By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.
It’s a beautiful sunny day here in Brooklyn. Oodles of spring bulbs are blooming in both my front and back gardens and they’ve yet to reach their peak.
Yesterday’s daily bloom count: 130+ daffodils in the front yard, 194+ in the back garden (counting each stalk of tazettas as one bloom); plus 13 tulips in the front, 20 in the back. I’ll do a fresh count later today and I’ll pluck some of those in the back garden, to fill a vase or two inside and spruce up our Easter table.
Daffodils are very easy to grow, and unlike most tulips, they return in greater numbers year after year. Many of those currently popping up in our back garden sprang from bulbs originally planted when we first moved in during the mid-90’s. One must merely remember to plant them in the autumn, preferably before the earth freezes.
The pandemic has largely confined us to quarters, so I’ve spent lots of time gardening, tending and reviving plantings. Our back garden was once very shady, overshadowed by a neighbor’s huge maple and with our own three-trunked river birch as its centerpiece. Each tree became diseased and had to be cut down, leaving us with a very sunny space. Last summer, I added some new plants, and divided and rearranged existing ones. The front garden gets full sunshine during the spring, but then becomes shady when the massive oak tree overhead fills out with leaves.
My husband constructed some large planters – very large planters – which I’ve filled with lenten roses and heuchera; roses, daffodils, and tulips; and other plants and bulbs that should appear throughout the summer. Some of last summer’s herb plants survived the winter: rosemary, sage, bay. I’ll soon add to those. Although I expect food supply issues to arise this summer, I’ve decided not to rip out the existing plants and replace them with vegetables. I have plenty of indoor space for storing food and I’ve been stockpiling extra supplies instead.
We’ve also planted a new Japanese maple, a cherry tree, a fig tree, a pomegranate tree, and a couple of camellias – which do well in this space. I’ve tried to plant things that will attract pollinators – although it’s still a bit too cool for bees and butterflies to appear. But in May, the bees will be buzzing about the bluebells and they remained in residence throughout last summer (see Bees and Bluebells: Celebrating World Bee Day By Encouraging Pollinators in My Garden). Readers offered many helpful suggestions about attracting more bees in response to that post.
This summer, I’d like to entice more butterflies to join the bees. Once the ground warms up, I’ll sow some milkweed seeds – a first for me. I’ll also sow morning glories – with which I’ve had great success in the past; like daffodils, they’re easy to grow provided one soaks the seeds before planting and nicks the tough outer seed coating with a sharp knife or razor blade before planting them. My butterfly bush died last year and must be replaced. Readers: what else do you plant to attract butterflies?
As soon as I finish this post, I’ll start putting together our Easter dinner. It’ll be just the two of us this year and we’ll have ham, which I’ll glaze with balsamic vinegar and serve with a mustard sauce. My husband loves roast potatoes, so there will be plenty of those. I parboil them and then carefully toss them into hot fat bubbling in the oven – using dripping, or sometimes duck or goose fat (which can be strained and reused on the next special occasion). Also, we’ll have some carrot puree with fresh dill that’s lurking in the fridge, and I’ll roast some asparagus, to serve with horseradish butter.
Today’s dessert: a simnel cake, the traditional English Easter cake, a light fruit cake frosted with marzipan. I’ve never made one before and I intend to use Nigella Lawson’s recipe. My husband is English, so I’ve learned to make traditional English ‘puddings’ – Christmas cakes and Christmas puddings. Those must be started weeks if not months before you intend to eat them, and ‘fed’ with brandy or other alcohol. I serve these with plenty of brandy butter. Unlike these other puds, Simnel cake can be made and eaten the same day – or so Nigella tells me – and I’ll bake mine later this afternoon.
