Saturday, April 5, 2014

David Beneman: Garden-to-Table


Here is another post about friends and their gardens. David and Chris Beneman have cultivated their land on the Scarborough marsh for close to 25 years. When he is not being Federal Public Defender for the District of Maine, or on his bike, David is out in the garden. Both Chris and David are great cooks and take vegetable cultivation seriously!


 Here is what he grows: 

"My vegetable gardening dates back about 30 years. I have consistently used raised beds. Our current garden is in Scarborough, near the marsh and so the surrounding soils are wet and heavy.  When I dug the beds I removed all of the soil and put about 2" of coarse sand in the bottom of each bed, then back filled them entirely with organic compost.  The rows are lined with landscape fabric covered with wood chips, designed to minimize weeding. I utilize black plastic mulch for the heat loving plants. The entire garden is surrounded by a 6' fence which has deterred most critters except racoons, who come the night before I plan to pick corn. My solution has been to stop planting corn.

Our choice of vegetables and quantity varies depending on who is living at home. For many years we canned, particularly tomato sauce, salsas, pickles and jams. In the last few years with fewer people at home we have not been canning and have reduced the number of tomato plants considerably. We have dedicated one full bed to asparagus, half green, half purple. We love carrots and grow a full bed, which normally lasts us until sometime in January. Another bed is potatoes, all blue or Adirondack blue, Adirondack red or Red Gold, Yukon Gold and Banana fingerlings. Cole crops seem to attract too many cabbage lopers and I now limit them to Brussel sprouts (one green and one purple, usually from the farmer’s market) and green and purple cabbage.

I buy my tomatoes seedlings at the farmers market so I can easily have a multitude of varieties. We have had great success in recent years with grape and cherry tomatoes in red, orange and yellow. I like Celebrity as a main crop medium slicer and also Jetstar. We have much better success with medium size, rather than “beefstake” varieties. I add a yellow slicer such as Taxi, and several heirlooms like
Brandywine. Roma has consistently been our best cooking tomato, along with Tiptop which can be used fresh or cooked. I buy most of my seeds from Pinetree in New Gloucester.  I like that they are a small Maine company, I get good service, and they sell small packets that are perfect for the home size garden at very reasonable prices, most less than $2 per package. I appreciate Johnny’s and especially their pelleted seeds for carrots and lettuces which improves spacing, but the cost is measurably higher.  Other seeds companies I like are High Mowing in Vermont who have all organic seed, Territorial Seeds in Oregon and locally at Allen Sterling and Lothrop store in Falmouth, a good spot for seed potatoes, onion sets, and bulk peas, as well as tools, wooden plant labels and related supplies.  Cooks looking for specialty seed and willing to pay a small premium should consider John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds.

Here are David's favorites for their Maine garden:
-I tend toward bush beans, green, yellow and purple. I am partial to slender “haricots verts” and plant Maxibel (59 days and strong germination). A smaller but early variety is Lynx (53 days). There are now both purple and yellow French beans but I find the purple turn a “camo green” color when cooked and are less appealing. I may try Soleil, a yellow this year (60 days).

Recipe: Saute a medium chopped shallot until translucent, add some chopped chives (including flowers if available), add beans and a touch of white wine to steam, salt and pepper. Remove from heat as soon as beans get a bright green, only a minute or two is steaming is needed, keep them crisp. Garnish with nasturtium flowers.

-Beets are one of our garden favorites. I am particularly fond of Chioggia which feature a red and white pinwheel pattern, and Golden. Both have tops that make nice greens and the beets themselves are flavorful and add wonderful color to an dish. Unlike the more common red beets, neither of these “bleed” so the dish is not dominated by red beet juice.

Favorite way to cook beets: I try and pull the beets at golf ball or smaller size. Peel, slice and saute alone or in any vegetable combination. Saute a small onion or shallot with a diced strip of smoked bacon, add sliced beets, cook until they soften but are still al dente, then add the chopped stems and leaves, wilt and finish with a splash of maple syrup.

-Okra is not a common vegetable in Maine and frozen varieties or poor cooking have given it a bad reputation. Try Red Burgundy (55 days from seed once the soil is warm). The plants and flowers are stunning and the pods are a great color and should be picked at about the size of your pinkie or smaller so they are not woody. Clemson Spineless grow well for green okra.
How to cook okra: I use okra in two primary ways, grilled and chopped in stir fry. We have a stainless steel square “wok” type basket made by Webber for the grill. About $20 at most hardware stores that carry Webber grills. Slice two onions into rings, toss lightly in a bowl with olive oil, seasoning, trimmed okra pods along with cubed eggplant and peppers. Preheat the wok on the grill and then dump the vegetables in, stirring occasionally with tongs. Cook until onions and eggplant are tender, generally about 5-7 minutes on medium heat.

-I plant 6 to 8 types of carrots. I sort the seed packets by maturity date and plant in rows
from earliest to latest to expedite harvest. Early season thinings come from all varieties. Beyond the traditional deep orange, (Napoli, Mokum, Nelson, Sugarsnax, I like to include Cosmic Purple, and Rainbow to give us a range of colors.

Carrots with Ginger: Slice carrots into rounds, steam and finish with grated fresh ginger and curry powder, or with ginger syrup. Keep the carrots crisp by taking them off the heat before they are soft. Ginger syrup is available at specialty stores or can be made at home. To two cups of water add two cups of sugar and about a 6 inch piece of ginger peeled and finely diced. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about an hour. Strain the finished liquid for a clearer syrup. Use half brown sugar for a deeper color and fuller flavor.

-Another garden favorite is Edamame. These are grown very similarly to bush beans. We have good results with Envy (75 days) planting the same as beans once the soil is warm. We steam the pods and toss with just a touch of butter, salt and pepper serving them right in the pods."

Important note: All the wonderful photography in this post taken by the Beneman Family.

No comments:

Post a Comment