The Edible Garden at the New York Botanical Garden

by Jason Roth on June 29, 2009

The Edible Garden, a series of exhibits and presentations at the New York Botanical Garden, opened this past Saturday in the Bronx.

Haupt Conservatory

Haupt Conservatory

Apart from the traffic which prevented us from arriving in time for the “raising chickens” demonstration (I was hoping to see at least one slaughter, dammit), the day was a success. From my perspective, “success” primarily meant “not boring” and “someone let us under the tent when it rained”. But the grounds of the NY Botanical Garden were beautiful and worth visiting on their own, plus we got to listen to some experts speak on topics of increasingly relevant (local food) and esoteric (heirloom tomatoes) interest.

A lecture on heirloom tomatoes, by Amy Goldman, took place inside in a lecture hall, but was surprisingly enjoyable. A whole 50 minutes or so on tomatoes was more than tolerable due to the incredible photos taken from her book, as well as her obvious passion for at least 1,000 of the 5,000 varieties of tomato.

A view of Dan Barber from the cheap seats.

A view of Dan Barber from the cheap seats.

Dan Barber of Blue Hill gave an informal talk and then took questions. (If you make it to another Edible Garden event, go with the cheap tickets and sit on the lawn outside the “conservatory kitchen”. They provided a sufficient number of little, fold-up stools.) Barber told a story about his attempt to replicate a farmer’s ability to infuse the taste of almonds into his potato crops. Barber made the attempt with carrots, along with the recommended almond dust sprinkled in the field. I was just about to reveal the punchline to you, but it looks like he wrote up the whole story in the NY Times two years ago. Barber was rational enough to convince me that perhaps the local food movement is not just the anti-big business movement I thought it might be. (No thanks to the cell phone-using bastard who sat next to me during the talk and felt compelled to brag about his trip to New Zealand during the Q&A.)

Another highlight of the day was a presentation by Rose Marie Nichols McGee on “Edible Container Plantings”. It looked like a promising topic since we have begun to grow herbs on our windowsill. (And being the anal-retentive grammarian that I am, I confirmed with McGee at the beginning that it would be plantings in containers that would be edible, not planted containers.) McGee was a friendly lady who not only was concise and informative enough that we didn’t need to purchase her book, but even let the small audience ravage the plants in her demo garden, which she hauled from Oregon. (My wife, Karen, snagged some oregano and some Thai basil.)

Fortunately, even at an event like this where everyone seems to radiate “environmental consciousness”, companies that produce beer, wine, and frozen desserts have been invited to sample their products. Lines were minimal and some of the products were a nice treat. Later in the day, I enjoyed a Hell or High Watermelon Wheat from the 21st Amendment Brewery.

Johnny Iuzzini's dessert demo

Johnny Iuzzini's dessert: look, but don't eat.

The last presentation was a dessert demo by Johnny Iuzzini, award-winning pastry chef from Jean George. He and his assistant were fun, though the camera man’s short cord prevented him from showing the audience what the hell was going on inside any of the bowls. (That’s ok, there wasn’t a chance in hell I was going to reenact it, anyway.) We got to sample his “fancy stawberry cheesecake” (my description) as well as one of the edible flowers he used as garnish (purple one that tasted like onion).

We finished the day at Roberto Restaurant, which based on a little Googling seemed unanimously to be considered the best restaurant in the area. Will definitely go back again for the delicious, homemade pasta, some of the best mussels and clams marinara I’ve ever had, and a fast-paced, dimly lit dining room with plenty to observe. (No reservations taken, so I’d recommend going on the early side.)

The Edible Garden exhibits run through September 13. I’d say it’s worth making a day of it. The worst that could happen (short of continuous thunderstorms or your car getting stolen) is you have to leave and go to the zoo. Fortunately, it’s right next door.

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