storage life. By the time Thanksgiving and Christmas arrive, this pumpkin has started to shrivel. For this reason, we cook them according to the directions below. From there, we freeze the pulp in two-cup increments. So if you want a pie with real pumpkin filling, grow this beauty.

The Complete Squash

Amy Goldman describes the Winter Luxury Pie pumpkin in her book,

“The Complete Squash,” excerpted below:

Winter Luxury Pie is my favorite orange pumpkin, and were she not the finest pie stock in the land, she still would be a knockout. That outrageous trophy fruit stalk is the perfect counterpoint to her modest and petite curvaceous form. Though it breaks my heart to cut one open, I know the flavor will be as fabulous as her appearance.

Winter Luxury Pie was introduced to the general public in 1893 by Johnson & Stokes of Philadelphia. This special strain, apparently developed by an anonymous pumpkin farmer, was similar in many respects (even down to the occasional warts) to the still popular Sugar Pumpkin. By 1917, brothers Ray W. and Edward E. Gill, of the Gill Brothers Seed Company, Portland, Oregon, had bred Winter Luxury Pie up in size. Famed for breeding such wonders as the Golden Delicious squash on their own farmers, Ray and Edward knew a thing or two about pumpkins: “Simply cook [Winter Luxury Pie] done and it is ready for use in making pies.”

Winter Luxury Pie makes the smoothest and most velvety pumpkin pie I’ve ever had. When cut into a wedge on a plate, it holds its shape, color, and flavor long after the competition has keeled over and died. Ray and Edward didn’t spell it out for you, so I will. Simply “cook it done” this way:

1. Winter Luxury Pie pumpkin should be baked whole, pierced for a few tiny vent holes, stem trimmed, at 350*F until it “slumps” and softens after an hour or so. If you wish, you can cut a lid, remove the gunk and seeds, and replace the lid loosely before baking (this method yields a drier pie).

2. The cooked pumpkin is hotter than hot potatoes: Be careful when you cut out or removed the lid. Seeds and strings, if left inside, come out easily. Take a large spoon and simply scoop the pumpkin out like ice cream. The flesh peels away from the desiccated rind without a shudder and leaves it flat.

3. Puree the flesh in a blender, adding liquid if needed. A 5-pound pumpkin yields approximately 2 1/2 pounds or 4 cups of pulp, enough for two pies.

4. Insert your favorite pie recipe here.

Cut Winter Luxury

Posted in : Vegetables  • 

Heirloom Tomato Plant Sale

Posted by Mark Wessel on May 6th, 2011  •  Comments Off on Heirloom Tomato Plant Sale

Heirloom tomato fans take notice. The finest selection of heirloom tomato plants in the Cincinnati area will be available for purchase this weekend. Amy and Tony Powell of Atwood Village Family Farm will have their beautifully raised plants at several locations.

The main sale is this weekend, May 6th and 7th at the Trinity Episcopal Garden Mart, in Covington KY. They will also be selling plants at the Bellevue KY Farmers Market on Saturdays.

Amy became interested in heirlooms the old fashioned way, her Granny grew them and saved seeds. A display of heirloom tomatoes at the Kentucky State Fair peaked their interest even further. From this point, things just kind of snowballed. They went from sharing plants with a few select friends to highly anticipated public sales.

Kellogs Breakfast

Several of Granny’s tomato varieties will be available. Big Yellow, Orange and my favorite Yellow-Red Butt will be for sale. All colors and shapes are represented in their list.  Offering tomatoes with excellent eating qualities has always been their goal.

They will also have several tomato varieties, which I refer to as Newlooms. Newlooms are recent introductions to the tomato world, which are sure to be favorite heirlooms in several decades.

Newloom Pink Berkley Tie-Dye

The quality and health of their plants are also excellent. Amy goes to great lengths to keep her plants happy and stress free.

The recent cold and rainy weather is making garden preparation very difficult. This doesn’t mean you should not go out this weekend and get your plants. The selection will never be better. And when you are shopping, tell them Wessel sent me.

Posted in : Vegetables  •