Named one of Amazon’s Top 10 Best Home & Garden books for 2010, From Seed to Skillet: A Guide to Growing, Tending, Harvesting, and Cooking Up Fresh, Healthful Food to Share with People You Love takes your hand and walks you down the garden path and into the kitchen. Authors Susan Heeger and Jimmy Williams closely link the wonder of home growing with the pleasure of home cooking and offer up dozens of practical gardening tips alongside a feast of delicious recipes.
Heeger, a longtime writer with a specialty in garden and food stories, met Williams, an urban farmer and landscape designer (and former sportswear designer) 10 years ago and later interviewed him for a Los Angeles Times magazine article. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship, bearing forth this book. Heeger, who has visited many nurseries and edible gardens, said the first time she met Williams, she was struck by the robust and productive plants in his garden, with nary a yellowing or bug-eaten leaf. He shared one of his famous tomatoes with her and she told him he really ought to write a book; he wasn’t yet ready to spill his green thumb secrets, until now.
Williams grew up in a family of 12 children in eastern Long Island, New York, and learned to garden from his grandmother, Eloise, a descendant of Caribbean slaves, who believed that working the soil fed the soul as well as the body. Applying his grandmother’s lessons, he now raises his own heirloom vegetable and herb seedlings, which he sells through the Hollywood and Santa Monica farmers’ markets, and through his company, HayGround Organic Gardening.
He now grows dozens of plants and trees on a rented half-acre lot and designs and plants vegetable gardens for well-known chefs and other clients. Williams’ great-great-great grandmother secreted “Goosecreek” tomato seeds in her apron pocket on a slave ship and these were the first variety he grew to sell. His best sellers also include chiles; he’s the only one in the country to have a hot moshi pepper tree from Mt. Kilimanjaro.
“I’m still mostly fascinated by the compost pile and worms,” said Williams, considered a “cult figure” at the farmers’ market and widely known for his wealth of knowledge and enthusiasm about plants. “He is one with his garden,” Heeger said, adding that his excitement to share his knowledge is infectious. “Jimmy has impacted so many people and it’s having a ripple effect. He is proof of the impact that one person can have.”
The book weaves together Williams’ family story and his love of the earth and offers step-by-step gardening advice, with chapters on choosing seeds and planting, tips on the best ways to boost your soil, and instructions on building the perfect raised beds. Recipes feature Williams’ mother’s lima bean soup, burnt-onion collard greens, his grandmother’s fried okra with chives, and cornbread with sweet potatoes.
“Gardening and food are profound bridges between people and among cultures since edibles can be grown and cooked differently in so many cultures,” Heeger noted. To get started in the garden Williams suggested folks get a worm bin or grow herbs in a pot in a sunny spot in your kitchen. He encouraged newbies to start growing lettuce or arugula in pots inside. “One of the easiest thing to grow is the easiest to prepare: a salad. You pick it and make it,” Heeger said.
The authors hope that more people will see gardening as something that not’s complicated and that there are simple ways to start digging in the dirt. Heeger said, “The feeling that you have grown your own food and cooked it and served it to a friend is really gratifying and powerful. There’s nothing like it.”
Originally published on SF Gate
Photo: Eric Staudenmaie