My New Favorite Pepper: Violet Sparkle

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“Violet Sparkle” from my garden.

As most of my friends know, I like my peppers sweet and my tomatoes sweeter! I don’t eat hot or spicy peppers…ever! The sweetest pepper I have eaten up to this point was the Patio Red Marconi, a small golf ball-sized red pepper. I was only able to grow it one year and then couldn’ find the seed anywhere. 

A teaching moment here: Most people buy blocky, green peppers in the store for considerably less than the red, yellow and orange ones. The green ones are actually unripe. With a few exceptions (there are some that start out white, chartreuse green, or purple), all peppers begin life green, and will eventually turn some color as they mature. The reason you pay more for the colored fruit is that they stay on the plant longer. Doesn’t matter whether they are hot or sweet peppers, hybrids or heirlooms.

Back to my favorite pepper. While perusing the seed catalogs last January, I was intrigued by a pepper called “Violet Sparkle” carried by Baker Seeds. First, it caught my eye because it was purple. Secondly, it had stripes. I am all over those things. Last night I cut one fo the red ones up and it was by far the sweetest pepper I’ve ever had. No weird aftertaste either. So, in conclusion: starts out purple, stays purple with cream-colored stripes (varies from pepper to pepper), fairly prolific and early, matures to a lovely, deep red, and is the sweetest thing on my plate. What’s not to love?

Purple Cauliflower, Golden Cauliflower White Cucumbers, and A Paprika Pepper

cualiflower cucumbers 8119 - 3We have been picking broccoli for quite a while now, today, I picked our cauliflower. One was a gorgeous purple and the other a beautiful cheddar yellow. First time I’ve ever grown cauliflower and got something besides a softball size, insect-eaten, inedible object, sprouting flowers. My first introduction to colored cauliflower came from Winco. One day, they were sitting in the produce aisle. As you know I love color. They taste exactly like the white ones but are prettier. Great for a veggie tray although I see cheese sauce in it’s future.

Shown is also one of my white cucumbers (yes, I was going to eat it and cut the ends off and then decided it needed it’s 5 minutes of fame). Love it! Sweet and juicy, not bitter in the least. There is also the spineless Beth Alpha, an Israeli cucumber and several pickling cukes. I think I have enough to make several jars.

 

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The red object is one of my paprika peppers. This is the most amazing pepper plant ever. Let’s face it, peppers are hard to grow here. We always grow our plants in the greenhouse which develops extremely hot temps, probably not unlike a blast furnace. I always tell people don’t beat yourself up if you don’t have success. Some years are better than others.

This one is growing outside, in a large black pot. It was the first one to put on peppers and there are so many that they are crowding the stem. I picked the one that was starting to color up. This one is called “Feher Ozon Paprika” the plant isn’t even two feet tall! This is the first year for this and I will certainly grow it again.

Just a little note: Making your own paprika is easy. Let them dry thoroughly (ok, truth be told, I put mine in a box and promptly forgot them for two years) until crispy, dry and light. They are easy to crumble. Use a coffee grinder to grind as fine as you like. It was a wonder using my own ground paprika, didn’t taste like red dust!

Got Tomatoes??? Our First Picking of the Year

Here is a picture of our first picking this summer. Sungold, Sweet Treats, Sweet Baby Girl, Blue Creme Berries, Rose Quartz and one Brad’s Atomic (it’s the metallic looking one). We also picked our first cucumber from our Spacemaster in a container.

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Brad’s Atomic Grape cherry tomato

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Various cherry tomatoes picked July 20, 2019

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Spacemaster space saver bush tomato

Beaver Dam Pepper

Beaver Dam Pepper

A pepper so good, Hungarian immigrants carried it with them when they came to Wisconsin.

It is no wonder that the Beaver Dam pepper was nearly lost to posterity, trampled upon by the market demand for easier-to-grow pepper varieties that don’t require such laborious agricultural techniques as planting individual stakes for each pepper plant.

The eponymous pepper came to Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, in 1912, with Joe Hussli, a Hungarian immigrant who couldn’t conceive of a new American life without a little peppery taste of home. Locals and descendants of friends of the Hussli family like to say that the Husslis planted the seeds, grew the peppers, and shared the seeds with friends and neighbors, thus setting up a little community of Beaver Dam pepper growers who appreciated the delicious plant’s mild bite, enough to pass the seeds down for generations. There are pepper-growing families in Beaver Dam who have saved seeds from at least the 1980s. However, over generations, farming of this pepper has dwindled considerably as hybrids flood the market.

