Let’s all have messy gardens

Leave your seedheads

Rudbeckia seedheads

If you take a look at my garden at this time of year, it looks a bit messy with seedheads and dead foliage left standing.

During the growing season, we happily deadhead spent flowers and cut back dead foliage. But at this time of year, that foliage provides a habitat for pollinators to overwinter. And those seedheads provide food for birds. Goldfinches, chickadees and other songbirds survive on the seeds through the winter.

Sometimes it takes a shift in our thinking to learn to appreciate something we’ve always thought was unattractive. If you look at how nature does it on a prairie, meadow or in the woods, nothing is cut back or removed. Everything is left standing through the winter, and then the new plants grow through the old leaves in spring.

Maybe it is time for a mind reset so we can learn to appreciate the standing foliage and seeds. They are, after all, snuggly homes for all those pollinators we try so hard to encourage throughout the growing season.

This doesn’t mean you can’t have a lightly groomed landscape instead of a typical meadow, so you can certainly cut back some of the foliage as it dies, but try to leave much of it to catch snow and rain through the winter. And use the “chop and drop” method of cleanup – as you cut it back, cut it into smaller pieces and allow it to drop in the bed. It will give your beds a natural mulch for the spring plants to emerge through.

And apples are in! Cool autumn evenings call for the scent of apples and cinnamon wafting through the house.

Here’s an easy fruit crisp

Simply fill a deep baking dish with two to four cups of sliced and peeled apples. Dust with cinnamon and top with a crumbly crust. Bake for about half an hour at 350 degrees

Crunchy topping

1 c. regular oatmeal
½ c. brown sugar
½ c. flour
1 t. cinnamon
¼ c. defrosted apple juice concentrate

Mix the first four ingredients; drizzle apple juice into the oatmeal mixture. Stir until the mixture forms small clumps. Spread mixture on top of the fruit and bake for 30 minutes at 350.

Alternate topping

⅓ c. chopped toasted walnuts
½ c. flour
½ c. rolled oats
½ c. brown sugar
1 T. granulated sugar
¼ t. cinnamon
¼ t. nutmeg
¼ c. softened butter

Mix dry ingredients well and then cut in the butter until it forms small clumps. Continue as above.

Nano’s buttermilk biscuits

What a sublime treat – warm biscuits slathered with butter and homemade blackberry jam. Both of my grandmothers made biscuits almost every morning. Happily, I was astute enough to ask Nano how to make them. Of course she didn’t measure anything and was quite perplexed when I asked her to write down the recipe for me. But she did and I’ve treasured it ever since.

The great thing about this biscuit recipe is that it is useful for all number of dishes. You can drop bits of the dough into boiling stock for dumplings. You can add two tablespoons of sugar to make light fluffy shortbread to go with sugared fruit and whipped cream.

And my favorite, when I’m in the mood for something a little more fancy (or company’s coming) is to convert them into scones. Scones are simply biscuits with other things thrown into the mix.

The basic biscuit

  • 2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 T. baking powder
  • ½ t. salt
  • ¼ t. baking soda
  • 6 T. butter
  • 1 c. buttermilk

Blend dry the dry ingredients. Cut in butter with two forks or a pastry cutter until it resembles a coarse meal. Add buttermilk and mix lightly, just enough to incorporate the ingredients. Be sure not to overmix. Pat into a loose ball, turn onto a floured board and roll out to about ½” thick. Cut with a biscuit cutter and place on an ungreased cookie sheet covered with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Brush the tops with milk for browning. Bake at 400 for 15-20 minutes.

Riffs on the biscuit

Blueberry peach scones


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 6 T. butter
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk + more for brushing
  • 1 egg
  • 1 c. chopped fruit: peaches and blueberries, strawberries, apples (add ½ t. cinnamon), cranberries (dried or fresh), rhubarb (add a bit more sugar), chopped nuts

In a small bowl, whisk the milk and egg. Mix the dry ingredients and cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir the wet and dry ingredients together with a fork.

Transfer dough to a floured surface and knead a couple times just until remaining flour becomes incorporated into dough.

Gently pat dough into a 1 inch thick round. Cut dough evenly into 12 different wedges or squares.

Transfer to prepared baking sheets. Brush with buttermilk. Bake until golden brown, 18-23 minutes. Cool on wire racks.

Vanilla Glaze

1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons milk any kind
While scones are cooling, add glaze ingredients to a small bowl and mix well until ingredients are incorporated. Drizzle over scones and serve.

Cheese scones

Follow the recipe above, replacing the sugar with ½ t. Ground pepper. Instead of fruit, mix in 1 c. shredded cheese of choice.

Root Vegetable Medley

Root hash with a fried egg and sriracha sauce

I had a wonderful dish in a local restaurant shortly after I moved to Asheville. I subsequently found out that root hash is served in many restaurants here, with breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

Fresh parsnips

It was meltingly delicious, heartbreakingly full of umami, so I decided to duplicate it. This time of year root crops are plentiful and delicious – parsnips, carrots, beets, turnips and even radishes. All of these combine beautifully, and when roasted, they take on a subtle smokiness that softens their pungency. 

Carrots, parsnips, beets and garlic ready to chop

Use any combination of roots

You can use any combination of root vegetables, including potatoes and sweet potatoes. Apples give it a kiss of sweetness; onions give it a savory bite. And if you want to really go wild, add celeriac or parsley root. I have to say, the word hash conjures up a gloppy mess, a muddle or mess. Let’s call it a melange, medley, alliage, amalgam or even simply a blend. 

Prep work is key

The key to a good hash is to cut the pieces all the same size and shapes so they will cook evenly. And the smaller the better. It may seem like a lot of work to cut everything into ½” squares, but you’ll be happy you did when they come out of the oven perfectly roasted. 

Chopped roots ready to roast

Roast away!

Once your pieces are pared, you simply need to toss the vegetables with olive oil and minced garlic if you like. There’s no need to salt until they come out of the oven. Roast at 375. Stir them up and turn over a bit after 15 minutes and continue to roast for another 15 minutes, until they are tender when pierced with a fork.

Root hash roasting

Root hash (medley) makes a delicious side dish in itself, or a main dish when sprinkled with feta cheese, toasted nuts and scallions. Pair it with a salad with a pungent vinaigrette dressing and a slab of sourdough bread. I love it topped with a fried egg. 

Roasted Root Vegetable Medley

2-3 cups cubed (½” cubes) parsnips, carrots, beets, turnips, radishes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, apples, onions, celeriac, parsley root. Just about any combination is delicious. If using large beets, throw them into the microwave for a few minutes to soften them since they are denser than the other vegetables. Red beets will stain the hash, so golden or Chioggia beets will make a more attractive dish. 

2 T. good quality olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

Preheat the oven to 375. Toss the vegetables with the olive oil and garlic. Spread in a single layer on a roasting pan or cookie sheet with sides. Or use a cast iron pan as long as you can make only one layer. Roast about 15 minutes and then stir. Roast another 15-20 minutes until vegetables are tender when pierced with a fork and beginning to brown. Remove from oven and salt and pepper liberally.