Q: Do you have a recipe for vinegar pie? It is a custard pie similar to a chess or lemon pie. I have not seen one in years.
A: Vinegar pie has been around a long time, and its origins are unclear. Some speculate that cooks started using vinegar when lemons were not commonly available and before the advent of lemon extract. Indeed, it is sometimes referred to as the “poor man’s lemon pie.” Others speculate that creative cooks turned to apple cider vinegar to make a tangy dessert when the fruit supply was low at the end of winter. However weird it sounds and whatever its origins, a vinegar pie can be a tasty and refreshing change. There are many variations. Here is a recipe we like:
2 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 cup cold water
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Line a 9-inch pie pan with standard pie crust or use a pre-made pie crust. Bake it in a 375-degree oven until it is light brown.
Make filling while crust bakes: Whisk together eggs and 1/4 cup sugar in a bowl until blended well. Mix flour and remaining 3/4 cup sugar in a heavy saucepan, then whisk in water and vinegar. Bring to a boil, whisking until sugar is dissolved. Reduce the heat on the burner and add the egg mixture in a thin, slow stream, whisking constantly to keep the egg from curdling. (Do not allow the filling to come to a boil after adding the eggs or you can ruin the custard.) Cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until filling thickens and coats back of spoon, about 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. Pour hot filling into baked pie shell and place in middle of oven. If necessary, cover rim of crust with foil to prevent over-browning. Bake pie until filling is set. Cool. Sprinkle with ground cinnamon if desired. We found the pie best when served with fresh Georgia strawberries. The flavors complement each other, and the yellow pie and red strawberries are attractive together.
Some of our tasters preferred a tarragon vinegar variation over the standard vinegar pie. Follow the recipe above but use tarragon vinegar instead and add ½ teaspoon of ground nutmeg to the flour-sugar mixture.
Q: I am looking for unusual irises. Can you help me?
A: Visit some of our Georgia nurseries and garden centers, especially ones that specialize in perennials. You are likely to find Louisiana, Siberian, Japanese, Japanese roof, copper, bearded and other iris options. Check out the Georgia Iris Society iris sale on Sunday, April 21, 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. (or until sold out) at the Bolton Garden at 1916 Idlewood Road, Tucker, GA 30084. Their annual iris show is Saturday, April 20 from 11 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at St. Bartholomew Episcopal Church, 1790 LaVista Road, NE, Atlanta, GA 30329. You may want to become a member of this group. Your fellow iris lovers will introduce you to sources and perhaps share some of the surplus from their own gardens with a fellow member.
Q: I saw ‘Star of David’ okra advertised in the Farmers and Consumers Market Bulletin. I have never heard of this variety before. What can you tell me about it?
A: ‘Star of David’ has short, thick, deeply ribbed pods with good okra flavor. Cutting one of its pods in half will reveal what may resemble the shape of the Star of David. It is an heirloom variety that matures in 75-80 days. The plants can get quite tall, so don’t plant them where they will shade your other vegetables.
Q: Can you eat the tops of “baby” Vidalia® onions or do you just eat the bulbs?
A: The bulbs of “baby” Vidalias® are prized due to their mild flavor and tender crunch. However, the leaves and stems are useful in the kitchen as well. Chop them finely and use them in salads, baked potatoes, potato salad, potato soup, tomato soup, egg drop soup, chili, dips, tacos, omelets, scrambled eggs, quiches, salmon patties, black-eyed pea patties, chicken salad, imitation crab salad and many other dishes.
If you eat the bulbs of the onions first, you can keep the tops fresh for later use by placing them in a glass of water in the refrigerator.
Q: How did the Judas tree get its name?
A: No one is certain. It may be a corruption of “Judea tree” or “Judea’s tree” as the tree originally known as Judas tree (Cercis siliquastrum) is native to the Judean hills and other parts of the Holy Land. Another reason given is a legend that it was the tree that Judas Iscariot hanged himself on after betraying Jesus. It blushed with shame at being used for such a purpose and that is why it has rosy purple flowers.
