I’m feeding my family from the ground this summer.
Sure, it might be saving me some money on my grocery bill each week, but more importantly, it’s feeding my soul.
Jenny Uglow says, “We might think we are nurturing our garden, but of course, it’s our garden that is nurturing us.”
And I am here to say amen.
Mornings spent pulling weeds and plucking ripe cherry tomatoes off the vine. Evenings spent watering my beds as I processing my day and my heart.
Yesterday I spent over an hour in the noon heat pulling out dead vines and trimming dying leaves. It was good, dirty work, and I could not think of anywhere else I wanted to be.
Last year was my first year gardening with two garden boxes from the rental house we were renovating. Once the season was over, Chris built me two more boxes, bigger than the first two.
In May, I planted zucchinis, cucumbers, yellow squash, green peppers, beefsteak tomatoes, cherry and grape tomatoes, jalapenos, basil, Italian parsley, icebox watermelons, and pumpkins.
When we returned from our 4th of July trip, the garden was ready for its first harvest. I’ve been filling bowls and buckets of produce every few days since then. Sometimes as I’m gathering my veggies, I imagine the Israelite’s wonder at first setting sights on the land of milk and honey, and I wonder if I’m getting a small glimpse of it.
I am overflowing with food.
We are eating as much as we can; I freeze or preserve what we can’t. And even then, I go to every friend’s house, Bible studies, or family gathering with armfuls of veggies to share.
If you’ve seen me this summer, I’ve tried to give you cherry tomatoes and yellow squash. This winter, we’ll eat pesto chicken and chips and salsa once a week.
Where our property line ends, rows of corn begin. By the end of July, we are cocooned in our backyard, surrounded by green trees and tall stalks. Our backyard feels like its own world, safe and still. I say thank you out loud at least once a day for this house, this land, this legacy.
This post is self-serving, to be honest. When my garden beds overflow, I forget all the things I planned to make in the spring. Why did I think I needed so many green pepper plants? What do you do with yellow squash? Do I even like tomatoes?
But then I get to work, refusing to let a single slice of zucchini or jalapeno go to waste. Here’s what I’m doing with my garden hauls this year:
-For dinner, I’ll halve small tomatoes, coat them in olive oil, salt, and garlic powder, then roast for 20-25 at 425 degrees. We’ll eat them straight off the pan before they’re cool, but you can also top any meat you’re serving, put them on homemade pizza, or toss them with some pasta. (I could eat these roasted tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, and some warm pasta for dinner every single night.)
-I’ve also been dehydrating cherry and grape tomatoes in the oven. Store them in the fridge in a jar with olive oil and garlic cloves then eat with pasta, bread, crackers, or a fork right out of the jar. They’d be good (and pretty) added to a charcuterie board too. (Side note: for breakfast this morning, I had buttered toast topped with a fried egg and these sun-dried tomatoes. I stopped at two slices of this delicious toast, but it was a huge exercise in self-control.)
-An Instagram follower shared a tomato confit recipe with me; this is not the recipe I used, but it’s identical except I didn’t use rosemary. I’m storing these in the fridge in a giant Bell jar and using it all the time. This link has a whole list of ways to use the confit. (Also, saying words like “confit” makes me feel professional and adult-ish. It will probably make you feel the same way. Try it.)
–Southern squash casserole with yellow squash. Listen, I have a husband who does not like casseroles. He has a lot of childhood trauma, some serious and some not-very-serious. This casserole issue falls on the serious side. But if you have yellow squash, make this recipe please. I’d describe it as really similar to a cheesy potato casserole. It’s decadent and delicious. I love it. The first time I made it, I planned it to be the main dish in a weekday dinner. That was a mistake; it’s a good side, not a main course. It would be a good substitute for a starchy side or with bacon and eggs in the morning. Plus, you get to crumble saltine crackers on top of it just like your grandma used to do to everything so you just KNOW this is gonna be good.
–Pickled jalapenos! I was drowning in jalapenos last summer and made these as a last-ditch effort to not throw them away. But then we ate them and realized we had not been living our best lives with the store-bought jalapenos. Make these to top hot dogs, tacos, hamburgers, nachos, whatever your heart desires, but you’ll never go back to the rubbery jarred jalapenos from the grocery store.
-Fresh vegetables with ranch dip. Is this common sense? Probably, but I need to give you a tip that will change your life. First of all, do not come at my garden bounty with your bottled ranch dressing. That is insulting. You can make your own buttermilk ranch if you have the time and patience, but I do not. I buy a container of sour cream and TWO packages of Hidden Valley Ranch dressing mix. Don’t do just one, that’s the downfall of most ranch dips–not enough seasoning. Double up, don’t ask questions, just do it. Double the ranch season packet to one container of sour cream. If you don’t think ranch dip can change your life, we could never be friends in real life. (Confession: my husband doesn’t like ranch dip or dressing. It is only through the grace of God we’ve held on this long.)