Growing up, I don’t remember the main courses that were served at Easter. In this respect, this holiday is unlike Thanksgiving, where the menu didn’t vary much from year to year. For Easter, I think we usually had ham or roast pork. What I do remember were the Polish specialties on the table: sautéed mushrooms; kielbasa with sauerkraut, and my mother’s babka, a yeasted bread, stuffed with sweetened cheese, with a hint of cardamom. And lots of Easter chocolate. My mother made a point of getting chocolate from a specialty chocolate shop in Chester, NJ, located part way between our family home and that of my Aunt Stel and Uncle Joe, with whom we usually celebrated holidays. My four siblings and I each had our own solid chocolate rabbit: milk, dark, or white chocolate; foil-wrapped chocolate eggs; and yellow marshmallow chickens.
This year I had a craving for Easter chocolate, so I ordered some from what Time Out has called the best chocolate shop in NYC, Aigner’s Chocolates, a business founded in 1930. Although the recipes are Austrian; these chocolates taste like the ones I remember from chocolate shops of my youth, rather than Swiss, Belgian, or other pricey ‘designer’ chocolates. I selected one chocolate rabbit for my husband and one for my mother (whom we’ll be visiting early in May), and some assorted old-fashioned chocolates for myself – peanut butter cups, cherry cordials, Vienna truffles, dark peppermint patties. Now, I’ll confess I didn’t wait for Easter to sample the chocolates and in fact, the day they arrived, I ate 11 of them. Yes, eleven! Sheer gluttony! Behaving like a kid in a candy store. And, I don’t have a chocolate habit. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I bought chocolates. But these were that good. I’m lucky Easter only comes once a year.
Passover was celebrated on 15th April this year, which reminds me of another favorite food: potato pancakes. My mother loves potato pancakes and makes a version that’s very much like traditional latkes, which she serves with fresh apple sauce and sour cream. For my father, dinner wasn’t a proper meal unless there was some meat on the table. Mom only served potato pancakes to us on those occasions when a sporting event or other school obligation meant Dad wasn’t going to be home for dinner. So, she was free to serve a vegetarian meal. Potato pancakes always remind me of those special meals with Mom. My version is much more complicated than hers and riffs on a Deborah Madison recipe. I include grated parboiled floury (aka Russets or Idaho potatoes), chopped scallions, parsley, grated cheese, egg, sour cream, and some spices. I fry them in olive oil until crisp outside and because the potatoes are parboiled, there’s no risk of burning the outside before the inside is properly cooked. But I wouldn’t turn down Mom’s either. Sometime next week, I’ll make potato pancakes.
How about you, readers? What’s is/was on your holiday dinner table?
These are very nice.
I hope it’s not considered thread-jacking to post a gardening-themed recipe. This one was made by a friend who accepted Basil and Sage starts last year, and who reports it to be “amazing”. My friend replaced the Parsley component with Basil.
Basil and Sage are super easy to grow at home and both can be grown in containers in settings where in-ground gardening is not feasible.
This AM I finished potting up Sage starts from a 1206 starter tray with two seeds per cell to 606 packs. The plants are 5″ tall and aromatic. Most of these are headed to a community garden for a “Scarborough Fair”-themed community interaction “make and take” day. The plants smell so good that I started a few dozen more to give away with the recipe.
Herbs are so easy to grow and seed is so cheap, I wonder why I ever purchased fresh or dried at the market.
Thanks for this. It’s not a combination I would have thought of and I think it’ll be delicious. I’ve made pesto with arugula before and I’ve made the traditional genovese version, with basil, many, many times. I have some walnuts leftover from making fesenjan, an Iranian chicken stew with lots of walnuts and some pomegranate molasses. Nuts can go rancid quickly so I like to use them up before that happens. Sage overwintered in my garden so that’s also on hand.
J-L S: Fesenjan is even better when made with duck, but it is hard to find an Iranian restaurant that uses duck, especially in the U S of A, where duck is considered somehow exotic.
