Saturday, October 22, 2016

First Lady Michelle Obama planting in her White House Kitchen Garden. The Edible Garden will endure thanks to Burpee Foundation 

A $2.5 Million gift has been announced to ensure the operation and maintenance of the White House Kitchen Garden initiated by First Lady Michelle Obama. The donation will be made by the home gardening company, W. Atlee Burpee, and The Burpee Foundation.

According to George Ball, chairman and CEO of the 140 year old Pennsylvania based Burpee, establishment of a formal vegetable garden at The White House resurrects a tradition that goes back to John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. “As America’s leading home gardening company we recognize the importance of continuing The White House Kitchen Garden and developing its educational activities in support of The White House initiative.”

The gift will be made to the National Park Foundation (NPF) to cover direct costs to expand and maintain the Garden. The donation is a long-term commitment to the preservation of the White House Kitchen Garden.

“Everyone at Burpee is proud of the First Lady’s ‘Can-Do!’ attitude,” Mr. Ball says, “and we hope that a well-conceived long-lasting version of The White House Kitchen Garden will be fully supported by ensuing Administrations for so long as The White House serves as the residence for The President of the United States.”    

Burpee has been working with the NPF for more than two years to help reverse the dramatic loss of bees and other pollinators. The company donated more than one million seed packets to help home gardeners plant gardens that attract bees and butterflies. The packets were distributed free of charge to visitors to national parks throughout the 2015/2016 season.

Funding for the donation will come from W. Atlee Burpee Company, a privately owned home gardening company in Bucks County, PA, and The Burpee Foundation, which was established in 2003. The Burpee Company breeds, produces and distributes seeds and plants of vegetables and flowers both nationally and internationally.

The First Lady of the United States commended Burpee and The Foundation for its generous gift in support of the future preservation of The White House Kitchen Garden and its impact on her “Let’s Move!” initiative, at a ceremony, Wednesday, October 5th, on the South Lawn next to the Garden that she planted in 2009. 
Thank you, Burpee. And First Lady, Michelle Obama - for your vision and integrity and dedication to all things Homegrown.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Kiku: The Art of the Japanese Garden at New York Botanical Garden on display till 10/30 - Ephemeral Seasonal Exhibit

The New York Botanical Garden’s (NYBG) distinctive and acclaimed fall exhibition,

Kiku: The Art of the Japanese Garden, returns to the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory from October 8 through October 30, 2016, with magnificent displays of chrysanthemums in awe-inspiring shapes and styles.

However, this year, the exhibit delivers a bit of a twist -- best captured as the NYBG professionals refer to it: “Kiku Modern or Contemporary Kiku.” The horticulturists and designers have created a show that is very much inspired by the tradition but modern and with a sense of genus loci.

Let me just say straight away - I love this show. And I also love saying Kiku. It’s one of the cutest words ever. Kiku. Kiku. Kiku. Puts a ready smile on your face, no?

Kiku is, in fact, the Japanese word for “chrysanthemum” --the most celebrated of all Japanese fall-flowering plants. NYBG’s unforgettable presentation of kiku, painstakingly trained to grow in a mesmerizing variety of forms and sizes, pays homage to hanami, the traditional Japanese custom of enjoying the ephemeral beauty of flowers.

The exquisite floral sculptures, combined with all of the Botanical Garden’s natural attractions, beckon visitors to indulge in fall’s ephemeral, seasonal beauty. Intriguing installations of traditional kiku displays pioneered by the chrysanthemum masters at the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo and re-created by the kiku experts at The New York Botanical Garden -- most notably led by Yukie Kurashina, who was educated by kiku masters from Tokyo’s Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, provide the opportunity for you to learn about the fascinating history of this storied flower as it traveled from its native China to Japan and ultimately to the West.

Did you know the chrysanthemum is the official Imperial Seal of Japan? When I brought this up during the sneak preview held for the press last Thursday, Todd Forrest, Arthur Ross Vice President for Horticulture and Living Collections, explained that no one was permitted to use the Imperial Seal except the Emperor of Japan, who used a 16 petal chrysanthemum (with sixteen tips of another row of petals showing behind the first row.) Todd said even the Crown Prince can only display or utilize a slightly modified version of the seal -- he uses a 15 petal mum.

