Tag Archives: plant families

On A Way to Garden

I just received the most wonderful book in the mail, one that is handsome and inspiring and filled with beautiful photographs in a stunning garden.  It is called A Way to Garden by Margaret Roach. Margaret has a somewhat obsessive bent for detail in her own garden, which serves as the subject of this book.  It’s a gorgeous book to look at, and even better to read.  An updated book written 21 years after the first version, she has found that so many things have changed in the world, especially the worlds of plants and climate change that A Way to Garden is really an entirely new book.

I’ve been a fan of Margaret Roach since meeting her on her weekly podcast and web-site by the same name five years ago, when my book Vegetable Literacy came out.  She is bright, hard-working, earnest, erudite and quirky, among a host of other good qualities.  The first book of hers that I read was called Backyard Parables; Lessons on Gardening, and Life. It made me laugh and it made me wince as I travelled with her through a year in her garden. Even though she was hardly just starting out, this new book has stronger legs, shows more maturity, and is based in more experience.  But all of Margaret’s books are wise books.

What pains me about A Way to Garden is that Margaret’s garden is very much an Eastern one. You can just tell that there is plenty of water and acid soil that support many plants that just won’t and don’t care for our highly alkaline New Mexican soil. In a way, it has nothing to do with us—our climate, our aridity, our winds, or the plants that like it here.  Still what I love about this book – really about Margaret— is that she makes room for other forms of life along with the plants in her garden. The book is filled with pictures of the frogs who live there. She can talk about a plant in terms of its ability to attract pollinators. She notices birds and their songs, moths and their patterns, spiders, insects, snakes, and more pesky critters such as squirrels, deer, and a bear. Her garden is far more than plants and this book is, as she says, a blend of horticultural how to and ‘woo-woo” – “the fusion of a science lab with a Buddhist retreat, or a place of non-stop learning and of contemplation, where there is life buzzing to the maximum and also the deepest stillness.” She is such a superb writer I had to use her words.

I encourage you to read this book. It might ignite a sleeping passion that will come to fruition regardless of where you live.

 

Jicama is a legume!

 

Tubers, beans, and leaves of the Jicama plant.

For a few years I had a wonderful job in lower Baja, Mexico working outside of San Jose del Cabo, in the mountains. The project was the dream of the former leader of the band, Tangerine Dream. He wanted to make a retreat where, just for example, the dining room tables were designed in such a way that people couldn’t easily make eye-contact with one another, so that they were, in effect, alone with their thoughts. What was wonderful about the job was not that so much (I  like contact!) but being able to go to Baja every spring, to work with the wonderful and ingenuous Mexicans who could always figure out how to do difficult things with few materials,  to work with rastra blocks of our buildings, and to learn about plants.

I spent a lot of time with a botanist from the area who was showing me some of the native plants we might use in the spa kitchen. He would often say that jicama was a legume. A bean. I thought he was teasing me.

“Really?” I asked him.

“Yes!” he assured me. “It is.”

This issue was set aside for many years until one day, recently, in the Santa Monica farmers market I saw a stand of greens, bean pods, and jicama roots, all entwined and attached to one another.  The botanist was right. Jicama is a bean!

The brown papery covered part that we mostly eat is a swollen tuberous root. If you look at jicama images on line, they never show the beans, only the tuber. But here’s an image that shows all parts of the plant. It’s a bit chaotic, but if you look, you can make out the beans and the roots among the leaves.

I’m not saying you should eat the beans – I’ve read that the leaves have a toxic element so maybe the beans have it too. Plus there are other beans to eat.

But who knew?

Mostly this is just a curious bit of information. Enjoy!

 

Little Stars of the Aster Family

Jerusalem artichokes in bloomm

One question people ask me when we’re talking about ‘Vegetable Literacy’ is, “What is your favorite plant family?”

“Do you mean to grow or to eat?” I ask.

“To admire for its flowers or for its curvaceous membership?” I wonder.

“Or for its eccentricity, or colorful stories?” I hope.

