Clara Silverstein is the author: A White House Garden Cookbook, based her recipes around the vegetables grown in the White House garden. I wanted to share this author and book with you because Michelle Obama our First Lady, is a mother who had sparked a movement to get families focused on growing and eating healthy, fresh food.
Happy Mother’s Day to all Moms!
Questions and Answers
1. Clara, welcome to Glenda The Good Foodie’s Blog.
1. What led to your decision to write your book: A White House Garden Cookbook
Michelle Obama’s decision to plant a vegetable garden at the White House for the first time since Eleanor Roosevelt was First Lady in 1943 inspired me to look for ways that ordinary Americans – especially families and children – could do something specific to follow her lead. A cookbook based on the White House Kitchen Garden’s first season seemed like a natural way to tie in to what she was doing.
2. Did you meet and interview Michelle Obama?
I twice visited the White House garden when Mrs. Obama was working in it with school groups. The first time, in the fall of 2009, she was digging up sweet potatoes and helping to harvest other vegetables. The second time, last year in June, she invited Rachael Ray, Cat Cora, Marcus Samuelsson, and other celebrity chefs to pick vegetables and prepare lunch with the students who were visiting. I was part of the press corps – we observed but were not allowed to interrupt with questions.
3. Have you been to be the White House garden?
One of the biggest surprises about the White House garden is how peaceful it feels. Since the garden is in back of the White House, tucked behind some trees, you cannot see the building when you are standing in the middle of the vegetable rows. You can temporarily forget that you are visiting one of the most historic properties in America.
4. Which of the historical gardens do you like most?
I liked learning more about what early American gardeners grew by visiting the former homes of two U.S. presidents, both in Virginia. Mount Vernon, former home of George Washington, still cultivates a kitchen garden behind the stables. The crops are the same kinds that Washington grew, including asparagus, beets, spinach, peas. Some of Washington’s fruit trees also still grow on the property. Monticello, former home of Thomas Jefferson, also maintains gardens that Jefferson planted. Jefferson, an avid vegetable grower (one of his favorites was peas), brought many seeds home from his travels in Europe and kept notes about what he planted. He also gardened at the White House. The current White House garden pays tribute to Jefferson by growing heirloom vegetables, such as tennis ball lettuce, that have been transplanted from Monticello.
5. How valuable is it that kids participate in growing and making the food they eat?
Most kids learn best through hands-on activities, and nothing is more hands-on than growing vegetables and cooking. When I was researching this book, I kept hearing how kids would eat almost any kind of vegetable – even the unpopular ones, such as kale and okra – if they had a hand in growing or preparing the food.
6. How did you find all the national gardens? Have you been to see any of those gardens?
I found garden groups who contributed recipes to the book by asking friends who lived in different parts of the country, by calling leaders in the field of nutrition education, and by looking for schools and other educational groups with gardening programs. Eventually, one group referred me to another. I found one garden by riding my bike past it! I visited gardens in the Boston area, where I live, so I could see what kids were growing and what they said about it.
7. What do you see the future of home gardening to be as a result of Michelle Obama planting and harvesting garden at the White House with her children?
By planting the White House Kitchen Garden and using the vegetables at family meals, Michelle Obama has helped to make gardening seem more accessible to other families. She is demonstrating the healthy benefits of nutrition as well as exercise in the garden, even though at the White House, a large staff does most of the hard work of turning the soil, weeding and watering.
8. What are some health benefits derived from eating food we grow ourselves?
Food that we grow ourselves undoubtedly tastes fresher and more flavorful than anything that has to travel hundreds of miles from field to table. Anyone who grows their own food also know the growing conditions and the soil content, so there are no mysteries about what kinds of chemicals or pesticides may have been added along the way.
9. What would you suggest as a simple start to gardening?
It’s really easy to grow a tomato plant in a pot on a deck or patio, or even in a warm, sunny window. Cherry tomatoes work especially well because they need less ripening time than larger tomatoes. Herbs also grow well on a patio or in a windowsill. Join a communitygarden if you want to learn from people who already know what they are doing. It’s important to start small and then add vegetables each season as your gardening skills and confidence increase. Nothing is more disappointing than planting something that doesn’t work out as planned. Starting small and staying focused gives you more chance for success.
10. Do you have a garden?
When my husband and I were first married, we had a plot in a community garden right down the street from our apartment in Boston. Now we have a yard but not much sun, so that limits what we can grow, but we have had much success. This year, I am already harvesting rhubarb and mint that we planted in previous years, and I am ready to plant lettuce, sugar snap peas, and herbs. Though I have gardened for many years, and I still get a thrill out of going down to the garden for the ingredients I need for dinner. Fresh flavor
Contact Clara Silverstein