We recently went just across the border to Polk County and visited Bok Tower Gardens for a “pizzatastic” Fresh Bites presentation. It was the second in the series and an introduction to the Gardens’ new outdoor kitchen and edible gardens area.
The edible garden is comprised of a number of raised beds featuring such delights as tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, kale, purple basil and onions along with a variety of flowers – both edible and not.
Those are flanked by edible landscaping borders planted with such crops as sugar cane, rosemary, blackberries, raspberries and grapes along with miniature orchards of fruit trees and bushes that provided some of the ingredients for the pizza which was prepared on site.
The outdoor kitchen itself is an impressive structure, fully covered over the main section and finished off with a louvered pergola roof. There also are lights for evening programs, a sound system and even crank down shades to mitigate the afternoon sun. The kitchen itself has a full barbecue grill, ovens, warming trays, hot and cold running water in their sink and preparation area as well as a Italian-style wood-fired pizza oven.
For the pizza cooking, they used a selection of aged oak, harvested from trees that were downed in the 2004 hurricanes that ravaged the Gardens as the big storms passed through central Florida.
Bok Tower Gardens Education Department staff and representatives of the Lake Wales Academy – including Chef Lauren Chambliss – prepared a series of different pizzas and pestos. The recipes came from the Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) and featured pizzas built on whole wheat, lavash and focaccia doughs.
The culinaries also presented both a classic basil pesto and a tomato and almond pesto, offered as a stand-alone dish as well as used as the base for pizzas with eggplant, onions and other garden ingredients.
They finished up the menu with a “Peachy Keen Dessert Pizza” – which tasted every bit as good as it sounds.
To help keep patrons fully hydrated over the mid-morning presentation there were pitchers of ice water; plain and naturally flavored with peach, cucumber and lemon slices respectively.
Following the program, visitors had an opportunity to enjoy the Gardens, which is one of the original “tourist attractions” of the Sunshine State. They could walk up the paved path to the top of Iron Mountain (some 300-feet above sea level) to see the frescoes on the 205-foot tall “Singing Tower” or look at it in the reflecting pool. The 60-bell carillon could be enjoyed up close and personal as a variety of songs were played by the carilloneur as visitors watched the koi swimming lazily in the moat around it.
This was the second in a series of programs at the outdoor kitchen this year. Their inaugural presentation was titled “Salsa Salsa Salsa,” with the product again produced mainly from the edible garden,
The education department now takes its summer hiatus from adults for a kids cooking camp. The adult presentations there are scheduled to begin again in September.