Last Harvest, First Harvest

January hasn’t ended, but a few 60-degree days still managed to appear this week. I took the opportunity to greet the sun a bit and get to garden tasks I’ve been putting off during the cold weather.

I cleaned the garden. I clipped back the porcelain berries, pulled up withered plant stalks, rolled up old stakes, and picked up weathered bits of twine. I considered fixing the fence but elected not to, once again.

In the back of the garden, tall, dry sunchoke stalks loomed. I saved these for last. I was concerned that the sunchoke roots, along with my potted fruit trees and other perennial plants, hadn’t lived through a recent extreme cold snap that lasted a few weeks around New Year’s Day.  Sunchokes become huge plants. Last season, I cut them back time and again, and through spring, summer, and fall I justified introducing them to the garden. I do love sunchokes, and after all, they do grow lovely little yellow flowers! I was almost relieved that as I pulled up the stalks one-by-one, out popped dozens of plump little sunchokes! I am looking forward to really savoring them this weekend—an excellent first harvest of the year.

Even better, as I worked in the garden, I noticed that the soil color and texture has become rich and dark with a much better structure than the original clay. Compost, mulch, and a little hard work really have added up!

Sunchoke web

It seemed fitting to cook the last fresh harvest of 2017 on the day of my first harvest of 2018—a cycle completing itself. For dinner, I cooked the last winter squash saved from our CSA (not really my harvest, but it was something grown beautifully by One Straw Farm). I stuffed these steamed buns with pulled Virginia pork from Virginia the roasted winter squash.

Now, on to seed orders, garden planning, and transplant production in the new year!

buns 3 web.jpgSteamed Bun Dough (Bao) adapted from Carolyn Phillips’ All Under Heaven (makes approximately 32 buns). This recipe is for plain, simple steamed dough buns. To create stuffed dumplings, rolled dough pieces into rounds, stuff with fillings like five-spice seasoned pork, winter squash, mushrooms, or tofu, then pinch at the top and steam according to the directions below.

A basket-style steamer, either traditional bamboo or stainless steel, is preferable to a folding steamer. A folding steamer will work, but fewer buns can be cooked at once. If you use a folding steamer, place a piece of wax paper beneath each dough ball. A bread-proofing box is also helpful if you have one!


  • 5 tsp active dry yeast
  • 4 tbsp sugar
  • 2 1/4 cups warm water
  • 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 cups pastry flour (I use Lily White)
  • 2 tsp salt


  • Flour a counter. In a bowl, mix all ingredients together until the dough becomes sticky and flaky.  Turn out and knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic, it should be just soft but not sticky. Shape into a ball. Oil the bowl, and cover with a piece of oiled plastic or bee wrap.
  • If you have a proofer, proof the dough at 80°F until doubled in size (roughly 40 minutes). Otherwise, leave to proof in a warm place until doubled.
  • Once doubled, turn out the dough and fold it two times, pulling one edge across to the other. Turn the dough counterclockwise and pull again. Place back in the bowl with these fold seams facing down. Proof as before until the dough has doubled once more.
  • Turn the dough back onto the floured counter and use a knife or pastry scraper to cut dough pieces that are approximately 2-inches in size. Flour each piece slightly.
  • Heat water to boiling for steaming and arrange a steamer. Spray each steamer basket with oil.
  • To make simple dough steamed buns, gently stretch the edges of each cut piece towards the bottom of the dough ball, creating a smooth surface on top. Place each dough piece with the seam sides down in the steamer, and steam for 10 minutes. Remove and serve with soy sauce, duck sauce, soups, and condiments of your choice.


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