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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.
By Anne Isham
Photography by Marc Brown
Chocolate is a wondrous, many-faceted food. On a basic level, it’s purported to make us younger, smarter, happier and healthier thanks to a wealth of antioxidants and nutrients and an intricate fat structure. But in a more complicated context, chocolate possesses the ability to meet many of our emotional needs—from soothing frustrations, to taking the edge off the disappointment of dysfunctional relationships. Without a doubt, though, chocolate can be one of the most reliable means of charming friends, family and even our enemies.
Fonda San Miguel, a beloved local icon known for exceptional interior Mexican cuisine, has something new to tempt the palate: its exterior—a stunning 100’ x 60’ organic restaurant-garden, the largest in Austin, recently installed by Austin Green Art (AGA). Best known for raising sustainability awareness through art, education and creative recycling, AGA was a natural choice for Fonda San Miguel owner, Tom Gilliland. Together with AGA founder Randy Jewart, and LandART (AGA’s for-profit subsidiary) designer Robby Lee, the trio planned and sculpted a plot on the northeast side of the restaurant to spotlight seasonal delights and Mexican-based vegetables and herbs to use in the restaurant’s award-winning dishes.
By Ida H. McGarity
Photography by Jody Horton
If you haven’t had the pleasure of sinking your teeth into a juicy peach right off the tree, you’re missing one of the sheer joys of Central Texas—a quick snap through taut fuzzy skin fills the mouth and coats the chin with an explosion of summer’s sweet abundance. Every year at this time, the lure of fresh peaches is so strong that it sends countless eager fans scattering through the Hill Country in search of the cherished orbs.
Lukas Hjallbring was just two-going-on-three in the spring of 2006, but already suffering from what his parents, Henrik and Debbi, suspected was “nature-deficit disorder.” They’d first heard the phrase in Richard Louv’s Small Child in the Woods, and it struck a chord.
“We tried to get him outside as much as possible,” Debbi recalls, “but he practically got kicked out of Kindermusik because he couldn’t sit still. He’d always rather go to the greenbelt than any organized anything.”
By MM Pack
Blue Noodles, Japanese woodblock print, by Kylie Budge
Seasonal. Local. Healthful. Sustainable. Mindful. We’ve learned to embrace these concepts when sourcing, cooking, eating and thinking about food. However, there’s a cuisine that’s embodied this culinary approach for centuries. With a tradition of microseasonality and a profound respect for local ingredients, Japan’s food culture actively engages all five senses and focuses on the subtleties of food’s inherent flavors and textures. Its adherents have enjoyed some of the longest, healthiest lives in the world.
By Katie Cantrell
Photography by Meg Griffiths
Over the airwaves, the cries for help come in.
I have fallen in love with lantana plants. The bushes are producing berries. Are these safe to eat? Is the acorn of a bur oak edible? Can I eat the seed pods of wild sweet peas?
Faster than a flowering fig tree, it’s Mr. Smarty Plants to the rescue!
By Helen Cordes
Photography by Jenna Noel
Fans of the fungi know the moment that promises prime palate pleasure—when smooth slices of mushroom surrender to the sauté, become fragrant and glisten with droplets of flavor-sating umami. Of course, the quality of that aroma and nectar soars when a mushroom is truly fresh, and Central Texas mushroom lovers score a huge coup with family-run Kitchen Pride Mushroom Farms so close at hand.
By Jeremy Walther
Some might say that of all the colors, gray is the most befuddling. Gray can be gloomy, dull, sullen, boring. It’s the color of haze, noncommittal, inconclusive, wishy-washy; it’s the hue smack dab between ain’t no way black and hell yes white. Unfortunately, there just aren’t many examples of black and white, as gray rules much of the world—its murky shadow obscuring solutions to issues like the American economy, nuclear technology, Austin’s plan for growth and making cling wrap stick to anything but itself.
By Layne Lynch
Photography by Jody Horton
Inconspicuously hidden on the corner of West Sixth and Blanco Streets, Café Josie has long been one of Austin’s secret dining gems—serving flavorful, worldly cuisine since 1997. But if new co-owner and executive chef Brandon Fuller has anything to do with it, all that anonymity will soon be stripped away. “We’re shifting towards a more local, organic, seasonal approach to food,” says Fuller. “I’ve already changed up about eighty-five percent of the menu. The responses to the changes we’ve initiated have been overwhelmingly positive and supportive.”
Being an avid gardener, I’m afflicted with fall fever. No matter how busy my herbal practice keeps me, I take advantage of the more tolerable weather as I plant my fall garden and admire the cooler colors of fall herbs and flowers. If you have a Texas hankerin’ to get a favorite plant in the ground, now’s the time. In fact, if you think ahead, you can have fresh herbs throughout the winter, including the following favorites.
By Amy Crowell
Photography by Dennis Hartmann
Let’s face it, gathering edible wild plants is hard work for small rewards. And since wild pickings are slim this time of year, the hunting part of hunting-and-gathering is the way to go.
Despite the prevalence of farm-raised venison, the white-tailed deer most commonly hunted in our area is still wild and abundant, reminding us that even in our modern society, we can experience the ancient art of hunting and eating our kill.
By Katherine Tanney
Photography by Katherine Tanney
One night last spring, while chewing on the ingredients of my usual salad—greens, crumbled blue cheese, chopped Fuji apples, and toasted walnuts tossed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar (none of it organic or grown locally)—I noticed that my jaw was actually aching with boredom. My diet, I realized, consisted of three or four “greatest hits,” played in yawning weekly rotation month after month.