Sunday, November 27, 2011

Book Review: How Carrots Won the Trojan War by Rebecca Rupp

Title: How Carrots Won the Trojan War: Curious (but True) Stories of Common Vegetables
Author: Rebecca Rupp
Publisher: Storey Publishing
Genre: Foodie, Non-fiction, History
384 pages
Get a copy: ;

SUMMARY: George Washington’s greatest enemy may have been a bowl of peas. That’s just one of the interesting highlights found in How Carrots Won the Trojan War, a rollicking, addictive discussion of the history, lore, cultural associations, and traditions associated with 23 popular vegetables. History buffs and vegetable lovers will find common ground while learning how beans beat back the Dark Ages and peppers won the Nobel Prize.
Author Rebecca Rupp brings her witty, well-crafted storytelling to the world of vegetables, offering a new perspective on their place in human history. Readers will discover why Roman gladiators were massaged with onion juice before battle, that cucumbers may be afraid of thunderstorms, and why soe 17th century turnips were considered degenerate.
Written for gardeners, foodies, and anyone curious about the history of their favorite veggies, How Carrots Won the Trojan War satisfies on every level. As recent selection of the History and Military Book Clubs, it clearly has appeal across a variety of genres. With generous portions of humor and intriguing little-known facts, readers are sure to love and endlessly retell these unique and flavorful stories.

REVIEW: So you think you don’t want to read a biography of vegetables? Think again! Rebecca Rupp’s book How Carrots Won the Trojan War is a totally fascinating read. Each of the 23 chapters is devoted to the place in history of one common vegetable, beginning with the sexy asparagus and ending with the turnip, a vegetable featured in many fairytales.
Dr. Rupp has done a tremendous amount of research into the history and agribusiness of these vegetables. Throughout history vegetables have been praised for their curative powers and the same vegetables cursed for their ability to cause death and disease. Some of these vegetables changed history and won wars.
Are you a trivia nut? Then this is a must-have for your library. For example, in ancient Pompeii, why were onions kept in brothels? Was Popeye wise to depend on spinach for his spur-of-the-moment strength? While the book is written on an adult level, with a good amount of chemical information about vegetables, the stories in the book can be shared with children who will love hearing that the cabbage on their plate at dinner was so loved by Abraham Lincoln that he requested it for his inauguration dinner. Or, that Jack of jack-o-lantern fame was banned from both heaven and hell and condemned to wander the earth forever with his lantern, originally made from a turnip, not a pumpkin.
If you want a book that is fun to read, easy to pick up and read a chapter, then put down until you have time to read again, I recommend How Carrots Won the Trojan War to you.
RATING: 4 healthy broccoli stalks!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Garden in Transition

The plants react more to the changes in daylight hours than they do to changes in temperature at this time of year.

This is  a picture of young cauliflower and broccoli plants. They will start producing edibles sometime in late January and continue until the weather gets too warm for the florets to cluster.

The next picture is of a late season sweet pepper. There are several but with the colder nights not all may be able to mature in time.

Young carrot shoots. They will be long, fat and ready to pull in March.

This is what horseradish looks like above ground. Below ground it is a root that when shredded or ground produces a fine flavor for seasoning sauces and meats.

Purple and red potatoes have begun to sprout. It takes longer than seems reasonable for them to produce good sized potatoes. I don't expect to have any to eat from this bed until late summer. I do have sweet potatoes that will be ready to pull in February.

This last picture is titled Hope Springs Eternal. Watermelon seeds have sprouted in the compost pile, apparently unaware that the heat produced in the compost is not indicative of the actual season.

Coming soon: strawberry plants!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Lots and lots of cauliflower

The broccoli didn't come up in the quantities that I planted. What the heck? So, I decided to buy plants to supplement the patchy seedlings that did sprout. Went to the usual nurseries - nada. It's still growing season in Houston so why do they think all we want to put in the ground are mums?

Drove across town to Wabash Feed Store and they had loads of small organic cauliflower plants in the exact variety I wanted - Snow Crown - but no broccoli. Well, I love cauliflower so I bought a flat and planted them Sunday afternoon and I've got to say it looks a whole lot better to see all that caulflower growing in the broccoli bed than empty dirt. Cross your fingers that they stay healthy and produce flowers. I'll share!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Book Review: Fine Cooking In Season

The Editors and Contributors of Fine Cooking Magazine have written an amazing book, Fine Cooking in Season. I am reluctant to call it a “cookbook” because it is so much more than just recipes. Included in this beautifully photographed book are instructions for how to select, store, prepare, use and preserve produce.

It is always best to use fresh produce, but often what is available at the market is not fresh. It has been picked, packed, trucked, shipped, warehoused and finally displayed with special lighting and temperature controls to tempt you into buying it “fresh.” The good cook needs to be schooled about what is in season right now, in this location. Buying fresh and local is the key to excellent dining.

There are a number of interesting trivia, such as how white asparagus is grown and whether it is worth the extra expense. What are ramps and why would you look for them? How is the heat level of varieties of chilies measured and which ones are the hottest?

The recipes in this book will make your mouth water. They are categorized by season, beginning with spring, so start with the current season when browsing the recipes. There is a recipe for every meal, from breakfast to midnight snack, all carefully tested to use produce at its peak of freshness.

I have tried a few of the recipes but it would take an entire year to cover the book. Hmmm. I may try that. Based on the recipes that I have tried, the Fine Cooking chefs have done an admirable job of developing and testing these delicious dishes. One of the outcomes of reading this book is a desire to grow vegetables and fruits that I have not tried in my garden before.  Next year: definitely more berries!
The Suburban Farmer Awards Fine Cooking in Season
Five Fresh Broccoli Spears!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Beware of Cheap Mulch!

Last year I had a sprinkler system installed. I also asked them to spread organic mulch on all beds. Since I was not the one ordering the mulch from a compost farm I had no way to be sure they delivered exactly what I ordered but I trusted the company. Big mistake. Organic mulch looks pretty much like any other mulch. On top of that, I believe I did not get composted mulch but instead I paid for organic composted mulch but got cheap dyed shredded bark, which has leeched all the nitrogen out of the soil and caused everything except the hardiest shrubs and trees to die. My vegetable garden has not recovered yet, even though I scraped the offending "mulch" off of the bed, turned the soil, and added my own compost. So sad!

For more information on bad mulch read this blog post by one of the best gardening bloggers, Brenda Beust Smith, "The Lazy Gardener."