05: Overwintering is a gift?
The surprise of spring's first sweetness
This week, in lieu of a full essay, I'm linking to one of my pieces that Bon Appetit published today about falling in love with the sprouting brassicas that Portlanders call "raab," the science of overwintering, and the awkwardness of emerging from pandemic isolation:
“Overwintering Turns Bitter Vegetables Sweet. Could It Do the Same for Me?”
Six weeks after I began researching that piece, the raab hunger has almost passed. Last night, we ate green kale raab sauteed with spiced green olives and sweet pickled peppers. We have one bundle of collard raab left in the fridge, and it may be the last. The asparagus is beginning to come up from Southern California, and I'm debating when to start bringing it into our house.
In the article, I talked about my three years of failure overwintering crops in the garden. But this spring, one improbable success has emerged.
Last September, I bought several heads of hardneck garlic from the nursery and broke apart the heads to push cloves into the soil of one of my garden boxes. The next day, those assholes the neighborhood squirrels began digging in that part of the garden, and the crows began depositing peanut shells around their holes. I waited a month, didn't see a single shoot, and figured that Arbor Lodge's fauna had all developed garlic breath. So I returned to the nursery for a few more heads, and planted them in a different bed.
Come December, I discovered: Squirrels and crows don't actually eat garlic, so I had two garlic crops instead of one. I could let them grow until July to cure and store, but there are other crops I'd like to plant in their place.
So the next month will be a feast of green garlic—the immature stalks of garlic, mild and vegetal. Few ingredients say early-2000s California cuisine to me in a way I actually welcome, and so it is going to be a greedy month, yet I feel as if I'm culling a flock of chicks as they hit puberty, removing the ones whose clucks begin to sound suspiciously like rooster crows.
Joey Staub, the farmer who took me on a tour of Gathering Together Farm in Philomath for the Bon Appetit piece, told me that they separate the heads of garlic they plant into two sizes: The biggest cloves will become plump, multi-cloved heads when they are fully grown. The farmers set aside the small cloves to harvest in early spring as green garlic.
That I may do next year, now that I know how easy it is to jump-start my first harvest of the year. Two nights ago, I sauteed more raab—I mean it, the raab cooking has been obsessively ferocious here—with green garlic and lemon to heap onto beans and toast. The rest of the green garlic went into another apple cider vinaigrette, which I gave to friends who had brought us a project I'll mention in the coming months.
The soil I dumped into one of my beds from last year's potato disaster has unexpectedly sprouted. I'm hoping the snap peas I planted a few weeks ago will survive Monday’s surprise snow. But those first 2022 crops are still a month or so away. In the meantime, I have two dozen stalks of improbable green garlic to work my way through. Perhaps a few will make it to maturity. I don't know if I can restrain myself.
I envy your gentler winters, sir! A few years ago, one of my students, a farm boy from northern Minnesota, told me about a tradition in his family. Each year on New Year's Day, his mother goes out and frees up a bunch of snowbound kale for their meal. Your beautiful Bon Appetit piece brought this back to mind, and helped me to appreciate why his family starts each year that way.
Here in Eilat we went from a very cold winter to suddenly very hot weather in the same week about 2 weeks ago, now we are getting some spring weather, but my broccoli bolted to flowers and i am waiting for the seeds. Since summer temperature here reaches the 100 degrees, not everything survives it, even with irrigation. I had fennel surviving last summer and it self-seeded all over the place and in the neighbor's garden too. I am enjoying the surplus of fennel, i hope the neighbors like it too. I try the hardy herbs, i have basil year around despite this cold winter, lemongrass, the eggplant also overwintered and i will get some soon, salvia, mugwort, zaatar (middle eastern kind of oregano), micromeria, and the kales survived last summer since I have found them a shady spot to be. Funny how you worry about vegetables surviving the winter and i have to worry about them surviving the summer. Happy spring gardening!