Gardening Blog

Cold days best spent indoors

Lowcountry gardeners will remember January 2011 for a long time to come. The persistent cold was not kind to plants nor people.

Many of our evergreen plants that have given the desired tropical look to our yards for years, collapsed under the winds that brought temperatures down to the teens, and had gardeners cleaning up blackened foliage with numb fingers and toes.

January days were days to stay indoors, read, reflect and enjoy the luxury of visiting with other gardeners in their homes and community meeting places.

We met with members of the Broad Creek Garden Club in Beaufort and the Sea Pines Garden Club on Hilton Head Island where the talk went from what's still alive in the garden to how to prune the ugly. Inevitably the subject turned to four-legged varmints: moles, voles and deer.

Losing some of their favorite foods to the freeze has left hungry deer eating green stuff heretofore ignored. Beaufort resident Renee Levin wanted names of evergreen shrubs deer won't devour. Usually deer-proof are the hollies (native or not), boxwood, ligustrum, mahonia, nandina and gardenia.

Nowadays one can't get away without a conversation on a "green" world and its features. I was happy to get to know Susan Conapinski of Beaufort, a fellow composter who helped me inspire other club members to get into this easy and less expensive way to provide rich soil that makes for healthy plants.

At the Hilton Head Island Herb Society meeting we met Harold Kelly from Carolina Aromatic Rice Plantation. We learned about Carolina Gold Rice that is now grown at Plumfield Plantation on the Great Pee Dee River. Carolina Plantation grits, brown rice and cowpeas are grown on the plantation also. Cowpeas, like rice, were introduced from the West Indies into the Carolinas in the 1600s.

Another frosty outdoor afternoon was spent in the warm dining room of the Bear Creek Golf club on Hilton Head with Sallie Ann Robinson. She shared her Gullah home cooking and memories of a childhood spent on Daufuskie Island with an enthusiastic audience. Using two fry pans, Sallie Ann cooked up a bacon, crab and rice dish for us to sample. In her cookbook "Gullah Home Cooking the Daufuskie Way," Sallie Ann has recipes for collards and cabbage that I will try; both have proved January-hardy and are flourishing in local vegetable gardens. Collards are the "mess of greens" that Southerners cook for good luck at the start of the new year. Sallie Ann's recipe calls for smoked pork neck bone, pieces of pig tail and foot as well as a ham hock. I'll skip the pig stuff, but not the ham hock and include what local farmer Cord Middleton adds when he cooks collards -- a couple of just-picked mustard greens for a rich, spicy flavor.

Going through files in front of a fire one January afternoon, I ran across this clipping from a March 1980 Island Packet article by former cooking columnist Evelyn Wavpotich: "Ellie Bolin is one of the island's finest cooks. More than that, she is one of the most popular and sought-after caterers." Ellie Bolin recently retired; many of her recipes will continue to be used by local hostesses. Here is her recipe for Cabbage Rice.

Cabbage Rice

3 cups finely chopped cabbage

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

2 teaspoons chopped parsley

2 1/2 cups water

3 tablespoons tomato paste

1 cup long grain rice

Cook cabbage, salt, pepper and parsley in oil over low heat for 20 minutes. Add water and tomato paste; bring to a boil. Add rice. Lower heat. Cover and simmer until rice is light and fluffy, ab