Sunday, October 30, 2016

Gardeners' Holidays 2016: Late Harvest

I've only been a gardener for about eight years now, but there's one thing I've already learned: nothing is really predictable.

For example, at this time of year, production in the garden is normally shifting over from the summer crops to the fall crops. The summer squash and cucumbers are played out, and the tomatoes and peppers have only a few lingering fruits. So while there's still produce to be picked in November, it's mostly the later-ripening crops: winter squash, fall greens, lima beans, leeks, Brussels sprouts, and the last few hardy, stubborn stalks of rhubarb.

But this year, summer has been hanging gamely in there. Though we've had a few days of hat-and-coat weather, they've been interspersed with others where even two layers are too many. And just last week, Brian came in from the garden bearing an unprecedented late offering: one last large zucchini, and more surprising still, three smallish cucumbers.

On top of that, our pepper plants are stubbornly continuing to produce. Brian picked all the good-sized fruits before the first frost, but new ones are still appearing: skinny green fingers on the Jimmy Nardello plant, and little white globes on the Klari Baby Cheese. So if the next frost holds off for another couple of weeks, we might yet be able to pull in a second harvest of those.

This unexpected bounty helps somewhat to make up for the fall crops, which have been a little bit disappointing. Our trusty Waltham and Ponca Baby butternut squash plants have done pretty well, providing us with ten squash so far, plus a few more still ripening on the vines. But we've only harvested about a pint of lima beans in total, and the one last leek that Brian just brought in from the garden brings our total harvest for this year to four. As for the Brussels sprouts, despite our best efforts, there's still nothing on them large enough to pick. We started them indoors way back in mid-March to give them a good head start, and as the plants grew, Brian plucked off their lower leaves to give the sprouts more sunlight...but all that did, apparently, was cause the stalks to become top-heavy and flop over. The sprouts remain the size of marbles, with little hope that they'll reach a reasonable roasting weight before the snow flies. So I guess at this point we have to accept defeat on this particular crop and resign ourselves to relying on Trader Joe's for our sprout supply.

Fortunately, what we have is still enough to celebrate the fall harvest with. In fact, we're spoiled for choice. For tonight's harvest feast, we considered making one of our favorite butternut squash recipes (soufflé or lasagna), or perhaps combining the butternut squash with our last zucchini to make squash and zucchini fritters from a recipe we pulled out of Savory magazine last year. (This is a freebie you can pick up at Stop & Shop stores. I searched for the recipe on the Stop & Shop website, but it doesn't seem to be there anymore.) But since we needed something that would give us leftovers for tomorrow's lunch, we decided to keep it simple and just use the last of the garden leeks, plus one additional one from the H-Mart, to make frizzled leeks. We're serving those over some spinach gnocchi we picked up on whim during a recent Aldi trip, topped with mozzarella and accompanied by a basic green salad.

And, since our new rosebush is also continuing to bloom even as November approaches, we'll have fresh flowers to grace the table as well.

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