Grow your ingredients for Thanksgiving stuffing

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At Thanksgiving, one's thoughts naturally turn to stuffing — not yourself, but the turkey.

And many ingredients for stuffing can be reaped from the garden. Just set aside a little portion of the garden next year as a stuffing garden.

BEYOND BREAD CRUMBS

The bread and butter of any stuffing is something starchy, often breadcrumbs. Forget about growing those — though conceivably you could buy wheat "berries" at a health food store, plant them next spring, harvest the grain when the plants dry down, thresh and winnow out the berries, grind them into flour, make the flour into bread, then let the bread go stale and pound it into crumbs. Whew!

Or you could get fancy and use wild rice as the starchy base of your stuffing. But you'll need a permanently wet spot — 6 inches of slowly running water is ideal. Plant the seed of this self-sowing annual sometime between now and early spring.

SOMETHING NUTTY

If you decide to grow your own chestnuts, figure at least five years will elapse before you can harvest something. But chestnut stuffing can be delicious, and does seem most authentic because wild turkeys once stuffed themselves with wild chestnuts. So why not plant a chestnut tree and patiently wait? As they say in China, "The longest journey begins with the first step."

And speaking of China, Chinese chestnuts are resistant to the blight that decimated native American chestnuts. Some hybrids, such as Layeroka, Sleeping Giant and Mossberger, have genes of Chinese and other Asian species and also resist blight. (Trees are available from specialty nurseries such as www.burntridgenursery.com and www.nolinrivernursery.com.) You'll need two different varieties for cross-pollination.

ON TO THE VEGETABLE GARDEN

While you are waiting for chestnuts, make stuffing based on one of the more quickly grown starchy vegetables. Potatoes, for instance.

The best potatoes for making stuffing will be those that are dry and mealy.

That also describes what you want when choosing a winter squash variety to grow as a base for stuffing. Chestnut and Sweet Mama are two dryish squashes.

One authentic stuffing would be based on nu nu, a golfball-size, starchy tuber also called makoosit or groundnut (Apios americana). Native Americans harvested and ate nu nu, and it was one of the foods crucial in helping the Pilgrims survive their first winters in Massachusetts. Be careful, however: Nu nu can spread like a weed. The plants do sport decorative and sweetly fragrant, lilac-colored flowers.

FLAVOR HIGHLIGHTS

Seasonings for stuffing are a lot easier to grow. Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme come to mind, as do summer savory and sweet marjoram.

Sage and thyme are perennials, each also available in designer flavors: pineapple sage and caraway thyme, for example.

Rosemary is a perennial where it survives winters outdoors. Or it can happily spend its life in a pot kept indoors in winter to provide pretty greenery, piney fragrance and savory snippings.

Finally, round out the flavors and bulk with other pickings from the vegetable garden. Onion, garlic, celery and carrots will be mainstays, but vegetables such as parsnips and garlic can make special — and powerful — contributions.


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