I can see that would be the case. I use a recipe in Yasmin Khan’s excellent The Saffron Tales. I believe she recommends chicken thighs. I googled fesenjan earlier to check the spelling before I posted, and a NYT recipe came up, using chicken breasts. Yuck! The stew calls for long cooking and chicken breasts would dry out long before the sauce was ready.
Duck would be perfect, but the Long Island duck variety most widely available in the U.S. wouldn’t be optimal. You can sometimes get other varieties at farmer’s markets, and when I see them, I always snap one up.
Thanks for this. We have two large sage bushes in the garden (along with thyme, mint, rosemary, etc) so I will definitely try making sage pesto, it sounds delicious. We make the basil version every year.
We also grow our own Thai purple basil which is milder than the Italian type. The Thais use it by the handful when finishing a stir fry, and of course it is delicious in many SE Asian recipes.
Something to look out for in early summer are garlic scapes — the curly tops of the garlic plant which are removed by growers around June to make the garlic finish properly. You can find them at some farmers’ markets if garlic is grown in your area. The best recipe we have tried with them is this one, which is fantastic, it can be adjusted to taste but it’s definitely for garlic lovers.
We make a good-sized batch every summer and then freeze it in small jars so we can enjoy it through the year.
We’re having my brother for dinner and serving our favorite casserole: cheesy shrimp and rice. As a nod to Easter, I’ll serve it with steamed asparagus and a green salad with red grapes & toasted almonds.
Re: spring bulbs — another advantage that daffodils offer over tulips is that deer LOVE the latter and won’t touch the former. I’ve given up on tulips altogether ;-( But in a couple of weeks, our Virginia Bluebells will be blooming, earlier this year than ever. And the hellebores have been glorious.
We don’t have deer problems here in Brooklyn. The bluebell foliage is already up but we’ve yet to see any blooms.
I planted two new hellebores in a large wooden planter last autumn. Glorious! And they’re still blooming. I think I’ll add a third.
I also planted three heucheras in the same planter, but two of those have died. Don’t understand why.
The deer sometimes leave Tulipa clusiana alone — at least for a while. I wouldn’t be without this one.
pictures please of your lovely garden (assuming you have the ability to upload them)?
your description is so tantalizing (and that goes for dinner too—yum!) I kept scrolling down to see the flowers!
I may send some pix to Lambert for possible WC plantidotes.
In the UK for 25 years since childhood, I always remember leg of lamb with minted new potatoes for Easter. I tried to recreate an English spring with 10 ! Daffodils this year, now that I’ve stopped working I do more gardening. They all came up well, in Feb, being in SoCal.Next year , 20 more !
Daffodils used to do really well in our place on the Colorado frontrange, but the bloody spring wet snowstorms hurt them a lot, even with covering them up with boxes if it was going to snow. So it was a crap shoot over the 10 years whether we got a great display when we were there.
Daffodils do really well here in Brooklyn. I planted some when we moved in and those have multiplied over the decades we’ve lived here, with no further attention from me. I added to those originals last November and I’m pretty sure they’ll keep returning long after we’ve moved away.
What a kind and lovely post. Happy Easter and Pessach Sameach. May this Spring bring the new shoots of harmony and peace. Here in Normandy, the apple, pear and cherry trees are white and pink with blooms and it smells glorious. I’ll send a photo for a future Water Cooler.
Sounds beautiful. Yellow daffodils always remind me of my maternal great-grandfather who died when I was 15. Papa grew beautiful daffodils, along with vegetables.
He and my great-grandmother were an ocean of sanity away from the extreme dysfunction of living with my mother and her 2nd husband (after she divorced my dear dad when I was a toddler).
From Jorts – a mini Easter PSA that lillies are deadly to cats.
I didn’t know this and feel fortunate that none of my feline friends ever got sick.
[FYI 19:32est “Links” link is down]
I wish I was eating at Jeri’s place– after reading this I’m about ready to chew off my arm. Thanks
Me? I am having home-grown mustard greens with spaghetti and home-made spicy sauce.