-I’ve never grown onions before. I don’t know if you can in Indiana, but I think the effort does not equal the output so I buy them from the store. But I do grow almost everything else I need for salsa: green peppers, tomatoes, jalapenos, and cilantro. Just chop it all up and dump it in there. There’s really no wrong way to do it. If you have a lime, squeeze it in too. Add a lot more salt than you think you need. Add garlic and then eat it. I’ve been freezing salsa to eat once the garden is done; throw the salsa in the Crockpot with some chicken, pour some in your fall chili. There’s no wrong way, really.
-Loads of zucchini become: bread! using the recipe I’ll share tomorrow. (I just tried to type it out here, and it was a disaster so I need to make the recipe its own post.) Cake! I was at a cookout on Sunday where someone made chocolate cake using zucchini bread. I was cautious about eating it because when I’m eating cake, I don’t want it to be ruined with something healthy, but it was actually really good. So now I’m on board with zucchini chocolate cake and going to try this recipe soon. (Don’t click on that link if you’re craving sugar. The pictures of the cake might actually kill you.) A side dish! I love chopping up zucchini, onions, and yellow squash and grilling it or sauteing it. It’s the perfect summer side for any meal.
-I planted three basil plants this spring in preparation for loads of pesto-making. I follow this recipe loosely, but don’t use nuts. I really just like the basil, garlic, Parmesan cheese, and olive oil, but you can do whatever you want. I make a huge batch of it, put it in ice cube trays, freeze it, then pop the frozen cubes into a large ziplock baggies. All winter I’ll throw a couple cubes in recipes or thaw for a dipping sauce whenever I need it. (I grew an obnoxious amount of Italian parsley this summer and you can also make pesto with parsley. Sometimes I do half basil, half parsley to use upwhat I have.)
-I’m also blanching lots of green peppers and jalapenos. I’ve made jalapeno poppers for a few meals, but I want to save some for football season so I’ve cored and sliced them, given them a quick cook in boiling water, then popped them in the freeze so I can fill them with meat and cheese on a Sunday afternoon in the winter.
-Chili bags: I’m sure there’s a better name for that, but I’m too lazy to think much about it. I filled quart freezer bags with diced tomatoes (cherry or grape), green peppers, and a few jalapenos then put them in the freezer so I can pull out a bag, dump it in a pot for chili or any other soup I’m making. Freezing the veggies without blanching tends to make them a little mushy when they’re thawed, but for chili or soup, I’m not too concerned about it. (These bags would also work for taco meat or Crockpot chicken.)
-My girls will eat a whole fresh cucumber at dinner, so I don’t really need to do anything else with them, but my aunt shared her Thai cucumber salad recipe with me last summer, and I love making/eating it. [In a bowl, combine: 1/3 cup rice vinegar, 2 Tbsp. sugar, 1/2 tsp. toasted sesame oil, 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes, and 1/2 tsp. salt. Mix and set it aside. Then chop 2 large cucumbers, 3 green onions, and 1/4 cup peanuts and combine to the dressing mixture. Coat and let it sit for about an hour so everything melds together.] I love that salad as a side or on top of pork. It might even be delicious on a hamburger.
-I’m waiting on a bunch of almost-ripe beefsteak tomatoes to make a huge batch of pizza sauce and freeze. That will be my biggest undertaking to date; 20 pounds of tomatoes and lots of simmering. Prayers are appreciated.
-In the fall, my aunt’s garden next door will be wild with delicata squash. I could eat a whole pan of it roasted with sesame oil and a little salt. But I also made this delicata squash and sausage gratin last year, and it was delicious. I’m already dreaming of a cool October evening with the windows open and this in the oven.
I think my first harvest of icebox watermelons will be ready next week, and my pumpkins are starting to grow. I can’t wait to see what they look like in October.
Gardening has been such a pleasant, enjoyable surprise for me. Never in a million years did I think this is something I would do or love. But now, if we happen to cross paths during the warm months, I’m going to update you on my garden growth and dirt moisture levels. Perhaps we will discuss bugs and how much sun we had yesterday.
It’s who I am now.
“I grow plants for many reasons: to please my soul, to challenge the elements or to challenge my patience, for novelty, or for nostalgia, but mostly for the joy in seeing them grow.” -David Hobson