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By Jim Long
Is a rose an herb? Most people would say no, believing herbs to be merely parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme and a few others. However, if you visit India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkey or neighboring countries in the region, you’ll find the rose firmly planted in the list of important culinary seasoning plants. In fact, the rose is so important that the International Herb Association (IHA) has designated it the official herb of the year for 2012, and the Herb Society of America will be promoting the rose throughout 2012 as well.
In the morning, before the heat sets in, Hugh Fitzsimmons drives his truck down rutted wheel tracks, looking for signs of his bison herd. He’s in no hurry, though his ranch is vast.
“Thirteen thousand acres,” he says. “More than I deserve.” Five miles per hour is slow enough to notice the richness in the endless grass, and Hugh likes to point out the details. Whip snake. Roadrunner. Jack rabbit. Mesquite. A 1920s-era windmill, revolving slowly.
By C. Jeanette Tyson
Illustrations by Matthew Lynaugh
Aunt Frances said to pull one from the bottom, so I did—dove through the murky syrup, hooked one with my fork and ate it straight from the jar. Crisp as a cotton sheet snapping on a summer line, just-this-side-of-cloyingly sweet…good…though not exactly the pickled watermelon rinds I remembered from my youth. I said this out loud.
Shane Bordeau and Jim Sampson were happy enough at their high-tech gigs—toiling away by day, then throwing back Mexican beers by night when they wanted to chill. But then, flying in the face of this dismal economy, the company they worked for was purchased by a mammoth entity. Enter the freedom to dream a big dream buoyed by the dough to pursue it. At the time of the buyout, Bordeau and Sampson had already been experimenting for years with home brewing. Now, their imaginations revved—what if they opened a microbrewery focused on a variation of the style of beer they preferred? Why not throw their sombreros into the growing ring of Austin area small-operation beer crafters?
By Jim Long
Creative chefs are always on the lookout for unique and unusual herbs and plants to complement and flavor their dishes. Here are a few gastronomic darlings that have recently moved to the forefront. Consider adding them to your herb garden or purchasing them locally and experimenting with some exciting, cutting-edge flavor sensations.
By Dorsey Barger
Photography by Dorsey Barger
When I first saw the non-flag-making Betsy Ross on PBS’s Central Texas Gardener, I was transfixed by her strong face and woman-cattle-rancher disposition. She smiled as if she knew a secret and might even share it with you, but she also looked tough as hell, a bit as if the hairstyle and earrings she wore were intended for this television appearance alone. As she talked of her journey from chemical-spraying rancher to loving nurturer of underground protozoa and fungi, I thought, “oh my God, I have got to meet this woman.”
By Lucinda Hutson
Photography by Lucinda Hutson
She’s sassy, spirited and full of flavor. Some call her names and say she has a split personality. Some adore her while some abhor her. And like any larger-than-life personality, she has the potential to overwhelm, if you let her. Can you guess this herb?
I call her la reina de la cocina—Mexico’s queen of the kitchen—and she adds a fresh, pungent burst of flavor as a seasoning or garnish.
By Jeremy Walther
Photography by Jenna Noel
Our poor dirt. In just a few hundred years, the once-fertile crust of Central Texas has been eroded, depleted, abused and completely taken for granted. Shortsighted farming and grazing practices have stripped nutrients and soil life without replenishing it, leaving scarred, lifeless earth behind.
Now—due in part to the destruction of soil—mounting global issues are placing more pressure than ever on food production and air, water and energy resources.
By Bernadette Noll
Cooking is my recreation. When home alone, I can cook all day for my family of six, with all four burners and the oven going. I love to linger over prep and listen to the radio or meditate in the rare silence. When my mom visits, she marvels at my ease. “I don’t know where you picked that up,” she’ll laugh, and we both know I didn’t learn the joy of cooking from her. My job of cooking for four, or even six, must seem a breeze compared to the responsibility of cooking for a family of 11! Yes, I’m the eighth of nine children.
Photography by Skip Connett
Green Gate Farms owner Erin Flynn has the sort of grace, elegance and beauty that isn’t immediately associated with backbreaking fieldwork and hog slop. Yet farming and raising animals have long been in her blood. Flynn—who operates the farm with husband Skip Connett—hails from a hardworking East Texas farm family. And though at one time she thought she’d left the farm life behind to pursue, with great passion, a city-centric life, a simple request from her husband found her tumbling back toward her roots.
By Dick Pierce
Dear Permie Pro,
Q: Now that it’s spring, we’re cleaning up our yard. We have a lot of leaves, and we’d like to compost to reduce our family’s contribution to the landfill. The catalogs and nurseries are full of devices—some quite expensive—to make compost. Do we really need one of these? And if so, which is the best? —Composter Wannabe
I’ve wanted to comment on this for years to set the record straight as to what you do and don’t need in order to compost.
