Saturday, October 13, 2007

Local October Color

Three weeks ago, I complained about the rain, but now that it feels like it is the right time for it to rain, I can't get enough of it. Last night, while sheets of water slid off the tile roof and onto the driveway below in huge splats, I smiled. I didn't care if it woke me up. Nope. I was just happy that the rain poured hard enough to wash of smoggy leaves and brighten up our mountains.

More times than I can count, I've heard people argue that Southern California just doesn't compare with other places with seasons. Seasons, they claim, don't appear in Southern California. Perhaps they haven't spent much time here or have built their opinions entirely on Hollywood images, or maybe they are just so in love with the beauties of their own homes that they are blind to those elsewhere, but folks who claim Southern California doesn't have seasons are wrong, straight-out-dead-wrong.

Fall here isn't greeted with waves of brilliant-hued trees. Here, it is a shift in the smell of the air, when everything is perfumed with a haunting sage edge that reminds us all that the days will continue to shorten. Heavy pods fall from trees, some full of flaming red magnolia seeds, others hollow rattles that could appear as musical instruments in some half-remembered society. As arroyos refill, the mountains begin their transition from gold to green. And while some species are throwing off their glorious harvest, others are just beginning again; finally, after being held back by heat and dry weather, a gardener can plant seeds again and see them sprout mightily, powerfully shoving aside damp soil.

The rain turns simple plants into garden jewels.

The change in weather sparks a change in attitude. Usually, Southern Californians are a forward-looking folk, but when October rolls around we begin reminiscing. Halloween isn't as much a time for ghouls and witches as it is a time for family memories and funny skeletons. All over, cities and subarbs alike begin to reflect, and sugar skulls and marigolds flank alters commemorate dead loved ones for the upcoming Dia de los Muertos.

In my garden, mid-October means the first fall harvest comes in. Two weeks ago, I planted the first round of winter crops, and by now, many of them are up in the thinning stage. To allow the plants to grow comfortably, with as few hindrances as possible, it is essential that a gardener thin out plants that are crowding the strongest specimens. (ECG calls this unnatural selection.) My Golden Ball turnips have come in so mightily that it seems as if every single seed I planted has germinated--today they were in desperate need of thinning to free up some stretching room.

Now, I've heard that some folks compost the seedlings that they thin from their rows, but as for me, I eat them.

Seedlings are the mildest versions of the adult plants they will become. My Golden Ball turnip seedlings were sweet little crunchy greens, free from the fibers they'll later develop in their leaves. Arugula seedlings are nutty without heat, lettuce seedlings are sweet and tender, and baby onions don't ever overwhelm. Consider tossing rutabaga, broccoli, kale, tatsoi and other cruciferous seedlings into your salad. Did you plant your beets or chard too thickly? No worries: the thinned seedlings will brighten up a salad with their salty-sweet succulence.

I'm looking forward to many riffs on the seedling salad theme in the weeks to come, but today's version started me off on such a high note that I've got to share its simple melody with you.

Turnip Seedling and Apple Salad
Serves two as an appetizer salad and one as a meal

You will need:
At least two cups of very well-washed turnip seedlings
5 or so onion seedlings, cleaned
One large apple
1/4 cup broken fresh walnuts
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 1/2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

To make the salad:
Cut the apple in half, core it, and with a mandoline or sharp knife, thinly slice it from top to bottom. Take the pretty heart-shaped slices and pave the perimeter of a serving plate with them, slightly overlapping them like shingles. Toss the onion seedlings and turnip seedlings together and place the fluffy greens in the center of the plate. Sprinkle the walnuts over all.

In a small jar or cup, mix the mustard with the sherry vinegar until uniformly combined. While whisking, drip in the olive oil and continue whisking until the mixture has emulsified. Whisk in salt and pepper to taste, and drizzle the mixture over the salad plate, making sure to get a little bit everywhere. Serve and enjoy.

16 comments:

claudia said...

i would live there
like tomorrow...

Anonymous said...

That looks awesome

Kristan

Wendy said...

Beautiful post.
When I lived in Finland people always told me that the UK didn't have proper seasons. It's true that the temperature doesn't fluctuate as much as in Finland (it can be 12oC any month of the year up here) but we have very clear seasons and I used to respond quite fiestily to the Scottish season negators. It felt like an insult!
That seedlings can be eaten is something I just discovered this year. Will keep your lovely salad in mind for next season. :)

Susan in Italy said...

Your seedling salad sounds really delicious: and like something that'd cost and arm and a leg if served in a restaurant.