Today, Beaver Dam still celebrates its favorite pepper in the form of an annual Beaver Dam Pepper Festival. Fans can buy the prized crop from local growers, eat pepper sausages, and even participate in an apple pepper pie–eating competition with the town sheriff. Current growers, who descend from a long line of Beaver Dam pepper cultivators, also give presentations on the plant’s history.

For locals, preserving the town’s pepper is crucial. The story of its near-extinction is a story of how our current food culture has prioritized efficiency and shelf-life over flavor. The Beaver Dam, an heirloom variety, requires more care in growing than hybrid peppers that are hardier, more disease-resistant, and thus more dependable in terms of yield. But organizations such as Seed Savers and Slow Food USA are building up a steady base of growers yearning for flavor and willing to return to traditional, sustainable methods of farming. Thanks to their interest, the Beaver Dam pepper has been preserved and there are enough seeds available now to bring the pepper back from the brink of extinction.

The peppers start out lime-green but gradually mature to an orange or blood-red color, over a period of 80 days. Between three and eight peppers grow on each plant. Thick-fleshed, the peppers are mild-to-hot with an appealing crunch that is great in salads and fresh salsas. They also go brilliantly sliced into a sandwich or stuffed with a rice or meat filling. And some fans insist that they’re an absolute must in Hungarian goulash. The peppers are between 500 and 1,000 SHU on the Scoville heat scale.

 

For those not in the Beaver Dam pepper inner circle, the seeds are also available through organizations such as the Seed Savers Exchange, a repository of heirloom seeds meant to preserve endangered varieties of garden and food crops.

Fascinating Article on Making Rose Water

Every Spring, An Idyllic Iranian Town Turns Fields of Roses Into Rose Water

By distilling their harvest of pink roses, locals make a fragrant ingredient.

A worker picks roses as butterflies dance over the fields.

A worker picks roses as butterflies dance over the fields. PHOTOGRAPHY BY EBRAHIM MIRMALEK

The soft, pink color of dawn still lingers in the sky, and the first golden rays of the sun are just starting to touch the tips of the surrounding mountains. Yet in the rose fields of Qamsar, a small town in the highlands of central Iran, work is already underway. Amid the chirping of nightingales, locals make their way into the fields, where the crisp morning air is heady with the thick aroma of Damask roses.

In a rose field on the outskirts of town, I watch as Javad Jafari picks rose after rose. His calloused, nimble fingers break each stem right below the petals with almost reverential delicacy, before he drops them into a length of cloth tied around his waist and neck. Like many of the other rose pickers who are busy in the fields around us, 66-year-old Jafari has been picking flowers since he was a young boy, helping his father in their family farm, or harvesting the flowers of neighbors. During the rose season, he wakes up at 5 a.m., says his morning prayers, and heads to the fields.

Javad Jafari, picking roses as the sun rises.
Javad Jafari, picking roses as the sun rises.

From late May to the middle of June, idyllic Qamsar becomes a dazzling canvas of pink roses. Rows upon rows of the plants, known in Iran as Mohammadi roses, bloom over the course of 25 days. Every year, hordes of tourists from all over the country and abroad come to watch as workers, farmers, and entire families pick roses and distill them into rose water.

Javad Jafari has been picking roses since he was a boy.
Javad Jafari has been picking roses since he was a boy.

The result is a culinary and therapeutic extract that has been used in Iran and the Middle East since ancient times. Qamsar is one of Iran’s main producers of rose water, an ingredient that flavors and aromatizes ice cream, baklava, rice pudding, and many other dishes in the Persian kitchen. Persians also use rose water to treat everything from headaches to heartache, as the fresh graves of the newly deceased are washed with rose water.

Across Qamsar, rose fields are in bloom.
Across Qamsar, rose fields are in bloom.

Rose water has religious purposes as well. Before the political rifts of recent years between Iran and Saudi Arabia, rose water from Qamsar anointed the Kaaba, the holiest site in Islam, twice a year. “This is the rose of the prophet, you know,” Jafari says, referring to the belief that the prophet Mohammad used the essence of Damask rose for both its fragrance and its therapeutic benefits. While the local name reflects this connection, abroad the rose often goes by Damask. One tale has it that the rose was brought to Europe by a crusader, who picked up the flower in the Syrian city of Damascus.

