Bushel and a Peck

The heat of July is upon us here in Powhatan, the humidity weighing everyone down with its oppressive burden. It is the time of year that we both dread when working outdoors, but also anticipate, for summer is the beginning of a plentiful harvest.  We have watched joyfully as our small, springtime garden has welcomed summer with bursts of robust and bountiful growth. One of our greatest joys as gardeners and chefs is the ability to reap what we sow, and pass it along to our amazing guests. Wedding dinners become that much more vibrant, salads a little bit more hearty. Even the water gains a little extra flare as we garnish it with our fresh herbs and colorful flowers.

Thanks to some awesome thunderstorms, followed by hot, humid sunshine, our plants have been given an extra burst of life – and to add a little science to this post, I will explain why that all matters. Lightening is a major source of natural fertilization for plants. Have you ever noticed that your plants are a little greener and brighter the morning after a thunderstorm? That is because the heat and electricity that lightening produces causes the nitrogen in the air to cling to the oxygen molecules, forming nitrogen oxides. These become collected in the raindrops, which now make the nitrogen usable for plants – and plants need nitrogen for chlorophyll production. Therefore, our few big thunderstorms at the beginning of the month really produced some bright, green plants in our vegetable garden!

The following heat and humidity allowed those crops to grow big and ripen quickly, which means we are in the process of harvesting a lot of the freshest ingredients we can find, and our guests are the ones benefiting. The zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes, and basil have taken off like wildfire, and our gardeners come in with a bucket a day of fresh produce from these plants. In fact, our gardener planted some more zucchini seeds last Friday and they had already sprouted by Monday, how’s that for rapid growth? Even the blackberries have ripened up, and we may get a few if the birds don’t find them first.

Unfortunately, some crops actually don’t thrive in this weather, and we have had to bid farewell to our first two casualties: cilantro and dill. They prefer a cooler climate, so the cilantro went to seed quite quickly. Our other herbs, however, are doing quite well, and we have no shortage of basil, as it has taken over two full beds in our garden!

So what do we do with all these veggies? Chef Mark is quickly incorporating the peppers and zucchini into our mixed vegetable dishes every weekend, chef/owner Lisa is rapidly accumulating our stock of jarred pickles and relishes – both to be used at weddings, but also for our soon-to-be General Store – and I have been busy adding cucumbers and herbs to just about everything, even the water! The tomatoes now grace our salads or find their way onto caprese plates and the spring onions find a home in items like fritters and artichoke dip, or as garnish on our salmon.  It was our joy to pick and use spinach on our flatbreads and pastas, and we have thoroughly appreciated the availability of all things fresh right outside our back door.

Why does this all matter so much to us? I have been anticipating writing this blog since the first plants went in the ground this spring. As a chef, there is really quite nothing that brings as much delight as using the freshest ingredients. It creates inspiration and enthusiasm, like a fresh palette of paint to an artist. Equally, as a company, there is nothing more satisfying than providing the best that we are able to deliver. This is true of everything we seek to offer our guests, but from our kitchen, it is especially true – it takes the words “fresh” and “local” to a whole new level when we can provide our own, sustainable and flavorful food to our couples and their loved ones, and that makes all the heat and humidity of July, absolutely worth it!