Power to the Petal! The emperor is one-petal grander!

I top-line researched chrysanthemum and learned:
  • Shinto shrines either displayed the imperial seal or incorporated elements of the seal into their own emblems. 
  • Mums represent long life and good health (mums are also used at funerals - kind of a circle of life…) 
  • Mums are edible! You can use the leaves to make tea, use in stir fry, or salads
  • Chrysanthemum belong to the genus Chrysanthemum in the Asteraceae family
  • Chrysanthemums are highly evolved flowering plants, related to dahlia

Traditional Kiku Styles on Display
Todd noted in his welcome remarks how this show is really 13 years in the making. Unlike most plant-based art exhibits which require supplemental or infusions of plants sourced from others: be that nurseries, private collections, or growers and gardens, NYBG invested in growing the chrysanthemums themselves -- approximately 30% -- from seed. With the added benefit of innovating chrysanthemum cultivars.

Botanical Garden experts work up to 11 months each year to grow, train, and shape the kiku on display. Cultivated from tiny cuttings, the plants are pinched back, tied to frames, and carefully nurtured. Flower buds develop as the autumn nights grow longer, and in October the plants burst into bloom, a true celebration of the changing of the seasons.

“Normally” - the mums bloom in November -- so in order to get the mum plants to perform for the show, they are “tricked” into blooming earlier with the use of the NYBG team shading and draping the plants throughout the summer growing time - starting around 3 pm, seven days a week. Todd noted with a smile that this is “gardening without a net!” because if there’s a mistake or a problem - there is no going back. There’s no reset button…

While there is no doubt the show is jaw-dropping beautiful - it’s not just eye-candy.
This is one horticultural art display that demonstrates the more you know, the richer the exhibit experience is.
Take your time, read the background information and ask the “Roaming Guides” about the history and evolution of Kiku. You will no doubt be enchanted and gobsmacked at the same time -- there are so many cultivars displayed: pompons, English mopheads, spiders, quills, single and double stems - and more.
Furthermore, there is mystery in this exhibit -- the garden story reveals itself - it unfolds.


And like a plant explorer, detective and a kind of horticulture sorcerer - you will need to follow the clues to not only see the ingenious plant palette compositions and combinations, but also to glean what the symbolic meanings are behind the use of the natural elements, including water, color, stone and rocks, and the plants.

It’s a plant mystery adventure. You will discover bridges, butterflies,
umbrellas, “ponds.”
Plus, there is lovely, almost ethereal music that can be heard - a gentle, heavenly koto -- adding to a most peaceful encounter.

I noted that part of the NYBG genius is how that “fourth wall” is designed and incorporated into the shows.
Kiku is indeed peaceful whereas last year’s Frido Kahlo exhibit was energizing and frothy, for example.

This year’s kiku team is led by Foreman of Gardeners, James Harkins, under the supervision of Marc Hachadourian, Director of the Nolen Greenhouses for Living Collections. James trained with and works alongside kiku expert Yukie Kurashina.
Marc curates NYBG’s extensive groupings of living plants from around the world housed in the Nolen Greenhouses, the behind-the-scenes glasshouses where plants for the Garden’s indoor and outdoor displays and science program are grown and maintained.

The exhibition is designed by the masterful Francisca P. Coelho, Vivian and Edward Merrin Vice President for Glasshouses and Exhibitions, best known for her plantsmanship and key role in the design and development of high-profile horticultural displays in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory.

Fran Coelho, NYBG 
I refer to her artful resume as “institutional intuition.” Fran knows that conservatory like Renee Fleming knows the stage at the Metropolitan Opera. She knows how where the light hits the inflorescence of the pink Muhlenbergia capillaris - pink hair grass, or how the blossoms will peak bloom in a certain corner and nook.
It can also be said that she is a kind of “plant whisperer” -- the plants call out to her - and perhaps lead her to create such original and breathtaking designs. This ability is what gives Kiku its breathtaking quality. But I’m getting a bit ahead of things.
Let’s start with how the show evolved.

