Best of 2008: The Urban Farmer

5th Feb 2009

One of the things we've talked about on this site from time to time is a British fellow named Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, mostly in spurts of unmitigated, gushing exaltation: this man is some kind of food messiah.  When we live-blogged last year's James Beard Awards --which is the most fun we've had in ages, standing ten feet from Jacques Pepin (who was surrounded by young women), watching the surprisingly tall Thomas Keller walk around throwing back gulps of beer, chatting with cocktail gurus Dave Wondrich and Dale Degroff--our one significant disappointment was that Hugh failed to show.  His book Meat was up for cookbook of the year, and we thought he really could have cobbled together the effort to show up and meet his two biggest American fans.

Hugh's series River Cottage is about leaving the city for the country to raise pigs, grow vegetables, and "live off the fat of the land."  His do-it-yourself aesthetic, from jam-making to home-cured meat, has infected us.  We're not ready to leave the city for the country, but in the meantime we've been moving the country to the city.

Nick spent half this year in Columbus, Ohio, and the other half in Chicago, so he never had the chance to, er, put down roots.  So I took over the urban farming aspect of the site, securing a couple plots of Brooklyn soil and growing tomatoes, corn, cucumbers, kale, collards, beets, radishes, onions, string beans, herbs, and lettuce.  Despite the fact that my cucumber plant never got larger than 6 inches, all the onions died, and only half the beets came up, my first-ever attempt at growing vegetables was a huge success.  The sheer quantity of tomatoes was astounding, as was the easiness of growing young tender string beans (aka haricot verts), lettuce, and kale.

A trip to a workshop by the Lower East Side Ecology Center taught me to keep worms in my apartment, which eat all the vegetable scraps and turn it into rich compost.  As strange and slightly hippie-ish as it sounds, it's very satisfying.

I also tried my hand at making marmalade, which was a fantastic success.  After trying to make a concord grape jelly awhile back using pectin and having it turn out rather poorly, I was taken in by a recipe that eschewed pectin packets for the natural pectin in the citrus skins themselves.  A recipe using only water, sugar, and meyer lemons became the best marmalade I've ever tasted.

My Last Brooklyn Salad
A Salad Grows in Brooklyn
Making Brooklyn Bloom
A Worm Eats in Brooklyn

Two Ways to Preserve Meyer Lemons While They're Still in Season

Previously on Best of 2008
Best of 2008: "Dinner Tonights" of the Year
Best of 2008: Hamburgers of the Year
Best of 2008: The Art of Curing Meat


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