A book for those who like to cook what they've grown

April 13, 2003|By Susan Reimer

THERE IS A bromide, often attributed to Julia Child, that good cooks can't be good gardeners and good gardeners can't be good cooks.

Even if the great chef did not say it, it makes sense. Both tasks require so much time, energy and study - not to mention trial and error - that a person would need two lifetimes to be good at both.

"I do know that once I get out in the garden, it is hard to stop," says cookbook author Ellen Ecker Ogden.

"And once I get inside, I am pretty tired. The last thing I want to do is stand at the stove and cook."

For those of us trying to meld the two avocations, Ogden has written From the Cook's Garden (William Morrow, $29.95).

The subtitle reads, "Recipes for cooks who like to garden, gardeners who like to cook, and everyone who wishes they had a garden."

In it, Ogden has included 150 of her favorite recipes - many of which were once carried in the family's seed catalog but were pushed out by a growing inventory of heirloom and organically produced seed varieties.

"Putting recipes in the seed catalog just seemed like a natural combination," says Ogden of a practice adopted by more and more seed companies.

"Over the years, there has been less and less room for recipes. That's what makes the cookbook so wonderful."

Actually, what makes the cookbook wonderful is its humility. Ogden's recipes reflect the fact that gardeners are too tired at the end of the day to spend two hours at the stove preparing dinner.

"I learned how to make a good soup, a bread, a salad dressing and a good pastry crust," she said from her home in Vermont.

"And I adapt those recipes to what is in the garden. If you just know how to cook your basic soups and salad dressings, you can use whatever is in season, and it will taste great.

"I am not very experimental. I am too tired to sit with a pile of cookbooks looking for something to do with chard.

"I was looking for the best way to create freshness from the garden without a lot of effort."

For a cook, Ogden admits to spending a lot of time gardening. But Shepherd, her husband and partner in The Cook's Garden seed company, is the official family gardener.

"It is hard to be in business with your husband unless there is a distinct division of labor."

She keeps a kitchen garden, growing the things she can't get at the local greengrocer, like special peas and lettuces, heirloom yellow tomatoes, potato varieties and fancy basils.

Meanwhile, her husband tends the "business" garden, where he might experiment with 150 vegetable varieties.

Their children, 15-year-old Sam and 19-year-old Molly, have their own gardens, where they are encouraged to grow things they will actually eat.

"The kids have not always liked the recipes I have come up with," their mother confesses.

But they are older and more self-sufficient now, and Ogden has the chance to explore the intimate relationship that she believes exists between the garden and the kitchen.

It isn't just about cooking with fresh ingredients -- you can purchase so many herb and vegetable varieties in the supermarket now, it might seem like a waste of energy to grow them.

It is about working with what you have, with what nature is giving you that day. That's why, for example, her zucchini bread recipe includes blueberries, both of which appear in profusion at the same time.

"The best thing about being a gardener is that you have an intimate connection with your food.

"Growing your own food makes it less of a commodity, which I think it has become.

"What happens in the garden is magic. Every time you go out, there is something new. Cooking from the garden allows a cook to appreciate that."

However, living in Vermont, with its short growing season and cool summers, has created in Ogden an appreciation for the things she can't always have.

"Every year, I try to grow eggplants, peppers and melons. It doesn't always work, but sometimes we are rewarded with a long season.

"I consider it worth the effort."

Which is just how gardeners, cooks -- and gardeners who cook -- feel about what they do.

To order From the Cook's Garden or to check out the Ogdens' seed catalog, visit www.cooksgarden.com.

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