“Farm-to-table” has been the buzzword in kitchens in the Bay Area for at least two decades, with seasonal menus derived from local producers expected by diners and critics alike. Even Sacramento has jumped on the bandwagon and is branding themselves the Farm-to-Fork Capital of the World. Chefs frequently have gardens adjacent to their restaurants and have special relationships with farmers. You read a lot about how chefs create menus from what shows up that day from their purveyors.
As a home cook I have been cooking this way for a long time, going to the farmers markets to pick out what looks good and prepare meals based on what’s in season and available. This inspired me to want my own garden to cook from, using the same methods.
What I didn’t count on was how much more difficult this would be in practice. For one thing, your own garden is NOT like going to the farmers market. You can’t just show up in your garden on Sunday and pick a wide selection of produce that’s at its peak at that moment and compose a meal from it. No, it’s more like you show up in your garden and the peas are out of control but the kohlrabi that you thought would be ready by now is still small and may not ever grow up to be a real vegetable, and something has been eating your strawberries so you can only salvage a small handful for your breakfast. The hail storm knocked all of the apricots off the tree that you were planning to make jam from, but at least you’ve got 30 bok choy plants that are all ready at the same time. What are you going to do with 40 baskets of snow peas and 30 bok choy plants?
Last year I planned an early August retreat menu around tomatoes and corn, since both of those are usually rocking by then. It turned out we had a really hot July so my tomatoes went into stasis and didn’t ripen until early September. And not only was MY corn not ready, but there was a shortage of corn in the region due to some sort of pest infestation. I had to buy tomatoes from a local producer, which just killed me when I had tomatoes coming out of my ears about three weeks later, and I scaled back my incorporation of corn into the menu since I had a hard time even locating locally produced corn.
That’s the challenge of true “farm-to-table” cooking, when you are operating the farm AND the table.
So I’m learning (the hard way) the importance of staggering plantings so that things don’t ripen all at once, unless I want them to ripen all at once so I can preserve them. And I’m learning what does well in our climate and what I should just let other people grow since they do it so much better than I do. And I’m learning how to use weather and temperature forecasts to better anticipate when things will be ripe so I can plan ahead. Oh I’m learning so much more than I ever thought I needed to. This is all way more difficult than those farm-to-table chefs in SF let on when they are doing their interviews with Sunset Magazine or the SF Chronicle! So when Reverie is famous and we are interviewed in those magazines I’m going to tell them how it really is to do things farm-to-table.
Right now I have a refrigerator full of greens of all shapes, sizes, and flavors: several different kinds of Asian greens, mustard greens, spinach, lettuce, turnip and radish greens — and this after I’ve been harvesting them for weeks and weeks. Ramon and I have taken on a green tinge. I’m learning so many different ways to prepare greens, including fermenting a few of the Asian varieties into kimchi:
And those overflowing peas I mentioned earlier in this blog? They are still going strong with no end in sight. We were in Oakland for a few days and while we were gone they decided to have a party and invite all their friends who have now taken up residence. I’ve pickled some of the snap peas, and I’m going to try my mother’s suggestion to blanch and freeze them.
What are your favorite ways to use greens or peas? (Besides letting your dog eat them all). I would love your suggestions!