Monday, April 28, 2008

Spring Cuisine with the Historical Society

Recently the garden group I work with-- D.C. Urban Gardeners--received a totally unexpected e-mail. It seems the Historical Society of D.C. was looking for someone to put together a series of practical garden talks. They'd first contacted the U.S. Botanical Gardens and--surprise, surprise--the Botanical Gardens had recommended us.

We were thrilled and flattered. There was just one little bitty problem. The Historical Society wanted the talks to start NOW, as in, How about next month? My cohort Susan Harris and I quick put our heads together to create a rough outline for the series. But as far as giving the rapidly approaching first lecture, there was only one thing to do: I volunteered to whip together some kind of Powerpoint show.

I have to admit, I'm a bit of a ham. I like speaking in public. It's fun. Occasionally I give talks about composting. The last time I put on a show in a formal setting was for the Smithsonian Associates, where I performed before a packed house on the subject of "Catering Your Own Dinner Party." (It was a huge success, and I had a blast doing it.)

As to the question of what to talk about at the Historical Society, the basic guideline was that it needed to include something practical, something the audience could take home with them and use. Two things I know something about are growing food and cooking it. So that became the program, a seasonal look at what's growing in an urban kitchen garden one mile from the White House and how to turn it into delicious spring cuisine.

Asparagus, rhubarb, strawberries, lettuces, greens, fava beans, peas--I covered pretty much all the bases, with something about how to plant and grow the crops (think root crowns and lots of organic matter for asparagus), to a little history (did you know the dried root of rhubarb was a highly prized medicinal "purgative" for centuries before people discovered you could make pies out of the stalks?), to actual cooking methods and recipes (getting the fava beans out of their tough casings is definitely worth the effort).

Many of the recipes, I'm not at all ashamed to admit, were lifted from this blog: asparagus frittata, rhubarb tea cakes, classic strawberry shortcake, salad of spicy greens. I even talked a little about foraging for edible plants such as chickweed, dandelions and ramps with a recipe for the dandelion wine now fermenting in my pantry. (I'm thinking dandelion mimosas for our next Urban Gardeners meeting.)

So when the big day arrived on Saturday, I was psyched. I packed up my laptop and my Powerpoint show and headed off for the Historical Society's incredible digs at the old Carnegie Library building downtown. They have a high-tech auditorium with a huge screen and seats for almost 150. I stood by the front door, soaking in an expansive view south to the newly renovated Portrait Gallery and waiting for the eager hordes to show.

I waited. And waited. Finally, we started the program about 15 minutes later than scheduled. There may have been 10 people in the audience. I felt silly standing at a podium, so I grabbed the mike and basically kicked off my shoes. It was a lovely time, although a bit more intimate than what I'd been expecting.

So it's back to that dratted publicity issue. The Historical Society had placed an ad somewhere in the Washington Post as well as the Washington City Paper, but we need to get more creative with this public relations thing. Susan's talk on sustainable gardening is coming up May 17, so there's no time to lose.

Note: Susan Harris is not only a co-founder of D.C. Urban Gardeners and our webmaster, but famously is one of the co-authors of the Garden Rant blog and writes so many other blogs it's hard to keep track. She blogs about sustainable gardening and maintains a website loaded with information about how to garden naturally and with kindness toward the environment.

If you plan to be anywhere near the District of Columbia on May 17, save the date. Susan's talk promises to be a barn burner. You can reserve a seat at, or by calling 202 383-1828.

1 comment:

Janet said...

Geez-o! How frustrating. I hope the society at least sent postcards to its membership. I shudder to think what the cost of an ad in the Post must have cost them. I'm sure you're creative enough to get the publicity ball rolling, though, even if the series sponsors don't.