Winter Vegetables: Part Two
Graham R. Cooper
My vegetable love should grow Vaster than empires, and more slow. - from 'To His Coy Mistress' by Andrew Marvell
June’s passion for gardening is pivotal when it comes to her positive outlook on life. Why wouldn’t it be, when there’s so much a gardener looks forward to?
Take, for instance, her winter garden. The fruits, or in this case, vegetables of her labour, may not be in autumn harvest festival abundance, but June can look forward to picking, digging, or cutting quite a number throughout the winter months.
Add the other home-grown vegetables that we eat over winter and it would be a display worthy of a festive celebration. I’m talking about the ones frozen or bottled or pickled or hanging from the rafters or stored in sacks.
Let’s start by digging, getting soil on our hands – wet and sticky after heavy rains. Hands rinsed under the garden tap, we’ll pick some greens, before going indoors to take a peek at the winter stores of potatoes, pumpkins, onions and garlic.
You have to get that fork in deep to prise up a leek: the depth of free-draining soil in their raised bed certainly helps.
Dig into its origins and you’ll discover they were eating leeks in Egypt during the time of the Pharaohs. We had leeks in cheese sauce the other day – three mummies (all very much alive), amongst those enjoying the meal. Will keep mum about word origins for the sake of a throwaway line or two!
Take a few steps back from the bed of leeks and you can pull a main crop carrot (earlies all eaten a while back). I didn’t fry my carrots as recommended by Apicius of ancient Rome in his cookery book, instead I boiled them in a broth of diced beef that had been marinated in Aussie Shiraz and slow cooked for six hours.
There’s an Irish Proverb that commands: “Never bolt your door with a boiled carrot.” I don’t think Apicius’ fried ones would do the trick either.
My boiled ones were in a ‘June’s birthday special stew”. It has to be ‘special’ for me to sacrifice a couple of cups of a hugely quaffable red!
We’ve got the Middle Ages to thank for the development of the long, fat parsnip. The wild varieties of Europe yield a scrawny root. Ours are the Sumi wrestlers of Parsnipdom. You wrestle with them to get that bulk out of the ground, and they’re such big boys it’s a daunting task for the two of us to get through just the one.
Get some decent frosts to sweeten them up and they’re right up there with kumara as a roast vegetable though. Which is marvelous, because the only time we get to enjoy kumara these days is when eating out or when someone comes to stay bearing the sweet potato amongst their gifts.
There are still some beetroot in the ground, although June’s bottled most of them. The roots taste good in a stir fry and stay nice and firm even when reheated.
Like most westerners, we’ve never got into the habit of eating the leaves. Russians eat the leaves and roots. Young beetroot leaves are tasty cooked like spinach. I’ve tried them raw but they’re a bit too chewy and strong-flavoured for my taste.
If you read my last post (https://grahamrcooper.com/2021/06/14/winter-vegetables-part-one/), you’ll already know that June’s recently dug all the yams. After leaving the tubers in the sun for a few days the flavour gets quite a boost – really sweetens them up.
Considering it was originally a South East Asian vegetable, it’s surprising that it does so well in our temperate climate. I guess that’s down to their sheer variety as a vegetable family. In Samoa alone they used to cultivate 35 varieties.
We don’t usually bother with swedes. Golf ball size white turnips – they’re something else again – mouth-wateringly delicious eaten raw or steamed. You’ve got to make the most of those babies late spring, early summer though.
As for their origin, that’s lost in the dim mists of European prehistory. The ancient Greeks and Romans liked to add spices when they cooked them.
Moving above ground, we can pluck leafy green silverbeet, spinach, purple kale, curly kale, brussels sprouts, winter cabbage. And of course there are plenty of herbs. The ones we mainly still pick fresh from the garden at this time of year(the rest have been dried), are thyme, rosemary, parsley and coriander.
Then there are the vegetables we store to ensure year round supply: potatoes, pumpkins, onions and garlic.
We’re smitten with potatoes: sliced and fried as flat rounds or long chips; roasted; boiled whole (especially freshly dug small new potatoes served with butter, and sometimes sprigs of mint), mashed, casseroled, scalloped, baked. You name it and we’ll tuck in with great gusto.
We leave the skins on, but make an exception when mashed in deference to June’s tastes – the brown, chewy skin slivers detracting from the smooth, fluffy texture of the white mash. It’s interesting to learn that they’ve only been a staple of British diets for about 250 years.
We find the pumpkins keep best in the cool, dry atmosphere of a spare bedroom. June’s sister stayed overnight in the room a couple of days ago. We had to pull the bed out a bit farther than usual because we’ve got the pumpkins lined up against the wall!
If you try to avoid onions, you’d be quite the exception. Just about every savoury dish the world over has onions in it. The number of bunches hanging from the rafters at the back of the garage proof enough that most of our evening meals have onions in them. June grows red onions for summer salads, and Pukekohe Long Keeper and Stuttgart for main crops that store well over winter.
Would be a travesty to draw this to a close without giving garlic its due. We put it in close to as many dishes as we do onions. In fact, as you might expect, it’s a member of the onion family. It probably originated in Siberia, so no wonder it can grow and is grown pretty much everywhere in the world! Its spread started some 5000 years ago – time enough to adapt to different climates and soils.
That’s all on modern-day homesteading at Little Owl Gully till next Monday. Thanks for your company. Bye for now.