Quacking from Rappahannock (our blog)

2023 for sale plant list

Those are seedlings available for sale this spring. First come first served, depending on availability. 6-10 plants of each cultivars. TOMATOES $4.50 in 4″ pot1. Large– Mortgage Lifter VFN, disease resistant, https://southernexposure.com/products/mortgage-lifter-vfn-tomato/– Cherokee Purple (heirloom), one of my favs, and the shorter original strain. https://southernexposure.com/products/cherokee-purple-tomato/– Tropic 

A Vibrant Kale Pasta Sauce

A Vibrant Kale Pasta Sauce

Kales are a mainstay of the garden from mid-fall to early spring, with their winter hardiness, and their ruddy beauty. The various leaf sizes, colors, shapes, and textures seem to be almost endless, allowing one to paint kale parterres – if one was so inclined 

A Buckle Cake For All Seasons

A Buckle Cake For All Seasons

A similar post was initially published as “End of Summer Cake” on August 31, 2011

When it comes to cake, knowing a few formulas is the key to be able to produce delicious desserts with what you have – almost effortlessly. Because once you understand the recipe, you can tweak it ad infinitum to vary the results: change the fruit, change the flour, change the flavoring or spice, change the filling, change the icing, change the pan shape… and suddenly the three or four basic cake recipes that you can do (almost) in your sleep become 40 different desserts. That’s why I call them “formulas”.

Witness this recipe for Italian plum cake. Technically it’s a buckle cake – a simple rustic cake where the batter rises as it bakes and buckles around the fruit.

Peaches & almonds; AP wheat flour & rye flour

In the spring, use strawberries, cherries or apricots. In summer, blackberries, plums, yellow peaches or nectarines. Or slices of sauteed apples, roasted quince, persimmons, or pears in early fall. Or a mixture of fruit. In winter, use frozen fruit (my preference), or exotic fruit. Less refined flours like whole wheat or spelt accentuate the rustic aspect of the cake, and brings another layer of flavor. I also like to subtitle up to 1/3 of the flour with non-wheat flours (nuts, sorghum, buckwheat, millet etc). Additions of nuts & seeds can drastically enhance the flavor profile as well.

Small buckle cakes – black raspberries & ground cherries

It’s not a sophisticated looking cake, like, oh say, a Reine de Saba, but is a satisfying not-too-filling dessert, moist, with a little crunch and lots of fruit – great for breakfast as well, especially with a bid dollop of plain yogurt. Best of all, it’s an easy recipe to memorize, and by playing with it, it will look like you know 10 different recipes!

Buckle Cake Formula


  • 115 g (½ Cup / 1 stick) unsalted butter, soften to room temperature + more for greasing the pan
  • 150 g (¾ Cup) sugar
  • 15 ml (1 Tablespoon) flavoring (such as vanilla extract, almond extract, liqueur)
  • 135 g (1 Cup)  AP wheat flour or combination
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 extra large eggs
  • Enough sliced or chopped fruit (fresh or frozen) to cover the batter completely. Not need to thaw is the fruit is frozen
  • 2 Tablespoons nuts or seeds – optional
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar or honey (more or less depending on the fruit sweetness) for the topping.

Make the Cake:

  1. Preheat oven 350 degrees F (175 C)
  2. Butter/ line with parchment paper a cake springform pan – 8, 9 or 10 inches. The larger the pan, the thinner the cake.
  3. Cream the sugar and the butter in a bowl. Still beating, add the flavoring, then flour, baking powder, salt and eggs, and beat well.
  4. Pour the batter into the pan. The batter is sticky and it looks like there won’t be enough. There will be: this is a thin cake. Use a spoon or spatula to spread the batter to ensure that it covers the bottom of the pan completely.
  5. Arrange the fruit slices on top of the batter, in a single layer quite snugly together. Sprinkle with the tablespoon sugar and nuts if using.
  6. Bake 50 minutes to 1 hour. Check after 45 minutes, as the cake may be done sooner depending on your pan size & oven. If using frozen fruit, it may take a few minutes little longer. Thinner cakes will take less long than thicker ones. The cake is done when the batter feels fairly firm and the cake pulls ever so slightly from the pan.

Buckle Cake Ideas

FruitFlour (s)Other
Strawberry, sliced or halvedAP wheat & oat flourAdd 1 Tbsp poppy seed to the batter
Rhubarb, choppedAP wheat & buckwheat1 Tbsp fresh or crystalized minced ginger
Cherries, sweet or sour (pitted)AP wheat & rye flour1 pinch of 5-spice powder + flavoring = 1 Tbsp Bourbon whisky OR kirsch
BlueberriesAP wheat & cornmealfresh lemon zest + 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
Peaches, peeled & slicedAP wheat &/or spelt1/4 C pepitas or slivered almonds
Nectarines, slicedAP wheat & almondflavoring = almond extract
Blackberries or raspberries (red or black)AP wheat + oat flourflavoring = 1 Tbsp framboise
Apples, quince or pearsWhole wheat or spelt1/4 C chopped pecans/walnuts
flavoring = 1 Tbsp apple jack/
Persimmon, Asian (sliced)AP flour + sorghum flour1 Tbsp sesame seeds
Goat Hill Report, 2022-05-13

