Isn't it amazing how it feels like fall the minute the schools open again? Just a night or two before our local schools started the new year, we had lows in the 40's and I'm seeing the first blushes of color in the leaves of the trees. The garden says fall is near as well. Although there are still plenty of tomatoes and peppers to pick, the corn and beans have given their last picking. Weeds have gained control of much of the rows, and instead of spending my days weeding them, we'll just till them under when we put the garden to bed for the year. It has a feeling of winding down, despite the fact that there is still more picking to do. We'll wait for the first frosts to harvest the winter squash, so until then, it's not quite the frenzied feeling when picking and prepping Saturday mornings before the stand opens. There is lots to can during the week as well, but it also feels like the downhill slide.
One part of the garden is still getting my attention though, and that's the herbs. Part of it is because they don't get as tall as lots of other plants, and would quickly be shaded out if I didn't keep up on the weeding. But mostly, I think it's because I love weeding there. Even gently brushing by the various leaves as I weed, I'm rewarded by the fragrances. My nose alone can tell if I'm caring for the thyme, the sage, the basil. The dill is blooming so strongly right now I can smell it when I pass by on the riding lawnmower, even above the motor and fresh-cut-grass smells. The herbs were the first garden plants that I really tended myself as I came to the farm, and still, they feel like the part of the garden that is mine alone. I plan it, I pick it, I decide whether to freeze or dry them or what to season with them. I like that. And most importantly, I've learned how to use them in my cooking.
Anise & Rosemary
I grow a decent variety of herbs, so I can pretty much season any dish I like. This year, I had success with chives, oregano, lemon balm, basil, lime basil, borage, cilantro, parsley, rosemary, anise, thyme and sage. I also planted garlic chives from seed, and they've finally gotten to the point I think I'll be cutting a few before too long. About the only thing that didn't take was the Thai basil, which isn't bad considering I plant from seed, and herbs are notoriously tricky and/or slow to come up. Ancient wisdom said that parsley had to go to the underworld and back seven times before it would sprout, it takes so long to germinate!
Thyme & Parsley
Believe it or not, before I came to the farm, I wasn't much of a cook. Cooking was something that had to be done, but not because I enjoyed it. “From scratch” was something other people did, Hamburger Helper was good enough for me. My idea of seasonings ran toward garlic salt or grilling seasoning mixes. Now, I've done a complete turnaround. When bringing ham barbecue to a gathering last weekend, “I made it myself” meant not only did I cook the pork and make the sauce instead of pouring it out of a bottle, I gave the piglets their baby shots and loaded them onto the processor's trailer. I find I enjoy cooking so much more now, and the flavors are just incredible when you can walk out the kitchen door, scissors in hand, and walk back in with the flavorings. No salts, fats or preservatives, just fresh clean flavors. I like being able to say that the sage in our sausage is our own, or the cilantro in my salsa was cut just before I added it to the pot. But most of all, I just enjoy having them for myself, when I'm cooking for Dan and I. I love being able to take chances and throw things together and see what tastes I can come up with just mainly ingredients we make ourselves. And Dan is the farthest thing from a picky eater, over the last five years there have maybe been two times we decided to pass on whatever dish just didn't turn out right. Not bad, considering most of it was created on the fly, without much guidance from a recipe book!
Borage, Dill & Cilantro/Coriander
To me, being able to do that is the epitome of eating seasonally, and that is something I really strive to do, because the tastes are unbelievable. I even threatened that last night was my last night to cook, ever, because I'm not sure if the meal could be topped. I started out with the idea of making chicken alfredo, so I cooked up a breast of one of our chickens. I made the sauce from homemade chicken stock from the freezer and cream cheese. (No, that wasn't from my own cows, but even I'm allowed to cheat once in awhile!) Then I grated up some pattypan squash to add to the mix. For flavor, I put a good deal of fresh parsley and a bit of basil in my hand-cranked herb mill, and threw in some of the smoked cheddar we sell. Now it was getting some good flavor. Usually I would use garlic and a lot more basil, but I wanted a milder, creamer flavor so as not to overpower the most gourmet of my ingredients- more prized than naturally raised chicken or artisan smoked cheese- my mushrooms. Earlier, just an hour or so before, Dan and I had investigated our secret patches. I had a few chantrelles, but they still aren't coming on as strong as I expect they will after the next rain. And chantrelles retail for something like $50 per pound, and are one of the three gourmet mushrooms of western Pennsylvania that are highly sought after by chefs and cannot be grown, they must be harvested wild from the forests. We're lucky to have a good patch. The other two such forest fungi treats are morels (sadly, I have yet to pick one of those) and hen of the woods. I also found a hen last night and harvested part of that large mushroom as well. That went into the mix too. The result, served over some whole wheat pasta, was truly worthy of a five star restaurant. It likely would have cost a pretty penny at one of those places, considering the number of gourmet items that aren't always easy or possible to procure that went into it. However, I made it for (literally) the cost of some butter, cream cheese and noodles. So to me, eating seasonally means eating well, and life was sure good last night. So good I probably won't top it for awhile, but on second thought I don't think I'll give up cooking just yet. Ordering pizza in just wouldn't be as good!