September Gardens

My media diet for posting on this platform is made up of 134 websites and counting, including half a dozen that I visit daily. This magazine cover, which was powerfully relevant to one of our longstanding themes, is from one of those half dozen, and the image to the right is from another. When Milo started a culinary fungi farm for us in India, small scale agriculture became a regular theme. So the growth in the cityscape combined with this story, The Culinary Potential of Bolting Vegetables, feels right at home with our garden theme:

The flavor of green coriander is a perfect complement to all the vegetables in season when it starts to bolt, even if the bolting happens earlier than expected.Photograph from Cavan / Getty

Did your garden bolt early this year? Maybe you didn’t even notice, because of how jagged and asymmetrical the passage of time has been since spring. Maybe you even spent a period in denial, thinking, This must just be what my cilantro, and lettuce, and parsley did last summer: briefly leaf in a friendly vegetative way, then sprint in suicidal mania toward a flowering death. That’s what happened to me, anyway. The start of July was salad days for herbs and the hardier head lettuces, but after a week or so of regular leafy growth the cilantro gave way cilantro seeds, the frilled lettuce to lanky tan stalks with blanched, droopy leaves that fluttered about like damp stockings.

If you garden, you’ve seen how a plant mutates when it bolts. Its leaves get long and scrawny. Where there were tender palms now there are tough stems, clusters of determined flowers and seeds. Lettuce and herbs taste more intense after they’ve bolted: strong, often bitter. This summer, as we near the end of a disastrous year, I’ve found this transformation peculiarly resonant. When a plant bolts early, it’s because it senses that its survival is being threatened. Heat, nutrient deficiency, or some other stressor is upon it. It senses that the end is drawing near, and so it puts its energy toward reproducing. The resources that the plant was devoting to growing leaves are reallocated for growing flowers; when the flowers are pollinated, they produce seeds, from which new plants can one day grow. The bitterness of a flowering plant is a defense mechanism, designed to ward off anything that might try to eat it during these reproductive assignations. The plant is trying to stay alive just long enough to insure its future. In other words, bolting is the crucial link between this plant and the next.

Do you see what I mean? Maybe out of admiration for this rational response to impending doom, I’ve always felt fondly toward bolting plants. I especially love the plump, green pearls produced by cilantro plants. (I learned a few weeks ago that my friend Samin Nosrat does, too.) The flavor of green coriander is a perfect complement to all the vegetables in season when it starts to bolt, even if the bolting happens earlier than expected. I generally pound up a fresh clove of garlic (also harvested in July and August) with salt, then add a little handful of cilantro seeds to it, and once it’s all a redolent green paste, add it directly to any pan of roasted or grilled eggplant, or peppers, or spoon it over the top of a tomato tart or tian, or into ratatouille. Maybe the best and weirdest use I’ve ever found for green cilantro seeds is in a recipe I wrote for lima beans and eggplant a la creme, for my book “Something Old, Something New.” It sounds crazy but it’s delicious, and tastes like the simple luxury of a summer evening. Lately, I’ve been pounding green coriander with garlic and salt, plus the bolted leaves and stems of parsley, plus basil seeds. I then cover the mossy green mixture in olive oil and use it wherever I can think to. I’ve added some chopped up preserved lemon and ground cumin to turn it into the North African herb paste chermoula, which makes a magnificent marinade for shrimp or fish, or for spooning over couscous or rice, or a boiled or scrambled egg or two. I added a chopped green chili to a batch and stirred it into yogurt for a creamy drizzling sauce, and mixed some of the paste with mayonnaise for B.L.T.s—but really B.P.Ts, with parsley instead of lettuce, because the lettuce had bolted. Speaking of pastes, if you haven’t made pesto using the seeds and flowers of basil, plucked obsessively off your bolting basil plants, as you will them to go on leafing for another day, now is the time: pesto made with basil seeds and blossoms is great. It’s pesto in all its summer headiness.

Read the whole story here.

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