Garden Lifestyle

Fall: Time for the Gardener to be Grateful

Well, it is too cold to garden anymore this season.

Just-planted fall garlic bed. Although it will be cold for the next few months, this garlic will be sprouting and we'll have green garlic before we know it! Click on other pix to enlarge and read captions.
Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger

Well, it is too cold to garden anymore this season… last night it was 18 degrees F in my zone 7 garden. Pretty much, all of the plants that should have been harvested have been cut… before it frosted… it is too late now since everything has been frozen. Tender perennials have been brought indoors to winter over in the greenhouse. The garlic was finally planted a couple of weeks ago–a little later than usual–though it will do fine.

This gardener has moved indoors–now is the time to take care of the indoor projects that have piled up while we were outside–and also take some time to appreciate what we have accomplished.

I like to look at the jars lined up downstairs in the coldroom with jams and jellies, salsas and sauces that were preserved during the summer. It is a treasure trove of shining jars full of sunshine, which I will open throughout the months ahead. There are still things in the making. The herbs dried in baskets and hanging from the rafters need to be stripped and bottled and labeled. The infusions on the counter, which I shake daily, are still aging. I have hot chiles in apple cider vinegar, which I will make into shrub and fire cider vinegar–these will help me and those I love to keep healthy throughout the cold and flu season. Lovingly-dried calendula petals, infused in extra-virgin olive oil, will be made into a therapeutic salve for the skin. The elderberries, which have been infusing in alcohol will be used for a well-being tincture and a lovely libation. The red raspberries and vanilla bean will be strained from the white wine vinegar and bottled to give as gifts for favorite cooks and used to to dress salads this winter. Dried chiles will be ground into spice blends. I delight in creating these foods, libations and homemade remedies–not only are they delicious and taste good and help us to remain healthy–they are truly comfort foods.

This week, from coast to coast, folks are gathering together to celebrate Thanksgiving. This is a time to give thanks for what we have; traditionally it was a celebration of the harvest, for the bounty we have gathered and preserved to get us through the cold weather ahead. Certain foods are enjoyed by many across the country for this Thanksgiving Feast–the customary turkey, gravy, a starch or two and vegetables. Those down south might be having cornbread dressing, while up in New England, theirs will be an oyster stuffing. While mashed potatoes are often served with gravy, some prefer sweet potatoes, and those in the Central North might enjoy locally grown wild rice. My family, from the Mid-Atlantic wouldn’t think it was Thanksgiving without sauerkraut on the table… when I mentioned this to some Californians… they looked at me like I was crazy. There are some families who will eat the standard green bean casserole with mushroom soup, others will choose to eat what is in season: broccoli, Brussels sprouts or seasonal hardy greens. In the southern states, there will be many a table serving up a mess o’ greens with pot likker.

Whatever you eat, let us give thanks for the joy of gardening and the food we grow–and the food that the farmers provide for us.

Although cranberries are not local to many states, since they are mainly cultivated in bogs in Massachusetts, and some in Rhode Island, New Jersey, Washington, Oregon and Wisconsin, they are a part of many Thanksgiving meals throughout America. Cranberries are at their peak in November and will keep in the refrigerator for about two months and can be frozen. Did you know that Native Americans pounded cranberries and combined them with nuts, jerked meat and fat to create pemmican? I do not prefer the quivering jelly-like cranberry condiment dumped out of a can. Homemade relish is easy to prepare and far superior in flavor.

My mother-in-law, Marguerite Sargent, used to make cranberry relish every Thanksgiving, and I enjoyed it because it was a tart-sweet counterpoint to the heavy meal. She found the recipe in the newspaper many decades ago and I have the original clipping, a little, yellowed square of about two-inches. I have changed the recipe a bit, using maple syrup rather than sugar and omitting the raisins; there are just three ingredients, it is simple to make and is better made a day or two ahead. Try it–you’ll like it: Cranberry and Orange Relish with Maple Syrup.

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