ISSUE 31  |  Height of Summer

Garden Visit: A Cook’s Garden in Upstate New York

August 03, 2015 10:00 AM

BY Laura Silverman

There is something deeply satisfying about eating directly from the garden. The fruit of one’s own labor really does taste sweeter. As my husband, George, and I finish our fifth year of living full-time in our cedar-shingle cottage in upstate New York, the garden we have created together–full of native plants and heirloom vegetables–feeds us in so many ways.

Photography by George Billard for Gardenista.

Above: Our modest half-acre is surrounded by tall pines that rob us of precious sunshine. We began our garden with a couple of raised beds in the back. Those have now quadrupled and spread to the front as well, maximizing our growing area.

Above: At this rate, there will soon be no lawn at all. That’s fine with us.

Above: Hops nearly cover our little barn out back, which serves as a writing room and guest quarters. Other crops that do well in these beds include sorrel, horseradish, lovage, shiso, amaranth, kale, garlic, scallions, hot peppers, rhubarb, squash, and catnip. Cucumbers climb over the fence, obscuring the clematis that bloomed so profusely in June.

The tender shoots of hops are a traditional Italian dish; they’re delicious in a spring omelette. In fall, we harvest the beautiful flowers for brewer friends who make gluten-free beer for George.

Above: Field garlic, transplanted from the wild, and echinacea both find their way into the kitchen. I make an elixir with citrus and the dried flower heads to ward off flu in the winter.

Above: George grows potatoes in these wooden barrels (and extra tomatoes and cucumbers, because he can never have enough), building them up with wire cages and straw.

Above: These Mexican sour gherkins, a new addition this year, have really taken off. They drop from the stems when ripe, at which point I’ll pickle them in a spicy brine.

Above: A hard pruning made our black raspberries more prolific this month–and for once, the birds and chipmunks did not make off with every last one. I used the berries as topping for a delicious cornmeal skillet cake. 

Above: George grows complementary plants around his tomatoes and tomatillos, using nasturtiums, calendula, and ground cherries to help draw away predatory insects. In turn, I put the peppery nasturtium leaves in salads, make compound butter with the brilliant petals, and pickle the caper-like seed pods.

Above: The front beds hold beets, collards, kale, chard, lettuces, and as many herbs as I can fit. Off to the left, you can just make out the two beds devoted to George’s dozen varieties of heirloom tomatoes. And back to the right are our beehives–we got our first honey this year and it had the citrus taste of pine.

Above: Though he doesn’t care for beets, George grew these gorgeous cylindrical Foronos for me. I ate them roasted, along with fresh ricotta and a sprinkling of piment d’espelette dried from last year’s harvest.

Above: The great diversity of herbs inspires and transforms my cooking. Some of my favorites are epazote, essential for authentic Mexican dishes; delicate chervil; pungent rau ram (Vietnamese coriander); and several kinds of basil for pesto, pistou, flavored oils, and even cocktails.

Above: I grow lots of medicinal herbs and many that are delicious in tisanes. From left to right: lavender, lemon verbena, chamomile, parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. (Elsewhere are dill, wild fennel, tarragon, summer savory, cilantro, and a variety of mints.)

Above: I am never happier than when I’m walking through the garden in high summer, surrounded by the wonderful fragrance of crushed tomato leaves, wild bergamot, and spicy herbs. Except maybe when I get back into the kitchen with an armful of bounty and time to play. See more of my garden on my blog, Glutton for Life.

Wondering if the inside of Laura’s house is as magical as her garden? It is. See Laura Silverman at Home in Sullivan County, NY on Remodelista. And see some of Laura’s favorite garden-to-table recipes for Pickles, Fried Green Tomatoes, and Creamed Greens.