Eve Fox is the creator of the Garden of Eating, a web site dedicated to delicious recipes featuring locally-grown, seasonal food as well as gardening and foraging tips. We spoke with Eve about fresh foods, foraging, canning, and some of her favorite dishes.
What inspired you to start The Garden of Eating?
I had recently moved from Washington, DC to Berkeley, California and found myself in the midst of so much glorious, locally-grown produce and a culture that takes food pretty seriously. I lived a couple blocks from Chez Panisse and the Cheeseboard and Acme Bakery, among many other great outfits.
I had always liked to garden and to cook and bake, and I started to do more of all those things and really enjoyed it. I decided that I wanted to write about it, too – to share the experience with other people, and hopefully inspire them to delve into making and growing their own food, too.
What are some of the types of produce that you like to grow in your garden? What other locally-sourced foods are available in your area?
Our garden just keeps on expanding! We always grow some of the usual suspects – tomatoes, lettuce, spinach, kale, basil, cilantro, green beans, and snap peas. We also love to grow potatoes, sweet potatoes, eggplant, pinto and black beans, garlic, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and brussels sprouts.
This year, the grape plants we put in last summer are producing fruit, which is exciting. I just hope we can get to some of them before the chipmunks and birds do. We do not get to eat a lot of our strawberry, blueberry or cherry harvest thanks to the critters. We’re also trying edamame for the first time since our kids (and we) love them. Unfortunately, the chipmunks seem to love them, too.
We now live in upstate New York and there are some amazing foods that grow here that we get to take advantage of – things like hickory nuts, plenty of different mushrooms, and wineberries (they’re invasive, but so, so tasty that I can’t find it in myself to wish them gone.) The Hudson Valley where we live is also a huge apple growing region, and we go picking a couple of times each fall and make a huge batch of applesauce that we can – and sometimes a wonderful apple rhubarb chutney. And pies, of course!
Every February and March, we tap some of our sugar maples and boil the sap down to make our own syrup. It’s a lot of work, but so worth it; and I love giving our little boys the experience of drinking the cold, slightly sweet sap right out of the tree.
Your blog has a section devoted to canning and preserving. Is this process as hard as some people think it is? What kinds of preserves do you like to create?
Canning is one of those things that is actually easy but sounds intimidating to most people (myself included) until you take the plunge and try it. Then you see that it’s not rocket science. It also does not take much to get started; you just need to invest in some glass Mason or Ball jars, bands and lids, a jar lifter and a pot that is deep enough to submerge it all in. Most hardware stores carry all of this stuff and it’s fairly cheap, too.
I am totally hooked on having a pantry stocked with jars of my own ruby red strawberry jam, herb and garlic-spiked tomato sauce, cinnamon applesauce, dill pickles, sweet relish, cherry and onion chutney and the like. The next thing on my list is to try making my own mustard – it sounds amazing and also looks pretty easy.
You’re also well-versed in “wild edibles.” What food items can you produce using ingredients found by foraging in nature?
It’s all a matter of knowing when and where to look; all these foods are so seasonal and location-specific. There’s no end to the fungi out there, and there are also a lot of wild apple trees in my neck of the woods. I am partial to a creamy polenta with sauteed maitake (hen of the wood) mushroom topped with Parmesan – so good!
But the vast majority of what I forage for are berries (mulberries, blackberries, black caps, wineberries) and greens. You can make one heck of an amazing pesto with things like sheep sorrel, garlic mustard greens, and field garlic. It’s got a depth of flavor and freshness that even herbs right from the garden can’t quite match.
I recently made a delicious, simple syrup that is infused with the flowers of the linden tree. They blossom in June around here and the flowers have a beautiful, sweet, floral scent and taste. It’s a great base for cocktails and spritzers.
Maple syrup is a real treat, of course. I also love hickory nuts – although, like all forest trees, they are on a multiyear boom and bust cycle. So some years there are very few nuts, and other years they just carpet the ground beneath the trees.
I’ve recently become more interested in foraging for medicinal foods – things like elderberries that can be turned into a syrup that is widely used in Europe to fight colds and flus. So I will be out there looking for elderberries in a couple of months because my little kids bring virus after virus home from school all winter.
There’s a section on your blog called “Kitchen Tools That Will Change Your Life.” What are some of these must-have tools?
My favorite tools are:
1. Microplane zester – great for shaving everything from lemon zest to chocolate to parmesan to nutmeg and more.
2. Hand-held mandolin – makes it so easy to create paper-thin slices of everything, like ginger, cabbage, apple, and onion. I use mine constantly. Be careful, though, they’re super sharp.
3. Kitchen scale – I have this modest, little digital OXO scale that is invaluable. I use it for baking and lots of other things. It’s very thin so it’s easy to store, too.
4. Silpat or any other silicon baking mat – they’re just so versatile and helpful to have if you plan to do any kind of baking. We also use them in our food dehydrator to make fruit leathers on.
5. Immersion blender – this is actually my very favorite kitchen tool. I hate having to pour hot soups and sauces into the blender or food processor; but with this little hand-held blender, I don’t have to! I also love how easy it makes it to half-puree something. Plus, it’s so much easier and quicker to clean than a blender or Cuisinart.
What other gadgets and appliances help you save a lot of time and effort in the kitchen?
I do use my Cuisinart all the time; in fact, I rarely use my blender anymore. And my salad spinner (I use an OXO one that’s push powered) is always in use, too. We do also use our Excalibur food dehydrator quite a bit, mostly in the summer months. I love to make dried tomatoes, fruit leathers, and beef jerky in it. Best of all, we keep it on our screened porch so we do not have to heat the whole house up like we would if we were using the oven.
Many people like to use kitchen tools for tasks that are different from what these items were designed for. Do you have any favorite “kitchen hacks” that you’d like to share with us?
I love using my silicone basting brush to grease my non-stick waffle iron. It saves a lot of butter and also protects the non-stick coating from damage. I also like to use a grapefruit spoon to scrape the seeds out of winter squash.
Could you share a favorite recipe of yours that lets you create an amazing dish primarily from natural and/or locally-sourced foods?
Here’s a simple omelette that our whole family gobbled down. It’s made with maitake (hen of the woods) mushroom and wild field garlic (we call it garlic chives). When we made it, we used eggs from a friend’s chickens (way better than store-bought) and some Irish cheddar which I love because it’s both rich and a little sweet.
Garlic Chive & Hen of the Woods Mushroom Omelette
Serves 4 adults (maybe use fewer eggs if you’re cooking for kids)
* 8 pasture-raised eggs
* 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
* 1/4 cup chopped garlic chives (or scallions)
* 1/2 cup sauteed maitake (or other) mushrooms
* Pinch of sea salt
* Several grinds of black pepper
* 2 Tbsps organic butter (you can use olive oil if you prefer)
1. Beat the eggs, salt, pepper and chives in a bowl with a fork or whisk until mixed – about 20 strokes.
2. In a large frying pan, melt the butter over medium-high heat until the butter bubbles and the foam subsides, making sure to coat the bottom evenly.
3. Add the eggs to the pan, tilting the pan to ensure that they cover the whole bottom. Use a spatula to gently drag the eggs towards the center of the pan and tilt the pan to let the uncooked eggs fill in the gaps. Cook for another 1-2 minutes, until the eggs are almost entirely set.
4. Sprinkle the cheese and mushrooms over one half of the omelette then fold the other half over on top of it. Slide the omelette out of the pan and eat while it’s hot.