VPR Cafe: Mango-Colored Tomatoes, Pickling Tips And 'Who Gets Kissed' Corn

Apr 24, 2015

Now that it’s well into spring, Vermont gardeners are itching to dig in and plant vegetable gardens. This season, along with the most delicious vegetable varieties, many Vermont gardeners are looking add color to their food gardens as well.

Candace Page, food writer for the Burlington Free Press, joined VPR to talk about what she’s learned about vegetable growing and what she’s looking forward to this growing season.

Page says one new gardening trend has been a revelation to her. “Of course, as cooks who garden, we think first about flavor – we want the food to taste good and fresh from our gardens,” says Page. “But I was surprised at the number of experts I spoke to who talked about looking for color in their garden and on the plate. And of course it makes sense, because we do want our food from the garden to be beautiful.”

Page says several Vermont gardeners are also excited about this idea. “For example, Charlie Nardozzi, the gardening guru from Ferrisburgh, the first thing he mentioned was the yellow tomato called the Persian, which he described as looking [like] the color of a mango when you cut it, and also having a wonderful flavor,” says Page. Other new varieties that she came across were Jeanne Flamme tomatoes, a yellow variety, and Indigo tomatoes, which turn a deep, black color when ripe. “I think that would be so striking, I think I’ve got to try those,” says Page.

For gardeners who can’t wait to dig into the soil, Page says many varieties of salad greens can be planted in the early spring, but that she learned from Ellen Ogden, a garden writer from Manchester, that planting lettuce in the summer is actually more difficult. “One of the things she explained to me that I hadn’t known … she said the real problem with growing lettuce in the depths of summer is that lettuce seed doesn’t germinate when the soil is too warm,” says Page. “So she suggested, for middle summer lettuce, germinating the seeds in a cool basement or a shady part of the garden where you put a board over the seeds after you’ve planted them, until they sprout.” This allows for the seeds to germinate in a cool environment, explains Page.

"I was surprised at the number of experts I spoke to who talked about looking for color in their garden and on the plate. And of course it makes sense, because we do want our food from the garden to be beautiful." - Candace Page, food writer

Another big lesson learned for Page was the art of pickling. “I have been a failed pickle maker my whole adult life. And I think Andrea Chessman, a cookbook writer and a gardener in Ripton, straightened me out,” says Page. Chessman told Page that the problem with pickling, especially cucumbers, is that if they are picked too late they become seedy, which makes for limp, watery pickles.

“She looks for Asian and Middle Eastern cucumbers. They tend to be thin skinned, they have relatively few seeds, you do have to trellis them, [but] you don’t have to pick them at a single minute, they are a little bit more tolerant of the time. When you pick them, they will make nice, crisp pickles as well as being great to serve as fresh cucumbers,” explains Page.

Three new things Candace Page is excited to try in her vegetable garden this year:

Three of Page’s personal vegetable garden favorites:

  • French lettuce variety called Pirat, which she describes as, “A beautiful red and green that I think is just outstanding in salads.”
  • Juliet tomatoes, which are slightly bigger than cherry tomatoes. “I collect as many as I can and I roast them and freeze them. It’s like eating candy in the winter,” says Page.
  • A small butternut squash variety called Honey Nut, which Page’s daughter-in-law introduced to her last year.