Backing Away From Supermarkets

carrotsAt this stage in the season, almost everyone (with the possible exception of those way down south and those way up high) will be right in the swing of garden prep., sowing, or planting. So here's an important reminder. Have you remembered your basic food groups? Not that I'm suggesting serious gardeners aren't allowed to have fun. After all, there's always something novel in the seed catalogue that you want to try. But if you want to garden in order to cut costs and keep out of the supermarket (and who doesn't?) you also need to think about what to grow to fill tummies, stave off hunger pangs, keep healthy, and add fine flavour to your cooking.

Tummy-fillers are the starchy carbo-laden crops which almost always grow underground. We're talking spuds, carrots, parsnips, swedes, yams, kumara, and taro. Pumpkin and other vegetables in the gourd family fit the bill, too. Starchy vegetables are the kind of foods that store well over winter, and bake well in the oven. They're perfect for hungry kids to come home to after school. In fact, starchy foods are so important that I give over one third of my garden to growing them. But filling though it is, starchy food won't keep hunger at bay for extended periods. Enter – protein!

Most of us get our protein from meat, fish, and eggs. But it's also available out of the garden – and at much less cost than the animal-product versions. Protein is the domain of peas and beans – not the fleshy green beans that are eaten pods and all, but good old fashioned broad beans, soya beans, and runner beans left to mature in the pod. And before you imagine the kids screwing up their noses at chalky beans boiled to death in a grey soup, think again! Broad beans processed in the kitchen wiz mean tasty falafel, burger patties, creamy dips and pungent sauces. Soya beans are burger basics, too, as well as protein for hearty stews. They even convert to nutricious soy milk. As for peas, no one needs a lesson on how to enjoy them, and they freeze like a dream! Even if you're an ardent meat-lover, vegetable protein is still a great way to extend animal protein. If you're adding peas or beans to your casserole, halve the amount of meat you would normally use. Given the importance of protein, I recommend allocating a third of the garden to it.

Providing you grow a range of other vegetables, especially loads of iron-rich leafy greens (and add an occasional B12 supplement to the mix if you're vegan), you can pretty much guarantee you're covering the range of nutrition required to keep your family healthy. If you can add fruit and berries to the equation, even better! But cuisine, of course, is nothing without those extra special flavours provided by herbs. Even the plainest dishes receive a boost from good old parsley, chives, and garlic. The more serious cook may want to grow rosemary, oregano, garlic chives, sage, thyme, lemon grass ... (the list goes on) and serious foodies are unlikely to manage without a row of coriander (or two, as it freezes so well), dill, and chervil. As for flavouring preserves, soups and stews, nothing beats a few fresh leaves from your own bay tree.

So do we actually need supermarkets to keep our appetites satisfied and our bodies healthy? Absolutely not! In fact, with an obesity epidemic at our door, now is the very time to turn our backs on store-bought foods and grab the shovel and spade. The time for revolution is at hand!

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