For is National Garden Mail Order Month. This is news to me, although I shouldn't b surprised because, at this time of year, the seed companies take advantage of us indoor-bound gardeners and torture us by sending copious amounts of glossy, colorful seed catalogs. To call them 'seed catalogs' doesn't really suffice - the pictures are so saturated with color that you can practically taste the fruits and vegetables leaping off the pages at you. Last year's Seed Savers Exchange Catalog I was tempted to frame the cover because the gorgeous variegated eggplants and yellow cherry tomatoes next to each other created such a striking composition that I considered it art. The pictures are so perfect that I have to hide them from my own vegetable garden so that my plants don't get a complex. (Everything is airbrushed to perfection that a real garden can hardly compete).
But, what some seed companies forget is that down here, we can still grow a lot of delicious things into January, and through the winter. There are many types of vegetables that can grow through a south Louisiana winter, but one that requires the least amount of maintenance is the extremely humble cabbage. Another, that can only be grown in our climate starting in the cooler months, is the potato.
I always thought cabbages were useless. Any vegetable that, in its most common form, is covered in mayonnaise and sliced so thin you can hardly tell what it is, has lost its identity. When I was growing up, I never connected the vegetable in coleslaw was the same that appeared on the table on St Patrick's day with corned beef, stewed, salty, rich and melt-in-your-mouth soft.
Cabbage is on e of the easiest to grow in the brassica family (Brussels sprouts, broccoli, collards, Kale). It requires little maintenance, can be coaxed into growing in part shade, and tolerates heat and humidity better than its other family members, allowing it to be planted early in September and harvested in late winter and spring, even into May. But the way I like to cook it suits the cooler temperatures: stewed until it is tender and warm, or made with potatoes and into a traditional Irish dish called Colcannon.
For potatoes, I have a little less space to work with than I used to, so I'm experimenting with a new product from one of those afore-mentioned catalogs. The company is called Peaceful Valley (groworganic.com) and they sell a product called a smart pot. Here is a useful video on how to plant potatoes in it (w.groworganic.com/smart-pot-30-gal-tan.html). It's a reusable, porous fabric container that can be placed anywhere you have sun. Fill it with a mix of compost and potting soil and you have a perfect, airy medium for growing tubers. You can buy seed stock from the same company (peaceful valley) or simply buy organic potatoes from the grocery store (non-organic potatoes are usually sprayed with a growth inhibitor so that they won't sprout).
Cut each potato in half and let the cut pieces air out for a few days. This protects the potatoes from soilborne disease because the cut part forms a callous that acts as a barrier.
Plant each piece six inches deep, and water well. Once the plant begins to grow, continue mounding soil above the roots, while allowing six inches of the plant to remain above the ground. Depending on the variety of potato - I like Yukon God, because they are delicious and they grow fast - the tubers will be ready for harvest in as little as 55 days. You can steal a few potatoes from the plant as a test to see how big they are along to way, to know when to harvest. Once the potatoes are large enough to eat, the best way to harvest is to use your hands so that no potatoes are damaged. If that's not an option, simply dig deep around the plant and carefully uproot the plant. If you do go with a smart pot, the best part is that, to harvest, you simply dump out the contents of your pot to expose all of your potatoes!
If I plant my potatoes by mid January and my cabbages just before then, I may be lucky enough to have traditional Irish Colcannon in March.
I don't bother peeling the potatoes if I grew them myself - I like the texture. And if, like me, you always have an excess of Kale in the garden, then it can be used just as well in place of the cabbage.
2 1/2 pounds potatoes, cubed
4 slices bacon
1/2 small head cabbage, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 cup milk
salt and pepper to taste
3 scallions, chopped
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
1/4 cup butter, melted
Place potatoes in a saucepan with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, and cook for 15 - 20 minutes, until tender.
Place bacon in a large, deep skillet. Cook over medium high heat until evenly brown. Crumble the bacon and set aside. In the drippings, saute the cabbage and onion until soft and translucent. Put a lid on the pan to help the vegetables cook faster.
Drain the cooked potatoes, mash with milk and season with salt and pepper. Fold in the bacon, cabbage, onions, scallions and parsley, then transfer the mixture to a large serving bowl. Make a well in the center, and pour in the melted butter. Serve immediately.