The bonuses are twofold: kids love eating vegetables they've picked themselves and grownups get exposure to local new vegetables. Here are some of my favorite ideas for backyard harvest party activities, consumables and decorations to make the most of your summer vegetables.
Divide corn among guests to see who can finish shucking the fastest. The winner gets a garden journal to keep track of next year's plants. After the corn is shucked, use a sharp knife to cut it from the cob. Blanch kernels in boiling water for one minute, cool and freeze to make summer's flavors last.
2. Tomato Tasting
Stage a tomato tasting contest where the best tasting tomato wins the prize. Send the winner home with sea salt or a jar of gourmet pasta sauce, and old fashioned bragging rights.
3. Veggie Olympics
Find out who can put a pea in their nose with their tongue, who can carry the most zucchini across the yard or throw old tomatoes closest to the bullseye. Veggie Olympics are a way to get kids more comfortable with healthy eating. String mild padrone peppers into necklaces and crowns and hold a winner's ceremony.
4. Recipe Trade and Cookbook
Neighbors can trade recipes for their vegetable specialties. Guests each bring a print out of their favorite harvest recipes. Copy and bind all the pages together to make a quick party cookbook. Deviled tomatoes and Savory Zucchini Bread are two of my favorite recipes, just to get you started.
5. Vegetable carving party.
For a party with fewer guests, download instructions for vegetable garnishes. Practice carving tomatoes into roses or carrots into matchsticks with the help of friends.
12 cups cold water
2 12 ounce cans thawed frozen lemonade concentrate
1/3 cup sugar
Juice from one fresh lime
1/2 cup firmly packed fresh basil leaves, ripped in thirds
Fresh basil and lemon slices for garnish
In a very large pitcher or bowl, mix water, concentrate, sugar and lime juice until well-combined. Stir in the torn basil leaves. Cover the mix and chill overnight. Before serving, strain the basil leaves out through a fine mesh strainer into the pitcher or punch bowl. Serve with the basil and lemon garnish.
2. Buttery Popcorn
Pop 1/4 cup popcorn in a plain paper bag. Fold the top over and set in your microwave -- turn it on the "popcorn" setting or remove when the pops slow to less than 2 seconds between corn. Melt salted butter to drizzle over the top.
3. Italian Tomato Basil and Mozzarella Kabobs
Summertime kabobs are best served stuck in a jar filled with beans for easy out-of-hand eating. Assemble ahead of time, or enlist your guests -- and their harvest -- to pull these together at the last minute.
4. Lemon Bars
Refreshing on hot days, Persimmion Lemon bars use a California bumper crop to make an unusual desert.
5. Don't bake
Buy cookies, cupcakes or ice cream from a local store or bakery. There's no need to heat up the kitchen when the weather is warm.
Jelly jars have multiple uses for inexpensive backyard decorating. Set a candle inside a jar filled with a cup of dried beans. Wrap the jars in canvas or linen and tie with twine for a more sophisticated look. Or serve drinks in jelly jars garnished with a sprig of mint.
Tablecloths have big impact on an outdoor space. Traditional red checked tablecloths look festive against bright vegetables, and oilcloth is perfect for reuse and easy cleanup. Use bandannas as napkins instead of paper towels.
3. Party Favors
Give seeds to plant in the fall as party favors. And don't forget to have everyone pack up some of the harvest! Find yourself awash in extra canvas shopping bags? Put them out for guests to bring home their summer bounty.
If your budget allows for flowers, brightly colored Gerbera daisies are economical and cheerful, and big bunches of sunflowers from the farmers market bring harvest chic to the backyard.
I like to offer favors that guests can either consume or use again. Trowels, ice cream scoops and wooden spoons can be displayed in stainless steel buckets for guests to take with them. Sidewalk chalk, bubbles and popsicles are adored by younger guests. Either way, keep it simple -- the idea is to bring friends together.