First, Marina’s garlic at the community garden plot was speckled with Leek Rust (they grow a lot of leeks in Belgium). The orange flecks become raised pustules and before you can say GROSS, the garlic has Puccinia allii. The disease can be spread via the soil or wind. At best, it “reduces the vigor” of affected plants. At worst, it kills them. After a series of email exchanges and online research, her stunted harvest was salvaged.
On this side of the Atlantic, my garlic was getting too much rain, but short of dozens of golf umbrellas, what could I do? In the end, my harvest date was delayed from around July 4 to a few days after Bastille Day (July 14), when the rainclouds parted long enough for the sun to shine on Centre County. Yippee! The garlic bulbs actually look good, despite the clumps of potter’s clay clinging to their roots. That task done, it was time to make some pesto.
The patch of basil my sister Lee Ann planted for me looked beautiful, about knee high and itching to be picked as I passed it on my way to and from the garlic field. I had already made one small batch of pesto but something was off. Days later, going over the recipe in my mind, I realized I had forgotten the walnuts… So, I was ready to fill the freezer with some good stuff. I got a large basket and began pinching off the tops of each branch of leafy basil. As I dropped the clusters into the basket, the undersides of the leaves looked fuzzy with dark blotches. An armful of basil was reduced to a cup of salvageable leaves.
The culprit is Peronaspora belbahrii, which causes downy mildew. This new-to-the-U.S.-disease on basil is thought be transported by infected seed, and perhaps by air. According to Cornell University, where researchers are tracking this devastating basil disease, growers in Switzerland reported downy mildew on their basil crops in 2001. Two years later, there were reports of it in Italy, and the following year, France and Belgium. In this country, it was first discovered in Florida in 2007. It moved to Mid-Atlantic and New England states by 2008, the West Coast in 2009, and Hawaii in 2011. Prior to this century, the only known occurrence of downy mildew affecting basil was in Uganda…in 1933.
Sweet basil, Ocimum basilicum, is most susceptible to the disease spores but other types of basil have been affected. Once you have the disease in your plants, you should destroy the crop, preferably on a sunny day, since the disturbed spores will be killed by UV radiation. To prevent the problem, Cornell suggests minimizing wetness and humidity. (Yeah, right.) Seed treatments and fungicides can also be used as preventive measures, and researchers are working hard to develop resistant varieties.
Meanwhile, my Salad Leaf Basil is not showing nasty signs of downy mildew, so I’m going to hurry up and make a batch of pesto before it is too late.
I’m a firm believer of variety in the garden and trying new things. When something goes wrong, there is always something to glory about. This year, I grew my first cauliflower plants. And, they’re doing well. I’m not sure how the two of us will manage to eat all of this cauliflower…but that can be an experiment too.
My chef-phew Wille introduced me to roasting cauliflower with olive oil and a hefty shower of curry and fennel. It has become a standard for me. But to celebrate this first cauliflower event I decided to go for a Moroccan twist. I was checking out some recipes combining cauliflower and lemon and olives, and remembered I had an unopened jar of preserved lemons in the refrigerator…
Roasted Cauliflower with Preserved Lemons & Olives
1 head of cauliflower
1/3 c. olive oil
Four slices of preserved lemon, rinsed of excess salt and cut into eighths
½ c. pitted olives, chopped
1 ½ teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon ginger
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
Cut cauliflower into 2-inch pieces and mix with oil, lemon, olives, and spices. (You could substitute a fresh lemon for preserved lemon, cutting off bitter ends, slicing thinly and then into eighths.) Arrange mixture in one layer in a roasting pan. Place in 400-degree oven and roast for 20 minutes, stirring a few times.
These exotic flavors brightened our weekday meal and remind me of sitting at my favorite café where my magic carpet is always waiting. Right now, the lilies are in bloom. The fragrance of the Star Gazer lilies wafts of spicy temptation, transporting me to Marrakesh, or what I imagine Marrakesh smells like. But it is the soft yellow trumpets of an Oriental lily that capture my heart. As I stand on the sidewalk where I park my bike, she towers over me. On the porch where I sit and contemplate her loveliness, she looks me in the eye. Borrowed landscapes, borrowed gardens, are always perfect. Laurie Lynch
Written on Slate: “A visit to Marrakesh was a great shock to me. This city taught me about color.” –Yves Saint Laurent