• Scrumptious Salmon and Dilly Cheese Torta
• Cool Cucumber and Dilled Artichoke Salsa
• Herbed Wild Rice Salad Wrapped in Romaine
• Colorful Coriander Deviled Eggs
• Merry Berry Lemon Tartlets
• Ginger Minted Sparkling Punch
Each year, I throw a festive celebration in my Austin, Texas, garden. A garden party is a lighthearted, casual way to show off my garden and regale my guests with its seasonal delights—the fresh herbs and flowers that flavor and garnish every dish.
Rather than a sit-down, al fresco dinner, I like to celebrate summer occasions with a garden full of friends, allowing them to serve themselves in a buffet-style setting. That lets me enjoy my own party without the stress of serving. Instead of one buffet table, I like to set up serving areas scattered around the garden. This encourages guests to mingle more. Sometimes a serving area can highlight a single dish. For example, I serve the Scrumptious Salmon and Dilly Cheese Torta (see recipe on page 29) on a table of its own, with its accompanying condiments displayed appealingly around it. Try turning a standing birdbath into a pedestal for a platter, or your garden bench into a serving table.
When setting the serving tables, choose cloths in complementary colors and designs that accentuate the colors that dominate the garden. To add interest, layer several patterns or colors of tablecloths or arrange some on the diagonal. To show off a special dish, create a raised platform for it by covering a small, sturdy crate or box with cloth.
Create a centerpiece using a basket of freshly cut herbs (or nursery transplants tucked in with moss or wood fiber), use an assortment of small vases, or just scatter the herbs and flowers around the table. On the bread table, arrange a variety of artisan loaves from a local bakery and tuck in long sprigs of rosemary. Accompany with an assortment of savory herb butters in small bowls.
When I have time, I wrap cloth napkins with ribbons or raffia and fresh stems of rosemary, savory, Mexican oregano, and thyme. I display or pass out a menu and label dishes with hand-lettered cards.
I like to make the party’s punch, flavored and lavishly garnished with fresh herbs and flowers, the center of attention. You can serve it to a crowd from your grandmother’s crystal punch bowl, a large glass crock, or a pretty pitcher. Surround the base of the chosen vessel with long evergreen boughs, fresh herbs and flowers, and clusters of strawberries, lemons, limes, and other seasonal fruit. For the garnishes, fill small bowls with slices of assorted citrus and fresh sprigs of mints, lemon balm, lemon verbena, and/or pineapple sage so that guests can add herbs to their own drinks. Don’t forget the ice bucket; ice cubes frozen with herbs and flowers add a lovely accent.
Lucinda Hutson writes and gardens from her home in Austin, Texas. She has written The Herb Garden Cookbook (Gulf Publishing Company, 1998), and her articles on food and gardening appear in many publications. You can order her book by writing Lucinda Hutson, PO Box 300607, Austin, TX 78703 or on her website at www.onr.com/user/lucinda.