Do You Know How To Eat What You Grow?
By Penn Parmenter:
Thirty years ago I found a book that completely changed my perspective on growing and eating food. It started traditions of putting chopped up Purslane in chicken salad, chomping on young radish seedpods, covering my boys’ birthday cakes with edible flowers, and snacking on baby Lamb’s Quarters in the woods.
Way ahead of her time, Sylvia Thompson wrote the delightfully creative and funny, The Kitchen Garden Cookbook in the 1990s. She traveled the world in search of culinary wonders and introduced new and exotic flavors long before TikTok ever existed.
I know many rely on the Internet to find recipes now, but sometimes old-school is best. This book taught me to use much more of a plant for cooking than we are used to. Her recipes elevate the most common foods to elegant meals.
Here are a few of her recipe titles that speak for themselves: Linguini with Flowering Broccoli, Bolting Lettuce Soup, Jerusalem Artichokes Merlot. Fresh Pea Pie, Indian Lentils with Good King Henry, Ribbons of Pasta with Ribbons of Sorrel and Herbs, Orach on English Muffins.
When broccoli or bok choy bolts in the heat, chop up all aerial parts of the plant and cook into a pureed, creamy soup. You can eat the ‘wrapper leaves’ of broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts any way you like for an ultra nutritious meal.
Purslane is at its best early in the season, but sometimes sprouts again in the fall. Say hello to a healthy dose of Omega 3 Fatty Acids with a juicy, citrusy flavor. If flowering or going to seed, only use the leaves; if young and fresh, chop it all up, sans roots. You can order seeds of the larger leafed Golden Purslane from seed companies like Territorial or Johnny’s.
Tomatoes, apples, and onions are ready to harvest at the same time. Thompson uses them all in a delectable Tomato chutney.
8 quarts chopped ripe, peeled tomatoes, about 32 large
4 cups chopped onions, about 4 large
4 cups chopped peeled green apples, tart and juicy, about 5 large
2 pounds half dark (preferably seeded) muscat grapes, half golden
3 pints cider vinegar
3 pounds brown sugar, half light, half dark, about 6 1/2 cups firmly packed
2 Tbs ground cloves
1 Tbs ground allspice
3-5 Tbs salt to taste
11/2 tsp cayenne pepper to taste
1/4 cup mustard seeds
Mix everything in a big nonreactive kettle. Simmer over low heat, stirring frequently, until very thick and dark – at least three hours. Pack, seal, and store, letting the chutney ripen for at least 2 months before serving.
My favorite pizza crust recipe comes from Molly Katzen’s The Moosewood Cookbook and it has passed the test of time. Anything can go on a pizza. Shred zucchini or cabbage, grate carrots, rehydrate dried mushrooms, ribbon some kale and top it all with freshly chopped oregano, thyme, and parsley.
If you’ve never made elk or venison pizza, hold on tight! Instead of ground, I use what we call a ‘hunk of meat’ cut into small pieces, marinated in tamari, and seared in a hot, cast iron pan until they brown to crispy edges. I caramelize onions long and slow, and marinate mushrooms in my favorite vinegar (balsamic or Spanish sherry) then roast them to deepen the flavor. I puree frozen tomatoes and spread it on the crust with the back of a spoon. I top the pizza with chopped raw garlic; it sinks into the cheese and doesn’t burn.
My mom used to make ‘Stew in a Pumpkin’. Both my parents were fabulous, innovative cooks who loved to throw dinner parties and make grand presentations. A roasted whole pumpkin filled with delicious stew was one of her specialties.
Choose the most ideal medium-sized pumpkin that will sit up straight on its own. (All winter squash need to be cured for at least two weeks after harvest and before eating, so let it finish off inside before going straight from vine to table.) Make your best rich, robust stew—vegetarian or meaty. Use any combination of fall root vegetables. My mom used beef AND sausage links, searing them before adding to the stew.
Cut the pumpkin top as you would for a jack-o-lantern, with the opening at an angle so the piece can fit back on without falling in. Clean out seeds and goo. (Roast them, but leave goo on for added flavor.) Place the pumpkin on a sheet or roasting pan, carefully fill with hot stew and replace the lid. My mom was tiny and did this on a pulled-out oven shelf so she didn’t have to lift it into the oven. Slide the shelf back in and roast at 325-350° for at least 1-2 hours or until the pumpkin is cooked but still has integrity. Test the pumpkin wall with a knife high at the top so you don’t spring a leak. Use a large spoon to scrape cooked pumpkin flesh along with the stew to serve. To die for!
Fall in the garden means getting your chef’s hat on. One of the most fulfilling parts of growing food in Colorado is eating it!
Penn & Cord Parmenter garden and grow food and seed near Westcliffe. Both are regional high-altitude gardening instructors and the founders of Smart Greenhouses LLC and Miss Penn's Mountain Seeds. Visit pennandcordsgarden.com
Sylvia Thompson is a prolific writer and cook. Her books are available to order and she maintains a blog regularly. sylviathompsonsblog.com