NEW HARTFORD-- While taking a drive through New Hartford, it's impossible to miss, and easy to take for granted, the work of the town's group of dedicated green thumbs.
For half a century, the New Hartford Garden Club has been collecting gardening expertise that comes in handy for sprucing up the town. Now, those tips, as well as 85 of the members' favorite recipes, are available in the New Hartford Garden Club's 50th anniversary cookbook.
Madeline McMahon has seen the club change a lot in her 17 years as a member. At 80, McMahon is the oldest active member.
“Before, it was quite a few older women and the ideas were older,” McMahon said. “These are younger people and a lot of them have been out in the business world. What we didn't think of, they do.”
The original club, which was founded in 1960 or 1962 depending on who you ask, had 24 female members. Membership dipped in the nineties until only a few members remained. McMahon was one of the driving forces behind making the club what it is today, spearheading civic programs and helping membership thrive during her time serving as the club's president from 2004 to 2006.
“It's different but yet it's still the same because it's still women who love to get together and talk about their gardens,” McMahon said.
Today, the club has 45 members including retirees, businesswomen, stay-at-home mothers and even two men. It boasts members from Farmington, Harwinton, Winsted, Torrington, Canton and West Hartland.
Sibyl Pellum, the club's present, said the laid-back way the club is run is what draws people in who may not have much time to devote to a club in their own town. Members pay $15 a year and are encouraged, but not required, to participate in the events. The dues help pay for projects, outside speakers and membership in the Federated Garden Clubs of Connecticut, an organization of 144 clubs in the state.
“It's sort of a low key club,” Pellum said. “There are no hardfast rules about anything.”
The gardeners meet year-round, hosting garden tours, educational workshops, presentations and fundraisers. The most successful annual fundraiser is the plant sale held the day before Mother's Day. Members grow all the plants that are sold and any leftover produce is donated to local food banks. This Spring, the sale raised $2,500, which will go toward funding the club's various community projects.
The gardeners maintain the flora surrounding the “Welcome to New Hartford” signs and various other signs around town. Members are also responsible for the plantings at Nepaug Cemetary, Brodie Park, South End Fire House, Town Center Green the post office, Riverview Park, Town Hall and the veteran's memorial.
Gardening and food go hand-in-hand, so it's only natural that many of the members love to cook and bake. They decided to memorialize the 50th anniversary with a cookbook so other can enjoy the same treats the members do each month at their meetings.
“We always have these wonderful, tasty foods,” said Mary Lou Ringklib, an active member and former club president.
Much of the club's knowledge, which is shared in six pages of monthly gardening tips in the cookbook, come from the presence of eight graduates of the Master Gardener program, an Education Outreach Program that is part of the University of Connecticut Cooperative Extension System.
Besides gardening tips, the 95-page cookbook features appetizers, breads, desserts, entrees, soups, salads, vegetables and side dishes. Twenty-three of the recipes were pulled from the club's original cookbook published in the late eighties.
Cookbooks are available for purchase for $9 at the New Hartford Garden Club's annual Holiday Luncheon on Dec. 1 at 11:30 a.m. at the South End Fire House. To reserve a copy, contact Sibyl Pellum at (860) 379-3722. Proceeds will help support the club's many community projects.
Try these easy recipes from the New Hartford Garden Club Cookbook, 50th Anniversary Edition. Reprinted with permission of the New Hartford Garden Club.
Pumpkin Curry By Sibyl Pellum
2 cups (1 lb) cubed pumpkin
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp margarine/butter
1 onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
4 slices bacon, chopped
2 tsp curry powder
8 oz tomato sauce (1 small can)
salt and pepper
1 clove garlic, crushed
Fry the onion, green pepper and bacon in the oil and butter for about 5 minutes. Add the curry powder and cook for another minute or two. Add the pumpkin in 1/2” cubes, the tomato sauce, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer very gently for 20-30 minutes until the pumpkin is very soft and starts to disintegrate. Stir occasionally to make sure that the pumpkin is not sticking and add a little water if necessary. Stir in the crushed garlic a few minutes before serving. Serves 6.
Mini-Quiches By Mary Lou Ringklib
1 pkg. Refrigerator Pillsbury Butterflake Dinner Rolls
1 cup deveined shrimp (small)
1 beaten egg
½ cup light cream
1 Tbsp brandy
½ tsp salt
Dash of pepper
2 slices of Swiss cheese
Grease 2 dozen 1-3/4” muffin pans (mini). Separate each dinner roll in half; press into the muffin pans to make shell. Combine egg, cream, brandy, salt and pepper. Divide shrimp evenly among the shells, using 2-3 to each. Pour egg mixture into muffin pans; slice cheese into 24 pieces. Place atop each appetizer. Bake at 375 for 20 minutes or until golden. Serve immediately. Freezes well; wrap with foil.
Cheesecake Cookies By Madeline McMahon
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 cups flour
2 pkgs (8oz) cream cheese, soft
1 cup chopped walnuts
4 Tbsp heavy cream or milk
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2/3 cup melted butter
½ cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla
Combine brown sugar, chopped nuts, and flour in a large bowl. Stir in melted butter; mix well until light and crumbly. Remove 2 cups of the mixture and set aside for the topping. Place remaining in a 9” x 13” pan and bake in a 350 degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes. Set aside.
Beat cream cheese until smooth with ½ cup sugar; beat in eggs, cream, juice and vanilla. Pour into baked crust. Return to 350 oven and bake for about 25 minutes. Cool and refrigerate for about 4 hours. Cut into squares and serve.
Originally appeared Dec. 1, 2010 on the Republican-American's ACCENT page.