Indigo Grafted Tomatoes

Ah, spring, the time when all garden fancier’s thoughts turn to planting. Here in the Great Northwet, the snows are receding, rains are nourishing the soil, and it’s time. Our planting beds, resting under straw all winter, are begging to be turned and filled.

If you’re a lover of great tomatoes, then fact is, you simply must be a grower of great tomatoes. Whether you occupy acres or square feet, there’s always room for your favorites and if, as for many of us space is an issue, tomatoes that bear well in a compact space are best yet. Which brings us back to the love of those little globes of wonder. Enter the Indigo grafted tomato.

First and foremost, one wonders, why grafted? The simple answer is, because it works. Grafting is neither new nor done as a novelty; it’s sound practice with a long history of success. The technique, as applied to these Indigo tomatoes, involves mating the root stock of one variety with the leafy stem of another.

My hands down favorite college horticulture course focused on grafting. That was back in the late ’70s and I hate to admit it, but even though our back yard apple tree is a grafted wonder offering four distinct varieties, I’d not thought much of the technique in terms of tomato plants until these Indigos came along. My Professor at the University of Washington, fondly referred to as Master Nishitani, explained that the Japanese had been successfully experimenting with grafting herbaceous edibles since the early 1900s. Still, grafted veggies been slow to catch on in this country, due predominantly to the supposed greater advantages offered by green revolution dependence on chemistry and standard hybridization techniques. Thankfully, a general return to sound environmental practices has lead naturally back to grafting as well

What grafting provides, in a sustainable and eco-sensitive manner, is the marriage of hearty rootstock to a bearing variety chosen for flavor and high yield. The rootstock variety offers a larger, more vigorous root system bred with greater resistance to fungi, bacteria and parasites; truly a godsend, given many tomato varieties susceptibility to such ills. Customized rootstock furthermore yields plants that can and will thrive in a myriad of environmental conditions, a gift any gardener can appreciate.

Indeed, and so it is with these wonderful little Indigos. Monica and I were blessed with several plants from our dear friends at Log House Plants. We picked them up and admired healthy, happy starts, but apparently nothing out of the ordinary, yet… It was after planting and those tenuous weeks of waiting for things to happen that we first noticed a difference; not just blossoms, but lots and lots of blossoms! As fruit began to form, these compact plants, topping out at about 2 1/2′ here in our little USDA Zone 7b garden, were absolutely loaded. I place purposeful emphasis on the word compact; regardless of the space you dedicate to tomatoes in your garden, these Indigos will provide enviable bounty and variety.

And such fruit! The Indigo varieties are named for that hue, naturally occurring in tomatoes, fully expressed in these little guys. Right away the colors just floored us; perfect little globes of deep purple-black, yellow-gold and seriously rich reds. Any honest lover of tomatoes will admit that color and shape have darn near as much to do with desirability as taste. These things were like candy as they matured, the colors becoming deeper and glossier as the days progressed. Photographing them wasn’t a chore, it was a treat.

Our favorite thus far is the Indigo Rose, a stunning blend that starts out purple-almost-black with brilliant green highlights, and matures into a deep purple-red with stunning crimson flesh. This first true purple tomato also contains anthocyanins, a potent antioxidant found in blueberries, raspberries and cranberries.

The real treat, of course, is the taste. These Indigo varieties are simply amazing. Plucked off the vine and popped into your mouth on a cool, quiet morning, this is the kind of rich, complex taste that forms lasting memories. cooking, preserving and eating these beauties is a joy, and therein lies the only other impetus you should require for growing your own Indigos. Variety is indeed the spice of life; these hardy, high-yield varieties offer the perfect home grown, home cooked solution.

Do yourselves a favor, and look these little guys up by name. Chances are a nursery near you will have them, and if not, you can find an online source to hook you up. If you have any problem finding them let us know and we’ll get you squared away.

So, type in the search terms ‘tomato’ and ‘green tomato’ up there on the little search box to the right; you’ll find lovely recipes featuring these wonderful Indigos, including a tomato and onion tart, chutney, relish, and some ideas on preserving your bounty as well.

Happy planting, harvesting, and cooking!

Frijoles Mexicanos

Del sent a comment on the prior post, to whit;
“Maybe you’ll know the answer here but I’m wondering about the use of black beans in a dish referred to as Tex-mex. No bean of that sort has ever crossed the door of any cook on the Tejano side of my family. I’m wondering if it’s a difference of where in Mexico (ones) family originated or if pinto beans were all they found when they got to Texas so that’s what became traditional.
One side of the Mexican heritage in my family came from San Luis Potosi in 1917 and the other side varies from those who came to Texas direct from the Canary Islands in the 1500s to those with origins in all parts of northern Mexico.
No black beans anywhere there or in the family owned small restaurants that we favor. We do see them some in the upscale places (when I get forced into going to them) and in the ones that feature seafood from the central and south gulf coast.
Thoughts?”

