The Island Garden
I was walking into the corner deli the other morning in my summer sandals, shorts and T-shirt, and I noticed that my toes were cold. Well, it was only 58 degrees outside. That triggered several thoughts. The first of which was summer’s over. The second was that I’d better buy a pair of socks. I burned the last ones in spring – the ashes made good compost.
That in itself made me think that it was time to clean up the garden. Cleaning up the garden is a good exercise because it gives you a ton of vegetables. For example, the cabbage that was lost behind the bean tepee that became a pile of weeds when the groundhog ate the bean plants can become either coleslaw or garbure (a French cabbage soup) depending on the number of slug holes in the leaves. The sorrel left over from deer predations can be made into a tasty sorrel soup. Plus there are bound to be a ton of potatoes now that the tops have died back.
There’s a lot to be said for fall digging over the garden patch. You should do this by hand. Using a rototiller has been known to make instant french fries from any potatoes left in the ground. Dig over the garden and remove all the potatoes, onion, carrots, parsnips, turnips and anything else that looks edible. You can also include green tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and any lettuce or spinach that you might find. If the groundhog has been in a magnanimous mood, you may also have a few butternut squash, an acorn squash or two, and even a pumpkin.
By now you should have enough produce piled on your countertop to celebrate Thanksgiving all on your own. The only problem is that none of your vegetable bounty will last until late November. The second problem is that you hate to toss all this produce, and you know you will have to turn it into something that will occupy the bottom layer in your freezer for the next five years or so.
You decide on an onion soup to start with. The onions make you cry as you peel them. The only problem is, now you can’t see anything and by the time you recover enough to see what you are doing, you have far more onions peeled than you can ever use. So, out comes the 20-quart stockpot.
In goes a cup of olive oil, 18 pounds of sliced onions, and a little sugar, and you sauté the onions over low heat. Every time you look into the pot your eyes water. When the onions are browned, you follow the instructions in “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” and pour in a little brandy. You light the brandy and promptly singe your eyebrows off. This is authentic French onion soup, so you can sacrifice eyebrows to the cause. An eyebrow pencil can easily fix the problem. Besides, a quick swig of the brandy bottle will dull the pain.
Next comes a dusting of flour and enough chicken stock to cover the onions, a dash of vermouth, and there you have it, 2 1/2 gallons of genuine French onion soup. Except that your soup has a reddish tinge because you used up the last of the red onions as well. That soup can be poured into containers and frozen.
Next comes sausage and cabbage soup, followed by tomato soup with tarragon, followed by four gallons of coq au vin and two gallons of boeuf bourguignon. At the end of your long day in the soup kitchen, you finish the last of the red wine by drinking it directly from the bottle. With no more wine, you can’t make any more soup, right?
Then you serve the first of many soups to your family. The remainder goes into the freezer in the vain hope that you will remember it when the days turn really cold, but first you have to use up the 16 quarts of soup left over from last year.