Gardening

Danielle French shares her ingredients for a perfect summer evening

It’s been a hot summer, but we’ve finally received much-needed rains and everything on the farm is lush and green again

It’s been a hot summer, but we’ve finally received much-needed rains and everything on the farm is lush and green again. When complaining of the heat, I try to also appreciate how lovely and warm the evenings are, knowing it won’t be long before we’ll be feeding our fires every hour in the winter months.

This summer’s evenings have been magical, so ideal for enjoying meals outdoors. My family has taken to gathering at our table on the lawn near the herb garden. But for guests on the farm, the grass by the barn is flat enough that we can push tables together and offer al fresco dining. I let the foliage grow high around this area, mowing only the dining area at the centre, so the tables are surrounded in a sea of green and purple flowering clover. It’s truly a special experience, especially at night when the sky is bright with stars and planets — this month’s crescent “waxing” moon was illuminated with an almost surreal aura. Spectacular.

For all of us who tend the earth, evenings are when we can put down shovel and hoe, and simply enjoy the beauty and the bounty of the garden. On more than a few occasions this summer, I’ve quietly surveyed the farm and felt like all the efforts and hard work have come together to create a perfect backdrop. Lunches, dinners, family meals … we welcome people to come be a part of the farm, to connect with what is growing and experience how it turns up on a plate. To tour the Apiary with Carlyle, my daughter, and then sample the honey that she has harvested. It’s not just about having a delicious meal, though; it’s about fostering the deeper relationships that we all want and yearn for, providing time and space to connect with our roots, even if we may not realize that’s something we miss (we just know it’s there because at some point in all of our histories we are rooted in agriculture).

The summer heat makes us feel less like cooking and more like nibbling. I try to keep things easy with freshly picked greens and herbs and new potatoes — especially the German kinds I grow here at the farm. One thing I love is a bowl of warm new potatoes topped with hard-boiled eggs and finished with a dollop of fresh herb and yogurt sauce. I was introduced to this dish in Germany many years ago when I was travelling and didn’t have much money. It speaks to me of summer and delicate flavours. And it’s so easy to make: Simply mix together 1½ cups plain yogurt (choose a nice, thick one for this dish) and a handful of your favourite herbs, finely chopped, a heaping tablespoon of grainy or Dijon mustard, the juice of ½ a lemon, and a the zest of ½ a lemon and season it with salt and pepper. If you have the time, let it sit for the afternoon to allow all the flavours to develop. It’s a great side dish, but is especially nice served with grilled fish.

Not to be pessimistic, but summer is coming to an end, the cooler air already settling in. A few evenings recently, I’ve had to pull on a sweater. On a positive note, the plenty of the garden is now unleashed, and we are surrounded in fresh produce, flowers, and herbs. If you enjoy preserving, the fun is just beginning. For now, though, let’s all take these lovely warm evenings as time to relax: Prepare a lovely meal. Bring out the candles, light a bonfire, and let the outdoor suppers last as long as they can. Put away the phone and don’t rush the meal or hurry to clean up and go on to the next thing. Just enjoy and take it all in, imprinting the experience in your mind. It’s something we’ll all need to do to help get us through the long cold months. They will be here before we know it.