Wednesday, April 15, 2009


I returned from the garden this morning with a trug basket brimming over with daffodils. What bliss! Scattering around several arrangements of the daff's combined with early forsythia, I will see these happy flowers everywhere, all day long. My "host of golden daffodils" tells me that winter is over and the gardening season is about to begin again. 'Again' is the operative word here. The joy of gardening is we can always start over, again, every year Full of enthusiasm when wallowing about in the garden catalogs, I always try at least three new things in the perennial border each season. Some are successful, some are not. And I have learned a lot, I must say. Gardening is always grand adventure.

The daffodils and forsythia tell me it is time to plant lettuce, radishes and green onions. I happily paw over the garden seeds packets, having ordered them in January, to find Claytonia, also called Miner's Lettuce or Winter Purslane. This northwest US native can tolerate bit of frost and it should be ready to harvest in 60 days. Growing in green tufts with delicate edible white flowers in each leave's center, the packet assures me that Claytonia's leaves will bring a rich creaminess to delicate spring salads. We'll see; watch this space for a later report on this salad green. I will have recipes for both a tossed green salad with an unusual dressing in a later column.

Preparing a perennial border with ongoing solid color the whole season is every gardener's dream. For a beginning gardener, a good plan is give the border its backbone by planting five very dependable groups: Flowering bulbs, peonies, daylilies, phlox and mums. The rest of the things we plant in around the basics are luxurious fillers and permit us to be truly creative.

Since this is not the season to plant bulbs or peonies, let's start with daylilies, or hemerocallis, which comes from the Greek, meaning "beauty for a day." The individual blooms do indeed last just one day. Daylilies came to us form China and Japan, where they were used as food and medicine. Traders eventually brought them to Europe (along with rhubarb) and the intrepid plant found its way to the Colonies. A very popular garden addition, they soon escaped from flower patches and flourished along the roadside. They are now as much of America as that other popular import, apple pie. Deep orange in color, the colonists called them tiger lilies. We still see these tenacious flowers along our Hoosier roadsides today. With their tight root system, they effectively hold small banks in place, and in late summer when we drive down country roads, these determined wild orange daylilies provide handsome color in our wild landscape.

Daylilies are easy to grow and only need average soil. Their arching foliage is handsome and eventually the mature plants can act as a trouble-free ground cover. They never need spraying, and flourish with little attention, though I do give them a shot of Miracle Gro in mid spring. They ought to be divided every 3 or 4 years, a simple dig and slice procedure. Deadheading every other day improves their appearance, but not everyone does this, just the obsessive-compulsive gardeners such as myself.

I mainly grow tetraploid dayliles, which have 48 chromosomes, instead of the original varieties which are called diploids. They have 24 chromosomes. Tetraploids, or tets, as they are generally called, are bigger, stronger, and have intensely colored large blooms. Since my garden is mostly viewed fro a distance, tets are ideal for me. But, of course, I also have some favorite diploids too, that I couldn't be without.

Some varieties that I especially like include 'Barbara Mitchell,' a diploid of pale lavender pink with a green throat. Midseason Rebloomer, 20" tall; "Chicago "Blackout', tetraploid, a deep blackberry color with a small yellow eye. Midseason, 30"; 'El Desperado,' tetraploid, medium yellow flowers with wine-purple throat. Late blooming, 28"; 'Joan Senior' remains my all time favorite. Nearly white with a lime green eye, it has a high bud count. Midseason 25"; 'Pardon Me' is one of the best reds because of its length of bloom time. Midseason with rebloom, 22-28"; 'Ruby Throat,' tetraploid, a stinging vibrant red, with a velvety color finish. Midseason, 21"; 'Ruffled Apricot,' lightly ruffled apricot color, 7" blooms with an intense golden throat. It is also
fragrant and a vigorous grower. Midseason, 28"; 'Happy Returns' is a short light yellow fragrant daylily that blooms all season long. I urge you to plant this little daylily instead of the ever-present over planted 'Stella d'Oro.' Popular because it does indeed bloom itself silly, 'Stella's color is an offensively muddy goldish shade that is difficult to combine with other flower tones in a border. If you need/want a short yellow daylily, do plant 'Happy Returns.'

Since daylilies are edible, I have experimented with serving them fresh, stuffed with Boursin cheese and fresh herbs, and also lightly breaded in panko crumbs and deep-fried. It pains me to report both appetizers were viewed with suspicion, were barely touched, and no one wanted the recipes. Oh, well.

My favorite way to use daylilies is to go into the garden a little before 5 P.M. or at cocktail time, with a handsome antique platter or silver tray and simply pluck off the blooms, which by this time will be fully out. Arranging them on the tray interspersed with a bit of chartreuse lady's mantle or other light greenery creates a quick and handsome centerpiece. I must warn you, however, the next morning, the elegant arrangement, rather like Cinderella, has disappeared. Left on the platter will be gooey yucky stuff. These "beauty for a day" flowers were appropriately named.

Here is a list of catalogs from which you can order the above items: Bluestone Perennials
1-800-852-5243; Busse Gardens Perennials 1-800-544-3192; Heirloom Select Seeds
1-800-684-0395 and John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds 1-800-567-6086.

Friday, April 10, 2009


Since currently there is nothing to prepare from the garden, I want to share with you an absolutely sublime bread pudding recipe. I have been looking for this version of bread pudding for years, and finally found it last week in my mother's favorite cookbook, of course, that black and orange tome, THE HOUSEHOLD SEARCHLIGHT COOKBOOK, published by the Household Magazines with the original copyright being 1931. If you have one, hold onto it; they have become quite valuable.

This bread pudding is not heavy and weighted down with too much bread as bread puddings are now. Instead, the bread part is about the top one-inch of the pudding and underneath is perfect golden yellow quivering custard. I substituted craisins--dried cranberries--for the traditional black raisins, though you could also use currants or yellow raisins.

Use a good artisan style bread if you can, or leftover cinnamon sweet rolls, scraping off the frosting and nuts and discarding. The commercial puffy white bread is not ideal for this recipe.


1 to 1 1/2 cups bread cubes (no crust) or sweet roll pieces about 1 to 2 inches in size
3 tablespoons cherry-flavored cranberries--craisins
2 cups milk, scalded, set aside to cool
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg or cinnamon
pinch of salt
garnish; modest drift of ground mace

Place a flat pan of hot water in the oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Treat a 4-5 cup deep dish (a one-quart souffle dish is ideal) with release spray and set aside. Prepare the bread pieces and set aside. Measure out the craisins in a Pyrex cup, cover with water and microwave for 30 seconds; set aside.

You are now ready to begin. By preparing everything you need in advance, you will save lots of time. The French call this mise en place.

In a small saucepan, over medium heat, heat the milk until bubbles begin to form around the edges of the pan; remove from the heat. Add the butter and allow the mixture to cool.

In a medium bowl, beat the eggs slightly, or until broken up. Whisk in the sugar, nutmeg, vanilla and salt; blend, but not enthusiastically. You don't want a froth, just a mass.

Drain the craisins. Gradually whisk in the milk and butter mixture, then the bread and craisins. Transfer to the treated baking dish. Drift a bit of mace on top of the pudding. Lower the dish into the hot water bath. Bake for 1 hour, or until the top of the pudding is firm when touched with your fingertip and it holds together when lightly shaken. Immediately remove from the bath to a rack to cool. Can be served warm or cold, with or without a pitcher of cream..
Essen Gut! Eat Good!