Winter is the time when seed and plant catalogs flood our mailboxes, helping us to rid the winter blues.
Text and photos by Laurie Beth Gills
You know the feeling. It’s the New Year. We’ve made it past the glitz and glamour of the holiday season, and now are faced with the dead of winter.
Then, like clockwork, gardening catalogs begin to sprout and appear. You wonder. Is it spring? No, merely February. But you’ve already collected a generous stack of these eye-popping magazines that now sit on your coffee table. You take a seat, rummage through to find the most attractive one, flip it open, and ta-da, your winter blues have magically melted away. The seed has been successfully planted.
Seed and plant companies know exactly when to pick up our winter doldrums. Is it a conspiracy or do they really understand a gardener’s curiosity and how highly we enjoy browsing through their captivating photos? Such fun checking off the small blocks bordering the order forms – naturally, accompanied with a warm cup of tea.
Although we relish in these warm and comfy moments, convenience in today’s modern world makes good sense. We can now see a fast growing number of catalogs on the web. It’s available, user-friendly and can also be entertaining. Still, while it’s unquestionably speedy and efficient, to me, there’s nothing better on a cold and dreary day, than to leisurely page through a favorite garden catalog.
Another confession. Between all of the limitless selections catalogs seem to offer, I particularly look forward to the heirloom seed section. They inspire gardeners of all ages to delve deep into history. Bridging together people, places and events of the past.
Romantic nostalgia? Why surely. There certainly is something to say about starting your own family tradition that you can pass on to the next generation, preserving history, and producing some of the most attractive fruits and vegetables. Their unique shapes and colors coupled with vibrant, out-of-this-world tastes are sure to please anyone’s palate.
I can recall just a few years back when seeking out high-quality sustainable seed companies presented a slight challenge. Referring back to today’s modern times, finding organic, sustainable companies that sell high-quality seeds and provide detailed varietal information are readily available and should be a top priority for gardeners.
With an abundance to choose from, selecting which catalog to order from can be a bit overwhelming—especially for beginner gardeners. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Johnny’s Selected Seeds (www.johnnyseedsonlinecatalog.com)
- Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (www.southernexposure.com)
- Gourmet Seed International (www.gourmetseed.com)
- Monticello Historic Seeds (www.monticelloshop.org)
- Territorial Seed Company (www.territorialseed.com)
Other excellent gardening resources are available at your local Cooperative Extension office and Farmers Market. Consider these great venues to gather advice and boost your gardening confidence. And it’s quite the social scene!
This past fall I found myself perusing through Charlottesville’s own downtown City Market. I stumbled (and thankfully so) across the most breathtakingly beautiful mushrooms I had ever laid eyes on. Honestly, no exaggeration here. North Cove Mushrooms, located in Madison County, Virginia is where you’ll find these tender treasures year round. Inspired by the Golden and Blue Oyster mushrooms, I recently made a mushroom essence paired with a hearty wild rice blend for the Montpelier Races. (I can taste it now just thinking about it).
So don’t be shy. Ask away. You never know what you’ll discover. And trust me, experienced gardeners thrive on giving advice!
I’ve also grown quite fond and a bit spoiled with my latest kale harvest.
When it comes to cool weather planting, I’m usually guaranteed most success with kale. It’s quite easy to grow, and so because of this, I like to experiment with different varieties. This year I was happy to see a White Russian assortment at the farmers market. I drove back home to Fredericksburg and immediately planted them in my vegetable garden. Deliciously sweet and satisfying! I started out with a few recipes so not to grow bored. Interestingly though, how the palate sometimes works, I became hooked on one recipe, and boy did I run with it— never growing tired.
Slow Cooked Kale
Overcooked greens? Why certainly. I grew up with an Italian mother, and excellent cook. Whenever she made greens, any type, she cooked them for at least thirty minutes or longer which adds a greater depth of flavor and richness. Serve these kale greens with crisp bread and roasted, warm garlic. The result is palate boggling!
2 roasted garlic bulbs – see recipe below
3 Tbsps. olive oil, plus additional for drizzle
2 shallots – thinly sliced
2 tsp. (more or less) garden dry, hot pepper flakes
2 tsp. rosemary – finely chopped; divided
Pinch of Kosher salt and fresh black pepper
2 bunches of kale (whichever variety looks best at market) – tough stems removed; rough chopped
½ cup each, water and chicken broth (adding extra if needed)
Toasted crisp baguette – sliced or simply pulled apart
Off-the-block, Parmesan cheese bits and pieces (optional)
First, roast the garlic. When complete, set aside.
Thoroughly wash and dry kale, then chop.
In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add shallots and preferred amount of pepper flakes. Cook for 2 – 3 minutes, stirring often, until the shallots soften.
Add 1 teaspoon of rosemary and season with salt and pepper. Continue to cook over medium heat for about 1 minute.
Raise the cooking temperature to medium/high and carefully add the kale. Stir well, as the kale will cook down. Drizzle additional oil on top of kale while continuing to stir. Continue to cook for 1-2 minutes.
Next, add water and chicken broth combo, bringing to a boil. Adjust heat to a simmer and partially cover with a lid, stirring occasionally. Continue to cook for 20 – 30 minutes, or until most liquid is absorbed. (Add more liquid if wish to cook longer).
To serve, smear roasted garlic paste onto crisp, warm bread toast then top with slow cooked kale and cheese bits.
For the garlic:
Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Slice off about 1/3 tops of each garlic bulb. Arrange garlic, cut side up in a small baking dish or in a pocket shaped piece of aluminum foil. Season with salt and pepper. Slowly drizzle about ½ Tbsp. olive oil over each head, seeping down through the bulb. Cover dish or close and secure foil and roast for about 1 hour. Cloves will be soft. Rest until cool enough to handle.
Although the seed has undoubtedly been planted by clever businesses, in truth, it turns out to be a win-win for all. Most importantly is our shared Mother Earth.
From my earliest memories, these catalogs have led me to believe in the natural connection between seasonal gardening cycles and of our own personal lives. I believe that we are always in synch and instill an inner light of inspiration and positive energy, even during the coldest months of the year.
Laurie Beth Gills
Chef and Master Gardener
For more articles from the Winter issue, visit the Piedmont Virginian website: http://www.thepiedmontonline.com/index.cfm