First, let’s look at what compost is and how to make it. Dead leaves, brown grass and shredded paper are known as “browns” and contain mostly carbon. Kitchen scraps, fruit peels and green grass contain a lot of nitrogen—they’re called “greens.”
By Jeremy Walther
Photography by Jenna Noel and Holly Driggers
The romance of a backyard orchard is undeniable. Even for those who see agricultural endeavors as hellacious labor, the idea of walking down rows of green trees swollen with fruit stirs at least slight pangs of farmer envy. But anyone who has lived that life can tell you it’s not all picnics and evening strolls. With four trees or 40,000, Central Texas orchards demand almost constant attention to survive and produce. Dan Rohrer is more than familiar with the challenges of orchard management.
Excerpts from a new book by Pamela Walker
Photography by Linda Walsh
Published by Texas A&M University Press • 800-826-8911 • tamupress.com
By Deborah Madison from her forthcoming book, Vegetable Literacy
Photography (above) by Carole Topalian and (below) by Carole Ann Sayle
Sorrel and rhubarb are among the first edibles to appear in the spring, though what month that might be depends on where you live and your own particular climate. Their timing is one reason to consider them together, but another is that they are related as members of the family Polygonaceae, a word that means having many (poly) knees or joints (goni). The more common name is knotweed because of nodes, or joints, that reside on the stems of many family members.
By Gary Nabhan
Heritage foods are those grown from heirloom seeds, and the historic livestock breeds unique to a particular region. Shaped by the curing and cooking traditions of various local cultures—as well as the feasts, festivals and fiestas they celebrate—these distinctive foods are indeed edible legacies.
Most people recognize Texas as an ecological, cultural and musical crossroads, but may be unaware of the various culinary legacies that converge in the Lone Star State. The Chile Pepper Nation (the arid Southwest), the Gumbo Nation (the Gulf South), the Bison Nation (the Great Plains and Prairies) and the Cornbread Nation (the mid-South) converge here to offer richness, character and diversity found nowhere else. Not only do these food traditions meld and mingle, but over generations they’ve produced rare treasures among the heirloom seeds, fruits, nuts, livestock, fish and game native to our multifaceted state. Yet, some of these gems have been lost, or are in danger of being lost, from our community feasts and family tables.
By Cecilia Nasti
In the cool early summer of my tender eighth year, a quartet of rabbits from a nearby field ended up invited to supper. The hapless hares wouldn’t have found their way onto the menu had my maternal grandparents remained in California instead of traveling to Batavia, Illinois, for a monthlong stay. Eating from the land—including the occasional harvest of game for the table—was very much the norm for my mother’s people. Not so for me.
By Dick Pierce
Dear Permaculture, Gardening and Foodie Friends,
I hope this is a relaxing time of year for you and for your gardens. Enjoy the spinach, lettuce and greens you planted a while back, while your garden microbes are tucked in with their warm, moist blanket of compost, mulch or leaves. It’s a good time for some “armchair gardening,” and a good time to answer the often-asked question: What’s so different about gardening in Austin? The answer is threefold: the sun, the climate and the soil.
The higher the sun’s angle, the more heat we receive—that’s why it’s hotter in the late afternoon and in the summer in Austin, when the sun’s angle is highest. Most veggie plants are adapted to locations where the sun’s angle is much lower year-round, so during late May and early June in Austin, plants think it’s August and, therefore, their biological harvest time. After mid-June it’s too hot for many of them—they’re stressed and they simply stop producing.
By Iliana de la Vega
Photography by Knoxy
Pablo Neruda, the famous Chilean poet and Nobel Prize winner, used to say that the soul of Mexico is in its markets. There, the bustling public hive takes over the senses, from the bright colors and wonderful smells to the background of lulling music flecked with loud pregones: the shouts offering various goods to be had. Even though supermarkets are practical and convenient, nothing can surpass the incredible experience of talking to vendors and even asking for recipes. All of the markets in Mexico are wonderful, but I have my favorites to share.
By Claudia Alarcón
All gardeners, experienced or otherwise, tell stories of success and failure. Gardening is less an exact science and more a process of trial and error. But that shouldn’t stop you from planting a food garden. With a little planning ahead, you should be able to grow herbs, vegetables and fruit in your backyard or containers, and winter is the perfect time to plan and revitalize.
Though my family contains just two adults, I’ve learned that our four 10x10-foot plots can produce more than enough produce for a family of four, with two beds each planted in seasonal vegetables and perennial and annual herbs. We make the most of this relatively small space by gardening intensively and relying on drip irrigation to conserve water and provide moisture.
Here’s our plan:
First, we harvest and preserve the last of the late summer vegetables and herbs—peppers, eggplants, tomatoes and basil.