Venerable Vegetables

Autumn Harvest

How can a vegetable be fashionable?  That is a genuine question.  I understand that when a new fruit or vegetable is discovered, as with the pineapple in the 18th Century,  there is a flurry if interest, yet how is it that some veges now seem more at home in a museum than on a dinner plate.  A few years ago I was unable to buy parsnips – how absurd.  Thankfully they have since made a triumphant return, though  I am still fighting to return the turnip to the table.

Garden GreensI was a vegetarian for about twelve years and during that time I felt obliged to sample as many different garden-meats (as I called them) as I could.  I found mushrooms to be the very backbone of culinary interest.  I also developed an appreciation for the robust reliability of the root vegetable as well as the delicate skirts of salad, lifting them up to reveal the tender goodies underneath.  So what then, of this modern fixation of carrot, lettuce, tomato and cucumber equals salad or potato, pumpkin broccoli equals veges, to say nothing of the frozen world of peas, beans and corn.

It follows then that I was pleasantly surprised recently to discover a great re-emergence of 'heirloom' vegetables in the markets, garden stores and seed purveyors, they had infect obscured themselves back into fashion.  My vegetable patch is now blooming with multi-coloured carrots, bulbous tomatoes and what can only be described as a forest of heritage celery, all of which I would not have been able to buy easily just ten years ago.

I am thrilled that there seems to be a rediscovery of 'garden variety' underway, the great cloud of climate change really does seem to have motivated and activated people into the home garden and  towards a more sustainable and diverse future.  I am no hippie – I love my fifty-year-old car, I love the fact that if I want to I can drive for hour and hours and hours with no more than a greedy tummy and an iPad to guide me.  What I do cherish though is choice.  For me the great motivating factor for shopping at markets and grocers is more the ability to try a new (or old) variety of potato, to try an Asian green that I have no clue about, to find parsnips and turnips and swedes and damsons.  Why have we let these things be homogenised out of our supermarkets?  Why have we acquiesced to microwaved peas and tinned corn?

Because we are lazy and impatient.  I am lazy.  You may not think you are lazy, but I guarantee you are, if not lazy, then definitely impatient and probably time deprived.  That is not a judgement, it is a modern fact.

Marvellous MushiesGrowing vegetables forces you to be patient.  It forces you to be vigilant  - against pests, against weather, against husbands who want to mow them.  It also guarantees at least a little energy is expunged in their creation.  Most of all though, it allows you to ignore trends, buck fashion and create your own kitchen code.

A few years ago I amused myself greatly by having a purple patch.  That is not a euphemism nor is it something that requires a bottle of dye, I genuinely had a purple patch.  All in all it was very successful and highly amusing, if a little eccentric.  It helped me establish a pattern in my gardening habits – if I was unable to find something in the shops I committed myself to growing it despite whatever fashion was presently invading food in the mainstream stores.

I implore you, if you have a little space around your home – and I mean a little space – buy yourself some pots, get some soil, get some seeds and see what you can grow.  Once my current crop of heritage veg are all eaten up I have a grand plan for a cooking bug patch.  A sea of red and black with a few dots of white.  I like to change things around each season, and I do not let myself feel constrained to grow dull rows of veg devoid of personality and humour.  It is a methodology I thoroughly encourage – be adventurous, be quirky, buck trends and grow something you have never tried, can't buy or just looks marvellous!