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Thursday, 24 August 2017 13:14

Fairgoers set their sights on growing big

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Kerry Jenkins, left, assists the judge in last year’s garden division at the Walworth County Fair. Is bigger better? You decide every time you pick out produce from the grocery store or farmers market. Kerry Jenkins, left, assists the judge in last year’s garden division at the Walworth County Fair. Is bigger better? You decide every time you pick out produce from the grocery store or farmers market. Terry Mayer photo

This year, there are some big things going on at the Walworth County Fair in Elkhorn. Organizers are asking, “Are you ready for big?” As the theme of the annual event, it’s a good one. And I’m thinking the Horticulture Barn will have its share of big — entries will be accumulating this week in the biggest elephant garlic, biggest tomato, heaviest onion, largest pumpkin, biggest stalk of corn and tallest sunflower categories.

 

“Growing pumpkins ain’t hard, but growing a big one, that takes some doing,” says one-time competitor Sam Grunfeld of Twin Lakes, whose biggest pumpkin weighed in at 436 pounds.

“That’s nothing compared to what they’re growing now; they’re into 800, 1,000, up to a ton. Now you need a forklift to move ’em around,” Grunfeld said.

For Becca Johnson of Sullivan, it’s all about the tomatoes. She’s tried several of the large fruiting varieties:?Big Zac, Supersteak and Beefmaster.

“Those are all hybrids meant to produce big fruit,”?Johnson said, “but the biggest tomatoes I ever grew was really an heirloom and it’s a good all-around tomato, the Mortgage Lifter.”

“Can’t forget that name,” her husband interjects. “Wish it was true, but we still have one (a mortgage).”

Actually, as the story goes, the Mortgage Lifter was developed in the 1920s or ’30s by William Estler, a gardener who claimed he sold so many of the plants, he was able to pay off his mortgage after a few years.

Even though the winners of the biggest entries in this year’s fair will get rewarded with ribbons and prize money, it’s the satisfaction of the fait accompli that attracts the competitors. Bragging rights, if you will, are no small matter when it comes to growing things.

If you ask these growers for their secret to coaxing greatness out of a  little seed, they’ll tell you it’s the soil, the amount of water, when you plant, the strength of the seed. All number of things enter into the equation.

“It helps to have a good start,” Johnson said. “Procrastinators need not apply,” she said as she glanced at her husband. “I like to get a real early start with my plants, February at the latest, and I transplant them at least twice while they’re still under plastic (in the greenhouse).”

One of the newer categories this year is the biggest elephant garlic, to be judged by girth and weight, according to Director Eileen Walsh Grzenia.

With “elephant” in the name, you should expect them to be big, right?

“The secret, well it’s not really a secret, to getting the big ones is to plant them in the fall. They need a long growing season,” said Elizabeth James of Lake Geneva.

“It’s really a mild flavor, really nice to cook with,” she added.

Actually, elephant garlic is more like a leek in flavor and in terms of how you use it — despite its similar shape to garlic. It looks like garlic on steroids. But elephant garlic, which can be up to 4 inches around, is more yellow in color and has fewer but larger cloves than garlic.

You can use elephant garlic to good advantage in garlic-potato soup.

 

Garlic-potato soup

1 whole elephant garlic bulb

1 Tbsp. plus 2 Tbsps. butter

2 lbs. potatoes

2 medium onions, quartered

2 Tbsps. olive oil

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. pepper

4 cups vegetable broth

1/4 cup flour

1 (12 oz) can evaporated milk

Remove papery outer skin from elephant garlic; cut top off bulb. Place tablespoon of butter over the garlic. Wrap in aluminum foil.

Place potatoes and onions in a single layer in a baking pan. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss to coat.

Roast the garlic and potato mixture at 400 F for 35 to 40 minutes or until tender, stirring vegetables once. Cool slightly.

In a blender, combine 2 cups broth and half of the vegetable mixture,  cover and process until blended. Repeat with 2 cups broth and remaining vegetable mixture and set aside.

In a large saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Stir in flour until smooth and gradually add canned milk. Cook and stir for two minutes or until thickened, then add broth and potato mixture. Squeeze softened garlic into pan. Stir in milk and pureed vegetables, heating through.

This makes a thick soup. Add more broth or milk if you prefer a thinner soup.

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