(Slightly edited for content, because I can)

It’s an interesting question, indeed. And what a sad, sad thing, to be without frijoles negros in ones life…

First off, I’ll say without hesitation that we’ve had black beans in a bunch of Tex Mex joints in Texas, in the same neck of the woods as Del; what does that say, other than that we apparently don’t go to the same places? Not much.

Next, let’s look at the regions where Del’s people came from.

In the dominant cuisine of the central Mexican El Bajio region where San Luis Potosi is located, the pinto is and was more common than black beans, by far.

And those Canary Island roots are another great melting pot cuisine. Influences of the native Guanche people have blended with the ruling Spanish, as well as the cuisines of African and Latin American slaves and workers. There are beans and bean dishes there, but it’s as likely to be Ropa Vieja made with garbanzos as it is any other dish or variety. So, no big black bean influence there, either, (Albeit there are ‘native’ varieties in Spain and Portugal).

That said, my rather extensive studies of Mexican cuisine indicate that, in fact, black beans are quite common in Mexico, but more so by far in the south than the north and on the east coast more than the west. If you read Mexican regional cookbooks by genuine experts, you’ll find both black and reds in profusion. That said, the regional variations in Mexican cookery are easily as complex as Italian, Spanish, or French cuisines, and anyone who says otherwise is just plain wrong.

Black beans were indeed brought north and integrated into Tex Mex cooking from the get go to some degree, (They’re also common in New Mexican, Caribbean, and Cuban cooking). For my mind, the predominance of the pinto or chili bean en El Norte is likely more driven by gringo taste than by Tex Mex cook’s preferences; the black bean is a relative new comer as a commonly legume en Los Estados Unidos; the reds have been around far longer.

Regardless, cuisines including Tex Mex are rarely static; they evolve and that is a good thing. To some degree, I question the term “authentic” quite often; I mean, technically, ‘Confit’ means meat cooked in oil, and only meat. As such, when Daniel Boulud features a ‘tomato confit’ as part of a dish, is that not authentic?

So, where do Black Turtle beans, as they’re formally known, (as well as Black Magic, Blackhawk, Domino, Nighthawk, Valentine, and Zorro), come from? After all, that’s the real crux of the debate, isn’t it? According to El Universidad Autónoma Agraria Antonio Narroas in Saltillo, Mexico, and as fate would have it, Phaseolus vulgaris were first cultivated around 7,000 years ago in… Central America and Mexico.

The bottom line to me is this; if you make it and you like it, you can call it whatever you like, and use any color bean that floats your boat.

Adios.

21st Century Kitchen

Hey, tear yourself away from your smart phone/tablet/laptop long enough for me to ask a question: In this sleekly modern, ever connected age, do you use any of those things when you cook?

I admit to being a bit of a tech geek. I don’t own all the newest and coolest, but I do have an iPhone 5 and a 3rd Gen iPad and I use them extensively. In fact, I’m writing this post on the iPad, as I do most of what shows up here on the blog. I use the iPad extensively for recipe creation too; most of what I post here is stuff I do without a lot of conscious thought or planning, so when it comes time to covert them to usable recipes for y’all, I find this technology fits well in the kitchen and is resilient enough to handle that environment. And another truth be told, the cameras on phone and pad are far better than the $1000 first digital camera I bought some 14 years ago, so most of the pics for this site are done on them as well.

The point is, if you have this stuff and you cook, there are some tools that may make sense for you and are definitely worth a look. Here are a few I like.

NOTE: I’m not gonna post links to the apps themselves, since y’all may not use the same OS as I do. Whether you’re using Apple, Android, Windows, or something else, you can probably find the noted apps for your device.

Recipe Apps:
No matter how good the cook, Almost all of us use recipes regularly; even Mike Simon delves into his venerable copy of James Beard’s American Cookery for inspiration, as do I. Recipe apps can be a real help when you get the germ of an idea that needs fleshing out. I’d say first and foremost that the greatest resource in this. Regard is a simple Google search; with that, you’ll get links to the others in spades. So, that said, do you need any others? Probably not, but still I enjoy and use Big Oven, AllRecipes and Key Ingredient from time to time; they’re nice if you’re looking up, say, strawberry rhubarb pie and want to see some variations on the theme in condensed form. And doing that is completely kosher, by the way; see, Stevie Ray Vaughan really did cop licks from Albert King, and then made them his own, K? The other very useful function within these apps is the ability to accurately scale recipes up or down to your needs; the conversions aren’t always foolproof, but they’ll get you close enough for fine tuning.

Cooking Reference Apps:
How about al those handy apps telling you ow to do stuff? I think they do come in handy and I use several. Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio and Bread Baking Basics are two that provide simple, concise information in a very usable format. How To Cook Everything also may come in handy; resources like this can be a help when you’re looking for, as a for instance, alternative methods. for instance, if you always boil root vegetables, then you might look into roasting for a different take on favorite ingredients, things like that.

