I was thinking about Barbara Kingsolver’s book, ”Animal, Vegetable, Miracle”, as I explored Delaware’s Bellevue State Park community gardens last week. Her book chronicles the saga of her family’s yearlong commitment to eat only food they could grow themselves and to fully experience the impact of eating local.
Bellevue has been offering garden plots to the public for almost 30 years. Today there are nearly 200 of them. They are tilled by families committed to cultivating seasonal crops in hopes of bring fresh food to their family tables and helping their children see where food really comes from, goals similar to Kingsolver’s project.
As I picked my way among the gardens, I surveyed the crops still coming in – collard greens, swiss chard, brussel sprouts, cabbage and winter squash, along with Delaware’s iconic pole lima beans. The golden light streaming through the fall leaves set off the textures of foliage and vegetables. It was a perfect day for picture taking.
I was there as part of a project sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, one of a dozen writers, artists and photographers selected to portray local landscapes through poems, photos and collected objects. Each of us adopted a public space in hopes of capturing its social connection – how that space intersects with people – so that others can experience the act of being there.
I chose Bellevue because of these gardens, for the community that has developed around them.
Some devoted gardeners have been tending their plots here for almost the entire thirty years. They share help and encouragement with the whole gardening community -- the sheer joy of watching plants grow, the giving and receiving that comes from work and dedication.
Many evenings, a group gathers around picnic tables, talking dirt, trading accumulated wisdom, offering tips, advice, materials, seedlings, and camaraderie.
At the end of the season, long dedication pays off with produce that will keep over the winter, like the long keeper tomatoes, picked green and meant to hold over. Many varieties of winter squash also can be stored for the winter season.
Leaving the gardens, Jimmell Bryant, a 90 year-old Bellevue gardener, gave me some Buttercup squash, a native American varietal. Its flesh is sweet and nutty, with a creamy consistency more in line with that of a baked sweet potato than a pumpkin. She advised that steaming or roasting will bring out its sweetness and add moistness to the flesh.
As Jimmell says, “Anyone can grow their own food. It’s one of the pleasures of life, nourishing the body and the brain.”
Roasted Buttercup Squash with Rosemary
(A winter squash with firm, brightly colored flesh much like a sweet potato, roasted buttercup squash makes a tasty alternative to traditional Thanksgiving side dishes like sweet potatoes)
1 medium Buttercup squash, peeled and cut into to 1 inch pieces
1/3 cup olive oil
1 Tbs crushed garlic
1 Tsp salt
¼ Tsp crushed black pepper
1 Tbs chopped rosemary
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Marinate squash in a ziplock bag with olive oil and herbs. Place on a foil-lined baking tray and bake for 40 minutes. Serve warm.
This is my contribution to Cook the Books November 2013 posting.