Archive for the ‘Gardening in the Upper South’

Okra—Now and Then, Again

September 22, 2016
By Holly Jennings

Hill Country Heirloom Red Okra

Hill Country Red Okra in my garden, mid-September

It was inevitable that I would to learn to how to prepare okra right about now. But that’s exactly how I knew it would be back when I planted okra seeds in my garden plot earlier this summer. That’s one of the great things about having a garden: it forces you to deal. If there is a vegetable you want to become familiar with in the kitchen, plant it in your garden. A pot in a courtyard or on a balcony will do just as well. Then, weeks, maybe months, later, the vegetable will have migrated from the soil to your kitchen counter, and finally into one of your cooking pots.


You may or may not have had ideas for the preparation of the vegetable when you planted it, and even if you did, a lot can happen along the way from seed to produce. I had pickles in mind when I planted my seeds, and, for that reason, of the two heirloom varieties I planted, Cajun Jewel and Hill Country Red, I was especially excited about the latter, described as (more…)

Smothered Cabbage

May 06, 2016
By Holly Jennings

Overwintered cabbage, refusing to be contained it its square-foot home

Overwintered cabbage, refusing to be contained in its square-foot home

Last weekend, when looking for a recipe to smother an unruly head of overwintered cabbage into delectable submission, I came across these can-do words in Mary Randolph’s book The Virginia Housewife Or, Methodical Cook:


It will much ameliorate the flavor of strong old cabbages, to boil them in two waters, i.e., when they are half done, to take them out, and put them into another sauce pan of boiling water.


Boy have I got one of those, I thought to myself.


The specimen I had in mind to test Randolph’s method was eight months old, and had been growing in my garden plot since last summer when I direct sowed some Early Flat Dutch cabbage seeds, hoping for a late fall harvest. I misjudged timing and gave the poor dears too late of a start to reach their cabbage potential before the first frost came—even though in Richmond, Virginia, that can be as late as late October. When it was time to prep the plot for winter, they were just one-tenth of their cabbage selves, but I didn’t have the heart to (more…)

Overwintered Mustard Greens

April 16, 2016
By Holly Jennings

Mustard greens in garden and in bowl copy


Overwintered mustard greens. Lovely sounding, isn’t it? I love what those three words evoke: a food with a stand-up-and-take-notice personality and a patina of flavor possible only after enduring hardship—the freezing depths of winter.


Right about now, you might find OMGs featured on the menu of some season-driven, farm-to-table restaurant in some food-lively town, along with other locally grown or foraged foods described with equally telling adjectives that marshal a world of artisanal food production: hand-pressed, pickled, preserved, house-cured, tree-ripened, aged, fermented, cellared.


But that’s not where I spotted my over-wintered mustard greens. I found them in my community garden plot early last month, after a premature burst of overly warm weather spun me into a frenzied gardening mode.


After a spate of seventy-degree days, off my husband and I went to our plot to prepare it for spring planting. That was when I discovered the mustard greens that I’d left in the ground last fall as an experiment had made through the winter admirably well. That was in mid-March.


Since then we’ve had two hard frosts, which had me scurrying back to the garden to throw plastic over the small seedlings that had begun to emerge, like tadpoles, around the (more…)

On the Verge with Salted Herbs

March 15, 2016
By Holly Jennings

Salted Herbs (photo by Sonia Lacasse)

Salted Herbs (photo by Sonia Lacasse)


There is comfort in stasis, in trees that are barren, and fields that are resting.


In those frozen, darker times, time is generous. You can make it your own and, with inexpensive switch-button illumination, it’s easy for everyone to make more of it.


Then comes the notion of soft rains falling—not yet falling, but soon, way too soon.


A frantic anticipation of springtime deadlines sets in: seeds must be ordered, seedlings started, ground prepared, planting schedules established. Time is no longer your own.


Fall harvest is the other time Mother Nature snaps a whip. Sometimes she offers extensions, but not always, and not any that you can count on.


Once the food from the garden is harvested, most of the work shifts to the kitchen, my first home. Cleaned and prepped, then blanched and frozen, dried, canned, or fermented, there’s a lot of work to be done, but the payoff is greater.


During the unpressured off-season months, all that you need to do to enjoy your hard work is (more…)

Holly’s Cow Peas — Authentic Country Cooking

October 13, 2015
By Holly Jennings

Holly's Cow Peas

It’s honest, simple food that speaks plainly of its origins, its parts, and aspirations. It’s the humblest of food that fit for a king, and it’s startlingly delicious.


Like Hank William’s “Lost Highway,” it’s direct and from the heart; it cannot tell a lie. Like the vernacular dogtrot house or Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water, it springs naturally from its place, its environment.

Dogtrot house

Dogtrot house



That’s what authentic country cooking is, and that’s what Holly’s Cow Peas are. Or, at least, they’re made in the spirit of authentic country cooking. The browned onion topping and garnish of chopped parsley probably never appeared on a bowl of cow peas back in the day, but this is now.


Country cooking’s unfussy ways are the secret to its success and the root of our modern day disappointment with it: More than any other type of cooking, it’s only as good as the ingredients used.


That’s why the food revival going on in the South right now is so (more…)