Remember - when viewing the images or strolling the show that the displays -- with their hundreds of blossoms -- are each growing from one - that’s right - one plant! Look in the pot or under the cascade and you will see the single stem.
See the single stem 
You still won’t believe it - but it’s true.
It’s like that Groucho Marx line: “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?”

According to NYBG, “For several years, kiku expert Kodai Nakazawa, oversaw the intricate training of the chrysanthemums at The New York Botanical Garden along with Yukie Kurashina.
A few modern forms, such as ‘Butterfly’ and ‘Bridge,’ are included in this year’s exhibition, building on some of the experimental shapes that Kodai practiced while at NYBG.

Today, Kodai is back in Japan, raising a family and enjoying success as one of the country’s greatest chrysanthemum masters. He was recently rewarded for his years of discipline and artistry with the recognition of becoming the kiku chief at Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, one of the premier destinations for chrysanthemum-lovers around the world.”

Fran says the Conservatory is a challenging space. Further she and the team looked to design the show utilizing plants in the same kiku traditional design - yet, “We wanted to change it up.”
The contemporary interpretation on display or “Kiku with a Modern Twist” at NYBG can best be seen in the center stage show stopper.
Fran and team raised up the Ozukuri Thousand Bloom in its traditional wooden sekidai container -- in an almost altar-like setting.
The astonishing dome of blooms is surrounded on all four sides by single stem mums in both pink and yellow colors that later double up on stem - all to create a checker box-inspired plant pattern. Fronting the “altar” is a checkerboard bluestone pattern interspersed with grey stones, planted with mini ornamental grass: the diminutive Corynephorus canescens, Spiky Blue ™ .
I’m stealing this look, by the way -- love the stone and plant combo. I think this can be an exhilarating path design or focal point, as is seen here.
See how the Garden’s display inspires garden design, too?

Speaking of kiku “with a twist” - on display up front is a most curious and beautiful bloom, the Edo chrysanthemums whose petals twist in different directions as the blooms age - as noted on the informational signage.
The Shino-tsukuri / “Driving Rain,” is trained to grow up through a kind of hoop to safeguard their large, heavy blooms - Chrysanthemum NYBG bred Selection E-O4 - trust me - it’s much more intriguing than its moniker (it’s a bandwidth issue for the NYBG team) curls and twists to the light! The petals become spiral - in what is described as 13 different stages of the bloom.
What a plant performance!

Fran described how they install many of the plants in the exhibit, modelling the Japanese way of planting in the shape of a cloud. How heavenly is that?

With regard to the plant companions, Fran explained that essentially, they sought autumn blooming plants so there are lots of ornamental grasses, including the Muhlenbergia and Melinis nerviglumis - and a color spectrum focusing on my favorites in design: yellow and purple hues.

During Kiku: The Art of the Japanese Garden, three traditional kiku styles will be displayed in the Haupt Conservatory:

§ Ozukuri (Thousand Bloom): In this highly complex technique, a single stem is trained to produce hundreds of simultaneous blossoms in a massive, dome-shaped array. Ozukuri are planted in specially built wooden containers called sekidai.

§ Kengai (Cascade): This technique features small-flowered chrysanthemums. They are trained to conform to boat-shaped frameworks that cascade downward like waterfalls for lengths of up to six-and-a-half feet. The result is a burst of hundreds of tightly clustered blooms.

§ Ogiku (Double and Triple Stem): These plants feature enormous individual flowers perched at the ends of stems up to six feet tall.

The chrysanthemum Bonsai is a marvel.
For what can be argued is the first time such a collection is on display - what started as an experiment and challenge three years ago - has, umm, “blossomed” into an extraordinary display of more than 15 bonsai sculpted in the “Forest’ style, “Cascade” style, and many boasting the incredible “Root over Rock” effect.
The bonsai masters carved volcanic rock, planted the chrysanthemums and in several -- at Marc Hachadourian’s suggestion, inserted epiphyte orchids - some fragrant -- into the rock’s crevices. Talk about gilding the lily, er mum...

