2016-04-01 / Dishing

Food in Bloom

Anne Quinn Corr

This time of year, home gardeners have damp knees and hands as they get down into the earth to prepare the soil for the growing season. Whether in the back yard, front yard or along the hedgerow, the latest trend is gardens that provide not only color and visual interest but also actual food.

An edible landscape garden applies principles of landscape design to plantings in order to grow more local food with species that are attractive and also tasty. The garden at Talleyrand Park has been an evolving project for the past five years and stands ready to inspire anyone who wants to start. Adjacent to the Match Factory building, the garden provides a vibrant welcome to Big Spring Spirits, with the added benefit of providing herbs, vegetables and edible flowers from spring through the fall.

The Talleyrand Park Committee dreamed up the Edible Landscape Garden back in 2010 and saw that dream realized in 2011. Back then, they had no idea that a busy distillery would one day operate in the historic building, but now the two projects have a symbiotic relationship. Paula Cipar, co-owner of Big Spring Spirits, says that she “shows up every once in a while to pull weeds” and is happy to see the committee members who work on the project come to the distillery for a beverage — a fine vantage point to enjoy the view of the garden as it progresses through the growing season.

    April prepares her green traffic light and the world thinks Go.”
—Christopher Morley, John Mistletoe

Lucy Rogers, Big Spring’s tasting room manager, says the garden is a huge asset to their operation, which focuses on local in a most elemental way — their spirits are made from the award-winning water of Bellefonte’s Big Spring. “The garden committee gave us permission to use what they grow, and we use mints, sage and basils in our craft cocktails,” says Rogers. “The amaranth makes a great garnish, and so do the nasturtiums.”

Big Spring Spirits’ locavore chef Mark Johnson gets a little more from the nasturtiums than just using the pretty, peppery flowers as a garnish. “I brine the seedpods of the nasturtiums and then use those as caper berries in vinaigrette and remoulade,” he says. “Mixed with a little bit of aged rye whiskey, they have some serious kick.”

True Fisher is one of the garden committee members with a 40-year history of involvement with projects that enhance the greenspaces of Bellefonte. The Match Factory complex, the train station, Talleyrand Park with its bridge and gazebo are all reclaimed areas that are well used by the populace of Centre County. Fisher is quick to give the credit to other members of the garden committee, namely Jim and Gay Dunne, along with Andrea and Chris Murrell, Carolyn Dubois, Talley Fisher, Ann Donovan, Wilda Stanfield and Paula Cipar.

Jim Dunne says modestly that the garden has been a “very nice success. We try to revise it every year, with about seven or eight volunteers, including a Master Gardener, on the committee. The vegetables that we do harvest as food, we donate to the food bank. Cabbage is popular, but the clients aren’t really interested in asparagus and Swiss chard. Sometimes we notice some of the vegetables missing and just figure that there is someone out there who needs some food. And we have learned not to plant peppers. The geese eat them.”

The plants in the Edible Landscape Garden are chosen by the committee to create a palette with a variety of colors and culinary use. Herbs, edible flowers, vegetables — especially perennials — and small fruit that require little or no care make it easy to go out and clip and enjoy some diversity on the dinner plate. Cipar says that there is nothing quite so meditative for her as going into the garden with her flat wicker gathering basket and snipping herbs and flowers that bring delight to customers who enjoy them in specialty drinks or on the plate. “It’s an Old World practice that enhances our New World concept here at the distillery.”

Twenty lucky OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) participants will follow True Fisher through Talleyrand Park on April 26 for a two-hour tour of theme gardens, stream-bank restoration, and an old railroad freight station, which was recently rescued and is destined to become a kayak/canoe museum. Don’t bother trying to sign up. The course is full and there are eight people on the waiting list, but due to the popularity, perhaps Fisher can be convinced to guide another group in the future.

The Edible Landscape Garden at Talleyrand Park is situated along a recreational trail in front of Big Spring Spirits and can be viewed during daylight hours, whether or not the distillery is open. Visit and be inspired by the plants and also by the dedication of the community volunteers. You may see them there, damp knees and dirty hands. •SCM

Nasturtium Capers

Chef Mark Johnson serves his Steak Tartare with Nasturtium Capers, Blossoms and Leaves at Big Spring during the height of nasturtium season. The nasturtium capers are finely chopped and added to the raw steak tartare mixture. The dish is garnished with the flowers, and the leaves are simply blended with olive oil and a scant amount of rye whiskey. The sweet pepperiness of the nasturtiums and slight brininess of the nasturtium capers pair well with the spicy flavors of the rye.

1 c. hot water
3 tsp. sea salt
3⁄4 c. nasturtium seed pods
1 1⁄4 c. white wine vinegar
1 sprig of dill or other herbs growing next to nasturtiums


  1. Pick the green seedpods of the plant as the flowers begin to fall. Make sure to pick the green pods and not the slightly older tan-colored pods.
  2. Dissolve the salt and water to create a brine. Allow to cool.
  3. Pour cold brine over nasturtium pods for 1–2 days.
  4. After a day or two, drain and dry the seed pods, pack in a jar, submerge with the vinegar and herbs, and seal off with vinegar-proof lids.
  5. Store in a dark place for at least 2-3 weeks.
  6. Add nasturtium “capers” to any dish that would call for regular capers.

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