Camping Pesto

Carry in dry pasta, plus small containers of pine nuts and parmesan cheese. Collect handful of garlic mustard and/or wild garlic during last hour of hiking before reaching camp. Chop or pound together pine nuts and greens in a cup or bowl while pasta is cooking over fire, then stir parmesan into the greens mixture. Add to cooked pasta just before serving.

Back in my home garden, I did buck the edibles-in-the-front-yard rule this year by scattering a few lettuce and carrot seeds in one of our flower beds. Both did quite well, which was a happy surprise given that the bed was unfenced from our resident rabbits. Perhaps some were eaten, but since I wasn't paying close attention to them I never knew what we lost. In any case, the carrots from the front yard were free of the insect damage that most of our vegetable-garden carrots bore. The lettuce was attractive and tasty until it set stems and bolted, becoming tall and bitter. All in all, it was a surprising success, and I plan to repeat the planting next year.

Many of our garden plants are decorative versions of edibles. Most common is the ornamental purple cabbage or broccoli that many people plant in fall, for its frost tolerance. Cockscomb, which has furry-looking sunset-colored flowers, is an ornamental member of the genus Amaranthus, which contains both the weedy pigweeds (tumbleweed, redroot pigweed, smooth pigweed) and amaranth, a grain high in iron that is commonly used as a nonallergenic ingredient in babies' teething biscuits. Although herbs are perhaps the most acceptable edibles for public gardens, my sense is that most people still put their herb beds in the backyard. Pansies are the bigger cousins of violets and bear edible flowers that come in a number of audacious combinations of blues, purples, oranges, and yellows. But really, how many of us, in garnishing a salad, think to go to our front gardens and pick a handful of pansy flowers?

Of course, one reason not to plant edibles in the front yard is the possibility of vegetable theft. The very concept would seem ludicrous to me had I not experienced it in our very first garden. The summer I was first married, our vegetable garden was approximately five square feet alongside the back of the house we were renting, and a zucchini that probably weighed four pounds was taken one weekend. I felt cheated, of course, of the opportunity to cook it. However, as we lived near a complex of subsidized housing, I rationalized that if someone is hungry and wants vegetables, far be it from me to refuse. I have also heard numerous cases of community gardens being either vandalized or robbed. The injustice can seem harder to bear if the people tending the garden need the food just as much as those taking it.

But I think the real reason we don't plant food in the front yard has more to do with our wanting to separate ourselves from farmers and farming life. Yards are supposed to be miniature estates, showing that we have the wealth to use land decoratively rather than for subsistence. Although few of us have enough yard to feed ourselves completely, most of us could at least put a dent in our grocery bill and our waistlines by eating more home-grown vegetables. In World War II, "victory gardens" were considered patriotic. Why, now, are they considered counterproductive to our cash economy, or embarrassing indications of lower-class status? Why is slow food a movement of the rich? As a wise student, Rosemary Flenory, noted in one of my classes, soul food has been with the poor for generations, and both slow food and soul food involve cooking hearty, home-grown meals with respect for love and tradition thrown like spices into every pot. We can grow food and be farmers, epicures, or simply frugal people. Whether we pick the edible weeds or sow the heirloom vegetables, the shameless production of vegetables at home ennobles us.

Much as I admire Fritz Haeg's front-yard vegetables and rebellious garden artistry, one problem he doesn't address thoroughly in his book is how cold or dry seasons offer a serious challenge to aesthetically pleasing vegetable growth. Eliot Coleman's writings on year-round gardening in Maine may be a necessary supplement to Haeg's book for those of us with long winters. Wild garlic certainly could be harvested even in colder weather. Although wild garlic is not the most glamorous vegetable, it might have just the flavor to add interest to a locally produced northeastern winter diet. Baked potato and wild garlic chives, anyone?

All that said, still, garlic was not working among the community center's lovely bulbs, and Fritz Haeg's book was not yet out. One afternoon in the fall I walked over to our bulb garden after a rain, vowing to take advantage of the wet soil to get some of the wild garlic out by the roots. Without a trowel or weeding tool—just gloved hands — I got perhaps one bulb out of a hundred and ended up simply getting leaves for the remaining ones. At the same time, I pulled up (by accident) one crocus bulb. Since they were planted by five- and six-year-olds on a hot, dry day in late September, I suspected many of those bulbs are not far below the surface. A hoe used on the wild garlic would probably slice many of the crocus and daffodil bulbs in half, or dig them up. I'd like to think I made the garlic plants more vulnerable to freezing, or at least slowed their growth, by topping them at this stage. This plant is fairly rare in lawns (and sparse when it does grow there), which suggests to me that either it doesn't like being mowed or doesn't compete well with grass. I can hope that mowing is what hurts it because, if so, maybe my lame attempt at hand eradication was more successful than I think, but I'm not holding my breath.

On the other hand, maybe eradication shouldn't be my goal after all. Maybe I should walk proudly over with a kitchen apron every few weeks and take Emily up on her offer of long ago. Perhaps I should be working harder at salesmanship instead. If I fail individually at eradication, maybe when I make it look desirable, the other neighbors will eradicate it for me. Maybe in a few years I'll be complaining that someone stole all the garlic I was cultivating in the community center garden, just when I was ready to make some early spring garlic mustard and wild garlic pesto.

Organic Vegetable Gardening

Organic Vegetable Gardening

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