Chrysanthemum Bonsai

More to See Throughout NYBG

Other highlights at The New York Botanical Garden during Kiku: The Art of the Japanese Garden include taiko drumming on weekends and daily roaming guides stationed throughout the exhibition.

Attractions include ikebana demonstrations, meditation walks, haiku workshops, and more. On October 15 and 16, during the Aki Matsuri Japanese Fall Celebration, visitors can participate in added activities throughout the Botanical Garden in conjunction with the opening of the Judy and Michael Steinhardt Maple Collection, which features prized specimens of Japanese maples.

Take a stroll along the Poetry Walk to view poems that highlight the Japanese art of haiku and tanka, enhanced by the natural beauty of the surrounding tree collection, the Arthur and Janet Ross Arboretum, the first one established at the Botanical Garden, featuring pines, spruces, and firs, many of which are native to Asia. The Poetry Walk is part of Poetry for Every Season, co-presented by the Poetry Society of America. Special poetry workshops will also be a part of the events on October 15 and 16.

You can also enjoy two Kiku Evenings, October 8 and 15, separate ticketed events at which they can experience the stunning displays with traditional Japanese music while sipping a complimentary sake cocktail courtesy of TY KU, the leader in premium sake producing the best tasting, most awarded, and fastest growing Japanese sake in the U.S., authentically brewed in Nara, Japan, the birthplace of sake.
There is such a plethora of programming surrounding Kiku at the Garden - that it is almost an embarrassment - an abundance of hort riches…
This is a rich portfolio of art and culture that cannot be missed. Seriously. The exhibit and programs only run through the end of October.

Scroll through the schedule and be sure to take advantage of as many of these rare opportunities as you can squeeze in.

Where else but the Garden could you experience, artful pursuits that includes music, cocktails, flower arranging, poetry, dance, and horticulture and garden design -- all for the price of admission! Talk about cultural value. Take a friend or two - and indulge.

NYBG Programming for Kiku: The Art of the Japanese Garden with Aki Matsuri: Japanese Fall Celebration of the Steinhardt Maple Collection

October 8–30, 2016

The New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) offers a series of public programs and events to enrich visitors’ experience of the fall season during the exhibition Kiku: The Art of the Japanese Garden and the celebration of the Judy and Michael Steinhardt Maple Collection. 
Programs include traditional Japanese music, hands-on arts demonstrations, and poetry.

Schedule of Public Programs and Events

Ongoing, Daily Activities:

§ Roaming Guides

Daily,11 a.m.–4 p.m.

In the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory

Drop in for an in-depth look into Kiku from guides stationed throughout the exhibition.

Weekend Fun for Kiku:

§ Taiko Drumming

Saturdays and Sundays at 1, 2, & 3 p.m. (Oct 15 & 16 at 1, 3, & 4 p.m.)

On the Conservatory Lawn main stage

Experience the thunderous and thrilling drumming with Taiko Masala.

This drumming is truly one of life’s cultural gifts - one of my heart-stopping, tear-inducing experiences because of the primal, visceral connection the sound and sight evokes.

The taiko (Japanese drum) has been called “the voice and spirit of the Japanese people.” From its roots in agriculture and use in the ancient music in shrines and temples, traditional taiko folk music is believed to have entertained the gods, attracted good fortune, driven away evil forces and insects, lent strength and courage to warriors, and celebrated life. After each performance, visitors will be invited on stage to see the drums up close, beat out a few rhythms, and ask the performers about the art form. Taiko-Masala

About Taiko Masala: Taiko Masala has thrilled audiences throughout the U.S. with performances of Japan’s traditional drumming, taiko, combining the training and discipline of Japanese martial arts with the precision and power of complex drumming. Taiko Masala brings visually stunning and breathless excitement to their performances. Their arsenal of instruments, all hand-made by the ensemble, range from small eight-inch, hand-held drums to five-foot barrel drums and feature the giant 250-pound O-daiko.

§ Hands-on Arts Demonstrations

Saturdays and Sundays, 12–3 p.m.

