Nectarines and Other Miracles (Plus Recipes)

by Oletta Branstiter

Would you like to witness a miracle?

Plant a garden.

Find some healthy soil, poke a hole in it and drop in a few vegetable seeds. Cover it back up, sprinkle a small handful of Epsom Salt on top and water it with your garden hose. Check on it every few days and add water if the soil seems parched. In about 14 days, you should see a cotyledon – the first two leaves that appear when a plant has started to grow.

Soon, more leaves will grow, then blossoms to attract bees. You can congratulate yourself on helping to prevent the collapse of bee colonies. The bees and other insects will pollinate your plants so they will bear fruit.

The first couple of years that I grew a garden, the tomatoes and cantaloupes and squash and nectarines blessed me with gorgeous blossoms that soon fell off to reveal buds that would be transformed into something I could eat! There was nothing more satisfying than walking out to my backyard and plucking something from the garden for dinner, knowing I grew it from a seed and witnessed the miracle that unfolded.

Until the squirrels arrived.

Then, I helplessly watched as these tree rats stole the fruit and vegetables I’d been nurturing. When these deceptively cute rodents hauled softball-sized melons up and over our backyard fence to enjoy at their leisure while perched on a Mesquite branch in the field behind our home, my husband decided to build a chicken-wire enclosure around my 16′ x 25′ vine garden. Unlike rabbits, squirrels don’t seem to enjoy lettuce, beans, spinach, beets, carrots, onions or potatoes that I grow in a second open garden of the same size. So far, the furry bastards have not broached the enclosure, and I don’t have a rabbit problem (knock on wood).

My nectarines are another story. Every other year in the five-year life of my semi-dwarf fuzzless peach tree, hundreds of fragrant fruits load down the branches. Two years ago, my brave little tree defied the squirrels and produced over ten pounds of small but deliciously sweet nectarines that kept me busy in the kitchen making pies and tarts for the freezer.

This year, giant swallowtail butterflies spent three full weeks adorning the pink blossoms, pollinating twin and triplet fruit all over the tree. I’ve thinned the branches twice.

The squirrels are stripping what remains.

You name it, we’ve tried it: anti-squirrel sachets, small animal repellent spray, bird netting, reflective tape, Slinkies, an inflatable snake, and more. The squirrels laugh at our futile efforts as they gnaw away on the walnut-sized fruit, consuming it for the moisture, I suppose. It will be a miracle if I get to eat one nectarine from my tree this year.

Some of my friends suggest shooting the thieving squirrels and eating them in revenge.  It seems like the ideal excuse to get a grill for my husband for Father’s Day. I already know what the squirrels will taste like.

They’ll taste like nectarines!

Here are a few recipes for preparing and enjoying produce from the fruit and vegetables that the squirrels let me keep:

Squash, Potato and Ham Cheesy Bake

For 6-8 servings:

  • 2 each of zucchini and yellow squash, sliced about a ¼ inch thick
  • 4 medium Yukon gold potatoes, sliced as thinly as possible
  • 12 oz. of shredded cheddar and jack cheese (you probably won’t use it all, but you can’t have too much cheese!)
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup
  • 8 oz. ham, cubed
  • ½ onion, chopped
  • Mix shredded cheese, chopped onion and cream of mushroom soup, add garlic powder and pepper to taste

Layer squash, cheese mixture, and potatoes in a greased baking pan. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

 

Best Potato Soup (At least, my husband says so!)

About a dozen small to medium Yukon gold potatoes (fresh from the garden or grocery store), cubed

  • 1 stalk of sliced celery
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 can cream of celery soup
  • 20 oz. of milk (fill the emptied soup cans with milk to add to the mixture)
  • A few small leaves of basil (fresh from the garden or grocery store)
  • Garlic powder and pepper to taste

Put all ingredients into crock-pot or stove-top pot. Simmer until potatoes are soft, but not mushy.

 

Nectarine Tarts

(Nectarines are a fuzzless peach. Any recipe that calls for peaches can be used for nectarines.)

I like to bake these in ceramic ramekins. For smaller tarts, I use a muffin tin. I also admit that these aren’t very tart! And I like to serve them warm with vanilla ice cream.

Makes 6-8 tarts

  • 4 large nectarines (or 6-8 smaller nectarines grown on your own tree)
  • 2 cans refrigerated crescent roll dough
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg

Mix sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg together in a small bowl.

Peel, then slice nectarines into small pieces and place in medium bowl, with juice drippings. (I cut them right over the bowl.) Add sugar and spice mixture to nectarine bowl, stir well, but gently.

Using crescent roll dough (found in the refrigerated section), make a criss-cross of two triangles inside the muffin tin or ramekin bottom. Leave pointed ends draped over the side.

Spoon in nectarine filling. Fold crescent roll corners over the tops of the nectarine mixture.

Bake at 375 for 15 minutes. You may have to cover the pastry with foil for the last 5 minutes to avoid burning.

Let tarts cool for 5 minutes. Gently remove from muffin tins or ramekins. Place tart in a larger dessert bowl and add a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

At the first spoonful, a small miracle will be happening inside your mouth!

 

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