There's something about the air when spring rolls around. There are barely perceptible changes that you breathe in when you step outside your door, and all of a sudden you get a feeling that winter is really over. The sky is not planning on dumping any more snow on you, and leaves and buds have started to return to the trees around you.
While few of us are lucky enough to have huge tracts of arable land in which to plant a bounty of edible crops, more and more are finding ways to have edible gardens. Whether there's room right out your back door, or on the rooftop of a nearby building, or in a small pot on the windowsill, people are growing more of their own food.
Sunset magazine's food editor Margo True is a huge supporter of this edible garden movement. True and the team at Sunset recently published a cookbook that is a guide to easy, healthy ways to cook and preserve the bounty from your backyard, farmers market, or produce aisle.
Organized around the easiest, as well as the most flavorful, homegrown crops from coast to coast, The Sunset Edible Garden Cookbook is what every gardener and vegetable-lover needs on the kitchen shelf.
We were able to chat with True about the cookbook and her love of fruit and veggies fresh from the vine.
Why did the folks at Sunset decide to put together this cookbook? What was the inspiration, the motivation?
So many of us are planting edible gardens. It’s this huge movement. Edible gardening and eating fresh fruits and vegetables are trends on the rise—and Sunset has evangelized both for decades. It's exciting to offer a lush, inspiring cookbook that shows how to make really delicious use of what you've grown. It seemed it was the right moment, and would appeal to people who were looking for a cookbook like this.
What, for you, is that first iconic sign that spring is here and it’s time to get out in the garden?
I start really thinking about gardening during winter, even when it’s cold and raining, but when I see the fruit trees blossom, when the blossoms start appearing, that gets me in the mood.
What inspires you to grow your own food?
It connects you to the natural world, which is really a profound thing. It’s a really ancient way to relate to life. A lot of us don’t have that experience anymore. It keeps you connected to the earth. And there’s pride in growing your own food. Pride actually has a flavor.
It does taste better because it’s so fresh, and it’s also better for you. Your crops are at their peak vitamin content. You can grow a lot of varieties that are just too fragile for commercial farmers to grow and ship. They just do better in that short distance from their vine to your table.
What’s your favorite recipe from the cookbook?
It’s hard to choose, but the Chocolate Zucchini Rum Cake is just an incredibly good chocolate cake. You don’t even taste the zucchini, but it makes it incredibly moist. It’s perfect for that giant zucchini you discover hidden in your garden. It’s the size of a baseball bat and you think, what am I going to do with that? This is what you do with it. Make cake.
What are 5 crops that everyone should have in their edible gardens?
You know what I really love is fresh garlic. Ohhh, when garlic is really fresh, it’s crisp and juicy. Fresh garlic is actually juicy. It’s amazing stuff.
And fava beans if you have the right climate. You can eat them so many different ways: Fava bean leaves in a salad, whole pods when they’re little and young. They yield so plentifully and if you get them in the store, they’re typically high priced. (We've included a favorite Sunset recipe featured in the cookbook for braised whole-pod fava beans at the end of this post.)
Lettuces are great. So easy to grow, and you can keep cutting them, over and over. You’ll always have a supply of extra-fresh lettuces, a salad all the time.
Tomatoes are probably the favorite backyard crop. When you grow them yourself, you can let them get really, really ripe and pick them when they’re still warm from the sun.
Chard is another really good one. It yields well and is super easy to grow. You can use it in so many different things.
Oh, and cucumbers. That’s six.
We’ll let it slide! What is a foolproof crop for the first-time edible gardener? Any tips?
Lettuces are a really good bet, and they’re also so beautiful and keep producing. You can grow them from seeds, and they’re a great introduction to the whole world of seeds that are available.
One of the keys is to have really good soil. A lot of people think of it as dirt, but it’s soil. It’s alive. That’s what makes your garden grow, nourishes it.
Braised Whole-Pod Fava Beans with Dill
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1 sweet onion, halved and thinly sliced
- 1 1/2 pounds fava bean pods, ends trimmed and strings removed
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1/4 cup chopped dill, plus 1 tbsp. for garnish
- Plain whole-milk or Greek-style yogurt
Put oil and onion in a large pot over medium-high heat. Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add favas, salt, sugar, and 1/4 cup water. Bring to a simmer. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, 20 minutes.
Add 1/4 cup dill, cover, and cook until fava pods are tender and starting to fall apart, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with 1 tbsp. dill and serve warm or at room temperature, with yogurt on the side.
Not sure what grows well in your climate? Check out Sunset's new Plant Finder.
Click here to purchas the Sunset Edible Garden Cookbook at Amazon.com