The penny just dropped – I need to garden like a cook!

I have been doing this gardening thing all wrong.  For years!  A simple action, that I had been putting off for ages, to write on the bags of potatoes the best way to eat them, resulted in the most delicious crispy oven baked chips I have ever had the privilege of cooking and eating.  Ordinarily my chip making endeavours would result in soggy chips that break up before they are anywhere near ready.  So the family get served soggy, slightly crisp unintentional mashed potato.  My mashed spuds on the other hand have always been lumpy as they seemed unwilling to succumb to the will of the masher!

Why do I grow beans if we don't like them all that much?
Why do I grow beans if we don’t like them all that much?

Those chips – the awesome ones, got me thinking.  For one, Ilam Hardy are a great spud to chip with, but how was it that that variety came to be in my garden in the first place?  Its coveted position in my garden was determined by gardener thinking and not the main reason to grow veggies.  The real reason to grow veggies seems to have completely passed me by and I never even noticed.  Veggies are grown to be eaten and enjoyed as they are way better than anything that can be purchased as they have been harvested with food minutes not miles.  I know exactly what I have done to them as they grow and what has or hasn’t been sprayed on them.  Home grown veggies taste fabulous.

But my decisions on what to grow in my garden have been based, not on what I want to eat, but on what I want to grow.  I love the excitement of watching something I’ve never grown before unfurl into something amazing, and am constantly on the lookout for ‘different from the ordinary’ vegetables to grow.  I even have a bed entirely dedicated to the new and exciting.  I call it my ‘odds and sods’ bed.  (Although it often ends up filled with must haves like tomatoes and peppers that just don’t fit in their own beds.)  Kohlrabi was my latest find and has now claimed a permanent spot in my brassica collection.

Now kidney beans - we do eat these, often from cans.  Well not any more!
Now kidney beans – we do eat these, often from cans. Well not any more!

I grow things that are expected to be grown in a veggie garden – like beans for instance.  We really don’t like green beans all that much, but my gardener sensibilities urge me to plant them (and a lot of them) year after year as a ‘proper’ veggie patch wouldn’t be complete without them.  I have kind of compromised on this one and the inner cook has won a small battle and half the bed this year was given over to kidney beans, so we can have chilli con carne in the winter.

But I have Jerusalem artichoke in my garden as a few years ago it was the ultimate must have to grow for a mid-winter harvest.   I’ve had them a few years now, but only actually eaten them a couple of times.  I’m not sure I actually like them – they have an acquired earthy taste.  As for the globe artichokes – they are nice as a treat, but are hardly an everyday food, especially as Tim the Helper is quite severely allergic to them.  Having said that – it is nice to have them, as I would never actually buy one to cook with.

The Jerusalem Artichokes are flowering nicely.  It will be a good crop this year - but will they be eaten well?
The Jerusalem Artichokes are flowering nicely. It will be a good crop this year – but will they be eaten well?

So if we go back to my potatoes for a minute.  I grew four varieties this year, as I do each year as that is the amount of space I have for them.  So when it comes time to select my spuds I look up all the ones available and I select them based upon the length of time it takes them to grow so we have some early ones and then each variety matures across the season so when we finish eating the first lot then there is another lot to work through and so on, until we have eaten them up.  I never really considered that they have different cooking preferences.  It was all about having a well-functioning garden, and not necessarily a well-functioning kitchen.

This blackboard in the kitchen helps a little...
This blackboard in the kitchen helps a little…

If I got my potatoes so wrong – are there other things in my garden that really don’t deserve to be there?  I have 17 (at best estimate) varieties of tomato in my garden, with about two of each – give or take a couple.  For a start:  who needs that many tomatoes?  Also I grew the Tigerella ones last year and while extremely prolific, the flavour was pretty average and if push came to shove it would never make the favourites list, yet they looked different, which made them cool, and so by way of their superficial skin deep attributes they ended back on the must have list.  I also found the black Indigo Rose, the must have for this season, a bit average in flavour, but will I have the will power to take them off the list next season?  They do look really cool – all shiny and black…

Now what do I do with these?
Now what do I do with these?

