Elephant Garlic Pie

Back in the 1980s, on a cold day in January I was preparing for the arrival of a newspaper reporter. She was coming to interview me to ask what was in the garden in that cold that month. When she had called a week earlier, she said she was looking for a garden story idea but assumed there was nothing still in the ground and maybe we could do a story on soil preparation. I explained that with our mild Ozarks winters, that yes, I did still have food growing in my garden. Carrots and leeks were still in the ground, lettuce, peas and spinach were growing in a cold frame. As is my custom when reporters come, I invited her for lunch, to taste a bit of the garden.

Elephant Pie

That day we dug carrots and picked lettuce and spinach for her photos. Those went into a salad, which I served with Elephant Pie. Elephant Garlic Pie, that is. I like elephant garlic as a vegetable, it has a mild, sweet flavor that works well in all sorts of dishes. Even steamed and buttered, it's delicious.

Elephant garlic, you may not know, was first introduced to the gardening world by our friends at Nichols Garden Nursery in 1941. (Someone later gave Luther Burbank credit, but the documentation is clear, the first elephant garlic, along with the name, started with Nichols Garden Nursery in Albany, Oregon.

Areas of the famous Willamette Valley, known for its mild climate and amazingly fertile soil, was settled partly by immigrants from Czechoslovakia and Northern Yugoslavia. Mr. Nichols discovered that some of these folks were growing a gigantic variety of garlic, mild in flavor and vastly different from any garlic he had ever seen. The immigrants had brought this unusual garlic with them from the Old Country. He purchased 12 pounds as seed stock in 1941 and began cultivating it. When he finally had enough to sell, he began advertising in newspapers and magazines. In 1953 he gave it the name, elephant garlic. Back then, he was the only one selling it and when you ordered elephant garlic from Nichols, in your order you received a little pamphlet with growing and storing instructions. He sold elephant garlic across the U.S., Canada and to many places overseas.
The original pamphlet that accompanied orders, in 1953
I just planted my elephant garlic this past week from some I ordered from Nichols. I prefer to plant it in September, but things were too busy this year. I've actually planted it as late as the first of December and it has done well, thanks to our fairly mild winters here. Next summer, probably about mid to late June, my elephant garlic will be ready to dig. You can still order some for planting from Nichols. I've seen it in the produce department of several grocery stores if you want to get some to cook, but to get a start to grow, of the original, authentic elephant garlic, order from Nichols. (Every other nursery or seed company that sells elephant garlic, can trace their original sources back to Nichols). Here's my Elephant Garlic Pie recipe. It's like a quiche and you can add a regular pie crust if you wish, but I usually make mine crust-less because it cuts down a bit on the carbohydrates and fat.

Elephant Garlic Pie
5-6 cloves elephant garlic, sliced
1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
4 eggs
1 can evaporated milk
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup chopped fresh spinach
1 cup diced, thinly-sliced ham (leave it out if you don't eat meat)
1 tablespoon cooking sherry
1/4 teaspoon any brand hot sauce
2 green onions, diced
Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Saute the sliced elephant garlic in olive oil or butter until tender, about 5 minutes.
  3. Beat the eggs and milk together; add the cooking sherry, hot sauce, green onions and salt and pepper. 
  4. In a oiled pie plate, layer the garlic, cheese, spinach and ham, then pour the egg mixture over. Dust with a bit of paprika if desired.
  5. Bake until a knife inserted comes out clean, about 35-40 minutes. Let set for 5 minutes before serving.
Nichols Garden Nursery also is the source of my favorite sour dough starter. Mr. Nichols got the start in the late 1940s from a friend who'd been a logger in Alaska. They sell it in powdered form and you mix it with your own bread flour and get it started. We make 2 loaves of sourdough bread a week here at the farm. Sourdough bread is considerably easier for diabetics to eat and Nichols' starter is the best tasting I've ever had. (I don't care for the San Francisco sourdough breads, they're too, well, sour, for me, but Nichols' Oregon Pioneer starter tastes lots better). Here are a couple of recent loaves of sourdough bread we've made.

Freshly-baked sourdough bread is simply delicious!


Jim's Chicken Tortilla Soup

I've tried tortilla soup in many restaurants over the years, some are ok, some have left me wishing I'd ordered something else. This week I was inspired to make a batch myself. I began by looking at recipes online, some sounded good, some were downright goofy.

My habit is to avoid recipes that call for a can of this and a can of that, but rather than make this complicated, I resorted to 3 canned ingredients: tomatoes, black beans and hominy. If you have any of those on hand, made from scratch, certainly use them.

I found a recipe that sounded pretty good but as always happens when I try to follow someone else's recipe, I thought of ways I'd rather do it. So what follows is my recipe and you're welcome to share it. When I served it last night, Josh declared, "This is the best soup you've ever made!" I think I'm a pretty good soup maker so I was pleased at the compliment. I have to agree that it is the best tortilla soup I've ever eaten. Don't be put off by the ingredient list, it's worth the effort.

Chicken Tortilla Soup
6 tablespoons cooking oil
8 6-inch corn tortillas, folded in half and sliced into 1/4 inch ribbons
1 onion, chopped
5 garlic cloves, crushed
*1 tablespoon paprika
*2 teaspoons ground cumin
*1 teaspoon coriander
*1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 12 quarts chicken broth
3 cups canned crushed tomatoes (or whole tomatoes if that's all you have on hand)
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves plus 3 tablespoons chopped for topping
2 large, cooked chicken breasts, diced
1 11-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 11-ounce can golden hominy, drained
1 avocado diced
1/4 pound grated cheddar cheese
1 fresh lime

Heat the oil in a large cooking pot. Add the tortilla strips in batches, turning once, frying until crispy - about 2 minutes per batch. Repeat with rest of the strips, draining all and keeping warm.

Reduce heat, add onion and garlic.
While the onions are simmering, heat a small dry skillet (don't add oil) to hot and add the cumin and coriander, stirring, until they release their fragrance - about 1 to 2 minutes. Add paprika and cayenne and remove skillet from heat. Immediately scrape the spices into the onions and garlic and stir.

Add the tomatoes, broth, bay leaves and salt to the cooking pot and cook for 5 minutes. Add 1/3 of the cooked tortilla strips. Cook, uncovered for 30 minutes.
Remove bay leaves and let soup cool for about 10 minutes until you can safely blend in a blender.

In small batches, pour the soup mixture into a blender and puree until smooth. Return the puree back to the soup pot and bring to a slow simmer.
Add the diced chicken breasts and the 1/4 cup fresh cilantro.
Add an 11 ounce can of drained and rinsed black beans and one 11 ounce can of drained golden hominy.
Squeeze juice of 1/2 fresh lime. Let the soup return to a simmer and it’s ready to serve.

To serve, ladle soup into bowls, top with grated cheddar, chopped fresh cilantro, diced avocado and tortilla strips. Serve with a slice of lime on the side.