Garden Bounty and Local Trout

June 30, 2009 at 8:37 am

Brad Moldofsky

Four bite-sized cauliflower heads have finally sprouted amidst the enormous leaves that, until now, have been sucking up the sunlight and water with no clear purpose. I never exactly understood what self-blanching meant before, but the inner leaves of these plants curl themselves up so as to protect the delicate white edible portion from sun exposure. Still, I tied the inner leaves snugly with some string to further blanch and protect the good bits (called curds), which gives them about a week more growing time before I harvest them one by one.

The bounteous spinach patch occupied one of the sunnier spots in the garden and was beginning to bolt (producing seeds as well as leaves that were thinner and pointed, not so round and wrinkly). Thinking this might be a good spot to relocate some tomatoes and peppers, I pulled out the entire patch and rinsed it over and over and over again. Then I sautéed them with some nearby collards and some unidentified and unwanted greens a friend donated from her Angelic Organics CSA bag, and served them at a birthday lunch.

As part of the meal preparation, we woke the boys up around dawn and headed up just north of the Fox River to Lake Julian Trout Farm. Kim and I lack the skills to catch and identify a fish from a natural body of water, as well as the courage to eat an animal that might have just dined on sewage or PCBs. Lake Julian stocks its own wholesome-looking pond, and if you can’t catch a trout there . . . well, don’t blame the trout.

Even our boys, not known for their infinite patience, were easily able to tolerate the four-minute expanse between when the worm was first drowned and the unlucky fish pulled at the line. My nine-year old (code name: Pikachu) was very excited as he proudly pulled the first trout from the water and dangled it before Kim as I ran to fill a bucket with water. I have very little fishing experience, and holding a wriggling fish in my right hand while using my left hand to remove the hook without stabbing myself was an interesting challenge. Kim was much better at it. Pikachu was a little bit sad, and apologized profusely to the terrified, flopping fish, as well as the other four we caught within the hour.

The only real snag was when he excitedly whipped the pole from the water later on, releasing the fish, but catching the hook in the large tree that shaded our fishing spot. The man who ran the farm warned us that if we had caught it, we had to take it home with us. And he charged by the pound. Even Pikachu knew it was a joke.

After the gas, buying nightcrawlers and hooks, the gutting fee and the per-pound cost of the fish, it cost a hair less than buying trout from an icy grocery store display. But the boys had a great time, learned how to properly cast the line into the water, and watched their food all the way from Cary to Morton Grove. We had a good discussion about where food (especially meat) comes from, and we all enjoyed the freshest seafood we’ve eaten all year after we grilled the trout in butter and lemon.

The lemon was certainly grown from out of state, and I couldn’t tell you where the whipping cream for the butter came from. But Kim and the boys enjoy churning their own butter, which is pretty easy to do. It turned out to be a very nice meal, although I was the only one who ate the greens.

The broccoli heads continue to grow larger and more of the potato leaves are turning yellow, which means harvest time is within sight. The chive bud has broken into dozens of white flower heads and the pencil pod golden wax beans are getting bushy and blocking sunlight from the eggplant, which means I’ve got to start thinning them further (36” apart) for everybody’s own good.

The tomatoes and peppers in the Square Foot Gardens are cold, shaded and miserable and not worth saving. Their brethren in pots atop the barbecue grill, however, are looking well. The peppers are beginning to fruit already. And the tomatoes I planted next to basil and parsley are looking very healthy indeed.

The herb spiral in the front yard has more marjoram than I can imagine using the rest of my natural life. Chives and parsley are also doing well there (a breath-killing and breath-freshening combo just outside the front door!), and a nearby sage plant has shown itself to be a perennial survivor although, again, how much sage does a person really need in a 72-year span?