Question: Can I plant the seeds from fruit I bought at the store, or should I buy commercial seed packets?
- Lesley Hartman,Las Vegas, Nev.
Martha Stewart: You should save seeds only from open-pollinated, or nonhybrid, varieties of fruits, vegetables and flowers. These yield offspring that resemble their parents, while seeds from hybrids produce plants that are not only unlike their parents but usually inferior to them.
Most supermarket fruits and vegetables are hybrids and are therefore not appropriate candidates for seed-saving. If you shop at a farmer's market, you may have better luck, as many of the fruits and vegetables sold there are open-pollinated; just ask the grower, or watch for "heirloom" varieties, most of which are suitable for seed-saving.
When buying commercial seed packets, make sure to get the open-pollinated varieties if you intend to save the seeds. Once you have grown plants from nonhybrid seeds, you can save and plant their seeds from year to year. Choose disease-free plants that do well in your garden, and ones with qualities you want to encourage, such as a particular color or a high yield.
If you would like to learn more about heirloom seeds and seed saving, contact a wonderful organization called the Seed Savers Exchange (free brochure; annual membership $25; 3076 North Winn Road, Decorah, IO 52101; 319-382-5990). They also sell the definitive book on seed saving: "Seed to Seed" by Suzanne Ashworth (Seed Saver Publications; 1991; $20 plus shipping).
Question: Can you tell the me the proper way to make and use a bouquet garni?
- Dan Roberts, via e-mail
Martha Stewart: "Bouquet garni" is a French term that refers to a bundle of aromatic herbs and spices used to flavor slow-cooking dishes such as stocks, soups and stews. Tied together or wrapped in cheesecloth, the ingredients steep in the liquid as it simmers, infusing the dish with their flavor. Unlike loose herb sprigs, a bouquet garni won't get in the way as you skim the top of a stock, and it is easy to remove before you serve the dish.
The classic bouquet garni includes several sprigs each of fresh parsley and thyme and a dried bay leaf or two, but many other herbs and spices can be incorporated according to what you're making.
For a basic chicken stock, I like to use the parsley, thyme and bay leaves and add fresh tarragon, black peppercorns and a clove. For an Asian-inspired stock or soup, the mix includes parsley, cilantro, black and Szechuan peppercorns, whole coriander seeds, star anise and kombu, or Japanese dried seaweed. Other fragrant, flavorful additions include lemon and orange zest, garlic, fennel seeds and branches, celery leaves and fresh herbs such as dill, rosemary, marjoram and savory.
If you are using just a few herb sprigs, tie the stems together with a piece of kitchen string. With ingredients like peppercorns, you'll need to encase them in cheesecloth: Lay the ingredients on a double layer of cheesecloth, fold sides of the cloth in, roll it up and tie with kitchen string.
Question: I've just purchased a new toolbox, to be used only by me for home repairs. Could you suggest some essential tools that are "female friendly" in weight and size?
- Trish Jurgonis, Fairfax, Va.
Martha Stewart: A well-stocked toolbox is like a first-aid kit for the home. It won't be hard for you to find the tools you need in sizes and proportions that are comfortable to use. Some tools, such as hammers, screwdrivers and adjustable wrenches, come in several sizes so you can select the ones that feel best in your hand.
Most of the other essentials are "gender-free." The more unwieldy tools, such as power tools, aren't necessary for basic household projects and repairs - but once you gain confidence, who's to say you won't want to try a circular saw?
Good tools can last a lifetime, so consider them an investment and buy the best you can afford; the better tools will also be well balanced and have a comfortable grip, making them easier to use.
Here is a list of the tools no home should be without. Add to your kit according to your interests and needs.
- Curve-claw hammer: A 16-ounce hammer is considered the all-purpose hammer, but smaller, lighter ones are also available.
- Screwdrivers: You'll need three or four screwdrivers to fit different-size screws, including Phillips head.
- Adjustable wrench
- Drill with assorted bits: Look for a lightweight, cordless drill. Or use a rotary tool, like the one made by Dremel, instead; this small hand-held tool performs many of the same functions as a drill.
- Slip-joint pliers: for gripping or turning metal objects
- Needlenose pliers: for reaching and gripping in tight spots
- Wire-cutting pliers
- Putty knife
- Wood chisel
- Carpenter's level
- Retractable tape measure
- Staple gun
- Utility knife
- Razor scraper: for removing paint from windows
- All-purpose glue, wood glue and superglue
- Sandpaper: from coarse to fine
- Assorted nails, screws, nuts and bolts; anchors and plugs for supporting screws in the wall; and picture-hanging wire and hardware
- Work gloves and safety goggles