Thursday, September 30, 2010

Mimi’s Apple Cake…From Bainbridge to Ellijay and back to Kathleen

Every year about this time, Mimi and Granddaddy traipse up through Georgia’s mountains to find some of the Peach State’s greatest fruits–apples! Each autumn, the Peach State yields bushels and bushels of apples and my grandparents seem to always bring many of those bushels back to our now empty peach country. “Whatever will we do with all these apples? “ Mimi always inquires; yet her queries are always quelled once she gets to cooking and baking with the bounty from their mountain travels.

First comes Gingergold, Jonaold, and of course, Gala, with some of this Farmer’s favorites such as Pink Lady and Fuji rounding out the season. This first trip to the North Georgia Mountains brought us the former apple varieties and the apple baking season has commenced! Another trip to Highlands or even further in North Carolina will bring my grand people back with more apples and I know that we’ll be apple-rich for the season. We have already had pies, some applesauce and, with much fanfare and glee, Mimi’s Apple Cake.

Now Mimi’s Apple Pie is divine, case closed and court dismissed. BUT, Mimi’s Apple Cake just might take the cake for that matter as one of this Farmer’s favorite desserts of all time. One thing so enticing about this delicacy is that it is easy baking at its easiest, yet so elegant in presentation and palette. This cake will make you appear to be a baker’s baker even if this is your first cake. Plus, this recipe allows Mimi and me to open up one of our favorite cookbooks, her hometown of Bainbridge’s very own Recipes of the First United Methodist Church.

      “What I love most about this cookbook is that I can read the recipes from women I’ve known and loved for all my life–this cookbook is as if I’m back in Bainbridge as a young girl eating from many of the tables graced by these recipes.” Mimi.

If you don’t have a small town, Southern church cookbook, then you are missing out. These genres of Southern literature are a post in and of themselves. Much of my culinary inspiration comes from these classics and I highly recommend you finding your favorites from your grandmother’s caches, mama’s library, or from antique malls and used book stores. Trust me, they are worth their weight in butter!

Mimi’s Apple Cake is so delicious and enjoyable for several reasons I feel. One, the toasted pecans in the cake and serving as garnish gives me that sweet and salty complement I crave. Secondly, the simplicity of the cake itself is so appealing. The ingredients are not complicated and are readily on hand. Furthermore, this cake is the gift that keeps giving, more so, a gift you can keep on giving; for you can easily make two, sharing one with friends and keeping one for your family. Christmas, Thanksgiving, or any holiday for that matter, this cake is a perfect gift or contribution to your supper club, dinner party, church dinner on the grounds, or host/hostess gift.

With fresh apples abounding from August to December, this cake is sure to be a hit this fall. From this Farmer’s Mimi and to your table, I hope this cake becomes the apple of your eye.

Mimi’s Apple Cake

3 Eggs
2 cups of sugar (this can be cut down by a third cup if need be)
1 ½ cup of vegetable oil
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 pinch of salt
3 cups of all purpose flour
2 teaspoons of good vanilla
3 cups, about 3 average size apples, of chopped raw apples
1 cup of toasted and chopped pecans
2 teaspoons of cinnamon

  • In a large bowl, beat the eggs, add the sugar and oil, and then add dry ingredients, apples, and nuts.
  • Pour into a greased bunt pan or tube pan.
  • Bake at 335 degrees for 1/ ½ hours.
  • Garnish with freshly whipped cream and roasted pecans, buttered and salted.
  • How easy is that? Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Zillions of Zinnias

ZINNIAS!!!! I am just a full of zeal for zinnias! They’ve been blooming all summer long in the garden and will now take us into fall. From pinwheels to cactus flower shapes to explosions of nearly every color ROYGBIV can offer, these are the bandstand and platform to a cut flower garden.

Native across Mexico and even into parts of South America, zinnias take their genus name from a German botanist Johann Gottfried Zinn. Mr. Zinn became infatuated with the New World’s flora species. Soon, the gardens across “The Pond” were brimming with zinnias – beds chocked full of bright, fiesta colored, sand-papery leaved mementos of their native land.

