Gardening Guidance from Ellen Ecker Ogden
Cookbook author and garden designer Ellen Ecker Ogden and I met when we were still teenagers, starting out at William Smith College in Geneva, New York. We next met in the late 90s, when Ellen was the co-founder of the The Cook’s Garden seed catalog and we were standing in the middle of a field at The Farm at South Mountain in Phoenix, Arizona learning about biodynamic farming during a Chefs Collaborative retreat organized by Oldways. Since then, she's written four books, including her newest, The Complete Kitchen Garden, featuring 15 theme gardens and 100 recipes for vegetable gardeners who seek creative ideas and organic techniques for growing their own food.
We're happy to include Ellen and her talents in our blog through the Q&A below. And we're pleased to celebrate her recent award from The Massachusetts Horticulture Society where she was honored on September 8th for her contributions to the vegetable garden through her books and lectures.
Sara: What are a few starter tips you would share with a person who has never grown their own garden?
Ellen: Start with a design. Think about the location and how it integrates with your landscape and how it will fit into your daily routine. And when you prepare the garden area, think long term. Make sure that it is on level ground, that weeds are completely removed (without using chemicals) and that you build the soil with compost and aged manure (from a local farm and not from bags). Finally, have fun. Too often we think of a garden as work, so create a space where you want to spend time. Add a bench for simply sitting and observing nature as it lives in your garden.
Sara: If someone has a very small plot and wants to begin gardening, are there a few must-grow ingredients you would recommend?
Ellen: Since we can buy so many delicious foods from local farmers, I like to focus on growing the foods that I can’t buy – or at least that I like to eat every day when the farmers' market is not open. This includes lettuce and salad greens, collards, chard, plus a full range of fresh culinary herbs. These are all easy to sow, grow quickly and produce high yields for a small space. Forget about “space hogs” such as squash, corn and even potatoes which are fun to grow, but take away too much space from other crops.
Sara: What new plant surprised and challenged you this summer?
Ellen: I always try something new and this year I grew magnificent artichokes from plants that were started in early spring, and were ready with buds in mid-July. I also grew edamame from seeds that a friend saved, which produced a small harvest considering the amount of space the plants required. I typically grow different mesclun greens all summer, yet this year the heat wave made it hard to germinate the seeds.
Sara: It's great to see information about preserving the bounty through canning in your book. That truly is the old ways. What are you canning this year?
Ellen: When I first began to garden in the early 80’s, we raised all of our own food and I was a slave in the kitchen all summer, canning at the stove and freezing fruits and vegetables. Now, I focus mostly on condiments that will make winter more enjoyable such as ginger peach chutney, dill pickles, and a full range of jams. I freeze vegetables and fruits from my garden, and store onions, garlic and other root crops in the cool basement.
Sara: And of course it does come back to the foods we eat, so what is a favorite recipe (or two) that you might share with our readers?
Ellen: Here are two recipes, a soup and salad, that I made this past week.
Quinoa Salad with Arugula and Lemon Vinaigrette
For a refreshing splash of summer, use this lemony vinaigrette dressing on a variety of spring greens; it is especially good for bringing out the tart notes in arugula.
1 cup vegetable stock or water
1 cup quinoa
1 cup dry green lentils
½ cup Lemon Vinaigrette ( see below)
4 cups fresh arugula or mesclun greens, washed and dried
6 scallions or 1 shallot, coarsely chopped
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled (optional)
1. In a medium saucepan, bring the stock or water to a boil. Add the quinoa, cover, and simmer until all the liquid has been absorbed, about 10 minutes.
2. In a separate saucepan, cover the lentils with enough water to cover them by 1 inch, and simmer over medium heat until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain any excess water and cool.
3. In a large salad bowl, combine the lentils and couscous and toss with half the lemon vinaigrette. Cool at room temperature or refrigerate until ready to serve.
4. Just before serving, coarsely chop the arugula and combine it with the lentils and couscous, along with the scallions, cherry tomatoes, and cucumbers. Crumble on the feta cheese, and add more dressing, to taste.
Makes 1/2 cup
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 cloves garlic, mashed
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Combine all the ingredients in a Mason jar (or any jar) with a lid. Shake to blend until emulsified. Set aside until the salad is prepared.
Citrus and Golden Tomato Gazpacho
Beautiful and delicious, this easy summer soup will quickly be a favorite. Hand chop vegetables or combine the ingredients in a food processor. Chill, and serve garnished with lemon basil.
1 ripe peach (or navel orange), peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup orange juice
2 yellow tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 sweet bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1 cucumber, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/2 sweet onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup sweet basil leaves
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 small hot red cayenne pepper
1. Peel and quarter the peach (or orange), and combine with orange juice, tomatoes, peppers, cucumber, onion and garlic in a blender. Pulse to coarsely chop.
2. Add the basil, olive oil, vinegar, pepper and pulse to blend, either until smooth or keep a few chunks for texture.
3. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 1 hour. Garnish with croutons.