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Uncle Murray's Garden

Posted Sep 14 2008 10:15am

The end of an era has come for my family. Every year we spend many weekends in Canada on Lake Erie. We pack the weekends with swimming, skiing, biking, tubing, swimming, skiing….you get the idea. The town where our cottage sits is fairly busy with revelers, but only in the summer and mostly on the weekends. So there is little need for a full service grocery there. “Nelly’s” has mostly canned goods and other non-perishables, plus liquor, beer and anything you might need with that (limes, ice and chips). Milk we can get, but there’s not a vegetable or fruit in sight.

Lucky for us, we’ve had Uncle Murray. Not only could you always count on Murray (my husband’s uncle) to stop by one of many local farmer’s stands for whatever was in season, but you could also rest easy that Uncle Murray had planted the biggest, most overgrown of garden that you’ve (or at least I’ve) ever seen. There is something about the soil in Turkey Point I guess and definitely something in the crazy way that Murray planted (I know he’d been known to bury dead fish in the soil from time to time) because each year his garden was truly bursting with goodies from early summer on. Rhubarb and lettuce, then radishes, cucumbers and beans. And zucchini and tomatoes. And raspberries and grapes. And herbs, lots of herbs. His garden has always been a bit of a tangle because he packs everything in so close with no real path between rows. This year he had some trouble with rabbits so he enclosed it with a short fence but never put in a gate so you’d have to climb over straight into the tomato plants.

We didn’t always appreciate the garden. It seemed like Murray had a way of over doing the planting and under doing the picking, cleaning and cooking that the produce required. When he did bring something into the house, it would be a zucchini as big as your thigh and he’d remark on how it should probably be eaten within the next day or so, no matter that you already had dinner ½ way done, only 3 people to feed and were leaving the next day. “Murray!” we’d mutter under our breath and then set another plate at the table.

And now Murray is gone. He died two weeks ago, suddenly. And as we push our way through the thick tomato vines, we realize what a gift we had all along. With every bean and every bite of tomato we feel it. Murray wasn’t a demonstrative man by any means but this was the way he loved you. Turns out it was how he connected with most of the neighbors too – numerous people have stopped by in the last 2 weeks to give us their sympathies and almost every one has specifically mentioned his garden and the veggies he would bring to them over the years.

So as one last tribute to Uncle Murray, I am giving you one of the recipes that made the most of everything the garden had to offer. Gazpacho, summer at its best. And for us, Murray’s Garden through and through.

  • 4 cups tomato juice
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 1 green bell pepper, minced
  • 1 cucumber, chopped
  • 2 cups chopped tomatoes
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste

I like to roughly chop the veggies and add it to a big bowl with the juice and other ingredients. And then I pour about half into a blender and puree it. Add it back in with the rest and see how you like the texture. Some people like a smooth soup, but I like mine to have some chunks. To make it the yummiest, serve with sour cream and homemade croutons (dried bread hunks, swirled around in butter that you melted in a skillet along with several cloves of garlic).

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