P. Allen Smith: From the Fall Garden to the Dinner Table
How To Harvest And What To Do With Your Garden Bounty
photography by Hortus Ltd. and Kelly Quinn
I no longer think of fall as a time to put the garden away, but rather the season for reaping all that I’ve sown during spring and summer. I really enjoy this time of year! The colors are so saturated, and there is such an abundance of produce and flowers.
The Leafy Vegetables
Nothing grows and goes together like several varieties of green, leafy vegetables. My vegetable garden is overflowing with the likes of lettuce, spinach, arugula and cabbage. Whipping up a creative salad is as simple as strolling through the garden with a pair of scissors — snip, wash, dress and toss.
Harvest leaf lettuce or spinach from the outside of the plant, leaving the central bud to grow more leaves, or cut the entire plant at the base. Leaf veggies are ready to eat at just about any size, and you can pick the baby leaves for tender salads.
One way to keep a supply of fresh lettuce or spinach going is to succession sow. Sow seeds every two weeks. As you harvest one crop, you'll have another one coming on right behind it.
One of the first things that I ever grew was arugula. Arugula, or Rocket, is peppery, and you can put it into all kinds of salads. It grows so quickly from seed, you can almost stand there and watch it come up!
Try my Autumn Salad recipe, a seasonal salad topped with a simple vinegar and olive oil dressing.
To harvest, test the head’s firmness by squeezing it. A head that looks solid and ready may still be flimsy and loose leafed on the inside. When it feels firm, cut the head from the base of the plant. Some varieties hold well in the garden for weeks, while others need to be cut soon after the heads are firm. Heads keep for several weeks in the fridge. Make tubs of sauerkraut to last through winter.
Kids may not eat it, but they love to grow it and so do I. When you see a flower head beginning to form in the center of the plant, check its growth daily. Harvest the broccoli while the tiny buds are tightly closed. If the buds begin to swell or show yellow, cut away. After cutting the main head, leave the plant to grow bite-sized side shoots. The vitamin-rich heads keep for about a week in the fridge; place in freezer bags and store in the freezer to enjoy later.
In a small bowl, dissolve ¾ teaspoon sugar in 1 ½ tablespoons red wine vinegar. Slowly drizzle ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil into the vinegar, blending it with a whisk. Add salt and pepper to taste. Next tear 3 cups of spinach leaves into bite size pieces. Thinly shred ¼ of a medium-sized cabbage. In a large bowl, combine thin apple slices with 1 cup arugula and the spinach and red cabbage. Add the dressing, and toss until well coated.
The Root Crops
Root crops are underappreciated in my opinion. Parsnips, turnips, radishes and the like are so cooperative they can be left in the ground well into winter. Mulch heavily, and harvest as needed.
I plant parsnips so that I can have them for Thanksgiving. They are delicious, used like potatoes. Parsnips are at their prime when cold temperatures change the starches to sugar, giving this root crop a sweet flavor and light, creamy texture. Parsnips are delicious roasted, broiled, boiled, steamed or sautéed. Because of their sweet flavor little seasoning is required.
I have come to adore the little white Asian turnip called 'haruki' although the “old purple top” is the one I grew up with. This little “haruki” is sweet and delicious simply roasted. Turnips are best when eaten young, because they have a delicate, almost sweet taste. You can store turnips in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. They will also keep in a cool basement.
The ideal time to begin picking and eating turnip greens is when nighttime temperatures are in the 40s or cooler to bring out the sweetness in the greens. Plants that are cut back about 2 inches above the top of the root will grow a new set of tender leaves in only 2 to 3 weeks.
Wash greens thoroughly, because soil tends to splash up on the leaves. Put the leaves in a very large bowl or clean bucket of water, and swirl it around so that any soil falls to the bottom. It is best to cut greens just before you cook them, but they will keep in a plastic bag in the fridge for a few days. Extras can be steamed and frozen.
