Garden Fresh for the Holidays – Southern Style

Reader Contribution by Ira Wallace
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Thanksgiving has passed and the season of celebrations has just begun. We are so excited to be celebrating the holidays with so much food from our own gardens and farm. We have enough spinach, kale, arugula, lettuce, Chinese greens, cabbage, carrots, beets and winter radishes for the holidays and to take us nicely through what Elliot Coleman in The Winter Harvest Handbook calls the “Persephone Days” (the period from Nov 21- Jan 21 when the light is so low that plants don’t grow much). We also have plants nestled under spun polyester row cover, tucked into cold frames, and cozy in our greenhouses to keep our table well supplied if fickle weather gets the best of our outdoor crops. Let’s take a walk with Irena around the gardens and pantry to see what’s looking good for the Holiday table.

Grower Frank Morton’s Wild Gardens lettuce mix is one or our favorites and will be the star of our mixed salads.

Frank also introduced ‘Lacinato Rainbow Kale’ mix, a colorful, hardy kale that stays tender, sweet and delicious all winter if you keep the larger leaves harvested. We find that an easy task on our farm. Kale with garlic will replace the steamed Brussels sprouts we enjoyed in 2010. We grow Brussels sprouts every year but only have a good harvest every third year or so, when the weather is just right. We can always count on tender, frost-sweetened kale and fresh garlic.

Rosemary, parsley and sage are evergreen in our herb garden and add great taste to homemade cornbread stuffing. We like to grind our own Floriani Red Flint corn  or ‘Texas Gourdseed’ corn.

People are always asking about Egyptian onions in the summer when they are falling over with loads of topsets, but for eating they are best as green onions during winter and into the spring.

We harvested our outdoor roselle with the first frost, but we Still have the red flowers (actually the calyxes) dried in the pantry for delicious healing tea all winter and frozen to make homegrown “Florida Cranberry” sauce.

This southern alternative to cranberry sauce was common in the early 1900s before the roselle industry crashed.

This year we have a number of new dried beans (heirloom ‘Kebarika’ from Kenya, ‘Black Turtle,’ ‘Little Red’) that make a beautiful and filling mixed bean salad.

Black-eyed peas make a great side dish, and can be mixed with cubed root vegetables like parsnips, carrots, or turnips, for an entirely seasonal dish. Mix two different colored southern peas like ‘Big Red Ripper’ and ‘Peking Black Crowder’ with chopped red, yellow and green peppers for an eye stopping side salad dressed with olive oil, vinegar, and fresh chopped parsley or cilantro.

Fresh roasted roots, baked sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie round out the menu.  Our Thanksgiving turkey was one of a pair that we raised along with several ducklings. Chickens are our main fowl for eggs and meat all year round but we also enjoy all the usual holiday fixings with fresh pork roast from our neighboring farmers at Pink House Pigs or Wild Mushroom Pate from Twin Oaks Community Foods.

Thanks for stopping by and we hope you’ll come back often to see what we’ve got growing and cooking.

Ira Wallace was lives and gardens at Acorn Community Farm home of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange where she coordinates variety selection and seed growers. Southern Exposure offers 700+ varieties of non-GMO, open pollinated and organic seeds. Ira is also a co-organizer of the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello. She serves on the board of the Organic Seed Alliance and is a frequent presenter at the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIRS and many other events throughout the Southeast.