Hey Elderly Aunt, what should a rookie gardener grow and cook with the fruits (and veggies) of that labor?

Hi Elderly Aunt: Thanks for the biscuit recipe. You’ve inspired me to try to do more in the kitchen with my new-found free time. I’m also one of many people it seems who plans to use this time as a chance to plant my first garden. What would you recommend a newbie like me plant? (And any suggested recipes for what comes out of the garden?)

Heavens to Betsy Ross, dear reader! Your faith in the reach of Elderly Aunt’s expertise is touching. She is an expert on many things, but growing a variety of vegetables is not one of them. 

Sadly for you—if not for her—these days the Elderly Aunt grows mostly flowers. But surely mid-pandemic, any of us who have access to a couple of square yards of dirt are well advised to grow something. It’s been the Elderly Aunt’s experience that digging in the earth and watching plants grow is a rock-solid dependable source of both hope and peace. Her gardens function as her very own Lake Isle of Innisfree, no matter what is going on around them. 

This does not mean, however, that she doesn’t grow tomatoes. As Texas singer-songwriter Guy Clark puts it, there’s only two things that money can’t buy and that’s true love and home-grown tomatoes. The Elderly Aunt’s personal favorite is Brandywine, an heirloom of a tomato plant if there ever was one, and that is usually the only one she plants. 

Her brother-in-law, however—who is a real connoisseurof tomatoes and so wants as long tomato-eating season as possible— plants Brandywine, Super Sonic, Lemon Boy, Early Girl and Better Boy.

As to what veggies you should plant, dear reader, surely that depends upon what you plan to do with your harvest. The Elderly Aunt has never canned a vegetable in her life and doesn’t particularly like canned food of any sort, but she is a great consumer of salads and fresh fruit. So if she did grow vegetables, she might plant peppers, cucumbers, sugar snaps, and cantaloupe. It’s already late to plant spinach this year, but she would certainly add that to what-to-plant list for next year, 

In the past the Elderly Aunt has successfully grown doorknob peppers, squash, onions, and sugar baby watermelons. 

If, however, you want to try your hand at canning (or freezing) vegetables, dear reader, then you would be advised to plant veggies such as beans, carrots and tomatoes. It’s important to remember that some vegetables—carrots for example—can be picky about soil  Luckily for all of us, the Old Farmer’s Almanac is accessible on-line!

Finally—at least as far as suggestions about what to plant goes—the Elderly Aunt did a quick Facebook shout-out to her other dear readers asking for their advice about what to grow. Click here to read the results. And for heaven’s sake, do not make gardening into rocket science. Think Field of Dreams: If you stick seeds in the ground, they will grow. 

As for recipes, the Elderly Aunt is a firm believer that the fresher the ingredients the less they should be messed in. With this in mind, she consulted her daughter (a talented scratch cook, intrepid canner and freewheeling measurer) who’s married to a maniacal veggie grower. She sent this recipe for an ultra-simple blender tomato sauce whose main ingredients are all easy to grow: “Dump tomatoes, basil, parsley, oregano, garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil in the blender, swirl to taste, heat up as needed.” 

The Elderly Aunt, herself, would suggest baking a savory veggie pie/quiche using the buttermilk/whole-wheat pastry recipe she came up with decades ago. Just as with her bodacious biscuits (On this Facebook page, below the veggie poll), her starting point is a recipe from her mother’s 1937 copy of The Boston Cooking School Cook Book

Plain Pastry II

  • 1½ cups pastry flour
  • ¼ cup lard or other shortening
  • ¼ cup butter
  • Ice water (about 3/8 cup)

For her buttermilk/whole-wheat version, the Elderly Aunt uses approximately 1 cup all-purpose flour and ½ cup whole wheat and works extremely cold butter/shortening into the flour mixture as quickly as possible using a pastry blender. She substitutes ice-cold buttermilk for the water. Roll out on lightly floured flat surface. Caution: handle the dough as little and lightly as possible to ensure a flaky crust. Bake your veggie quiche or savory pie as usual.

Life is change, change is never easy. The current amount of change is in our lives is thoroughly discombobulating. 

The Elderly Aunt salutes you with her trowel, dear reader, for taking this daunting situation as a call to get outside and grow things!  

The Elderly Aunt offers her thoughtful responses to your questions about this wild ride we call life on every other Monday.  And as a general disclaimer—to quote the elves from The Lord of the Rings — “… advice is a dangerous gift, even given from the wise to the wise.”

Got a question for the Elderly Aunt? Ask her on Facebook or email your question to [email protected] with the subject line “Elderly Aunt question.” (Just please don’t ask detailed financial questions). 

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