Goat Hill Report, 2022-05-13

Friday morning May 13 several Friends of Goat Hill gathered to work on the Goat Hill berry bramble patch – weeding, mulching, and pruning away dead canes that escaped our attention back in February when we held our big pruning days. Now that plants are 

On Growing Trombocino Squash

On Growing Trombocino Squash

Every year, I grow a few new things in the kitchen garden – be it a new cultivar of something I have grown before, or a brand new vegetable. You never know what success you may have, and how much you might like the plant 

On Growing, Harvesting, and Curing Sweet Potatoes

On Growing, Harvesting, and Curing Sweet Potatoes

We love sweet potatoes for many reasons:

#1. They are easy to grow and pest free – provided that you can protect them from mice (they eat the tubers) and deer (they eat the vines)

#2. They are delicious (if properly cured – I’ll tell you how)

#3. They are versatile and can be used in all kind of dishes, from simply baked or steamed; in soups or savory puddings; in pancake and muffins; mixed with meat in casserole (for example this recipe with lamb or beef); turned into pie or cakes.

#4. They keep for a long time at cool room temp (provided they are properly cured after harvest). No need for a fridge or a root cellar.

#5. They are easy to propagate (but you need to plan for it).

#6. The tender shoots are a delicious summer green – particularly when quickly sauteed with onion, ginger, and finished with a splash of coconut milk.

I already wrote about how to propagate sweet potatoes. This year, I went one step further: I filled a tray with light weed-free soil,nestled my “seed stock” sweet potatoes in there (at harvest time, I picked a few tubers to save for propagation, and labeled them so we would not eat them by accident), placed the tray on a heat mat, and created a clear tent with hoops & a large clear (clean) trash bag held by small clips. They loved it, and produced lots of slips – lots more than I can use for myself.

Warmth & humidity are needed to start sweet potatoes

Of course you can buy slips, and sometimes plants. But is it easy to produce them and I am in total control of the timing. No back-order or anything like that! It also provides several extra weeks of growth (compared to mail-order slips) which translates in a bigger harvest at the end of the season.

Wait for planting till there is absolutely no threat of possible frost. For me that means mid-May. I do look at the long-range forecast in early May, and sometime (especially if I have extra slips), take a chance in early May – with row covers at the ready. Sweet potatoes are tropical plants from the lowlands and they cannot manage cold. They will take all the heat you can give them. If you receive slips when the weather is not yet warm enough, pot them in 6″ or 8″ tall pots, they will start developing roots and can wait happily for a few weeks.

I used to plant my sweet potatoes in the ground, until 8 years ago, when the tubers (while still growing) were eaten by mice. The above ground plants did not show any sign of damages, so I did not know the extent of crop loss until I went to harvest. We lost 90% of our crop that year! Ever since I plant the sweet potato slips (or plants) in sturdy 15-gal containers, or 1/2 barrels (about 25-gal) in full sun. I use a mix of garden soil, composted horse manure, and rehydrated coconut coir (I used to use peat) and one slip per pot. They look lonely in their big tub, but do not be tempted to plant more than 1 per container. It really will not increase your yield. It just takes a few weeks for the plants to take off, and then they grow and grow and grow. We water well and often.

Home-started slips, potted in the greenhouse in April, and planted out mid-May

Throughout the summer, I pick vine tips for eating. Just the tips, so they are tender, and cook quickly.

By August, the sweet potatoes vines have created a dense cover, which – by mid-October is threatening to take over the bee yard (in spite of the deer eating all the vines that grow on the other side, through the fence). Good thing that it is then time to harvest before frost damages the plants!!!! The first frost is generally in late October/early November for us, and I let the sweet potatoes grow as long as the weather permits; since they are perennial, the longer the growing period, the heavier the harvest.

Finally comes a day in mid October when the nights are consistently under 50F. It’s time to harvest. It’s easier as a 2 person job. We first cut off the vines at the soil line and drag them to the compost pile. And then we dig the sweet potato out with our hands first, and finally tip out the very heavy containers to get all the tubers. Sometime, they are all the way at the bottom of the pot. There is a video of the the actual harvesting in 2019 on our Facebook page.

Our typical harvest is about 10 lbs of tubers for every slip. Sizes vary, in part depending on the cultivar planted: Beauregard, for example, tends to produce huge tubers – some have weighted over 5 lb EACH; that’s not a problem for texture or taste (a huge sweet potato is just as tasty as a small potato), but it is a lot of sweet potato at once! Better to use those for a large dinner party, roasted or steamed.

‘Beauregard’ sweet potatoes commonly produce huge specimens.

As we dig, I select a few good looking healthy tubers from each cultivar I grow and set aside them, labeled with their name. Those are my “seed stock” for the following years – the tubers from which I will produce slips. The sweet potatoes are sorted immediately by size, and washed with a water spray. Any damaged one is set aside to be eaten very soon. The rest (including the seed stock) goes into the curing chamber.