At the Conservatory Plaza

Participate in age-old art forms that are a popular part of Japanese culture. Offerings change each week.

§ Ikebana

October 8 & 9, Demonstrations at 12:30, 1:30, & 2:30 p.m.

Japanese ikebana—“flowers kept alive”—is a complex form of asymmetrical flower arranging. Watch as representatives from the Izunome Association USA create these masterful works of botanical art.

§ Origami

October 10, 22, and 29, 12–3 p.m.

Learn how to make origami (Japanese paper folding), including simple shapes for kids, and about the unique history of this art form with Taro’s Origami Studio.

§ Japanese Calligraphy (Shodou) and Manga Drawing

October 15 & 16, 12–3 p.m.

Watch and practice shodou, traditional Japanese calligraphy, and learn the basics of drawing your own manga (Japanese comic) character and poses in the contemporary materials will be provided

§ Saori Weaving

October 23 & 30, 12–3 p.m.

Watch as weavers from Loop of the Loom practice saori weaving, a contemporary hand- weaving style, where imperfections are celebrated as a part of life and the individual.

Aki Matsuri: Japanese Fall Celebration of the Steinhardt Maple Collection

October 15 & 16, 12–4 p.m.

The Garden’s historic collection of maples from around the world has been expanded with the addition of many rare and unusual plants, including Japanese cultivars. The majestic beauty of the Judy and Michael Steinhardt Maple Collection’s distinguished trees sets the stage for a colorful weekend of fall activities, including nature walks and haiku workshops. 

At the Steinhardt Maple Collection:

§ Forest Bathing / Shinrin-yoku (Don’t you just love the way this sounds?? I mean really - forest bathing is just so sensual...

Shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, is a practice upheld in Japanese culture that brings healthful physical and psychological benefits to people through exposure to nature. This is reflected in Japanese Zen, where silent meditation in serene environments is a core element of the practice. Buddhist monk Bhante Suddhāso, trained in both Japanese Zen and in Theravāda meditation, will teach meditation and lead visitors on a journey of inner exploration: practicing sitting and walking meditation amid the maple trees, conifers, and flower beds in the silent reaches of the Garden. Buddhist Insights

Forest Bathing -- 12, 1, 2, & 3 p.m.

Meet at the entrance to the Steinhardt Maple Collection
§ Haiku Writing

12:30, 1:30, & 2:30 p.m.

Throughout the Maple Collection

Haiku is a classic form of Japanese poetry composed of three lines with 17 syllables, written in a 5/7/5 syllable count. Haiku often focuses on imagery involving nature, while emphasizing simplicity and sensory experiences. With the help of up-and-coming poets, write your own verses inspired by the Maple Collection.

Presented in collaboration with the Poetry Society of America

Poets include:


Emily Brandt is the author of three chapbooks. Her poems have appeared in The Recluse, The Offing, Apogee, The Atlas Review, and other journals. She earned her MFA from New York University where she facilitated the Veterans Writing Workshop. She has been in residence at Saltonstall Arts Colony and a Fellow at Poets House. Emily is a co-founding editor of No, Dear and Web Acquisitions Editor for VIDA.

Cynthia Manick is the author of Blue Hallelujahs published by Black Lawrence Press. A Pushcart Prize-nominated poet with a MFA in Creative Writing from the New School, she has received fellowships from Cave Canem, The Hambidge Center for the Creative Arts & Sciences, the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, Hedgebrook, Poets House, and the Vermont Studio Center. Her work has appeared in African American Review, Bone Bouquet, Callaloo, DMQ Review, Kweli Journal, Muzzle Magazine, Sou’wester, Pedestal Magazine, Passages North, Tidal Basin, and elsewhere. She currently curates Soul Sister Revue and resides in Brooklyn, New York. She can be found at


Brandon Kreitler is the recipient of a Discovery/Boston Review Poetry Prize from the 92Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center and a Graduate Teaching Fellowship from Columbia University. His poems have appeared in DIAGRAM, Colorado Review, Indiana Review, and Verse Daily, among other journals. Brandon is from Arizona and lives in New York City, where he teaches at the City University of New York.

