Could there be anything more beautiful than the last days of summer? When the days are still warm, the sky a vivid blue, the nights cool and crisp, the air dry, the bugs flown, the harvest moon, and the garden ripe with the last of its bounty. Alfred Lord Tennyson said that a young man’s thoughts turn to love in spring but give me the final perfect, glorious days of summer every time.
Last week I spent an afternoon with the head gardener exploring the gardens at Bellevue House – a national historic site of Canada – once the home of our first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald. This walled garden and its adjacent orchard is maintained as it would have been during the 1800s when Sir John A. lived there. The ample lawn is cut with a scythe. No pesticides are used anywhere on the property – this is a completely organic garden. The apple orchard contains only heritage varieties. The vegetable and flower gardens are planted with the same plants that would have been used by the Victorians.
Despite the fact that Bellevue House is within Kingston’s city limits – it is a lush, green, and quiet oasis. A place where time has been deliberately stopped. There is little so compellingly restorative as an afternoon in a beautiful garden, in perfect weather.
tools of the trade
the walled garden
the head gardener in the orchard
bloody butcher corn – a favourite for making cornmeal
cardoon – a HUGE dramatic leafy green – only the stalks are eaten
long island cheese – a winter squash
hops – used to make beer and also a potent antibacterial
I left the garden complete with my very own long island cheese. I can hardly wait to cut it open and use it – saving the seeds to grow a crop next year. For now, I’m admiring its beauty – the most gorgeous pumpkin I’ve ever seen. Settlers prized these winter squash for their flavour and also because they stored well during the long, harsh winters. The seeds are rare, but like many heritage species, are making a comeback as we start to recognize the value of the heirloom varieties.
In my own garden, I’m harvesting the last of the arugula, tomatoes, and herbs. I had a spectacular late crop of tomatoes and decided to try Mark Bittman’s tomato jam recipe. I figure if it’s good enough for the NY Times, it’s good enough for me. I’m not even going to write out the recipe because essentially, I just used Bittman’s recipe verbatim – even though I doubled the quantities.
I have to say, I didn’t love this tomato jam at first. The smell while cooking it is slightly acrid and it put me off. I also found it a bit too sweet but I’m always nervous about cutting back on the sugar when making preserves. In hindsight, I think the flavours take a few days to meld. I bottled the jam in small sealer jars and stored them in the refrigerator. I’ve been serving it since and it has really grown on me. It’s like a thick, spicy tomato ketchup – a super concentrated dose of tomatoes and all the lypocene goodness that goes with that. I find that it’s incredibly great served with brunch of egg and sausage, or on a charcuterie platter, or along with some great old cheddar and really good bread. How could you go wrong really? And it’s so wonderful to use up the last of the summer bounty.