Daffodils in full bloom here, fragrant hyacinths, too. We have tulips next up, followed by irises, then Asiatic lillies in June.
Easter dinner was a NYT recipe for brined pork chops with onions and fennel. Looking forward to homegrown fennel into summer and fall.
Vegetable seedlings are struggling; we got a bag of bad potting soil that had fungus gnats. Very difficult to control. We find a small vacuum works best. And each day in natural sunshine benefits them greatly. But many things don’t get Planted until late May,after frost.
Tomorrow night and Tuesday are snow for sure! 4-8 inches!
I love fennel and often make a simple fennel kim chi, with a bit of Granny Smith apple and some garlic.
Is the fennel you speak of here the Florence fennel of the big basal bulb type?
Yes, it is. I got the idea for fennel kim chi from the Fermentation handbook in the River Cottage series. If you’re interested in a recipe, let me know and I can supply further details. Fennel kim chi goes well with lots of things.
That sounds like a recipe which might interest quite a few people here, if you were to decide to copy it here ( if that is permitted).
I found out something interesting about fennel once. When it is getting ready to flower, and the forming flower buds are still very immature and soft, they taste “like” fennel but sweeter and less herbally harsh and more vegetable-seeming. They could be cut up real fine and put into combinations of tomato, onion, etc. with or without the kinds of fish that would go with tomato, onion , etc.
Johnny’s Selected Seeds sometimes sells seed of a German type of strictly leaf fennel called Grosfruchtiger.
I keep telling myself I might get some seeds of it. Maybe maybe.
Another thing I have noticed is that while the long thin white roots of fennel plants seem tough and maybe woody when raw, when finely diced and steamed for a while they are firmly chewy without any stringy fiber at all. They taste about like mild parsnip with a hint of fennel taste. Someone should start a project of trying to select for and then breed for fennel with carrot-sized roots so that we could have a new root vegetable.
And also fennel is one of the more aggressive ram-punch tap-rooting plants I have seen at the garden level. Its narrow tap root goes straight down. I found one growing on stiff high-clay lawn soil once and pulled it out and found its tap root was only 6 inches long but was still doing its best to drill straight down into that heavy clay. It makes me wonder if fennel could be a powerful soil-deepening and sub-soil opening-up plant to grow as part of a soil-improvement mix of plants.
Here you go. I use a kitchen scale and metric measurements.
Take 2 large fennel bulbs, and chop into 2-3 cm. chunks. Soak overnight in a 4% salt solution: 40 mg sea salt (or kosher salt, NOT iodized) mixed into 1 liter of filtered water.
The next day, drain the fennel, reserving the brine.
Chop some peeled granny smith or tart cooking apples into 1 cm chunks, and mix with the brined fennel, in a ratio of 3 parts fennel to 1 part apple (by weight). One or two apples. It’s okay to use more fennel, but don’t overdo the apple. You can leave out the apple if you prefer.
1 or more red chilis (or chipotles, if you like the hint of smoke they provide)
4 cloves garlic, peeled (and chopped, if you want a stronger garlic flavour)
2 tbsp grated ginger
2 tsp gochujang paste, or 2tsp paprika, mild, medium or hot, depending on your heat tolerance
Make a paste from the spices and mix thoroughly with the fennel/apple mixture.
Decant into large clean jars – 1/2, 3/4, or 1 liter size. I use Weck but you can use Le Parfait or Mason. Whatever you have on hand. (Before filling, run the jars through the dishwasher or scald them with boiling water.)
Pack the spiced veg into the jars, tamping the mixture down to eliminate air pockets. Cover with the reserved brine. Place a piece of cheesecloth, or large veg leaves (vine leaves, beet greens, etc.) on top of the mixture, so the kimchi stays submerged under the brine. It’s useful to add a pickling weight – basically, a glass or ceramic weight that keeps the veg from flowing to the surface. Pickling equipment – jars and weights – are reusable.
