Not long ago "gardening" called to mind back pain, farmer's tan, insect bites, certo stews and old ladies stock piling green tomato pickle. Somewhere along the way "organic" and "sustainability" were grafted to garden nomenclature and the list continues to swell.... "locavores"? Throw in a thriving and resilient recession and now, all hell has broken loose. How wrong can you go when a seed packet fetches $2.79? It's on Oprah's lips, cropping up in the Obama's back forty and around the corner from you at the Farmer's Market. The garden movement is gaining momentum. The New York Times estimated that 10 million people will plant gardens for the first time in 2009. Could it be that gardening is becoming.....in vogue?
Let's cast the Birkenstocks and compost journal aside for a moment and add design aesthetics to this renewed guise of gardening. As a trained landscape architect I'm intrigued with marrying food producing plantings with the existing engineered environment. The architecture of these edibles is fascinating; long stalks of artichoke, bulbous gourds pendulously posing toward the ground, the rhythm created by rows of delicate lettuce leaves, clumsy eggplants in formal urns and purple headed chives in a battle of scale with their cousins the alliums. These plants perform two tasks simultaneously; posing as cheeky but sophisticated accents in any landscape and providing a valuable food source. Purple cabbage heads would be an awesome spectacle tucked between my rows of boxwoods .....but come harvest, how much Borscht will I have to make as not to waste my bounty? (......And to make my Great Depression savvy granny, Phee proud. There is an entire story here that needs to be written on recycling bleach bottles into crochet panelled sunhats and the gentle art of reusing cellophane). But, back to the issue of Borscht and sustainability.
Before the ramps of spring appear I need to define an edible plant palette that will knit into my existing yard with an aesthetic nod to design and equal to the practical consumption of my brood. I hatched a plan. It was at this point that I do believe that my husband began to worry that the Chardonnay that I had given up for New Years was beginning to exhibit side effects of weird. What better way to illustrate the frequency of vegetables, herbs and fruits that are consumed in my house than to reference the recipes from which I cook!
I'm a Barefoot Contessa fan and the majority of my meals derive from Ina Garten's tomes. Each of her recipes are complete with a glossy photograph of the finished dish and a heartfelt commentary on the provenance of the recipe. I happily scoured each of her 6 volumes taking notes and tally of every vegetable, herb and fruit she referenced in EVERY SINGLE ONE OF HER RECIPES. Isn't it amazing what one can accomplish on the gym's treadmill? Yes, I ran and catalogued through the "Barefoot Contessa Cookbook", picked up the pace through "Parties!", "Back to Basics" saw me through mile five, I hunkered down through "Paris" and finally hit the homestretch for "At Home". Crossing the finish line with "Family Style" in hand and after seven miles I was hungry to feed my findings into Excel and see what would sprout up.
Before I divulge my findings, I will state a caveat- I did not make note of foods that would not prosper with ease in the Northeast (my plant zone). So, if you are reading this with a Kalik in hand or from your hammock in Key West, go find a treadmill and account for melons, the entire citrus family and don't forget the avocados.
My Ina findings were prolific and brilliantly displayed the high frequency combination of vegetables, herbs and fruit that would have the best chance for consumption in my jardin potager. What a delight! It was as if Ina herself (and perhaps Jeffery to help take the load to the car) were at Home Depot with me confidently plucking the envelopes from the enormous and overwhelming wall of seed packets. Pie charts would have been wonderfully fun and apropos to illustrate with but blogspot wasn't compatible with the likes of Excel. So, without getting too detailed, here's what I found.
The top five vegetable families in Ina's recipes were:
Ina's highest frequency of herbs were:
Finally, fruits that were most sited were:
2010 is my breakout year. I too am joining the ranks with Old MacDonald, move on over Jolly Green Giant and make room for me Mary, Mary, I'm set to sow my own garden. Charged with sturdy statistics, I now feast on seed catalogues, armed with my foodie facts and consumption tendencies. I'm on a mission to introduce a working landscape of intoxicating intrigue into those rows of boxwoods. Ina references cabbages 8 times in her recipes. Perhaps I won't plant as much purple headed cabbage as I originally thought unless..... my Scottish family has plans to celebrate Oktoberfest through Independence Day.