Archive for the ‘Gardening’

Ripe, Not Quite, and Not Even Close

August 18, 2012
By Holly Jennings

I have some club news—newsier news than the ongoing ebb and flow of members coming and going, and the cycling through of new cookbooks: The Dowdy Corners Cookbook Club will no longer be based out of Dowdy Corners. All else will remain the same: the name (when Steiglitz’s 291 gallery changed address from its location from its original address of 291 Fifth Avenue, he kept the name—so I am too); the growing list of members (Bhakti and Marianne being the most recent to join); and the club’s function—to explore new foods and cooking techniques with a group of likeminded passionate cooks who love cookbooks.


I could stop writing here, and this posting would truly be just an update on club news, and the shortest posting to date. Instead, it may become the longest bit of writing on this blog, except perhaps my posting last year about a trip to France, a place that encourages wordy praise. Aside from poetry, which I do not write, how is it possible to describe the impact of three life-changing years in 500 words or less, the length of a typical blog posting?




The house at Dowdy Corners is a 1940s cape which, being built on an older (more…)

Epazote in a Vermont Garden

August 21, 2011
By Holly Jennings

Epazote in the garden at Dowdy Corners, planted in and among the arugula

A couple of books ago, Dowdy Corners Cookbook Club was thick in the middle of Mexican cooking, and it was my chance to find out what the herb epazote is all about. It’s usually described as being quintessential to the cooking of Mexico and as having a distinctive and pungent flavor so unique that no other herb will do; recipe writers eschew substitutions of any kind, saying it’s better to omit, if you don’t have it.

If you don’t live in an area with markets that cater to Mexicans, the only opportunity you’ll have to try it, particularly when fresh, is to grow it yourself. So, against all odds of having something leafy and green to work with before the club moved on to the next book, I ordered epazote seeds in February, when we started cooking from The Art of Mexican Cooking, planted them in seed starter pots, and stuck then in my window sill. (more…)

Establishing Asparagus Beds in Uncertain Times

June 30, 2011
By Holly Jennings

Nearly three years ago, Mike and I became first-time home owners, and first-time asparagus cultivators. The first spring at our new house, we had big and exciting plans for gardening and planting, and at the top of list was establishing an asparagus bed: It seems like something you do when you own a property—a given, a natural, and exciting benefit of owning some terra firma. It is not something most do as renters.

That is why I’m impressed with Barbara Kingsolver’s magnanimous, renegade, and altruistic philosophy of establishing asparagus beds, described in her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Throughout her asparagus-loving “Johnny-Asparagus-seed life,” she has created beds in all sorts of places—in the property of every house she’s owned and some that she’s rented, and even in “tiny urban lots and students ghettos”—leaving behind her a wake of good eating for others to benefit from for up to twenty or thirty years, if only some basic care and maintenance is given to the beds.

Psychologically, the more transient state of mind associated with the renting life doesn’t suit itself to growing asparagus. After doing the labor-intensive work of establishing the beds you need to wait until at least the second season, and if you follow Barbara Kingsolver’s advice, the third season, before enjoying the benefits of your labor.

The work involves digging trenches and filling them with good compost. (Asparagus like a rich soil.) In our case, before even getting to the trench digging stage, we had to first remove sod, shake as much top soil as we could off the sod, dig out numerous rocks (Dowdy Corners is in Vermont, where, as the saying goes, “it good for growing rocks”) and numerous deep dandelion roots, and mix in compost and some lime to raise the PH. It wasn’t easy.


Growing Heat-Loving Vegetables in the North

December 07, 2010
By Holly Jennings

An okra flower

I decided to plant okra in the garden this summer because I love all the cuisines that use it: Indian, Middle Eastern, Southern U.S, plus Mediterranean and Caribbean (and there are probably others). I’ve eaten it prepared different ways in restaurants but, before this summer, had cooked it just once at home. My plan was to grow lots of it and then become adept at preparing it different ways.

What do all of these cuisines have in common? They all originate in a warm climate. If this was not enough to deter me, you’d think these two characteristics of okra, of which I was fully aware, would have kept me from trying to grow it: okra does not like temperatures below 45 or 50°F and doesn’t like to be transplanted, eliminating the usual solution of using starters to extend Vermont’s short growing season.

Because as a gardener I’m a comedy of errors, my harvest was enough to make the equivalent of one dish of okra. In retrospect, I suppose the only way to have gotten a decent crop would have been to create a protected environment with a mini hoop house, or some such thing (a cold frame, perhaps?), in both the spring and late summer. By the time the plants were mature enough to yield okra, the summer was almost over.

Another lesson I learned, which I suggest to anyone planning to grow okra, is to plant a fair number of plants—a dozen at least. I had six plants and found that I never had enough okra to make a dish. Because okra toughens when allowed to grow too large—they should be picked when they’re about 4 inches in length—I made an effort to pick them almost daily. The problem is that there would only be a few ready to pick at any given time. By the time I’d accumulated enough for a dish, the first okra I’d picked would no longer be fresh. That was when I realized I would need to blanch and freeze as I picked.