Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Foxy Spring a la Foxgloves

"That God once loved a garden we learn in Holy writ. 
And seeing gardens in the Spring I well can credit it." 
-  Winifred Mary Letts

Leave it to The Almighty to create a garden first to then place His children therein. For some dear clients in Montgomery, I planted foxgloves back in November and promised them this spring would be splendid. Though Eden wasn’t the M.O. for this pied a terre, a fabulous floral fashion was in mind. 

Foxy foxgloves shooting out over the lush new growth of spring prove a riotous entrance for this post-azalea portion of spring. Huechera, snaps, and of course some pansies and violas all finish out this vernal symphony, but the foxgloves are definitely the crescendo of this floral symphonic number.

A formal cottage style garden I dreamt up and then had implemented by the fantastic Falkner Gardens just screamed for foxgloves. Rather than planting these in full bloom from the nursery in the spring, they have had all winter to ready themselves for their spring bolt. A solid few weeks of splendor will adorn this garden and give a lovely interlude between the spring standards and the summer blossoms not too far away.

Artemisia, parsley, and bolted kales and mustards make for that fun combo of parterre and potager this Farmer so loves. The dancing hues of green in various silver, chartreuse, caramel, and simple Verdi Gris tints make for lovely contrasts with the painted blue bench, boxwood hedges, and bubbling limestone fountain. A secret garden of sorts, for who would know this nod to England was just off one of Montgomery’s loveliest lanes.

Patience is virtuous I hear, but I do know ‘tis true, especially in the garden. Some things are just best left to nature and the perfect cadence, order, and timing the seasons present. Though science can explain the specifics of botany and horticulture, there is just something awe-inspiring, nostalgic, romantic, and full of childhood wonderment that the process of growing things provides. To plan and plant along with the seasons’ rhythm will make your garden in sync with nature’s cyclical pattern. 

When you plant it right, it’ll just bloom right my friends. Splendid Spring, plant in fall…Fabulous Fall, plant in spring. Memorize this mantra and your garden shall be the talk of the town! Mister Frost summed up an April day and I couldn’t help but feel the same sentiment surrounded by the foxgloves in this garden.

"The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day.
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You're one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
a cloud come over the sunlit arch,
And wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you're two months back in the middle of March."
-  Robert Frost, Two Tramps in Mud Time, 1926

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Pretty in Pink

Green and white floral combos stop me in my tracks. But there is sometimes that mutation, veering shade, or complete stray in the garden that just makes a splash and causes me to stop and just wonder at the simple elegance of flower in a different shade. In this case, a pink dogwood is the variance from the white floral scheme.
A dogwood, Cornus florida, is stunning in its creamy white blousy bloom set against the green of longleaf pines, new green oak leafs, and all the freshness that only a chartreuse spring can herald. Just like genetics can give one sibling curls and another iron-strait locks, the plant family can express genes in the same fashion. Then, after taking note of such a pink perfection blooming on the side of my house, I began to relish at the thought of grouping these pinky phenoms with other rosy hues. Pretty in pink just came to mind.

Some of Granddaddy’s first roses of this vernal equinox were crowning the bush’s stems and begging one to stop and smell – stop and smell and clip for a bouquet! Even the waxy florets of Indian hawthorn (Raphiolepis indica) tucked into the mix with a few azalea blossoms and the first fronds of maiden hair fern began to shape this arrangement, all held by a silver stein. 

Three different roses, a few liriope sprigs, hawthorn and maiden hair all danced around the springboard flora, the pink dogwood, and are beautifully set against the white lattice backdrop of Mimi’s Japanese ginger jar lamp (I’m a sucker for these and just about any chinoiserie or japanned). I simply relish the opportunity to create a cacophony of hues, shades, and tints in the same color family, and with pink in bloom all over Dixie, the choices weren’t too hard.

What is truly so amazing to me about these flowers is how delicate they appear, how painterly they are portrayed, and fast they come and go. Spring is precious, short and sweet here in Middle Georgia, but gives just the chance to gaze into the depths of a of the coral, fuchsia, rose, cherry, and ballet slipper covered landscape.
Take inspiration from a bud, flower, vase, color, or season and capture it in a bouquet. Just the spicy, sweet aroma of the different roses was luscious enough, but by adding the layers of the flouncy fern, woody stem darling dogwood, and the unexpected hedge flower to your homage au printemps is a sensual delight. From this Farmer’s garden to yours, may you too be pretty in pink this spring. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Tomato Aspic

I’m on a trek through classic, Southern recipe land and a “must stop” on this culinary journey is aspic-ville… tomato aspic to be exact. While aspic is almost a Southern culinary genre unto itself, tomato aspic seems to be the most prevalent and memorable type. With a history pre-dating the Middle Ages, aspics are reminiscent of menus befitting Ken Follet’s Pillars of the Earth or World Without End. They have legend and lore, princely and peasant pedigrees alike, and interesting stories behind their origins. And we all know how Southerners love stories! 

