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Jade Plants (and Other Succulents): Go Easy on Watering

The Gilmer Free Press

Jade plants are succulents, a group of plants linked not by any botanical kinship but by a physical kinship: They all have fleshy leaves and stems swollen with water. Cactuses are succulents, as are hens-and-chicks, aloe and purslane. Those water-filled stems and leaves tide the plants through dry periods.

Photosynthesis without water loss

All plants lose water through tiny pores in their leaves, pores that are also avenues through which oxygen enters and carbon dioxide exits for photosynthesis. Such a setup puts most plants in a bind during dry times. Should they open their pores so that photosynthesis can give them energy, but risk drying out? Or should they close up their pores to conserve water, but suffer lack of energy?

Besides being able to store water in their stems and leaves, jade plants and other succulents have a couple other tricks for solving this conundrum. First, they have a more efficient way than most plants of concentrating carbon dioxide in their cells. Second, they work the night shift, opening their pores only in darkness, when little water is lost.

They latch onto carbon dioxide at night by incorporating it into organic acids. Come daylight, the leaf pores close up, conserving water, and the acids made the night before release the carbon dioxide within the plant to be used, with light, to make energy. You can actually taste this trick this summer by nibbling a purslane leaf at night and then another one in the afternoon. The leaves taste tart at night.

All of this means that my friend should water her jade plant much, much less. If there is ever a doubt about whether or not to water a succulent, not watering is the correct choice. These plants simply do not die from drying out.

I have an aloe plant that I water maybe once or twice a year. It looks fine.

Darwin studied the effect of gravity on plants by watching the response of another succulent, known as mother-in-law’s-tongue, hung upside down for six months. He didn’t have to bother watering it.

Too-frequent watering, or a soil through which water does not drain readily, will rot any succulent.

Succulents can heal

Even succulents with rot on them can usually survive or be revived. With less watering and/or better drainage, my friend’s jade plant should overgrow its blackened areas with healthy tissue. And any part of these plantsthat touches the soil can eventually grow roots to make a healthy, new plant.

These abilities are most welcome in a jade plant, but are not always welcome in a succulent like purslane, usually considered a weed. During a wet summer, the roots might rot away but the tops will remain alive, lying on top of the ground, flowering and spreading seeds. Chop purslane with a hoe, and each piece can give rise to a whole new plant.

Then again, you can eat purslane, even tailoring its flavor according to whether you pick it during the day or at night. Purslane is often found in green salads at ritzy restaurants.

Bon Appétit: Pumpkin Bread with Toasted Coconut

The Gilmer Free Press

Ingredients:

Servings: Makes one 8½x4½“ loaf

  Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  1¼ cups all-purpose flour
  ½ cup whole wheat flour
  2 teaspoons baking powder
  1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  1 teaspoon ground ginger
  1 teaspoon kosher salt
  ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
  ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  ⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
  2 large eggs, room temperature
  1 cup canned pure pumpkin
  1 cup (packed) light brown sugar
  ½ cup virgin coconut oil, warmed, slightly cooled
  2 tablespoons raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
  2 tablespoons unsweetened coconut flakes
  1 tablespoon granulated sugar


Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°. Lightly coat an 8½x4½“ loaf pan with nonstick spray; line with parchment paper, leaving a 2” overhang on all sides. Whisk all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, salt, allspice, nutmeg, and cloves in a large bowl.

Whisk eggs, pumpkin, brown sugar, and oil in another large bowl until smooth. Mix in dry ingredients. Scrape batter into prepared pan, smooth top, and sprinkle with pumpkin seeds, coconut, and granulated sugar.

Bake bread until golden brown and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 50–60 minutes

Transfer pan to a wire rack and let bread cool 30 minutes in pan. Turn out on a wire rack and let cool completely.

Do Ahead: Bread can be baked 3 days ahead. Keep tightly wrapped at room temperature.

Bon Appétit: Skillet Roast Chicken with Fennel, Parsnips, and Scallions

The Gilmer Free Press

Ingredients:

Servings: 6

  3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  1 3½–4-lb. chicken
  Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1 fennel bulb, sliced lengthwise ½” thick
  2 large parsnips, peeled, sliced ½” thick on the diagonal
  1 bunch scallions
  3 wide strips lemon zest
  Lemon wedges (for serving)


Directions:

Preheat oven to 425°. Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high. Season chicken inside and out with salt and pepper and cook, breast side down, until a beautiful golden brown. Use tongs to gently rotate chicken, being careful not to tear skin, and brown on all sides, 12–15 minutes total; transfer to a plate. Reserve skillet.

Toss fennel, parsnips, scallions, and lemon zest in skillet with remaining 2 Tbsp. oil; season with salt and pepper. Place chicken, breast side up, on top of vegetables. Roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of chicken thigh registers 165°, 35–40 minutes. (You can also check doneness by cutting into thigh meat right at the joint. If the juices run clear, the bird is ready.) Transfer chicken to a cutting board and let rest at least 10 minutes before carving.

Serve chicken and vegetables with pan juices for spooning over and lemon wedges.

Bon Appétit: German Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars

The Gilmer Free Press

Ingredients:

  3 cups pecan halves
  1 & 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
  3/4 cup cold butter, cubed
  1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
  1 & 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
  3 large eggs
  3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  3/4 cup light corn syrup
  1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
  1 cup sweetened flaked coconut


Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°.

Arrange pecans in a single layer of a shallow baking pan. Bake 8-10 minutes or until lightly toasted. Stir halfway through baking.

Line bottom and sides of a 9"x 13” baking pan with aluminum foil, leaving an overhang on two short sides. Grease foil.

Whisk together flour, confectioners’ sugar, and cocoa. Add cold butter, and combine with a pastry blender* until mixture resembles coarse meal. Press mixture into bottom and about 3/4-inch up sides of prepared pan.

Bake crust for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and immediately sprinkle chocolate chips evenly over crust. Allow to cool on a wire rack at least 30 minutes.

Place eggs in a large mixing bowl, and beat lightly. Add brown sugar, corn syrup, and melted butter. Whisk together until smooth. Stir in coconut and pecans. Pour evenly over partially baked crust.

Bake 28-34 minutes, or until edges are golden and filling has set. Cool completely on a wire rack. Then, refrigerate for an hour.

Using foil overhang, lift bars from pan and place on a cutting board. Use a sharp knife to cut into bars.

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