Blackberry Farm

Friends of the Farm

Winter Gifts

“Let us save what remains…by such a multiplication of copies, as shall place them beyond the reach of accident.”
― Thomas Jefferson

During its months of great verdancy, we are often spoiled by the giving garden. And when Nature sloughs off its greenery and allows its bones to be covered by a rime of ice and snow we wonder, “Have we saved enough?” We gaze across our shelves of put-up victuals: preserves, jams, pickles, dried, fermented and cured foodstuffs of all manner, and hope it lasts until winter’s end. But if it doesn’t, is the growing season truly over? It is rather easy to assume, while we are indoors, blanketed in the warmth of a roaring fire, that the garden takes the winter off as well. Not so true.

Unlike hibernating forest creatures like some mammals and amphibians, the garden whiles away the winter in a state of mere semi-torpor. Under an insulating blanket of snow, cabbages, kale, turnips and other hardy greens await the harvesting knife as if they sit in the crisper drawer. In the days before the modern contrivance of refrigeration, a room away from the hearth, a root cellar or a simple pit underground was the icebox. An early method of keeping cabbages, in fact, meant harvesting cabbages roots and all. A long trench was dug and lined with straw and fresh manure. The cabbages were “planted” in the trench, roots up, and a mound of soil was hilled around the upside-down roots. When a cabbage was needed for supper, a head was unearthed by pulling it up by its protruding roots. The heat of the manure and straw kept the cabbages unfrozen and useful during even the harshest of winter blasts.

A truly indigenous crop with a very exotic name that stirs a chef’s heart is also at its best in frigid weather – the Jerusalem artichoke. Under the remnants of a towering summer plant, crunchy nuggets lie wrapped in layers of near-frozen ground, and like a holiday present, unearthing them reveals a hidden treasure. Known in our part of North America for at least five thousand years, the edible tubers of this native sunflower are not from Jerusalem and are not at all an artichoke. Misnamed by European explorers in the sixteenth century, and becoming the darling of today’s culinary set, this tasty tuber has been enjoyed by native peoples for millennia. Perhaps the Cherokee were our original foodies.

In the quote above, Thomas Jefferson referred to valuable letters documenting the development of a nascent nation, but being the finest of gardeners, he may well have been indicating the relative bounty of the winter garden. The garden continues to give – we need only to accept and be thankful for it.

Jeff Ross
Garden Manager