Thursday, December 9, 2010

How Does Your Garden Grow? The Harvest

Containing more  Lessons from my Daughter and From My Son

The End for 2010
The last of the harvest has been eaten.  Tom cut four lone pieces of okra from the garden the end of  November and ate them raw, cut up into our mixed salad.  It was not enough for a mess and some folks would have just tossed them, or put them in the compost pile.

 But Tom is a  WWII baby, whose mother’s  voice still echoes in his head.  “Waste not, want not.....   You must belong to the Clean Plate Club..... Eat your food—just think about all those starving children in Africa.”

I hear a similar voice.  I could never understand, though,  about that starving children thing.  Why in the world couldn’t we send the food—which I DID NOT WANT---to the hungry children who so needed it?
First Harvest of the Season 2010

This year we planted a limited number of crops, unlike in past years.  The tomatoes and okra were givens, though not quite as much okra as in the past.   Peppers and fields peas rounded out the garden. My three favorite summer foods are tomatoes, okra and field peas.  I could eat them every meal. 

I do not eat peppers.  To be in the same room while Tom is cutting them up makes my eyes water.  Tom puts them in everything he eats and if,  by accident,  it is something I also am eating,  my mouth burns for hours.  Taking a hint from Jeff's cheese stuffed peppers dish, Tom also makes his own unique stuffed hot peppers, stuffing them with all kinds of cheeses, smoked oysters, crab meat, chopped shrimp, smoked salmon, tuna, minced clams and other interesting and unusual things.  The two tricks to this dish are to wear gloves during preparation (the more important of the two) and to roast them well  so that the intense heat is under control.  He freezes these individually on cookie sheets so that he can pull out one or two at a time to roast for his dinner.  

The only disappointment were the field peas.  They were heavenly tasting, but almost nonexistence. We planted four rows of them, two on one side of the garden and two on the other.  The rows on the right side yielded some every now and then, so that every few days we had gathered enough to cook a mini pot full.  Tom let me eat them all each time(about 3 spoonfuls), because I was the one who had begged to plant them this year.  The other two rows yielded nothing—not one pea.  The plants looked healthy and were heavy  with dark lush leaves.  That was it.  No peas. We are going to be more careful about the exact kind of field pea we try next year.  I think we will try two different kinds, maybe crowder  and pink eye peas, and keep track to see if either does better than this year.  If anybody had a recommendation, please let us know. I don't know if I can go another summer without fresh field peas.  On the other hand, Tom may be over it and have no interest in trying them again.  If you have read my previous gardening posts, you know that Tom is the master gardener and I am the sometimes helper—except for the summer of his hip replacement, when I was the worker bee under his rigorous oversight.  So if he says it’s a no-go, then we will be pealess next year.   

The tomatoes were .......... Wow!!

Sam & Madeline pick our tomatoes

We planted many heirlooms this year, harder to grow, but so worth it.  The whole experience is an affirmation that beauty is only skin deep.  Heirlooms  are open pollinated, not hybrids,  that look like they've grown wild. They're all different lumpy shapes and sizes, with scarred splits in the delicate skin and the flesh is firm, sweet, rich, lush, and smoky tasting. I love to eat them straight out of the garden, like apples, hanging over the sink with the juice dribbling down my chin. I have been excited to learn that, besides being funny looking
Davis & Tom
and tasting scrumptious,  they are  more nutritious, packed full of vitamins and antioxidants, than are  the more common hybrid varieties. Hybrids, on the other hand,  are cross pollinated, developed for commercial purposes--a uniform size to make them easy to pack,  with thick skins to be bug resistant, and to stand up under rough handling and for travel. Hybrids look uniformly, perfectly attractive, but are mealy, juiceless and drip free, manipulated for the sake of economics, taste be damned.

Our earliest harvest is always green tomatoes, picked  to thin the plants so that they will yield more. I have searched all my cookbooks and the internet for the best green tomato recipe to be had.  I am glad to share it with you.  The secret is the mustard mixture that you spread on the tomato before you fry it.  It is messy, but the spread adds a tang that makes this dish special.

Fried Green Tomatoes
This recipe is from Robert Lorino of The Irondale Café in Irondale, Alabama.This restaurant is the inspiration for Fannie Flag’s Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café.  The recipe is world famous.

2          Medium hard  green tomatoes, chilled
1          Tablespoon Dijon mustard
1          teaspoon sugar
½         teaspoon salt
¼         teaspoon paprika
1/8       teaspoon ground red pepper
 1 ½     teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
½         cup yellow cornmeal
¼         cup hot bacon drippings or vegetable oil

Cut tomatoes into ½ inch slices
Stir together mustard and next 5 ingredients.  Spread on both sides of tomato slices.  Coat with cornmeal.
Fry tomatoes in hot drippings (or oil) in skillet over medium heat 3 minutes on each side or until browned.  Drain.


  We planted less of everything this year, so we only froze a few of our tomatoes and gave away those we couldn’t eat at three meals a day sliced, diced,  minced and roasted, in sandwiches, sauces, and stews.  The office attorneys and staff got lots and we had enough get ripe at once during the summer to serve them on Sunday in Finlay Park at Food Not Bombs.

Our wonderful preacher,  Neal, got the lion’s share though.  In fact, he called every Saturday night to remind us to bring him some. “You know my favorite food is a BLT sandwich,” he would say. He even wanted us to bring a bag of them and hang them on his office door on the Sundays he was not preaching.  There was a little catch in his voice the Saturday night we had to tell him the yield was  over and there would be no more tomatoes in the morning. He is a tomato glutton and I threatened to tell the Board to reduce his salary,  as we were paying part of it in produce, the old fashioned way. LOL.
He did not LOL.

