Grow Your Own

Making Lemonade, Salads, and Pesto from Your Garden

by Virginia Hayes

“If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” A tall glass of
freshly squeezed lemonade can bring the familiar taste of summer to
any picnic or meal. This year seems to have blessed us with a
bumper crop of lemons, so if you have a tree or two in your home
orchard, you may be looking for ways to use the surplus. Nothing
could be simpler than adding water and sugar to that
pucker-inducing juice for a refreshing beverage.

Lemons to Lemonade

The basic recipe goes like this: One part lemon juice to one
part sugar to 4 parts water (all measurements by volume). Some
people like to make a simple syrup by boiling the sugar with an
equivalent measure of water, but it really isn’t necessary.

For something a little different, you can add any one of a
number of different herbs to the basic formula. For example, basil
lemonade would include ½ cup of fresh basil leaves. Bruise the
leaves and sugar with a wooden spoon, then add the lemon juice and
water, and stir to dissolve the sugar and release the basil
flavoring. Strain as you pour over ice into glasses. Try mint,
lavender, or fenugreek to completely change the character. Hibiscus
flowers, sold as jamaica in the Latino spice section, make a lovely
red, tangy punch. Bring half of the water to a boil and steep ⅓-½
cup of the dried flowers until the water cools and add to the rest
of the mixture.

Many kinds of fruit also make a nice addition. Sliced
strawberries, whole raspberries, blueberries, or blackberries lend
their flavors and colors to basic lemonade. Float sliced peaches,
nectarines, or apricots in the pitcher and add a can of
corresponding fruit nectar to lend the appropriate bouquet for a
great taste of summer.

Of course, alcoholic versions of lemonade have also found favor.
Vodka, gin, and tequila will turn this old-fashioned soft drink
hard. Another twist (pun intended) is to give it some bubbles.
Fizzy lemonade is the norm in France, by the way, and just as easy
to make. Substitute part of the still water with club soda or other
sparkling water and the result will seem even more refreshing on a
hot, thirst-inducing day.

Garden Greens

Whether you eat it first, last, or as the main course, salad is
also quintessential summer fare. With all the possibilities, it is
a shame that most dining out experiences still feature a
middle-of-the-road salad based on lettuce with a few colorful
additives. Your garden could and should hold much more exciting
choices to build tasty and nutritious salads. Lettuces are, of
course, tasty and nutritious, and they are simple to grow. This
makes them an obvious choice to sow and harvest. Happily, the
number and variety of different colors and types that are available
as seed and in six-packs has greatly increased during the last few
years. Seed of just one type or mixtures such as the popular
mesclun mixes and formerly gourmet-only lettuces are easy to find.
Grow them in rows, intensive plots, pots, or hanging baskets —
whatever you have room for — and harvest them when they are young
and tender and full of vitamins and minerals.

There are some other great salad ingredients that you may not
have considered. Young seedlings, sprouts really, of many
vegetables are delicious and healthful additions to salads. Seed is
so cheap that it is just good practice to sow thickly and then thin
to the proper spacing later. Those thinned-out sprouts can go right
into the salad bowl. Think greens such as beets and chard, spinach,
arugula (one of my favorites); even carrot seedlings can be
harvested for the table and leave the garden in better shape for
the main crop, too. It’s best to take your scissors with you and
snip the little plants just above the soil; pulling them could
disturb the root systems of adjacent plants you want to keep. Herbs
such as cilantro, dill, basil, oregano, and chives can also be
thinned and used to spice up salads or as a milder version of the
mature plant to garnish your plate. Give them a nice bath in the
kitchen sink and then spin dry before use. This method of sowing
thickly and thinning where needed works for other areas of the
garden, too. Sunflower sprouts are delicious in salads and
sandwiches. Young leaves, stems, and flowers of nasturtium provide
a peppery bite to your mix. Bean sprouts are one of the most
ubiquitous sprouts to have hit the market; imagine harvesting your
own from the garden, not a sprouting jar. In the garden, the new
sprouts will have begun to photosynthesize almost immediately and
will have many more healthful compounds than those pale ones in the
supermarket bin. Sow any type of pole or bush bean and be sure to
snip off the young seedlings when they are just a few inches tall.
If you don’t, they will soon be too tough.

Herbs into Sauces

There is another wonderful use of those summer herbs. Classic
pesto is that great Italian innovation that pairs fresh basil,
fragrant olive oil, sweet pine nuts, and salty, aromatic parmesan
cheese. But, for innovative souls, substitutions in almost every
ingredient can produce unique and delicious alternatives. The basic

4 cups fresh basil leaves
½ cup olive oil
⅓ cup pine nuts
2 garlic cloves
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
Combine first four ingredients in blender. Blend until paste
forms, stopping often to push down basil. Add cheese and salt;
blend until smooth. Transfer to small bowl. (Can be made one day
ahead. Top with ½ inch olive oil and chill.)

This formula, though, is also so flexible and universal that,
while you may not choose to call it pesto at some point, the method
for combining the vibrant taste of fresh herbs, smoothed into an
emollient concoction of oil, nuts, and cheese ready-made to slather
over pasta, bread, rice, or vegetables, is irresistible.

If you replace basil with cilantro in the classic recipe, you
get a dressing with a Latino or Asian flair. Substituting other
nuts, like walnuts or even macadamias, can make subtle, but
delicious changes as well. Try another savory oil or a different
dry cheese with a distinct aroma and the resultant “pesto” will be
distinctive and flavorful. Your garden produce is just the
beginning of your culinary experiment. Parsley makes a very mild
version, but one full of vitamins. Add other savory herbs such as
rosemary or thyme to spice it up.

Salad and pasta with a glass of refreshing lemonade — sounds
like the perfect summer meal.

Virginia Hayes, curator of Ganna Walska Lotusland, will answer
your gardening questions. Address them to Gardens, The Independent,
122 W. Figueroa St., S.B., CA 93101. Send email to


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