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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

The Garden, Speeches, and Big Boy

May 23, 2011

When my wife meets people at one of my book signings or speeches, they say things such as, “Your husband is so funny, I’ll bet he keeps the whole family in stiches.”

To which she replies, “Yeah, he’s a real hoot,” swallowing her sarcasm.

My wife is my toughest audience, she’s seen it, heard it, and was usually there when the event I’m writing, or speaking, about occurred. Typically, she’s not amused.

While going over my speaking-engagement schedule a few weeks ago, we came across the event, “Master Gardner’s Convention.”

“What are you doing at a Master Gardeners Convention?” she asked.

“I’m speaking.”

“I know that, but what are you speaking about?”

“I don’t know, gardening I guess.”

About 30 minutes later I was finally able to get her to stop laughing long enough to tell her, “I speak to a lot of groups where I don’t know what I’m talking about. Wait. That came out wrong. I meant I spoke to the Library Association and can’t tell you anything about the Dewey Decimal System.”

As I reeled off even more groups I had spoken to over the years, she wiped the tears from her eyes and said, “Yes, but I’ll bet these guys want you to speak about gardening. You don’t know anything about gardening. You have actually made a pretty good living off of speaking and writing about your misadventures in gardening. All you do is tell stories about growing up in the south and raising kids.”

My first thought was: There are a whole lot of shoes and handbags in that closet for someone who makes just a ‘pretty good living.’ My second thought was: She’s right (again), dang it. I don’t know squat about gardening.

I am dedicated to the concept of gardening and growing food for the restaurants. But I display my dedication by hiring someone who actually knows what he is doing. Micah Pogue is that man. For my contribution, I brought a Shoney’s Big Boy to the garden to serve as our scarecrow.

The night of the speech, as I was walking out the door, my wife asked, “Where are you going?”

To give that speech to the Master Gardener’s Association.” I could still hear her laughing as I closed the door to my truck. Strange mocking, I thought, coming from someone who’s only gardening occurs just before a party when she buys all new plants for the pots containing the dead plants that were purchased before the previous party.

As I reached the venue and was greeted by the event organizer, I asked, half jokingly, “Y’all don’t really want me to talk about gardening do you?”

“Absolutely,” she said. “We want to hear all about you restaurant’s garden, and the bees, and the pigs, we think it’s just great what you are doing.”

As I pushed the food around on my plate during the emcee’s opening remarks, I tried to think back to my columns about gardening. I knew I had always made sure to give credit where credit was due— the aforementioned Mr. Pogue who works the garden, Roy Clingon who handles the bees, Bruce Colquitt who castrated the pigs. I would never take credit for something I knew nothing about.

After I was introduced, I apologized to the crowd, gave them three minutes of gardening advice (which is exactly two minutes more than I know), and then told a bunch of humorous stories about growing up in the south and raising kids.

At the speech’s conclusion, I received the largest standing ovation I have ever received, which led me to believe that I am better off being clueless. No problem there.

For those interested in an update from Bonhomie Gardens: We have 370 tomato plants in the ground. The Big Boy is also keeping watch over sweet corn, watermelons, squash, cucumbers, zucchini, bell peppers, pink-eye purple-hull peas, baby carrots, okra, and Aristotle peppers. Micah says we’ll be harvesting vegetables for the restaurants through September. He is also a little worried that I’m going to climb inside the Big Boy one day and scare him while he’s weeding or picking.

In the end, I have learned that a Shoney’s Big Boy doesn’t keep crows away, but it scares the hell out of the deer, while keeping the gardener on his toes. Ultimately, I am grateful to the Master Gardener’s Association for getting my wife to finally laugh— if not at— about one of my speeches.

Robert’s Turnip Greens

1/2 cup bacon, medium dice
1/4 cup shallots, small dice
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 Tbl brown sugar
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
2-3 bunches turnip greens, cleaned, dried and cut into 2” wide strips (about 10 cups cut up)
1 1/2 cups pork stock
1/2 tsp kosher salt

In a large sauce pot, brown the bacon over medium heat. Stir in the shallots and cook for 2 minutes. Add the vinegar, brown sugar and crushed red pepper, cook until the sugar has dissolved completely. Add in the turnip greens and mix them well with the bacon mixture. Add the hot pork stock, and cover for 5 minutes. Remove the cover and stir the greens. Continue cooking for 10 minutes, stirring often to prevent the greens from burning. Add the salt.
Hold warm until ready to serve.

Yield: 6-8 servings

Pork Stock

8 Ham hocks
1 1 /2 gal Water
1 /2 Onion

Place hocks, water and onion in a large stockpot and simmer over low heat eight hours. Add more water as needed to yield one gallon of final product. Strain and place stock in refrigerator overnight. Using a large spoon, remove fat layer from top of chilled stock. Stock should be slightly gelatinous. Stock can be frozen in small batches. Yield: one gallon

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