Even though it's the middle of winter here, my vegetable patch is coming along quite nicely right now with a multitude of healthy deliciousness just waiting to ripen or to be picked and eaten.
Growing up with migrant parents from farming backgrounds who've always grown their own foods, I've always known that the stuff you grow yourself beats the stuff you buy from the supermarket, hands down, for quality, flavour and freshness. But having my own child now means that it's even more important to me that my family eat produce of the highest standard, not only to keep us healthy but to help little growing bodies be the best that they can be.
Growing up, I was always a little embarrassed that my parents grew their own vegetables. No one else I knew did this and who doesn't want to be the same as everyone else as a kid? I was already the little dark haired, dark eyed, olive skinned girl with the home-sewn uniform in a sea of blondes, light browns and red heads who only owned and ate store bought stuff. To then have a family that did things so differently from everyone else was quite mortifying. This feeling was magnified when I was older, out of home and only growing a few herbs of my own to use in cooking when a friend noticed them and jokingly (and slightly mockingly) told me I was going to turn out exactly like my parents. I was outraged!! There was no way I was going to be anything like my parents! Right? Right??
Flip to many years ahead, the global financial crisis, the growing cost of food and the big question marks over whether the things we eat which are covered with pesticides or highly processed or full of presevatives, additives, flavours and colours are really the best stuff to be putting in our bodies and giving to our families and I knew already which direction I would take. So I took it. And then, suddenly, the things which my family had been doing for decades became the latest trend and everyone was on the homegrown, homecooked, homemade wagon.
I visited my friend (the one I mentioned earlier) not so long back and upon glancing out her back door noticed a big plastic container with some struggling, wilty herbs growing in dry, poor soil.
"Hey!" I said "You're growing stuff!"
"Yeah," she replied "Herbs are just so expensive so I thought I'd try to grow my own. But they arn't really doing much and I don't know why."
I knew why. I knew exactly why. And so I told her what to do.
"Thanks!" she said brightly. "I'll try that out!"
And in that very moment the realisation came rushing home, striking me completely and fully out of the blue. I was never, ever prouder than that precise moment, to be exactly like my parents.
Anyway, now you know a little about the background behind why I grow things, here's a small sample of what's happening in my garden right now.
I pulled up these little beauties this morning, they will be lovely with barbequed morrocan chicken kebabs and couscous tonight. These guys can easily grow three or four times bigger than this but I didn't thin the crop out when I planted them and as they are starting to get quite crowded, the smaller ones needed some growing space, so up came these! Besides, they are sooooo tender and flavoursome when they are babies!!
Some developing pea pods, climbing bean plants beginning their ascent and green truss tomatoes. We have a resident possum who likes to sample the tomatoes once they begin to ripen. I can't ever leave them for just one extra day because I will always come out the next morning to discover a big chunk out of the ripest side. Naughty possum! As a result I pick them the moment they begin to blush and they ripen beautifully on my kitchen bench.
Nasturtiums growing in amongst the vegetables. Both petals (which I also have growing in red and yellow) and leaves can be used in salads and have a peppery taste. My daughter loves the leaves of the plant in the top photo because "it looks just like someone painted them!" Garden faries perhaps? Shame they don't chase the possum away!
Cos and mignonette lettuce varieties and the biggest english spinich leaves I've ever grown!
And lots and lots of silverbeet.
This is about the third crop of silverbeet I've had this winter. I always used to hate it with a passion as a child, mostly because it would be served simply steamed...bleh! I couldn't really imagine eating it that way even as a grown up. My most favourite way now is in a pie with lots of cheese, perhaps not the least fattening way but then, I like to think that I've earnt it after all the hard work that goes into growing all my veges in the first place. If you would like to try it out, here's the recipe. I really can't take credit for it as although I've changed it slightly, it's pretty much right off the side of the fillo pastry box (thanks Pampas!) but of all the recipes I've tried, it's been the absolute best. Yum!
SILVERBEET AND THREE CHEESE PIE
20 Sheets Fillo pastry
1 large bunch Silverbeet with stalks, washed and finely chopped
2 spring onions, finely chopped
2 tbsp chopped mint
2 tbsp chopped parsley
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
125g fetta cheese
125g ricotta cheese
60g parmesan cheese, grated
olive oil spray
poppy or sesame seeds
1. Cook the silverbeet by placing it in a lidded saucepan on medium heat and stir occasionally. Do not add water as the silverbeet will develop it's own water as it cooks. Drain well (I like to put it in a large sieve and press it with a spoon to get out all the liquid). Add onions, herbs, nutmeg, eggs, fetta, parmesan and pepper. Mix well.
2. Lightly oil a 26cm dia quiche dish and also spray first 10 sheets of fillo pastry lightly, arranging in dish to cover base and sides.
3. Spoon the filling into the pastry. Spray and layer the remaining pastry on top of the filling, folding the edges in to give a ruffled finish. Sprinkle top with seeds of your choice.
4. Bake in a preheated oven (170 deg fan forced/ 190 deg conventional) for forty minutes or until golden.
Here it is with my very own peas, corn and carrots (which have been coated with honey from a local grower). I'm pretty proud to say that not only the silverbeet, but the spring onions, mint and parsley in the pie also came from my garden. Oh and the eggs in the pie were free range, organic, jumbo sized ones from our local farmers markets. We will have our own chickens one day, but until then the farmers markets ones are brilliant and so much better (and cheaper!) than anything I could buy from the supermarket. Also, for those of you who have an oven as dodgy as mine, you may want to cover the outer edge of the pie in aluminium foil for the first thirty minutes and uncover to brown in the last ten. If I don't do this, the ruffled edge burns to a crisp!!