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Groundwork: late limas

Asparagus in the rain at Green Spring Gardens. (Adrian Higgins/The Washington Post)

Some much-needed rain drenched the vegetable plot at Green Spring Gardens, where the feathery foliage of the asparagus caught the raindrops like pearls. Female plants produce decorative red berries, which have their own charm. Soon, the foliage will turn golden yellow, signaling the moment to cut the asparagus back for the year.

Recipe Included

Cooler temperatures have helped many of the fall crops from becoming stressed, including Asian greens, cabbages, lettuce and carrots. The chill probably didn't help the lingering tomatoes and peppers, and the okra has pretty much announced it is flying south for the winter.

One reliable October crop comes from the lima bean, which, ironically for the approaching frost season, is a warm season vegetable whose ancestry is traced to Peru.

Lima beans ripening for a late harvest. (Adrian Higgins/The Washington Post)

The pods are harvested when they are swollen with beans, and will continue to produce until frost. They need a full three months to mature and crop. There's no point putting them in until mid-June, when the soil will have warmed sufficiently for rapid germination, with a minimum soil temperature of 75 degrees. (That's hot for soil.) Unlike snap beans, which will tolerate colder soils, the lima seeds really dislike cool wet heavy soil, and the seeds will rot if sown in a late spring like the one we had this year.

A number of varieties have been developed over the years, if you really like plump oversized limas, look for a variety named Big Mama. As with string beans, breeders have developed bush varieties, which are useful in agriculture for mechanical harvesting but not my preferred way to raise beans at home. Pole varieties produce a larger yield for longer. And I like to see trellising in a home garden; it's somehow a comforting piece of architecture, and a great armature for all kinds of climbing beans.

Favas sprouting in the cold frame. (Adrian Higgins/The Washington Post)

A serious vegetable garden is a year-round venture, and now is the time to put in cloves of garlic. You can buy fancy named varieties from mail order catalogs, but in a pinch and at the last minute, you can buy bulbs from the store and plant them. The cloves should be planted six inches apart with their tips set about an inch below the soil surface.

Fava beans also can be sown now for a jump on the spring crop, though they will need some winter protection on the coldest nights. At Green Spring, snugly in the cold frame, they have already begun to sprout. Starting them now will allow them to develop a good root system over the next few weeks and result in early and robust plants in April and May, when they will produce blossoms and pods before the heat sets in, which is their preference.

But back to limas and over to Cindy.

-- Adrian Higgins

Cindy: A well-tended fall vegetable garden is a cook’s paradise. Summer’s bounty of tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and okra are still available. Fall vegetables: squash, celeriac (celery root), leeks and turnips are ready to harvest. We even get a second chance at "spring" veggies because our fall season is long and mild -- perfect for a replanting of lettuce, peas, carrots, radishes and Asian greens. The cornucopia overflows; it is hard to decide what to cook. But whatever is chosen as the featured vegetable, I think it is important for the finished product – the dish – to have flavors that fit the season.

Gardening keeps you grounded and keeps you living in the season. Cooking from the garden should do the same. The limas I picked in the summer were combined with mint, basil or corn – summertime flavors. But now I want the limas to taste like fall.

I looked to see what was just coming into its prime and I remembered Adrian’s interest in the winter savory. It’s pretty white blossoms caught Adrian’s eye last week and he was smitten with its intoxicating spicy aroma. We had just harvested the first of the fall leeks, so of course they made it into the recipe below. The white truffle oil gave the limas a richness I greatly appreciated at dinner served on a chilly evening. The walnuts contributed to the richness, and they also added a pleasant crunch.

(Cynthia A. Brown)

Savory Limas With Leeks and Walnuts

6 servings

This side dish would be fabulous with roasted chicken, mashed potatoes and roasted cherry tomatoes seasoned with rosemary.

4 cups fresh shelled lima beans, washed and picked over
2 small leeks white and light green parts only, cleaned and cut crosswise into thin slices (1 cup)
Leaves from 4 sprigs winter savory (1 tablespoon; may substitute fresh thyme)
3 tablespoons white truffle olive oil (may substitute walnut oil or olive oil)
1/4 teaspoon salt
Generous grinding of fresh black pepper
3/4 to 1 cup vegetable broth
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped (see NOTE)

Heat a large saute pan over medium heat; add 2 tablespoons of the oil and the sliced leeks. Stir to coat, then cook for about 5 minutes, stirring once or twice, until they begin to soften, taking care not to brown them (reduce the heat as needed). Add the salt, pepper and winter savory; mix well.

Add the limas and stir to combine. Add the broth (depending on how the age of your limas; the older they are, the more liquid they will absorb), cover and cook for about 20 minutes, until the limas are tender; reduce the heat as needed so the broth is barely bubbling at the edges.

Transfer to a serving bowl; add the walnuts and the remaining tablespoon of oil; toss to incorporate. Serve hot.

NOTE: Spread the walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet; toast them in a 350-degree oven for about 8 minutes, shaking them occasionally, until fragrant and lightly browned.


By Adrian Higgins  |  October 19, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Groundwork , Recipes  | Tags: Adrian Higgins, Green Spring Gardens, Groundwork  
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