After a sublimely warm and clear September, October’s colder and wetter demeanor imparted an urgency to my hitherto lackluster gleaning in the garden. It’s nice again now, but in my tizzy of frantic autumnal gathering I did manage to get a fair amount of food harvested and arrayed on various surfaces to dry out for storage.
It’s a satisfying feeling, despite the decidedly unsexy connotations of the word “dehydrated.” The peppers, garishly red and shiny, start to darken and shrivel to a tactile and irresistible dried blood brown, rattling with next years seeds. I want to mention here that when one saves seeds, the results can be dramatic; plants seem to organize themselves metabolically around the soil they’re grown in, such that the seeds they produce perform significantly better in the second year than in the first. The shiso, planted from bought seed last year (previously it has grown outside the garden) but then left to reseed itself, grew easily twice as big as last year, with astonishing vigor and many side branches. One plant would easily have been enough for the various uses I put it to; I had to rip up several because they got so gigantic they began to shade whole beds of new plantings. These Espelette peppers, seeds originally brought from France, did OK last year but were very slow to grow and ripen; only a few got picked red before the first frost. This year, using seeds from that crop, I have dozens of fat red peppers already drying. There are many reasons to save seeds, ranging from frugality to preserving heirloom varieties to giving a hearty “fuck you” to Monsanto, but planting the seeds from plants which have adapted to your soil chemistry and microclimate makes for vigorous growth and great yields.
I grew two kinds of beans this year, and left almost all of them to mature and save for dried beans: dragon’s tongue (now in their fourth year as saved seeds) and the Tarbais beans that also came home from France. I like the dragon’s tongue, very pinto-like, for their purple appeal, but the Tarbais are kicking their ass from a yield point of view. One row of Tarbais, planted to climb a row of sunflowers, exceeded by several times the yield of two rows of the purple bush beans, and faster. The fat white beans also cook up to a sublime tenderness, which is not nothing. If a ten foot row yields something like a half gallon jar of dried beans, it becomes possible to imagine growing a winter’s worth at some point.
Make sure, whether they’re beans or seeds or whatever, that they are fully, completely dried before you enclose them in a jar. Any latent moisture will grow mold. It is known. Speaking of seeds, it’s been a banner year for fennel and coriander, both drying in large quantities, and I also scored this big sunflower head before the birds ravaged it; it had toppled over and thus was facing downward and thus avoided avian depredations.
And it’s herb time, too, especially my most favoritest blend: herbes de Provence. This is a bale of wild thyme that will get mixed with rosemary, fennel, and lavender from the garden. I wrote about my love for the mixture here. It’s not a lot, objectively, but these will all bring deep and detailed flavor to everything I make with them. And there’s no better decoration for a kitchen than piles, bowls, and bundles of drying food.