Gardening for Dinner: Using seasonal bounty

fried green tomatoes

I have never really considered myself a gardener. I have always had a plant or two growing in a pot or hanging basket and on some rare occasions, actually got something to eat from them. Then, four years ago, my wife and I bought a house and discussed putting in a raised bed for a small garden. That first bed was five feet by 10 feet and served as our very first garden. 


We didn’t get a whole lot out of that little bed, I think because we overplanted the small area. I wanted a large variety of vegetables and that didn’t work out so well. So, the following year, I added five more boxes and three half-barrel planters so that I could get a larger variety. 


I built four 4' by 4' boxes that were all about a foot deep and one 4' by 6' box that was also a foot deep. I got a lot of stuff last year and I really think that convinced me I should go all-in on the gardening. I was able to freeze 15 pounds of green beans and canned an additional 12 pints of beans. I was also able to can beets, tomatoes, zucchini, and salsa, all from what I grew in the garden. It got me really excited about gardening. 


Making a plan

This last winter, I sat down with my wife and we mapped out our yard to see where else we could possibly grow some vegetables. There was plenty of room in the backyard and some space between our fence and our neighbor’s fence that was not being used, so I built more boxes. I also re-landscaped part of our front yard and took out the shrubs that were there and replaced them with shrubs that I could use; I now have lilacs and gooseberries for jams and jellies. 


Now, when I walk out into my backyard I am starting to feel like a gardener. Just about all of my plants are thriving, some are doing too well and others, like my beets, aren’t doing well at all. 


I had to do battle with a couple of bunnies that decided my beans were their beans and I have been fending off Japanese beetles. But for the most part, I am really pleased with all the vegetables that are coming in right now. I have been getting an abundance of zucchini and have been making everything from stuffed zucchini to a beautiful zucchini crisp. 


Zucchini crisp might sound strange, but try it once and you may never make crisp with apples again. Once I was able to trap and relocate the bunnies, my beans took off and have been doing really well, I might not get as much as last year, but I am sure I will still be able to put up a lot of beans this year. 


Using the bounty


Everything is doing really well, so now I have to think about how I am going to use it all. I have had to start thinking outside the box with some of the normal things I do. I have been sneaking zucchini into everything I cook and have made several different kinds of radish pickles already this year. When I found myself with an abundance of rhubarb and tired of rhubarb pies and jams, I made rhubarb barbecue sauce. The tartness of the rhubarb really goes great with the spicy kick and makes a great barbecue sauce for pulled pork or grilled chicken. 


Every meal, it seems like I am using something from my garden and every morning I can’t wait to see what is out there and what new vegetables are coming in. I had been watching several different cooking shows and had seen a dish with fried corn cakes, fried green tomatoes, and pimento cheese, and it looked so good that as soon as I had green tomatoes that were big enough, I knew was going to make it. 


I made the pimento cheese using a recipe from Chef Sean Brock and used some of my pickled radishes in that. Then I grated up some of my zucchini and mixed it into the corn cake batter and made a zucchini corn cake. I fried the green tomatoes and used some of my rhubarb barbecue sauce. I finished it all off with some fried clams and a healthy slab of homemade bacon. I can honestly say it was the most satisfying meal I have ever made. 


Jamie Carlson lives in Burnsville, MN with his wife, Amanda, and their two kids Eleanor and Charlie. He works as an RN at the Minneapolis VA hospital. He enjoys hunting, fishing, foraging, and, of course, cooking. He believes that all food can be tasty if it is prepared with care, and he writes about his adventures on his food blog, You Have to Cook it Right. Follow him on Twitter at @youcookitright.