One Potato, Two Potatoes

A few weeks ago mister gardener harvested masses of potatoes from his garden. He doesn’t have to think garden spudstwice about when to dig. He just knows. Out the door he goes each September with two empty bushel baskets and a pitch fork and back he comes several hours later with mountains of spuds, Red Potomac, Yukon Gold and Russet, ready to store in a dark, cool corner of the garage for the winter.

I know that our menus will undergo the annual change from more rice in the summer to more potatoes in the cooler months. You see, mister gardener is not only the official Grower of the Family Vegetables, he is also the Chef de Cuisine.  Like Forest Gump and shrimp, mister cook will spend the winter creating different approaches to preparing this versatile tuber from the soil.  His potatoes will be baked, boiled and sauteed; they’ll be mashed, steamed and french-fried; he will roast them, make potato salad and arrange them in casseroles like scalloped potatoes or au gratin potatoes, all of which I love.

Each day mister cook puts much thought and preparation into his meals but his culinary mastery is most obvious when one tastes his soups. Not only does he grow his own vegetables, he prepares his own stock, he grinds his own meat and he makes his own noodles. Of all his soups, my favorite is his corn chowder made with garden fresh Yukon potatoes.corn chowder The recipe follows:

Corn Chowder with Yukon Potatoes

serves 6

4 strips bacon (can leave out if vegetarian), cooked and crumbled
1 yellow onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 T. butter
2 T. all-purpose flour
2 c. chicken stock
2 c. 2% milk
4 cobs corn, kernels removed
2 t. chopped fresh thyme
2 Yukon potatoes, peeled and diced
salt, pepper, paprika, parsley

Cook bacon over medium heat until crispy, then remove from pan, leaving fat.  Add the onion, celery and carrot and saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Add red pepper and cook a few minutes more.  Remove from pan.

Melt butter in the same pan over low heat.  Add flour and stir for a few minutes until it takes on a nutty aroma but does not color.  Gradually whisk in chicken stock and whisk until smooth.  Whisk in milk and turn up heat to medium.  Add crumbled bacon, sauteed veggies, corn and thyme.  Add diced potatoes and simmer for about 20  minutes or until potatoes are cooked through.  Taste, season and serve.  Sprinkle with paprika and chopped parsley for color if desired.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Virginia

The Cow Killer, also known as Red Velvet Ant

Cow KillerI’m not walking in the garden without shoes again.  Today I saw a Cow Killer as I weeded in my bare feet.  I called for mister gardener to quickly bring me my camera because the insect moves fast.  Named Red Velvet Ant for the fine layer of hairs on the body, it is also called Cow Killer for the venomous punch it packs when it stings.  Actually, it is not an ant at all but one of the 475 species of Velvet Ant parasitic wasps in North America.  The winged male does not sting but the wingless female, usually nocturnal, wanders the flower garden dining on nectar while searching for the tunnels of ground-nesting wasps, especially the cicada wasp.  The female Velvet Ant will sneak into the tunnel and lay eggs on the host larva which the Velvet Ant young will consume after hatching. She has a nearly indestructible exoskeleton which protects her from the sting of the cicada wasp should they meet in the ground nest.

cow killer

The Cow Killer is a solitary wasp and does not live in a colony or have a nest of her own.  She is not aggressive and will try to escape if disturbed.  Interestingly, she does make a sound.  As a child, I would touch one with a twig just to hear the tiny squeak it made.  These beautiful wasps are not numerous and cause no damage to plants. No chemical control is needed.  Teach others about them, appreciate them, and leave them alone as they have a purpose in keeping the bee and wasp population in check.  My advice: Simply defend yourself against a painful sting and wear shoes in the garden.

Red Velvet Ant

See September 12:  “A Red Velvet Ant Stops in for Lunch”

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester