Posts tagged ‘Victory Garden’
On October 1st, Smithsonian Gardens’ Victory Garden at the National Museum of American History (NMAH) was the pre-dinner reception site for attendees to an Outstanding in the Field (OITF) event which benefited NMAH’s upcoming exhibit, Food: Transforming the American Table, 1950-2000.
Joe Brunetti of Smithsonian Gardens gave opening remarks and was ‘Host Farmer’ for the program. Organic produce from the Victory Garden was provided to the OITF chef to use in the main event, dinner on NMAH’s rooftop. Joe and his SG colleague Erin Clark gave tours of the Victory Garden and answered gardening questions from some of the 150 attendees. Outstanding in the Field’s mission is to re-connect diners to the land and the origins of their food, and to honor the local farmers and food artisans who cultivate it.
The beauty of this event went beyond just lapping up the good food. Some of the magic arose from the conversations with complete strangers, the handshakes welcoming each other, and the cohesive celebration for the nourishment on the table. Even though attendees came from all parts of the country, we were all coming together with the same passion for land, food and drink. This movement of reconnecting to our land is happening on many different fronts. People are interested in where their food is coming from, how it is being grown, and who it is supporting. It seems a simple idea, but an idea we have removed ourselves so far from. With the increasing number of farmers’ markets and the re-evolving lifestyle of being a locavore, we can hold our glass up high and say ‘cheers.’
In the words of Julia Child, ‘Bon appétit’!
-Joe Brunetti, Horticulturist, Victory Heirloom Gardens at the National Museum of American History
As we enter the deepest winter months, thick tomes of eye candy for gardeners are beginning to arrive in mailboxes across the country, a small reminder that spring is just around the corner. ‘Mortgage Lifter’ or ‘Tasty Evergreen’ tomatoes this year? ‘Tennis Ball’ Lettuce anyone? And peppers that come in every color of the rainbow with names like ‘Purple Glow in the Dark’? Thick with gorgeous pictures, mail order seed catalogs offer a seemingly infinite variety of choices. It’s no wonder that a gardener could easily order more seeds than they have plot to plant.
Mail order seed companies have a long history in the United States. When you order from a seed catalog, you’re engaging in a time-honored winter ritual. One of the most recognizable names in the mail order business, W. Atlee Burpee & Company, was founded in 1876 in Philadelphia. In addition to flower and vegetable seeds, the company also sold livestock and poultry. W. Atlee Burpee sought the best seeds from the United States and Europe, following leads to strange and faraway places, and his mail order business quickly grew to a national level. He founded Fordhook Farm in Doylestown, Pennsylvania to develop hybrid plants and test new varieties, ensuring only the best seeds were mailed to consumers.
With the introduction of the Rural Free Delivery Service in the 1890’s, the company took advantage of the service to widen their audience for their yearly catalog. By that time Burpee was the largest seed company in the United States. Some of the varieties made famous during the company’s early years are still known and loved today. ‘Iceberg’ lettuce was introduced in 1894 and ‘Golden Bantam’ corn in 1902. Both remain favorites with gardeners today. The lush watercolor illustrations of the early catalogs gave way to color photography, and now it’s just as easy to visit the website as it is to browse the catalog.
The W. Atlee Burpee & Company Collection at the Archives of American Gardens contains business records, catalogs, diaries, and other company materials spanning the years 1873-1978. You can read more about the collection here:
If you are looking for new ideas for your own garden, Joe Brunetti , Horticulturist at the Victory and Heirloom gardens at the National Museum of American History, has a few suggestions:
Tried and True!
- Tennis Ball Lettuce
- Pepper ‘Sweet Banana’
- Tomato ‘Djena Lee’s Golden Girl’
- Tomato ‘Wins All’
- Fuchsia ‘Gartenmeister Bonstedt’
- Globe Amaranth (Gomphrena)
Cool & Unusual:
- Holy Basil (Tulsi)
- Stevia ‘Sweet Leaf’
- Toothache Plant (Spilanthes acmella)
- Red Malabar Spinach
- Pepper ‘Fish’
- Pepper ‘Purple Glow in the Dark’
- Zinnia ‘Burpee Rose Giant Cactus’
-Kate Fox, Museum Educator
What’s going to be on your Thanksgiving table this year? Oyster stuffing, cranberry sauce (savory or sweet), a delicious turkey with crispy skin? What about a purple bulb with a funny name that looks like an alien turnip from another planet?
Though it looks strange, kohlrabi is a delicious root vegetable in the cabbage family (Brassica oleracea), which also includes kale, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. Alluding to the fact that the vegetable resembles a turnip more than a cabbage, the German name is a combination of kohl (cabbage) and rübe (turnip). The entire plant is edible but the bulb is most often used for cooking. Skin color ranges from white to green to vibrant purple, and all of the variants are pale on the inside. At the grocery store look for bulbs (preferably still with the delicious leaves) that are no more than 3” in diameter. Larger bulbs tend to be too woody and tough to eat. Low in calories and high in fiber, kohlrabi is a healthy addition to any meal.