Stemming from the Greek word aspis meaning “shield,” these jellied dishes protect their inner salads from the elements, preserving the conglomeration of spices and flavors within their gelatin glaze. Made with tomato juice, they can be enjoyed year round – not only when tomatoes are at their peak. Many fruits, vegetables, and savory elements can be melded into aspic , but, again, it is the tomato version that’s nearer and dearer to most Southern hearts and stomachs. Another perk is the molds that house them; the lovely rings and shapes are fun to collect and can be found in antique malls, estate sales and grandmother’s kitchen! If you’ve never sampled it, tomato aspic is somewhat like eating a Bloody Mary, without the spike of alcohol. 

From the Victorian era into the time of the Baby Boomers, pressed, congealed, and molded salads were a staple on the American culinary scene. No dinner on the grounds, supper at grandmother’s, dinner party or ladies luncheon would be complete without tomato aspic and its various and a sundry cohorts. Sadly, fast- paced life, microwaves, and quick fix meals eventually replaced the gentility of dishes such as aspics in some locales. 

Fortunately, I grew up in Hawkinsville and Kathleen, Georgia- Southern towns only a few country miles apart. Here tomato aspic is still served on pretty dinnerware with silver and the two wonderful accoutrements– garlic and herb mayonnaise and cheese straws.

I could write volumes on cheese straws. MANY Southern towns, villages, and hamlets are blessed with their own “cheese straw lady” (along with their “caramel cake lady” but that’s another post) who provides her municipality with cheese straws for showers, luncheons, parties, funerals, holidays, and weddings. Cheese straws are the perfect pairing for tomato aspic. Every cheese straw lady I have ever had the honor of meeting guards her recipe with vigor and zeal, so I always try to keep a batch on hand by over-ordering for parties and storing the leftovers in the freezer… they freeze beautifully.

 “This is in the freezes beautifully section of my cookbook, and I wanted to bring something that freezes beautifully.” Annelle, Steel Magnolias.

Southerners living away from their roots and food sources don’t like to forego these pleasures. The daughter of the best tomato aspic maker in Hawkinsville has a deep freeze in Virginia full of Southern delicacies. I’ve told her that if her freezer’s cache was ever lost, it would be akin to the burning of Atlanta… Southerners and their deep freezers are stories for another time!

On this culinary journey, I have asked folks about some of their favorite Southern classics and tomato aspic is always at the top of the list – especially for my grandparent’s generation. They light up when a young person such as yours truly queries about aspics and the like. I too light up, for I’m carrying the torch of the Greatest Generation when I share recipes like tomato aspic and strawberry Charlotte Russe. A Time to Congeal might just be the next book! From this Farmer’s kitchen (and one of the finest kitchens in Hawkinsville that shared her recipe), I present to you tomato aspic! Enjoy!

Tomato Aspic
  • 2 Tablespoons of unflavored gelatin… And don’t be afraid of using gelatin – it gives a twist to a salad, a pump to a dessert, and shape to a cream pie.
  • ½ cup of cold water
  • 2 ½ cups of tomato juice
  • ¼ teaspoon of red pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon of onion juice
  • ¾ cup diced celery
  • Cup of chopped green pimiento stuffed olives
Soften gelatin in water. Heat 1 cup of tomato juice, pour over gelatin, and stir until dissolved. Add remaining tomato juice, pepper, salt and Worcestershire. Chill until mixture begins to thicken and stir in rest of the ingredients. Pour into small oiled molds and chill until set. Serve with herbed mayonnaise. Serves 10-12.

NOTE: This may also be molded in a 2-quart ring mold.

Herb Mayonnaise
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 tsp lemon juice
1/4 " salt
1/4 " paprika
1/4 " cup parsley, minced
1 tbsp grated onion
1 tbsp minced chives
1/8 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 garlic clove minced
1 tbsp. capers
1/2 cup sour cream

Mix all ingredients well. Chill overnight. Can also be used for sandwiches.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Farmer in the City

This past January, dear friends in New York hosted a dinner party in their fabulous 5th Avenue apartment. This was a chance for this Farmer to meet and greet with some of the Big Apple’s finest folks, and a chance for yours truly to give them a New Year’s Supper with Southern Style!

