Everyone I talk to loves Amy Pennington. The Seattle-based urban gardener, author of the new Urban Pantry: Tips & Recipes from a Thrifty, Sustainable & Seasonal Kitchen, was kind enough to meet with me one day in a Seattle pizzeria. Keep in mind I was a total stranger asking her for advice on my next-day meeting with renowned chef, Tom Douglas, who she used to work with and who now features her regularly as a contributor to his weekly radio show.
Upon her arrival at the pizzeria, the staff greeted her warmly. In fact, the usual response from anyone I spoke to about her was: “Oh, I love Amy! Tell her hello!” This girl had it going on. One thing’s for sure: she’s got it going on in the garden. Amy has since launched Go Go Green Garden, an edible gardening business that creates and maintains sustainable gardens for urbanites, and Urban Garden Share, a website connecting gardeners without soil to neighbors willing to share their yards. I am pleased to present an excerpt from her new book:
I am a gardener. Not just any ol’ gardener, but an urban gardener. I plant edible gardens for city folk in their backyards, frontyards, parking strips, and among various pots and containers. Anywhere I can find space, I tuck in edibles, both annuals and perennials, for people to grow and eat. Fruit trees, cane berries, artichokes, lettuces, tomatoes, cukes, and as many herbs as I can fit are squeezed into small urban lots to attract the eye and inspire people to cook. In an urban setting, you need to be resourceful if you’re going to grow your own food.
Small kitchen gardens are an incomparable extension to a well-stocked pantry. Like a lot of urban dwellers, I live in an apartment in the heart of the city. I don’t have a lawn, and I don’t have pretty flower beds. My frontyard is made entirely from a row of Dumpsters and a large parking lot. One lone scraggly tree keeps sentry. What I lack in frontyard space I make up for in patio real estate on a decent-sized deck, where I keep container plants in the warmer months (or cold months if any plant is hardy enough to survive unattended). Over the years I have kept a container garden for edibles and narrowed down my choices to vegetables, herbs, and flowers that are prolific producers and add flavor to meals. Aside from the obvious natural beauty in a pantry garden, there is a beauty in the ability to experiment. I came into urban “farming” not because I have a bright-green thumb but because I love food. When the season is high, each day something can be clipped from the garden-an herb for garnish or flower petals for preserving. At home you can grow herbs and edibles that are not readily available in grocery stores or farmers markets. Growing your own herbs and food is like a gateway drug to a new world of flavors in your cooking. You’ll become addicted.
Chervil is a great herb to get started just as winter is winding down. I think of chervil is the ‘new’ dill. A self-seeding annual, chervil is one of the very first plants to pop out of the soil and signal spring’s arrival. Chervil is a tender herb with a delicate stem and soft, feathery leaves. Its flavor is a cross between parsley and tarragon, but more subtle. Chervil will set flowers and go to seed once spring turns warm, so it’s best to cut and use the herb regularly. In mild climates, a second crop of chervil will often re-seed and grow back in fall.
WHEN AND WHERE TO PLANT. Chervil can be planted early in spring, once the danger of frost has passed, but when temperatures are still cool. It prefers part sun-a space with afternoon shade is perfect.
POT SIZE. Chervil gives and gives and gives. No matter how much you cut from the plant, it fills in quickly and fully. A medium-sized pot is large enough to keep you happy with chervil production all spring. The pot should be at least 12 inches deep and 10 inches wide.
Seeds versus starts. Chervil germinates fairly well (if the soil is kept moist) and is not widely available in nurseries, so planting from seed works best.
HOW TO HARVEST. Cut the chervil stem close to the soil and use both the stem and the leaves in your recipes.
HOW TO EAT. Chervil is best eaten within a day of harvest and left raw, or added to a hot dish just before serving so you don’t lose the soft flavor. It’s an excellent pairing with fish, particularly smoked fish like salmon and trout. Chervil is a partner to eggs as well-be they hard-cooked and cold or cooked as an omelet. Try it in potato salads in place of dill.
Excerpted from Urban Pantry: Tips & Recipes from a Thrifty, Sustainable & Seasonal Kitchen, by Amy Pennington, published by Skipstone April 2010