Thursday, January 04, 2007

WINTER GARDENING
The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (January 3, 2007)

Aside from refreshing composters, winter gardening begins with seed catalogues which are akin to horticultural travel brochures, something like an imaginary gustatory world tour. Beginning with one of the sources of our civilization, the Thessaloniki tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum) appears smack dab in the middle of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (www.rareseeds.com). The ancient Greeks didn’t have tomatoes because they came from the Incas of Peru by way of the Spanish Conquistadores. The Thessaloniki tomato, a favorite of Tickaboo Ranch’s Diane Scantlebury, is a fit for the High Country, being an early producer. A good companion for the Thessaloniki tomato is Greek oregano (Origanum vulgare.) They bring out the best in each other. By the way, Thomas Cahill’s Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea, an excellent retelling of the story of the ancient Greeks, is an delightful accompaniment to the Thessaloniki tomato.

Other tomatoes in a world-tour would certainly include that czar of all Siberians, the Galina tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum), a golden cherry of subtle and complex taste. It, too, is an early riser and an abundant producer. Happily, one doesn’t have to take the Trans- Siberian Railway at $2,000.00 a head or spend time in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago to enjoy the many Siberian tomatoes that are good fits for the High Country. The seeds are available down in Cornville at Bill McDorman’s www.seedstrust.com.

After some time in Siberia, it would be pleasant to visit sunny Tuscany and fetch some seeds of Cavalo Nero or Tuscan kale (Brassica
oleracea.) De-stemmed, chopped, blanched, and pressed dry, it is great in soups and as a side dish sauteed in olive oil with raisins and roasted pine nuts, Tuscan kale seeds can be found at www.nicholsgardennursery.com. Tuscany is the birthplace of the Renaissance. When dining on Cavalo Nero, one is also dining with Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Dante. When preparing to dine on Tuscan kale with the Mona Lisa, a good read is Sigmund Freud’s fascinating analyisis in his book Da Vinci.

Not to be outdone, Dwarf Blue Curled Scotch brings to mind Adam Smith, John Knox, Rob Roy, David Hume, and, of course, Rabbie Burns, as the Scots call him, with his poems “To a Mouse,” “To a Louse”, “A Red, Red Rose,” and “Auld Lang Syne.” Not a bad set of dining companions if they weren’t eating haggis, the national dish of Scotland. Oatmeal mixed with sheep entrails and suet and boiled in a sheep’s stomach, haggis can only be eaten when washed down with vast draughts Scotch.

Giant Walking Stick Kale, a Portuguese favorite, also from nicholsgardennursery.com, is a treat for children because it grows tall and walking sticks can be fashioned from the stalk. Strolling through the countryside, sporting a Portuguese kale walking stick, would be a treat alongside Prince Henry the Navigator, Vasco da Gama, and the Duke of Albuquerque. At least, one wouldn’t get lost with Prince Henry the Navigator as a guide.

Any return trip to Italy is well-worthwhile, especially a trip to Genoa and Genovese basil which actually comes from Asia, Africa, and India. The Genovese were great mariners, such as Christoforo Colombo and Andrea Doria, which means that they brought back herbs to Genoa from all over the world and along with tomatoes from the Incas. Johnny’s Selected Seeds (http://www.johnnyseeds.com/) offers a wide variety of basil in addition to Genovese basil. The Red Rubin basil (Ocimum basilicum) is a rich, dark purple and highly prized by Diane Scantlebury.

Any travelogue isn’t complete without a visit to Merrie Olde England and the Bull’s Blood beet (Beta vulgaris.) A British heirloom, seeds can be obtained from Seed Savers Exchange (http://www.seedsavers.com/). Bull’s Blood does double gastronomic duty with its dark purple leaves and sweet, dark roots. It is a beet lover’s beet and would be fit for dinner with either Winston Churchill or William Shakespeare.

Bon voyage et bon camarade.

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