Skip to content
Join our Newsletter
Join our Newsletter

Helen Chesnut's Garden Notes: Gifts from the garden affirm true spirit of the season

I’m no grinch. I love the lights and music, the sharing and family gatherings of Christmas. Still, there is something incongruous about the season.

I’m no grinch. I love the lights and music, the sharing and family gatherings of Christmas. Still, there is something incongruous about the season.

We seem to celebrate largely by spending — accumulating new things, buying gifts for family and friends — to mark the birth of a baby who would become an itinerant preacher with no material possessions we know of and who was reliant on the charity of others.

I suppose it is natural to share happiness by gift-giving on special occasions, the nature of the gifts covering a broad range that is bound, at times, to include largesse, and even excess.

Observing examples of gift-giving largesse can elicit envy. Another response might be a re-affirmed belief that having sufficient resources to live with a modicum of grace is blessing enough. Quiet pleasure in abundance is close at hand for those with eyes to see.

What gardener is not kept happily enthralled with a winter stroll through the garden while entertaining visions of each section at the height of next year’s growing season? We know the delight in winter meals that highlight foods we have grown. What satisfaction in having gifts from the garden to share with friends, family and neighbours.

Gifts of the times. Anyone who has not slept through the last six months will be keenly conscious of weather extremes and the reality of climate change. These times have brought to our province a near-biblical barrage of tribulation — ongoing pandemic, perilous heat wave, fire, flood.

We’ve all been coping the best we can, in our own individual ways. Like many, I’ve been sticking close to home, becoming ever more aware of and grateful for the many blessings in my life.

The writer’s life is fairly solitary anyway, edging somewhat closer to hermit-hood in current conditions. Fortunately, I don’t like crowds and I don’t shop much, but I do keep in touch with friends through gardening sessions together and “walking visits” that allow us to catch up on personal news while getting some useful outdoor exercise.

Retreating to home and garden is no bad thing. It directs the focus on ordinary comforts and joys of daily living that often go unnoticed and unappreciated, like viewing small birds flitting in trees outside a kitchen window, slicing into a loaf of freshly made bread, or savouring a bowl of soup made with garden vegetables.

Every summer I use zucchinis grown large to make batches of onion, garlic and zucchini puree, which I freeze for winter use. Heated, with cream or milk added, the resulting soup is a soothing, aromatic comfort food.

The uncertainly of the times, together with recent information I came across on food waste and climate change, has made frugality compellingly attractive.

An astonishing 60 per cent of once edible food is wasted in this country. For the average household, that’s 140 kilos of wasted food. Resources used to grow and distribute that food, together with disposal of the wasted food, contribute significantly to the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.

It appears the food system is geared for waste, as in buy more. Save money. Planning meals and shopping with care help to avoid waste. So does the creative use of leftovers.

I recently used half a tub of ricotta cheese in a recipe. What to do with the rest? Determined not to leave it in the fridge to grow fur, and conscious of the stash of garden fruit in the freezer, I typed “baked dessert with fruit and ricotta cheese” into a search engine and came immediately upon a simple recipe using blueberries and ricotta cheese. Nothing wasted, and use made of items on hand.

Two pictures hang above my kitchen table: The Angelus and The Gleaners. In the first, two people are standing in a field with heads bowed in prayer. In the other, women are picking over a harvested wheat field to gather bits of grain left behind. The paintings speak of thankfulness, and the precious gift of food.

I thought of The Gleaners recently as I went out to gather what I could find for a salad. There were mini-broccoli (Aspabroc) shoots, Little Gem lettuce, parsley, kale, and a few purple-red leaves from Brussels sprouts plants. The greens made a lively winter salad together with lightly toasted walnut halves and sunflower seeds.

I wish you a merry holiday season. May your Yuletide meals be festive, seasoned with jovial company and enjoyed in thoughtful gratitude.