Even though we belong to a CSA, even though we visit our local farmer’s market most weeks, and even though we buy much of our produce at the local co-op…we still have a garden. Our garden is a 20’ x 20’ space in the Parks Department’s community garden, out on the edge of town. (How far on the edge? If we get there before 9am, we can drive across the road and watch horses and cows sharing a stream and fields.) We started our garden in mid-June, which felt criminally late to me, and thanks to a cold spring, the vegetables have taken their time getting settled in and producing.
Clearly, our vegetable garden is a privilege, a perk, a pleasure. We are not dependent on it for all of our meals or nutritional needs. Growing some of our own vegetables may indeed save us a little money, and it is satisfying to see our efforts pay off and to spend time in the fresh (sometimes hot, often mosquito-ridden) air. There is also a certain amount of pride in serving food that we shepherded from seed to table. But if I am honest, I must also admit that our garden is one big science project I have snuck into my daughter’s life.
Recently we attended a party, complete with potluck dinner and fiddle band, at our CSA farm, Red Goose Gardens. I talked with Red Goose’s owner, Thor Selland, as kids raced around the farm, swinging on the tire swing, eating raspberries off the canes, clucking at the chickens, and making up games. It turns out we both live with five-year-olds who often seem to prefer computer games to outdoor play. He pointed out that while that is one way to interface with life, surely it is preferable to be out in life, seeing how the natural (and cultivated) world works.
This is where the garden comes in. My daughter loves going to the garden, mainly because she is allowed to get dirty there, but also because part of it is hers. In her corner she planted radishes (two kinds), carrots (two kinds), parsley, chives, cornflowers, zinnias, and sunflowers. So far we have learned that radishes grow way faster than we can eat them; carrots planted too close together might grow funny, or not grow very well; if the flowers grow faster than the parsley, the parsley won’t grow at all; bees love zinnias; cornflowers don’t last long once you pick them; and sunflowers can take a l-o-n-g time to flower.
In other parts of the garden we’ve learned that we do like beet greens; that those pretty white butterflies lay bright green eggs in the cabbage leaves, which turn into fat green worms, but you can still get a decent cabbage head; how watermelons and Crenshaw melons grow from flowers, and that they do not make good neighbors with eggplant; that we should plant way more onions next year; that we should stake our tomatoes early next year (I swear I have “learned” this every year that I have grown tomatoes); that just because the tag said the peppers would be hot, does not mean that they really will be.
But here is something I learned today that was unanticipated: how to make carrot pie. This morning we harvested some onions, cabbages, a few small eggplants, some green tomatoes for frying, a few peppers, basil for this week’s pesto, and lots of little carrots. The variety we harvested today was the “Short sweets” and they lived up to their name. The longest ones were about five inches, but most were closer to three. Two were wrapped around each other like carrots in love. As Cora brought me fistful after fistful of carrots, she kept saying they were for “carrot pie”. I thought this was just part of a carrot-harvesting game, but once home again she continued to talk about the carrot pie we would be having with dinner.
I turned to the internet, and discovered that many people do indeed make a carrot pie that is much like a pumpkin pie, with mashed or pureed carrots replacing the squash. I ran this idea by my husband, who roundly rejected it. I know Cora would never have eaten that anyway. So, I decided to make something up. I wanted something with a savory crust, but for the carrots themselves to be sweet, and still a little herb-y. I wanted the carrots to be recognizable – this would be key in getting Cora to actually try a carrot pie. As a rule, she does not believe in cooked vegetables, especially not those which have been substantially altered from their natural state.
So, I used a basic tart crust recipe, added some thyme from the plant on the windowsill and some finely grated parmesan, as well as salt and pepper (“the old S&P,” as my Uncle George calls it), and pressed the dough into 3” tartlet shells. I trimmed and halved about 10 of the smallest carrots – I only planned to make three tartlets. The carrots were parboiled, and then drained. I added a bit of butter, S&P, a squeeze of honey, and some chopped rosemary from the home herb pots. I spooned the carrots into the unbaked shells, added a small squeeze more of honey, and slipped them in the oven alongside the rest of dinner.
In the end, Cora declined to try her carrot pie, reminding me that she only eats raw vegetables and that she only wanted me to make carrot pie; she didn’t want to eat it! Frankly, we were delighted to hear this; Chris and I were anxious to split that last tartlet.
Crust (adapted from the Fannie Farmer cookbook)
1 C flour
1 stick butter
1 tsp salt
Fresh thyme leaves, chopped slightly
2 Tbsp finely grated parmesan
Salt & pepper
1 egg yolk
2 Tbsp ice water
- Mix flour and salt, then cut in butter well. Add thyme leaves and parmesan and stir to combine.
- Mix together egg yolk and ice water, then pour over flour, mixing with fork. Add more water if needed. Pat dough together into a disk wrap in plastic wrap, and chill at least 20 minutes.
- Dough can be pressed into tart pan(s) after chilling. (Easier than rolling, still flaky.)
10-12 very small carrots, trimmed and halved (If very small ones are not available, cut into matchsticks or thin rounds)
Small pat butter
Salt & pepper
2-3 tsp honey
1 tsp chopped rosemary leaves
- Boil carrots until just barely soft. Drain. Add butter, salt and pepper, honey, and rosemary leaves and stir to coat carrots.
- Scoop carrots into unbaked tart shells. Dollop with an extra bit of honey – about ¼ tsp if doing individual tarts.
- Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes, or until tart crust begins to puff and brown slightly.
Merie Kirby grew up in California, moved to Minneapolis for grad school, and after getting her MFA stayed for fifteen more years. She now lives in Grand Forks, ND with her husband and daughter. Merie writes poetry and essays, as well as texts in collaboration with composers. She also writes about cooking, reading, parenting, and creating on her own blog, All Cheese Dinner. Her most recurrent dream is of making cookies with her mother. This is an excellent dream.