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Growing Ginger

April 28, 1985|FERN-RAE ABRAHAM | The Christian Science Monitor

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 ancient but popular method of wok cooking known as stir-frying, in which three out of five recipes specifically call for fresh ginger root.

Cooks who want to use really fresh ginger root can grow it either on a patio, in a pot among window plants or in the garden.

Ginger ( Zingiber officinale , a Latinization of the Sanskrit name) is Oriental in origin. Actually, the name comes from Zanzibar, from where ginger was first imported several centuries ago. It 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 it into pieces containing eyes or buds, and let them cure (sit around) for a day or two. Plant in fertile soil after the ground is sufficiently warm.

The plant requires plenty of moisture and good drainage; it will not grow well in sandy or gravelly locations. Harvest before--or protect from--frost. Plants are tender outdoors, even in Southern California.

When the shoots are thriving, gardeners familiar with growing the roots will dig down and break off a piece for use in the kitchen. The roots will keep on growing. Trimming seems to encourage growth.

To get a good start, you should always buy healthy roots, probably at the supermarket. The plants will grow happily in a greenhouse at temperatures between 70 and 80 degrees. In the winter, you can allow them to go dormant by reducing the heat and by 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.

Storing the roots in plastic bags in the refrigerator, where they will keep for several weeks, is probably the most convenient way to keep ginger. They'll keep for a season or more if wrapped in aluminum foil and put in the freezer. For handy use, keep small pieces of ginger rolled in foil in the freezer door. They're easy to unroll, snip off, scrape, grate or squeeze through a garlic press for drops of 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, which has a pungent and sharp taste and can be used as a complement to a dish instead of merely as a seasoning.

The older, tougher roots--too strong and fibrous for eating--are perfect for flavoring. Tender, young roots can be used in everything from salads and fish to sauteed or stir-fried vegetables.

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