Ansley Moon is the author of the poetry collection, How to Bury the Dead (Black Coffee Press, 2011). A Kundiman fellow, she has received fellowships and awards from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund and Hambidge. Additionally, she is a recent finalist for the Jake Adam York Poetry Prize and a finalist for the Great Indian Poetry Prize.

Near the Kiku exhibition:

§ Martial Arts and Samurai Demonstrations 12 & 2 p.m.

On the Conservatory Lawn
Martial arts are ancient systems of combat, reaching back to the 16th century. Samurai swordsmanship is some of the finest and most challenging combat known to humankind, and takes an abundance of focus, dedication, and skill.

About Samurai Sword Soul: Samurai Sword Soul (SSS) is a samurai theater company, founded by Yoshi Amao in 2003. Since then, Samurai Sword Soul’s numerous performances, an engaging mix of comedy routines, humanistic-theme drama, and thrilling sword fights, have been attracting a wide range of audiences in New York. Their sword technique is based on Waki Ryu Tate, which was created by Keihei Wakisaka; the spirit of Seido Karate; and kendo (Japanese fencing) technique. Now imbuing traditional Japanese sword fighting arts with a more contemporary essence and their own artistry, they have established a Samurai Sword Soul Style.”

And seriously - once you see and engage with the the Master Yoshi - and his ensemble’s storytelling and performances that is part theater and ballet and combat - you will be a devoted fan for life… I adore Yoshi and Samurai Sword.

§ Peekaboo-Kun Sculptures

Along Perennial Garden Way

Artist Rica Takashima celebrates Japanese culture through an interactive display of

Peekaboo-Kun (cutout sculptures). Discover and learn the personality behind each colorful

Kiku Evenings

October 8 & 15, 7–10 p.m.

In the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory

An evening viewing of Kiku: The Art of the Japanese Garden paired with a complimentary sake cocktail, courtesy of TY KU, makes for an unforgettable night out. TY KU is the leader in premium sake producing the best-tasting, most-awarded, and fastest-growing Japanese sake in the U.S., authentically brewed in Nara, Japan, the birthplace of sake. Enjoy the sounds of traditional Japanese music as you admire the carefully trained plantings and round out the night with dinner at the Hudson Garden Grill, featuring a special Japanese-inspired prix fixe menu.

§ Kimono Dressing Workshops

7:15, 8, & 8:45 p.m.

In the Conservatory Courtyards

Kimono (Japanese dress) experts from KaedeNYC divulge the meaning behind the patterns and flowers that decorate the kimono, beautiful works of art in and of themselves. They demonstrate how an obi (sash) is tied and walk you through the ceremony of dressing in these traditional Japanese robes. After the presentation, selected volunteers may try on a kimono and yukata (casual Japanese garment).

§ Shakuhachi

October 8, Ongoing

Throughout the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory

A night of beautiful and engaging shakuhachi (Japanese flute)

performances. Two musicians trained by Grand Master James Nyoraku Schlefer stroll

the Conservatory and perform traditional and contemporary music that bridges

Western and Japanese styles.

About Grand Master James Nyoraku Schlefer: Grand Master Schlefer is a virtuoso

performer of traditional and contemporary shakuhachi music, an esteemed teacher in

the Kinko school, and a ground-breaking composer. Honored by Musical America

International as one of their “30 Top Professionals and Influencers,” Nyoraku Sensei’s

efforts promote and sustain traditional shakuhachi music.

§ Koto and Shamisen

October 15, Ongoing

In the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory and Courtyards

Listen to the beautiful and delicate music of the shamisen, a three-stringed Japanese instrument and of the koto, another traditional Japanese stringed instrument. Masayo Ishigure, a native of Japan, plays contemporary pieces with her students.

Visit the The New York Botanical Garden for more information on all the offerings during Kiku: The Art of the Japanese Garden, and to purchase tickets.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook author talk and book signing October 5, Carlyle on the Green

Please join me Wednesday, October 5 at the swanky Carlyle on the Green country club for my talk about the glories of Homegrown Long Island. I'll share the backstories of the research and writing of the The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook -- show a few videos of the Homegrown chefs creating their dishes with fresh cut and fresh-caught ingredients - and chefs in their gardens with the growers and artisanal food makers who inspire them.

