Seed catalogs: Going from lush to luscious

Family Matters

February 29, 2004|By Susan Reimer

THIS IS THE TIME OF YEAR when seed catalogs start to arrive in the mail, bringing with them daydreams of shiny, green gardens in warm summer sun.

But one catalog arrived in my mailbox with a second helping of daydreams.

John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds catalog also contains recipes, both homegrown and take-out.

This year's edition includes a recipe for a Scheepers family favorite, the classic Dutch cream of mustard soup from their native Holland, and baked penne pasta with lobster and spinach from the Good News Cafe in Woodbury, Conn.

"Our idea was to introduce American gardeners and cooks to new types of vegetables and herbs and new recipes so everyone could savor the differences," says John Scheepers' great-niece, Jo-Anne van den Berg-Ohms, who has put out this catalog for three years from Bantam, Conn.

"I love trying new restaurants, and if I find something that's so incredible or an unusual treat, I ask to meet the chef and I ask if he will share the recipe.

"So far, not one has refused."

The catalog also has contributions from Barbara Damrosch, who works closely with van den Berg-Ohms selecting seed varieties and who cooks with the James Beard Foundation.

She offers a recipe for leek and potato soup she serves at the Four Season Farm, which she owns with her husband in Harborside, Maine.

The notion of including recipes in catalogs makes lots of marketing sense.

Penzeys Spice Catalog, for example, has a recipe for chili and one for grilled tuna with ginger-soy sauce.

But, for van den Berg-Ohms, including recipes in her catalogs is less a sales tool than an act of generosity.

"I love to cook so much. And I love to garden. And I don't believe in cooking from the garden just because it is a healthy thing to do. I like to make things that are so delicious, time stands still while you are tasting it."

She comes from a long line of gardeners, but most created and sold flower bulb hybrids.

John Scheepers was her father's uncle, and he came to the United States at the turn of the century from Holland and began importing bulbs.

The original Beauty from Bulbs catalogs were works of art, with gorgeous drawings of the tulips and narcissi, and can still be found in antique shops.

Today, the family also produces the Van Engelen Inc. wholesale bulb catalog, which uses line drawings instead of color pictures to sell the bulbs.

Van den Berg-Ohms, part of a fifth generation in bulb sales, asks not to make a choice between the flower and the vegetable sides of her family business.

"I can't think of anything more wonderful than in the spring having some early harvest lettuces and a bouquet of tulips and having friends and family over.

"I like to bring both sides together. As a matter of fact, my friends say they are tired of hearing me describe tulips as if I was going to eat them."

Butternut-squash shrimp bisque might be van den Berg-Ohms' favorite recipe. She says the squash makes the soup so rich and smooth that cream isn't necessary. "But I am Dutch," she says. "I add cream to everything."

Sources

John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds

860-567-6086

www.kitchengardenseeds. com

Penzeys Spice

800-741-7787

www.penzeys.com

Van Engelen Inc.

860-567-8734

www.vanengelen.com

Butternut-Squash Shrimp Bisque

Makes 8 servings

1/2 cup sweet butter

1 cup diced onions

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

5 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock

5 cups diced and peeled butternut squash (about 3 pounds)

1 cup dry white wine

2 bay leaves

1 cup whipping cream

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 pound small, uncooked shrimp

Optional: dry sherry

Melt the butter in a heavy, large soup pot over medium-low heat. Add the onions and cook until transparent while stirring, about 10 minutes. Add flour and stir for 3 minutes until slightly golden.

Add stock slowly while whisking constantly and bring to a boil. Add squash, wine and bay leaves and simmer until the squash is tender, about 15 minutes. Add cream and season with salt and pepper. Remove the bay leaves, puree in small amounts in the blender, pouring the pureed batches into a clean soup pot.

Before serving, reheat the soup and add the shrimp. Simmer briefly until shrimp turns pink. Serve immediately.

(If desired, add a dash of sherry when serving.)

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