Ginger root: an ancient, flavorful, and easy grow-it-yourself crop
Few gardeners ever think of growing ginger. Yet gardeners, as a rule, love to cook. It follows that sooner or later they will probably be involved in the now-popular yet ancient method of wok-cooking, known as stir-frying, where 3 out of 5 recipes call for ginger root. What is needed specifically is ''fresh'' ginger root.
It's perfectly possible to grow ginger on your patio, in a pot among the window plants, or in your garden.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale, a Latinized version of the Sanskrit name) is Oriental in origin. Actually, the name comes from Zanzibar, from where it was imported in the 15th century. This spice has long been used in the warmer parts of Asia, Africa, India, and the Far East.
To grow your own, first choose a plump, unshriveled root (or ''hand,'' as the root sections are called), cut into pieces containing eyes or buds, and let them cure for a day or two. Plant in fertile soil after the ground is warm.
The plant requires plenty of moisture and good drainage, and it will not grow well in sandy or gravelly locations. Harvest before, or protect from, frost.
When the shoots are thriving, old hands at growing the roots will dig down and break off a piece for use in the kitchen. The roots will keep right on growing. Trimming seems to encourage growth.
To get a good start, it is best to buy healthy roots, probably at the supermarket. The plants will grow happily in the greenhouse at temperatures around 70 or 80 degrees. In the winter you may allow them to go dormant by reducing the heat and watering less.
Harvested roots are preserved in several time-tried ways. The roots will stay fresh for months if layered in damp sand, or you can pack the peeled, sliced ginger in brine.
Probably more convenient is to store it in the refrigerator in plastic bags, where the roots will keep for several weeks, or wrap them in aluminum foil and put them in the freezer. They'll keep for a season or even longer. For handy use , keep small pieces of ginger rolled in foil on the freezer door. They're easy to unroll, snip off, scrape, grate, or squeeze through a garlic press for drops of the fresh seasoning at a moment's notice.
There is a world of difference between fresh ginger root and the familiar powdered product. Powdered ginger cannot be used the same way as the fresh root, whose taste is pungent and sharp and can be used as a complement to a dish instead of as a seasoning.
The older, tougher roots, too strong and fibrous for eating, are just right for flavoring. Tender roots may be used in everything from soups and salads to broiled fish and sauteed vegetables, stir-fried or otherwise.