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Sydney Jordan Brown

A Very Merry Winter Berry

By | Beet 2021 12 December | No Comments


A Very Merry Winter Berry

While you’ll likely savor Alpine strawberries until late autumn, on occasion you might snatch the last few stragglers in December.  However long they last, you’ll be glad to have Fragaria vesca in your edible landscape.

Commonly known as Alpine strawberries, they’re not only native to the USA and Canada as well Asia and Europe, they’re also true heirloom berries. Because they are so tender, they are not usually a commercial crop.

Although petite in size, these hardy little perennial beauties that will survive to minus 0°F pack a surprising punch with super sweet fruitiness.  Their fragrance and flavor will scent your plate like no other garden strawberry.

Alpine strawberries are also commonly called wild strawberry, woodland strawberry, European strawberry and fraisier de bois. The woodland strawberry variety (Fragaria vesca var. vesca) bears fruit in June, while Alpine strawberries produce fruit all summer long (according to The Strawberry Store).

Like all woodland berries, Alpines aren’t hybrids as with most of the usual strawberries we grow in our gardens.  So, Alpines are one of the only types that will grow true-to-seed, if you collect their seed to sow the next year.

They’re very well-behaved in the garden scape given their lack of runners.  However, they will self-sow but usually remain within reasonable space. Excess plants can easily be potted to share or enjoy the larger yield.

Requiring little attention, Alpines flourish in most garden soil as long as it’s not soggy. Growing to 1 to 2 feet tall, they make excellent border plantings beneath taller plants or trees that provide them with their preferred filtered light.

Alpines also make wonderful container plants if kept in the shadier side of the garden. Unlike hybrid strawberries, they don’t need bright sun to enrich their crimson blush-colored and creamy-skinned fruits as do hybrid strawberries.

There are creamy-white Alpines, too.  If the red ones don’t get you, then the whites surely will with the pronounced fragrance and flavor of intense pineapple. No kidding!  You certainly won’t taste that with hybrid strawberries!

Flowering from early spring through summer and well into autumn, you can have a readily- available supply of these delicious, petite berries on hand.  They bear fruit the first year they’re planted.

If you plan on starting Alpines from seed, be patient as it can take up to a month for their first green sprouts to pop.  Plants are an option if you’re not one to wait.  Whichever way you choose, once started, your plants will self-sow so you won’t need to plant them again.

You can divide the crowns of mature, established plants for more plants and thinning brings new life to existing plants.

Alpine strawberries are best enjoyed fresh when fully ripe.  When mature, they easily slip from their stems.

So, if you’re craving some of these intensely fragrant strawberry and pineapple-flavored berries, put in some Merry Alpine berries of your own.


Sources for Alpine Strawberry Plants and Seeds:

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds


They have seed for Alexandria (scarlet) and White Soul varieties.


The Strawberry Store


They have the most varieties, including: Yellow Wonder and Pineapple Crush, the best-flavored white varieties as well many red types, both seed and plants.


Raintree Nursery


They have five varieties of Alpine plants.




Alpine Strawberry Napoleons

1 package frozen puff pastry (17 ¼ oz) thawed

½ cup organic confectioners’ sugar

1 cup heavy cream

2/3 cup 2% vanilla Greek yogurt (Tillamook was used here)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon almond extract

zest from one organic lemon

2 pints of Alpine strawberries (red, white or both)

2 tablespoons organic sugar


Preheat oven to 350°F.

Open pastry and with a serrated knife cut into eighteen 2×3-inch rectangles.  Place strips on parchment-covered baking sheets. Bake for about 7-10 minutes until puffed.  Remove strips from oven and gently press them to about 1/8” thick with a wire rack. Bake another 8-10 minutes until light brown.

Increase oven to 475°F.

Dust all the strips evenly with confectioners’ sugar (a small shaker works best or a fine sieve) and return to oven for about 10 minutes until browned.

In medium bowl, combine cream and organic sugar.  Whip until soft peaks form.  Add vanilla and almond extracts, yogurt and lemon zest.  Whip until stiff peaks form.

