Deborah Otten grew up on the North Shore, feeling the cold weather down to her bones. Despite the chills, she watched with amazement each year as her father would return from his work on the steamboats and extract bright orange carrots from their yard in the dead of winter—a magnificent contrast to the piles of snow and the gray of the world around her.
The carrots were no accident. They were planted and carefully cushioned with heaps of woodchips to fight off the freezing temperatures. Otten learned at an early age how to garden through the fall and winter. Though the Edina mother of two got early inspiration from her mother, now 89, gardening, good food and entertaining have become Otten’s passion. She talks about making her sauces, pepper jellies and frozen vegetables as if it were easier than running to the store.
For Otten, organic, fresh food is lifeblood, and she is willing to share her secrets. Her refrigerator and freezer are stocked with fresh vegetables she grew. And her Thanksgiving table is always piled high with things she harvested with her own two hands.
“My favorite thing to talk about is making hors d’oeuvres out of your garden, sharing truly, the gifts of your home,” Otten says. “How much more giving can you be?”
She spends many fall days in her garden, waiting until just before the final freeze to remove tomatoes from the vine. She plucks those that even have a smidge of yellow, red or orange to them, knowing they will ripen indoors in the coming days and weeks, giving her fresh fruit a month after the first frost.
She often blends those tomatoes into sauces and cans them, crushing some with basil, onion, salt, pepper and a hint of red pepper flake to create an Italian-based sauce. The others are infused with onion, pepper and cilantro for a Mexican flair.
She also has her own fresh bruschetta recipe—tomato, basil, chive, onion, pepper, salt and red pepper flakes. She uses the mixture not only on appetizer breads, but also on celery stalks, crackers and as a topper on chicken.
Instead of canning all of the produce she picks, Otten opts to freeze many of her creations. Her freezer holds green beans that have been blanched in boiling water for three minutes before being spread out on a cookie sheet and put in the freezer so they freeze separately; then they’re tossed into sealed bags, clamping in the freshness. Beets are prepared the same way, but thinly sliced into what appears to be burgundy chips.