Head to Lincoln Park Zoo for variety in the edible garden

Written By By Judith Dunbar Hines For Sun-Times Media Posted: 08/19/2014, 07:54am

The Lincoln Park Zoo always has plenty of things to see, but cooks and gardeners should certainly check out the Edible Gardens at the Farm in the Zoo entrance.

Where a patch of farm corn and soybeans used to grow, the 1000-square-foot plot now features nearly 100 types of edible plants thanks to a cooperative effort between the zoo and Chicago Green City Market. Just looking into the garden from the pathways is an inspiration, but frequent workshops and demonstrations provided by The Organic Gardener (theorganicgardener.net) give hands-on information on planting, tilling, harvesting and ways to use the results so Chicago gardeners can replicate their efforts in their own garden or balcony pots.

Jeanne Nolan, who was responsible for setting up the garden in 2005 and whose staff is charged with maintaining the gardens all year,recently gave me a plant-by-plant tour. From common lettuces to multi-colored beans, berry bushes of all kinds, to a large and lovely fig tree, the wide array is inspiring

I was interested in the cucumber vines trained to grow on wire grids set at an angle to lift the vines and fruit up off the ground, and to keep them from choking out everything near them — a problem in my own garden. Even more interesting was the large variety of cucumbersavailable. Beyond the typical salad cuke and pickling type, Edible Gardens grows Salt & Pepper, Sultan, Mexican Gherkin and Poona Keera, whose shapes and colors vary tremendously.

With a handful of market cukes, I headed to the kitchen to find a way to compare their individual features. I settled on making updated open-faced cucumber sandwiches so that the different varieties could stand on their own.

Head to the market and pick up some cucumbers plus crusty bread, some locally made goat cheese and a handful of your favorite herbs and do the same. Perfect for a hot summer evening picnic, these celebrate the season with crisp fresh flavors, and celebrate your creativity with different toppings and herb mixtures.

Drop some slices into a pitcher of ice water or make a cucumber gimlet — toast to the best of August in a Chicago garden.

LOCAL ATTRACTION features the best of regional produce and products and hopes home cooks will do the same.

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