Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Nightshade Season

My favorite crops to grow and eat are members of the nightshade family (Solanaceae). This family includes tomatoes, tomatillos, potatoes, eggplants, and, most of all, chili peppers. Chilies fascinate me because they seemed to have evolved their spice as a way to deter mammalian frugivory and encourage consumption and seed dispersal by birds, who do not detect the heat. Some mammals, like myself, are not as easily deterred by the peppers' defenses and like to push their limits of capsacium tolerance. I have learned that one must be careful with hot chillies such as habaneros, however, after simulating the effect of pepper spray by cooking them in the apartment.

Nightshades are primarily tropical plants and it is just warm enough for them to grow here. A few of our peppers were struggling for a while, but the latest heat wave seems to have suited them.

We received a few tomatillo starts from our CSA farm and they have taken off in our garden.

They resemble tomato plants but are a bit sturdier.

The fruits grow surrounded by a husk that is formed by the sepals of the flower. When the husk starts peeling away, it is time to pick the fruit! This is the first time I have tried to grow tomatillos and I will definitely plant them again.

After months of waiting, I finally harvested a small bunch of nightshades from our garden. I picked several sungold tomatoes, purple and green tomatillos, and a yellow mushroom pepper. As more fruits ripen, I plan to cook and blend the beauties into salsas which I will freeze and use for enchiladas to keep us warm during the winter.

In other food news, Sarah and I pickled our first cucumbers last week. We picked several pickling cucumbers that were overflowing from Fred's garden.

We filled the jars with brine and gave them all a nice hot water bath. This was our first attempt to pickle cucumbers, so we will open them in a few months and hope for the best.


NW Nature Nut said...

You comment about spicy habaneros reminded me of an incident years ago. I thought I'd pickle some habaneros and I put them in boiling water to blanche them and yowza(!!) that was some spicy steam and it filled the house with tear producing air. Yikes! Needless to say I have never done that again. I'll be curious to see how your pickles turn out. Mine have always been soft and not very crisp. Keep us posted!

Greta said...

hey max i hope i didn't accidentally eat any of your little tomoatos when i was over and grandma and grandpa's last friday...you guys worked hard for those!!