By Marcia Pilgeram
The seventh season of the Sandpoint Community Garden is producing some bodacious vegetables. It’s a garden that nourishes our community; not only foodstuffs, but a keen sense of kinship too. Recently I met with Pat Wentworth, the extraordinary woman who coordinates plots and plotters, and we took a walk through the garden.
She introduced me to a few seasoned plotters who shared with me stories and gardening tips relating to weeding and watering their thriving plots. Pat praises her tireless volunteers and key city employees for this successful garden initiative. Nearly every implement, from spades to hoses, along with the shed in which they are housed were donated or purchased through Pat’s tireless grant writing efforts.
As she explained the application procedure for renting a plot, I wasn’t a bit surprised that the process was relaxed and straightforward, quite like Pat herself.What I am astonished by is the bounty in this small urban garden adjacent to the Festival of Sandpoint office. The plots are either 7’ x 7’or 4’ x 8’, and while they’re small, the generous natures of these plotters/gardeners is huge. Some plotters tend a plot or two for themselves and up to five additional plots to raise delicious and wholesome produce for those in need. The plot tenders are as diverse as the plants they grow; some single plots are shared by friends, while a family with small children each tend their very own bed.
This is no ordinary garden, and while I’ve seen a lot of great gardens the past couple of weeks, this is the blue ribbon winner. Many vegetables looked like props for an organic garden magazine. Huge, perfect cabbage caught my eye and I inquired of Pat about the garden’s secret ingredient. What makes it grow? “Just love,” she responds. I believe it. If I ever go missing, you’ll probably find me stretched out somewhere between the warm raised beds, just watching this magnificent garden flourish. If you haven’t been by, do yourself a favor and go have a look. Everyone’s welcome to come, meander, sniff and take photos. But please don’t pick. It’s tempting, I know, but the vegetables belong to the plotters, who’ve paid for, planted and nurtured these plots.
Closer to home, l need only look out my kitchen window to gaze at another productive garden, but regretfully, it’s not mine. It belongs to my neighbor, Eric Paull. Gardens makes some of us wax nostalgic, and it’s apparent with Eric. We’ve had “over the fence conversation” for years, and mostly when he talks of his garden or the sturdy little picket fence that surrounds it, he reminisces about his grandparents and says most of the vegetables in his garden are the same varieties he helped them tend years ago. He told me he devotes about two hours a week to his garden, though this made me (and another neighbor) chuckle, as he’s out there at least twice that much, but apparently time flies by as he tends to each row. Though he credited his fertile garden to hand watering and vigilant weed eradication, it’s apparent there’s a lot of love going on in this garden as well.
For years, on early morning walks along Ontario Street, I have been known to pop a ripe plum or two into my mouth. The other day I spent some time with Jenni Roberts and had a look at those plums, from the legal side of that old wooden fence. Jenni’s “Yarden” is an overgrown jungle of fruits and vegetables, primarily winding vines bearing more than twenty varieties of plump, heirloom tomatoes. But the first thing that caught my eye on Jenni’s two acre farm was a sunflower that would rival Jack’s beanstalk. Without an inch of the Irish embellishment I am famous for, this plant was clearly twelve feet tall. I asked Jenni her secret for growing this monster. She took no credit and enlightened me with the simple truth, “it’s a volunteer, a gift from God.” I rarely had time to ask a question because she force fed me through every row. “Taste these peas,” she insisted, dropping a small handful into my waiting palm. “Aren’t they delicious?” I tossed them into my mouth and yes, they were deliciously sweet and crunchy.
Jenni is creative with her non-traditional sales efforts and has a handful of “share” customers, who, for $25 a week, are provided with a generous bag of beautiful and organic vegetables. It’s also not uncommon to see someone wander in, pick a few things and leave a note with a few bucks attached. She also provides specialty herbs, like Thai basil, for Shoga and other restaurants. Here’s another garden I could call home. Her only rule? You must be happy before you can enter the garden.
I am struck by the old adage, right in your own back yard, because in my own back yard, besides Eric, I am surrounded by generous neighbors who share all that is theirs: Raspberries, picked and devoured by all my grandchildren, grape leaves for pickle-making, basil for pesto, and rhubarb for a plethora of wonderful creations. And did I mention tomatoes, in every direction I look? This extra hot weather has delivered an early and abundant crop and everyone is in a sharing mood.
Ken Keeler, an old friend with yet another productive garden, thrusts a bagful of tomatoes upon me every time I see him. They’re like this season’s zucchini. More than once, I’ve come home with an armful of tomatoes and a heart full of happy, so grateful for all the gardeners in my life. The following recipe is my favorite tomato salad. I hope you’ll like it as much as I do.
Tomato Burrata Salad with Basil Vinaigrette
Fresh from the vine tomatoes and Burrata cheese combine for a sensational summer salad. If you are not familiar with Burrata, you’ll find it near the mozzarella at most markets. Made from mozzarella and cream, the outside is solid and the center is filled with soft, rich cream. Once you’ve cut into a round, it doesn’t keep long, so it’s best to use it up right away.
•1/2 cup of the basil vinaigrette
•*4 large heirloom tomatoes, cut two
medium slices from each and coarsely
chop the remainder.
•1/2 red onion, finely chopped
•3 cups lettuce, chopped
•1/4 cup fresh basil, sliced into thin
ribbons (reserve a few for garnish)
•1 round fresh Burrata, cut into 4 even
slices (let this warm to room tempera-
ture before slicing, and slice just as
you are adding to the salad)
•1/2 tsp sea salt
•Good quality croutons
•Combine the chopped tomatoes, lettuce, basil and onion. Drizzle with dressing vinaigrette, and toss gently. Mound onto 4 salad plates. Top each mound with 2 medium slices of tomato, sprinkle with sea salt and top with slice of Burrato. Drizzle a bit of dressing over the top and garnish with basil ribbons and croutons.
*Do not refrigerate tomatoes. Flavor is much better at room temperature.
•1 small garlic clove
•1 cup packed basil
leaves, coarsely chopped
•1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
•1 1/2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
•1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
•1 tsp Dijon mustard
In a food processor, pulse the garlic until chopped. Add the basil and pulse until finely chopped. Add the oil, vinegars and mustard and process until smooth. Season with sea salt and fresh cracked pepper.
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