A rose picker, holding a handful of flowers.
A rose picker, holding a handful of flowers.

Yet research done by Dr. Ali Nikbakht, associate professor of horticulture at Isfahan University, postulates that the Damask rose was first grown and used in the Qamsar area 2,500 years ago. “The unique combination of strong sunlight and cool mountain air makes Qamsar ideal for the Mohammadi rose, with the roses grown there having the highest quality in all of Iran,” he says. At the time, rose petals were placed in oil to extract their essence. The first evidence of the steam distillation used today is found in the writings of Avicenna, the 11th-century Persian polymath who used rose water extract for medical purposes.

Javad Jafari leaving with his bag full of hand-picked roses.
Javad Jafari leaving with his bag full of hand-picked roses.

Jafari finishes picking the last of the roses just as the sun edges over the mountains, filling the valley with unwanted light and heat. “It’s best to finish picking them before the sun comes up over the mountains,” he says, explaining how direct sunlight and heat cause the delicate fragrance of the roses to evaporate, resulting in lower-quality rose water.

Jafari then swings a plastic bag containing over 15 kilograms of rose petals over his shoulder, and we make our way to a distillery owned by Haj Reza Aghayee, a relative of Jafari and a second-generation rose water maker. Like many other rose water makers, Aghayee has turned what used to be a seasonal job done by farmers into a full-time business that uses one ton of roses per season. Aghayee attributes the increase in sales to local transportation improvements and the recent popularity of herbal remedies in Iran. 20 years ago, he only sold rose water and a handful of other extracts, such as mint. “But now we sell over a hundred types,” Aghayee says.

Freshly picked flowers are poured into a copper still.
Freshly picked flowers are poured into a copper still.

Despite this prolific production, his distillery, like most in Qamsar, still employs traditional methods. In the distillery, Aghayee’s son Alireza adds Jafari’s roses, along with petals from other rose pickers, into a round copper still containing 70 liters of water. The amount of rose varies, depending on whether you want a “heavy or light extract,” Alireza explains. Their “two-fire” rose water, an exceptionally potent variety, is only made in small quantities due to its price and the huge amount of roses needed to make it.

Rosewater vapors collect in submerged flasks.
Rosewater vapors collect in submerged flasks.

Next, Alizera takes a metal lid, called a toghar, and places it on top of the still. Latching it shut, he turns on the flame below the still. Once the mix of petals and water has begun to steam, Alireza connects aluminum tubes to outlet valves on the still, guiding the fragrant steam along the tubes to large flasks submerged in a pool of cold, flowing water. For the next four hours, the steam will condensate and collect in the flask, producing about 40 liters of rose water.

In the Shahre Golab Rosewater Store, the distillation process has begun.
In the Shahre Golab Rosewater Store, the distillation process has begun.

With the process underway, Alireza turns his attention to a previous batch left to distill overnight. After removing the tubes and the lid, Alireza first removes the precious rose oil that has collected at the surface of the flask. He carefully lifts the jelly-like oils with a spoon and collects them in a jar. Later, it will be used to make perfume.

Then, after lifting the filled 40-liter flask from the pool of water with a small ceiling-mounted crane, Alireza pours the freshly distilled rose water into 20-liter tanks for storage. But first, each tank itself is rinsed with rose water to wash out any contamination. Rose water is very sensitive, he notes, and any droplets of water could cause it to prematurely lose its fragrance. Like the making of a unique wine, there are many subtleties to the distillation process. “They may seem like small things, but they make a difference in the final product,” he says.

Cold water is added to the rose petals.
Cold water is added to the rose petals.

In addition, the stills are strictly made out of copper, since copper catalyzes certain reactions that remove unwanted flavors. In other parts of the country, straight distillation tubes are traditionally used, yet distilleries in this region have always utilized two upside-down, V-shaped tubes to ensure that any impurities in the vapor are stopped in the upward slope of the pipe. After distillation, rose water is traditionally stored in tinted glass to prevent any loss of the precious scent that occurs with a plastic container. However, these days rose water is predominantly stored in plastic bottles, due to costs and breakage concerns.

