Sunday, December 11, 2011

Rule #8: Try "Forcing" Your Radicchio

So, on the list for this year's new things to explore-forcing radicchio.  I got a better idea about how to do this after e-mailing the owner of Seeds from Italy and asking him about how to do this.  I also saw a great youtube video produced by an Italian company that grows the Treviso Tardivo variety of radicchio.  Here is what Seeds from Italy sent me:

Growing fancy radicchio the way they do in Italy. This is based completely on some email conversations I had this past December with one of my favorite farmers. Tim Wilcox grows out in the Connecticut River Valley in Massachusetts (this is the only place in the state where you can dig down more than six inches and not find very big rocks). Tim has spent a lot of time in Italy and, as am I, he is passionate about things Italian. We were having an email exchange about something and he sent along this report along with some stunning photographs of the Treviso radicchio he grew in good old Massachusetts. This is definitely the way to grow it, at least in areas with more severe winters. I put the description below together from two separate emails.
 In brief, the radicchio was grown like this:
June 15 seeds sown in flats. July 15 transplanted to the field spaced 9-12"x18" for the rows.   (I direct sow in July)Direct seeding would probably yield a higher average final weight, but there's the added work of thinning and weeding. Plants grow well with minimal fertility. Plants are allowed to grow until after a hard frost, with no special treatment. Then they are dug up root and all, the dead outer leaves pared back, and formed into bunches of 15 plants. At this point in time (60-75 days from setting out transplants) the plant has not yet formed much of a head at all in the field. They can be dug any time until the ground freezes. The roots are trimmed level, leaving about 4-6" at least.  Then they are set in a bucket or washtub of water to the level of the root in utter darkness for 2 weeks at 55° or ideally 3 weeks at 45°. (I did mine in the garage for at least 3 weeks) They do not cut the head, but just remove the outermost leaves and bunch the plants tightly together. This forces them to grow very compactly, and the outer leaves shield the hearts from both light and rot. In Treviso they use these huge basins with running water, but it works well on a small scale like this[ using a big bucket filled with water]. When ready they are trimmed of all outer rot and washed well. The unforced roots can be stored in a cold root cellar or refrigerator until needed. They have tardivo as late as April in Italy.
Here are pics of my first results.  I tried two varieties of Treviso radicchio.  The first batch that I picked up was the Treviso Tardivo and they were a bit smaller because I picked from my smaller  (in size) crop where I sowed them.  The transplants, of course, are bigger because they have more space to grow.  The second batch are the plain Treviso type.  A few of the larger ones are picked from my transplants and some are also picked from the sowing bed.  The forcing didn't make them as red as I was hoping for, but they are crisp and tasty.  Good all the way to the root. I am also adding some pics of the endive and other radicchio that I blanched.
Smaller and younger Treviso Tardiva pulled and ready to force

A close up of the roots.  You will see that these are a good deal smaller than the next batch

Growing in the dark for almost 2 weeks
The group of the first batch after about 2 weeks and cleaning off some dead outer leaves
End result of first batch after over 3 weeks (again these are smaller because they started out small)
Batch #2 Treviso
Some of these larger ones were already forming a decent heart
Blanched Castelfranco
Blanched Endive
Blanched Pan Di Zucchero

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Rule #7: Build Your Dollhouse

So...many, many moons ago when I was a girl I loved to play with Barbies. The best place to play Barbies was at a childhood friend's house.  They were the family on the block with 7 kids so we lovingly referred to them as the "the house with the 7 kids"!  Colleen was closest to my age so we always played together.  Well, she had the greatest Barbie house ever.  No it wasn't a plastic, buy it at the store sort of dollhouse.  She made hers out of many cardboard boxes, carpet scraps, and wallpaper scraps.  It was the greatest and oh so roomy.  As many of you know, the buy it kind of dollhouses don't leave a lot of room for Barbie and Ken to stretch! Larkyn is not quite into Barbie, but while visiting for the first time we found many fun crafts. So we set out to make the Peppa Pig house to include the characters and props. It was so fun to make and she loves it! Out of curiosity I looked up Peppa Pig on Amazon to see what kinds of plastic Peppa things I could find. The dollhouse price?  (yes there is one and it's pretty expensive since it is a British show).  As I remember around $150 plus shipping!
making the characters, "This is my little brother George."

dining with the dollhouse

Monday, December 5, 2011

Rule #6: Results are worth the time and effort!

So what were my results????  So far really good this year.  I am ridiculously taking pictures of radicchio like people take pictures of their vacations!  Some years the results are not as good, but you learn from them for the next year.  Sometimes it's just the weather that affects your crop.  But this year they are spectacular and blanching them has proven well worth the little extra effort and completely yummy.  Blanching is basically (how I understand it) keeping the inner heart and as many leaves as you can from the light to make the leaves become lighter and also much more crisp and tender.  You can do this a few ways. When I first learned about it mom's friends were telling me in order to get my Castelfranco yellow with the red speckles you see on the seed cover and in the market in Italy, you had to plant them in sand and place them in a cool dark place.  Well this seemed like a little too much work and I never got around to doing it.  This year as a researched it and saw some suggestions from Seeds from Italy about blanching Endive. I tried it on all my heading radicchio.  You can either place a bucket over the plant or tie it up.  I actually found a youtube video of farmers in Italy tying the radicchio up.  I just took a thin rubber band, gathered all the leaves and secured them with the rubber band close to the top of the bunch.  You have to be patient at this point and leave it there for about 10-14 days.  Here are my results.  The taste is just amazing! I am now still in the process of "forcing" my Radicchio de Treviso which is a bit more involved and will be my next post!
Pan di Zucchero

Pan di Zucchero and Castelfranco Bed

Lusia Bed

Heart of the Lusia

Heart of Castelfranco

Opened Pan di Zucchero Heart

Closed Pan di Zucchero heart