Sweet potatoes should be cured to develop flavor (starch turning into sugars), and to harden their skin. Both phenomena allow the tubers to stay in good shape, edible, AND delicious, at cool room temperatures (60F/ 15C) for months. We often eat sweet potatoes from the fall harvest until late spring or early summer the following year.

Curing – in that case – simply means to keep the sweet potatoes above 85F (29C) with a high humidity in a dark space… but with air circulating. For about a week. We set up wire shelves in a shower stall, with a space heater, and a fan. The shower is blocked off with a sheet of light plywood. Depending on the year, we either set a bucket of water with a cloth hanging out of the water to wick moisture out to humidify the air (the simplest), or I use the shower head once or twice a day to thoroughly wet the sweet potatoes (removing both fan and the heater before watering, and putting them back afterwards – which is more thorough and more work).

Once cured, I simply store them between sheets of newspaper in crates. I check the remaining stock a few times in the winter and remove the few that go bad.

Then comes March; the cycle starts again, with forcing my seed stock to produce slips.

Spring 2021 Seedling Availability

Updated April 2, 2021 The following are a list of seedling I expect to have available for sale in late April. Pick-up at the house in Washington, VA. Leave a comment with your e-mail address if you have questions and/or for directions. If you would 

Easy Chocolate Cake

Every one should have an easy chocolate cake recipe that they can “whip” together on the spur of the moment with simple ingredients (and one simple enough to memorize). This one is it. Why? Because it’s 5 common ingredients, 4 of them with the same 

Winter Beets

Winter Beets

I like beets. I like them raw, grated or mandolined. I like them cooked. I like them pickled, whether a simple wine-and-vinegar pickle or in relishes (delicious with meat, salmon, or vegetarian burgers, or a mature cheddar). I like beet sorbet. I like them juiced too! I even fold them in chocolate cake (thank you, Nigel Slater), and make pesto. Or whatever you’d call beet puree mixed with nuts, garlic and olive oil. I wrote 2 recipes for beet root pesto and beet leaf pesto a while ago, but recently have made another just as delicious version… maybe even more delicious. Even people who profess to loath beet often like beet pesto.

Beet Relish (and green tomato marmalade)

Beets keep well in cold storage and are easy to find in supermarkets, even in winter, and sometimes the beet greens still look good (cook those! They are delicious too).

So, get yourself some red beet roots, trim them, peel them, slice them as evenly as possible. Yes, do it before coking them, and yes, your hands will stain, but you can scrub that away easily enough. I really prefer to cook the beets without their skin: it’s a sweeter, purer taste at the end. Some people who object to beets don’t mind them at all when they are cooked without the skin on (and are really surprised to find it so). I know that, having served beets to hundreds of people through my catering and personal chef services. The only time when I cook beets with their skin on is at camp, where we are feeding over 100 people and I have lots of kids willing to help peel roasted beets with their hands (also lots of parents not comfortable with their kids using a peeler or a knife… and not nearly enough peelers or knives anyway).

Back to the peeled and sliced beet! Dump them in a generously oiled oven-proof pan, add a couple of cloves of peeled garlic, cover tightly, and roast until done. I always cook them with other things and never by themselves so it’s at whatever temperature the other dish calls for (A mostly empty oven feels wasteful to me) … unless again, it’s camp, and we are cooking 40 lbs of beets (then the ovens are full with all the pans of beets). Or unless I am baking a soufflé… then there is no oven-space sharing: soufflé are selfish that way. Anyway, the hotter the temperature, the faster the beets will cook. The thinner the slices, the faster they will cook. Thirty at 30 minutes at 350F (180C) generally does it for me. Or you can just do it stove top, as described here.

Decide how much beet pesto you want, and transfer all or some of the cooked slices to a food processor – let’s say 2 cups – along with the accumulated pan juice, and a few garlic cloves. Save the rest of the beets (and garlic) – if any – for a salad. You don’t have to wait till the slices cool to process them, hot is fine. Add a good pinch of salt, a couple of tablespoons of almond butter, and a glug of quality balsamic vinegar (the thicker the better) to the food processor. Blitz until smooth. Taste: add salt, nut butter, or vinegar, as needed to your taste.

I use almond butter because it’s relatively inexpensive and easy to find – and less assertive than peanut butter. Use peanut, cashew, hazelnut… the taste will vary of course, but they all work.

Serve with crackers or flat bread or celery sticks; spread it into a sandwich (maybe with some goat cheese, and finely sliced roasted beets); toss it with pasta; serve it as veg, maybe as a little nesting bed for a small steak… the possibilities are endless.

Beet pesto, roasted beets, and goat cheese.

And with the remaining beet slices? Toss them with a few tablespoons of fire-cider and olive oil, and scatter on a bed of winter greens with a few citrus segments, some crumbled goat cheese (or feta, or blue), and maybe some honey-preserved kumquats (or cranberries). Something like that:

Winter salad: radicchio, roasted beets, honey-preserved kumquats, fire cider vinaigrette

Seasonal Homemade Paté

Paté is a much better use of chicken livers or turkey livers than making stock (Which they make cloudy, anyway) – and you might even be able to feed them to members of the household who profess not to like liver by itself, but will