Cameron and I were talking about ginger. It seems like every time you buy a plump hand of ginger at the supermarket the darn thing dries out in the vegetable drawer before you get around to trying some new recipe for Thai-inspired coconut soup. I’ve spent years buying fresh ginger, only to throw it away a few weeks later.

As it happens, we grow lots of ornamental ginger in our garden, especially huge green and variegated shell gingers. When dividing the plants, I’ve noticed how much the rhizomes of those gingers look like the culinary ginger that we buy at the supermarket. So, I wondered, could I grow a ginger plant from a piece of regular ol’ ginger from H-E-B?

It turns out the answer is yes. It grows very well in Houston and very quickly, plus it looks nice as a potted tropical plant. Growing culinary ginger would make a fun project to share with young kids.

Here’s how I did it:

At the supermarket produce section, select a small piece of ginger, perhaps three inches long, with a couple of eyes that look “sprout-able.” Back at home, plant it in a pot with nice fluffy potting medium. Place the pot outside – perhaps in an existing garden bed or under a tree – in a place that gets a half day of strong morning sunlight and dappled shade in the long hot afternoons. In only a couple weeks it will begin to sprout.

After a few more weeks, you can dig around with your fingers or a trowel and find some new roots to cut away and bring into the kitchen. Let it grow for a few months, and you’ll have a root-bound monster like I did.

If your pot of ginger is full and you want to complete your harvest, tip out the whole tangled mess and use the water hose and a knife to work apart the pieces, separating the roots with your fingers and trimming off the top growth, like you would top carrots. You’ll end up with something like this:

The ginger is young, so its skin is lighter in color and more delicate than the kind grown for mass distribution at grocery stores. The ginger flavor is milder, too.

A couple of ginger-growing tips:

  • Plant the ginger rhizome horizontally (not up and down).
  • Don’t plant it too deep – 1½ to 2 inches is about right.
  • Choose a rather large pot for growing your ginger – say, 10 inches at least. A teeny little herb pot is much too small.
  • Make sure your pot has drainage holes so that water doesn’t stand in the pot and rot your ginger.
  • Give it plenty of water.
  • Ginger is a tropical plant, so plant it in the spring to grow through the warm months.

What can you do with your treasure of freshly harvested ginger? You can cook with it in all the usual ways, of course. But we turned to our daughter Safa to come up with a way to “honor” our harvest. She ended up adapting a recipe for candied ginger by David Lebovitz.

It’s perfect, as we all enjoy a snippet of candied ginger with a cup of herb tea at bedtime. Candied ginger is also a wonderful ingredient to chop and add to gingersnaps or gingerbread. This recipe offers a double return on investment of time and ginger in that the simple syrup in which you cook the ginger also makes a delicious elixir for your future cocktails or mocktails.

Here’s Safa’s technique.

Zingy Homemade Candied Ginger

By Safa Ansari-Bayegan

To make candied ginger, all you need is fresh ginger (preferably young ginger, which is less fibrous), water, sugar and a pinch of salt.

½ lb. fresh ginger, peeled
2 cups sugar, plus additional sugar for coating the finished slices
2 cups water
pinch of salt

METHOD: First, peel your ginger. A good trick is to use a spoon to scrape the skin off your ginger, holding the bowl of the spoon facing the ginger. Young kids can help with this.

Then slice your ginger as thinly as possible using a sharp knife. An adult should do this. (Or use the Cuisinart or a mandoline.)

Place the ginger slices in a pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes. Drain, and repeat a second time.

Mix the 2 cups of sugar with equal parts water, along with a pinch of salt, and add in the ginger slices. Cook on medium-low heat until the liquid is the consistency of maple syrup and the bubbles are thick. While a candy thermometer comes in handy for this recipe and is recommended by Lebovitz, I was able to make a successful batch without using one. If you have a thermometer, it should read 225ºF.

Remove the ginger and syrup from heat and let rest for at least an hour.

Before straining the ginger, gently warm the mixture as this will help the syrup drain more easily. Strain the ginger using a strainer, letting it drain for 30 minutes to an hour.

Save the gingery syrup to sweeten a cup of tea or include in a cocktail. Or make a non-alcoholic spritzer by adding a tablespoon or two to a glass of sparkling water. The ginger syrup keeps well in the fridge.

Toss the drained slices in granulated sugar, shaking off any excess, and spread the ginger slices on a baking sheet until they are somewhat dry.