November 28, 2013

Why We Garden - The Thanksgiving Edition

One of Betty’s most popular programs for garden clubs has the cumbersome title, “Planning, Preparing and Planting the Vegetable Garden”.  In it, she takes clubs through all the stages of getting involved in creating a home garden, imparting considerable wisdom along the way. 
Norman Rockwell focused on
the turkey.  We focus on
the vegetables.
The program ends with a slide titled ‘Why We Garden’ and the bullet points are ‘Remembering where food comes from’, ‘Eating truly fresh vegetables’ and ‘Eating well long after the garden is gone’.  Betty expounds on each benefit before raising the lights and asking for questions.
The illustration for that slide is an array of home-canned fruits and vegetables in a larder.  After today, I have an idea for a much better one: a photograph of our Thanksgiving dinner.  We have just completed a sumptuous dinner and the remarkable part is that nearly all of it came from our garden – that same garden that was plowed under four weeks ago.
We started with a superb vichyssoise – potato leek soup for the uninitiated.  Hours before the garden was eradicated for 2013, we pulled the last of our leeks – more than a dozen plump, succulent and fragrant specimens that shrugged off the sub-freezing nights.  We have been eating those leeks ever since.  Today’s repast used the last of them and they were delicious.
Our main course included creamed onions, green beans, corn, turnips, butternut squash, turkey and dressing.  Everything on the table grew in our garden except the turkey and dressing, and those two items were liberally seasoned with rosemary, thyme and sage from our kitchen garden.  The dressing contained onions and celery from our garden.  I draw the line, though, at growing wheat.
Three squares of corn meant
enough extra to freeze
The corn bears special mention.  During the prime corn harvesting season in August and September, we ate two or four ears of corn every day as each ‘square’ ripened.  Inevitably, though, there was an overlap when one square was not completely picked while the next was clearly ripe.  During that interregnum, we picked, shucked, blanched and quick-froze the excess corn.  A day later, we sheared the cobs of their kernels and froze them in plastic bags.  The resulting product is startling: it tastes nothing like the frozen corn you find in supermarkets.  Rather, it is just a shade off what was picked back in August and September: incredibly sweet and crunchy.
We had our salad course after the main meal.  I had sincere doubts whether the lettuce we transplanted to our cold frame in September would survive the pair of 15 degree nights and 40 mph winds we endured last week.  I covered the cold frame with a tarp and crossed my fingers.  To my surprise, several of the lettuce heads came through without freeze damage.  It tasted grand.
This is our post-Thanksgiving
squash and sweet potato supply
Dessert was a sweet potato chocolate nut cake; a recipe straight out of the Victory Garden cookbook.  I confess we did not grow sweet potatoes this year.  However, I did watch them grow in an adjoining plot on our community garden.  One enterprising gardener purchased several hundred ‘slips’ and parceled them out among more than a dozen plot holders.  In September, we bartered red peppers and okra for half a dozen plump specimens grown by a gardening neighbor.  They were terrific in late November and will be even sweeter in mid-winter.
The squash we ate will, at the rate we are consuming it, last until spring.  We harvested more than two dozen Waltham Butternut squashes, each weighing several pounds.  Like the sweet potatoes, winter squash ‘sweetens’ as it rests following harvest.  I see a lot of squash soup in our future.

What will be on the table next year?  During the main course, Betty casually noted that the only reason cranberries are grown in bogs is for ease of harvesting; cranberry bushes grow just fine on dry land.  Stay tuned for further developments.

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