“Back when I was cool, I did cool things. Now I go up to my home office and read gardening magazines,” says Scott Lowry of his new-found interest in gardening. “It’s not bad,” he adds.
Lowry readily admits he can get carried away. So the fact that the house that Scott shares with wife Brooke and son Jack is only a mile from the center of town — a three-minute drive or a leisurely 20-minute walk — hasn’t stopped Lowry from pursuing his dream of being a farmer.
Though an attorney by profession, he looks forward to the day he is better known as a farmer than as a lawyer.
Since buying the house, the Lowrys have had three years with their garden. They have a formal arrangement of metal raised beds for root crops; onions, carrots, garlic and potatoes. There’s an asparagus bed in its second year which should be in full production in another couple of years, all kinds of herbs and a pot of ginger planted earlier this year. If all goes well, the Lowrys will be able to dig up some fresh ginger root at the end of next summer. A spot in the center of the garden has been left for a fountain but it has not yet materialized.
In another corner of the property is a large row garden with tomatoes, tomatillos, okra, corn, pumpkins and watermelons. An adjoining house has been purchased to allow this garden space to spread. Scott plans to tear down the house. There is talk of a greenhouse.
“I don’t need 90 tomato plants,” says Scott. “I could get by with 15.” But he does have 90 tomato plants and they produce several bushel baskets of tomatoes every three or four days, most of which make their way down to the Lowry’s canning room in the basement.
Scott wanted a separate canning room so that if there was ever a disaster, it wouldn’t wreck their kitchen. The Lowry’s have a pressure canner and Scott says, “That thing gets my attention.”
There’s a commercial sink down in the canning room, a cookstove, storage shelves for jars and a kitchen island for prep. There’s a television on the wall and an adjoining playroom for the Lowry’s young son, Jack. Next door is a cellar for storing root crops and beyond that a pantry for the bounty of canned goods that result from the Lowry’s hard work.
The Lowry’s have recently discovered refrigerator pickles and are busily investigating this new form of food preservation. They have pickled some of just about everything this year but the crowning glory of this new obsession is their bread and butter pickles.
Unlike your ordinary bread and butters which are simply cloyingly sweet, the Lowry’s are more complex. They start off sweet, turn sour in the mouth and then leave a spicy-hot aftertaste. Not too hot, just a hint of heat to convey the intense array of flavors. The first bite leaves you wanting more. Scott Lowry decides not to share that recipe. He’s saving it for the restaurant.
At that point, Scott admits he not only wants to be a farmer, he wants to go the whole farm-to-table route, to be a farmer with a restaurant that serves the food he has raised. “One night a year, we get my dream,” he says. “We get to have a restaurant.”
On that night, the Lowry’s welcome 16 guests into their home for a seven-course farm-to-table meal. Invitation to the meal comes via the winning bid at Surry Arts Council’s annual Arts Ball where the meal is auctioned off. The only things a prospective guest needs to attend the dinner are deep pockets, a generous heart and a desire to support the arts.
Dinner is served on the Lowry’s covered brick terrace which is awash with twinkly lights and sparkly crystal for the evening. They call in friends to help with preparation and presentation and there is no sign of the terrace’s usual function, a curing station for root crops where sweet potatoes, garlic and onions dry on screen doors spread across the terrace.
Seven courses give plenty of scope for the Lowry’s garden to shine, and they make full use of it, even going so far as to include the often overlooked amuse-bouche, which most recently was watermelon granita. Scott laughs a little and says, “How’s that for pretentious?”
But on a less glamorous Tuesday night in August, Brooke is shoving tomatoes into an electric food strainer while Scott pushes them through with a mashing rod and Jack plays in the next room. Jack likes strawberries best when it comes to the garden and they’re long gone.
“This is the way I like it now,” says Scott as a bowl fills with tomato pulp and juice and the seeds and skins are discarded into another bowl.
“I was down here until 12:30 on Sunday night making seven quarts of soup and until 10:45 on Monday. I’m tired. But it’s good.”
“I used to live on the golf course,” he adds. “But now I want to be here with my family. I’ve played one time this year.”
Brooke agrees. “I can’t get him to play golf.” She rolls her eyes just a little and there is some discussion as to whether anyone knows the location of his golf clubs.
Brooke is a bit less vocal than Scott about the joys of gardening and canning. She agrees that it’s really nice when they cook to be able to use their own stuff. “That’s fun,” she says. “But there comes a point when I’m done.”
She hasn’t reached that point yet this year. Which is a good thing. There are three bushels of tomatoes in the driveway waiting to go downstairs to the canning room.
Vine-Fresh Tomato Soup
This recipe from the “Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving” is used by Scott and Brooke Lowry for home canned tomato soup that brings the taste of summer to the darkest days of winter.
Yields about 4 quart jars
12 to 14 pounds red, orange or yellow tomatoes
1 medium red bell pepper
1 medium yellow onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. salt
1 tsp. ground black pepper
Ball Citric Acid or bottled lemon juice
Vegetables may be omitted to suit your taste but do not increase the measurement of vegetables or change the type of vegetables used in the recipe.
Prep: Wash tomatoes under cold running water: drain. Remove core and blossom ends from tomatoes. Cut tomatoes into quarters. Remove stem and seeds from bell pepper. Coarsely chop bell pepper. Peel and coarsely chop onion. Peel and mince garlic.
Cook: Sauté onion and garlic in olive oil, in a large saucepan, until onion is translucent. Add tomatoes, bell pepper, tomato paste and sugar. Bring mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to a simmer (180°F). Cook tomato mixture, covered, until tomatoes are cooked down and begin to thicken, about 30 minutes. Purée tomato mixture using an electric food strainer or food mill to remove peels and seeds. Return purée to a large saucepan. Add salt and pepper. Simmer about 15 minutes, stirring to prevent sticking.
Fill: Add 1/2 tsp. citric acid or 2 tbsp. bottled lemon juice to a hot quart jar. Ladle tomato soup into jar, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Clean jar rim. Center lid on jar and adjust band to fingertip-tight. Place jar in the rack over simmering water (180°F.) in boiling-water canner. Repeat until all jars are filled.
Process: Lower the rack into simmering water. Water must cover jars by one inch. Adjust heat to medium-high, cover canner and bring water to a rolling boil. Process quart jars 40 minutes. Turn off heat and remove cover. Let jars cool 5 minutes. Remove jars from canner; do not retighten bands if loose. Cool 12 hours. Test seals. Label and store jars.
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Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.