1000 feet of vegetable garden. Perfect row upon row of standing onions, winter savory, bulbous dark cabbages, the beginnings of carrots the ends of broccoli, each variety labeled in a slanting hand with common and latin names (some of the heirloom types the very same varieties that we ordered from the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange for our own tiny-by-comparison plot), some under clay bell jars, some just noticeable from the brick and glass garden-flourishing observation gazebo, the spring-ready plants drawn out with compost-dark soil which, in this Albemarle clay you just KNOW took, well, about 300 years to look this good. That is what Thomas Jefferson has set up at Monticello. Oh Man. Talk about Garden Envy. We’ll just cross our dirt stained fingers and say “someday”…
Before we left for New Orleans, Sweetheart and I pored over the seed catalogs I ordered back during the cold, dark months. We decided to order from the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, an organic seed saving co-operative that’s about an hour away from us, figuring that whatever persnickety planting instructions they might have would ring true for us too. We were intoxicated with the sheer HOPE of the whole thing, the tiny paper packets full of possibility, with their seductive heirloom names (Lazy Wife Greasy Bean, Drunken Woman Lettuce, Ice Cream Melon, Whippoorwill Southern Pea, Yellow Moon and Stars Watermelon), and family origin stories (Violet’s Multicolored Butterbean: saved by 4 generations of Violet Brady Westbrook’s family, Banks County, GA, Turkey’s Craw Bean: according to folklore, a hunter shot a turkey and removed a bean from its craw; the bean was later planted and saved, hence the name Turkey Craw). When we returned we had a fat package of seeds waiting for us. We awoke to a frost today, but we’ve got to get our buns in gear! Dirt under our fingernails, the sun on our shoulders, the possibility of the soil, we are drunk with it.
New York is a pizza town. Allegiances run deep… One of Sweetheart’s high school friends once broke up with a girl because she ate her pizza with a fork. There’s the ancient Neapolitan battlegrounds (Lombardi’s, Grimaldi’s, Difara’s), Staten Island’s best-pizzas-you’ve-never-had (Denino’s, Goodfellas, Salvatore’s of Soho), the hipsters (Roberta’s, Paulie Gee’s, Speedy Romeo), the best sicilian/place to take a southerner on a date (L&B Spumoni Gardens), the local slice (Rays ad infinitum, in our neighborhood “Not Ray’s”)… With all of these rarified pies, harkening back to ancient traditions, earth vs. brick ovens, coal vs. wood burning, cheese vs. sauce, the consideration of pizzaiolo-as-master-craftsman, it would seem as though pizza might simply be one of those things beyond the scope of the humble home cook, off limits to one possessing nothing fancier than a standard electric coil oven and a pizza stone. To this, I say: fuhgeddaboudit.This weekend at the Kitchen Garden Cooking School‘s Pizza Making Class we proved ourselves capable of transcending pizza barriers. Like most wonderful things, it was truly simple. The Dough: a riff on the fabulous No-Knead dough that turns out such incredible boules, the sauces: simple classic tomato, creamy funky caramelized onion, sweet pungent red pepper, the cheeses: burrata, gouda, gruyere, chevre, fontina, taleggio, parmesean, the toppings: tomatoes, basil, garlic infused oil, roasted garlic, caramelized onions, red onions, ginger, lemon, sumac, artichoke hearts, olives, and pine nuts.
We each floured, tossed, topped, peeled, baked, and devoured our own tiny, perfect pies, and it was revelatory. An ancient skill for the ages to add to the home cook arsenal: food grower, fermenter, jam maker, bread baker, pizzaiola, and the time-spent-with-good-friends factor that is absolutely necessary for successful kitchen endeavors.
ps. This was the second Kitchen Garden Cooking class my mama and our dear town mouse friends have taken, if you find yourself in gorgeous Upper Black Eddy, PA, I highly recommend the classes. Check out the blog here.
I’m a sucker for good packaging. When I went to the co-op this week, these concord grapes were laid out like a hot breakfast in their own specially designed little cardstock bag, a squatter version of an apple sack, with a long white stitched handle and perfect Manischewitz-y purple font extolling their delicious and organic status. And, they smelled so very grapey, an olfactory punch powerful enough to create lush sense memories on the spot. I bought a bag and carried them home. By the time I got them back to the apartment, the bag was a crumplety mess, and when I liberated them from their 4x6x4 home it was like a grape clown-car. They just kept coming and I realized I had way more grapes on my hands than I could reasonably eat. Sharp-sweet, tannic, and full of seeds, what to do? Obviously, make Grape Jam. I got out my laminated “making jam without added pectin” chart from the very back of my recipe binder, and went to work. Skinning, seeding, boiling, sugaring, boiling, pouring into jars, putting hot hot hot on toast. Sweet, simple, at once fresh and old fashioned, this jam turned out fantastically, and it’s the most glorious rich dark purple color. Oh boy!Quick jams like this are sort of just about the easiest thing you can make. Have a pot? Can you stir? Good. You’ve got what it takes. If you’ve never made jam before, this tutorial is ah-mazing and has great pictures of each step. This kind of lazy-man’s jam plays fast and loose with canning/preserving requirements, so it will only keep for a few weeks in your fridge (add “the space to store a pot large enough for water bath canning” to my “homesickness vs. wanderlust” chart) but with enough crusty bread and one or two friends who should be gifted a sweet little pick-me-up-in-a-jar and you’ll go through it in no time.
With the purple carrots, rainbow chard, and def beets that have been showing their true colors on the shelf at the Co-op, this awesome food-color-chart is right on time:Bring on Spring!