Thursday, January 24, 2013

eating in season...winter

Since it's the middle of winter and a little early to be getting spring fever, I'm thinking more about food than I am about gardening.

Image borrowed from
Mill City Farmers Market, Minneapolis, MN.
One of the things I like best about edible landscaping - and gardening in general - is the seasonality of what comes to the table. I eat the right things at the right times at the absolute peak of freshness, and that is how it should be. That's fine during the summer when our gardens and tables abound with zucchini, strawberries, tomatoes, eggplant, and, and, and.... But what about these long days of winter? Days when it seems like nothing ever again will grow and the world is doomed to an eternity of white. Okay, maybe I'm experiencing just a pang of spring, winter blues now stuffed neatly away in my down parka pocket...

The scene out my window. Now you understand.
So, how do we eat in season during a season when nothing grows? Well, unless you have a root cellar or do a lot of canning, (neither of which are part of my present existence) you, like me, are probably spending some time in the produce section of the grocery store. During winter I tend to gravitate to veggies that would likely be in my root cellar were I lucky enough to have one. These are tasty delights like winter squash, cabbage, potatoes and sweet potatoes, beets, parsnips, carrots, onions, turnips, garlic, and even celery! All things that lend themselves well to roasting, baking and souping (?) - cooking methods that provide the warmth and richness that we northern denizens crave this time of year.

Winter squash is one of my favorites, and I am forever searching for a really good squash soup recipe. Most I've tried are a bit thin, even those that are pureed, and don't have the richness I long for. And I usually avoid the ones that are too creamy or overly spiced with curry or other exotics, because I generally like my food to taste like the food it is. (That said, I'm always a little over-zealous with the freshly ground black pepper, leading Dirk to remark, "Wow...peppery", to which I respond, "Hmm, you think so?")

This is the only photo taken of my squash-sweet potato-carrot soup production.
Please disregard the delicious cocktail attempting to steal the show.
By the way, winter squash seeds are tasty when roasted like pumpkin
seeds and dusted with a little cinnamon and sugar. 
I found a simple and spectacular recipe named "Zuppa di Carote e Zucca Gialla"{Carrot and Winter Squash Soup} in Williams-Sonoma's Rustic Italian cookbook by Domenica Marchetti. The pancetta croutons sold me on it immediately. If you know what's good for you, you will not neglect them when you make this, as emotional health is just as important as physical health this time of year. Click on over to Domenica Cooks to check out the recipe. The carrots added extra sweetness, and I added a sweet potato for even more orangey, healthy deliciousness.

You might be thinking...what about growing winter squash in your edible landscape? Let me just say this one takes some creativity. The large, coarse leaves make quite a statement, and can look really great when interplanted with chard, kale or other sturdy plants to break up the monotony. The vines are take-over-your-garden-long. There are clever ways to save space, using trellises and other supports. Or, check out some of the newer bush types if you're really tight on space.

If you choose to trellis your plant, the individual fruits might need to be supported. Just something to keep in mind. The tricky part really comes later in the season, as it's generally recommended to harvest after the vines die back. Hmm, that doesn't sound so pretty. But...if you have enough other gorgeous plants growing around the vine, you might not even notice. On the other hand the autumn visage of crisp, tawny vines rambling along the fence line might be just the thing to bring the feel of harvest season into your yard. Sometimes we just have to adjust our concept of beauty.

Edible landscaping guru Rosalind Creasy can always be counted on to
provide creative ideas for growing plants beautifully, including squash.
Image borrowed from
If you've decided to grow winter squash, don't stop at butternut and acorn. Look for unique looking varieties and those that tout excellent flavor. Delicata is one of my favorites.

Here are a few good resources for growing winter squash in the garden:

Growing Pumpkins and Squash in Minnesota Home Gardens
Growing Pumpkins and Other Vine Crops in Wisconsin (Geared toward market gardeners, but includes helpful info for gardeners too!)
Growing Winter Squash: Cornell University Garden Guide
Winter Squash: University of Illinois (Variety descriptions.)

And here's a handy guide for storing fruits and vegetables from the University of Wisconsin.

Stay warm out there!

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