Known online as “The Mocha Gardener,” Ashlie Thomas admits that most people aren’t born with a green thumb. The skill takes cultivation, much like a garden.
We talked with her about how she grew her passion for vegetable gardening, plus the recipes she makes with the bounty.
Taste of Home: How did you get into gardening?
Ashlie Thomas: My grandfather used to maintain a small food garden until his health declined. It was in those moments of observing him that I began to understand the power of what we eat and how it impacts our bodies. Good food is healing, and I wanted to see more of that for my family and my community.
TOH: What fruits and veggies do you recommend for novice gardeners?
Courtesy Ashlie Thomas
AT: For smaller spaces, such as balconies, I recommend dwarf fruit trees, strawberries, leafy greens, tomatoes, peppers and bush beans. For larger spaces, cucumbers and melons are wonderful starter plants.
(Find more of Ashlie’s gardening tips in her book, How to Become a Gardener: Find Empowerment in Creating Your Own Food Security.)
TOH: Do you have any tips for shopping local?
AT: Consider shopping at your local cooperatives and farmers markets; you will have the convenience of shopping several local producers in one location. And if the producer is available, ask questions. You’ll learn a lot about the effort put into the food that you’re buying and appreciate it more. Food then becomes an experience and not merely an object.
I prioritize producers that are no more than 50 to 100 miles away. This allows me to support the community, local economy and food system where I live.
TOH: What recipes do you plan to make with this summer’s harvest?
AT: We make power bowls packed with fresh and roasted vegetables, grains, and locally sourced fish or chicken. I also make a raw salsa dip with a mixture of sweet and savory tomatoes and peppers. It is incredible, and never lasts long.
A Creole’s Peach Jam Recipe
Courtesy Ashlie Thomas
In this amped-up jam, Ashlie combines peaches with rosemary and a fresh cayenne pepper for extra sizzle. It makes 6 half-pint jars.
Find more homemade jam recipes.
- 2 (1-3/4-ounce) packages pectin
- 3 cups sugar, divided
- 4 pounds peaches, peeled, pitted and finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1-1/2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary
- 1 minced fresh cayenne pepper
Step 1: Prepare the jam
In a Dutch oven or stockpot off heat, stir together pectin and 1/4 cup sugar. Add peaches, lemon juice, rosemary and cayenne pepper; bring to a full rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Stir in 2-3/4 cups sugar; return to a full rolling boil. Boil and stir 1 minute. Remove from heat; skim off foam.
Step 2: Process the jars
Ladle hot mixture into 6 hot half-pint jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace, if necessary, by adding hot mixture. Wipe rims. Center lids on jars; screw on bands until fingertip tight. Place jars in canner with simmering water, ensuring that they are completely covered with water. Bring to a boil; process for 10 minutes. Remove jars and cool.
Get to know Ashlie even better! Follow her on Instagram at @the.mocha.gardener.