The Judas tree native to Georgia is Cercis canadensis. It is more commonly called the Eastern redbud. There are other species of redbuds including one from China (Cercis chinensis) and one native to Texas and New Mexico (Cercis reniformis).
All four of these species of Judas trees or redbuds will grow and thrive here in Georgia. They are beautiful with showy springtime flowers and attractive heart-shaped leaves. Visit a garden center or nursery to learn more.
Q: A friend brought me some radishes from the farmers market he said the farmer called Easter egg radishes. I have never heard of these. Is this an actual variety? Is it easy to grow?
A: ‘Easter Egg’ is a variety of radish that includes a mix of different colored round radishes of white, rose, crimson and purple. Like all radishes they are easy and can be grown throughout Georgia. They make a colorful side dish or addition to a salad.
Q: The bloom on my amaryllis is leaning and looks like it is ready to fall over. I want to prop it up but am afraid it will break. Any suggestions?
A: If it breaks when you are trying to prop it up, pop the stalk into a vase. An amaryllis is a long-lasting cut flower. Next year, make sure your amaryllis bloom stalks get lots of light while they are emerging in order to keep them stout and strong instead of lanky and weak.
Q: Do rabbits make good pets?
A: Rabbits make rewarding and enjoyable pets. However, do not buy one on a whim just because it is Easter. Rabbits require special veterinary and owner care you may not know about. Learn about them before you buy one.
Q: Is it all right to eat the Easter eggs that have been hidden outdoors?
A: To be on the safe side, dye some eggs for eating and some for hiding. Explain to your children not to eat the ones they have hidden in the yard. These “recreational” Easter eggs may come in contact with dirt, pets and the unwashed hands of numerous people. They also may stay too long in warm temperatures in which bacteria rapidly multiply. Keep the Easter eggs for eating stored in the refrigerator.
Q: Does anyone in Georgia raise the chickens that lay colored eggs? I don’t remember their name. I want to buy some of the eggs for Easter.
A: Hens of the Araucana and Ameraucana breeds lay eggs with pale blue-bluish green shells. The chickens known as “Easter Eggers” can lay blue, green, olive and even pink eggs. An Easter Egger is any chicken that possesses the “blue egg" gene, but doesn't fully meet any breed description as defined in the American Poultry Association and/or the American Bantam Association standards. Marans such as the Black Copper Maran lay beautiful dark brown eggs.
These breeds are raised in Georgia but not on a large scale. Visit your local farmers market or look in the advertisements for poultry in the Farmers and Consumers Market Bulletin. Your county Cooperative Extension office may be able to point you to local people who raise these extraordinary birds.
Having an Easter basket filled with some of their colorful eggs combined with familiar white and brown eggs will be a thing of natural beauty.
Q: Are carrot tops edible? I saw some beautiful bunches at the farmers market, and the last time I tried to grow carrots myself I had more tops than roots.
A: Yes. Try finely chopped carrot leaves in boiled Irish potatoes and potato soups. Add them to salads, tabbouleh and other kinds of soups. Use them to make pesto. Use them as a garnish for aspics, baked ham and broiled fish.
Taste the leaves before you prepare an entire recipe. The roots are what the vegetable was bred to produce. It was not selected for the flavor of its leaves, so taste them first. If they are too bitter or not to your liking, try something else.
Q: When do purple martins return to Georgia? I put up some gourd houses and want to attract some. I watched them last summer at a friend’s lake house and fell in love with them.
A: You are one of many Georgians who look forward to the return of purple martins in early spring and enjoy watching their aerial maneuvers and listening to their joyful song. Purple martins begin returning to south Georgia in late January and early February and north Georgia in mid-February and early March.
If you haven’t seen any yet, don’t worry. Purple martin migration is a drawn-out affair. Keep your housing ready; don’t close it up or let other birds use it. Adult martins can sometimes be attracted to new sites, especially if their nesting attempt failed the previous year, or if the new site offers superior housing or location, and sub-adults (last year’s young) may be looking for a place to call home.
