Toronto Star column – published September 7, 2013
“I am only nervous when I am not aware of myself.” Larry King
“I am only not myself when I am not prepared.” Brian Williams
The kids are off to school, weekday traffic has returned to its usual constipated ‘normal’ and at-home moms and dads have some time to think, “What will we have for dinner?” Whenever the pressure is off I begin to think of my stomach. Early September is the perfect time for gardeners to think of eating and the most pro-active among us are picking up the pickling jar and getting to work. The harvest is coming in fast and furious.
If you are among the many people who did not plant vegetables and therefore are also among the many who are not reaping what you sowed, there is always the farmers’ market. More popular than any other time in modern history (arguably), your local farmers’ market is a wealth of raw material for the health-oriented foodie.
It is interesting to note that the 2012 Greenbelt Farmers’ Market Network Research Study tells us a lot about ourselves, at least, those of us who shop at farmers’ markets. For instance:
– Shopping at local farmers’ markets leads to consuming both higher volumes of vegetables and fruit and a wider variety of them.
– Two thirds of people who shop at farmers’ markets say they experiment more with produce bought there, which results in eating more healthy meals. I eat more healthy food when I harvest from my own garden as many of the vegetables that I bring to the kitchen are a result of my ‘success’ there. Swiss chard is a good example: I had not even tasted the stuff until it exploded out of the ground.
– Farmers’ market shoppers are more inclined to bring their kids to the market than supermarket shoppers are. They are motivated to expose them to healthy, locally-grown food. More than half of these kids are willing to try new foods.
– Most shoppers [85%] are inspired to eat seasonally, which leads to different buying and cooking patterns. In winter the same shoppers buy what stores sell.
Shoppers at Ontario farmers’ markets say that they enjoy the experience due to less packaging (92%), less food waste as they can buy the quantity that they need (83%), and the produce is fresher than at the mass merchants (63%).
Grow Your Own?
If you are among the many happy readers who invested in the sowing and tilling of a vegetable garden this summer, you are in luck as your tomatoes are reaching their peak right about now (not to mention your peppers, beans, and all the rest of it).
There is a tendency, however, to overlook many of the flowering plants in our gardens as we prepare meals. Here are a few ‘garden variety’ plants that may just help you beef up your daily quotient of greens while exploring some new taste sensations. It should be noted that nothing should be eaten from your garden without full knowledge of what was used to control insects and diseases. In other words, that it is chemical free when it hits the table.
Pot Marigold. Calendula. A brilliant colour and warm flavour. A few hundred years ago the petals were used to add colour to cheese. Now it is recognised for its high carotene content, the antioxidant nutrient found in carrots and squash. To add colour and nutrition to rice, add half a cup of finely cut up petals to 2 cups of rice.
Growing Calendula is easy from seed sown any time in late May through June. They love sun and tolerate a great deal of early frost, so you don’t have to kiss your crop goodbye as soon as the first frost arrives.
Mints. They are creeping around your perennial garden and possibly at the base of your roses. You may hate them for their aggressive growth habit but they are a popular herb. The leaves produce a wonderfully tasty addition to many table dishes. My advice: get even and cut them back, using the leaves for a variety of culinary purposes.
Sprinkle cut leaves on fresh fruit, ice cream, or add some of the flowers to the frosting on a cake. Naturally, they make for a great addition wherever a minty flavour is enjoyed: in tea, with lamb, or in a [mint] julep, to name just three.
Nasturtiums. This may be the easiest to grow and the most overlooked edible flowering plant on this list. Every part of the plant is edible and the flower is now famous as a colourful garnish wherever a peppery flavour is favoured. Salads, salad dressing, vinegar, in cakes with a cream cheese frosting, or add petals to pasta dishes. The seeds (again, when not treated with chemicals) also produce a peppery flavour that stores well in a jar with vinegar.
Nasturtiums grow best in an open soil and bright sunshine. I grow them from seed for best results. Water frequently as they don’t like to dry out: leaves turn yellow and eventually the plant will collapse. Sometimes this year’s crop will self-sow for another crop next year.
Roses. It might surprise you that every garden variety rose is a ‘salad enhancer’ in waiting. Add colour and a unique flavour to anything green by adding some rose petals. I find the best are the shrub-type varieties for this purpose. ‘Rose water’ is easy to make (Google it and see what you can find for a recipe) and is a wonderful way of adding some gentle scent to a bath.
Gladiola. They are in bloom in your garden and at the aforementioned farmers’ markets right now. They are inexpensive and they are, you guessed it, edible. Use the flower petals to dress up a steak hot off the bbq or to enhance the appearance and taste of a salad.
There are many ways that you can expand your usual food offerings this time of year: if ever there was a time to experiment and stretch your taste buds, this is it. ‘Harvest season’ comes but once a year.
Question of the Week
Q/ I was listening to 680 NEWS in the car and I heard the end of your garden tip. Is there somewhere I can listen to the full tip?
A/ My weekly gardening tip, The Green File, is available online. Visit www.markcullen.com and click on ‘Listen to Mark’s Weekly Garden Tip’.