The brine should cover the veg thoroughly and there should be about a cm of head space at the top of the jar. You may need to add a bit more of 4% salt solution. Seal the jar – the Weck uses removable clips. Place jars on a saucer, as it’s normal for the brine to overflow the jar and one doesn’t want to create a mess. Keep the jars in a cool place and check every day, opening and ‘burping’ the jar. Make sure the veg stays submerged, adding a bit of 4% salt solution as necessary. Taste after about a week. You can allow the kimchi to continue to ferment if you prefer a stronger flavour.
If you want to store for a long period, the River Cottage Handbook recommends storing the kimchi in sterilized jars in the fridge, where the kimchi lasts indefinitely. It never lasts very long here; we eat it long before.
This recipe is taken from the Fermentation handbook in the River Cottage series, pp. 48-51.
What a relief!
Thank you, Jerri-Lynn for a post that brings smiles and good feelings when we are otherwise so inundated with crises, division, disease, and war.
There are few things better than good friends, good food, good drink, and beautiful flowers. May all of you associated with NC as staff or commentators enjoy an abundance of all of these.
My mother used to sell bulbs for the local chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women every year and we always had loads of gorgeous flowers in the yard.
I haven’t tried bulbs myself, but I’m waiting impatiently for my front yard meadow of wildflowers to really get going. The first small flowers are out, but the bulk of the crop is just getting started. Another month or so and it should be in full flower. I intend to send pix to Lambert if it looks good enough.
Instead of an Easter dinner we, of course, had a Seder with all of the traditional foods and my mother’s latkes were delicious. I have fond memories of those evenings.
Thank you so much for the post!
Now if only spring would come in earnest to the Mid-Atlantic. We keep getting teased with warm weather only to fall back to the 30s. We’re supposed to get snow on Tuesday! Kind of hard to do the mulching and planting we want to do right now.
I always enjoy hearing about your garden, Jeri Lynn. About those morning glories, you’re not growing the “Heavenly Blue” variety and keeping the seeds, are you? ;)
No, not this year, but I’ve grown that variety in the past. Never saved the seeds, though. Perhaps I’ll get a packet of those and try harvesting the seeds. This year, I picked out some bold and showy blooms, Japanese varieties IIRC. One royal blue and a double red.
A small reddish-purple variety self seeds in the back garden. I didn’t plant those; a previous owner must have done so and they sprout reliably, year after year, without any effort by me.
@Henry Moon Pie,
Somewhere in one of my books I have a small sentence or two about how the morning glory seeds should be prepared to liberate the lysergic acid analog chemicals therein for digestive system uptake and assimilation and subsequent CNS effect. I can’t remember what Gordon Wasson wrote about this method. It is buried somewhere in my bookpile. Apparently the hippies kept doing it wrong, and so kept being disappointed over and over again.
Ololiuqui is considered ” very similar” to morning glory.
Always enjoy your gardening posts Jerri-Lynn. Sorry to be late for the party, but took a mental health day yesterday and abstained from staring at a computer so I could work in the garden instead. Then woke up to a light covering of snow this a.m.! As for butterfly plants, in my midwestern city (USDA zone 6b) there are plenty of easy to maintain perennials that we’ve planted over the past 30 years that butterflies seem to love: phlox, bergamot (an ingredient in Earl Grey tea) coneflower, black-eyed susan, Joe Pye Weed (sprawling plant so might not be optimal for tight spaces) and columbine (a biennial that self-sows and grows well even in shade.) Annuals like cosmos and sunflowers also seem to attract butterflies, but the latter also attracts squirrels and chipmonks who snarf down the green sprouts!
I’m in Zone 7b. I planted some bergamot last spring and a phlox plant and Joe Pye weed in the autumn. I hope they all come up this spring.
I plan on taking tomorrow as a mental health day – no internet!
