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Growing what you like to eat, or liking to eat what you grow? March 2015

Grow what you like to eat is standard veg growing advice, and it's good advice too. There's no point in growing row upon row of broad beans if no one in the household will touch them. However, rules are made to be broken and there are good reasons for breaking this one.

I am assuming that most people, like me, were brought up on the supermarket diet. That trained us to like a certain, narrow range of veg, available throughout the year. Cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, peas, the med veg, salad. If you set out to reproduce this pattern of consumption in your veg garden, you are setting yourself a very difficult task, not least because they are some of the hardest veg to grow well. Other veg, like beetroot and chard, grow easily and well in the veg patch, and it may well be less that you don't like them than you simply have no habit of eating them or haven't eaten them really fresh and cooked in a way that suits you. I grew beetroot for several years simply because it was easy without really knowing what to do with it. I had only ever encountered it pickled or boiled as a salad ingredient. It languished in the fridge, raw and cooked, went in the compost and was generally unloved.

Then I discovered beetroot and feta salad, with balsamic vinegar dressing, and it became a standard part of my summer menu, and grated raw beetroot in vinaigrette, beetroot rosti, and several other recipes. So now I look forward to the beetroot crop, take great care of it, and eat it all up with gusto. If I had paid attention to that old rule, I would never have discovered it. Broad beans likewise - it's easy to love the first tender beans of the year, simply boiled, but as the year goes on and they become big and robust, do you abandon them, not grow a second crop, or discover broad bean felafels and other fantastic ways of cooking and preserving them?

Food preferences are not fixed for life, but largely habit and cultural imprinting. We are trained to like certain things by what is available and what we are rewarded by. Stop having sugar in your tea, and after three weeks sugarless tea will be normal and sugared tea will taste far too sweet. That's a major key to weight loss - lighter, healthier food becomes what you actually prefer, not what you subject yourself to, as your habits change.

Then there are all the new fruit and veg that you've never tasted because they are not in the supermarkets - yacon, mulberry, bilberries, alpine strawberries. You don't know if you like them until you grow them. And veg that you've never had really fresh. You'd be forgiven for thinking you don't like sweetcorn if you've never picked a cob at the peak of ripeness and sprinted up the garden with it to a waiting pot of boiling water. Ditto for asparagus.

If you really dislike something, you'll probably never change that. I strongly dislike raw celery, and I have no incentive to train myself into liking it. It's a prima donna in the garden, so why bother? Celery flavouring in cooking and stock can come much more easily from celeriac or lovage. Fennel I don't like either, but I'm willing to give it a chance to change my mind because I suspect my dislike might stem from lack of familiarity. There are few fruit and veg that grow well in our climate that I wouldn't have a good go at finding a recipe for that I like. Rather than growing what you like all of the time, consider getting to like what you can grow.