Birmingham’s amazing calligraphy artist Allison Banks  set the elegant Southern tone with her absolutely beautiful invitations and hand done calligraphy on the envelopes. Menus and cards describing the food continued with the theme of elegance with Southern flare from this talented Southern gal.

‘Casa Blanca’ lilies, quince branches, and magnolia leaves, flown in from Georgia for the occasion, soared into the chandelier in the dining room and set a garden tone for the Central Park view the apartment boasts… and a view it is! Dusted in snow that evening, the glow of votives and candles further enhanced the ambiance of and enchanting locale and view. I’ll never forget the romance of the “fire and ice” feel we had gazing onto Central Park through frosty window and flickering candlelight.

With the scents of Southern flavor emanating from the kitchen, our guests dined on Roasted Herbed Tenderloin of Beef, Oysters Bluffton, Lucky Money, Georgia Caviar, Apple and Pear Tarts and Pecan Tassies. A Winter Green Salad, Chatham Artillery Punch, and of course, Sweet Tea, all accompanied the dishes in true Southern fashion. The treasures of my friends' modern and contemporary art collection and d├ęcor complemented the classic food and flowers for an aura that warmed the chilly, icy, and snowy evening… let’s just say this Farmer had never seen so much snow! The warmth of my hosts, friends from Down South who came (Montgomery and DC and even St. Louis were represented) , and my new friends in New York made the evening truly charming and memorable. 

Yet…I was not the only HOCO (that’s Houston County… like SOHO in NYC) native there. The lovely Deborah Roberts, and her husband Al Roker, joined this Farmer in representing Middle Georgia. There was even a fine representation from Hawkinsville proper, so how could my “neck of the woods” be any better represented! Deborah, in her glamour, shined at the party and loved the Southern food, and Al, who had just flown in from Australia the night before and worked the Today Show that morning, was as lively and just as jovial as he is on television. With such a flight the night before and an early TODAY shift, I was completely honored for them both to be there.

From the likes of David Stark, design and event planner extraordinaire, to editors from Good Housekeeping and Departures magazines, to some of the Upper East Side’s finest residents, this Farmer was in High Cotton kind of company all night. I was able, thanks to the graciousness of my hosts and friends who helped plan this soiree, to chat with the attendees about my book, Southern traditions, and “all things Farmer” in general! I could not have had a more marvelous time, guest list, locale, or amazing hosts. Thanks to all!

I hope if you ever get to The City, you find such delightful people as this Farmer has. We are known for our Southern hospitality and to share that with hospitable people in New York made for one fantastic night. From HOCO to SOHO, NOHO, and way on up to the Upper East Side, fun food, flowers, and time with friends is simply the best!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Strawberry Charlotte Russe

Leave it to my grandmother’s generation to have a delicious dessert with gelatin. A standby ingredient of the “greatest generation,” gelatin is often forgotten these days. Yet, this one ingredient provides a fantastic texture and appearance for dessert dishes. Strawberry Charlotte Russe is an “oldie but goodie,” for its name is derivative of Russian royalty and French culinary prowess. 

With strawberries coming into season here in the Deep South, this Farmer is exploring a few old faithful recipes. A Charlotte Russe is delicious with any in season berry (black, blue or rasp) but especially good with strawberries. Though there are methods of ringing the mousse like dessert with additional lady fingers, tying with ribbons, and presenting in more formal fashions, I simply prefer to mound this delicacy in a pretty serving dish, scoop onto lovely dessert serving pieces, eat and enjoy the very essence of the season. There is something special about using family pieces, and my Mimi’s great Aunt Mamie's china is just the token for a dainty dessert. Though highly elegant, this dessert is severely easy to prepare and it's sure to be a hit with you and yours. 

From the strawberry patches near and around Kathleen to you, happy strawberry season!

Strawberry Charlotte Russe
2 dozen ladyfingers
1 ½ tablespoons of unflavored gelatin (1 package)
¼ cup of cold water
½ cup sugar
2 cups strawberries
½ cup strawberry juice
1 teaspoon of vanilla
½ teaspoon of salt
1 cup of heavy cream, whipped

  • Line a glass mold or spring form cake pan with half the ladyfingers.
  • Soak gelatin for 5 minutes in water.
  • Mix sugar with strawberries and let stand about 5 minutes. This will make juice. If there is not enough to make ½ cup of juice add water to strawberry juice to make ½ cup.
  • Dissolve gelatin in juice heated to a boiling point.
  • Fold in berries, flavoring, salt, and whipped cream.
  • Pour on top of ladyfingers. Chill for 2 hours or longer. Serves 6.
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