DINNER WAS AT 6 AND, IN THE minutes leading up to the hour, people came carrying food, proceeding solemnly across the grassy expanse of Patterson Park like the faithful to a church supper.
They unwrapped their bowls and platters: eggplant Parmesan, cooked collards, moussaka, pasta salad with pesto, fresh sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, zucchini muffins, ratatouille, string beans, fresh corn, peach pie. And, gradually, two long tables set up in the auditorium of the Virginia S. Baker/Patterson Park Recreation Center filled with their offerings.
It was the fifth annual City Farms Supper, a gathering of gardeners from the Baltimore City Farms program of the Department of Recreation and Parks and Baltimore Urban Gardening program of the Maryland Cooperative Extension Service.
More than 500 gardeners were invited to the dinner, held last Wednesday evening, and they were encouraged to take "a covered dish" made with fruits or vegetables grown in their own gardens. About 250 showed up.
"I brought collard greens boiled with seasonings -- but I won't tell you what the seasonings are," said Viola Chew, who grew up on a farm in North Carolina and now gardens -- along with her husband, Rudolph Chew -- at Fremont and Mosher streets.
"If I did it the way I was raised, it would have been fatback meat, but Iave to watch my diet now. Smoked turkey is good to season them. But I can't stand bland food."
Along with their casseroles and salads, the gardeners took their best produce to be judged at a miniature county fair set up on shelves in a back corner of the auditorium. There, John Overstreet, who runs the vegetable judging each year at the Anne Arundel County Fair, painstakingly examined each entry and awarded ribbons to the most beautiful.
Finally the speeches were over and everyone lined up for dinner. "I grew everything myself," Johanna Brooks said, nodding toward a bowl filled with a salad of sliced tomatoes, zucchini and onions as she worked her way through the line.
"I brought two cakes, a 7-Up cake and a coconut cake," said Marie Banks, who gardens at Carroll Park. "My garden is late coming. I just got it in 4 or 5 weeks ago so it's not far off the ground now," she explained, then added with a laugh. "But next year I'll be on the ball."
"Up to six years ago we never grew anything," said Warren Blue, who, with his wife Lavette, reclaimed two vacant, overgrown lots near their home.
"We asked the city if we could use the land and got into all of this as a result. We got a lot of help from them and I've been touting them ever since," Mrs. Blue said.
Sarah Littlepage and Phil Hildebrandt, Union Square residentwho garden in Carroll Park, brought ratatouille, a vegetable stew that Ms. Littlepage recommended be served over rice. Here is the recipe, which was taken from the "Moosewood Cookbook," by Mollie Katzen:
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
1/4 cup olive oil
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 bay leaf
1 medium onion, chopped
salt to taste
1 small eggplant, cubed
3 tablespoons Burgundy (optional)
1/2 cup tomato juice
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon marjoram
1/2 teaspoon oregano
-- ground rosemary (optional)
2 small zucchini or summer squash or a combination, cubed
2 peppers, green, yellow or red, cut in strips or cubes
freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 medium tomatoes, cut in chunks
2 tablespoons tomato paste
freshly chopped parsley
grated Parmesan cheese (for garnish)
Heat olive oil in a large cooking pot. Crush garlic into oil. Add bay leaf and onion. Salt lightly. Saute over medium heat until onion begins to turn transparent.
Add eggplant, Burgundy and tomato juice. Add herbs. Stir to mix well. Cover and simmer 10 to 15 minutes over low heat.
When eggplant is tender, add zucchini and peppers. Cover and simmer 10 minutes.
Add salt, ground black pepper, tomatoes and tomato paste. Mix well.
Continue to stew until all vegetables are tender. Just before serving, mix in fresh parsley. Top with grated Parmesan cheese.
This recipe for zucchini cake comes from Louise Johnson, who saved it several years ago from an issue of Southern Living magazine. Here is the recipe:
Zucchini cake Makes one 9-by-13 inch cake.
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup Kellogg's All-Bran cereal
3 teaspoons grated orange peel
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups grated zucchini
1 cup chopped nuts
Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ground
cinnamon and nutmeg in a medium-sized bowl and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, beat together sugar, oil and eggs until well mixed. Stir in cereal. Add orange peel and vanilla. Mix together.
Add flour. Stir in zucchini and nuts. Mix together blending well.
Spread batter in a greased and floured 9-by-13 inch pan. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes in a 325-degree oven. Test for doneness after 35 minutes.
Orange cream cheese frosting 3 ounces cream cheese
1 tablespoon (or more) butter or margarine
1/2 grated orange rind