What you say about seasons is true. I think when we move we tend to dwell on the things that are missing in our new place. Milan doesn't have the brilliant changing colors of fall the way the Midwest does. The good news is that fall lasts long enough to be able to grow radicchio!

Susan said...

Call me chastened. It is very difficult, though, when you've grown up and lived all your life in a certain climate that you can envision what it's really like elsewhere. It's a (pleasant) wonder that you can sow crops in the fall.

Great, great idea to collect your culling for salad. I'll have to remember that for next year, when our spring season will allow us to plant outdoors again.

Terry B said...

Beautiful, Christina! Both your salad and your description of autumn in Southern California. In early November, Marion and I are driving Highway 1, from San Francisco to Los Angeles. I'm totally ready to discover your autumn.

winedeb said...

People say the same to me about the seasons, but yes, even in Key West we do have seasons. But unless you are a resident, I guess you may not notice. I notice it most with the flowering plants. Some go dormant in the fall with just the greenery in tact and some start blooming. Always something coming and going!
Your garden is surely springing to life! Great idea with the thinning! I wonder what my cayanne peppers would taste like when I thin ??? I sure will give them a try when the time comes!
Lovely post Christina and thank you for the photos to accompany!

The Passionate Palate said...

I couldn't agree with you more about So. Cal. When I first moved here from a four season climate, I, too, said that there were no seasons. Now I see that the changes my not be as blatant as New England, but they are there. And we must have been awake at the same time the other night during the rain, because I was up smiling too!

Christina said...

Claudia: Hee hee. It is a lovely place. Thanks for stopping by.

Kristan: I may be able to grow green things, but you're growing a person. I think you definitely win in the awesome category.

Wendy: Thanks! It does feel like an insult when people bash my chosen home. I'm curious about the Scottish seasons--each picture you've posted has made each season look so spectacular.

Susan in Italy: Radicchio! That is an extra-special treat! I'll always miss Washington, DC springs, but I wouldn't trade them for Southern California's clear and pristine winters. I do know what you mean though about missing certain elements of a season.

Susan: Don't get me wrong: I love Northeastern autumns, but those here are nice too. This world is such a spectacularly multifaceted place that I wish I'd be able to experience a season everywhere at least once; each environment has something wonderful to offer.

Terry B: Oh, you are going to LOVE it. I'm so excited for you!

Winedeb: I have no idea about how the cayenne pepper seedlings would taste, but I'd check on their edibility first. Lots of plants in the solanaceae family have poisonous green parts. What is blooming in your garden now to tell you it is autumn? I'm very curious.

The Passionate Palate: Wasn't the rain a wonderful sound? I'm glad it made you smile too.

Kate said...

hey christina...what is in the first picture ? not familiar with it. Your pictures are fantastic and i share the same passion as you - gardening. Which reminds me i got to go pull out the radishes out of the soil...they must be ready now :)

Bare Bones Gardener said...

Hey Christina,

Living in a similar climate to Southern California but in opposite seasons, I can agree with what you say about the subtler changes in the time of year.

I also would back those concerns for the pepper seedlings, being possibly poisonous.

I love the language you use to describe the seasonal shift.

Christina said...

Kate: They are the seed pots of the Southern Magnolia trees that line the neighborhood streets in my city. In the autumn, they fall from the trees and drip red seeds all around.

Bare Bones Gardener: Welcome! I'm so glad you stopped by--I love your site! It is such a wonderful resource. Thank you for the compliments and for a second opinion on the baby pepper plants.

winedeb said...

My post today is for you! Here is what is going on in my fall garden!
Cheers Christina!

Shaun said...

Christina - Beautiful observations of a Southern Californian fall. Compared to many places I have lived and been, SoCal would "appear" to have only summer and fall, but of course it does have four seasons - there just aren't the overt switches, except for fall and summer. I love fall in Southern California. They gorgeous and huge oak, maple and chestnut leaves abound in all the places I have lived in Southern California. This post makes me miss it so much. And on a food-related note: your garden salad looks nutritious and full of flavor. Lucky you and future hubby :-)

Lucy said...

Well, that's enough reason for me to deliberately over-plant.

The calmness of your words Christina, the scents of your autumn, the growth of your garden; all rate fairly highly on my list of the best things to come home to.

Seasons, as such, are over-rated. We have only two. Hot or cold. There's little in between!

Christina said...

Winedeb: What a beautiful post! Thank you for including me in it.

Shaun: I'd miss these falls if I left them too, but I'll do my best to keep you in touch with their beauty. I'd love to hear more about where you live. What is spring like there? Also, thank you for your kind words.

Lucy: Oh, I'm so glad you're home! I've missed you! I can't wait to hear about your trip.