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The Kitchen Gardens
There are a lot of breathtaking places in Cape May. Sunset Beach and the Cove are pretty popular. Tucked away on Stevens Street in West Cape May, the entrance to Beach Plum Farm seems to find its place among the ranks. As you come up the seashell driveway, the beautiful timber built Farm Market emerges from behind the green leaves of the impressive trees flanking the entrance. If you haven’t been to the Farm Market this summer, you’ll want to take a look at what is hiding behind the barn. The “Kitchen Garden” is a beautiful display, with a bubbling fountain and wooden raised beds. It marries form and function in a way that is quintessentially sustainable and in keeping with the mission of Beach Plum Farm.
Harry Gamble joined the team at the farm in the spring of 2016 as the farm landscape supervisor. One of his first projects was working with Cape Resorts Co-Managing Partner, Curtis Bashaw to bring the vision of the garden to life. “The garden was designed around a central fountain….which complimented but did not overwhelm the naturally beautiful surroundings of the farm.” The garden is made up of thirty-two beds, each of which measures 32’ by 4’. They are eight inches deep, and fully equipped with a drip irrigation system. Harry even took care to build them out of rough cut Cyprus so that it would age with the same patina as the barn. “The garden was created to show a variety of vegetables and herbs which would be available to our kitchen and other local restaurants that we supply.”
As a hot day in August threatens to push the mercury on the thermometer into the triple digits, Christina Albert, the Farm Hand at Beach Plum Farm in charge of the beds, wanders through the manicured garden, picking vegetables and legumes that no one at the farm had ever heard of. “These are cucamelons” she says as she picks what looks like a tiny watermelon out of a bed of leafy tendrils. “They are also called a Mexican Sour Gherkin. They are a hot weather crop.” The cucamelons were first planted in a tunnel since they grow best in extremely warm temperatures. Given that the summer in Cape May was uncharacteristically warm, the crop was moved into the Kitchen Garden and thrived in the hot, late summer sun. Not far from the cuckamelons are a crop that were not quite as successful: Beans. The beans were infected with a damaging Mexican Bean Beatle. “The only thing you can do about it organically is release a parasitic wasp. We planted Rose Geranium to keep bugs at bay,” Christina notes as she pulls leaves from a plant whose scent bears a striking resemblance to citronella. “It didn’t help as much as we hoped.”
“We met with Matt and Honna over the winter and looked through seed catalogs and stuff they wanted to grow that looked exciting and they decided to grow them.”The philosophy behind the raised beds, was to create a place for the Chefs of Cape Resorts (and other farm-to-table friends of CRG) to experiment with different vegetables, fruits, and herbs. Matt Crist, of the Ebbitt Room, and Honna Riccio of Louisa’s restaurant, began making plans to add an exotic variety to their respective menus. “Matt and Honna said ‘this is what we want’ and they picked things we’ve never grown at the farm before.”
Back at the Ebbitt Room, Matt Crist sits with a plate of tiny watermelon-like cucumbers, peppers, and small objects wrapped in husks. He notes that they are hush cherries, a tomato-like fruit that is unexpectedly sweet. Peeling away the husk, Matt exposes a little yellow fruit. “It has a very unique flavor of a pineapple and a tomato.”
“The cuckamelons did really well, the beans didn’t,” he says, as he muses over the summer menu. At the Ebbitt Room, many of the side dishes were dependent on the success and failure of the crops in the kitchen garden. One of the most common side dishes this summer were the Shishito Peppers. They are a small, slender, green sweet pepper. “They make a great addition to grilled meat or blistered in olive oil and served with sea salt.”
Other items on the plate included Squash Blossoms, which are edible flowers that are often times stuffed with crab meat or ricotta cheese and fried in tempura batter. “They also make a great addition to pasta or risotto,” according to Chef Matt. An unusual addition to dessert are the orange kiss peppers, a very sweet pepper that is sometimes made into a sorbet to enhance a raw fish preparation.
The farm-to-table movement has grown exponentially in the last five years, but truthfully it is getting to the core of a very ancient practice. It hearkens back to a lifestyle that was both healthy and sustainble: consuming that which is available to us in this environment at this time, in this season, Modern technology has allowed us to use preservatives, expand the lifespan of fruits, vegetables and meats, to a point where this food no longer adds nourishment in the purest sense. While the Kitchen Garden may bring exotic items that have never experienced Cape May’s sandy soil, the very existence of these beds brings farm-to-table in the truest sense to the seaside community of Cape May.