Saturday, February 28, 2009

Gardening and cooking

Rainbow carrots from my garden

I was struck by a comment CEN made in response to a recent post: Growing Vegetables.

Among other interesting points, she wrote:
'It's hard to work up much of an interest in vegetable gardening if people don't cook or enjoy a variety of foods or have a curiosity about them-- economic reasons or no. If all people know is to microwave packaged stuff, what's the point of growing vegetables?'

Hmm, of course, she's right. But how could you resist these rainbow carrots?

Why spend any time growing vegetables unless you enjoy eating them, first and foremost?

Sharing and preserving the harvest, as well as the pleasure in gardening itself -- those things are nice, but vegetables and fruits almost nudge you towards harvesting them, no matter how much you might be enjoying their appearance.


Thomas Jefferson reportedly took great pleasure in his vegetable garden from an eater's perspective, focusing on vegetables as the primary part of his diet and waiting for the early peas, growing sesame for oil for his salads, planting fruit trees, etc. (My Esopus Spitzenburg apple sapling from Monticello's Center for Historic Plants is now planted in a sunny spot in the NC mountains, BTW).


A basic vegetable gardening 'rule' is: grow what you and your family like to eat.

I was a cook before I was a gardener, although I have fond childhood memories of picking wild blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and salmon berries. As a grad student in California, the abundance and diversity of produce available in local produce markets (eg. the Monterey Market) was eye-opening -- fresh mushrooms were a revelation to me at the time (late 70's, early 80's).
Another revelation were the wonderful Hunan and Szechuan dishes produced by local restaurants.

My parents were neither cooks or gardeners, although they certainly were interested in fitness and health.

But I remember buying a book in those graduate school years about 'Growing Vegetables the Chinese Way' which showed beautiful raised beds of attractive well-maintained vegetables, similar to the one we saw many years later near Hoi An, Vietnam. This gardener was pleased to show us the results of his effort.


And I also bought a book by Rosalind Creasey, called 'Cooking from the Garden' -- a fabulous book describing different sorts of food gardens and the kind of vegetables that were grown in each. I still have both books. Creasey's books were instrumental in launching an edible gardening trend (micro as it may have been). And there are many more since then.

I read a recent piece in Eating Well by Ellen Ecker Ogden about how she founded Cook's Garden Seeds some years ago (which she sold recently to Ball Seed Company), and how she started providing recipes to encourage customers to try something new.

And a comment by a keen vegetable gardener who isn't the primary cook in his family has got me thinking about this, too. He said he'd like to learn to be a better cook so he could use more of what he grew.

There's a total connection between what I cook for dinner and what's in the garden in the primary growing season. Fresh brussel sprouts were the vegetable for today (thanks to Kathy and the walled veggie garden next to the visitor center). Fabulous.

3 comments:

  1. I totally get the cook what you grow idea. My husband enjoys cooking, I don't. But I love growing ornamentals and veggies, which makes me dig cooking a bit more! Love the Rainbow carrots, those are on the list of vegetables this season. I'm enjoying your blog very much. Thanks!

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  2. We love eating out of our garden. When the kids were young I barely had enough snow peas to bring in as my little harvesters ate more than they picked. Getting kids into the garden is certainly a great way to start all sorts of great habits...from better eating to gardening. Your carrots look wonderful!!

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  3. And the connection between gardening and cooking is circular.
    When we started a vegetable garden, we took care to plant our son's favorite veggies like broccoli, Brussels sprouts (not kidding!).
    Since the start of that 'potager', his love of veggies has only grown... but in the mean time, he came to like gardening.

    Now he's twelve, loves veggies more than any other food (but I must admit, he has a strange taste: doesn't like coke, hates hamburgers), and he loves gardening.

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