Autumn Meals from a South Coast Garden
By Monica O’Malley-Tavares
As nights grow colder and autumn drapes her colorful gown across the meadow and down the hill toward the woods, I find myself fighting the change of seasons. For this lifelong gardener, I revel in the planning and planting of springtime, in the tending and coddling and harvesting of summer. Unfortunately, for many years I viewed autumn as the enemy, as an ending. In recent years I have decided instead to buck the seasonal bronco and embrace the uniqueness of each season, in its time.
Anticipating autumn meals, I learned to plant second crops of peas and beans. I now plant late season greens, like Even Star Smooth Kale and New Star Mustard. I also plant a nice assortment of winter squashes, such as Waltham Butternut, Chinese Miniature White and Squash Mongogo Du Guatemala. Pumpkins such as Connecticut Field, (truly a squash), and Big Max are prolific and welcome in the autumn garden landscape for their form and color.
A late tomato season here on the south coast has left me laden with a counter full of gorgeous heirlooms like Pink Brandywine and Kellogg’s Breakfast which lend themselves beautifully to the color scheme of fall. Chopped and tossed with herbs, salt and a splash of your best olive oil and these jewels are ready to serve.
But to truly embrace the season, now transformed from late summer, an early autumn harvest meal deserves the addition of a true seasonal highlight from the garden, along with the heirloom tomatoes. An August planting of frost hardy kale and mustard greens (pictured above, growing tips below), and a few stems of still flourishing Rainbow Chard can be the perfect accompaniment for a warm and nourishing early fall supper.
Simply rinse the greens in cool water and pat dry. Warm a light olive oil or a bit of organic coconut oil in a cast iron skillet over medium heat and gently sauté the greens until just wilted. Remove from the pan and drizzle oil and greens across a platter of sliced heirloom tomatoes. I find that a sprinkling of herbs dried fresh from the garden, (either in a dehydrator or on a counter screen), and mixed with a bit of coarse sea salt add great texture and color to this simple, yet flavorful side dish.
Embrace this season of plenty and eat your garden well.
• Plant a fall crop of mustard in mid to late August (later if you dare, with a hoop house or well insulated cold frame). Be sure to thin seedlings, keep moist, and weeded.
• Mustard is more frost susceptible than other greens, such as kale (especially here on the south coast). A heavy mulching of straw and/or a vented cold frame can extend the season for these flavorful greens.
• Pick small, tender greens for use in a mixed green salad, for light sautéing, and for side dishes.
• More mature leaves are more flavorful, but will require a longer cooking time.
• Mustard greens freeze well and will maintain their color even after a quick blanching.
Monica O’Malley-Tavares is a mom, math and science teacher, lifelong gardener,
garden writer, and photographer. She spends her free time plotting and planning
for the following year’s vegetable and flower gardens on the 2 acres she and her husband
call Prince Snow Farm. No matter what the season, you’ll find her outside in her green Muck boots, camera slung around her neck and a small journal for notes and observation nearby, or you’ll find her in the kitchen working on a seasonal recipe. She lives on the south coast with her husband Kevin, also an educator, and 2 children.