Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Golden Days

Enough talk. Let's eat.

All told, I've been away from the garden a full month this season. Long enough for the cucumbers to swell to bursting, the okra to get tough as wood, the beans to shrivel on the vine.

But last night we cut through all the whining, determined to make a meal of our labors. First, the carrots. I used to just scatter the carrot seed in patches, but I was never one for thinning the sprouts. So I've gotten smarter and started poking small holes, adequately spaced, in the soil with my finger, then planting the seeds one-by-one.

We have three carrot patches now, planted in succession with many different varieties, and the ripest one was in full bloom. For some reason, the yellow carrots are the first to bolt and the most temperamental where ripeness is concerned. So I went after the flowering carrots first and sure enough that yielded a bounty of goldens. These and the few traditional carrots I cleaned, peeled and grated into a curried carrot salad with apples.

The dressing is simply mayonnaise mixed with some homemade chive vinegar (or white wine vinegar), lemon juice, extra-virgin olive oil (you could use a lighter oil, such as grapeseed or walnut oil), curry powder, sugar, salt and pepper. I usually add raisins as well, and you could throw in some toasted almonds or walnuts, but I was on a mission and forgot.

Note: Harvesting and cleaning carrots is fun but labor intensive. It helps to have a helper.

Next, the beets. I had wonderful success last year with fall Chiogga beets, but darned if I can get the spring-planted beets to do much. They only want to grow so large, then they stop growing and just sit there soaking up the sun. I think I need more organic matter in the soil. But in another area with well-amended soil, I planted golden beets and these have thrived. I started pulling a few of them and some proved to be enormous. After cleaning and trimming, I set them to cooking in a large pot of water until tender.

Remove the beets to cool. When they can be handled, rub the skin off and trim the remains of the green tops. Cut into slices or wedges, then dress with extra-virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, pepper and chopped chives from the garden. Even better, add wedges of ripe red tomatoes and slices of red onion.

Finally, I have to say I am kicking myself a little over our dark Italian kale. It was doing fabulously--it was far and away the star of this year's garden--even after we'd been gone in Mexico for two weeks. That is, into the beginning of August. But a terrible heat wave descended on the District of Columbia lasting several days while we were away in Maine and the plants suffered a mighty scorching.

The harlequin beetles were moving in for a feed--a sure sign that the Brassicas are done. So I pulled all the plants out of the ground one-by-one and selectively culled the leaves that had not been too terribly affected. What I harvested was a mere fraction of what the plants had actually produced. But such are the consequences of being absent from the garden at the precise moment when it needs your attention. My timing, in other words, is pretty atrocious.

Nevertheless, what we had was enough kale for several meals. To salvage the lot, I just put a large pot of salted water on the stove to boil, trimmed the ribs out of the kale leaves, roughly chopped them, then cooked them at a very low boil until they were tender, about 30 minutes.

Most of the cooked greens I would pack and store either in the fridge or the freezer for later use. For our meal, I sauteed some onions from the garden, then some hand-crafted, hickory-smoked bacon. I then chopped the bacon and put that and the onions and three generous portions of the greens into the skillet with the bacon grease and heated it all through with a splash of apple cider vinegar, salt and pepper.

So much for cooking. Now, time to sit back and enjoy the view. Since starting the garden, we've had a family of goldfinches come to visit, now for the second year. One of them was perched atop the cone flowers, digging for seeds. When we sat for dinner, we noticed out the window that a squirrel had found a way to hang upside down at the top of the 10-foot-tall sunflower stem, and was munching away on the seeds.

Seems there's enough to go around for one and all. Bon appetit, everyone...

No comments: