Garden Notes : Tidy up and get cooking
Let the mood of Thanksgiving descend upon us and help us look around and appreciate our good fortune to live and garden on the Vineyard. We have the mildest of New England climates, abundant rainfall, and warm soils. Add in the skills of horticulture and husbandry and our gardens here have great advantages.
Late autumn garden tasks
Plant tulips and other bulbs. Start paperwhites, if you have not already, in succession for the holidays. They take about three weeks. Check over vegetables in storage. Compost organic matter and continue tidying the garden. Make fencing surrounds for tree trunks and leaf piles; continue raking. This is the last call for sowing cover crops. Prune for crossing branches, containing foundation planting, and removing suckering growth at the base of fruit trees and ornamentals, like lindens. Save evergreen and berried prunings for holiday decorations. Aerate lawns and repair deficits and bare patches. Top up mulch. Rodent control. Brush off and store lawn furniture. Oil tools before putting away.
All cooks need a garden
And vice versa. Frequently heard complaints about the home vegetable garden are that there is not enough yield, there is too much yield, or the cook does not know what to do with the yield. "And besides," a good cynic insists, "you cannot live off what you grow." A partial answer in response to these quibbles can be sought in cookbooks that are themed to cooking and eating from the garden, the epitome of locavore-ism. I have three to recommend, none of which is a recent release, but buying used and out-of-print books over the Internet has never been easier.
A friend who has influenced a great deal of what I think about food and cooking recommended the most recently acquired of the three, "The Cook and the Gardener: a Year of Recipes and Writings from the French Countryside," by Amanda Hesser (W. W. Norton, New York, 1999, 632 ppg.). Before being put off by the "French cooking" and the "French gardening," please recollect that few people take more pains with their food and the variety and quality of ingredients than the French, and so it is with their gardening. Ms. Hesser's narratives have a fresh and idiosyncratic style, though she is seemingly overly precise in the recipe directions. When following a recipe, however, this detailed approach ensures that the dish will reproduce as described, and that it will taste marvelous.
The garden of the chateau where Ms. Hesser was the chef was entrusted to a full-time gardener, a Monsieur Milbert, a crusty, suspicious paysan (countryman) who reminded me of other top vegetable gardeners I have known. Every day, year-round, he worked that garden, or on the chateau grounds, and every day Ms. Hesser cooked from it. The theme of the book is how this is done, month-by-month, throughout the year. "The Cook and the Gardener" is complemented with an excellent index and a full-page, tiny-type bibliography.
I received the second of the cookbooks, "Cooking From the Garden," by Rosalind Creasy (Sierra Club Books, San Francisco, 1988, 547 ppg.) from my sister 20 years ago. It includes, besides the very good recipes, a great narrative portion, describing dozens of gardening heritages and styles, in addition to an encyclopedia of superior vegetables and how-to appendices in the back. It is specifically about how to grow, cook, and eat from the garden, and anticipates the Slow Food and specialty cuisine movements.
"Cooking From the Garden" is divided into five parts: part one is "traditional gardens," and includes seven specialty gardens such as "heirloom," "baked bean," "Cajun gardens," and more. Part two is "international gardens," which describes five ethnic garden traditions such as that of M. Milbert, Italian, Mexican, or Asian. Part three describes five gardens that might be termed theme gardens: rainbow, gourmet salad, edible flower, and spa gardens. Part four, the superior vegetable encyclopedia, lists the know-how and culture of individual garden plants, with an effort scale, thumbnail sketch, how-to-grow, pests and diseases, seed-saving, harvesting, varieties, and more. Part five consists of over 30 pages of resources and references. The back of the book contains an extensive bibliography, but each chapter too has an individual bibliography for further reading on that topic. The book is liberally illustrated with gorgeous color photos of gardens, vegetables, and the recipes themselves. It is available used on the Internet for next to nothing.
The third book, a gift from my daughter, is the Smith & Hawken "Gardeners' Community Cookbook," compiled and written by Victoria Wise (Workman Publishing Co., New York, 1999, 468 ppg.). The charm of this book is the recipe surrounded by a great deal of back-story - information in sidebars, boxes, or contrasting type that demonstrates how other gardeners have used the dish, the ingredient, or the method. For instance, a two-page spread on carrot soups contains two soup recipes, background from the cooks supplying the recipes, and a box entitled "What About the Carrot Tops?" containing further information about using carrot tops (good for feeding rabbits, among other uses...). The book is naturally strongest on vegetable preparations, but among the ten chapters ranging from starters, soups, main dishes, sides, and sauces, there is a good dessert chapter too.
Larded throughout "Gardeners' Community Cookbook" are boxes containing a great variety of information - compost piles, great gadgets for using in prep work, how to take care of a lemon tree - so there is interesting reading on every page, in addition to the recipes themselves.
These books, and additional useful volumes and pamphlets, will likely turn up at Homegrown, the vegetable gardeners' group at Agricultural Hall, which has had its inaugural meeting. Scheduled for 3 pm on the third Sunday of every month throughout the winter, the exception is December. Homegrown is scheduled then for 2 pm, December 7, with a focus on soil.