Grocery Garden

Grocery Garden is a blog (ok, mostly a vanity blog) about a little hobby that I have on the side. I have always been amazed at the variety of fresh foods that are available in modern supermarkets. At Grocery Garden, we'll plant some of these things in dirt and see what happens. We'll experiment, grow, harvest, cook, and eat what we can!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Antiquarian Cookbooks

Part of the Grocery Garden milieu is harvesting. Now I haven't had the experience of plucking my own ripe Valencia orange from a tree in our tiny living room, nor do I expect to have fresh home-grown Avocados for my omelet, but herbs and some spices do grow in a harvestable form small enough to actually enjoy. On the path to enjoyment is the craft of cooking, which I also take a liking to.

Having a fresh herb or two nearby opens up greener, wider range of tastes for the table. What recipe couldn't do better with an aromatic bouquet of minced fresh herbs and a decorative sprig of green, especially in the grey winter months? Seeing the little bits of edible shoots snug in their containers of dirt indoors can take the edge off of the snow shoveling chore. A little inspiration strikes to thumb through the shelf of cookbooks in my kitchen to see what stew and soup recipes have yet to be explored, modified, and served up in a belly-warming, sniffle-warding meal.

Cookbooks are important to me. I remember reading an article in some magazine that was a book review of a cookbook, or rather it was a review of reading cookbooks. What a strange activity, I thought, to have a cookbook on the nightstand and to read it as if it were a novel, maybe even with a glass of wine. But it dawned on me at that moment that it's the act of imagining the tastes, and smells, and textures boiling, broiling, baking together that is part of the creative act of cooking. Sure there's a beautiful, experimental ad hoc-ism that evolves new recipes as you have the wooden spoon in hand, but when you're driving with a particular confluence of flavors in mind, baking your 6th (or 16th!) apple pie that day, you're shooting for a repeatable recipe. Cookbooks bring the abstracted experiments of others to me for contemplation, for dissection, for cooking.

This weekend I happened to come across a treasure of a find.

Joanne Hendricks, Cookbooks.... and books about food and wine, etc.
antiquarian out of print unusual
488 Greenwich Street
New York, NY 10013

One of Joanne's friends suggests that she needs to start a blog, but she hasn't gotten around to it yet. Of course Google's still got a pointer on her bookselling activities. Her cozy street-level living-room-with-books-eMac-and-(and if I recall correctly)-cash-register is packed to the ceiling with ancient cookbooks and their kin. There were some Marcella Hazan oldies carefully wrapped in librarian-pleasing cellophane book jackets, and in the Asian/Chinese/Japanese section, a few bi-lingual ones where the main purpose was to impart Western preparation techniques to foreigners. Much to my surprise, there was even a Pearl S. Buck penned occupant on Asian cookery.

Alas, in the few minutes we were there, my ongoing search for a comprehensive Asian noodle dough recipe book still seemed fruitless. I'll be back on a solo reconnoiter mission to do a more thorough search. I'll bring my camera.

Copyright 2006. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Welcome to Grocery Garden

Grocery Garden is a blog (ok, mostly a vanity blog) about a little hobby that I have on the side. I have always been amazed at the variety of fresh foods that are available in modern supermarkets. Strolling the aisles of the local Whole Foods, one can find locally grown organic vegetables next to exotic fruits flown in from far off lands. The transportation and logicistics problems with getting fresh produce to market are easily taken for granted. If only that pineapple from Costa Rica could talk!

Growing up in the temperate, suburban Northeast of the US, I didn't have the experience of seeing these delicacies springing from the earth. Sure, my mom loved growing tomatoes and cucumbers in the vegetable garden, but buying the seedlings in their little black plastic six-pack trays seemed to be, well, a bit commercialized of a hobby. Nothing wrong with that! It's just I like doing things a bit off the beaten track. I also lack a large enough yard to mound over into a respectable garden. More recently, a friend introduced me to heirloom tomatoes and the deep patience and intense love that growers have for refining and isolating a new varietal. One day I hope to have that level of patience, free time, and arable land!

Until then, though I'll satisfy myself with this activity of being a Grocery Gardener. What is a GG? It's someone interested in seeing plants grow from seeds, clippings, roots, and tubers from the produce aisle! Of course there's no strict definition, and we'll investigate more in this blog, but if the idea of growing a little lychee tree from fresh lychee nuts from your grocery sounds intriguing, then read on. (ok, my first attempt at lychee trees ended when squirrels pulled up the waxy-leafed saplings, but we'll give it another go here at Grocery Garden.)

There are a few well known examples of grocery gardening. I vaguely recall some educational PBS TV program on taking some grapefruit seeds and germinating them in a clear glass of water. The main idea was to line a drinking glass with a paper towel, fill it with water and place the seeds so they were held against the glass by the quicker-picker-upper. Sure enough when I tried this many years ago, the seeds germinated. With my grade-school impatience and short attention span, I must have abandoned them after a few weeks. But that was the start of my interest in growing from produce.

Another often practiced technique of grocery gardening is the avocado. Lots of folks have germinated these rock hard, golf ball sized seeds suspended in water by a tripod of toothpicks. I lived in California for 5 years and managed to keep one growing for that entire time, transplanted to a pot, getting it to about nearly a meter tall. I had to give it away when I moved, where it survived for some time. Heck, it still may be alive and would be now 10 years old.

And of course there are onion, potato, and scallion farms scattered about kitchens across the country, both intentional science class projects and not.

So for those of you fortunate enough to pick your own mangoes (and never having to shovel snow off your walk) these blog musings will probably be a bit quaint. For the lucky you, delicately fermenting and desiccating the next exotic tomato seeds, my writings may be a naive and amateurish (heck, they will be regardless). If you have a farmhouse in the country, you may get a bit of a chuckle on how the other half tends to and tills a suburban potted garden. But if you have some crazed, childish curiosity like I do on keeping container gardens with unlikely occupants, then I hope to at least do that and keep you entertained with my progress. Thanks for reading!

Copyright 2005. All Rights Reserved.