Story: Lila Ashmore |
Roasted autumn vegetables, feta puffs with fresh spinach, and pinwheels with beets, goat cheese and pistachios have become first family favorites at the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion, made all the more delicious because the main ingredients have been grown on-site.
The mansion sits on eight-and-a-half acres in the heart of the historic Quapaw Quarter in Little Rock, and an organic vegetable garden is nestled in the southeastern corner of the property, surrounded by a distinctive picket fence and encircled by flowering crabapple, holly and magnolia trees. The bucolic setting in the heart of the city was created as part of garden designer P. Allen Smith’s overhaul of the mansion grounds in 2005, and over the past few years the 3,600-square-foot plot has produced bountiful harvests under the guidance of the Pulaski County Master Gardener program.
The plot contains seven symmetrically grouped raised beds, with a line of espaliered Gala apples on the east and an entry gate on the west. Each vegetable bed is filled with a blend of topsoil, compost and other amendments, equipped with a just-below-ground irrigation system, and rimmed with wide ledges that offer a place to sit while sorting seeds, cleaning greens or trimming onions. The crops range from asparagus to zucchini and everything in between: beans, squash, corn, greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, cabbage, onions, peas, potatoes, garlic, radishes and more, with a dedicated group of master gardeners tending to it weekly. Last year, the fruits of their labor were recognized as the vegetable garden was honored as one of the Arkansas Master Gardener Project of the Year award winners.
The kitchen staff, led by chef Jay Baxter, and first lady Ginger Beebe, who is also a master gardener, take a very active interest in the program, helping to select the crops planted in any given season and proudly pointing to the vegetable garden as an important contribution to their daily diet. When their hectic schedule allows, Governor Mike Beebe and the first lady enjoy cooking their own meals and utilizing the fruits and vegetables from the garden.
“We are healthy eaters,” says Mrs. Beebe. “We enjoy making different sauces, and by using fresh tomatoes and herbs from the garden, the main dishes we concoct are always complemented by organically-grown, tasty produce.” The first lady credits the master gardeners for their hard work and devotion in making the renovated vegetable garden a family and visitor favorite. “The garden is a year-round project,” she says. “The governor and I are grateful to them and laud their efforts in encouraging Arkansans that our state is one of the most bountiful in the union.”
First Family Favorites
Recipes from chef Jay Baxter, Arkansas Governor’s Mansion
Beet, Goat Cheese and Pistachio Pinwheels
1 T. olive oil
3 fresh beets (trimmed and scrubbed clean)
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 pkg. small flour tortillas
1 cup goat cheese (herbed is preferable)
1 8 oz. pkg. fat free cream cheese (room temp.)
1 tsp. lemon juice
2 T. chopped fresh chives
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. black pepper
1/4 cup shelled pistachios
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss clean beets in olive oil, place on a cookie sheet and sprinkle with coarse salt. Place in oven and bake until tender, approx. 30-45 minutes. Pierce with a fork or knife to determine tenderness. When fully cooked, remove from oven and let cool. Meanwhile, in a food processor bowl, combine cheeses, lemon juice, chives, garlic powder and pepper. Blend until smooth and spreadable. Add pistachios and pulse for a few seconds. When beets have cooled, slice as thinly as possible into chips. Microwave flour tortillas in package until hot and pliable, 30 seconds to 1 minute. One at a time, remove tortilla from package and cover with cheese mixture to desired thickness; 1/8 to 1/4 inch is best. Next place beet chips on top of cheese mixture, covering completely, and roll up as tightly as possible. Repeat with remaining ingredients until finished. Place rolls in refrigerator and chill for at least 1 hour. Slice into pinwheels of desired thickness. Bite sized or small sushi roll size is best.
Sage and Rosemary Roasted Autumn Vegetables
1 cup butternut squash (peeled and seeded)
1 cup pumpkin (peeled and seeded)
2 beets (scrubbed clean)
1 shallot (peeled)
3 cloves garlic
2-3 carrots (scrubbed clean)
2-3 parsnips (scrubbed clean)
1 cup fresh chopped sage
3-4 rosemary sprigs
2 T. olive oil
1 T. black pepper
1½ T. kosher salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice all vegetables into bite size pieces, leaving carrots and parsnips long. Slice lengthwise if needed. Keep vegetables around the same size so they cook in the same amount of time. Toss veggies with olive oil, sage and rosemary. Place in a baking dish and add 1/4 cup water. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place in oven and bake for approx.
1 hour, turning about every 20 minutes.
Garden Fresh Spinach and Feta Puffs
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 cup tightly packed fresh spinach
1 tsp. flour
1/4 cup feta crumbles
10 canned jumbo biscuits
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place all ingredients in a food processor bowl and pulse until well incorporated. Place dough on a lightly floured surface and roll out to 1/2-inch thickness. Cut with a biscuit cutter and place biscuits on a lightly greased cookie sheet; spray canola oil works fine. (Cut the dough into squares to have zero waste.) Bake biscuits in a hot oven until light golden, 15-25 minutes. Serve hot.