I’ll share how this book is all about celebrating the love -- and corresponding respect -- the chefs have for the land, the growers and makers.

This talk will also honor three featured Homegrown artists who we recently lost from this world … Their leadership and work and menus continue to inspire us…

We’ll discuss how the Homegrown chefs also work tirelessly to preserve the land, cook with sustainable ingredients, and their work in children’s edible gardens in order to teach the next generation the importance of eating seasonally and locally. I also talk about the cultural and economic opportunity found in homegrown food tourism. Visitors will travel to experience unique homegrown menus and regional dishes and menus.

I’ll also give a sneak preview to my next book, Finishing Touches: The Art of Garnishing the Cocktail - a garden-to-glass, “drink your garden” perspective on food and drink! Use your garden to flavor and garnish your drinks.

In addition, our hosts, the Nassau County Librarians, have arranged for a delicious breakfast.

Book signing to follow.

Let’s celebrate the bounty of homegrown. See you there. Cheers!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The PawPaw Fruit Tree is not the Unicorn of the Garden! Discover its Homegrown Taste

PawPaw. Say it again. PawPaw. Isn’t it lyrical (in the true sense)? In fact, the pawpaw is indeed a beloved American folk song, a kind of treasured nursery rhyme, and a full-throated scout song. Sing it with me: “Picking up pawpaws; puttin’ ‘em in your pockets, pickin’ up pawpaws, puttin’ ‘em in a basket. Way down yonder in the pawpaw patch.”

Ahhh - it’s all coming back. Bet you thought it was just a fun song - and that it is, no doubt. However, the backstory to the popular ditty is based on solid horticulture.
The Asimina triloba or pawpaw is a true American, by and large eastern native -- and homegrown personalities from George Washington (a chilled pawpaw was his go-to dessert) to Disney Paw, paw, patch have sung its glories. The tree is the largest native North American fruit that boasts a banana-like, mango, honey taste with a custard-like texture. After all, it’s in the same plant family as the custard apple and ylang-ylang.

I planted an asimina triloba - aka: pawpaw about 16 years ago in a Garden State client’s yard in a front garden room, as part of that bed’s native plants composition. It was a good-looking tree right off the bat; big elongated, curvy leaves that appear rather tropical that turn a soft yellow in the fall.

From a design viewpoint, I wanted the Asimina to work with the other plants there, especially in the autumn complementing the birch’s yellow leaves and the callicarpa/Beautyberry's purple berries.

Yet, after the decade-plus euphoria about the tree itself waned, (just a smidge) and I was more horticulturally sophisticated :) -- I so yearned for the fruit. Where oh where was the pawpaw’s dreamed of fruit?

I reached out to Clemson and other land grant universities to determine why we had no fruit. The answer was embarrassingly obvious. We needed a mate! Yet how to determine the sex of your paw-paw was not entirely clear to me; plus with lots of seemingly more pressing deadlines and needs - I just didn’t learn the gender of our baby...

Then, with no matchmaking or OK-Cupid -- there was no denying those purple, royal-looking, double-frocked, cone-shaped flowers dripping from the paw-paw this spring - surely a hopeful sign of good things to come.

See, the paw-paws can spread by runners or suckers -- thereby creating the irrepressible “way down yonder in the pawpaw patch.” Somewhere in that patch tree love took root!

(There is a very scientific reason to explain the rhizomes and their ability to separate as new plants to reproduce.)

So, it was with great excitement that a few week’s ago, that Darin - a very talented horticulturist and Master Gardener I'm privileged to have work with me and Duchess Designs, pointed up to the low hanging pawpaw fruit! I could barely contain my joy.

This was news to share with friends and like-minded food and garden tribes on my social media: @chefsgardens on Twitter and Instagram and @GardenGlamour and on Facebook, too. Folks were pea-green with envy! :)

I couldn’t wait to try the fruit. One was soft already despite it being only August and the fruits generally don’t mature till early autumn around by me. I couldn’t wait.