I love the process of gardening, sowing the seeds, nurturing the seedlings, the cosseting and pampering of the plants as they grow to lofty heights.  There is a smug satisfaction in taking care of any bugs that dare invade the airspace that is my garden territory.  I love watering the garden in the height of summer, when that spray from the sprinkler drifts over and lands on you – cooling you gently.  I love just being in the garden, looking about at what I have created from bare earth each season.  All the hours of toil completely forgotten as I cast my eye over verdant growth bursting with a potential harvest.  I’ll even secretly admit to enjoying weeding.

In the life time of this Asian Stir Fry Green, we have only had two stir fries.
In the life time of this Asian Stir Fry Green, we have only had two stir fries.

So now I shall review my seed collection and actually figure out how things are supposed to be eaten, and have I been doing it right.  Are there things that shouldn’t really be there, and are there things I have been missing?  I have been looking at it the wrong way.  I don’t have a veggie garden, for the sole delight of the gardener, I have a kitchen garden that offers joy and pleasure to both the gardener and the cook.

Come again soon – tomorrow is the last summer day for another year.

Sarah the Gardener  : o )

38 thoughts on “The penny just dropped – I need to garden like a cook!

  1. Nice post – it is something I’ve been trying to think about too. We always have runner beans even though my husband isn’t that keen on them but they look very ‘classic veg patch!’ I have used them to make chutney though so they can stay. I tend to lose the labels for the spuds so just cook them any old way but you have the right idea!

    1. Hi There. I did make the decision to stop growing scarlet runners quite early on in my gardening journey as they were just too stringy. I’ve never thought of making chutney from beans. I’ll have to look into it.
      Cheers Sarah : o )

  2. It’s true, depending on of course the type of gardener you are. I’ve known a few peeps that grow loads of vegetables only to give it all away because they hate eating it! I like you learnt that really the only way you’ll get behind a particular variety of veg/fruit is if you truly love to eat it (or enjoy looking at it perhaps!), and this of course changes over time so you adapt your choices over time. The rest just comes down to location and how much space you have to grow things. It’s often too easy just to grow things because it’s the fashion or because it’s so easy to grow (or not in some cases). Grow it because you love it 🙂

    1. Hi Sophie, thank you so much for your encouraging words. I may even need to get the family involved in the garden planning so they can eat their favourites too. As much as the gardening process is for my pleasure, the outcome is for them. If they don’t like what I grow then things aren’t all they could be. I am looking forward to winter now – so I can settle down by the fire and plan for an awesome next season.
      Cheers Sarah : o )

  3. Which is why I don’t grow cucumbers. I don’t like cucumbers. Or zucchini or eggplant. And because my space is limited, I don’t grow the big stuff that takes a long time. Like brassicas and spuds and pumpkins. Those, I have to buy because I love them! But because I’m in the tropics, stuff I like and that we eat will grow like crazy, so I have the time to experiment.

    1. Hi Kate. I think it is also about not growing too much of the things we like. In some situations less is more. It is so tempting to grow heaps because we have fond memories from the previous season, only to find ourselves bogged down with an abundant harvest. But I definitely think there is always room for the unusual.
      Cheers Sarah : o )

  4. Sensible advice. I’ve also discovered that though I love romanesco, I only want maybe one every 2 or 3 weeks so it’s better to just buy them from the greengrocer when I fancy them rather than wade through loads of them because they need cutting. Part of the fun of gardening is that we try out different things, but in moderation!
    Try scrubbing your Jerusalem artichokes, slice them lengthways and roast in the oven in a little butter for 30 – 45 minutes. The artichokes turn beautifully soft and the richness of the butter takes away a little of the earthiness.

    1. Hi Anne. I love romanesco. Another one of my gardener choices to find itself loved in the kitchen too. It seems to have a lighter, subtler flavour than broccoli and if I was forced to make a choice I would only grow romanesco. I think I also need to look at sucession planting to meet the needs of the kitchen – not matter how lovely 10 broccoli heads look in a row in the garden.
      Thanks for the tip I shall try the artichokes with butter when it is time to harvest them – but butter makes everything taste good!
      Cheers Sarah : o )

  5. I think we can get carried away by the possibility of growing certain veggies and forget ourselves. I love seeing the Jerusalem artichokes in flower but don’t grow them, I also hear they are a pain to clear totally from the soil. ..

