It’s not every day that the White House sends me an invitation, so I had to read the message a few times to make sure someone wasn’t spamming me or playing a trick. Sure enough, the White House was inviting me into their glorious backyard in Washington, DC, (about 8 miles from where I live), for a spring garden tour .

It turns out that for two weekends a year, one in the spring and one in the fall, the National Park Service opens up the back gates of the White House grounds to thousands of curious citizens (and some food bloggers like me) who want to see where dozens of presidents have held lawn parties, planted trees and flowers, and watched their children and dogs frolic on the vast lawn.

Washington, DC, is beautiful in the springtime and I was eager to see the White House gardens, but what intrigued me most of all was the historic White House vegetable garden.  The garden was planted in 2009 by First Lady Michelle Obama (with the help of local elementary school children) in an effort to feed her family well and to draw attention to the importance of healthy eating.

This thriving, meticulously-tended garden, with loads of vegetables, herbs, and some fruit, is the first edible garden at the White House since Eleanor Roosevelt planted a Victory Garden during World War II. The produce that is harvested from it is used to feed the First Family and their guests.  What is leftover goes to a local food bank.

You can see a video about the creation of the White House vegetable garden (and the first White House beehive!) here: http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/inside-white-house/video-series

If you are inspired to plant your own edible garden, here are a few suggestions for getting started:

1. Start small.  While you may be enthusiastic about putting in a large garden in the spring, after a few months of fighting back weeds, bugs and cute (but pesky!) little garden bunnies or roaming deer, your enthusiasm is likely to wane.  Start with a small plot or even some containers and build up a little each year.

2. Location, location, location.  Pick a spot that has a lot of sun.  Without 4 – 6 hours of direct sunshine each day, you are unlikely to have a good harvest.  Also try to have a spot that is easy to get to (maybe close to the kitchen), if possible, so you are more likely to build the garden into your meal plans.

3. Prepare and plan.  Prepare the soil with organic material and plan what you will plant and when.  As we busy parents know, planning ahead takes about 80% of the stress out of any project.

4. Let your garden save you money.  Plant those items that tend to cost you the most at the grocery store.  Herbs grow like weeds, yet at the store they cost $3 or more for a few sprigs!

5. Make it a family affair.  Include your kids, maybe even dedicating sections to each child.  Purchase some child size gardening gloves and tools so they have the ability and inspiration to help out.

Whether you grow it in your garden or buy it at the farmer’s market, asparagus is in season right now, and your family will love it in this soup, which I learned to make from a French-trained chef in Costa Rica in 2009, the same year the White House vegetable garden was planted.

Recipe: Cream of Asparagus Soup with Fresh Croutons

  • Prep Time: 5 min(s)
  • Cook Time: 25 min(s)
  • Total Time: 30 min(s)
  • Servings: 6

A sneak peek at the white house garden and a fresh soup recipe.

Ingredients

    • 1 Tbsp. butter
    • 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
    • 1 tsp. minced garlic (about 2 cloves)
    • 2 russet (baking) potatoes, peeled and diced
    • 1 lb. asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
    • 32 oz. reduced-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
    • 1 tsp. dried tarragon, or 1 Tbsp. fresh
    • 1 baguette (use 1/2 for croutons and reserve 1/2 for serving)
    • 1/2 tsp. salt
    • ¼ tsp. black pepper
    • ¼ cup half and half or heavy cream

Instructions

    • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
    • In a large saucepan, heat the butter and 1 Tbsp. oil over medium heat. When the butter starts to bubble, add the garlic and stir it for about 30 seconds until it becomes fragrant. Add the potatoes and asparagus, and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring often.
    • Add the broth and dried tarragon (if using fresh tarragon, add it with the salt and pepper) and bring it to a low boil. Cook, stirring often, for about 15 minutes until the potatoes are tender.
    • Meanwhile, to make the croutons, cut half of the baguette into thin slices and lay them on a baking sheet. Brush the tops of the slices with olive oil and bake them for about 10 minutes until they are crisp and just starting to brown at the edges. Remove them from the oven and set them aside.
    • Add the salt and pepper to the soup and puree it using a standing or hand blender. Stir in the half and half or cream, and serve it with the croutons.

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