'It all started with an eighty nine year old professor leaning on his shovel' - Maryanne.
I had to think long and hard about this month's post for the Canadian Food Experience Project. Heroes are very personal, when it comes to me. I have heroes, people I would go 'squeeeee' and faint if I met them, but they're not necessarily people I like to talk or write about... I am a little bit funny like that. I think even my husband would struggle to name a person who he considered my 'hero', both in the food world or otherwise, simply because I find it hard to articulate what it is about a person that I like and admire. Its easy enough to spout out names with the hopes that one or two 'click' but this was not what the challenge was all about for me. So, to be honest, I did think about maybe not taking part this time around. What changed my mind was that I had already missed one posting, as things were a bit manic in my world, and I didn't want to miss another one. Plus, as it is, I was already going to be late with this post too.
Once I took away the personal aspect of this topic, though, something did strike me. Who were the people, Canadian and otherwise, that I admired most when it comes to food, both the eating of and growing of it? Well, other than my mom and grandfather, who are kind of, not Canadian?
Well, those people who grow food. Not specifically farmers, though they are pretty admirable, but all those ordinary people who grow food in their back gardens. Not to blog, tweet or talk about it, but just for the sheer joy of watching things grow and sharing the bounties of harvest.
Well, I know people like that. And one of my favourite persons is the lovely Maryanne, who plants her own 'guerilla garden' as she likes to call it. This is community gardening, but not like we know it. This is just gardening, planting food for the fun of it, and for the pleasure that it brings.
I asked Maryanne how she got started with her 'guerilla garden', and she talked about how she had always wanted a garden while living in a condo. Amidst all this, she said she used to get together with a group, who worked in an set of offices, behind which was a patch of grass and hedges. The professor, in particular, kept mentioning how well tomatoes would do just up there, against the brickwork of the building. But, despite thinking about starting a garden there, she didn't particularly relish beginning the process. And then, fate took a turn, whereby part of the lawn was dug up for replacing pipes. Once that happened, the aforementioned eighty nine year old professor took it upon himself to hurry the process along, digging a giant trench for the tomatoes, and the rest, she says, is history. She recounts a funny story about the first garden year, where they decided to plant potatoes in straw bales... 'mouse heaven' says Maryanne. 'What were we thinking?' she recalls ruefully... thankfully, the lesson was learned, and there were no more mouse condos.
I found out about the garden from my husband, Kay, when we first moved to Edmonton and were living in a condo in Garneau. Kay lent a hand in getting the garden in shape one year, and we spent many days and evenings, just hanging about, sitting around a firepit and eating fresh, local produce that was all grown in the garden. It inspired a sense of camaraderie, that did a lot to ease my way into a new city and make new friends.
The garden has been going along for a few years now. Maryanne points to a pair of scissors on a small table by the water hose. That pair of scissors is left there, so if anyone stumbles on the garden they are more than welcome to take a piece of it home... fancy some fresh, organic lettuce? Or some beans? Broccoli? Well, its all there to share. Its part of the magic of guerrilla gardening. Its what makes my food heroes special.
I am certainly not a gardener. That would be my husband, Kay, and my little girl Adz. As Adz poetically put it, 'dad is the grower, mum is the cooker'... gotcha in one. So I admire people that garden for the fun of it. They are my heroes.
To celebrate home grown produce, I decided to share a simple recipe, but one that completely and utterly depends on the freshest produce. One of Kay's colleagues recently brought back Padrón pepper seeds, and Kay grew them in pots on the deck. We were lucky enough to get a whole bunch of peppers, and as we were told, all we did was douse them in some fresh olive oil, and grill them until the skins blistered. We then ate them, dunked in a titch of crystal, flaked sea salt, and all I can say is, this is what summer is all about. Sweet, salty heat, utterly moreish... so much so that Kay has now been told that there better be a lot more of these delicious little guys grown next summer.
Apparently eating Padrón peppers has been likened to playing roulette. While the majority of the peppers are mild, with a light heat to them, 20% tend to be super hot. The only way to tell? Eat them. Now that sounds like my kind of roulette :)
10 - 20 fresh green Padrón peppers, with stems on
Splash of extra virgin olive oil
Sprinkle of flaked sea salt (I used Maldon)
Heat a grill or barbeque up to a fairly high temperature. We barbequed these at about 400 F.
Brush the peppers with a little olive oil, then place them in a single layer on the grill.
Grill for a couple of minutes, per side, or until the peppers start to blacken and blister. Take off the heat, and sprinkle over flaked sea salt.
Grab a pepper by its stem and eat it whole, dunked in a little more salt, if you like. May the odds be in your favour that your pepper is not one of the super hot 20% :)