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Helen Chesnut's Garden Notes: Comfort foods from the backyard plots

Harvested potatoes whipped up into a Shepherd’s Pie

One fine day last spring, my son and I were in the garden setting up wire fencing for the cucumbers, climbing zucchini and sweet peas, when my neighbour Gisela appeared at the back fence, a bag of seed potatoes in hand. She’d bought too many for her own needs and wondered whether I’d like to plant the rest.

I thanked her profusely, found a small rectangle of space that had not yet been allocated to other vegetables, and planted Gisela’s potatoes.

As I cleared plots of almost all the remaining over-wintered vegetables recently, I dug the potatoes, not at all expecting the large bowlful of tubers that emerged from the small plot. I looked at the pile of beautiful, unblemished potatoes and thought: I see a shepherd’s pie in my future.

Mashed potatoes are among my preferred “comfort foods” and I’d not made a shepherd’s (cottage) pie for a long time. The dish, accompanied by different newly harvested vegetables each evening, was supper for several days.

Sticky leeks. On one of our gardening afternoons together late last year, Laurel asked me whether I’d been watching Jamie Oliver’s week of cooking with vegetables on CBC television.

I had not, but I did tune in to that evening’s show and watched as Oliver quickly put together a “Sticky Onion Tart.” He worked with dazzling alacrity, but I managed to jot down the recipe’s basics.

To access details I’d missed, I typed “Jamie Oliver’s Sticky Onion Tart” into a search engine, and discovered that leeks work as well as onions in the recipe.

I had already used the last of the garden’s bulb onions, but a recent digging and trimming of the remaining leeks had yielded a hefty mound of them.

Early last week, I decided to try the recipe and was surprised at how quick and easy it was to make and how well it turned out.

The leeks are steamed in a covered pot with butter, thyme, garlic, brown sugar, vinegar and water, and then cooked uncovered long enough to initiate caramelizing in the liquid.

I laid a sheet of (purchased) puff pastry over the leeks, tucking it in around the edges with a large serving spoon. The tart is baked and then turned over onto a plate. That last bit was far easier than I had expected. The tucked-in edges had formed a sort of pastry shell to hold the tart’s filling.

Now I’m thinking of endless possible variations on fillings for this quickly assembled tart: a summer tart using tomato halves, zucchini or cauliflower; a fruit tart with plum halves or apple slices.

I’ll be using the rest of the leeks to make another sticky leek tart for the next pot luck gathering at my house, and because I’m also awash in winter squash, I plan to also make another dish of roasted squash cubes combined with melted butter, spices, brown sugar, dried cranberries and pecan halves.


Seedy in Victoria. Seedy Sunday is back in Victoria tomorrow (Feb. 25) from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Quadra Village Community Centre and Neighourhood Gym, 901 and 950 Kings Rd. This family friendly celebration of seeds offers garden-themed activities for children and is an opportunity to buy locally grown, climate-adapted seeds and plants, exchange garden-grown seeds with other gardeners, and attend free workshops.

Garden Design. Dinter Nursery, 2205 Phipps Rd. in Duncan, is presenting a “Garden Design 101” workshop on Saturday, March 2, from 10 to 11 a.m. In this introduction to designing and building a garden, Monica, owner of Dockerty Gardens, will cover site assessment, creating a plan, groundworks, and plant selection. Cost is $10 plus GST. Space is limited. Register in advance at the nursery or at 250-748-2023.

Seedy in Courtenay. Comox Valley Growers and Seed Savers are hosting a Seedy Saturday event on March 2, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Florence Filberg Centre, 411 Anderton Ave. in Courtenay. The event provides opportunity to pick up seeds, garden supplies and information. There will be 40 vendors and a seed exchange that will sell and swap locally collected seeds. Details at

Nanaimo seedy. Nanaimo’s Seedy Sunday on March 3, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., will feature 60 vendors with seeds, plants, and gardening information. Nanaimo District Secondary School, 355 Wakesiah Ave.