    1. Hi Claire. I had heard Jerusalem artichokes were hard to get rid of so I put them in their very own bed. So they live a very lavish lifestyle, without having to give too much of themselves.
      The problem very possibly lies with the glossy magazines that parade all new and exciting plants of the season before our spring fevered eyes and we just have to have them! I am still waiting for the cucamelons to get passed our biosecurity and become available here. I am desperate to try these out – they seem so exciting.
      Cheers Sarah : o )

  6. As my mum would say “a blow for freedom!” Or the lightbulb moment. 🙂 Because of our limited space we do grow what we would cook though we’ll throw in a couple of things just to try and see if we can cook them. Great post.

    1. Hi Virginia. I think my biggest problem is I don’t have limited space. In fact I made another sneaky land grab a week ago. I have made the claim that if I mow it then it is mine, as most of our land is just used to make hay and silage and look lovely and rural. Besides Hubby the Un-Gardener isn’t allowed to mow around my garden – not since the cucumber incident! There was a tree being encroached on by long grass and it was close-ish to my garden so I mowed around it. Then I though – ‘I’d better even that up’ (I like straight lines) and before you know it my garden area had just extended. I’m not sure what to do with it. I’m thinking low maintenance berries. I’m my own worst enemy sometimes. But how nice would berries be?
      Cheers Sarah : o )

  7. I’m glad you’ve had this epiphany, this “aha” moment of revelation. Not that you want to give up on your experiments (that is, after all, how you found those wonderful chip potatoes) but figuring out what you like to eat is a great starting place. Congratulations. Now, cook,–get yourself some decent canning jars so you don’t poison your family.

    1. Hi There. I love growing food, but I think I am about to embark on a journey to find the best food to grow and then understand how to get the most out of them. Canning (or bottling as we call it here) still scares me a little, however I want to explore loads of different kinds of preservation techniques so I can get the most out of my harvest in the winter months. I have to say – my family loved the chips!
      Cheers Sarah : o )

  8. I know! But the interesting plants are so… well, interesting! I do think it’s important to look at what you will USE and try and grow that, with just a few of the odd characters to introduce some variety in the diet. A good lesson, but not always an easy one.

    1. Hi Keith. I’m a lot better than I was I have been known to display my veggies for all to see for a few days first. I have marveled at the process of growing food yet I hadn’t really taken the process that one step further. Don’t get me wrong – we still eat very well, but if I do things differently we can eat wonderfully! And there will always be room for the interesting plants – just to see what they are like…
      Cheers Sarah : o )

  9. Yes! lol. We don’t grow a single thing we don’t have plans for, there seems little point 🙂 I think it’s far more fun to anticipate the berry harvests for all the things that can be made from them than watching say an aubergine grow (we hate them) just to say we grew them 🙂

    1. HI Wendy. I have aubergine in my garden. I don’t mind it so much, but the thing is, we are so busy eating everything else that we forget to eat it. There is only so many meals in a season! I think I need to audit my freezer and do actual meal planning, rather than, come tea time think – oh what should we have? There is always some thing to learn in the garden, but this little revelation came as a bit of a surprize. It is like I was only doing half of it! I’m thinking next year will be really exciting if I can sort this out! Cheers Sarah : o )

  10. You wouldn’t believe what I had to do to get a few stalks of Jerusalem artichoke to grow! Wallabies adore them ;). Easy peasy what to do with that okra “THROW IT IN THE BIN!” There, never let it be said that I don’t share :). If you insist on eating this slimy green relative of the cephalapod family, try cooking it the Indian way in batter…delish I hear (still recovering from the long trails of slime that made my last attempt at authentic gumbo too much to bear…

    I hate Asian greens as well and won’t grow them for that reason. I am with you on the feeling that you get when you see a large swath of purest green waving in the breeze at you on a hot summers day. It feeds my inner Type A personality but doesn’t feed my inner narf as well. I am with you on the growing for the table and can’t wait to see (pinch) how you are going to plan your garden to table garden this coming season

    1. Hi Fran. I made a gumbo… I shall probably do something Indian with the next lot to ripen. It would seem that is all okra is good for. Possible needs to be grown as a once a season plant and not a staple, taking up space. But I’ve done it and now know it.
      After a winter of stews and casseroles and stodge, crisp stir fries always seem so tempting. I tell myself “oh we will eat so healthily…” It turns out we always eat how we have always eaten with the occasional ‘show meal’ featured in a blog. I have two options: get more adventurous in the kitchen or become more boring in the garden… or find a nice balance of the two. The thought of being a boring gardener nearly caused me conniptions.
      I do indeed have some planning to do.
      Cheers Sarah : o )