Some species of zinnia could serve a small salad on their flower head and some are thimble sized. Petals forming domes, dahlia shaped blooms, and even firecracker shaped blossoms make these treats for the garden and gardener. Long lasting as cut flowers, you can enjoy each and every shape and color your garden offers.

This Farmer has been growing zinnias for as long as he can remember. They are one of Mimi’s favorite flowers, reseeded themselves readily at the farm, and are right and regular mainstays in the Southern garden. Good Friday, the benchmark day for seed and transplant planting in the Deep South, and Easter weekend is when I remember (and still do plant) planting zinnia seeds, usually because I got a few packets of seeds in my Easter basket. Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon in spring; meaning, that the last frost is nigh. Though we often have a frost or chill around Easter, that weekend still reels true as the time to plant young transplants and seeds. Quite symbolic too if you ask me…planting and covering with earth and having new life rising up from said earth…not a bad Easter illustration.

Part of the benefit of planting flowers such as zinnias at Easter is the commencement of a staggered planting plan, providing you and your garden with buckets of blooms from the first to last frosts. I have found that planting in succession, say two to three week intervals, ensures your garden with seasons of blossoms to enjoy and arrange. When the first crop is tired or spent, the next, or successive crops, are coming in strong right behind the first.

Zinnias benefit from deadheading and what better way to dead head than by snipping flowers for arrangements!? Mounds of these colorful florets, a single blossom, or a tonal hued tableau are easy ways to enjoy these prizes from the garden. I love to use old crockery, Mason jars, and vintage glass in fun colors to match the theme of my zinnias’ color ways.

Lots of light, moderate water (don’t overwater) and a fertile, well drained soil will give you zillions of zinnias. If by chance you cannot grow them, farmer’s markets and roadside stands often sell them for a nickel or dime a stem and well worth it for your aesthetic pleasure.

From chartreuse to lavender to red, pink, orange, and every salmon, cream, and lilac in between, I’m sure there is a zinnia shade for you –  and for every shade there is a shape. Explore the New World as the botanist Zinn did but within the comforts of your garden – find a brave new world of zinnias and color your world with their delightful nature! From this Farmer’s garden, I hope you find your zeal for zinnias!

A Few Zinnias I Love to Grow:

  • Burpee Seed Company’s “Cut and Come Again” mix: literally dozens upon dozens of ever color all summer long. I also like Burpee’s “State Fair” and “Oklahoma Mix”
  • ‘Envy’ is a chartreuse zinnia that is fantastic in bouquets and garden borders…that color makes any arrangement, planted or composed, pop! Try ‘Tequila Lime’ for another chartreuse.
  • ‘White Wedding’ from Burpee…pure white…wonderful for late summer evening bouquets to reflect the light…or even a wedding!
  • Zinnia angustifolia or “Narrow Leaf Zinnia” is an all summer all star in beds and pots. Hot and dry is a super climate for these dynamos.
  • Zinnia haageana or the Mexican Zinnia bodes well from south of the border! A true fiesta of colors and texture…late summer is a super time for these and I’ve found that starting from seed in late June and early July helps defeat powdery mildew problems.
  • Profusion series…cherry, orange, and cream colored, these are a definite for the summer annual beds.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Early Fall Dinner Party

Just the mention of fall, even the mere thought of it, gets this Farmer ready for autumnal glory. One way to welcome the season is to welcome new friends into the fold. An impromptu dinner party for these new friends and old friends alike, partnered with some early fall décor, and good food sounded like the perfect way to kick off into autumn.

Soups, stews, chowders and bisques - whatever you fancy - are one pot wonders that are just the ticket to an easy entrée for your friends and family. I chose to stick with a Farmer’s favorite, Mexican Stew paired with skillet cornbread. Luckily, my gracious guests offered to bring the appetizers, sides, and dessert, so farming out the fixings to the other couples made for an easy way to cut down on preparation as well. A delicious green salad and apple cobbler from one couple and a fun new recipe came from another – Raspberry Black Bean Dip …yum! All made for the perfect accoutrements for the evening’s meal.