For more information about what you can do to attract purple martins, visit the website of the Purple Martin Conservation Association at www.purplemartin.org or contact them at PMCA, 301 Peninsula Dr., Suite 6, Erie, PA 16505. Telephone: 814-833-7656.
Q: I remember a small gourd that looked like an egg. My grandmother would put these in hen nests to encourage hens to lay. Are these still available?
A: Egg gourds are still available, and people still use them to encourage chickens. They also decorate them for Easter and make them into Christmas ornaments.
Consider becoming a member of the Georgia Gourd Society (www.georgiagourdsociety.com) and the American Gourd Society (www.americangourdsociety.org) to connect with other gourd fanciers who may be willing to share seeds.
Two commercial sources for egg gourd seeds are Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co., 2278 Baker Creek Road, Mansfield, MO 65704. Phone: 417-924-8917 (www.rareseeds.com) and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, P.O. Box 460, Mineral, VA 23117. Phone: 540-894-9480 (www.southernexposure.com).
Q: What is the difference between henbit and chickweed? I think I have one of them growing in my flowerbed.
A: Chickweed (Stellaria media) and henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) are annual weeds that grow and bloom in winter and spring. Henbit has tubular purple flowers and chickweed has white flowers with five deeply-cleft petals. Both henbit and chickweed got their names because they were common in farmyards where chickens would peck at them for their seeds, leaves or for the insects found on them.
Henbit is more often confused with purple deadnettle (Lamium purpureum), another winter annual that has purple flowers. Purple deadnettle has triangular leaves where henbit has rounded leaves with scalloped edges.
Chickweed, henbit and purple deadnettle die when hot weather arrives. To control them, pull them up as soon as possible to keep them from setting seed and sowing a new generation. They are shallow-rooted and easy to pull. Pre-emergent herbicides can be used to prevent seedlings from sprouting. These are applied before the seeds sprout in the fall. Thoroughly read the label before you apply any pesticide. You may also wish to discuss what control is best for your particular situation with your county Cooperative Extension horticulture agent or a horticulturist at your local garden center.
Q: What is a salley garden?
A: A salley (or sally) garden is a garden of willows. Salley comes from the Gaelic word for willow “saileach” which derives from the Latin word for willow “salix.” Salley gardens were originally planted as a source of pliable twigs used in thatching houses and basket-making, and the willows were pruned severely every year to create a lot of harvestable branches. Salley gardens can still be planted for these purposes (although we know of no thatched houses in Georgia), but they may be planted for novelty, beauty or, because willows thrive in moist and wet soils, erosion control along rivers and streams.
Most people are only familiar with the term from “Down by the Salley Gardens,” the beautiful poem of love and regret by William Butler Yeats. It was put to music and is now sung around the world. To read Yeats’ poem visit: www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/180654. For one of the many recordings of the song visit: www.youtube.com/watch?v=C2UZReQGNVI.
If you want to create your own salley garden, either due to your love of willows, basketry or Irish poetry or just because you have a moist area in need of landscaping, here are a few types of willows to consider: purple osier willow, dappled willow (Salix integra ‘Hakura Nishiki’), pussy willow, Japanese fantail willow, corkscrew willow and, if you have room, a weeping willow.
Generally speaking, most willows are not horticultural “show-stoppers.” You may want to accent your salley garden with other moisture-loving or moisture-tolerant plants to add a little more color and variety. A few suggestions include buttonbush, swamp rose, Virginia sweetspire, red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia), black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa), waxmyrtle, titi (Cyrilla racemiflora), American beautyberry, sweet-bubby bush or sweetshrub, summersweet clethra (Clethra alnifolia), cardinal flower, seashore mallow (Kosteletzkya virginica), Louisiana iris, Japanese iris and canna.
Arty Schronce writes this weekly question-and-answer column to address questions about agriculture and questions about the services and products regulated by the Georgia Department of Agriculture. If you have a question, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 404-656-3656.