Gardening & Cooking

Felder Rushing

Donuts on Cake

Gardening and cooking share a lot of concepts, from tools to techniques. Whether you are a trained chef or horticulturist, or garden-variety gardener and home cook dabbling around the yard or kitchen, there are some easy comparisons.

Think about each of the small but skillful steps it takes to build a perfect BLT sandwich. Slicing stuff just the right thickness, making sure there isn’t so much mayo the bread gets soggy, adding just a pinch of salt and pepper… It’s much the same with creating a flower bed.

Being steeped in horticultural science heightens my appreciation of a well-planned design brimming with perfect plants but doesn’t make me a better gardener. And understanding the chemistry behind a smooth brown roux doesn’t make home-made gravy any less savory, lumps and all.

In fact, production-oriented techniques sometime get in the way of my enjoying just knocking around the yard. I’m challenged by irregularities and find subtly perverse delight in unplanned results. I mean, what chef, after a long day toiling over commercial grade stoves, doesn’t occasionally stand in front of the open ‘fridge, late at night, noshing on cold leftover mac ‘n cheese?

A lot of folks aren’t comfortable with a lot of rules, so, in order to get basic gardening advice over to folks who don’t respond well to scientific blather, I often come up with cooking analogies.

I don’t think I even need to get into too-obvious tool comparisons. Shovels and spoons, hand shears and kitchen scissors, bread knife and pruning saw, buckets and pans, potting bench and countertop, or hoses and cheese graters and compost sifts. And how digging in fresh compost or warm, moist soil releases an earthy odor that to me is as distinct as gingerbread in the oven.

You’ve heard that adding bark, compost, peat, or the like will improve the drainage of heavy clay, or help super-sandy soils retain water longer? I liken it to adding crumbled crackers to a bowl of soup. Getting past the pleasure of breaking thin soda bread with bare hands, it doesn’t take long to figure out that if you don’t add at least a handful of crackers, you can’t tell you added any at all; more than two handfuls turn it into mush.

And every one of us knows that, when drizzling a ladle of gravy over mashed potatoes, you make a little “volcano” depression on top of the potatoes, then fill it just to overflowing with gravy. Adding much more than that turns it into potato soup.

Same with adding stuff to dirt. I have dug many a flower bed and have found through short- and long-term experience that “just right” usually means digging the dirt about a shovel’s depth, then spreading a couple or three inches of organic matter stuff over the top - about the same proportions as crackers to chili, or gravy to potatoes - then mixing it all together. Too much is too fluffy and dries out too fast.

Using fertilizer is the same as salt on eggs, or sugar in tea; a little bit goes a long way, and too much raises your blood pressure. Fertilizers are lot like that.

Finally, good gardeners, like good cooks preparing vegetable stock, do some stuff ahead of time. So I took advantage of beautiful weather this week to turn some dirt over, mix in a couple of inches of compost and bark, and covered it with mulch.

Mixing soil is like making chili - veggies chopped, seasonings in hand, skillet sizzling in anticipation of cornbread batter… Difference is, here’s hoping I don’t find worms in the chili later!

Donuts on Cake