Equally as fun as the food and fellowship is the chance to gear up the ol’ house and change the guard from summer to fall. Little things such as a table cloth switch, a new candle, or trading out a bowl of shells for an arrangement of fall foliage and feathers just helps me get in the mood for the approaching season. Having company over is such a good excuse to gussy up the place and check off those little “to do’s” hanging over your head as well i.e. light bulb in guest bath, petrified arrangement on foyer table, and more shabby than chic pots by the front door.

An old tin feed trough filled with crotons, sunflowers, dried hydrangeas, magnolia, pheasant feathers, and, why not, Mr. Pheasant himself, graced the console in my dining room and set the theme for the party. A mustard and cream tablecloth accented with sunflowers, mix and match vintage napkins, basket weave dinnerware, and depression glass goblets all kept a jaunty early fall feel for the tableau. I always recommend having great basics that can be used and reused all year long and then totally changed for the season simply by seasonal stems, flowers, foliage or linens.

Invite a few friends over, spruce up around the house and usher in the new season with a bit of fanfare. Casual dining, great atmosphere, and a super mix of folks will always ere on the side of a good time. From this Farmer’s home and garden, happy fall, ya’ll!

Raspberry Black Bean Dip… courtesy of Mrs. Phillip Potter aka Meredith Barr Potter

Farmer’s Note: I am just giddy for sweet and salty combos…this one, with a little heat, is just delicious…we tore into it before its glamour shot and an empty dish says a whole lot!

  • ¼ cup chopped onion
  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and mashed
  • 1/3-cup seedless raspberry jam
  • 1-cup hot salsa
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • ½ to ¾ cup shredded Colby-Jack cheese

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • In large mixing bowl, combine onion, cream cheese and mashed beans, blending well. Spread on bottom of 8-inch glass casserole dish.
  • In small mixing bowl, combine preserves and salsa, mixing well.
  • Spread on top of cream cheese mixture.
  • Sprinkle with chili powder. Top with thin layer of cheese.
  • Bake 25 to 30 minutes.
  • Let stand at least 30 minutes before serving.
  • Serve with blue tortilla chips.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Salut! Summer…Adieu à l'été!

Autumn is literally starting in a matter of hours and this Farmer just cannot wait. But as summer wanes and fall begins to wax, I reflect on the wonderful produce and flora summer did give us.

Peaches – glorious peaches – from May through August, filled our tables and tummies with cobblers, crisps, and pies, jams, jellies, and bellinis, and even a chutney, a tart or two, and some simply good peaches and cream.

Blackberries and plums gave us the deepest aubergine to don our homes and tableaux, and plums kept us, well, plum delighted with their juicy goodness. Crunches and conserves and bowls of the summer beauties were just the ticket to enjoy these lovely jewels in summer’s crown.

Veggies – lots of veggies – from corn to tomatoes to okra and squash… the bounty of our land just continued to give and give and made us grateful for all the garden goodness. Jars of pickled summer grandeur will hopefully carry us into next year… until next year’s growing season.

Ahhhhhh…hydrangeas…our tabletops, mantles, foyers, and homes in general were filled with the splendor of this flower. Now, we have them as dried mementos of the dog days of summer, but what a reminder of the fabulous flower. Use the dried mopheads and panicles for autumnal arrangements and holiday décor, but remember their beauty from the summer before.

The Fall Equinox literally takes place at that exact moment when the sun is perpendicular to the equator. On September 22, 2010, the Fall Equinox happens at 11:09 pm EDT, for the Northern Hemisphere. Fall is hours away folks…merely hours away. Let’s ring in the coming season and keep in mind the richness, the splendor, of the summer before.

From this Farmer’s home and garden, Salut! Salut à l'été! Farewell to summer…I won’t miss your heat but will miss your treats!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Falling for Fall…Almost

Are you ready for this Indian Summer to end and autumn to blaze into our lives with its cooler temps, gorgeous colors, invigorating scents, and tantalizing tastes? This Farmer surely is! Wondering as I wander across the Deep South, little bits of fall keep teasing me of the decrescendo of the growing season and glorious end to the year. A cooler morning, the budding salvia, or the change in the sky’s color- I say all this as the September heat still lingers, yet these are glimpses of the coming season and ever present on my journeys. Triumphantly, the garden is brimming with the chance to explode into autumn.

