KODIAK — How do you know when to harvest?
We want to do the right thing, make the best of all our efforts, be in sync with nature’s rhythms and not wait too long, lest your world-class pumpkin develop a hole.
That’s what happened to Dale Marshall of Palmer when he tried to grow a record-breaking pumpkin. In 2011, his 1,723-pounder was disqualified because of a hole. Then in 2015, a crane broke while hosting the pumpkin, which smashed to the ground. A sad moment, no doubt.
Sad moments come when your veggies misbehave while you are harvesting. For example, potatoes that split for no reason as you drop them in the bucket. They don’t taste any different but suddenly they’re not suitable for storage. Or how about a carrot that, on the surface, appears normal, but when you pull it from the soil, it resembles a cartoon octopus.
I remember when I grew lettuce for the first time, I was so enamored with the process that I let it grow and grow and grow until it looked like a miniature skyscraper in Dubai. Topped with tiny flowers and leaves, surely it was still edible, I thought.
I picked a salad’s worth and proudly marched into the kitchen. To the bowl I added a sprinkling of chopped tomatoes and drizzled the whole thing with Italian dressing. I put a forkful in my mouth and, with acute anticipation, closed my eyes and started chewing.
“Yech!” The bitterness assaulted my taste buds. I spit it out into a paper napkin.
I have come to find out, lettuce loses its mellow, neutral flavor as it ages. Change is a constant and plants wait for no humans. Tomatoes split on the vine, currants fall off the branches, salmonberries turn black, blueberries shrivel on their stems.
So I was dubious last week when friends who were visiting from California wanted to go blueberry picking.
“It’s been dry lately,” I warned. “We might not find much.”
We trundled off to My Favorite Blueberry Patch. At first, all we saw were shriveled specimens. But the further we ventured off-trail, the more just-ripe berries we found.
They weren’t perfect berries, small by comparison. But we were grateful. In fact, the petit blueberries were ideal for trying out a new muffin recipe, called Blueberry Lassy Muffins, from the cookbook “Plant-Powered Families” by Dreena Burton.
Blueberry Lassy Muffins
“Lassy” is an affectionate term for molasses in Newfoundland, where Dreena grew up. You might notice there are no eggs in this recipe. That’s no accident. Give them a try. I think you’ll be amazed…
2-1/4 cups whole wheat or spelt flour
1/4 cup brown or unrefined sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 TBL molasses
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
3/4 cup non-dairy milk
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup fresh blueberries
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Prepare a muffin pan with oil spray or cupcake liners. In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients. In a medium bowl, stir together molasses, applesauce, milk, maple syrup, and vanilla. Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture and stir gently until just combined (do not overmix). Fold in the berries. Fill the muffin pockets about 3/4 full and bake for 18-22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Makes 12 muffins.
Back to Marshall’s pumpkin quest. He was trying again for a record. “Growing big pumpkins is all about ‘vine management’ and about 70 gallons of water for the greenhouse each day,” he told the Anchorage Daily News. For fear of pumpkins cracking and splitting, growers get obsessive about moisture and timing the harvest. They’ve been known to vacuum the morning dew of their prize gourds.
At this year’s Alaska State Fair in Palmer, Marshall’s pumpkin tipped the scale at 1,469 pounds, shattering the 2011 state fair pumpkin record of 1,287 pounds. The world record stands at 2,323.7 pounds.
Marshall said pumpkins this big don’t taste any good, but he will keep the giant fruit on display at his house, “as long as the moose don’t eat it.”
Meanwhile, I’ll pickle my woody green beans, and pay more attention to when plants tell me, “Hey, human. It’s time to harvest!”