This summer has been a busy one, with a growing number of guests visiting the Oak Spring Garden Foundation for conferences, internships, and other programs. To help feed these guests, we are putting more focus on the utilization of our gardens’ produce in our kitchen. Our new production garden is only in its second summer growing season, which means that the plantings are largely experimental to determine which crops grow well in that location, attract the fewest pests, are most useful in the kitchen, and (of course) taste the best.
Leading these efforts have been our two garden-to-table interns, Shannon Compton and Hannah Brenner. With their help, we have harvested over 100 pounds of produce, almost all of which is getting used in our kitchen. This includes six varieties of lettuce, five varieties of garlic, several varieties of squash, an array of herbs, and even a handful of edible flowers. Nasturtiums are a fun, bright addition that adds a wasabi-like flavor to a lot of our salads, and borage and pansy flowers add a light sweetness. Shannon has also helped reshape our menu around what our garden yields, meaning that we only have to purchase a minimal amount of produce and serve our guests meals as fresh as can be.
Of course, sometimes the garden can produce food faster than we can eat it. Fresh produce from our garden that isn’t served right away is either donated to local food pantries or preserved on-site to be utilized later. This includes freezing produce for the winter, pickling vegetables like onions, carrots, and cauliflower, making applesauce and using our blackberries in jams, jellies, and sauces. These canned goods are used to stock the self-catering kitchens of guests who are with us for extended stays – like our first trial artists-in-residence.
These efforts have helped ensure that our gardens are enjoyed for more than their serene beauty. As guests take in their surroundings, the table serves as another reminder of our connection with the land.