Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Landscaping Made Easy, Part 9: Edible Landscaping

OK, we have to divert from the "Landscaping" blog series for a bit of fun here.  The idea planted below (hah!) might not achieve much cross-fence neighbor privacy for you, but it'll surely elicit a good belch.

There have been a number of high-profile news stories recently that have showcased vegetable-growing urbanites and suburbanites getting themselves into major hot water by running afoul of ordinances and subdivision covenants.  One of the most prominent involved the case of Julie Bass of Michigan, who danged near went to jail for her refusal to stop growing vegetables in her front yard. 

The potential problem with gardens like Julie's is plain to see:
It was neat, it was tidy, it was mulched between the boxes... but it was arguably ugly.  It's just a bunch of raw lumber holding back some dirt.  It's difficult to see how this installation might enhance property values, and if you want to understand any given neighborhood conflict, follow the money
Photo from The Germinatrix blog, copyright status unstated.
Contrast that photo above with a scene such as this:
That planter is actually a converted Behlen Country brand livestock tank - love their product line, and you can buy these oblong varieties as well as round ones at American Fence and Supply which is located just two miles from Centerpointe on the feeder between here and FM 646.
This is what the west side of our back yard currently looks like...  it's not our front yard, because I haven't yet gotten around to re-landscaping the front (I hope to do that soon).  But imagine if instead I had put this kind of combination raised bed / oversized steel planter in an area that was visible to the public.  Would anyone file complaints?  I rather doubt it.  Mostly what happens these days is that visitors step into our back yard and say, "Wow!"  It's hard to imagine how this landscaping job could be perceived to detract from anyone's property values. 

Readers who grew up in rural areas are probably snickering by this time, because you've recognized that it's actually okra growing in the steel planter. 
Okra produces a profusion of beautiful big yellow flowers that would enhance any landscape, as long as it is tastefully integrated into a suitably-sophisticated design.

Get it?!  Tastefully integrated??

And this is what comes forth from those flowers.
And then a lot more where those first few came from.  Okra is very prolific, and you have to cut off the pods when they are fairly young - perhaps three to five inches long - because the older and bigger they get, the tougher and woodier they get (too chewy).  If you plant okra, you'll find yourself harvesting these things about every other day because of this growth pattern, which is very rapid.  You can store the interim harvest in a plastic sack in the refrigerator until you've built up enough to cook with (it'll keep for about a week in the fridge). 

This collander above holds a combination of a few days of my harvest (about 75% mine), plus one of my neighboring families' harvest (25% theirs).   We didn't plan to be both growing okra this summer, but that's just how it worked out.  There are more "closet" vegetable gardeners in Centerpointe than you might first imagine. 
We got overrun with okra in the past week or so - too much to cook into a meal at any one time.  But occasionally I make some butt-kickin' jambalaya, of which okra is an integral part.  Therefore, with this particular harvest, I deep fried some for immediate consumption, and froze the rest to be used in a future batch of Cajun delight.
Here's what to do if you plan to freeze okra:
(1) Wash it
(2) Trim off the heads and tails
(3) Blanche it by dropping it into rapidly-boiling water for three minutes (no longer)

and then...
...(4) Remove the okra from the boiling water with a big slotted spoon, and immediately plunge it into ice water to stop the cooking

and then...
....(5) Chop it into your desired piece size (depending on your eventual recipe)
(6) Put it in a plastic freezer bag
(7) Suck out as much air as possible
(8) Pop it in the freezer.

Notice I lay mine FLAT for freezing instead of in a lump.  This is so that I can break it apart later if I only need to use some of it for a given recipe.

Have you ever wondered why the frozen okra you buy in the store is so much greener than the fresh stuff that's sitting over in the produce section (if you're even lucky enough to find fresh, which is rarely offered)?  It's because the frozen stuff is blanched like this.  Blanching minimizes degradation but it also intensifies the color.  If you start to see that maximum bright color fade, you'll know that you've let it cook too long. 
OK, so there's the frozen stuff, but what about that all-important deep-fried stuff?
Deep Fried Southern Okra:
TELL ME you don't want a piece of this! 

I make my batter by mixing together organic yellow corn meal, a lightly-beaten egg, unsweetened plain yoghurt, and Cajun spice mix (I use Tony Chachere's).  Coat the okra, drop into hot oil and fry.  It was AWESOME!  I gorged myself.

There's an Asian-Indian analog to this stuff called pakoras.  I also wanted to try making some okra pakoras, but I didn't have any besan flour on hand, so I stuck with corn meal for this batch. 
And of course, lest we forget, as a final step, the severed okra heads and tails go back into the compost machine that I described in my last post
Bye, guys.  You've served us well.
That's a shot looking down into my Delafield Pottery kitchen compost crock.
As a matter of fact, once the okra plants themselves are exhausted, I'll chop them up and add the entire plants to the compost.  But not before I've reserved a few of the pods for seeds, because we need to repeat this entire okra exercise all over again next year.  I'm nowhere near sick of southern fried okra yet.

Incidentally, this is the same stock tank planter that I referenced in a post back in June of this year, when it was growing tomatoes instead of okra.  This spring, we harvested about one thousand cherry tomatoes just from this one planter.
Here's a screengrab from that June post.  Tomato plants are not as photogenic as okra, but we still like 'em.
So there you are - hopefully that will give you a few tasteful ideas about how you might embellish your landscaping with stuff you can eat. 

There's a certain irreverent wit to all of this, isn't there??  It's almost like yet another emerging form of American imperialism on a suburban scale: "Well, we put in some sophisticated-looking landscaping around our home, and we liked it, but then we got tired of it, and so we ate it."

1 comment:

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