Peak Eating;Late summer is a time of unparalleled garden bounty. Eat it up, and don’t forget to share the scraps with your hard-working flock!
Photo Credit: Tristan Pierce
From Florida all the way on up to the Yukon, gardens are delivering on promises made back in early spring: sun-warmed tomatoes, sweet corn, juicy watermelons, leafy greens, and so much more.
There’s a rule of thumb for great food and wine pairing: If it grows together, it goes together. But you could also say: Same harvest time? Tastes fine! Think: tomatoes and basil; watermelon and mint; corn and…well, corn and just about anything! But generally speaking, if it’s ready to come out of the garden at the same time, it’ll probably taste pretty good together at the table.
Here are a few of my go-to, fresh-from-the-garden recipes that I’ll be enjoying again and again and again until we’re into apple and pumpkin time. Speaking of, roasted apples and pumpkin – mmmm mm! These are the sort of dishes to savour outside, and since the hens will most likely be giving you serious stink-eye from the run, remember to share!
Classic Caprese Salad
An Italian summer tradition, this simple, composed salad combines the perfect, sun-soaked flavors of vine-ripened tomato, with just-picked basil, fresh, mild cheese – mozzarella, bocconcini, burrata, or fior di latte – with a drizzle of the best olive oil you can afford, a pinch of chunky sea salt, and a grating of fresh black pepper. I amp up the healthfulness of this salad by adding some fresh garden greens. Make a huge platter’s worth and bring it to the table with a loaf of crusty white bread for sopping up all the juices.
Vine ripened tomatoes
Extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Garden fresh leafy greens
There really isn’t a recipe for this; there’s nothing to measure, just make as much as you need and use as much or as little basil as you enjoy. Tomatoes should be sliced about ¼-inch; basil leaves torn or left whole; cheese torn or sliced; and olive oil drizzled with abandon!
Any offcuts from the tomatoes are perfectly good treats for the ladies. I find mine don’t care for basil, so the stems go to the compost pile. But they love tomatoes. I know this because of the telltale beak-shaped holes I find in the fruit! Just don’t give them too many tomatoes, and not too often; they can be too acidic for them and might cause the runs and give them a sort of crop ‘heartburn’. Also, remember, tomatoes are nightshades – as are eggplants, potatoes, and peppers – so don’t give them any parts of these plants, other than the fruits, and never give them green potatoes or potato skins. Green potatoes have been exposed to the sun and have developed a toxin – solanine – that can collect in the liver, doing
damage over time. On the other hand, leafy greens – especially spinach – are real favourites of the ladies. All that deep green helps make their yolks rich and orange, but, spinach, along with Swiss chard and beet greens, contain oxalic acid which inhibits the hen’s ability to absorb calcium from her feed, and that’s not good for egg shell building. So limit intake or add a little apple cider vinegar to their water to help mitigate the effects of the oxalic acid.
Giving chickens cheese and other dairy is controversial; some say no, never; some say, once in a very wee while. That’s the camp I fall into; once in a blue moon as a real treat, though I will give them yogurt more often as a probiotic supplement to crop and digestive health.
Photo Credit: Tristan Peirce
Little India Grilled Corn
I’m generally a purist when it comes to corn on the cob – that means quickly boiled and slathered in unconscionable amounts of butter and salt – but as the season wears on, I become a little more adventurous and like to change it up a bit. When I lived in Toronto, Ontario, I’d often visit a neighborhood known as Little India. In late summer, vendors with barbecues set up shop on the sidewalks, grilling corn on the cob until the kernels charred and popped. Then, using the cut side of half a lime dipped into a scorching hot mix of spices, the grill man would rub the cob with this lip-smacking combination of hot, aromatic spices, and tangy lime, and it was heavenly – if a little painful! Here’s my less fiery version.
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp black pepper
2 tsp curry power
1 tsp sugar
6 ears corn on the cob, shucked
Photo Credit: Tristan Pierce
Mix all the spices and sugar together; make sure there are no clumps. Pour the spice blend onto a dish.
Cut 2 limes in half.
When you shuck the corn, remember to keep that bit of stalk on to use as a handle. Grill shucked corn over high heat – turning often – until some black spots appear and you can hear the odd kernel exploding!
When the corn is done – about 5 – 7 minutes in total – dip the cut side of lime into the spice mixture and rub it all over the corn. You might need to re-dip the lime into the spices once or twice more. Remember to squeeze the lime ‘applicator’ ever so gently as you rub to get some tart lime juice onto the corn along with those spices!
Serves 2 – 4 depending on appetite!
When I shuck corn outside, I’ve noticed my girls pecking at the corn silk when it’s very soft and fresh, eating a few threads and looking through the rest of the husks for bugs. Toss your nibbled-on cobs to the ladies, too. They can always find a missed kernel or two and they don’t mind the spices. Just make sure their water is all topped up!
Watermelon, Mint, Ginger Ale Fizz
This might be the most refreshing drink to come out of a blender…ever! And one of the simplest, too. Hopefully you planted some seedless varieties of watermelon, but if you didn’t, you’ll want to pick the seeds out and give them to the ladies. Start this recipe the day ahead by freezing the watermelon chunks.
Photo Credit: Tristan Pierce
4 cups watermelon, seeded and cut into about 2-inch cubes
1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh mint; save a few whole leaves for garnishing
1 family-size bottle of chilled ginger ale
Add the frozen watermelon, chopped mint to a blender. Blend until smooth and slushy.
Pour the watermelon “slush” into glasses – fill about half-way – then top up with the chilled ginger ale. Be careful, because it’s going to fizz and foam. Garnish with a leaf of mint, if desired. Drink up immediately!
My hens love, love, love watermelon and especially watermelon seeds. In fact, they love all melon and squash seeds – cucumber, pumpkin, cantaloupe – which is great, since some experts believe melon and squash seeds can act as a natural de-wormer, though the science is not in on this yet - not conclusively, anyway. Give them the melon rind off cuts. Save the mint stems and blemished leaves to add to the coop bedding; it’s a natural bug repellant that smells nice too. I grow mint around the coop and run to help with pests.