The Chinese Kitchen Garden: Growing Techniques and Family Recipes from a Classic Cuisine

The Chinese Kitchen Garden: Growing Techniques and Family Recipes from a Classic Cuisine

by Wendy Kiang-Spray


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 “A delightful and approachable guide to Chinese kitchen gardening.”—Fuchsia Dunlop, author of Land of Plenty and Land of Fish and Rice
The Chinese Kitchen Garden artfully blends the story of Wendy Kiang Spray’s cultural heritage with growing information for 38 Chinese vegetables and 25 traditional recipes. Organized by season, you’ll learn what to grow in spring, what to cook in winter, and everything in between. You’ll find complete growing information for vegetables you may not have considered growing, including lotus root, bamboo shoots, tatsoi, and luffa gourd. The 25 simple, yet delicious recipes—for congee, dumplings, stir fry, and more—beautifully highlight the flavors of the vegetables.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781604696776
Publisher: Timber Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 02/08/2017
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Wendy Kiang-Spray’s articles about gardening and food have appeared in national, local, and web publications. Besides being a passionate gardener, she is a high school counselor, garden speaker, and volunteer with the D.C. Master Gardeners. Wendy blogs at

Read an Excerpt

Preface: My Story
My own garden story didn’t begin until I was an adult. When my older daughter was seven years old, she suddenly said, “Hey, Mom, let’s have a garden!” and my obsession with gardening began.

Though he has mellowed with age, my father has always disapproved of my interests. A life of hardships, the lack of a father figure as a role model, and Chinese cultural norms meant that my father never outwardly expressed pride in me and would often be dismissive. His stubborn temperament, like mine, meant that a disagreement on any innocuous topic—such as whether my children’s jackets were warm enough—could promptly escalate to a screaming match. Call me a glutton for punishment, but despite this, I have always consciously or subconsciously sought to gain his approval.

My father’s immense vegetable garden dwarfs my entire backyard. Ducks swim contentedly around his immaculate 6-acre pond edged with lotuses and water lilies. Many evenings my father can be found fishing from the pier and deck he built himself. As an experienced gardener, he probably knew full well that my garden would offer challenges. A large maple tree casts shade over half my backyard. The virgin soil was less than ideal. The garden would be tiny. What did he think of my exciting new gardening idea? “No air! No sun! You can’t grow anything!” So what did I do? Set out to prove him wrong. Just as we’re both stubborn, we’re also both ambitious and determined.

I tapped into the wealth of information on the Internet and studied into the wee hours of the night. I took notes, printed photos, joined gardening forums, and asked hundreds of questions. In the mornings, the thought of seed and plant catalogs sitting on the kitchen table got me out of bed early. I learned we were in hardiness zone 6, and then learned what that actually meant. I became fluent in botanical Latin, and memorized the soil, light, and moisture requirements for almost everything in Kingdom Plantae.

Armed with this knowledge, I drew up a plan, built some beds, and bought some seeds. It is not impossible to begin gardening at this later stage in life—you just have to learn quickly from your mistakes. It didn’t take long for me to learn that you don’t support tomatoes with pencil-thin bamboo stakes. Or that dumping clay soil in a corner of the yard doesn’t make a compost pile, but simply makes a pile of clay soil in the corner of the yard.

I delved full force into my garden, beginning with a tiny wooden raised bed that has changed in shape and gotten a little bigger each year. Soon thereafter, I found an interest in perennials and completed an overhaul of my front yard. After that, I feverishly planned and then tackled a DIY stone retaining wall and landscaping job in my backyard. I was so busy that I barely felt the need to share what I was doing with anyone, especially with my father.

One year, I grew ‘Cherokee Purple’ tomatoes for the first time. Because my father’s a big tomato grower, I thought it would be a shame if he didn’t at least get to taste the delicious results and know about the different colors, shapes, sizes, and tastes that are characteristic of heirloom tomatoes. I assumed that my tomato wouldn’t live up to his expectations, so I was shocked when he not only liked the taste, but was interested in obtaining some seed. The next year, he planted twenty ‘Cherokee Purple’ tomatoes in his garden and only a few of his usual beefsteaks. He also asked me to order some beet seeds for him—this from a man typically too proud and independent to ask his daughter for anything.

My father rarely expresses his feelings. However, despite his initial disparaging remarks, I know in no uncertain terms how he feels about my gardening. One day, as I was at my parents’ house for dinner, I was flipping through some albums containing photos my father had taken. There, in the middle of all the other haphazardly inserted photos of his beautiful property, pond, and fruit trees, were photos he had secretly taken of my own humble first-year garden.

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