November is a funny month: one can smell the snow and frost, and yet the few warm sunny days we get do play a trick on the mind. Autumn has brought rain and grey days, but it has been quite warm across the Northern hemisphere, unfortunately it does not necessarily translate as a prolonged season in the fields.
Farmers in Canada and the Northern US are all too aware that sudden frost or snowfall can destroy entire crops, so most fields have been bare since October. November is when the home garden truly proves its value: it may have produced abundant summer crops of tomatoes and other goodies, but with a little know-how, a home gardener can continue producing food well into late November, even in Canada.
In fact, smaller producers across Canada have been leaving certain crops in the ground to increase their storage space. Root crops such as carrots and beets can easily keep throughout the winter under a deep blanket of snow. In-ground preservation lessens the need to build new storage facilities, and reserves any existing buildings for more fragile crops.
While avid gardeners have known about this conservation method for years, the home advantage is visibly the continued production of leaf vegetables. Gardens everywhere have been cleared of the trailing bean vines, sprawling tomatoes and invasive squashes, but humble lettuces and leafy kales and cabbages can still be found behind garden sheds and even in front yard flower beds. These leafy greens are the stalwarts of late autumn gardening, and should take a greater place in our plates. Lettuces are a little less frost-hardy, however if they are kept off the ground (like in a planter on a balcony) they will do quite well until they get buried in snow.
I have written several times about how uninspiring I sometimes find lettuces, but I have recently noticed that I actually crave the delicate leaves when the air turns chilly and crisp. It probably has to do with the shortening days and the dark skies, but my eyes must be seeking splashes of colour, which the greens provide in spades. Topped with shredded roots such as carrots, celeriac, and why not some rutabaga, a few chopped nuts or some cooked beans, and a ‘boring’ salad can spark quite a bit of interest. I have seen several recipes for raw kale salads; while I haven’t had the time to try them, fine slivers of kale with definitely add a load of nutritional punch to your salads.
Other vegetables to be on the lookout for are the lovely squashes currently in storage. Their bright colours will enliven any dish, and are packed with nutritious goodies. Roast wedges in the oven, add some slivers of chilli, smashed garlic and grating of nutmeg, and serve with a nutty grain like whole wheat bulgur or quinoa. You might not even notice the missing slab of meat.
And one mustn’t forget winter fruits: apples and pears have gone into storage, and will be available to us for several weeks. Citrus fruits are coming in from California, Florida, Asia, North Africa and Spain –depending on where you live. Fruits of all kinds make lovely treats, but can also take part of the main meal: apples stewed with sweet potatoes; orange segments with kale and beans; cranberry chutney in a cheese sandwich…
November might be the beginning of the end, but it does not mean that our plates need be lifeless.