As I’ve noted in these pages before, mine is not a subsistence garden. The growing season here is short, the high-altitude weather is extreme, the space is limited. The gardener, meanwhile, is easily distracted, typically unable or unwilling to devote the sort of effort that would a) yield an ample edible harvest, or b) preserve such bounty for later use.
The garden’s modest output doesn’t render us independent of the local grocery chain, but we enjoy a variety of homegrown produce during the growing season. We also enjoy the space itself. Walls and a sheltered location offer protection from the wind, and the plants growing within its periphery—fleshy, green, tender, well-watered—strike a vivid contrast from the tough, wiry, prickly, and drought-adapted flora that cover the ground for miles around. In a sense, the garden is just another built environment imposed on a mostly-wild landscape, yet the balance it strikes—between abundance and restriction, order and chaos, cultivated and native—is part of what makes it inviting, good for private contemplation or the company of company.
And since I don’t have extravagant expectations for productivity, whatever I harvest arrives in the kitchen already infused with an outsized sense of satisfaction. I’m weirdly smug about growing food (or herbs) without undue effort on my part—or perhaps I’m merely relieved: glad there’s something to show for the investment of time, money, and water.
The chives excel in this category. I planted a single bunch back when we were setting up the garden, probably in 2002. Other than picking them and pulling off the thatch of dead leaves in the spring, I haven’t had to do a thing to encourage them—in fact, I have to discourage them these days, by deadheading old blossoms to prevent the seeding of volunteers. Space is limited inside the garden’s walls, and I already have enough to do keeping the alpine strawberries confined to their allotted footprint.
The chives poke up in early spring, right when I most desperately need to see something green. There’s no messing around with the chartreuse of early tender leaves, either; the first little spears are hearty, deep, mature green. Flower buds soon follow: tapered finials that will burst open as round lavender poufs. Chives don’t mind getting snowed on, and they’re impervious to frost. The occasional mouse or chipmunk that finds its way into the garden isn’t interested in them, and I can’t think of a time I had to pick a bug off a chive.
I always have more than I can use, not that I don’t try. For both color and flavor, I snip chives—either leaves or florets, or both—over salads (green, tuna, potato). I garnish soups, sautés, and dips, and have developed a special keenness for sprinkling them over sandwich fillings, where they confer a slight onion zing without the lingering halitosis. They’re a must with egg-based dishes, whether scrambles, quiches, tarts, or frittatas.
I even have a recipe for a beet and goat cheese dip, the success of which depends on chives—so much so that I don’t tend to make it in winter because I think it’s just so much better with “my” chives. I like to make it for guests because it’s simple, delicious (so long as you don’t have anything against beets or goat cheese), and in-your-face colorful. I don’t have any photos of the final product, but maybe that’s just as well. If you decide to make it, the outrageous fuchsia shade will be yours to discover.
As jotted down from whatever book or magazine I got it from, my copy of the recipe reads “Beet dip: goat cheese, sour cream, pureed beets, chive, thyme.” Since that’s perhaps not entirely helpful, here’s a more detailed version. You need to plan ahead for roasting the beets (for about an hour), but otherwise this comes together in a snap. I’ve never found the thyme to be particularly helpful to this dish and so leave it out, but if you like the flavor, by all means mince some up and toss it in. Quantities are rough; you can play with the ratio of cheese to beets, both to please your palate and adjust the color of the finished product.
Beet and Goat Cheese Dip
2 to 3 medium-sized beets, roasted until tender then cooled
8 oz. plain goat cheese
2 tablespoons sour cream OR Greek yogurt
2-3 tablespoons minced fresh chives
Chop the roasted beets in a food processor until fine/pureed. Add the goat cheese and blend until smooth, then stir in the sour cream or yogurt and chives. The cheese will most likely provide all the salt you need, but adjust to taste. Garnish with additional chives, or chive florets.
As we begin to contemplate interacting with people from outside our households, I urge you to give it a whirl. Just make sure you don’t leave out the fresh chives.