In 1909, one W.J.H. Moses bemoaned the lack of familiarity with kohlrabi in the gardening world in the pages of The Country Gentleman. Kohlrabi, he wrote, “can be prepared for the table with the least trouble, has a flavor every bit as good as the best Brussels Sprouts, and if not the easiest raised of all cabbages it is as easy as any . . . and yet with all these advantages kohlrabi is as little known to the general palate as olives were a few decades ago.” Lucky for us kohlrabi, though not the most common vegetable, has become increasingly easier to find in grocery stores and farmers’ markets.
Early twentieth-century cookbooks suggest boiling kohlrabi and serving it au gratin or with a heavy béchamel sauce. We, however, prefer to take a lighter approach. The spicy-sweet, fresh flavor of kohlrabi lends itself to shredding or julienning raw for salads, but for Thanksgiving we love to serve it roasted with onions and other root vegetables with a dash of olive oil and salt and pepper. Another idea is to swap out half of the potatoes with kohlrabi in your favorite mashed potatoes recipe for a sweeter, lighter take on a holiday favorite. Don’t discard the greens! They can be sautéed on their own or with other greens such as mustard and kale for another healthy side dish.
-Kate Fox, Smithsonian Gardens Contractor
*Note: This blog post from Smithsonian Gardens’ Horticulturist Joe Brunetti originally appeared as part of the National Museum of American History’s “O Say Can You See?” Blog as part of NMAH’s celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month.
“What is a tomatillo?” “What sort of recipes use tomatillos?” “What do they taste like?” These are just a few of the questions I get asked when I show visitors the tomatillos growing in the Victory Garden at the National Museum of American History. Simply put, tomatillos are small fruits ensconced in a papery husk. These beauties belong to the nightshade family – yes, the same nightshade family that contains the usual scene-stealers – tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, tobacco and even petunias. The tomatillo is like the distant cousin that doesn’t make it to the family get-togethers, and it’s high time you two got to know each other.
Tomatillos (Physalis ixocarpa) are a summer annual originating from Mesoamerica and therefore grow best under similar conditions as a tomato plant. In the spring, when the danger of frost is no longer at hand, plant tomatillos in full sun and in rich organic soil. Provide a supporting structure like a tomato cage as it grows. A ripe tomatillo looks and feels much like an un-ripened tomato – typically firm, with a green and/or yellow hue. They vary in size from one inch in diameter to plum-sized. You want to harvest your tomatillos when the husk has not browned and the fruit is still firm to the touch.
Speaking of the husk (which most people associate with corn), it is botanically known as the calyx. Think of it as a paper-like shield protecting your produce from ravenous varmints. Thank you calyx! When this shell is peeled off of the tomatillo a sticky resin is left on the skin, but it washes off easily.
The taste of a tomatillo combines the heartiness of a tomato with the citrus zing of a lime. It is sure to get your taste buds dancing. The texture is like an under-ripe, spongy tomato. Trust me, it’s cool.
Tomatillos have been cultivated for millennia and were a staple food in ancient Mayan and Aztec communities. In fact, the Aztecs are credited with domesticating the tomatillo. To this day, this peculiar fruit is a constant component of Mexican and Guatemalan diets. Traditionally, tomatillos are combined with chili peppers to make sauces, with the coolness of the tomatillo balancing out the hot flavor of the pepper. Have you eaten salsa verde (green sauce)? Well then, you’ve probably eaten tomatillos since they are typically the main ingredient in salsa verde. Other uses for the tomatillo include chopping them and adding them to salads and salsas, or pureeing them into gazpacho and guacamole. Less commonly, but still worth mentioning, tomatillos are used to flavor rice and tenderize red meats.
Right now in the Smithsonian’s Victory Garden grows a tomatillo that demands attention. Instead of the familiar green, this variety’s fruit and husks are tinted midnight purple. Come by sometime and have a look!
Tomatillo Tortilla Soup with Ground Bison
Makes 4 – 6 servings. Prep time: 15 minutes. Cook time: 20 minutes)
1 lb. ground bison (or any other ground meat or meat substitute)
1 red onion, diced
A dozen tomatillos, de-husked, rinsed, and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cups chicken broth
1 15-oz can diced tomatoes
1 15-oz can black beans, rinsed
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
Sour cream or Greek yogurt with a splash of lime juice (that’s what I always use!)
Cheddar or Mexican blend cheese, for garnish (plus some on the bottom of your bowl, of course)
Tortilla chips, broken
In a soup pot, heat about 1 Tbsp of olive oil over medium high heat. Add the ground bison, reducing the heat to medium after about two minutes of browning. Cook through.
Meanwhile, put the tomatillos and about 1 cup of the chicken broth in a blender. Blend thoroughly, until all of the tomatillos are pureed.
Add the tomatillo mixture to the browned bison. Add the diced tomatoes, black beans, remaining, chicken broth, and spices. Season with salt and pepper.
Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce the heat to medium low. Cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding either more broth or water as necessary, so it keeps the consistency you want. Taste it a couple times during the cooking process so you can adjust the seasonings if you want.
To serve, sprinkle a little cheese in the bottom of the bowls, then add the soup, then top with more cheese, tortilla chips, and sour cream/Greek yogurt-lime juice mixture. Enjoy!