Friday, August 28, 2009

Gardening is for Chefs

I do NOT know what is up with the fonts--I keep changing them, but they won't cooperate....
I have to remind myself every year that I don't garden in order to provide food for my family. I tell myself that I can always go to Kroger or the farmer's market if my garden goes belly up... or if my LABRADOR eats all my baby spinach plants...or if three little preschoolers manage to squirm in through a hole in the fence and pick "apples" (green tomatoes), "cucum-cum" (not-quite-ripe cucumbers), and... um... an entire pepper plant (yep, they picked the whole plant up... so I have lots of green cayennes in my freezer now).

So, why do I garden? And why should you? If you love to cook, then you must garden--just grow some herbs, if nothing else. Why?

1. A garden is the cheapest, easiest way to add a gourmet touch to your cooking (or your Christmas gifts!). Herbs, in particular, are easy to grow, and nothing will spice up your everyday cooking quite like fresh herbs. My favorites to grow are basil (look at all that basil--harvested in one afternoon!), ros
emary, parsley, thyme, oregano, and marjoram. Mint can also be fun (be warned that oregano and marjoram are also part of the mint family, so choose your location wisely!). Herbs provide the biggest bang for the buck. Many are perennials; even if they're only annuals, a seed pack will set you back $1. Then, you can make all the pesto you want, add fresh rosemary lavishly to breads and stews, and throw in fresh thyme sprigs to your pot roasts. It's the easiest way to go gourmet and still be cheap!

2. A garden provides bounty that is both delicious and unpredictable.
I tend to cook more healthily when I have a garden. If you have an entire head of Napa cabbage sitting on your counter that you grew, you're more likely to use the entire thing, even if it means eating some variety of the same dish for several days in a row. I'm inspired to try new things, like green tomato bread and green tomato cake, when I have an abundance of something. I also tried Kosher dill pickles earlier
this summer--that recipe will be going up soon because I had millions of requests for it!

The plants that require a significant investment in time/money are things like tomatoes and peppers--both of which provide the successful gardener with tons of byproducts (salsa, tomato sauce, tomatoes and peppers in the freezer, ketchup, endless summer salads,...). Other plants require virtually no effort and very little expenditure in money (they don't need much fertilizing and are easy to start from seed): greens, lettuces, squashes--winter and summer, cucumbers, beans, peas.... So, it's relatively easy to get started with something.

3. I'm also reminded that we are ultimately dependent on our Creator to provide us with food. He sends the rain (abundant for us this year), the sun, and sustains creation through His word. I'm reminded of people in other parts of the world who don't have the variety of food we do; when it's tomato season, that's what they eat. They're not also eating spinach, winter squash, and asparagus. When it's winter, they're not eating as much fresh stuff as we have available. When late tomato blight hits, they have to make use of the green tomatoes in order to have something to eat before the plants die.

4. With an interesting variety of homegrown produce, even the kids are motivated to try (and keep trying) different vegetables. They love to munch on cherry tomatoes, even though they often spit them out. Still, they continue to try them! In fact, one of my sons has finally decided he likes cherry tomatoes and now sneaks them off my counter to eat on a regular basis. They've grown to love cucumbers, homemade salsa, winter squash--partly because they see it growing in their own back yard.

This year, I bit off a bit more than I could chew (but not more than the myriad squirrels, rabbits, toddlers, and dogs could chew!). Still, despite my frustrations along the way, I've had a good year. The vast majority of my effort in relation to my garden has been in dealing with an abundance of produce--so it's been a nice problem to have. What did I grow? In addition to lots of herbs, we have/had winter squash (bonbon--like butternut--and spaghetti), snow peas, sugar snaps (didn't do much), baby bok choy, Napa cabbage, broccoli, mustard greens, spinach, spinach mustard hybrid, lettuces, cucumbers (several kinds), tomatoes (several kinds), bell peppers, jalapenos, cayennes, zucchini, pumpkin, green beans (several kinds), and lima beans. Not all flourished, but enough has flourished to give me some to put by. Here's a sampling of my freezer's bounty (more tomato sauce, green tomato ketchup, green tomato relish, and squash puree are coming):

6 pints salsa
2 cups tomato sauce
6 cups pesto
green beans
lima beans
Poblano peppers
bell peppers
shredded zucchini (hello, zucchini bread!)
green tomato puree

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