To assemble six pastries:

Spread or pipe ¼” layer of whipped cream on 12 of the pastry rectangles, then top with a single layer of berries.  Stack six filled pastries atop the other six filled pastries. Place a plain pastry rectangle on top of each of the six filled pastries “towers”.  Pipe a rosette of cream atop and pop on a berry.

Six servings.

Plummeting Through Autumn

By | Beet 2021 11 Nov | No Comments

Although we’re finally far from those scorching, smoke-hazed summer days, they were “Plum Good” ones for the Elephant Heart plum. Named for its oblong fruit reminiscent of a heart, its meat is sublimely sweet, succulent, and red as the richest Burgundy wine.  However, given their tenderness, you’ll likely never see or savor one unless it’s from your own tree.

Fortunately for us gardeners, this plum grows wonderfully in the home garden.  Although partially self-fertile, if you have the space, it produces even more if planted near (within 50 ft) a Santa Rosa variety pollinator plum.  

The Elephant Heart plum is a member of the Rosaceae family, as is an apricot. Both are in the Prunus genus, where their shoots have a terminal bud and side buds are solitary, not clustered as with others. Flowers grow in clusters up to five together on short stems and fruits have a groove down one side and a smooth stone.


Luther Burbank, who was instrumental in developing many plum varieties, created a gift for us with the development of the Elephant Heart plum in 1929. 

The Elephant Heart, or simply elephant or blood plum, is not only a very decorative specimen tree but produces one of the most striking and deliciously-flavored plums to be had.

The fruit of the plum is also a drupe, meaning it has an outer fleshy part (exocarp or skin and mesocarp, or flesh) surrounding a pit (or stone) with a seed inside. The true characteristic that defines a drupe is its hard lignified stone derived from the ovary wall of its flower.

The plums can be up to 7”-8” across, have freestone pits and have been nicknamed “blood oranges” for their luscious, richly red meat. Sliced or wedged displays on platters, or atop salads or other dishes, Elephant Hearts make a real showstopper along with the brilliant autumn leaves. They store remarkably well, so your late August-September harvest should last several months if stored in the fridge.

One of these heirloom plums will thrive if you have a sunny, well-drained spot to plant a tree in. A variety with a dwarf rootstock is available (see below). With diligent pruning, you’ll be rewarded bountifully each year. 

So, why not plant a tree of your own to pluck from it an impossible-to-find-elsewhere Elephant Heart plum?

A Bit of Trivia

Did you know?

  • Plums can be as small as a cherry or up to 3” in diameter. The Owen T cultivar is considered the largest, at 3” in diameter. For comparison, a U.S. baseball is up to 9” in diameter.
  • Plums grow on every continent except Antarctica. 
  • There were tart-tasting native plums in North America when the first European settlers arrived,
  • Plum remains have been found in Neolithic age archaeological sites along with olives, grapes and figs. 

Sources for Elephant Heart Plum trees:

One Green World


They have very good stock in a number of sizes.

The author of this article has been using them for over 20 yrs.


Plummily Colossal Crumble

Preheat oven to 350°F and oil bottom and sides of a 9” square baking pan

Crumble mix:

1 cup white whole wheat flour (or gluten free alternative)

½ cup oat flour

1½ cups regular rolled oats (not instant)

½ cup finely chopped toasted walnuts

2/3 cup organic brown sugar

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon each ground allspice and nutmeg

¼ teaspoon sea salt

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

Mix together all the dry ingredients. Pour the oil into the dry ingredients and mix with hands until topping begins to clump together.

Fruit filling:

½ cup organic sugar

2 tablespoons white whole wheat flour (or gluten free flour)

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon sea salt

6 cups plums (about 8-10) washed and each cut in to 6 wedges.

2 tablespoons organic honey

zest and 2 tablespoons of juice from one organic lemon

Mix together dry ingredients.  Add plums, lemon zest and juice, and fold gently together until well-coated.

