Friday, May 27, 2011

GARDENING 2011

I’ve signed up again for the Springfield Community Garden and I’m excited about getting that rolling. This year I promised myself to NOT miss the starter class like I did last year. I drove out to the Senior Center in the pouring rain and sat for 20 minutes for someone to show up before finally checking my voice mail only to discover the class was cancelled. Geesh. At least, I still made it out to the garden opening day the following Sunday. It was nice to meet some of the other gardeners and find out what they have planned for this summer.

Last year we didn’t really see many of the others out at the garden but it feels as though the organizers are trying harder to make more connections among us. For me, that is what makes a community garden better than just having a plot of dirt somewhere that one would tend alone. Maybe it is odd to think of gardening as a social thing, but for me I’d rather be out working and chatting with the neighbors than being a solitary person digging in the dirt.

Over the past few weeks I have been picking up seed packets and it suddenly occurs to me that I have to actually PLANT them so they will sprout. It has been so dreary during this spring that seed planting seemed a long way off, but all of a sudden the sun is out, it’s time to start planting in the ground and OOPS my plants are still in seed versions!

One evening a week or so ago, I spent an hour getting a few things in pots and some seeds into dirt and set out to catch a little sunshine. Then it rained. And rained again. And then it poured. My poor seeds are literally swimming in their pots. A week later and they are only just beginning to dry out but to my utter amazement there are actually sprouts popping out of the muck!

Planting day in the actual garden will be in the next couple of weeks, so here's hoping my little seedlings are hearty enough to move by then.  Meanwhile, I did what everyone should do when planting time is upon them and they've given no thought to the process - I went to Becker's Cottage Herbs and bought plants.  $50 and an hour running around Jan's greenhouses, I came home with about 20 tomato plants, a couple of peppers, some chard, bok choy, and all my little herbs. 

If I'm lucky, between what sprouts in my muck trays and what I got from Jan will produce enough to keep me busy this summer.  I recall talk from the garden organizers of maybe a mass group planting of corn which sounds terrific to me.  I love corn and since so many farmers are struggling this year to get planted, the price of purchased sweet corn could be prohibitive. 

CORN COB PIPES
Now, speaking of corn - I had a conversation with the garden organizers about corn and what we do with it when it's in season.  I shared a secret which I learned during my culinary schooling that is so simple and so common sense and yet is so not considered by anyone that cooks corn on the cob. 

The question - what to do with the corn cobs?  I'll bet that 99.9 percent of you will say you toss them in a compost pile or into the trash.  I did the same thing up until about 8 years ago when I learned to make Corn Stock.

Yes, I said Corn Stock. 

Hidden underneath those lovely little kernels of sweet corn is a cob that is full of flavor if we would just coax it out.  When I am done eating my corn off the cobs, those cobs go directly back into the same pot I cooked them in, add a bit more water and then cook them for another 45 minutes to an hour.  No need to add anything more to the pot, just the water and the cobs - and an hour later you have sweet corn nectar.

And yes, I use the cobs right off my plate after I've chewed the corn off.  By the time these cobs are finished boiling away, any of my icky cooties are gone from the pot.  However, if you're cutting the corn off the cob, please do the same and use these up!

I put this stock into containers and store it in the freezer for soup making in the fall and winter.  This is truly hoarding the summer bounty for use in the cold, dreary months of winter.  Use corn stock instead of chicken stock to make vegetable soups or to give extra flavor for vegetarian dishes instead of using plain water. 

Dreaming of fields of sweet corn!
By far my favorite use of corn stock is to make Corn Chowder.  I'm not going to share a recipe for this here today since it's spring and chowder is meant for cooler weather (at least for me). 

Do yourselves a favor over the summer and delay tossing those corn cobs into the compost until you're sure you've extracted all the goodness from them that Mother Nature provided. 

Meanwhile - I think it's time to really consider those corn rows in the community garden........

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