Rosewater products, such as these inside the Shahre Golab Rosewater Store, are sought after by visitors to the town.
Rosewater products, such as these inside the Shahre Golab Rosewater Store, are sought after by visitors to the town.

Despite the harsh economic times in Iran, the rose water business is thriving as domestic and international demand continuously grows. It’s still only mid-morning, but Alireza has four stills simmering, and he is awaiting the next delivery of flowers. “Business is good,” he says. “We have five stills and we refill them three to four times a day.” His father agrees. “If you’d come here 50 years ago, you’d only find five rose water producers; now there are maybe over 200,” Aghayee says. While Bulgaria and Turkey produce more rose water than Iran, Aghayee sees change coming. “The industry is growing every year,” he says. “And that is great, because rose water is a Persian tradition.”

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The Lettuce Lady…aka The Tomato Lady!

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lettuce 2Guess what you can call me now…The Lettuce Lady!!!! I started 30 some different kinds of lettuces this year. I just transplanted them, well, been working on it for several days now. A bazillion little guys.

Why, do you say? I love lettuce, not the insipid kind you find at the grocery store. There are so many kinds of lettuce out there, romaine, butterhead, mini romaine, batavian, deer tongue, oakleaf, crispheads, loose leaf, and colors – rich red, burgundy, dark green, light green, spotted, speckled, and more.

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It is easy to grow although it doesn’t like heat much. Use it as a thriller (centerpiece) or as a filler in containers with plants that like the same conditions, full sun, cooler temps. Pansies, alyssum, lobelia are great companions.

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You could work in some heat-loving annuals too. When the lettuce and pansies are done and the heat comes on. replace them with petunias or geraniums or small zinnias such as “Lilliput” for the new “thriller” in the center of the pot. It goes well with alyssum and lobelia. (What doesn’t go with those two? All well-dressed containers should have them!) It’s kind of like succession planting in a pot.

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Think about other plants. Parsley goes well. Nasturtiums. You can make your own salad bowl that is edible AND pretty!

What goes better with tomatoes than lettuce? Add bacon, bread, and you have a sandwich. Yummmm.

The Never Ending Job Of The Tomato Lady – Good Thing It’s A Labor Of LOVE!

I just finished up the second wave of tomato plants yesterday, March 25th.  n 4 days, I transplanted 4289 little guys. Couple that with 1480 plants destined for gallons, that brings me to 6769 plants. I will be seeding a third wave, almost exclusively early and cherry varieties, including a few more Sungolds. Those will be for after Garden Expo when we usually are out of these plants. In this area, everyone wants a short season variety or a cherry, which in my book are a usually shorter season than the big, later season heirlooms.

My suggestion for those who live in Deer Park and other short, short season areas is to buy the plants you want in a gallon size. They are almost 2 months more mature and will produce sooner than the same in a smaller pot, even if they are almost physically the same size. That is the only way I can get Pink Brandywines here (and they are delectable).

Tomorrow I start on flowers. We had to put up another temporary greenhouse to house them. One of these days I will do a post about how we construct our greenhouses. We recycle and reuse!

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New Pepper On My Rotation: Violet Sparkle: The Tomato Lady

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Isn’t she pretty????? Pointed, wedge-shaped fruit is purple streaked with pale yellow. This heirloom came from a Russian seed trader. It begins with chartreuse, evolving to purple with tan/yellow streaks and then to red. Lovely and delicious, sweet, crisp and thick-walled.

A unique looking pepper with excellent yields, great size for roasting, bbq, fresh eating. Sweet but very firm. Would be good for pickling and sautées very well. Plants are short with many uniform fruits.

The reviews I’ve read all say they love this pepper. I can’t wait to try it.

Growing Note: They had excellent germination and were very healthy.

Some of My Favorite Seed Companies – The Tomato lady

samson in gardenHere is a list of seed companies that I interact with on a regular basis. Good prices, nice selection of varieties, excellent seed quality, and good customer service! (My cat, Samson, has nothing to do with this subject but he sure is cute and is in the garden! Sam is a Maine Coon)

Seeds n Such
I love that this gentleman used to own Totally Tomatoes and decided to retire, which didn’t suit him so he opened up Seeds n Such. One of the nicest things about him is that their shipping is right in line with what it should be and they have a deal whereby if you buy 20 packets of seeds, they are all $1.99. Believe me, it’s easy to find that many things you want.