Spread fruit in prepared pan then cover with topping.  Bake on a cookie sheet in a preheated oven for about 45-50 minutes until bubbly and top is browned.  Serve warm with whipped cream, vanilla yogurt or ice cream.  Makes about 8 servings.

These Roots Are Made For Walkin’

By | Beet 2021 10 October | No Comments

These roots are made for walkin’

and that’s just what they’ll do

One of these days these roots

are gonna walk on over for you…

Although most rooted plants are stuck at the same address throughout their lifespan, not so the Egyptian walking onion. Its traveling abilities have taken it to new lands.

Allium cepa var. proliferum, formerly classified as Allium cepa var. vivparum or var. bulbiferum, is a cross between Allium cepa, cultivated onion, and Allium fistulosum, Welsh onion.

Some consider it rather a tall tale (like those magic beans of Jack’s) that a plant could move to another location on its own. However, the Egyptian walking onion – also known as tree onion, top set onion, top onion, perennial onion and winter onion – is such a miraculous plant.

These onions originated on the Indian subcontinent. Although they can “walk” themselves to their next rooting place, immigrants deliberately selected these hardy plants and carried them from Europe to the US circa 1850.

And hardy they are – down to Zone 3! Burr!!! Egyptian walking onions stay green until winter. Ground bulbs as well as the topset bulbils that fall over and replant themselves can be removed and replanted (in autumn) or be consumed on the spot.

Autumn planting provides for optimal growth, allowing bulbs to root and bulk up on provisions for overwintering. Leaves usually wither back allowing nutrients to concentrate in the bulb.

Plant bulbs with their roots down and the bottom half of bulb below ground, then cover halfway with richly amended soil. They prefer regular irrigation, a well-drained and sunny location to thrive, and a light feeding of balanced fertilizer.

Another unique feature is that bulblet production outdoes all other alliums. More bulblets can form on additional stems off of the existing bulblets making a second layer that resembles a Medusa-style hairdo on an onion plant!

Once established, bulblets at the tips of these green stems can reach an incredible 15” or more. As the top-weighted stems tip over, rooting bulblets (called bulbils) start a whole new generation, hence their “walkin’ on over” to a new location.

Concerned with invasiveness? Although you’ll have a continuous onion supply if they are left unattended, when harvested, Egyptian walking onions’ advancement is easily controlled.

Leaves reemerge in late winter to very early spring. Later in the season, new bulblets will form at leaf tips that will eventually tip over to continue the migration process.

Harvest ground bulbs as well as topsets mid-to late-summer by plucking them from dried parent stalks or from the ground where they’ve already toppled. These topset bulbils may be replanted (store in the fridge in paper sacks until replanting in autumn) or consumed.

What miraculous creations – the entire plant can be consumed! Base onions can be eaten like any onion, the hollow greens chopped like chives, and bulblets can be cooked in soups, peeled and fried, pickled, or roasted whole.

So, if you’re seeking a year-round source for alliums, try sowing some Egyptian walking onion sets. They will soon be “walkin’ on over” to be savored at your next meal.

Did You Know?

Topsets of Egyptian walking onions may fall as far as three feet away from the parent plant.

Ancient Egyptians worshipped onions and believed their spherical shapes and concentric rings represented eternal life. Onions were used in Egyptian burials for pharaohs and small onions were found in the eye sockets of Ramesses IV.

Bulb sources:

Sow True Seed

The Egyptian Walking Onion

Territorial Seeds

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds


Both Baker Creek and Territorial have Egyptian onion sets but are sold out this season. However, you can get on their waiting lists.


Egyptian Onion and Pepper Relish

4 ripe sweet peppers (Bell, Corno di’ Toro, Marconi or other), washed, stems and seeds removed, then cut in strips

2 to 3 bunches of Egyptian walking onions (you can substitute 2 regular red onions), skins and roots removed and sliced. Put either type of onion in boiling water for 1 minute then remove. Skins will then slide off easily.

