From Seed to Table

Part of the daily round this time of year means harvesting the fresh produce still offered up by our vegetable garden before the frost reclaims the earth and bids it rest through the winter. Although a few tomatoes are still ripening, the yield at this point is largely peppers, squash, onions, garlic, carrots, and autumn raspberries, along with the faithful herbs, rosemary, French tarragon, and sage. The basil died during the cold nights two weeks ago, and the dill and cilantro have gone to seed. To me, the smell of basil is synonymous with summer. I’m always sad to see it go, but I freeze cubes of pesto, so we can celebrate its life and scent till spring.

I grew up in sequential suburbs and then lived in a city for 20 years. My father gardened, but he focused on roses, rather than vegetables. My own suburban homes were crammed with perennials and provided years of education in garden design, but never afforded the space for vegetables, beyond a few peppers and tomatoes, so when Phillip and I moved to Full Moon, we were ready to start a “real” vegetable garden. Farmers’ Markets are wonderful, but we love growing our own food, despite the hassles of weeds and pests (though this year’s invasion of Japanese Beetles was discouraging).

The 4 acres surrounding our home were surprisingly “gardenless” before we became Full Moon’s caretakers. When we first toured the property, the woman living here said, “I never knew where to put a garden.”

Really? How about anywhere?

18 years later, we have many flower gardens and a wonderful vegetable garden. From asparagus to the potatoes and carrots we’ve dug up after snowfalls, the annual parade of homegrown produce has blessed our table and fed our spirits–and guests–as well.

Gardening is many things, but it’s never “finished.” The designs and plans are always evolving, the living 3-D sculpture is always changing, and gardeners are forever hopefully dreaming about the next opportunity to co-create their art with Nature. The satisfaction of planting seeds and reaping both food and beauty offers a continual enticement and delight.

While we page through our favorite garden catalogues this winter, we’ll be enjoying this soup made from our squash. It freezes well and the cook defines the quantity and ingredients according to her desire.

 Bless the seed; bless the fruit; bless the meal and bless those present, enjoying the lovely, spiraling energy of life, dancing in our gardens, bodies, and spirits.

Butternut Squash Soup

Chopped onions (I used two medium yellow onions)

Sliced celery (I used about 2 cups, because I’m in love with the flavor)

Chicken stock, vegetable stock, water, white wine, and/or apple cider: you decide on the mix and blend. It’s best to keep the amount less, initially, and later thin the soup to the consistency you like. I used homemade stock and apple cider, and added water sparingly.

Black pepper

Cayenne (YOU DECIDE!)

Other herbs (I also used a small bit of rosemary, and ground some nutmeg into the finished soup.)

EV olive oil, unsalted butter

1 package 8-oz. cream cheese, room temperature, and divided into about 6 chunks.. (There are recipes online for making your own cream cheese, and thus, keeping it organic. Here’s one: http://www.copykat.com/2011/01/18/making-homemade-cream-cheese/). I used a low-fat generic commercial brand. Wouldn’t recommend no-fat, and also wouldn’t recommend the 2-3 blocks the original recipe included. Ugh.) You could also try substituting thickened, plain yogurt. Or don’t use the cream cheese/yogurt at all.

2-3 medium butternut squash… (I used 2 butternut squash and an acorn squash)

1 head of garlic.

Cut the squash lengthwise and clean out the seeds. (Roast the seeds with a little oil, if you like.) Slice off the tips of the garlic cloves, exposing the bulb tops for roasting. Drizzle olive oil over the squash and the head of garlic. Place squash cut-side down on a foil-lined baking pan; nestle head of garlic where space allows, and roast it all at 350 for an hour to 90 minutes, till tender and caramelized.

While the squash and garlic are roasting, melt a couple Tablespoons of butter, and add enough olive oil to sauté the onions and celery. I like them softer-than-raw, but still retaining a bit of crunch…when the perfume becomes heavenly, I stop. I added about a Cup of stock to this mixture.

Scoop out the roasted squash and squeeze roasted garlic bulbs out from their papery covering. Blend these, with the cream cheese, in batches, in a food processor or blender, with enough liquid to create a thick puree. (I used apple cider, as needed.)

Combine the squash mixture with the celery and onions; add the herbs you like, and thin to your desired consistency. I used the stock for this, and kept the soup pretty thick.

Serve with a splash of cream sherry and a pinch of ground ginger. Or not.

The only thing I might do next time is add carrots (like the gorgeous red ones we grew this year, pictured above), and other root vegetables; it always depends upon what’s on hand. Enjoy this seed-to-table gift from the garden.

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