These botanical families are all quite wonderful and also, quite different, and it’s hard for me to choose a favorite. They’re all favorites.

Some are large, others small. Some common and trustworthy, others strange and eccentric.  But the family that is now captivating me most right now is the aster (daisy, or sunflower) family. The word Asteraceae, the name for the family, comes from the Greek word for little star. Think of an http://www.raybanoutletes.com/ asterisk (*), another little star, or an asteroid, a somewhat larger one yet quite little in comparison to our big star, the sun.  Jerusalem artichokes are in this family and I once wrote a piece in which I referred to them as “star flowers.” I didn’t know about the word Asteraceae meaning little star, or even what family they were in. They produced sunflowers, but lean and articulated ones, and they struck me somehow as stars, especially those on the ends of eight-food branches, nodding against the sky. How curious that they belonged in the family known by the same name. We know without knowing.

This family intrigues me. Its members are prickly, spiny, hairy, bitter, but with innocent looking daisy-like flowers along with variations on the composite flower theme, such as the tufted purple artichoke and thistle blossoms.

DSC00980

Consider cardoons, artichokes, salsify, burdock, chicories and endives, lettuce grown in too warm a spot. These are plants that in many cases emit a thick, latex like liquid which, if you taste it, and I have, is bitter indeed. You can tear your fingers along the edge of cardoon spine or prick them on an artichoke leaf, and you’ll astonished at all the roots that sprout off a long root called salsify, which give it its other name, “goats beard.”  Sometimes my radicchio is almost too bitter to eat. And those strange subterranean creatures, sun chokes, will take Gafas Ray Ban outlet over your garden. They might have flowers like little stars, but they’re aggressive in their march towards dominance. Burdock dwells here, too. It was long considered a medicinal plant before it was regarded as a vegetable. Its root grows to such length that harvesting is the challenge. I was once sent a burdock root that was three feet long which said as much about the harvester as about the soil. It was like having a large snake it the kitchen.

The culinary herb in this family is tarragon, which also goes bys the name dragonwort.  Or dragon’s mugwort. Artemisia dracunculus. Why dragon? The name dates back to a time when the idea of the Doctrine of Signatures, a system that looks for correlations between a plant and its possible uses. As the roots of tarragon are snaky in appearance, it was thought they were useful for treating snakebites, which were thought of as small dragons.

The Milky Way seems especially well peppered with little stars against the desert night sky, my asters are already up though many months away from making their galaxy of lavender blooms, and there’s enough tarragon to use in an egg salad made with my neighbor’s perfect eggs. Spring is creeping, however slowly, towards its own lush moment.

 

Egg Salad with Tarragon, Parsley and Chives                 Makes about 2 cups

I had somehow forgotten about egg salad, but with the tarragon and chives emerging in the garden, eggs becoming more numerous with the lengthening days, and some very good bread in the house, egg salad suddenly came sharply into view. I also add a small, finely diced pickled shallot to egg salad just to insert a little zing into the creamy richness of real farm (or backyard) eggs.

 

6 farm eggs (likely to be on the small to medium size)

1 tablespoon minced tarragon leaves

1 tablespoon finely snipped chives

1 tablespoon minced parsley or lovage

3 tablespoons mayonnaise

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1 small shallot, finely diced and tossed with a little vinegar

chive blossoms, if available

Cover the eggs with cold water in a saucepan, bring them to a boil Ray Ban outlet and boil for 1 minute.  Turn off the heat, cover the pan, and let stand for 7 minutes. Pour off the hot water, rinse with cool, then peel and chop the eggs.

Put them in a bowl with the herbs, and mayonnaise.  (If you used commercial mayonnaise you might not need much salt.) Taste, add ¼ teaspoon, then taste again. Season with pepper.

If you want the zesty hit of the shallot, toss it, once diced, with just a few drops of vinegar and let stand for a few minutes. The color will change right away to a soft pink. If there is excess vinegar, drain it off and add the shallots to the mix.  Pile the egg salad into a serving bowl and garnish with chive blossoms, if you have some.