2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons honey or agave nectar
1 tablespoon each minced fresh rosemary, sage and lime thyme (can use regular thyme instead)
Zest of one organic lime
Fresh ground sea salt and pepper

In a heavy sauté pan, heat oil, then toss in peppers and onions. Stir fry until limp, about 2-3 minutes over medium heat. Slowly pour in the vinegar and honey, stirring to mix thoroughly. Sprinkle minced herbs on top. Continue cooking while stirring frequently until liquid is dissolved, about 10-12 minutes, and vegetables start to caramelize. Sprinkle over the lime zest and add salt and pepper to taste, tossing to mix in. Serve hot, warm or chilled.

Great over meats, poultry, seafood, salads, pizza and sandwiches. Store extra in fridge in covered glass or plastic container.


By | Beet 2021 09 September | No Comments

Are you hoping to be a winner?  Then Allium cepa var. ascalonicum, is the ticket!


Of course, this particular “ticket,” rarely to be had at any market, is the classic shallot.

Why bother with this rather small prize of a bulb when you can have a heftier onion trophy?  Because, shallots are the real treasure among alliums, which include regular drying onions, ramps, garlic (and their scapes), scallions, leeks and bunching onions.


Ever heard of good things coming in small packages? It’s definitely true here since shallots trump the onion in many ways. To start with, they’re more delicately mild and sweet-flavored, with a hint of caramel and a touch of garlicky piquancy.


Shallots are also winners with their richness in fiber, vitamins A, B6, and C, potassium, folate, manganese and antioxidants (which are released when bulbs are sliced or crushed).


Although cultivated for thousands of years, today they’ve become a rather unknown treasure just waiting to be rediscovered.


Most likely originating in Southeast Asia, they spread throughout India and the Mediterranean region.  Noted in Greek history and literature, they were further transported through trading and general crop movements.


So why are shallots such a treasure?  If you’ve never had the pleasure of sampling one, you’re in for a real treat.


Although on the outside shallots may appear like an onion, if you cut one open, you’ll discover that instead of rings like onions, they’re composed of several cloves similar to garlic.


Aside from milder flavor, its texture, form and unique aroma make it a “favorites” winner for a diverse number of dishes.  You can use the bulbs, cook the leaves as a vegetable, add it to salads, pickle it, shave it raw, or even top your presentation with some shallot flowers.


Similar to garlic, shallots should be planted in autumn in our area.  Bulbs, not seeds, are the only way to receive your “prize” of cloves. Order bulbs as early as possible this month.


Shallots prefer a rich, moist soil that’s somewhat sandy, but they will grow in many soil types as long as they’re fertile and well-drained.


Break bulbs apart into individual cloves (like garlic) planting each one 6-8” apart with the root end down (points up, please!), then cover with more composted soil.  Leave about one-third of bulb tops exposed.  Sprinkle the soil surface generously with fine ashes so any fungus thieves won’t steal away your prize.


Keep lightly moistened by watering until rain (pray it comes this autumn) arrives.


Similar to garlic, shallots’ early leaves will die back in winter only to resprout in early spring when bulbs start forming.


Adding nitrogen-rich fertilizer will enhance your growing treasure, as will frequent watering.


In about 90-120 days when leaves have dried, you’ll be rewarded with an amazing jackpot.  After curing in a shaded, well-ventilated area for a couple weeks, they’ll be ready for you to savor. Your very own shallottery!



Did you know?

It takes 18 pounds of fresh shallots to make one pound dried?

In the US, shallots are also referred to as scallions, bunching, or spring onions, but of course they are all very different bulbs.

Some Asian cultures deep fry shallots as a condiment.

Shallot Sources:

Territorial Seeds


Dixondale Farms


Hudson Valley Seed Co


French gray shallot

Gardens Alive



Golden Caramelized Shallots

2 pounds whole shallots peeled (place in boiling water for 1 minute for skins to slip easily off)

2 tablespoons cooking-type olive oil

3 tablespoons honey, good maple syrup or agave nectar

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1/8 teaspoon sea salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper (black may be used but is stronger)

1 teaspoon fresh rosemary finely minced

Zest of one organic lemon

Preheat oven to 400°.

