You have to love the title of the new book "Grocery Gardening." It's a bridge between the work side of growing food and the eating side of it.
As I wrote last week in my review of "All New Square Foot Gardening Cookbook," you have to take both into account when you're planning an edibles garden. And with "Grocery Gardening," you don't need to garden at all to reap the benefits — or wait until spring. It covers selecting produce from a farmers market or the grocery store, as well as storing it and cooking with it.
How to select corn, for example (you likely won't be growing that): bright-green husks; fresh, plump kernels; check for worm injury or decay at silk ends of corn. (Best eaten day bought.)
Or eggplant: firm, smooth-skinned with no soft or brown spots; flesh will give slightly and bounce back when ripe; if indention stays, it's overripe.
After witnessing the great crop of Swiss chard that grew in the Family of Four Garden at the Extension Center last summer, and the difficulty of finding ways to eat it all up, I was happy to see a recipe for Swiss chard and spaghetti, especially prefaced with: "This dish is so delicious and easy it will probably become part of your regular menu at home. If you use Swiss chard with red stems, the pasta takes on a lovely pink hue." And Ramen at the Ritz — your basic 25-cent package o' ramen punched up with cilantro, basil, lime, lemongrass and ginger _ that's my kind of cooking. (See recipes accompanying this column.)
The book is a Twitter book, meaning that the author, Jean Ann Van Krevelen (yes, each word in the mouthful ends in an "n"), sought input from her followers on Twitter while the book was being put together, and she and her co-authors have never met except online.
Actually, one of the co-authors has my favorite name on Twitter, kissmyaster (real moniker: Amanda Thomsen). I'm so straightforward — anniecalovich. (Van Krevelen's handle on Twitter is JeanAnnVK.)
"Grocery Gardening" (Cool Springs Press, $19.95) starts off with herbs, and it's such a good reference I'm thinking it can take the place of some books on herbs that are taking up space on my shelves.
How about this little "did you know" on basil? "You can easily start a basil plant from the stems of the ones sold in the grocery store box, or any cutting for that matter. Just make a clean cut at the bottom of the stem and let it sit in a small glass of water until it roots; it usually happens within a few days."
And Thomsen has this to say about one particular variety: "Mammoth Basil can have leaves the size of your hand and larger. It can make a scrumdiddlyumptious substitute for a wrap and it's carb-free."
Carb-free and I may not compute, but I like the idea.
The book also tells you to rub a fresh basil leaf on a bug bite, and freeze basil for later use by tossing washed leaves in a blender with just enough olive oil to loosen the mixture, then putting it in a freezer bag in the freezer. When you want some basil, break off a piece and toss it into whatever you're cooking for fresh-picked taste.
I always plant dill and fennel, but the caterpillars always eat the bulk of the harvest. Some simple advice I need to take, especially since (I have to keep reminding myself) I am going to plant with butterflies in mind this spring: "Swallowtail butterfly pupae dine solely on these plants. If you see black-and-yellow striped caterpillars on your dill and fennel, you know that butterflies are on the way! Plant extra so that both you and the caterpillars can enjoy the feast!"
In this day of Attention Deficit Disorder books (so many entry points per page you can't follow one thought for any length of time), this one is a little more calm; at least the colors are calming, and the photography is good.
This is the book that may introduce you to the fact that green beans aren't necessarily green; what the term means is that the bean is meant to be eaten fresh, not dried. Both green and drying beans come in the form of either pole beans or bush beans.
Remember the kale chips from the Square Foot Garden cookbook? Well, this book does the same for endive (the French again!), and tells how Italians bake radicchio: Cut heads in half, drizzle with olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste, and bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. Turn and bake for 10 minutes or until the core is tender when pierced with a knife."
This book also has growing tips for each of the herbs, fruits and vegetables profiled; a brief section on how to deal with some of the insects and diseases that can damage them; and a fairly detailed section on preserving produce (canning, freezing, dehydrating, etc.).
I'll finish with Thomsen's tip for growing lettuce — and then head to the kitchen to whip up the Caesar salad.
"Let Mother Nature help out with your gardening chores. I usually let lettuce in my garden go to seed when it stops producing in hot weather. Invariably, I have little lettuce volunteers that appear around the garden the next year that I can leave in place or transplant to a more suitable location."