“The day is dying in the west; Heav’n is touching earth with rest, wait and worship while the night, sets the evening lamps alight through all the sky.”

Now that is a mantra for the coming fall – light dimming earlier and setting the scene for the seasons’ change. This time change charges the plants to begin blooming, dehiscing, or preparing for winter and shed the luxe of summer with the elegance of autumn. A few plants that are beginning to bloom and show autumnal note now are:

  • Mexican Salvia
  • Asters
  • Chrysanthemums
  • Beauty Berry
  • Joe Pye Weed
  • Grasses
  • Spider Lilies
  • Swamp Sunflower

These late season bloomers are beginning the swan song of the season, and I hope each one has a place in your garden.

As this September period waxes and wanes, I am reminded of September’s style in the Deep South garden. This is a time of seasonal betwixt, of waiting and wanting, but a time to patiently acknowledge the world around us. A very September time of the year…not fully summer yet not fall…a time with winds of change breezing through the air, color and light metamorphoses abounding, and just a different feel to nature’s pace. With the aforementioned blossoms about to riotously bloom and make the Southern Garden truly memorable, it is fine to accept September as the entre into autumn and not be frustrated by a seasonal limbo.

I hope this September is time of appreciation for you. I have always been frustrated with this time of year, yet I am slowly coming around to appreciate this respite between fanfare seasons, thus building the excitement that is coming with the approaching season. From this Farmer’s garden to yours, Happy September!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Magnolias from My Neck of the Woods to Yours

As a young child growing up on a farm in Hawkinsville, the native flora that surrounded me instilled this Farmer with a love for the indigenous plants that I still treasure today. One native plant family I have always admired is the magnolia clan, with the Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) and its cousins, the big leaf magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla) and the sweet bay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana), growing wild along our creek, down towards the Ocmulgee River, and in the woods in between.

Evergreen, long lasting in arrangements and native across wide portions of the country, the magnolia has become a quintessential specimen in the Southern landscape. From holiday bouquets to garden backdrops, I have come to rely on a variety of magnolia species and cultivars not only as constants in nature’s tableau, but as mainstays for decorating and bringing the garden indoors.

I will arrange their velvety brown backs for contrast in compositions, float single blossoms in a pretty bowl, or arrange branches laden with buds to herald the coming spring– whatever the use, I have a magnolia in mind.

Here are a few magnolias no garden or landscape should be without for year round interest and seasonal splendor:

  • Magnolia grandiflora ‘Alta’-This fastigiate or columnar growing species is ideal for screening and high hedges and wonderful architectural accent to the landscape.
  • Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’-Smaller leaves and flowers than other magnolias; this showstopper boasts lustrous green leaves with cinnamon brown backing and blooms profusely throughout the warm months. ‘Little Gem’ is one of my favorite magnolias to use in decorating the house any time of year.
  • Magnolia grandiflora ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’- “BBB” for short, this is a typical magnolia in my mind’s eye. Large green leaves, velvet-like brown backs on the leaves, and large, alabaster colored flowers that scent any garden or room with a single bloom.
  • Magnolia grandiflora ‘Claudia Wannamaker’- Claudia, as she is known in the landscape world, is a true success story, for this pyramidal growing specimen blooms from an early age, boasts gorgeous foliage, and is more tolerable of northern exposures.
  • Magnolia grandiflora ‘Teddy Bear’ – Appropriately named for the dense indumentum or fuzz on the back of the leaves. Very compact, this slower growing magnolia will surely be a fun addition to the garden or décor.
  • Magnolia soulangiana or Japanese magnolia-one of the first signs of spring, this “tulip tree” bursts forth in the early vernal season with a show of magenta, fuchsia, lavender, pink and white blossoms paired against elegant gray bark. The velvet covered buds make for striking winter displays as well.

  • Magnolia stellata- The star magnolia is a small tree to larger shrub with white or pink flowers in late winter or early spring. This striking specimen is sure to be a star in your garden.

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