Shopping Apps:
Boy, are there a ton of shopping list apps out there, and let me tell you, a whole bunch of them are crap! I’ve tried many of these, so let e save you some time and energy; Grocery IQ is a very nice shopping list app that can sync to multiple devices, check your local store for deals, and post coupons and specials as you shop. Key Ring is a nice alternative to carrying all those annoying little plastic tags around, if you subscribe to various store’s shopper programs. Buycott, recently reviewed here, is an excellent resource for conscientious shopping. And finally Bakodo is the most robust bar code scanner that can come in handy for checking prices and comparative shopping.

General Cooking Utility Apps:
Now here’s a category where there is indeed a whole bunch of useless crap out there! Again, Ive slaved my way through the chaff to present only the wholesome kernels for y’all. Cooking offers a very useful batch of yields and alternatives for a myriad of ingredients, and some common conversions. KitchenUnits takes conversion to the next level, offering serious flexibility for your recipe tweaking. And finally, Timer+ is a very flexible, multi-source timer that’ll let you keep track of everything on one simple panel.

Cookbook Apps:
Now here’s a tough nut to crack; can and should a tablet or phone replace the venerable cookbook? My firm, unwavering answer is, yes and no. If you’re anything like us, some cookbooks are like art texts; they’re meant to be big, beautiful, almost coffee table tomes you want to feel the weight of as you revel at mouthwatering photos. No app will or cold ever replace those. On the other hand, The Joy of Cooking, American Cookery, Charcuterie, Julia Child, Harold McGee, or Claudia Roden are working titles, meant to be used as a textbook is in school; having those quick at hand, easily searchable, and custom printable is most worthwhile, and it helps your precious print copies last longer too!

Note and Writing Apps:
For the most part, almost every OS has a simple note taking app that will work fine for you. I use the native Apple app for quick ideas and a more sophisticated writing app for recipes and draft posts. I’ve tried several of the latter, and found iA Writer the best for my needs; it lets you title, search and print with ease, and that comes in very handy when you’re working up something good you don’t want to lose track of. If you don’t have a good native note app, there are plenty out there for your OS, guaranteed.

Truthfully, I’ve used dozens of apps for many moons now, and held off on writing this until I felt I had a solid suite of useful applications. Some or all of these may be of use to you, as they have been for me; and of course, if you have or find some thing cool, you just make sure you share it with the rest of us, hear?

It’s Hatch Time!

It’s a bit earlier than usual, but the bottom line is that nature does as she sees fit. It’s Hatch Chile time, folks. If you’re not familiar, you need to be. One thing I miss already about not living down in the southwest – When the season hits and you go to the store, you’re greeted by the roar of chile roasters in the parking lot, and that heavenly smell wafting toward you from therein…

The Hatch Chile is the Grandfather of the well known Anaheim Chile. That said, the two really are apples and oranges. While Anaheims are mild, relatively nondescript long, green chiles, Hatches are full of flavor and attitude.

I know New Mexicans will bristle at this next paragraph, buuuuut…. There is no such variety as a Hatch. They are a New Mexico variety and the Hatch itself is so named because that’s where it is grown. In this regard, Hatch, New Mexico,at be looked at as is the Champagne region of France; if you want a Hatch chile, you gotta get the, from Hatch, ’cause anything else is just a wanna-be. There is something to the climate and soil that makes them what they are, and the are simply no substitutes.

Hatches come in everything from mild to fire breathing. Usually, stores will separate them into at least hot or mild; if they don’t, you pays your money and you takes your chances. If you roast, peel, devein and deseed them you’ll be fine, but it’s always a good idea to sample a bite from the bottom for heat level.

Hatches start out green, and most get sold and cooked with that way. If they mature, they turn fire engine red, as you may have seen on the colorful ristras of chiles that come from the same town.

Hatches are the heartbeat of anything green chile as far as we’re concerned, but especially for true green chili and enchilada sauce.

If I can find them in the grocery in the farthest northern city in the continental U.S., which I did today, you should be able to as well. Look for shiny, firm chiles with no wrinkles, lesions or soft spots when you shop.

You can use them right away, but you’ll want to put some away for the rest of the year just as we do, I’m sure. You can dry, pickle, or can Hatches if you like; some folks make chile sauce and pressure can that. I prefer to freeze these guys, so I roast, vacuum seal and freeze around 20 pounds a year and that usually does the trick. I process them in bags of about 6 to 8 chiles per, which is a good base for sauces and whatnot for a family of four or so. If you don’t have a vacuum sealer, but them in ziplock freezer bags and suck as much air out as you can to help avoid freezer burn; they’ll easily last 6+ months in a good, cold freezer.

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For more on canning, check out this post.

For roasting and drying, check out this one.

And for some recipe ideas, go here and here as well.

Go get ’em!

E & M