Miriam's Garden: Green onions are coming up while beets are taking their time

Onions are looking good in my garden, now that the heat’s arrived. So are the beets, although they’ve struggled some in the damp and cold. They’re on an upward (and underground) trajectory, with roots fattening and magenta-ribbed leaves growing.

During this strange and wonderful spring, anything put in as a plant, like my five rows of onions, has thrived, mostly. Onions in the lower beds look terrific; but in the middle bed, where mostly red onions are, things are a touch spotty. Some of these don’t seem to be suited to our changeable climate. 

I picked the first green onions (scallions) last week. I plant onions close together, so that I can have them at all stages. Small and slender, knobby and crisp and as big, fat bulbs. Plucking the ones in between allows the others to spread out.

When onions get close to harvest, the tops fall over. That’s what I’m told anyway, but mine never seem to.

What I do is gently bend the tops, keeping the energy focused in the bulb. I’ve found that when onions are ready, you can pull them out with no resistance; they just let go.

Then I hang them over the garden fence to dry for a day, or pile them on newspapers to cure in the sun, but filtered sun that is not too bright. I then arrange them in single layers in perforated trays and up they go into the barn to dry. With luck, I won’t have to buy onions until fall. With more luck, they’d get up those steep stairs by themselves.

My onions come from Dixondale Farms in Texas. They’re plants, field-grown this year, as opposed to onion sets, which are last year’s onions. In my garden, sets tend to flower quickly, instead of working to make bulbs.

With onion plants, there’s more variety. This year I put in lots of sweets, including ‘Ailsa Craig,’ ‘Sierra Blanca,’ ‘Walla-Walla’ — they’re on a tear. Reds include ‘Red River,’ which has not been tolerant of the damp soil, plus a red cippoline and ‘Red Torpedo,’ an elongated Italian type.

The beets are taking their time. I’m still waiting on my baby beets, but beets are fine and fresh at farmers markets. Everyone has struggled with early crops this season, so what you buy might have been grown in a hoop house.

When I think beets, I think borscht. It was one of my late father’s favorite soups, always chilled and served with cold sour cream and a hot boiled potato. So this soup’s for him. Even as he struggled with his health last October, he loved to read and think about food.

The other amazing occurrence in the garden is the return of the 17-year cicadas. Yes, they’re back, hatching out, leaving their strange exoskeletons all over the Jerusalem artichokes and around the willow tree.

Our elkhound loves them. Me, I could wait another 17 years until I experience them again. 

Miriam Rubin: mmmrubin@gmail.com or on Twitter @mmmrubin.


Save a tomato, heal a vet

The ‘Ivan’ tomato, a new inductee to the Slow Foods Ark of Taste, is a family heirloom from Ashland, Mo. Almost lost, it was saved by Jerry Scheurenberg, a Vietnam vet suffering from PTSD. His doctor’s orders were to do something for his soul, and gardening was healing. From six seeds given to him by his cousin Ivan, he grew his family’s tomato, naming it the ‘Ivan,’ and sold plants at a local farmers market. He invited fellow vets to work with him and live on his farm, which became an informal healing center.

Mr. Scheurenberg died in 2013, and the prolific tall tomato nearly went with him, almost lost once again. A laid-off college professor, Laura Flacks-Narrol, who loved the ‘Ivan,’ connected with his family. She made it her mission to save the tomato. With friends, Ms. Flacks-Narrol formed the Ivan Tomato Rescue Project. Ten percent of the proceeds go to help Mr. Scheurenberg’s daughter create an agricultural therapy center for those with PTSD on her father’s farm.

Seeds are sold at VictoryGardeners.com, and cost $5 for one packet and $7 for two.


Scallion Pancakes with Spicy Dipping Sauce

PG tested

Pancakes are a great way to use green onions from the garden. You can serve them hot from the skillet with a cold beer or white wine.

1 cup all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon coarse salt

1 large egg

¾ cup cold water, plus more as needed

2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

½ cup finely chopped scallions, white and green

1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus more as needed

2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds

In medium bowl, mix flour and salt with a fork. Beat egg in another bowl, whisk in water and sesame oil. Gradually add egg mixture to flour, stirring with fork until batter is smooth. It should be the consistency of heavy cream. If too thick, add more water, ½ tablespoon at a time (I added about 2 tablespoons). Stir in scallions.

Heat 7- to 8-inch (across the top) heavy skillet over medium heat until hot enough to sizzle a drop of water. Add vegetable oil and swirl pan to cover evenly.

Over medium-low heat, add scant ⅓ cup batter with one hand while tipping and turning pan with other hand, so batter covers the surface, making a thin pancake. Sprinkle with about ½ teaspoon toasted sesame seeds.

Cook until bottom is lightly browned and top is set, about 2 minutes. Turn and cook 2 more minutes, until golden. Slide onto plate.

Repeat with remaining batter, adding oil, 1 teaspoon at a time, as needed. Cut pancakes into quarters and serve hot with dipping sauce.

Makes about 4 to 5 pancakes.

Spicy Dipping Sauce

Mix ⅓ cup soy sauce or tamari, 2 tablespoons Chinese black vinegar or balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons cold water, and ¼ teaspoon chili oil.

— Adapted from “Whole World Vegetarian” by Marie Simmons (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; May 10, 2016; $23)


PG tested

Borscht can be hot and include meat and cabbage, or it can be cold and pretty much just have beets and the water they were cooked in. In the cold version, the beets are punched up with sweet-and-sour notes from lemon and sugar. My father loved cold borsht with a hot boiled potato and plenty of sour cream, as in the old-style delis in Detroit or New York City.

5 to 6 medium-small beets (1½ pounds), trimmed, peeled and quartered

4 cups water

3 to 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Sour cream, hot boiled baby potatoes for serving (optional)

Place beets and water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer 35 to 45 minutes, or until tender.

With slotted spoon, carefully transfer beets to a container, cool slightly and cover. Pour beet broth into another container, cool slightly, cover and refrigerate both 4 hours or overnight.

To finish the soup, pulse beets in a food processor until chopped, with big pieces and small — do not puree. Add to the chilled beet broth. Stir in lemon juice, sugar and salt until dissolved. Taste; add more lemon or sugar, if desired. Serve immediately or cover and chill until ready to serve, with sour cream and a boiled potato, if you like.

Makes 4 servings.

— Miriam Rubin


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