Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Let the garden scrounging begin!

There is a tipping point every year when the garden saves me, and I know that -- from a culinary perspective -- Spring has truly arrived. Last night, I came home late from work and I looked at my hungry family and then at my sparsely stocked pantry. I realized the only thing between us and a restaurant was the garden and -- joy of joys! -- the garden saved us. Hooray for the seasonal miracle of the first garden scrounge!

Now, I cannot pretend that a garden scrounge means the difference between eating and not eating. It's not like we are old-time pioneers or dogmatically self-sufficient homesteaders earnestly eating the stored pinto beans and sauerkraut until the first of the dandelions spring up in our yard. In a charming passage in their beautiful book of essays, Our Life in Gardens, Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd tell an old Vermonter neighbor that the scorned barberry bush was once a plant of great medicinal and edible value to early Americans. The neighbor scoffs "Well, in those days they had to eat just about anything they could find". Barberries are indeed a true garden scrounge.

For me, a garden scrounge just means the difference between eating well and eating indifferently (PBJ at home), or between eating well or eating expensively (restaurant food). But it is a wonderful thing to face the prospect of takeout pizza or jelly sandwiches, and realize that by your own gardening efforts you can scrounge up a tasty dinner. So last night, armed with a sharp knife, I crept around the garden in the waning light. I found a good handful asparagus as well as the first of the mint, and with the help of some butter this became a quick pasta sauce. I sprinkled it with finely sliced chives to finish, and the whole dish tasted bright and green, just like Spring itself. The tarragon is in full leaf, and I took a good amount of leaves to make a dressing for the tired old romaine lettuce wallowing in the vegetable bin. I thought about using the cold-frame lettuces (tom thumb and little gem) but we already had thinned out the first round for a nibble last weekend, so I let them alone. The romaine leaves almost tasted fresh with the delicate anise flavor of the tarragon clinging to every bite.

All in all it was a successful garden scrounge. Had it been a lazy Saturday instead of a tired Tuesday night, I could have even scrounged a dessert: stewed rhubarb. And if I wanted to put on airs, I could have garnished it with mint.

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