Back home, I cut the fruit lengthwise - kind of like cutting into an avocado (the pawpaw leaves are not unlike that of the avocado, as well) - and reveled in the satisfaction of at long last seeing this kind of unicorn of the native fruit world.

Slowly, I scooped up the custard like flesh and tasted. It was thick, creamy, truly a mash-up of banana and mango -- perhaps a bit of pineapple or papaya -- as billed, with a bit of a sugary, honey aftertaste.

Altogether, it tasted like “more!”

I tried to stretch out the tasting as long as I could. It was refreshing and at the same time the texture was substantive - if you know what I mean. The pawpaw fruit premiere tasting was everything I’d hoped for - plus.

There was no denying that some of the pleasure was the built-up expectation - that feeling you get when you finally visit a dreamscape or see a work of art completed. Or “eat with your eyes first” when viewing a charming tablescape presentation. It all figures into the sensuality and enhances the overall experience..

I couldn’t wait to share the paw-paw: it’s a rare treat “discovery” and yet native stalwart that helped sustain the Native Americans and pioneers. This is such a great backstory of the known and obscure, the native and yet exotic.

At the same time, there wasn’t too much of the fruit to be had. I gave some to my client, after all. In thinking of recipes I could use to show off this native garden star - my thoughts turned to dessert; prompted by the custard consistency I opted for a pudding. I had just made the corn ice cream the week before or I might have created a paw-paw ice cream treat; I think the pulp would work very well in a frozen dessert: sherbet, sorbet, or ice cream. Or just add to cream or as a topping for ice cream - I tried it with the corn ice cream. Wow.

The recipe I decided upon to showcase and celebrate the first paw-paw harvest was a panna cotta. I adapted Giada’s Food Network Panna Cotta recipe. I figured the creamy texture and honey/sugar ingredients balanced out the paw-paw fruit - making it a perfect partner. More pawpaw love.

It was indeed perfect. Light, cool, smooth, with a hint of something tropical. Our guests delighted in the pawpaw treat while I shared the story of this native tree and fruit and its folklore.

So now that I’ve got you yearning for the pawpaw fruit -- my yoga friends were begging where to purchase - the stark reality is it’s just too darn rare to get.

I researched why it’s not available in stores and found confirmation. According to the Georgia Department of Agriculture, “The fruit’s short shelf life – two or three days at room temperature and a little longer in the refrigerator. A commercially viable fresh fruit must hold up longer for shipping and storage. Other reasons ... could be problems with propagation. Pawpaws don’t transplant well from the wild. However, unlike apples and pears, pawpaws grown from seed are similar to their parents. The downside is that the seeds should not dry out, are slow to germinate and require a period of moist chilling before they will sprout. These things could have kept the best forms of pawpaw from spreading beyond their local area in the days before there were nurseries to select, propagate and distribute the best ones.”

Yet, I urge you to forage for them if you’re in the pawpaw’s native growing region -- and that is a pretty wide swath. When ripe, the fruit drops to the ground - so look down -- and pick up these beauties while singing “pickin’ up pawpaws” and puttin’ ‘em in your pocket.”

Or grow your own. Pawpaws are pretty much a maintenance-free plant. No fertilizer needed. No real pruning. Just watch the suckers or rhizomes. The Asimina triloba are either a large shrub growing 15-20' tall and are noted for growing in low bottom woods, wooded slopes; near water. My baby is in the sun but shaded somewhat by that now tall river birch -- but the property is on the bay - so the water table is ideal.   

I’m a complete native plant advocate for reasons that have everything to do with beauty, pollinators, environmental sustainability, and not the least - their contribution to what makes gardens interesting and enduring. Gardens shouldn’t all look alike using the same plants just because they’re propagated more readily on a global scale. Seek out natives and you’ll be surprised at what you discover. Pawpaws have a place “in the garden and in the kitchen.” And they’ve made so many people happier.

Pawpaw flower photo courtesy of Carolina Nature