This article appeared in the Mercury Food and Wine supplement on Wed 27 July 2011.
The Pleasure of growing your own.
A good friend of mine sent me some photos of the food garden he has been nurturing for the past few months. It was incredible to see what he had done in such a small space and on standard berea red soil. What struck me above all else was his pride and obvious pleasure in his garden.
Something very interesting happens to most people when they start growing their own food.
I was reading an article by British environmentalist George Monbiot who had this to say, “Growing food, for reasons I haven’t quite got to the bottom of, is an intensely emotional process. The satisfaction I get from harvesting a good crop bears no relationship to any value that crop possesses. I take more pride in my fruit and vegetables than in any of the work I do. When the slugs mow down my seedlings, or my watering system fails, or blight knackers my tomatoes, it throws me into a depression which sometimes last for days.
It might be because gardening is about hope: you are always thinking months ahead. Even if every other aspect of your life seems to be in ineluctable decline, you have something to look forward to, something that makes you jump out of bed in the morning and run outside to see what’s happening.”
I agree with Monbiot entirely, but I would add something further. It is the holistic experience of growing preparing and enjoying your own produce that takes growing your own to new heights.
Growing Brandywine tomatoes for the first time was such an experience. I would check on them every morning and would feel contentment as I noted the steady growth of their big potato like leaves. When the long misty days of summer created the ideal conditions for blight to thrive I myself wilted. My spirits soared in Autumn as the plants took on a second life and started to set fruit. The first picking and tasting of those big, juicy Brandywine fruits was an experience I will always remember. There is nothing like the taste of a real home grown tomato to connect the realm of gardening with that of the culinary to create a food experience never to be forgotten.
A while back a friend of mine gave me some South American Black Beans to plant. The first season I saved all the seed for the next planting which gave a healthy yield. My experience with beans up to then was with the canned or dried varieties and never with fresh. I found a recipe for Black Bean soup, New York style, in an old cookbook, “Out of the Stockpot”, by William Dunn. When Nora and I sat down that evening to dinner it was again a moment of synthesis where growing, preparing and eating became an experience far greater than the sum of all the parts. It was the best soup I had ever enjoyed.
Growing your own food grounds you in the rhythms of the seasons and connects you to the amazing processes of nature. You begin to learn that all food crops have their best seasons for growth and harvest. Food grown at the right time and using the natural processes of the soil will always be better than out of season supermarket food, grown under artificial conditions.
To quote Nigel Slater from his book “Kitchen Diaries”, “Our culinary seasons have been blurred by commerce, and in particular by the supermarkets’ much vaunted idea that consumers want all things to be available all year round…I worry that today it is all too easy to lose sight of food’s natural timing and, worse, to miss it when it is at its sublime best…Right food, right place, right time – it is my belief – and the point of this book – that this is the best recipe of all.”
The best way to achieve the “sublime best”, is to grow your own.