Miriam's Garden: Like the leaves, her garden is coming down

As the season folds in upon us, and the leaves begin their showing off, as the light lowers and the days shorten, my garden ends. For now. We'll return in a few months after hibernation.

In these cooler days, I aim to keep a few vegetables going. There are a couple rows of sturdy lettuce, lots of wonderful chard, beets I should attend to, sweet Cubanelle-style peppers. I'm growing two types of hot chile peppers, now beginning to turn red: 'Cheyenne,' a long, large cayenne pepper, and 'Hot Rod,' which looks like a jalapeno. Also in the garden are a couple of battered-looking zucchini plants and one yellow summer squash. They have blooms and have produced a few squashes. Now to be treasured, after a summer of plenty.

None of the late turnips or radishes, spinach or carrots really took. We've pulled up all the tomatoes (sob) and planted buckwheat as cover crop and green manure in most of the beds. In a couple of weeks, I'll plant garlic in the bottom of the garden, its usual spot, in two or three long rows.

There's still growth and plenty of color. Small burnt-orange zinnias interspersed with purple 'Victoria' salvia. Spikes of red hummingbird sage, bravely blooming. New nasturtiums with red-orange flowers. A big bed of faded lemon basil has fragrance yet. Green leaves of Thai basil contrast with its deep violet stalks and tiny pale pink flowers. Leaning stands of Jerusalem artichokes have a few yellow daisy-like blooms. There's feathery cilantro, past its prime and gone to flower, plus newly planted cilantro and some new dill, which plants itself.

I'm sad that I haven't been working much in the garden. I've been out on the road, promoting my book at places such as the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello. Standing in Thomas Jefferson's garden, perched on the edge of a steep precipice overlooking a gracious valley. I imagine he loved that view.

It's been an exciting time and an honor to present and sign my work. Weather was warm and sunny everywhere. This past weekend, at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville, Tenn., I signed books a few feet away from Al Gore. I shook hands with Rep. John Lewis.

The weekend before that, at the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium in Oxford, Miss., we explored the topic of "Women at Work." Setting the tone was keynote speaker, professor and author Marcie Cohen Ferris. She spoke from a "podium" that was an old-fashioned enameled stove. "Women's voices are central to the culinary history of the South," she said. "The diverse powerful sisterhood of the past, [their] hands and minds deeply shaped the cuisine."

Audrey Petty presented her new book "High Rise Stories: Voices from Chicago Public Housing," an oral history of residents from now-demolished public housing projects. She showed a video of women serving a community feed. "We are the keepers of the village," said the organizer, Sylvia Tyus Brooks, from Chicago's South Side. "Food brings on peace. There's enough to feed everybody."

Emily Wallace, who wrote her dissertation on pimiento cheese, spoke about the South's beloved, iconic spread, Duke's Mayonnaise. and Eugenia Duke, the woman behind the "sandwich spread."

People are crazily devoted to Duke's. They send the company paintings of mayonnaise jars. Ms. Wallace, an illustrator, shared her own sketch. Once a woman asked the company for three empty glass jars (the mayo's now in plastic) with lids and labels. Why?

Because after her death, she wished to be cremated. Her ashes were to be divided into the mayonnaise jars. One jar for each of her three daughters.

Cookbook author Virginia Willis served up a fortifying grits casserole for Saturday breakfast. Fortification came next from two African-American women: the Gee's Bend Singers. The group is famous for their fabulous quilts, displayed in museums such as New York's Whitney. Strong voices, unaccompanied: "God is a good God. He puts food on my table. I'm gonna sit at the Welcome Table."

There was a lovely, tearful tribute to late poet Jake Adam York from Natasha Trethewey, the U.S. Poet Laureate. She also gave a benediction for our last morning. Followed by a new one-woman play about chef and cookbook author Edna Lewis. Followed by a terrific Emancipation Day Dinner, inspired by Miss Lewis' recipes.

That almond pound cake, the muscadine chutney, and all the food I could not finish that weekend. And all the food I did finish, prepared and inspired by women.

Coconut cake, a Thali Tray Lunch from Asha Gomez of Cardamom Hill in Atlanta. Tomato Pie with Charred Okra; Chicken and Rice with Herbed Chicken Skin and Tabasco Salad; Benne Fried Green Tomatoes with Curried Peach Preserves (for dessert!) from Vivian Howard, chef/owner of Chef and the Farmer in Kinston, N.C. It was a most welcome table.

I'll be home this time for a longer period. Probably dieting. Thankful for the cool and sometimes bright weather. I'll be walking our newly mowed fields and snuggling under a blanket in my own bed with my husband.

David is on a mission these days. Capturing our rural scenes, the vanishing days, with pastels and oil paints. Before it's all gone. Before the winter gray. "I guess I can't paint everything," he said.

Lark, our elkhound, comes along on our walks. She's trying to shed a few pounds, too, following the line of the fence. Cats streak through the grass, trying to scare us or each other. We stroll near David's painting cabin, where soon it will be too cold or too dark for him to work. With a long stick, he knocks a rotten apple out of a tree for the dog. It's the only way she likes them -- sweet, rotten and maybe a little boozy. The apple falls, he nudges it over to her. Lark picks it up and runs to the willow tree, her apple-eating spot.

Spaghetti with Sweet and Hot Peppers

PG tested

This is one of those desperation/there's-nothing-in-the house recipes I make for dinner after returning home from a trip. Except how can you say there's nothing in the house, when you have pasta, good olive oil, home-grown garlic, a chunk of parmesan and peppers in the garden? This dinner leaves nothing to complain about. There's enough for two with lunch for one the next day. I love to use farro spaghetti but whole-wheat or regular spaghetti is fine.

Add some sliced mushrooms if you have them, and a chopped tomato if there's one around, to the peppers, about halfway through cooking. When you add the squash, if you have any.

  • 3 to 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

  • 2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced

  • 1 to 2 chiles, halved, seeded if you like, and thinly sliced (I used about 3/4 of a long Cheyenne chile. Maybe I could have used the whole thing. To your taste)

  • 4 or 5 Cubanelle peppers, cut lengthwise into quarters, seeded and cut crosswise into 1/2-pieces (about 1 1/2 cups)

  • 1 to 2 small zucchini and/or yellow summer squash, if you have any, thinly sliced

  • Kosher salt

  • 1/2 pound farro, spelt, whole-wheat or regular spaghetti

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • Lots of fresh parmesan

  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives, parsley or basil (optional)

Put a big, covered pot of water on to boil for spaghetti.

Meanwhile, in large, heavy skillet, put oil and garlic. Cook, stirring often, until garlic is just starting to turn golden, about 3 minutes. Add chiles and cook, stirring, about 30 seconds. Mix in Cubanelle peppers and a pinch of salt. Reduce the heat, cover and cook, stirring often, until very tender, 8 to 10 minutes. If you have any squash, add it halfway though the cooking time. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm.

Meanwhile, when water boils, add a big pinch of salt and stir in the spaghetti. Cook until al dente. Scoop out a half cup of cooking water and drain pasta.

Add spaghetti to vegetables; place over medium heat and add about half the cooking liquid. Cook 1 to 2 minutes, tossing with 2 spoons, and adding more cooking liquid if it looks dry, until it's well mixed and very moist. Off heat, season with plenty of salt and pepper and grate some parmesan on top. Add herbs, if using, and serve hot.

-- Miriam Rubin

Miriam Rubin: mmmrubin@gmail.com and on Twitter @mmmrubin. First Published October 16, 2013 8:00 PM


Hot Topic