Eating from the garden

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I’m not the kind of person who creates a meal plan and shopping list every week, and then sticks to it religiously. I do like to have some idea of what we’re going to eat, however, as this cuts down on the number of nights when there’s nothing for dinner. Our current methodology is to fill the fridge and the freezer with things we eat regularly, and to eat them in rotation to avoid food waste. It’s a mix-and-match, ‘that will go nicely with this’ kind of thing, rarely looking more than 2 days ahead unless there’s a special event happening. It works for us, and we have very little waste.

Adding both meat and veg boxes from Abel & Cole into the mix when we moved into this house (two years ago now!) has greatly increased the variety in our diet. It allows us to opt out of things we really don’t want, but that’s a very different ball game from selecting the same handful of species from the supermarket each week.

And now that the garden is fully-functioning, we need to learn how to add eating from the garden into the mix. As the garden has developed over the last two years, we’ve added little things to our food. Last year there were lots of alpine strawberries, and mint for Pimms. We began cooking outside more, and I planted a bed (well, two actually…) of asparagus when we discovered we really like it. This year we’ve discovered the joys of sage and herby baked feta, although we haven’t cooked outside as much. We miss it, we’ll do more again next year. A triffid has joined the ranks of ‘must-have plants’, and I love that the garden is evolving its own personality.

Rugosa friulana courgette/ summer squash plants coming along nicely now.

Some of the larger harvests for the garden have been easy to incorporate into our diet. We’ve been munching our way through the onions and shallots for week. I’ve just sorted out the garlic harvest, replanted this year’s crop and we’ll be eating the rest over the winter. We’ve had potatoes in the fridge for weeks, and there’s a small sack in storage in the shed. They’re all easy and familiar and no problem at all.

As I explain in my new book – The Small Harvest Notebook: Vol. 1 – we’re not aiming to be self-sufficient. The garden isn’t large enough to grow everything we need; the house isn’t large enough to store it. Self-sufficiency is a full-time job, and we both have one of those already! What we’re working towards, what I want is a “beautiful, aromatic, overflowing, edible paradise of a garden”. A place where we enjoy spending time, which is kind to the Earth and the local wildlife, and which produces an array of things we can add to our diet. I’m looking for small harvests, not gluts I have to find ways to deal with on days when I may not feel like dealing with much at all.

That does mean making space in our meals for some less predictable and less familiar species, and expanding our repertoire to fit. At the moment I have Madeira vine (Anredera cordifolia) leaves and roots in the fridge. It’s a house plant, so I don’t have to worry about its invasive tendencies (thank you for asking!); it would be killed by the hard frosts we’ve had recently if it was outside, anyway. I also have yacón (Smallanthus sonchifolius) tubers in the fridge, which were a gift from a gardening friend (along with a yacón crown I am attempting to overwinter in the shed).

Stealth sharks fin melon

There are three shark’s fin melons (Cucurbita ficifolia) on the dining table. I’m looking forward to cooking those (and growing them again next year – my one plant gave the Triffid a run for its money!), but there’s no rush as they store for ages once the skins have cured. My other winter squash came to nothing this year, but we’ve been eating some from the veg box and are learning to love them. I have mushroom plants (Rungia klossii) reaching for the sky on the kitchen windowsill, and really do intend to try turning them into pesto one of these days; there’s a tub of bletted medlars on the kitchen counter.

Outside in the garden I have a bed of leeks (another easy species to use up). There are oca and ulluco tubers that will need harvesting soon, as well as Chinese artichokes and edible dahlia tubers. (Last year we made spiced dahlia ice cream and dahlia pan haggerty from those, and I’m looking forward to more experimentation this year.)

Two clumps of beetroot (grown for their leaves) are sharing a bed with winter radishes that probably need thinning. We’ve eaten radish leaves before; they’re a bit hairy raw, but they’re fine when they’re cooked. We’ve learned that, although we don’t think much of salad radishes raw, they’re nice cooked, too. And that’s before you look at the perennial beds, where the sorrel is probably rampant- it hasn’t been touched all year.

Fuchsia berry

In the months to come there will be flower sprouts and purple sprouting broccoli, and broad beans (which are still seedlings in the shed), and then it will be spring and the whole merry-go-round of keeping up with the garden will start again. I’m looking forward to seeing what the garden produces, to the challenge of adapting our diet to our Small Harvests, and to the continued evolution of a space that is offering up delightful surprises every year, even in its infancy.

Author: Emma


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