Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Eating from the garden

That's part of the harvest from our kitchen garden from yesterday, the first of September. Beginning from the top left, there's a handful of sugar snap peas (peas in September?), some Fort Laramie strawberries, and then two 'green fingers' baby cucumbers. Then the tomatoes, again from left to right, Chianti rose with that yummy pink blush, yellow pear in the center, and persimmon, the two orange globes in front. (Except for the strawberries, all of my garden seeds come from Renee's Garden Seeds, to my mind the best purveyor of seeds for home gardeners who love flavorful varieties that aren't finicky to grow.)

It's a strange year in our garden at 7,000 feet elevation in the southern Rockies when sugar snap peas overlap with cucumbers. But this has truly been a year of unusual weather oscillations: last winter was colder and snowier than any winter in the past few decades, followed by a spring that was windier and drier than any in perhaps a century, and a summer that alternated cold and hot and was constant only in delivering very little rain.

So little rain, in fact, that we're approaching the end of the gardening season having received a total of just 3.82 inches of precipitation since January 1 (snow included). That's less than half of what is "normal" for this time of year, at least according to the last century of record-keeping. Nor is it enough precipitation to grow a bounteous kitchen garden, even with our raised beds, great soil with plenty of organic manure added each year, and varieties that perform well in this chronically arid and high-altitude climate. I've watered the garden almost every day since early June.

And thanks to that watering, in spite of the various vicissitudes of the weather, from wind and the occasional hailstones to days and days without rain, the garden has produced bountifully. It's a treat to go out the kitchen door in the evening, pick whatever is ripe, and come inside to invent dinner from the plants I raised with my own hands.

Tonight it was Tortellini with Garden Vegetables:

1 pkg cheese tortellini
5 medium-sized beets (golden or chiogga are best for their milder flavor)
3 medium-sized summer squash (I used two yellow crookneck and one romanesca)
1 cup sugar-snap peas
3 T olive oil (I used Stonehouse Olive Oil's tangerine-infused olive oil)
1 1/2 T balsamic vinegar
2 oz Manchego or other hard Spanish cheese, grated
fresh-ground black pepper

Quarter the beets (leaving ends and roots on) and steam them in a microwave-safe container for ten minutes. Cool and then cut off ends and roots, and slip off skins. Set aside. (The beets can be cooked in advance and refrigerated.) Cook the tortellini according to package directions. Steam the summer squash until nearly done, then add the peas (whole, with the ends snapped off) and finish steaming. Toss the warm tortellini with the olive oil and balsamic vinegar, then add the vegetables and toss. Cover with the grated Manchego and grate fresh black pepper to taste on top. Serve warm. (Serves four and makes yummy leftovers!)

Two smidgens of rain last week were enough to send the native plants in our restored bunch grass-wildflower front yard into blooming ecstasy, especially the scarlet gilia. Those tubular red blossoms are designed to reward the long, brush-tipped tongues of hummingbirds with sugary nectar if they hover and reach way down into the base of the flower. Our explosion of scarlet gilia came at just the right time to feed the southward migrating hummingbirds.

So as summer winds down here in the southern Rockies, we're still feasting on the garden's bounty, and even in this extraordinarily dry year, the hummingbirds are still getting their sugar rush to fuel them on their long flight south.

1 comment:

Deborah Robson said...

Yum, Susan. I want to eat at your house. No, I want to eat like that at *my* house. How about you write a cookbook that will be ready for me about the time I figure out how to grow edibles in this climate? I've got a few tomatoes already. . . .