Though I’ve been doing a vegetable garden for 20 years, I often rue my stupidity at this particular moment, when, if I’m not vigilant, there is nothing in the garden to eat. This season, we’ve already had lots of nice spring meals of sugar snap peas and favas, garlic scapes, spinach, cilantro, and arugula.
But now the favas and sugar snaps are burning up in the heat, and the spinach and cilantro have gone to seed. Ditto the arugula, possibly the single most important vegetable to my health and happiness. And it’s gone so to seed, that there aren’t even any side leaves worth harvesting off the stems.
But the next wave of great meals hasn’t yet started. No eggplants yet, no peppers, no tomatoes, no potatoes, no cucumbers, no summer squashes, no pole beans. Even the beets, a cool-weather crop, are not quite ready. The beet greens at least are nice, but I don’t have an easy time of it when I try to feed my kids a load of oxalic acid at every single meal. I made my first pesto this week, but only by denuding the poor young little basil plants more than I really should have.
An intelligent gardener would have anticipated the mass going-to-seed that always accompanies the summer solstice and planted a second crop of arugula and cilantro, plus a bunch of other lettuces, in early June. The stupid gardener but intrepid cook–me–just makes due with what’s out there. Yesterday afternoon, there were exactly 5 okra pods waiting for me. Okay! I scissored off some of my cutting celery and bay leaves, yanked out a few young leeks and bought some Price Chopper peppers. Andouille sausage from the Putnam Market, one of my buddy Rick’s chickens from the freezer, and there you go–gumbo! It was delicious.
In two or three weeks, I’ll have an insane bounty in my garden. It’s frustrating that it’s so stingy now. But the upside is that I do all my best cooking in the lulls. The lack of any one thing in abundance inspires creativity and a light hand. I’ve watched my sister-in-law Na–who is Thai and a professional cook–make a meal out of nothing from my garden in the lull, too. A couple of black garbanzo beans, a little chard, maybe some carrot tops. The result is a feast.
Making do–using a little of this and a little of that–I suspect it’s the method of all great home cooks from time immemorial.