My goal every year is to have fresh carrots from my garden on the table at Thanksgiving.

Each fall, I play the game of cat and mouse.

If it doesn’t snow in November, I keep the carrots in the ground and am able to dig them as needed, right to the end of the month.

Carrots fresh from Amy Calder’s garden on Tuesday. Morning Sentinel photo by Amy Calder

I typically plant four rows of carrots in the spring, and in the late summer and early fall dig them up just before meals.

I love to be able to say to guests or to my husband, “It doesn’t get any fresher than this, carrots right from the garden.”

The bowl of steaming carrots sits before us, brushed with butter and sprinkled with freshly-ground pepper.

In a way, it’s a nod to my father, who had beautiful gardens and prided himself in feeding us fresh vegetables — corn on the cob, cucumbers, tomatoes, beans, beets, peas, squash and, of course, carrots.

He beamed as he placed the hot bowls of vegetables on the table right up until he was in his 90s.

It was a treat for him, being able to go out to the garden, pluck a couple of cukes and tomatoes, bring them into the kitchen, wash and slice them, toss them in a bowl and drench them with apple cider vinegar, salt and pepper.

A simple, but very important ritual.

There is nothing so satisfying as growing one’s own food, even if it is only enough to last a few months before reverting to buying vegetables at the grocery store.

The garlic from my garden lasts throughout the winter, as do the small red onions I use for my salads. I keep both on a newspaper-covered board in the basement and trek down whenever I need to replenish my kitchen supply.

The carrots are the last vegetables to be harvested from my garden.

Knowing a snowstorm was coming last Monday night, I went to the garden during my lunch break, pulled all of the carrots from a half row and, with Phil’s help, snapped off the greens and tossed the carrots in a paper bag. I dumped them into the kitchen sink, rinsed them and divided them into four bags — two for the fridge and two for my young colleagues at work who love fresh vegetables.

Then, with a spade, I dug most of one full row of carrots from the garden, making sure to keep the dirt around them, and placed both dirt and carrots, including green tops, into two window boxes I had emptied earlier in the fall. We lugged the boxes into our greenhouse, placed them on a shelf and plan to use the carrots as we need them.

I left a fourth of a row of carrots in the ground as sort of an experiment, just to see how long I can keep them there before they freeze.

In past years, I have tried various scenarios, such as keeping the carrots in a bag of dirt in the garage or placing them in a basket sans dirt, but if I did not use them up quickly, they tended to turn rubbery.

When we were kids, we had a root cellar on the north end of the house, accessible from two little doors by the foundation. Dad placed carrots in sand there and they kept pretty well. He also kept potatoes in a corner of the house’s main cellar, and they lasted a long time into the winter. Of course, my mother also froze and canned vegetables.

My gardens are small and my efforts at keeping fresh produce minimal compared to a lot of people, but even that small routine gives me great pleasure and connects me, at least spiritually, with my parents who are no longer here.

My parents took nutrition seriously, and it seemed absolutely natural to me that we always had gardens, home-grown produce that lasted into the winter and home-cooked meals. My father was a great chef and my mother a wonderful baker who made the most delicious pastries, pies, cookies, cakes, puddings and breads. She always topped pies and puddings with heavy cream she whipped herself.

Whenever possible, she used the freshest ingredients, and our Thanksgiving table was laden with vegetables from our garden.

It doesn’t get any better than that.

And like my father, I’ll declare the same as we sit down to our holiday repast this year — replete with our fresh carrots.

 

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 31 years. Her columns appear here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.

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