Tomatofest
Lots and lots of heirloom tomato seeds, some I have never heard of. The really nice thing is they are “local” –  California based. Most companies are midwest or eastern based companies. (I love them too, I just like buying local if I can)

Totally Tomatoes
Many, many varieties of tomatoes and peppers. Now they have other veggies. so I guess they aren’t “totally” tomatoes anymore! That’s ok, I like the variations.

Swallowtail Garden Seeds
This is for the flower growers. Veggies are good for your bodies, flowers are good for your soul. They have a nice variety, good prices, and quality seed. I love the pictures on the website, and they are fast!

Geo Seed
I recently found this company. I can’t remember how but am sure glad I did. Prices are phenomenal, customer service outstanding (Dora rocks!) varieties are numerous. Stuff you didn’t know you needed! the only drawback is that they don’t have pictures (but that is what the internet is for, right?) and at this time, you can’t order online. Mere nuisances. They have trade packets and bigger bulk sizes. I’d recommend the trade packets for home gardeners.

Fedco Seeds
I found this company in the last couple of years also. I love that they are a Cooperative and represent seed from a lot of small, independent growers. Great website too, lots of pictures. I found they have seeds with great histories; for instance, I found a winter squash called Uncle David’s Dakota Dessert Squash (a mouthful) on their site. it was passed down forever and as far as I can see, it’s not available anywhere else. it is delicious! Lots of fun stuff!

Irish Eyes Seeds – Located in Ellensburg, WA, Huge selection of potatoes and garlic and other cooler climate veggies.

High Mowing – I ordered from them last week and they have great selection and shipping was surprisingly fast. Out of Vermont.

Baker Seeds Great selection, good prices, and reasonable shipping. Unusual heirloom seeds from all over, rare and exotic seeds from around the world. Two examples: Thai Lavender Frog Egg Eggplant and Sichuan Red Beauty Radish. I have to be honest, some of them are so odd I can’t imagine growing them, like the Sakurajima Giant Radish, considered the world’s largest Radish. it’s white and bigger than my head! Definitely, an entertaining place to visit.

Snake River Seeds – They are new, at least to me, and I have yet to order from them but I will. they have bulk seeds too and they are local to me. In their own words:

“Snake River Seed Cooperative is a collective of family farmers in the Intermountain West who work together to produce a wide diversity of locally-adapted seeds. We believe that sharing seed saving knowledge with farmers in our region is vital to growing a robust, regional seedshed.”

While I can’t name everyone I like dealing with, (actually I could AND include all the links but I do have other things to do today!) here are some other companies I recommend, just search for them on the internet: Parks, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Victory Seeds, Pase Seeds, Harris Seeds to name a few.

Don’t forget Northwest Seed and Pet. It is the best and biggest gardening store that I know of here in Spokane. They have a HUGE selection of seeds, a lot of which you may not have heard of. They carry their own bulk brand, Burpees, High Mowing, Baker Seeds, Snake River Seeds, Botanical Interests, Irish Eyes and many, many more. Don’t miss their cat, give him a scratch.

 

Just A Little Something I Did To Pass The Time Today

Today, I transplanted 557 baby flowers into their 3.5′ pots. Pansies (Bolero, Fizzle Sizzle Mix and then the Yellow and Blue, Chianti, Colussus, Super Swiss Giants, Heat Elite, and Flirty Skirts), Petunias (Silver Tidal Wave, Dolcissima Flambe, Subperbissima Doubled, Fluffy Ruffles, Pico Bella, Spellbound in Pink, Wine Red, Dark Purple and White Blush, and Evening Scentsation), Impatiens (Accent Mystic, Red Flash, Star, Athena Red Flash, Athena mix Impressa Cherry Splash and Shady Ladies Blushing Beauties, alyssum, and Verbena (Peaches and Cream and Scentsation) tomorrow the alyssums and lobelias. Pansies and Petunias are some of my very favorite flowers.

Of course, nothing looks like this but hope springs eternal, at least for us gardeners. Winter has finally shown up and we have almost a foot of snow on the ground, maybe a little more. I had my stereo on and a heater keeping me warm as I transplanted, dreaming of summer days and bright happy faces of pansies. I do love the snow but it is mid=February and it should be done by now. Maybe next year we could have winter in December and January!

Oh, I also planted the one Godetia that came up. The seed was pretty old.