“C’mon, Miss Olga, don’t be shy. They are nice people,” my neighbor Lili was coaxing me into going with her over to our neighbors’ across the street for some fresh, home-grown veggies.

“Yes, Miss Olga, come,” Lili’s daughter Jayden chimed in, an impatience of a three-year-old on her face and a big basket in her hand.

“And take Nicole with you. They may let the girls pull some carrots,” Lili persisted.

I was seriously tempted but still hesitant; I hadn’t met these people before.

And if you think that I am going to be so flippant as to grab my basket and go raid a stranger’s vegetable garden . . . Okay, Miss Lili, pleeeeaaaaase ask me one more time, and I am in.

And she did.

Salia and Steven turned to be very amiable and just all around nice. They took us around their beautiful vegetable garden of raised beds that ran neatly all the way along the backyard fence, readily sharing their knowledge and tips on successful backyard gardening as well as the bounty of their late summer harvest.

backyard food foraging

Cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, carrots, beets, celery, hot peppers, potatoes, garlic, varied herbs, and even strawberries were among the many plants that were ready to be gathered in. 

freshly-picked strawberries

The girls happily pulled, rinsed, and filled their baskets.

As I carried home a big bunch of freshly picked carrots with their tops still intact and bits of dirt stuck in their roots, I found myself hugging them like an oversized bouquet of my favorite flowers, sniffing the aromas they were giving off. I smiled to think of the flavors these aromas were hinting at.

edible garden

I asked Lili what she had in mind for her share.

“I’ll juice most of it,” she said. “You?”

I wasn’t sure I wanted to cook up any of my produce. I wanted to hold on the sensory beauty of just picked veggies for as long as I could. Aromas, colors, textures . . .

home-grown veggies

Kevin put an end to this nonsense as soon as I pressed the fragrant celery against his nose.

“Make us some chicken soup and egg salad, honey,” he ruled.

The chicken soup that I made the next day with some of the fresh celery, carrots, onions, and parsley—all from Salia and Steven’s food garden—was among the best I’d ever made. Intensely aromatic, to say the least. We enjoyed it for three days in a row; and I froze the rest for the first week of kindergarten, anticipating it to be nothing short of hectic between adjusting to a new school rut and trying to cram in the last of the summer fun . . .

From beets, I made Russian beet salad for Salia and Steven as a thank you; cucumbers and rosemary with the addition of a couple of store-bought lemons put together a pitcher of flavored water; and the leftover carrots, onions, celery, thyme, and parsley flavored a big pot of all natural chicken stock I’d use as the foundation of my soups in the first couple of school weeks.

harvesting the crops

The smell of fresh root vegetables in my kitchen signaled the onset of the fall, with harvests ready to be picked, students due to go back to school, and me eager to pick up the habit of cooking hot, hearty soups for lunch.

backyard harvest

Thank you, Salia and Steven!

To make chicken stock at home, place a whole chicken in a large stockpot and cover with cold water. Add vegetables such as diced carrots, celery, onions, garlic, fresh parsley, and thyme. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remember that the flavors will concentrate as the liquid reduces. Bring the liquid to a boil over high heat and then reduce the heat to medium. Skim off the impurities that collect on the top. Simmer, uncovered, for 3 hours, but do not stir it or let it boil. Strain the stock through a large sieve or colander lined with two layers of 100% cotton cheesecloth. Let it cool. Divide it into containers and freeze for up to 3 months.