The garden offers cause for thanksgiving


Vegetables gleaned from the author’s fall garden. (Barbara Damrosh)
November 26, 2013

A historic event about which little is known becomes fertile ground for the imagination. The famous feast celebrated in 1621 by recent English settlers and a local native tribe is noted only in one pilgrim’s letter home, but on those few lines much has been embroidered.

Fleeing religious persecution, the hardy band has set forth and landed, and now amid the struggle to survive, it shares a day of multicultural feasting. Regardless of anything that went amiss before, or will in the not-so-distant future, everyone is at peace.

Add to that a dose of family harmony, on a day when young and old gather around a table and bond merrily amid a harvest of hearty, seasonal, traditional food, and the picture is just about perfect.

Taken as a whole, the settling of America by Europeans was as much about land as it was political or social flight. Initially, the landscape beckoned with tales of wild game, bays filled with cod and forests festooned with fruits that set the Norsemen’s eyes agleam. But farming figured large for the newcomers, just as it did for the natives with their pumpkins and corn. It was a time in Europe when common folk could not acquire land, so off they went.

One part of the old tale can be teased out of the skein of myth: the prospect of a locally grown feast.

If you are reading this on Thanksgiving morning and happen to have a vegetable garden, go out and see what is there. Even if you think the garden is over for the year, it warrants a close look.

Maybe your home stores are so well stocked with turnips, winter squash and sweet potatoes that they rival those of a Thanksgiving hymn. But at this time of year the garden’s rows often yield unexpected treats, too. Root crops left in the ground, such as beets, carrots and onions, are still in fine shape. So are leeks, cabbages, cauliflower and broccoli.

Leafy greens such as kale, collards, lettuce, sorrel and, of course, spinach are still putting out nice growth — always sweeter in cool weather. Some stalwart herbs such as sage, oregano and thyme are there for the picking, not to mention lush green mounds of parsley.

The weeds of summer may have abated, but edible chickweed has settled in for the long haul. It’s even okay to raid the parsnips you planted for spring harvest. They’ll be sweeter in March, but a little maple syrup will fix that for now.

After you put the turkey in to roast, make a little garden pilgrimage and hunt up what tasty roots you can find, gather them into a basket, scrub them clean and toss them into the pan with the bird during the last hour of cooking. They’ll brown and caramelize delectably in the drippings. Then make a salad with the greens. Take the canned yams you bought and put them back in the cupboard, and thank the garden for what it can still supply. Yes, this holiday is largely about the turkey, but it’s also about the story. And the trimmings.

— localliving@washpost.com

Damrosch’s latest book is “The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook.”

Tip of the week

If your houseplants spent the season outdoors, examine them carefully for any pests before overwintering them indoors. Take afflicted plants outside and spray them with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil before returning them to the home. Cotton swabs and rubbing alcohol are effective against scale insects. Most houseplants overwinter best in rooms that are bright and cool.

— Adrian Higgins

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