Helen Chesnut's Garden Notes: Savour garden produce, plus October to-do list

It was a pleasant late-summer meal, provided mainly by the garden. There was a potato salad with bok choy and onion, grated carrot, chopped boiled egg and sliced kalamata olives. A coleslaw was colourful with red and green cabbage, sweet onion and grated carrot in a lemon juice, mayonnaise, maple syrup and nutmeg dressing.

Smoked wild sockeye salmon in thin slices accompanied the salads. A plate of sliced tomatoes and cucumber was drizzled with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

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A cold summer dinner called for a hot dessert: Plum clafouti, straight from the oven — the simplest of sweet dishes, made with a batter whirled in the blender and poured over prune plum halves set in two tablespoons butter that had been heated in a cast-iron frying pan to sizzling in the oven.

The batter is made with one-half cup flour, one-half cup milk, three eggs and one teaspoon vanilla. I usually dust the assembled dish with cinnamon and sugar (coconut sugar is delicious) before baking at 375 F for about 25 minutes or until lightly browned.

Other fruits can be used in clafouti. It’s nice with apple slices. And it can be made extra festive with candied ginger, pieces of almond paste, or/and bits of dark chocolate laid over the fruit before the batter is added.

My dinner guests were my nephew, Jonathan, and his friend, Davide, both from Calgary. Jonathan is an avid scuba diver. Twice this year he has visited during diving trips in the Nanaimo area.

Talk at the dinner table turned, naturally, to food. They relished the garden-fresh sliced tomatoes. I described a favourite summer treat of an uncooked “spaghetti” sauce of chopped, sun-warmed tomatoes, onion, garlic, olive oil and herbs over hot pasta. Davide, who is from northern Italy, spoke of a similar meal commonly enjoyed by his Italian family: Halved cherry tomatoes stirred into hot pasta with seasonings such as fresh herbs and garlic. Another delightfully simple repast, one I’ll be trying with the last of the season’s tomatoes.

October. Savour any days of warm sunshine that come our way this month, before the watery gloom of November descends. Enjoy October as a time to clear the way for a tidy spring garden. Consider these October projects:

• Clean. Pull up, chop and compost spent plantings. Weed and clean around shrubs and perennials. Deadhead and lightly trim flowering perennials.

• Compost. As compost heaps build with the garden’s cleanings, keep the materials mixed and turned to introduce fresh air for effective decomposition. Cover the heaps loosely with tarps or plastic sheeting between gardening sessions to help retain heat and keep the composting materials from becoming soggy in the fall rains.

• Plant bulbs around trees and shrubs and between perennials. Or plant bulbs in pots to store outdoors out of the rain. Display the flowering spring plantings on decks or patios and transplant into the garden later.

• Pick and use the last of the tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, beans and zucchini. Carrots, parsnips and beets can be left in the garden. Clear away top growth when it has died down and cover the area with five cm of soil. Mark the planting(s) with stakes and harvest as needed through the winter.

• Poinsettias. Move plants now to a place in the house with bright daytime light but where they will be in complete dark from dusk to dawn — until the bracts have coloured in December. Then they can be brought to a prominent place for display.

Garden events

Dahlia meeting. The Victoria Dahlia Society will meet on Thursday, Oct. 4, at 7:30 p.m. in The Victorian at Mckenzie, 4000 Douglas St. The program will be a demonstration on Dividing Dahlia Clumps, and methods for Storing over Winter. Visitors are welcome.

Floral art. The Victoria Floral Artists Guild will meet on Tuesday, Oct. 9, 7 to 9 p.m. in the Garth Homer Centre, 813 Darwin Ave. Some of the guild’s floral designers will bring selected art works to life by interpreting colours, lines and textures of a painting, photo or sculpture into their floral design. Non-member drop-in fee $5.

Qualicum meeting. The Qualicum Beach Garden Club will meet on Tuesday, Oct. 9, at 7:30 pm. in the Q.B. Civic Centre on Jones Street. Cheryl Hayward-Brown will address the topic of Ponds, Water Features and Rain Water harvesting. Non-member drop-in fee $3.

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