If you already consider yourself an urban homesteader, (legal or otherwise), then the recently released The Complete Kitchen Garden: An Inspired Collection of Garden Designs and 100 Seasonal Recipes by Ellen Ecker Ogden probably is not for you. For the rest of us, this hybrid gardening/cookbook might be just what we need to turn that 2-square-foot plot of apartment balcony space into an "Heirloom Maze Garden" (p. 137) filled with limas, lemon cucumbers, fennel, various melons, peas and sunflowers, among other vegetables.
Okay, fine, maybe not. But this is still a tight little guide to growing your own edible garden by theme (translation: depending on your mood the day you go to the garden store), and cooking through your loot (100 recipes are included), should you be lucky enough to actually have space for a backyard garden.
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The author is the co-founder of The Cook's Garden, a seed company that she has since sold. Judging by the information packed into this book, the sale left Ogden more time to garden. As the title suggests, the book is aimed at gardens that produce the goods you want for dinner, and as such, the fourteen theme gardens in the book are loosely organized by your dinner personality type: The Salad Lover's Garden, The Cook's Garden, The Heirloom Maze Garden, The Organic Rotation Garden. They're pretty much exactly what they sound like.
Not into organic rotation? Ogden really wants you to love your garden, too. And so she has organized other gardens more by their "imaginative" type: The Paint Box Garden (raised beds showing off brightly colored decorative edibles), The Artist's Garden (canopies of visually interesting vegetables), The Four Friends Garden (a patchwork quilt-like setup often found in a community garden).
For each garden, Ogden then offers layout drawings and discusses ideal growing conditions (start lettuce seeds in plug trays then transplant into the garden when they are at least 3-inches tall). The gardening tips are so simple and easy to follow that we "non-growers" can't help but wonder if this might be a trick to get us to buy a hoe.
As this is also a hybrid cookbook -- 100 recipes is quite a lot -- we were hoping for simply decent suggestions for what to do with all those edible weeds that are now, well, growing like weeds. But at a glance, Ogden's recipes are actually pretty great: Lemon ricotta fritters with lavender honey sprinkled with lemon verbena or mint leaves, ginger carrot soup with a creamy lime and fresh-herb-of-your-choice garnish, dandelion greens-cheese tortellini salad with creamy tomato-bacon-Parmesan dressing, a gooseberry clafoutis. Now we just need that backyard.