Garden Notes : Books to leaf through
The recent crazy quilt of snowfall, rainfall, fog, and frigid temperatures has been embroidered with surprisingly good days for working outside. While I was pruning and performing cleanup, the "Jelena" witch hazels (Hamamelis x intermedia "Jelena") already in bloom, looked bright and coppery in the winter landscape. (Although for better scent, plant one of the yellow-flowered ones, like H. mollis or H. x intermedia "Pallida.")
Our wisteria vine, presented as a seedling by a relation over 20 years ago and now ascending a good-sized white oak, produced for the first time last spring one timid bloom. (This, the delayed blooming, is the major characteristic of stray seedlings, compared to grafted plants.) I want to encourage it - evidently a W. sinensis, as the whips twine to the left - to bloom and so I have been pruning in the manner illustrated by the January issue of the Royal Horticultural Society's journal "The Garden." I also want to restrict vegetative growth.
Aftercare for holiday plants
With the aim of prolonging the display, most seasonal holiday plants prefer to be kept where it is cool but with good light. Keep plants away from direct sunlight, woodstoves, and radiators; they dry out unbelievably fast under wintertime indoor conditions. Check for dryness daily. Water from below, especially with cyclamens, and remove excess water. Misting or setting pots on pebbles in water-filled trays may help counteract some of the indoor dryness. Now that daylight is increasing, resume feeding houseplants with liquid fish/seaweed emulsion diluted at the correct ratio.
Winter reading period for youthful gardeners, cooks
If young children are around who enjoy helping and grazing in the vegetable garden, a book like "Grow It, Cook It" is ideal. Developed for ages five to eight and combining beginner gardening information with beginner level cooking, "Grow It, Cook It" aims to get children involved in healthy eating right from the start.
DK has produced a fun, visually strong layout. All the favorite garden vegetables of children are included. Logically arrayed information on growing and cooking is accessible, turning everyone, child or adult, into a teacher. (My co-reviewer, a pre-reader, is enthralled.)
Whether gardening or cooking, the layout is thorough and each process is fully photographed. Recipes for cooking projects use fresh ingredients, measured by weight and volume, and look mouth-watering: mini pumpkin pies; beet salad; carrot and orange muffins (these are delicious); onion pizza; and much more. "Grow It, Cook It" DK Publishing, hardcover, 2008, 80 ppg. $15.99.
Culinary artisans and their recipes
In a format reminiscent of Slow Food International's journal "Slow," "Beaneaters and Breadsoup: Portraits and Recipes from Tuscany," by Lori De Mori and Jason Lowe, is an insider's tour of Tuscany (including the island of Elba), its foodways and culture. Along with her photographer husband (Lowe), Ms. De Mori visits, photographs, and dines with a wide assortment of farmers, chefs, and artisans.
The producers' earthy endeavors evoke a strong sense of place. Several describe that when young they wanted to "get rich/get off the farm/avoid hard work." But reflection and experience have altered those outlooks and now they exhibit dedication and charisma as they create their livelihoods.
Ms. De Mori makes them sound fascinating; and their recipes, many of them disarmingly simple, are the best. (I got cooking right away, the chili collector's chickpea soup, then ribollita from the knifemaker.) Everything has lots and lots of Tuscan olive oil drizzled over or in it. This book lures the locavores among us with impossible but worthy goals: how can we cook and eat more like the Tuscans?
Twenty-five artisans - winemakers, farmers or growers of specialty crops, cooks, artisans, cheesemakers - are interviewed and beautifully photographed in warm, muted color. An index of recipes and producers at the back of the book, along with a map and producers' contact info, completes the volume. "Beaneaters and Breadsoup: Portraits and Recipes from Tuscany," Quadrille Publishing Ltd., London, 2007, 224 ppg.
Ordinary people need extraordinary food
On a more serious note, Mark Winne's "Closing the Food Gap: Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty," analyzes an important aspect of American life: the politics of food. For 25 years, Winne was the executive director of the Hartford Food System in Connecticut, and is now an independent consultant on community food systems. In this work he is detailing how our food policies contradict our national goals, which is why many of us garden. *
For far too many Americans, the politics of food remain invisible, do not exist, or at best, remain parts of the background hum, seldom breaking the collective consciousness. There is a fairly good awareness that: our depleted topsoils are washing away to swell toxic dead-zones in the Gulf of Mexico; our food supply is contaminated with bacteria, hormones, and various "-cides," as the FDA fails to perform its oversight function; the statistics for cancer, obesity, diabetes, infant mortality, and childhood diseases like asthma, are shockingly high; and life-expectancy is short, by first world standards.
But far fewer Americans understand: how farm bills produce the very waste and ill-health voters think policy should rectify; the relationship between income distribution, poverty, and the food gap; or what it takes to restore America's "food deserts"- those zip codes where prices and lack of stores are tied to low-end demographics. "Closing the Food Gap" is a pretty good read once you get into it, with some vivid characters and scenarios to leaven the policy-wonk parts. "Closing the Food Gap: Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty," by Mark Winne, Beacon Press, Boston, 2008, 199 ppg, paper $16.
* Homegrown meets at Agricultural Hall Sunday, Jan. 18, at 3 pm.