Our garden really starts in early January, when the seed catalogues start coming and we start dreaming. We want to try every new seed, especially winter squash and tomatoes, but so many varieties don't do well here at all. We read all the fine print. How long to maturity? Is it good for baking? Sauces?
Eventually, reality sets in, and we decide on a limited number of seeds to order from Burpee's, Johnny's and a couple of specialty catalogues. Local nurseries fill in the gaps with some seeds and most plants, except tomatoes, most of which we start at home, under grow lights.
We think of the planning to come as we put the garden to bed this time of year - spent plants pulled, leaves and mulch tilled in, "winter keepers" like beets, chard, parsley, and carrots covered - they'll hold for awhile.
Everything else is done - sauces, juices, fruits and tomatoes are lovely in their jars in the canning cupboard, veggies are in the freezer, winter squash and pumpkins brought inside, and herbs are dried.
We've managed to defeat the cold and wind, the squirrels and rabbits, the deer and quail. Sometimes the garden looks like an armed camp, but we'll do it all again next summer because the rewards are so great.
Many of our favorite recipes at the bed and breakfast are planned around our garden produce, and the locally grown fruits and vegetables available at our area farmers markets.
In the columns that we do, we'll be sharing some of the often requested recipes that we use here at the B&B.
Sometimes only 10 minutes elapse between the garden and the omelet; sometimes, as in the case with the recipe for Harvest Bread, we've made the bread and frozen it, ready for use when needed.
Harvest Bread is a lovely, moist, very flavorful breakfast bread that's not too sweet and freezes well. It also makes a great holiday gift. This recipe is a combination of many recipes, from the King Arthur Flour cookbooks, and from many ideas garnered during 10 years of living in Northern California's apple country. It is adapted to our local altitude.
• Muffy Vhay and her husband David own and operate the Deer Run Ranch Bed and Breakfast in Washoe Valley.
Grease and flour two 9 x 5 inch or six 3 x 5 inch bread pans
Position rack in middle of oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl, mix dry ingredients:
4 cups white, unbleached flour (I prefer King Arthur brand), fluffed before measuring
31⁄2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1⁄2 teaspoons EACH ground allspice and cloves
1⁄2 teaspoon fine-ground black pepper
In medium bowl, mix wet ingredients and sugar:
2 cups brown sugar (dark or light)
1 cup pureed baked or steamed winter squash or pumpkin* (canned is OK, but fresh or frozen is preferred)
11⁄2 cups applesauce, unsweetened, homemade chunky preferred
3⁄4 cup canola or vegetable oil
Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients, mix well but don't beat. Now add, if desired:
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup pecans, toasted **, then coarsely chopped
Topping, if desired: turbinado (raw) sugar, about 1 tablespoon per large loaf
Divide batter into bread pans, filling about 2⁄3 full. Sprinkle tops with turbinado (raw) sugar, if desired.
Bake small pans about 35-45 minutes at 350 degrees; larger pans for 45-60 minutes. Check at the shorter time with a skewer.
Cool on rack, wrap in plastic wrap to store or freeze. Keeps at least 6 months in freezer. Serve with whipped cream cheese or butter, if desired.
*To prepare a winter squash or pumpkin: cut in half, scoop out seeds and stringy stuff, bake cut side down at about 350 degrees on a rimmed baking sheet until soft - about an hour, but much longer for a big squash (like hubbard). Or peel, cut into cubes and steam until soft (15-30 minutes). When cooked and cool enough to handle, whip flesh with a beater, or pulse in blender. Some squash is quite wet, so it may need to be drained for a few hours in a colander. Extra can be frozen or served for supper.
** To toast pecans, spread loosely on a baking sheet and toast about 6 minutes at 350 degrees, or JUST until lightly browned and fragrant. I keep nuts in the freezer for longer live.