The garden was a bit of a slag when we put it together. Plants placed haphazardly with little forethought, tomatoes here and tomatoes there rather than them being grouped together, the whole thing was as well laid out as the streets of Boston. Which is to say, poorly. Many of the plants that needed sun sat in the chilling shade, their growth noticeably stunted. Other plants were taking in too much water and root rot began the slow decomposition within the stalks.
With the exception of our strawberries, mints, blackberry plant, and our dwarf citrus trees the rest of our prolific garden was on the verge of ruin. The garden wasn't simply suffering, it was cluttered, unplanned, and somewhat slovenly. The garden was like a guy I used to see at my local gym, he had the body of a god, but he had the face to guard it. This garden was his equivalent; it possessed striking potential and had the ability to produce, but unless something was done to clean it up a bit it would be remain a secret garden defined by ugly struggle.
Roommate, BF, and I undertook the day long trial of reviving and turning this garden around. We picked up a few sacks of steer manure, plenty of dirt, a few new plants, and borrowed some shovels from BF's family. Toiling, slathered in sweat and sun screen, we carefully dug up every eggplant, every pepper, every everything and gingerly laying them in misted shade so the roots wouldn't wither and dry. We quickly turned the first 10 inches of soil with manure before laying the plants back in the ground in ordered rows. Each row was so clearly defined and categorized that any real farmer or librarian would be proud.
All decked out the garden is vogue, Cover Girl. She's strutting her stuff. Bedazzled with berries, parading with peppers, and a few good pots of basil (which never go out of style). She's all tarted up in the most fashionable ways.
Afterwards, covered in mud and a bit tousled, we tarted ourselves, albeit in a different way. We sat down to the remnants of a made yesterday strawberry and poached rhubarb tart. The recipe came from Chez Panisse Desserts, authored by Lindsey Shere, a cookbook I had purchase but then expressed disappointment at as I had been expecting something ill-defined and vague I called "more." A few people chastised me, nudging me on in their motherly way to give the book a go.
I did and, I admit, I was wrong. The book did me well though a few more notes about the cooking process would have been appreciated. Particularly the base recipes such as the shortbread crust and pastry cream; both simple and reliable, little black dresses of the pastry world.
The tart is spectacular and always in style come Spring. The perfect accessory to hold in your dirt stained knuckles as you revel in your made-over garden.
Short Crust Pastry
(For 9-inch pastry shell)
adapted from Chez Panisse Desserts
1 cup of flour
1 tablespoon of sugar
pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon of grated lime peel
1/2 cup unsalted butter, not too cold
1 tablespoon of water
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1. Mix flour, sugar, salt, peel and butter and cut with your hands or a pastry knife until it resembles cornmeal sized pieces. Add water and vanilla and combine into flour-butter mixture until the pastry will hold together when you press it. Pat into a ball and wrap it with plastic wrap and pop it in the fridge for 30 minutes.
2. Press into a 9-inch tart pan, making sure you keep it even. It should be somewhat thin, but don't worry as it will puff a bit when baking and become thicker. Wrap the pan in foil and freeze for 30 minutes.
3. Preheat oven to 375F. Remove the foil and bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown. The dough will puff up a lot during the baking process. Don't worry as it will sink back down. Cool on a wire rack. When cool fill with pastry cream and top with fruit.
adapted from Chez Panisse Desserts
2 cups of milk
1/3 cup of flour
6 tablespoons of sugar
6 egg yolks
2 tablespoons of butter
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1. Heat the milk until small bubbles appear around the side on the pot, signaling it is just about to boil. Mix the flour and sugar in a heavy saucepan. Beat egg yolks in a bowl until thick and light colored. Whisk the hot milk into the flour mixture and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture has boiled for a minute or two.
2. Whisk some of the milk mixture into the egg mixture to temper them and then stir the egg mixture back into the rest of the milk mixture. Mix well. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the pastry cream begins to hold a slight shape, about 170F. Do not boil.
3. Remove from heat and stir in butter. Allow to cool, then whisk in the vanilla and smooth out the pastry cream. Do not overmix cooled pastry cream.
Poached Rhubarb with Strawberries
2 pints of strawberries
1 cup of chopped rhubarb
1 cup of sugar
1. Core and slice strawberries. Set aside.
2. Place sugar and 2 cups of water in saucepan. Bring to a simmer. Add poache rhubarb and simmer on low for 8 minutes. Take off heat and allow to cool for an hour.
3. Drain rhubarb (the cooking liquid is wonderful in cocktails, so save it) and carefully toss them with strawberries.