In a series for The Glassblock, writer Sherrie Flick explores urban gardening using a familiar source material: her own garden on the South Side Slopes.
Spring settles down on Pittsburgh in fits and starts. It’s 70 degrees, it’s 40 degrees, and then it’s back up to 65 for three days in a row. As a long-time gardener I no longer panic about this fluctuation. I know my soil. I know my seeds. I figure the fittest survive. I just can’t be too obsessed about survival, when I have so many other things to obsess over out there.
I’m beginning this column in Spring, which is great because it’s the greatest time to be alive and gardening in this region. We are filled with hope and optimism out there as we check on the garlic we planted last fall and suspect it might be stunted because of that crazy late-heat we got. We confirm that the lemon balm and bee balm are coming back just fine. There’s the oregano that I’m not annoyed with yet. There is the lemon thyme and the thyme-thyme. There is the arugula and chives and chamomile. All champs.
I put in my radishes, lettuce, peas, kale, and carrots back in April. They’re popping up fragile and earnest through the straw I use as mulch. The bright green against that yellow straw makes my heart go pitter-patter. It’s true.
I used to do things carefully. I used to worry. I used to try, for instance, to plant the carrots evenly and equally spaced until I woke up from my utopian garden dream and learned that you can eat carrot greens. You can make, actually, an incredibly awesome pesto from those greens. So, thinning isn’t thinning but is instead eating. And we all like to eat. You can also make pesto from radish greens.
But we aren’t there yet. My direct-seed seedlings are slow this year. They are reluctant, and I don’t know why. But. As noted, I’m not worrying about them, per se. What I’m doing is heading out there into the yard and foraging whatever I can get my hands on. It’s spring and I am ready to eat my garden.
Here is what I find and use: wild violets. Everywhere! I pick them and make them into a tea and then make that tea into a syrup for cocktails. Violet syrup. It’s purple. What more could you ask for?
There are chives, which I put into salads, and I carefully and steadily snip the buds before they open to drop into vinegar for pickling and later adding to potato salad.
Today I harvest some young, spicy arugula, five baby spinach leaves, oregano, and lemon thyme and make a marinade from the herbs for a tofu arugula five-leaf spinach salad. The last big score are some spring onions that are basically onions I planted last spring that refused to grow until this spring. I pluck them up and will roast them and use a couple in my marinade recipe.
This time of year I am cautious and careful. It’s nothing like August and September when I am knee-deep in tomatoes and beans and greens. In late-summer and early fall it’s all decadence and speed and harvested food greed. Here, in spring, I can take the time to pluck the violets, to float them gently in glasses of wine. It’s the time of waiting and planning and preparing. The weather figures out what it would like to do, while I figure out what I would like to plant where.
Pick half as much thyme
Pluck two spring onions or one small grown-up onion, chop
Add all of this to a small food processor
Add the juice of one lemon that you did not grow
Add an equal amount of dry white wine; drink the rest of the bottle with dinner
Add about 1/2 c. olive oil
Add some salt
Some grinds of pepper
This is your marinade. It looks like spring feels, which should make you happy. Take a moment to be happy.
Marinate your tofu chunks for about 20-30 minutes. I used a square Pyrex baking pan, which was the perfect size. (It’s good to press the tofu in its full form underneath some cast iron pans while in a pie dish before you put it in the marinade.)
Pre-heat oven to 350ºF.
Put your marinated tofu chunks on a sheet pan and bake for 20 minutes on each side. Take them out of the oven and put them on your arugula and 5-leaf spinach salad with other garnishes and bells and whistles.
Know the season of eating from the garden has begun.