This morning I took advantage of the mild weather to get some chores done in the garden. As I kneeled on the ground planting garlic I thought about my recent trip to Georgia. I arrived in Atlanta the day before the State was set to execute Troy Davis. I’d been following the case through online news outlets, but it wasn’t until the morning of my talk that I realized that the time was set to correspond with the moment I got up to speak at the botanical garden.
This threw me into a tailspin. Should I recognize the moment? In my personal life I would. Yes, people around the world die every minute of everyday, but State sanctioned murder is not the same. Here I was in the place where it was about to happen and at that very moment. Not saying anything felt like intentional avoidance or denial, yet at the same time I was a guest from another country — people had come out to hear me speak about growing food and I did not want to send them home feeling badly, or worse still, judged.
Over the last month or so there had been some online chatter about the role of garden writers. Several people said that garden writers should stick to plants and pretty things and that there is no place for politics. I have already stated my opinion on this topic and find it interesting that it was only a short time later that I was in a position in which it was tested. Where is the line between our personal and professional lives? For me it is very fuzzy and I would not have it any other way.
The last of the tomato crop are racing to ripen on withering vines. The roselle is showing signs of cold damage and gaping holes are appearing in the garden beds where warm season annuals were once lush and thriving.
I feel blue. The garden season is winding down and while various contraptions will be employed to keep the food coming for some time yet, and even though several plants will join me indoors, creating a lush jungle in my office and the cold “greenhouse” out front, it’s just not the same.
Winter is not summer.
When I think of the months ahead, I can’t seem to get down with huddling up indoors plotting next year’s plan, nor can I anticipate the look of my new garden’s first winter. They are nice ideas, but I could do without them. Instead, I imagine myself cautiously traipsing into the garden in my bare feet to pick fresh herbs for dinner. I recall the heavy, smell of the sweet smell of the nicotiana flowers at night and rescuing the last head of sorghum from the squirrels. I don’t want that to end. I want it to keep going year-round. I want the roselle to get their chance to bloom. I want to cut back the hot peppers and the tomatoes and start anew. I want to be greeted each morning by a lush scene from my kitchen window and the promise of some new magic to discover.
I don’t want the long, cold break. I don’t want the slow, dark days and the blanket of winter to cover it all up. I don’t want to rest. I want to keep going.
The concept is so simple I wish I had thought of it: take the throw-away tomato skins that are left-over in the preserving process and make them into something useful. Something other than compost.
With over 80 lbs of tomatoes (and counting) harvested from my garden this year, it is safe to say that I have been knee deep in canning these last weeks. While I am experienced and adept at canning tomatoes in many forms, I had never heard of drying the skins into a powder until I came upon it a few weeks back in Canning for a New Generation: Bold, Fresh Flavors for the Modern Pantry by Liana Krissoff.
Drying the skins is easy. Simply lay the wet skins out onto a parchment or Silpat-lined baking sheet and slow dry in the oven at the lowest temperature setting until they are crisp. I recently ran out of parchment (and my Silpat is too big for our tiny oven. Long story) and used a paper bag cut open. That works in a pinch, too. You can do this in a dehydrator as well, but I put mine away recently and have been too lazy to lug it back out to test.
Once the skins are dry, grind them into a fine powder using a coffee grinder. I have one exactly like this that is reserved for grinding herbs and spices only. A food processor will work, but it will turn out something more like tomato flakes than powder.
The result is a colourful and tangy flavouring that you can sprinkle on top of your meals. So far I’ve used it on breakfast eggs and in ricotta cheese stuffed zucchini blossoms. I’m sure I’ll discover more applications in the coming weeks as the possibilities seem nearly endless.
Having a new garden to work with has driven my flowering bulb frenzy to a whole new level. At last count I have purchased 17 packages of bulbs and the planting season has only begun. There are lots of tantalizing bulb sales to happen upon yet, and plenty of time left in which to find space (somewhere) for “just one more.”
When we moved here late last fall, we made a last-minute $88 impulse bulb purchase even though we did not yet have a dug up patch of earth, or an inkling as to what we would be doing with the yard come spring. Propelled by the anticipation of springtime blooms, we haphazardly dug up some grass close to the house (where we would see them from the back window) and managed to get them into the soil the day before it snowed.
Despite their rocky start, the bulbs did bloom, and while we enjoyed seeing them, the overall look of a bunch of random bulbs coming up willy-nilly in an empty plot of earth was, for lack of a better term, some cheap-ass Gong Show shit.
Now, as we head into our first full fall with this garden, I can’t say that next spring is going to be much better. The garden looks lush and full and has grown into something more than I expected it to in five short months, but the entire east side is just one, long, slightly chaotic, landing strip. You know, the cottage garden look.
No doubt if you are growing even one sage plant this year, chances are great that you have enough of this strong herb to flavour a Thanksgiving stuffing so enormous that the Guinness People wouldn’t even bother showing up to authenticate its title. It would win a placement in the book and keep placing now and through eternity by default.
There are not enough people in the world to eat that side dish.
Recently I’ve been on a break of sorts. Naturally, the first thing I did to prepare for the break is stock up on books. I may have gone overboard. One of the books I purchased was “My Tuscan Kitchen: Seasonal Recipes from the Castello di Vicarello,” a collection of Italian home cooking recipes by Aurora Baccheschi Berti. This is a beautiful book, full of warm and tempting photographs of sumptuous Italian treats. The focus is on simple, seasonal foods that will inspire you to use up the gleanings from your garden. I want to cook it all (although the truth is that I never will), but so far one recipe has stood out, and it isn’t even a recipe at all. It was simply instruction to take two sage leaves, sandwich a thin layer of anchovy paste in between, batter and fry. Apparently this is called, uccellini scappati or “birds that have flown away.
Are you intrigued? I sure was. I have fried sage leaves in butter. I have battered sage leaves in oil. I have even sandwiched sage leaves around cheese and fried that, but this is something different. Sage is a strong flavour, but so are anchovies. The two didn’t seem to cancel each other out, or create something too overwhelming to enjoy. They were delicious. Strongly flavoured, but harmonious.
They flew away, alright. Right into my mouth.