Felder Rushing: Cooking from the garden


At their most unpretentious, gardening, cooking and music have very simple things in common. 

While passing time the other muggy July day with a musician who loves to cook, he confided he couldn’t grow herbs. “Terrible luck,” he said. And I suggested he was trying too hard, like playing with too many notes. 

I mean, many great tunes, from blues, ballads, and gospel and rock and roll, use just three chords. If you can play C, G, and D major chords, you can start a singalong of Amazing Grace, Sweet Home Alabama and Ring of Fire.

Throw in F and A, and without using any finesse you got more tunes in your repertoire than most people can remember the words to.

Ditto with culinary herbs. Just as it’s best to start new guitarists off with three, four, maybe five basic chords, and new cooks with BLTs, mac ‘n cheese, soup, and spaghetti, I believe that the best way to introduce children and other new gardeners to the pleasures of food ownership is to start them out with a few useful kitchen enhancers.

Assuming you have spices such as salt and pepper (the cooking equivalents of finger-snapping and foot-tapping), start with rosemary, oregano, and thyme. Throw in basil and garlic, and you can go platinum in your kitchen. 

My daughter told me she had a beau go out and snip some fresh herbs from her apartment balcony to add to a humble home-cooked meal. He thought she was a gardening goddess - and it was just a five-gallon bucket planted with oregano and basil.

Once kids realize that simple dishes can be enhanced with easily-grown, pretty flavoring plants, the lessons learned can be extrapolated to other plants and meals later.

And with just a little sunshine and occasional watering, those five are ridiculously easy to grow in well-drained garden soil, a small raised bed, or pots on the patio or windowsill.

True, garlic is planted in the fall, and basil in the summer, but in our climate the rest are long-lived perennials that thrive on neglect.

In fact, more culinary herbs are killed with kindness than anything else. Easiest way to dispatch most is with too much water or fertilizer. I mean, most can produce for years with only an occasional light feeding and watering every few weeks we go without rain. Really.

Oh, I know you will want spice things up more with sage, maybe hot peppers, maybe mint for whatever people actually use that for. But those create a whole ‘nother range of tunes.

Point is, gardening, like home cooking and singalongs, can be started and maintained at a very simple level. Don’t be daunted by what more experienced others do - that’s what farmers’ markets, restaurants and concerts halls are for, to provide what we don’t have at home.

So for starters, or finishers for that matter, all it takes to get started with cooking from the garden at their most basic levels are to get a good-size pot or very small raised bed box of potting soil, and plant several herbs in it.

You can plant in smaller, funky containers but they need watering more often, but stick with the few herbs you are mostly likely to actually use in the kitchen.

Add a few flowers and maybe a pepper plant or other veggie if you want, but keep it simple. 

Then while waiting for those to start growing – won’t be long before you can actually cook with them – pass the time by learning a few chords on a guitar.

Then take it all from there.


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