Sunday, August 8, 2010

How a garden grows

For maybe the first decade that I gardened, I focused on the ornamental garden and did vegetables just in a small way— lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, herbs in the small plot off the garage (now the Garage Garden). Somewhere in the 90s I put in the Wagon Wheel, although the earliest paper journal, and earliest plan, I can find is dated 1999 . I think I had been building the garden for at least 10 years when the Wagon Wheel went in (so called because it was a half circle divided into spokes).

The vegetable started small and safe. As late as 2004 most of the gardening work was still ornamental as I added beds and switched from annuals to perennials learning as I went what worked and what didn’t. There’s a lotta plants in plant heaven because of my ignorance. It was putting in the Knot garden in 2005 (now the Serpentine) that jump-started the veggies.

Once you switch to perennials, the ornamental beds start to take care of themselves. I still divide plants of course, and move them around (kind of like moving furniture, and one of my favorite garden tasks). And I have my first new ornamental bed in years—the Woodland—which is still a few years from figuring itself out. I’m thinking it will eventually be a tiny prairie meadow.

I’ve tried something new every year, although I’m kind of running out of space, and have managed to avoid intriguing plants that I know we won’t eat, like kohlrabi and hot peppers, and high maintenance ones that I know I won’t take care of, like roses and exotics. I dug out my old paper journals, and here’s what I’ve managed to trace, of edible plants that I added, and then kept year after year:

  • Somewhere in the dim mists of time: raspberries and the garage garden
  • 1999- the basic vegetable garden takes shape in the Wagon Wheel (the bed itself was built I think mid 90s, because the kids remember it from grade school): snow peas, lettuce, broccoli (don’t remember doing broccoli that far back, but it's in the journals!), carrots, onions, tomatoes, peppers.
  • 2000- fennel for the first time (stuck with it for 8 years before finally giving up)
  • 2001- first pumpkin
  • 2002-3- can’t find the journals, but cucumbers and zucchini snuck in here somewhere, although I did zucchini again this year for the first time in ages.
  • 2004- first actual reference I can find to cukes, but I’m pretty sure I had done them before
  • 2005-6 (shared journal between 2 years, and cleverly did not differentiate the years) the Knot garden goes in as an herb garden, with 10 types of herbs. Also put in beets for the first time.
  • 2007- first (unsuccessful) attempt at squash, and discovery of on-line gardening blogs, where I lurked for a couple of years, especially Mr. Brown Thumb and You Grow Girl.
  • 2008- first eggplant, turnips, chard, despite this being the year I broke my ankle right after the main planting; I also experimented with attempting a full second crop of summer vegetables, with mixed success.
  • 2009- corn, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and wintersowing, strawberries (from seed)
  • 2010- climbing beans (always did bush beans before and in future always will again. Hate the climbers), and took a leap of faith by planting asparagus from seed.
Which brings us to today, harvesting corn and cukes, beans and cherry tomatoes, dill and parsley. I can't believe I've never posted this recipe before, as it is my all-time favorite summer soup.

Cream of Cucumber Soup

4-5 large cucumbers
1 large onion
1 T dill seeds
2 cloves garlic
1 T chopped fresh parsley
2 T butter

1 tablespoon cornstarch (optional; for thickening. This recipe is from my MIL, who puts cornstarch in everything)
1 quart stock (chicken or vegetable; make sure it's a "white" stock or the soup will be ugly!)
>1 cup milk
2 cups half-half
2 yolks eggs (I got a double yoke one when making this just now!)
pepper and salt to taste

Different colored cherry tomatoes

Peel, seed and dice the largest cucumbers, leaving one for garnish. Dice onions and garlic (or use a garlic press) and saute in butter with the parsley and dill seeds in the soup pot about 5 minutes (the cukes will turn a bright light green). Add water or stock, simmer 20 minutes. Mix cornstarch with milk, stir into the soup and bring it to a light boil; allow it to boil about 10 minutes. Puree with an immersible mixer (or in a blender if you don't have a mixer; if you use a blender, let it cool a little before decanting it).

Lightly beat the half-half and egg yolks, pour a little boiling soup on to them, stirring at same time, then return it to the hot soup, stirring constantly; it must not boil again or it will curdle. Season to taste with white pepper and salt.

You can give this soup a nice green color (and add nutritional value) by making a "dye" with spinach: Wash and drain spinach, pound it in a mortar, roll it in cheesecloth and wring it into a large measuring cup. Pour into the soup and stir thoroughly.

Cut the cherry tomatoes into halves, and the remaining cucumber into discs. Garnish the soup with the cut vegetables and a sprig of parsley just before serving.

1 comment:

  1. I sort of veered off into shrubs. I'd have more veggies if I had more sun, I swear! :)