Volunteers get to dabble in their interests

GALVEZ -- Most Wednesdays, Teri Rome, of Prairieville, and Melanie Hirschfeld, of Dutchtown, can be found taking part in their two passions - gardening and dining with friends.

The women have dedicated countless hours to tending to the plants at the LSU Hilltop Arboretum’s Hodge Podge Nursery.

But it’s their volunteer work on Wednesdays that binds them in their two loves, they said during a Dec. 19 presentation at the Ascension Parish Library in Galvez.

“We’re digging in the mud planting, just having fun in the morning ... then we stop for lunch,” Hirschfeld said.

The two Master Gardeners said plant people are known to be devoted to cooking and eating. So, when the group of volunteers started talking about how to share their recipes, a cookbook soon followed.

“Passalong Recipes From the Podge” includes the story of the 14-acre arboretum and recipes passed along from its volunteer core.

“These recipes are well-tested because we’ve all eaten them,” Hirschfeld said.

Hirschfeld contributed her “Flagship Purple Rice Salad” recipe and Rome passed along recipes for “Hodge Podge Caviar” and “White Trash Dip.”

Rome, an Ascension Parish native moved back to the area after “the ‘K’ word” - the phrase she uses to describe Hurricane Katrina. The two women both lived in the Metairie area, but didn’t know each other until their gardening experience at Hilltop.

Both women decided to take the LSU Agricultural Center’s Master Gardener class after moving to Ascension Parish and are now bonded by food and plants.

“We start talking about plants and we end up talking about food,” Rome said.

Rome said the volunteers she has met at the nursery welcomed her to the area “with open arms.”

“It’s a group that you never leave,” Hirschfeld said.

The women encouraged others with an interest in gardening to get involved with the nursery.

The Arboretum is at 11855 Highland Road in Baton Rouge. Hilltop includes the nursery, a gift shop, gardens, nature areas and the home of its founder, Emory Smith.

The cookbook is available at the Hilltop or by calling (225) 767-6916.

On the Internet:

http://www.lsu.edu/hilltop