In heavy ovenproof skillet, heat olive oil until hot.  Add shallots and honey, stirring until shallots begin to brown.  Add in vinegar, salt and pepper, then stir until shallots are well coated.  

Sprinkle the rosemary over the shallots and roast in oven about 20-30 minutes until caramelized.

Remove from oven and sprinkle with lemon zest and serve as a side dish, a topping for meats, poultry, or seafood, or serve warm or chilled for salad.  Also great on a sandwich as a gourmet relish.

This rad is a dish!

By | Beet 2021 08 August | No Comments

There is definitely nothing dreary about this most distinctive vegetable, Raphanus sativus, the Red Meat radish.

Native to China (one of the first vegetables traded along the routes between Europe and Asia), Red Meat radishes, also known as Watermelon and Beauty Heart, are quite different from their daikon relations.

Likely originating in Southeast Asia or Central Asia, radishes have been cultivated for several thousand years. Its propagation for food and medicinal use by the ancient Greeks starting about 2,500 years ago, and continued by Romans, encouraged its spread across new lands.

It’s no wonder the original Chinese named them Xin Li Mei or Shinrimei, meaning “in one’s heart beautiful.” These names also denote the vibrancy of its fuchsia-colored flesh.

Unlike spring radishes, Red Meats are winter radishes that can be sown from mid-August through September.  

Tender but crisp, sweet flesh varies from mildly spicy to pungent and peppery. Though known for “watermelon-like” interiors, the exteriors are unique With shoulders of pale green fading to creamy white, Red Meats can grow anywhere from golf ball to soft ball size. 

Chefs have had a long-lived love affair with Red Meats since they pair so delightfully with many ingredients and dishes, from salads and stir-fries to sandwiches and appetizer plates. They’re delicious with fennel, tart goat cheeses, cooked eggs, and seafood or sprinkled with sea salt and cracked pepper.

Both roots and greens provide an excellent source of vitamin C, (this is particularly so when consumed raw), phenolic compounds and fiber.

Radishes contain isothiocyanate. This chemical compound serves as a natural pest repellent. When planted alongside other crops, the release of its pungent isothiocyanate compounds can repel weeds, pests and soil-born pathogens. What a deal from one tasty and unique little plant!

Although it’s a bit of a challenge in our area to sow seed successfully in August, especially during a summer of such searing summer heat, it can be done. Using shade cloth as well as a good coating of mulch on soil kept consistently moist will assist with more successful sprouting. The mulch will also retain needed moisture so watering may be kept to a minimum.

Sow presoaked seeds, (soaking in water overnight helps hard seeds sprout better), about ¼” deep in well amended soil that’s very friable. Radishes prefer lofty and light soil over heavy and hard soil for their temporary home.

Once they’ve sprouted, thin Red Meat radish seedlings to about 3” to 4” apart. This generous spacing will allow them adequate space to grow larger.

Depending on when they’re sown, you could well have your first spectacular radish root crop by summer’s end. And that’s not all.  If well protected with a good layer of mulch or straw, your radish roots will not only keep on growing, but will also bring forth even sweeter treats all winter long.

So, if you’re looking for a fiery and sweet sensational addition to your garden plot and serving plate, sow in some Red Meat seed to add some new “Rad” to your every dish.


Seed Sources:

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Johnny’s Select Seeds

Pinetree Garden Seeds



Red Meat Radish Salad


3 Red Meat radishes, with roots removed and sliced thin

1 large seedless-type cucumber

4 cups arugula

4 oz herbed goat cheese

1/3 cup pistachio nuts

Lemon vinaigrette:

Lemon vinaigrette (best made 24 hours ahead)

Juice and zest from one organic lemon

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoon honey, agave nectar or real maple syrup

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

1/8 teaspoon sea salt

2 teaspoons minced tarragon (fresh or dried)


Put all ingredients in a pint jar with lid and shake until well blended. Refrigerate until needed.

On individual salad plates, mound arugula, then arrange slices of radish and cucumber on top.  Sprinkle goat cheese and pistachio nuts over each salad. Drizzle with lemon vinaigrette and serve.

Makes 4 servings.