We have a zucchini plant in our garden this year. Just one, as we have learned from years past that zucchini quickly becomes overwhelming. Fried zucchini blossoms are one of our favorite summer treats, and one of the most cost-effective ways to get our hands on them is to plant our own zucchini plant.
Apparently, though, there is something mysterious in our soil because that one zucchini plant has grown to monstrous proportions. It’s the tomacco of zucchini plants – each leaf is the size of a cocktail table.
We are diligent about seeking out the zucchini and picking them when they’re either still flowers or at a reasonable size, and we’ve been eating a lot of zucchini fritters and zucchini bread this summer. However, occasionally one will escape our notice, hiding under a massive leaf, until one day we discover this Godzilla-zucchini, and have to figure out what to do with it. They’re more watery and less flavorful than the little ones, and the seeds are enormous, too.
Staring at these enormous zucchini this weekend, I was struck with inspiration. What do you do with any excess vegetables? Make soup. But since it is July, and it is going to be 101 degrees at my house tomorrow, chilled soup is the game.
I will admit the traffic sucks. And the home prices are insane. And yes, we have earthquakes. And fires. And floods. But I can’t escape the feeling that living in Southern California is like having won the lottery. With the fruits and flowers, the birds and the animals – I do believe that it’s not too far from living in the Garden of Eden. And this month’s bounty has been loquats.
If you don’t have a backyard tree, you may never have had a loquat. They’re a fruit that’s related to the quince and the apple (both of which we’ve planted in our yard) that originated in China. They are small ( about the size of a large walnut), orange, and juicy, with large (but very pretty) seeds. And when your loquat tree is bearing, you have a wealth of loquats. (If you can beat the squirrels to them.)
It’s rare to see loquats in the market — the bruise extraordinarily easily – but if you’re lucky enough to have a tree (or a neighbor with a tree, or a friend with a tree) they’re also extraordinarily easy to grow. The flavor isn’t remarkable but is nice — a good balance of sweetness and acidity with a lot of juice. They’re easy to peel (although the peels are also edible) and although the ratio of fruit to pit is lower than the ideal, the pits are easy to remove. They’re good for eating out of hand, or if you have some patience to peel and pit, it’s worth cooking with them too.
When faced with a bounty of loquats, I turned for ideas to my friend Erika Penzer Kerekes of In Erika’s Kitchen, who is a loquat queen. She advised jam, but also said she had made a very good loquat crisp recently. I wasn’t up for canning, but the following crumble was short work (if less than perfectly photogenic) and really showed off the flavor balance and juiciness of this great backyard treasure.
Because I can be QUITE contrary, and I have a garden!
Ken and I have a division of responsibilities in our house — I reign in the kitchen, and the yard is his demesne. He works hard — making multiple trips to the hardware store each weekend, setting up an elaborate irrigation system, and planting a fledgling orchard. He even feeds the birds. But sometimes our territories overlap. After years of apartment living, and planting in pots (we still have a potted herb garden that lives on the deck near the kitchen, and a couple of potted citrus trees), we finally have a kitchen garden to grow vegetables in, and I couldn’t be more excited.
We could have built a raised bed ourselves from untreated lumber, but with two more than full time jobs, we decided to just order a kit from the Square Foot Garden Foundation. It’s Amish-made and required no tools for assembly. We filled it with a mixture of peat moss, vermiculite, and compost from the bin thoughtfully left behind by the previous owners of Stratford House.
Now’s the fun part — planting. We’ve already got peppers, eggplant and fennel, thanks to a trip to the local nursery, artichokes grown from seed (the only success of our pathetic seed starts this winter), and a few tomato plants I snagged at Tomatomania. (Bedouin, Marmara and Sungold. I think we might need more tomatoes. I really love homegrown tomatoes).
To help our garden grow, we thought we’d do a little insect management. We bought this mason bee house, hoping to attract some of the pollinators. Mason bees don’t sting or swarm, so they’re safe with kids and don’t violate local zoning regulations, but they are active pollinators and can really boost your garden’s productivity.
To keep unwanted bugs at bay (and we get a lot of them — there’s a lake near our house, so the mosquitoes abound) we hung this bat box, which my mother in law thoughtfully gave us when we lived in a studio apartment in Manhattan. It’s finally getting some use (though we haven’t seen bats yet).
Any suggestions as to what else we should plant? What are your garden growing experiences? Any tips and tricks for us novice farmers?
One of the things that Ken and I were most excited about when we bought our house was the prospects of a garden. We had managed to make do for years with the tiny terraces in our apartments — we have a dwarf Meyer Lemon tree, a Bearss Lime, and a thriving herb garden. But the possibilities of growing things for ourselves was intoxicating. We were overjoyed to discover the delights already in the offing — ornamental plums (too sour to eat, but good for jam), peach trees, a pomegranate tree, and my favorite, the pineapple guava, which I recognized because it’s identical to the spreading one growing in my grandparents’ back yard.
A garden, it turns out, is a work in progress. We put in blueberry bushes and raspberry canes, planted a second pomegranate tree, and ordered greengage plum, quince and persimmon to plant this winter. Of course, the plants we added will take a few years to bear fruit. We moved in too late for the plums, the peaches dropped all their fruit before it was ripe, and the pomegranate turned out to be non-bearing. But we’ll still have a bumper crop of Meyer lemons this winter, and the pineapple guava did not disappoint.
Pineapple Guava, or Feijoa, is a native of Brazil. The tree sports dark green and silver leaves, with dark red fuzzy blossoms that bloom in the Spring in Southern California. This fall, the tree has been laden with the fruit — ovoid spheres of a pale dusky green tipped with the remains of the blossoms. We’ve had enough that both us and the squirrels have been satisfied.
I eat them the way my grandfather taught me — splitting the skin with my thumbnail, then sucking out the perfumey, sweet tart jellied center and scraping out the grainy flesh with my teeth. When I’m being more polite, I use a knife and a spoon. The flavor is reminiscent of a ripe pineapple, with the balance of sweet and tart, but with a more aromatic edge and a texture closer to guava.
We’ve been pretty happy eating them plain — they’re that good. But if you’ve got any feijoa recipes, I’d love to hear them!
Based in Los Angeles, the Domestic Front is the home of Kate, a working mom who is low on time but high on life. I hope this site helps you find ways to make your life richer, easier, more beautiful and more delicious. You can read more about me and the site here and feel free to email me with any questions or feedback!