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Groundwork: At last, spring beckons

The winter harvest, still edible after sleeping under all that snow. (Adrian Higgins/The Washington Post)

Under an impossibly blue sky, the gardeners at Green Spring Gardens achieved one of life's affirming miracles the other day. They kicked off another growing season in the vegetable plot. Out came the winter weeds, and removed, too, were much of the overwintering fare, including cabbages, carrots and radishes, leaving a fresh canvas for the long and wonderful season ahead.

Recipe Included

There will be setbacks: We will get too much rain, or not, or too much wind, or not, or infestations of pests. But such anxious thoughts miss the point. We can look forward to a great deal of fresh fruit and vegetables from a relatively small garden. Even that may miss the point. What enthralls the most is the joy of the process, of learning, observing, and growing as a gardener and a cook. All right: The sweet, fresh produce doesn't hurt.

The warmth and sunshine have allowed the raised beds to dry out enough to plant the greenhouse seedlings that started life as a seed packet in January. The plants have grown with vigor and at about six inches or more are ready to go into the garden. This is for cool season plants, however. Plant tomato or pepper or basil plants now, and expect cold to stunt or kill them, never mind the frost.

Even though the transplants are cold-tolerant, they must be acclimated to life outdoors in early spring. This is accomplished by covering them at night for a few days with landscape filter fabric or the like.

Transplants into the garden. It would have been easier on the youngsters to have transplanted on a cloudy or wet day. But you work when you can. (Adrian Higgins/The Washington Post)

The use of the hoop frame here makes that task all the easier. The transplants include three varieties of beet (Red Ace, Bull's Blood and Red Round) and the pretty kale Red Russian, with its wine-colored veining. There seems to be a scarlet theme going on here. Reds under the Bed?

Donna Stecker has also started more plants indoors under lights: namely, eggplant, peppers, basil, Swiss chard and lettuce varieties. The last two will go out at the end of April, and the others in May once the weather is reliably warm.

But this is the time for another cool-loving vegetable, the pea. English peas should be sown now, about 2 inches apart on either side of a trellis. I plant staggered double rows to maximize the vines, and use a pencil to poke a hole about an inch deep before sinking the seed.

Donna and Cindy Brown like to use sugar and snap pea varieties, whose pods are ready before the heat of late spring sets in, a risk with waiting for garden or English peas. Some years are better for peas than others, but they are always fun to grow, even if the pods or seeds are so sweet when they come into season, that they usually don't make it all the way to the kitchen.

Last year, Cindy used fat bamboo stakes to fashion the pea trellis. This looked great but turned into a nightmare because as the bamboo split and shrank, wasps formed nests in the cavities. This year the pendulum, ahem, has swung in the opposite direction. Cindy has formed the trellising with quarter-inch PVC pipe. To this she plans to attach white plastic netting. This seems a rather garish ensemble, not to mention nonbiodegradable. Perhaps it's an artistic statement. Perhaps the green vines will veil the white plastic. Perhaps the trellis will read as a dew kissed gossamer. Perhaps I'll see Elvis. What's cooking, Cindy?

-- Adrian Higgins

Pork Chops and Sugar Snap Peas With Mint Julep Glaze
2 servings

Here, the sauce perfectly complements the peas and adds zing to the meat. Consider substituting lamb for the pork, but don’t skimp on the fresh mint or sugar snaps.

Adapted from a recipe in the March 2009 issue of Bon Appetit.

1/2 cup low-sodium beef broth
6 tablespoons bourbon, such as Maker's Mark
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon white wine vinegar
2 bone-in pork chops (1 pound total; 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch thick)
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium shallots, chopped (1/2 cup)
8 ounces sugar snap peas, stringed, washed and drained
Leaves from 1/2 bunch mint, chopped (1/3 cup)

Combine the broth, 3 tablespoons of the bourbon, the brown sugar and vinegar in a small bowl, whisking to dissolve the sugar.

Season the pork chops on both sides with salt and pepper to taste and the allspice.

Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the butter and, once it has melted, add the chops. Cook for 2 to 4 minutes, then turn them over and cook for 2 to 4 minutes on the second sides (depending on desired degree of doneness). Transfer to a platter.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the remaining tablespoon of butter to the skillet.

Add the shallots and cook for 2 minutes or until they begin to soften. Add the sugar snap peas and cook for 1 minute, stirring, then add the bourbon mixture and bring the mixture to a boil. Cook for 1 minute; use a slotted spoon to place equal amounts of sugar snaps on top of each (resting) pork chop.

Remove the skillet from the heat and add the remaining 3 tablespoons of bourbon.

Return the skillet to medium heat; bring to a boil and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has reduced to a thin glaze.

Add the mint and mix lightly, then pour half of the glaze over each pork chop with sugar snap peas. Serve warm.

Per serving: 640 calories, 42 g protein, 22 g carbohydrates, 30 g fat, 14 g saturated fat, 130 mg cholesterol, 1160 mg sodium, 4 g dietary fiber, 10 g sugar

By The Food Section  |  March 22, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Groundwork , Recipes  | Tags: Adrian Higgins, Cindy Brown, Donna Stecker, Groundwork  
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I really like your wording "one of life's affirming miracles." Spring is always a time of hope, as we see new life forming all around us. As gardeners, we can participate in this new life as we plan and plant our gardens. Nothing symbolizes hope quite like a garden. I'll never forget reading about soldiers on the front planting gardens as an expression of their hope and even belief in the future.

Stan Horst

Posted by: stanhorst | March 23, 2010 6:36 AM | Report abuse

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