Okra was our most prolific crop this year.  Originally from Africa, okra is a hot weather plant.  We put the seeds in the ground later than any of our other crops and it is the last to stop yielding—when the weather is below freezing for several nights in a row, usually in late November.  We use it in stews and gumbos and soups, but primarily we coat it with corn meal and deep fry it.  Fried okra is as Southern as fried catfish, fried chicken, fried pork chops, fried squash, and….fried green tomatoes.  Good as it tastes,  Tom and I have stopped eating fried food of any kind, switching to broiled or baked, for the sake of our health.  But fried okra--we just have not been able to give it up. Until this year.  In yet another of the Lessons From My Daughter, Jeny introduced us to a new way to cook okra.  It is healthy, less messy than fried,  and so tasty that we are never looking back. Sauteed okra is simple.
Sauteed Okra

Cut okra in slices as for frying. (If you have just washed it, pat it dry with paper towels, or wait for it to air dry).   Coat the sauté pan well with oil. On medium high heat, sauté the okra in pan  until brown on edges and slightly crisp, 4-6 minutes, stirring constantly so as not to burn. Lightly salt if desired.
There are more elaborate recipes with onion and various spices, but we all like it so well  plain we’ve not tried to fancy it up yet.  Maybe next year.
  Both of our children have turned into master gardeners and master chefs and their gardens include a wide variety of herbs to use in their cooking. Our garden in no way rivals theirs.   Jeny grows a wider variety of crops than we do, including a fall garden.

 Jeff plants cucumbers, and pumpkins, in addition to most of the same things we do. He plants  pumpkins and such for fun for the kids. Sam loves cucumber cookies. The Lessons from my Son in this blog post involve his turning his garden produce into highly sought-after gifts. His cucumber and okra pickles and  fresh salsa, made with his own tomatoes and peppers, are to die for and he makes many of us happy with his homemade Christmas and birthday gifts. The marvel of this is that he manages it at all, in a teeny plot on the side yard, raided frequently by their two large, rowdy family dogs.

Winter is here, the temperature is in the 20’s and  the garden is only a memory, except for a few frozen quarts of tomatoes in the freezer and some of Jeff’s pickles in the cupboard. We are already looking forward to next summer and so, I am told, is Neal.  He misses his BLT sandwiches. 


  1. I enjoy it so much when your blog pops up and I never quite know what I will find. I love this one! You two are amazing. And, while I've never met your kids, they are surely amazing too. I love the feel of your garden talk. While my wimpy garden - mostly herbs because our home is in the woods - gives me pleasure, it is hardly the kind where you can go pick a big old juicy tomato and eat it still warm with the juice dripping off your chin. What a great image.

    You guys probably know Dan Carter. He is a lefty, a former history prof at USC. He lives close to my folks in NC. My mom told me that he is writing a biography about Asa (Forrest) Carter. Should be interesting since you know him from the old days.

    See you SUNDAY!

  2. Tim, small world. Dan is a good friend. He is a brilliant, award-winning historian, especially of Southern history, author of an acclaimed book on The Scottsboro Boys (look it up) and the definitive one on Wallace (The Politics of Rage), which Tom assisted him on in many interviews and in many leads concerning people to seek out for the inside story. Of course there is a lot about Tom as a Wallace aide in the book. It was later made into a first rate documentary, Settin' the Woods on Fire, for which he won an Emmy. Again you see lots of Tom in the film and he got to go with Dan to Pasadena, California for the unveiling of all the new network shows (including documentaries) for that season. He met a ton of celebrities, but was too cool to ask for autographs (a big disappointment for the grandkids). Both the book and the documentary won several prestigious awards. Of course these are not the only books Dan has written.

    One interesting note about the book he is working on now about the author whose work, The Education of Little Tree, you know so well. He is a cousin, though distant, of the famous/infamous Asa Carter, and was the first to publically expose his sordid past in an Op-Ed for the New York Times which blew the whistle on the identity of the literary lion from Texas.

    We have lots of other things in common with Dan. He is a member of our faith tradition, the Unitarian Universalist, and is very active in his new congregation in North Carolina where he retired. As chair of the worship committee in our congregation here, I have invited him to speak at our local church worship service. He is also a fellow Tar Heel.

    Thanks for the kind words about my piece. I can only aspire to be half the writer you are. As I have told you before, you are the finest writer I know.

  3. Judy,

    Great post! Makes me drool with hunger to read it.

    You need one more adjective in describing the sauteed okra. Rather than just saying they are sauteed in oil, you should have said olive oil. We now use olive oil in almost every recipe calling for the use of oil. I like the taste of olive oil and love to dip bread (as well as most anything else) in it. The bread is especially good when rosemary and other spices are mixed in the olive oil.

    I understand why the Israelis and Palestinians covet the West Bank so much. It has a great abundance of olive trees!

  4. yoli cardenas ganongDecember 9, 2010 at 6:44 PM

    This yummy account has been a feast for all the senses. What a great read on a cold, cold, winter afternoon. Thanks, Judy!

  5. What a wonderful post. I bookmarked it for the recipes and just for whenever the mood strikes. Yummy, yummy, yummy.

    Have you ever made/had green tomato pickles? I have a recipe that was my husband's grandmother's. They take forever but are well worth it.

    I love coming here. Books, history, current events, delightful stories and food, lot's of food. I'm in heaven.

  6. Thanks Yolanda and tnlib, I love writing about growing and cooking food as much as eating it. Well.....

    I've had green tomato pickles, but never made them. I am more of a freeze person than a pickle or can kind of gal--way easier and faster.

    So many of my best recipes are hand me downs. They really knew how to cook in the old days, didn't they? That was before fast food and mixes and instant everything. Nothing like from scratch.


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