A funny thing happens at this point in the season. Somewhere in the midst of the heads-down, get-er-done grind of August, when it’s all we can do just to keep up with the bounty of tomatoes and cucumbers spilling out of the greenhouse, it is then that our mindset changes. It is then that we find ourselves thinking, not of the carrot bed that needs weeding yesterday, the fence that (still) needs to be repaired, or the pigs that need to be fed, but instead of next year’s garden. Next year’s crops. Next year’s projects. It is a bittersweet blend of excited anticipation (new ideas! new experiments!) and disappointed realization (what do you mean summer is almost over?)
At first we thought that the shift followed the point in the season where we had gauged the successes (or lack thereof) of this year’s experiments, the point in the scientific method where we could safely loop back and revise our hypothesis. It’s not wrong. But it’s not all of it. Most of it, we have come to realize, boils down to surrender.
There’s no better cure for control issues than the garden. We may learn more and more every day about soil nutrient content, about companion planting, about seed starting and seed saving. We may use this knowledge to grow more and grow better every year. But we will still watch a half-empty potato field, the result of a sorry batch of seed potatoes, get decimated by flea beetles, deer, and drought. We will still get slammed with weed seed-loaded manure. We will still later discover that that same Trojan-horse manure harboured an insidious herbicide that would knock out several of our primary crops. Reluctantly, we learn that there are factors outside of our control (this is why, we were informed, farmers take out crop insurance. Which, in the late hours of the night sounds an awful lot like “crap insurance.” Fitting.) And so, we surrender.
Surrender doesn’t always come easy to us. We’ll blame it on the computer-raised cohort to which we belong. When things stop working, when we hit a wall, we are only three keystrokes or a “force quit” away from escape. From starting over. It’s easy to long for that right about now. To rototill the whole thing into the ground and begin afresh. But no such command exists in the garden. And so, we give in. We acknowledge that lettuce is scarce, but that cabbage and kale abound. We accept that the few peas and beans that we pull from their vines are precious. That yes, we did plant too many cucumbers again this year. We come to grips with the fact that our paltry carrot crop is more a novelty for the kids than a productive harvest. Tomatoes, on the other hand, threaten to drown us.
This surrender plays out in our days and our work, but it is most strongly felt in how we eat. Tender lettuce-dominated salads are few and far between. Our creativity gets stretched. We find ourselves developing recipes based on what we have rather than ordering groceries based on what we want. We smuggle cucumbers and tomatoes into everything. We eat bread salad and dream of next year’s garden.
Let’s be honest. We’ll take any excuse to eat sourdough. So panzanella, or bread salad, wasn’t a hard sell. But rather than the bread-heavy ratio that is typical, we opted for a more veggie-centric focus. Think of this as the Italian mashup between Greek and kale salad, but with the crouton-to-salad ratio that we all secretly desire. This is meant to highlight the veggies our garden is currently hurling our way, but if your garden (or CSA or farmer’s market) has other ideas, use what you have. As per usual, we’re pretty easygoing around here and like to keep our recipes the same way.
6 cloves of garlic
½ cup olive oil
1 small loaf of bread (bonus points if you make your own sourdough. Extra bonus points if you read about it over here)
generous sprinkling of salt and pepper
3 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
juice of 1 lemon
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp honey
pinch each of salt and pepper
1 bunch of kale, stemmed and sliced into ribbons
2 field cucumbers
2 lbs mixed cherry tomatoes, halved
1 green onion
generous sprinkling of grated Parmesan cheese
handful chopped basil, optional
Start by crushing and mincing your garlic cloves. Add those to a saucepan with the olive oil and bring oil to a light simmer, then turn off and cover with a lid.
While garlic is steeping, cut your loaf of bread into one-inch cubes. Pour half of the garlic oil (try to keep the minced garlic in the pot) onto the bread cubes in a large bowl. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper and toss to coat evenly.
Spread bread cubes on a sheet pan and bake at 350 F for 10-15 minutes, stirring halfway. Cool.
While croutons are toasting and cooling, combine remaining oil and minced garlic, vinegar, lemon juice, mustard, honey, and salt and pepper in a blender until smooth. If you don’t have a blender or don’t want to dirty it, just make sure the garlic is minced fine and shake it all up in a blender bottle. Toss this dressing with shredded kale and set aside to allow kale to soften.
Slice cucumbers, tomatoes, and green onion.
Toss all components together. Enjoy immediately or let it rest to allow the croutons to soak up the dressing- it’s up to you. Sprinkle with a generous pinch of Parmesan cheese. If you have basil on hand, chop that up and throw it in too.