Radish seeds will germinate in 4 to 5 days and within a few weeks are ready to harvest. Simple radish sandwiches capitalize on the spicy flavor and crisp texture of radishes. Just butter some bread, add radish slivers, sprinkle with salt, they make nice canapés for light luncheons.
Harvest kohlrabi when they are still young and tender — usually about 2 ½ to 4 inches in diameter — by cutting them from the base of the plant. Kohlrabi keeps for 2 to 3 weeks in the fridge. You can peel and slice kohlrabi and serve it raw with dips or in salad, or cook them like turnips. Cut into wedges and roasted is how I best love to eat kohlrabi. The leaves are cooked until just tender, like cabbage or turnip greens.
Greens — Collards, Kale, Swiss Chard
Harvest leaves when they are up to 10 inches long, dark green and still young. Old leaves may be tough or stringy. Pick the lower leaves first, working your way up the plant. You can even harvest leaves when frozen in the garden, but be careful because the frozen plant is brittle. Wash the leaves thoroughly before using them because soil often clings to the undersides. Greens will keep for several days in the refrigerator.
Like collards, kale leaves are sweetest in the fall, after they’ve been hit by a light frost. Young tender leaves are the most flavorful and make a colorful addition to salads. Pick the oldest leaves from the lowest section of the plants, discard those that appear yellowed or ragged. Pick your way up the stalk leaving at least 4 leaves, the growing crown, intact at each plant’s top.
Wash the leaves thoroughly, and store them in a plastic bag. Whole harvested leaves will keep in the refrigerator for about 2 weeks in a plastic bag or sealed container.
Add chopped into salads or chop large leaves to cook down like spinach or add to casseroles, soups and pasta. Simply sautéed with garlic and olive oil is the best way to serve them.
It is difficult for me to let anything go to waste. So though I have a good bit of tomatoes still coming in, I have plans for the ones that aren’t ripe yet. Right before the first killing frost, I gather all of the green tomatoes, which I wrap in paper and store at 60 to 65 degrees. Later, I can make this southern classic as a side dish or appetizer.
Fried Green Tomatoes with Parmesan
• 1 cup all-purpose flour
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 tablespoon dried basil
• ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
• 1 cup freshly-grated Parmesan cheese
• ½ cup breadcrumbs
• ½ cup corn meal
• 12 to 24 slices tomatoes, sliced ½-inch
thick (about 3 to 6 tomatoes)
• 2 large eggs
• 3 tablespoons olive oil
In one bowl, combine flour, dried basil, salt and pepper. In a second bowl, mix the breadcrumbs, corn meal and Parmesan. In a third bowl, beat the eggs. Dip the tomato slices in the flour and gently knock off any excess. Now dip the floured tomato in the egg mixture, allowing the excess to drip off; place into the breadcrumbs and Parmesan. Place the coated tomato slices on a cookie sheet or other flat surface, and continue the process until all the tomatoes are breaded. In a frying pan, heat the olive oil over a medium-high flame. Working with as many slices that will fit into the pan without crowding, cook the tomatoes 1 ½ to 2 minutes on each side or until the breading turns a nice golden brown.
Fall is an amazing season full of favorite, colorful annuals that I like to use to amp up my borders and accentuate the fall colors of many of my shrubs and ornamentals. Pop these into containers and hanging baskets to lift the color off the ground, bringing more flowering interest at eye level. Pick them before a meal and add them to autumn tablescapes.
• Angelonia ‘Angelface Blue’
• Coleus ‘Sedona’
• Calibrachoa ‘Superbells Red’
• Cleome ‘Spirit Violeta’
• Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’
• Lantana ‘Patriot Classic Cherry’
• Lobelia ‘Laguna Sky Blue’
• Nemesia 'Bluebird'
• Osteospermum ‘Lemon Symphony’
• Petunia ‘Supertunia Royal Velvet’
• Sutera ‘Snowstorm Giant Snowflake’
• Sutera 'Cabana Trailing Blue'
• Verbena 'Tukana Scarlet Star'