Monday, November 2, 2015

Gardeners' Holidays 2015: Late Harvest

Here in New Jersey, autumn has hit its peak. The trees are at the height of their fall color, a blaze of red maple, orange beech, and yellow hickory. The nights are growing longer and chillier, and we've already had our first couple of frosts. Summer's cotton sheets have given way to flannel, and the warm comforter has taken its place on top. And this morning, we finally set the clocks back to Standard Time, which keeps getting shorter and shorter (we now spend nearly twice as much time on Daylight Savings Time as we do on Standard Time, which makes you wonder what's "standard" about it). All the signs show that winter is on its way, and the harvest season is winding to its close.

Our garden isn't quite stripped bare yet, however. We've already harvested all our tender crops, and this weekend Brian brought in the last tiny butternut squashes (after leaving them on the vine as long as possible to give them time to ripen) and the last bedraggled stalks of rhubarb, which are looking somewhat the worse for wear after the frosts. But there are still lima beans on the vines that aren't yet plump enough to harvest, and our Brussels sprouts, despite the early start we gave them, are still too small to eat. If they don't reach full size before the snow flies, we may just have to give up. (According to the Old Farmers' Almanac website, removing the lower leaves from the plant can help the sprouts to grow bigger, so I guess we can take one more shot at growing them next year and see if this change is enough to give us a crop. If that doesn't do it, I guess we need to give up on them.) The cold-weather greens, arugula and parsley, are also holding their own...though sadly, the new "Winter Marvel" lettuce we planted this year in hopes of a crop that would overwinter doesn't seem to have come up at all.

Fortunately, with a little help from our friends, we still have produce to celebrate the Late Harvest. First of all, we went to a show last weekend with my folks (yes, an actual play in a real live theater!) and they brought us a bushel of apples from their tree, from which they harvested a whopping 31 pounds this year. So this morning, we had some of those apples pan-fried as a pancake topping, which, with some crushed walnuts, made a much heartier dish than plain old pancakes with maple syrup.

And then, after breakfast, we went out to pick up a CSA box belonging to one of Brian's coworkers, who generously offered it to us since she was going  to be away this weekend. This is the same coworker who let us claim her box in her absence last summer, giving us a generous assortment of greens, zucchini, cucumbers, blueberries, and garlic scapes for our weeklong local produce challenge. The fall assortment we picked up today is rather different, comprising:
  • 1 smallish head of red leaf lettuce
  • 1 bunch of mixed greens (definitely including some spinach and some arugula, and we're not sure what else)
  • 1 small head of broccoli
  • 2 large turnips (not a vegetable we usually eat, so we're not sure yet what to do with them, but we figure you can't go wrong with roasting)
  • 4 large sweet potatoes
  • 3 small beets (which I think are yucky, but Brian likes them pickled)
  • 1 HUGE bunch of carrots, tops and all (we have a good carrot soup recipe, but we're still puzzling over what to do with the greens)
The cat shown in the upper right corner was not included with the CSA box. She just found its contents interesting.

The lettuce furnished us with salads for both lunch and dinner, though both were fairly light meals because we had a substantial afternoon tea in between. (Yes, we actually had people over for tea. We held one of those "How to Host a Murder" parties that comes in a box, and we decided to do it over tea rather than dinner.) But sadly, there was none of our own garden produce served at tea, since we were no longer producing cucumbers for the traditional cucumber sandwiches.

So our celebration of the late harvest was spread out over the day, with the apples at breakfast and the salads at lunch and dinner. And to top it all off, one of our murder mystery guests brought us some kiln-dried apples from her own land up in Vermont, which were quite astonishingly delicious. We had two kinds of cookies at our tea, plus granola bread, plus cake and pie that some other guests brought, but the apples were the thing I found most irresistible.

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