Summer did arrive a few weeks ago - and then went into serious hiding. With the un-ending chill, this season's eager young tomato plants are looking quite miserable. I tried to construct some simple little cloches for them to shelter in, but the wind put all those efforts into orbit. The luscious, and I might say very expensive, basil plants have lost their vibrancy and yet I still feel guilty that I haven't finished getting all the seeds into the ground. Why should I be surprised by all of this? It is always touch and go in the maritime Pacific Northwest. Summer does not arrive easily.
I want to send vast amounts of encouragement to all the new vegetable gardeners. You will have successes this year. I promise! But never bet on your tomato crop, unless you like to lose bets. Years ago I picked all my green tomatoes at the end of a particularly dismal season. I dutifully let them ripen inside paper bags. When the tomatoes had become a pale orange red I spent many hours at the stove making sauce for the winter months. It smelled divine with all that garlic and oregano and onions and a few carrots. However, the texture and taste reminded me of some cooking experiments in my youth. Gruel-like would be almost too kind of a description. Buy your tomatoes from the experts when it comes to filling your pantry.
That is why we are so fortunate to have our local farmers arrive last week in our neighborhoods. We need their products and they are such a fine source for information on growing special crops and teaching us new recipes. It was wonderful to see the diversity at the Market even though I heard a lot of grumbling about the new mix. Please remember that if we don't put our dollars into our local communities, we will not have access to that diversity. In so many ways we are so spoiled, for everything seems to be at our fingertips. Please remember to vigorously support our farmers' markets and mollify your complaints. Remember back to when we had no farmers' markets, except for the Pike Place Market?
Amy Pennington new book, Urban Pantry: Tips & Recipes for a Thrifty, Sustainable & Seasonal Kitchen (ISBN - 978-1-59485-346-3; Skipstone Press) is a fine addition to anyone's cookbook collection, whether a novice or a pro. In this era of renewed focus on local, sustainability, organic, affordable home cooked meals, she reminds us of how to create a working pantry that will supply the meals with variety and economy. She will not let a scrap of food go to waste. For example, in all those recipes that call for a pinch of this or that exotic fresh herb, she will then reference you to the information needed to preserve the leftover herbs.
In her chapter on small-batch preserving she takes us beyond our memories of steaming kitchens filled with glass bottles knocking about in boiling water with the final contents being truly less than adequate. Her first chapter reviewing what is needed in a working pantry is a keen reminder that home cooking does not have to be flavorless, or exceedingly time consuming. Add the secret ingredients, found in your intelligently stocked pantry, and the expense and waste of take-out food will be a distant memory.
Amy Pennington will be signing her book at the Queen Anne Farmers Market on July 1. Also ask her about her garden share program she started - or check it out at www.UrbanGardenShare.org. You will see that it is a brilliant concept of joining those that want to do urban farming but don't have the land with people interested in having urban farms but do not have the time to do the work.[[In-content Ad]]