We have butterfly bushes (buddleia) that attract both the yellow and black butterflies as well as various what I call minor pollinators. You have to trim them down occasionally so as not to get top heavy and fall over and break. We also have the much smaller butterfly plants with the deep orange flowers. Don’t know their name. Oh, and bee balms.
I had a large buddleia in a terra cotta pot out front. Must have had it for 15-20 years and paid it very little attention. It died last summer. Don’t know why but I’m looking to replace it if I see a nice one. I like the deep dark buddleias best.
Nothing fancy at our casa as we are not religious. Just delicious spare ribs on the grill and handmade fresh garden salad yesterday. We’re in east central FL, and all our plants are going crazy with the rain. I have 6 orchids, and 4 are in full bloom. The other two are getting set. Love your post, Jerri-Lynn! Hope you and everyone had a peaceful Holiday.
We spent the day completing the installation of a new garden gate and starting the seed trays for the summer garden, those veggies that can’t be sown directly yet. The nighttime temps are still dropping below freezing.
Late in the afternoon we ate leftovers of braised short rib tacos. I was too poopered to cook a holiday meal, but in years past it was usually a leg of lamb with mint pesto. Making up containers of mint pesto is how I process the end-of-the-season mint crop, then freezing it for lamb chops through the winter. I don’t think there’s any savory green I haven’t made pesto out of, mint is the one the that has stuck from year to year. I think I originally pulled the recipe out of an old Bon Appetit.
The soil is alkaline here, so you don’t see a lot of butterfly bushes, nor glorious lilacs or hydrangeas*. What bees and butterflies like in our front yard is Russian sage. (No idea how it may fare in Brooklyn, but from your description probably pretty well.) They mob the blooms for as long as they last, which is months. If you stand out on the sidewalk on a late summer afternoon and listen to the bees, it sounds like whole hives have shown up.
*People still plant them but they’re a bit faded and unhappy looking. We’re not talking the gob-smacking color you get from acid soils like, say, Washington state or Ireland.
Thanks for the info about Russian sage. This is a new one for me; I’ve never heard about it before. I’ll look out for it.
Mint pesto is a good idea. My English husband loves mint with lamb and if I make up some pesto from mint from the garden before frost causes it to die back, I can freeze the pesto and use it until fresh mint is once again available in my garden the following summer.
For the butterfly population try letting Dill and/or Bronze Fennel flower. The former is a main food source for Swallowtails and the latter is just plain gorgeous. Perennial and statuesque getting to 6′ in our Oregon yard so put it at the back or in a corner. Yarrow is also a good choice and perennial. The native White might be better than the hybridised pastels although that might be my own bias showing.
Here in Ann Arbor , Michigan, we have had our traditional Easter Snowfall just a day late. And maybe more snow tonight and then more snow tomorrow.
Very enjoyable post, thank you.
In my Zone 7/6 (which does sprawl a good bit up the east coast) this is a rigorous joy every very late Dec. early Jan–Winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) is one of the earliest flowering plants to bloom, often in January. It has none of the characteristic scents of the family, but the cheery, buttery blooms help dispel winter gloom and bring encouragement to the cabin fevered gardener.</em
They do best hard against a wire fence where they can weave support for their arching form.
Within weeks, the sweet citrus scent of petite and subtle blooms of this continue nipping the heels of winter–
Also known by the evocative names “kiss me at the gate,” “January jasmine,” and “sweet breath of spring,” winter honeysuckle is a deciduous shrub that’s semievergreen in the Lower South region. It’s an early-flowering and long-blooming bushy shrub that’s considered invasive in many states because it’s fast-growing and can restrict native plant growth. (That’s why gardeners are encouraged to consider planting native plants instead—check your local extension office before planting in your area.
imo–The best low cost/big show in the yard for the past 3 weeks has been the Pleniflora version of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kerria_japonica
which often blooms spring and fall for me
good growing to you
my fingers are crossed to pick the years first Broccoli Florets this upcoming week…