Saturday and Sunday I went treasure hunting. As Calvin (Calvin and Hobbes) once said, “There’s treasure everywhere!” I went treasure hunting in the garden. A fresh carrot just sounded like the best thing in the world to me, and fried potatoes for dinner just had to be on the menu. Saturday was rainy and windy. It was one of those days when one could just look out the window and sigh for a long time. So, to break the mood, I decided to venture out. I donned my snowsuit and boots, my
warm hat and wool gloves. In the “garden shed” in the barn basement I located the digging fork and a large shovel. One hill of potatoes ( you’ll recall that Mark put the potatoes in “nests” with straw and dirt mounded over them this fall) was poking through the slushy, icy snow. After a bit of poking and prying I got the frozen dirt off the nest–it resembled a tin can top. On my quickly dampening knees, I reached into the straw. Voila! A large, totally firm red potato greeted my eyes. I carefully explored the nest and discovered most of the potatoes in it were fine, except a few on the edges where the protective mound was thin. Those few had frozen in spots, evidenced as soft, discolored spots on the spud. I left them, thinking maybe they’ll sprout next spring for early potatoes. Then I moved to the carrot row. Last summer I planted the dill with the carrots. Mark thought I was crazy, and it turned out the carrots didn’t like sharing space with dill. However, the dill sure made a great marker for the snow covered carrot row! I scraped down through the snow until I had the row cover as clean as possible. When I saw the green carrot tops, I located the slit in the row cover and carefully slid the digging fork into the still unfrozen ground. What a great sight to see those bright orange sticks of goodness emerge from the dirt and snow! It was a real morale booster to
see that bit of sunny summer on such a bleak winter day. I dug enough for supper and decided my cold hands would be happier to finish the job the next day. Supper was as rewarding as I’d hoped: juicy, tender chevon steaks, thick sliced butter fried potatoes with onion and garlic, and crisp, sweet carrot sticks. Dessert was a small bowl of applesauce, unsweetened and straight from the jar, that tasted just like a fresh apple off the tree. What blessed and fortunate folks we are! Sunday was nicer weather in that it was just cold enough to not be raining. I also wore an old pair of work gloves, so my hands didn’t freeze so bad. Rachel helped me gather the carrots and we filled a milk crate. The potatoes were a bit disappointing. The further up the garden we went, the more rotted the potatoes in their nests. We found more moisture, and the potatoes were a different variety. The first nests were in a lower but sandier spot, while the others were in a better composted area. Also, the first ones had some fingerling potatoes (a new thing for us this year) but mostly red and yukon gold potatoes. The more rotted ones were all fingerlings. Those were supposed to be good keepers, but I suspect that the soil simply didn’t drain as well since the straw had moisture webs in it and that that moisture was their undoing. So, that was the results of that storage experiment. The carrots, under cover of the black row cover, didn’t freeze at all and were fine. What a treat to be able to look at your plate and realize you grew it all. I wish I could’ve made the butter and grown the onions and garlic. Maybe next year. One ingredient I will not be able to produce is the real sea salt I used. Grand Traverse Resort Executive Chef Ted Cizma, whom we met at a cooking class this summer, commented that sea salt is the best type to use in fine cooking due to it’s superior flavor. It’s very true. Standard table salt is a chemical compound, and can leve a funny taste. Real salt has a “delicate ‘sweet salt'” flavor (to quote the package). I use it now instead of seasoned salt with much tastier, subltely flavorful results. An added benefit is that real, unrefined sea salt is full of trace minerals, including iodine. It is more pricey, but I figure that the benefits of better taste and natural trace minerals that the body can more readily utilize are worth the cost. Another instance of choosing your investments.
So, treasure hunting. I do think next year I might try digging my treasures a bit earlier and storing them in sand or straw in the basement. But the culinary treasures from my garden sure were great finds–reminders of warmer, sunnier days that can warm and brighten even a bleak, rainy/snowy December day. As Keith’s favorite character, Junie B. Jones, would say, “That makes me a lucky duck!”