      1. LOL! Conniptions aside, maybe you just need to find yourself a few “out there” cooking blogs to follow? I am always getting some amazing ideas or even better…get that wonderful brother of yours to cook you up a year of grub when he is visiting next and just pull delightful things out of the freezer whenever it’s meal time 😉

  11. Sarah I wonder if you can help, I once got your posts regularly into my inbox and loved it as you seem to mirror a lot of my thought processes in the garden (still can’t rid the patch of Jerusalem artichokes), however one day I also got every single comment people made sent to my inbox also – you have a lot of followers! The only way to stop it was to cancel my following of you and restart. Every time I try to restart it says it has sent a confirmation email but I never receive it. I have checked all boxes and settings and should have your thoughts posted but don’t. It really does make breakfast more exciting than the metservice site! Can you help?

    1. HI Alison. I’m not sure what has been going on for you. There is a little tick box down where you write a comment that says “notify me of new posts via emai” but I’m not sure if that is for further comments by others or more blogs by me. I’ve never used it.
      At the top there is a + next to a follow button and that should let you know about all my blogs.
      If you click on the W on the far left hand side there there should be a drop down box. Pick the option for ‘reader’ Then click on the option “blogs I follow EDIT” and from there – there should be a option to edit the way you receive each blog you follow. Or you could find me on facebook SARAH THE GARDENER as I share all my blogs there too. I hope this helps.
      All the best with your garden.
      Cheers Sarah : o )

    1. Thank you so much for the tip – I will have to look into this too! This is a classic example of what I have been doing wrong. I grew okra to see what it was like, but with no idea of how to cook it. Know how it will be eaten will add to the excitement next time while I wait for it to grow!
      Cheers Sarah : o )

  12. Hi Sarah,
    inspiration blog as always
    Okra in the Mediterranean call ‘bamia’, it is the poor people food, simple and easy.
    google bamia recipes, YUM, .
    I got 2-3 at the time not enough for any of my favourite recipes.
    next year 😉

    1. Hi Dina. As I have quite a few okra plants – I got carried away at seed sowing time, I was going to do a curry next – having already done a gumbo, and then I was going to head off to google. Thank you so much for the tip as I never really thought of them as mediterranean fare.
      Cheers Sarah : o )

  13. I love your potato story. You make me smile, Sarah. It’s so true, isn’t it? Somethings are just fun to grow, not so much to eat. Lessons learned. Another productive day in the garden.

  14. Gardening just gets so exciting and then you end up with an overload of veggies/fruits. I’ve learned that I seriously don’t need to plant 10 cherry tomatoes for the two of us – the positive thing is though, we have enough sun dried tomatoes for the whole winter!

  15. I’ve just found your site through NZ Herald Bite and am enjoying it. Earlier this year we started a vege garden on our front lawn, including perpetual spinach which went into my green smoothies along with bananas, vege water and parsley. They really gave me a boost, and with 18 plants they could barely keep up! Your Asian stir fry green looks very much like my perpetual spinach. It’s good in salads also lightly steamed. We live north of you our climate is not suited to growing currants or gooseberries. I’ve done a sneaky thing by getting a family members neighbour in the lower north island to strike some of her black currant prunings couple of years ago, so were are hopeful of our first crop this season Keep up the good work!

    1. Hi Faye. I am so sorry I missed this comment. It seemed to have got lost somehow. Thank you so much for your kind words. I have currants and gooseberries, and we are hoping for our first bumper crop this season. All the best with the season this year.
      Cheers Sarah : o )

  16. Fantastic post, and something that Ive spoken about on my blog before. 1. Work out what you love to eat, and grow that. 2. Work out how much you would eat in a typical week or month and grow that much. A very simple formula, particularly if you live in a temperate climate that can grow many different things.

    1. Hi Kathy. Thanks so much for your feedback. For ages I was growing because the gardener in me wanted to grow stuff and we ended up with too much produce. To rationalise it has made a huge difference, although I still grow things we aren’t too sure we like – like broad beans. I’m getting ready to harvest and give them another go this week. Wish me luck.
      Cheers Sarah : o )

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