I’m sitting here today watching it rain on a terribly miserable day! Typical Oregon November. Trying to think of what my next blog post might be about – and I’m looking out on a wonderful summer garden being “drowned” by weeks of constant drench – isn’t it ironic that all summer long, the biggest problem faced by almost every garden plant is not enough water, and then in the space of a few weeks, what was a blessing becomes a curse?
And this beautiful old song came to mind-
Oh wow – the thoughts are flowing fast and rich – the rain as metaphor – something to be avoided, and yet beautiful and life giving – all depends on the emotional environment of the moment.
And more, … remember that this little ditty was written in 1929 – yeah, 1929, when there was absolutely no one who didn’t need a reminder, now and then, that yes, things would get better – yes, the sun will come out again, and we’d be all that much better for the experience.
Now – do me a favor – keeping in mind the mental state of America at the time this was written and released, go back and take a look at the pictures that the YouTube poster included with the song – they are simply beautiful, and meant, I’m sure, to reflect the metaphorical reality of the song – I especially love the final shot – I’m willing to bet that the poster lived through – painfully – this tragic era. What a beautiful job by the poster, Grzegorz, who interestingly is a Polish doctor, not even an American.
” …, was just a garden in the rain, but then the sun came out again, and sent us happily on our way.”
Damn, I love that music of the twenties and thirties – I’d almost be willing to trade places with my parents just for the experience – Almost! Or I could just spend the day – and I did – on YouTube reliving the era – Fun.
Oh yeah, the garden.
So, what were the stars of the summer garden? Well, before I tell you that, let me tell you which were the biggest disappointments. As you may remember, this past spring I moved my garden to a new part of the back yard, and I didn’t realize just how much stored up nitrogen there was in that new garden soil. Now, nitrogen is good, and if you don’t have enough, your plants don’t grow well – but if you have too much, all the plant’s energy goes into getting bigger and stronger – and it forgets about making “fruit”. So, my tomatoes grew into huge tree-like plants which spread into their neighbor’s rows, and robbed them of sun. And they didn’t start making tomatoes until well into late August, which in our area, does not allow enough time for the fruit to ripen. Result – very few ripe tomatoes!
Same fate befell the green beans – huge plants (almost tore down it’s support structure), but the beans came so late that we ate them very few times. Cucumbers did the same, although we got our fair share.
But the real star of the summer garden (Yes, there is a “winter” garden too) were the winter squashes – a word of explanation, “winter” squash gets its name not from the fact that it grows in the winter – as my pic below will reveal – but because it stores well into the winter. Actually, it’s quite closely related to many of the summer squashes, and may even cross with some of them given the opportunity.
These too took kindly to the high nitrogen environment of the new garden, and grew massive vines which took off in all directions – for much of the summer, I couldn’t get anywhere near them, and so had no idea whether they were producing fruit or not! Only in October, when the vines began to die back, did I see that they had in fact produced fruit, but far fewer than the norm. However, this was not a bad thing, because one of the problems of winter squash is that they set so many fruit that all are stunted to a smaller that desired size – in my case, nature took care of this and nicely limited the number of fruits each plant produced, giving me quite large squashes.
We have already eaten several of these, although most are so large that one squash will provide enough for 4-5 meals easily – in fact, the best way to deal with the excess is to freeze most of it once cooked, and eat it over several weeks. Yes, it’s a good thing that they’ll store in a cool place most of the winter.
How do we cook them? Frankly, I think the best way to prepare high quality winter squashes is very simply – we often cut one up, remove the seeds (for roasting with olive oil and salt – Luscious!), and simply bake – and by bake I mean to place in a roasting pan -or pan with high sides- add an inch of water or broth to provide moisture, sprinkle the squash with your choice of seasoning/herbs (my fav is Old Bay powder), and drop a chunk of butter into that nice little well that nature provides – I also baste the surface of the squash sev times during baking (325 F is good), and using a large roasting fork, I try to make holes in the surface of the squash for the seasoned butter to seep into. If you want to cover all with aluminum foil for 45 minutes, and then remove for the last 30, that works well – but you can roast without foil too – just may take a little longer. Test for done-ness with your roasting fork – you want nice and soft!
Sometimes we par-roast for the freezer – then later, we thaw, wrap in foil, and finish baking at 325 F, until nice and soft. Additionally, once you have par-roasted squash in the freezer, you can use it for any number of wonderful creations. Make a soup with chunks of the almost cooked squash – add some chunks to a quiche or frittata – make mashed or pureed squash, with curry and/or coconut milk – or just saute them in butter and season. Damn, there are thousands of ways to go and things to make. Ask me again in the spring!
What about the winter garden – well, that’s another post.