Thursday, 26 July 2012

Summer garden on a plate

Growing your own vegetables forces you to be more creative in preparing meals. On the other hand, it may be easier, since nature already decided for you which ingredients to use. Here follows a typical July-ish salad with fresh picked greens (and blues and reds) from our garden.

Cook some fresh string beans. Use the remaining boiled water (which contains valuable vitamins from the beans) to prepare some bulghur or couscous. Add ras-al-hanout, pressed ginger root and fresh garlic.

What is a salad without lettuce? Our favorite is corn salad; throw it in. Then, make the meal complete with some raisins, feta cheese,  lime juice, herbs and anything colorful that grows at the moment. We chose Borage (blue flowers tasting like cucumber) and Indian cress (spicy red/orange flowers). 

Mix it gently and serve. Result: indeed, our garden on a plate.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

The cucumber alternative

Let us introduce you to another one of our Andean crops: Achocha. Literally translated from Dutch it is called olive-cucumber; the taste of the fruits is similar to cucumber and they can be picked as small as olives (after this the skin gets tougher and spiky). 

We traded the seeds at a small fair, stuffed it in a pot on the balcony in April, added lots of water, and it just grew! By now we can already pick hands full of olive-cucumbers every day! Oh, and the tiny flowers smell really sweet as well. Contrarily, books and internet sites state that this plant needs a lot of sun and warmth to grow. In Holland the 'summer' just started yesterday; which means that the Achocha grew here within approximately 16 degrees Celsius and almost no sun. 
However, since the funny looking fruits are not very crispy nor juicy, we prefer eating the 'real' cucumber instead. But since cucumbers can only grow in hot temperatures, Achocha is a good alternative for homegrown-cucumber-lovers that do not possess a greenhouse. 

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

The plumtree

De pruimeboom
A Dutch verse

Jantje zag eens pruimen hangen,
O! als eijeren zo groot.
't Scheen, dat Jantje wou gaan plukken,
Schoon zijn vader 't hem verbood.
Hier is, zei hij, noch mijn vader,
Noch de tuinman, die het ziet:
Aan een boom, zo vol geladen,
mist men vijf zes pruimen niet.
Maar ik wil gehoorzaam wezen,
En niet plukken: ik loop heen.
Zou ik, om een hand vol pruimen,
Ongehoorzaam wezen? Neen.
Voord ging Jantje: maar zijn vader,
Die hem stil beluisterd had,
Kwam hem in het loopen tegen,
Voor aan op het middelpad.
Kom mijn Jantje! zei de vader,
Kom mijn kleine hartedief!
Nu zal ik u pruimen plukken;
Nu heeft vader Jantje lief.
Daarop ging Papa aan 't schudden
Jantje raapte schielijk op;
Jantje kreeg zijn hoed vol pruimen,
En liep heen op een galop.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Sunday dinner

Turnip and carrots straight from the ground.

 And fresh garlic. All made into a creamy risotto.

With pretty rhubarb for dessert!

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Thought for food

I have a theory, a philosophy, or perhaps a worldview on vegetables and other edible plants. Lately, the idea of becoming healthy through responsible eating is becoming more trending. Food causes visible consequences for people: think of obesity, changing skin color, and illnesses; but also less obvious ones and untraceable ailments such as headaches, lesser resistance and lack of energy.

In Holland, companies exist that offer weekly bags of organic vegetables from local farmers - fresh from the land. When I tried this for a couple of weeks, I really felt physically energetic and I had less colds and flues than usual (even in winter). First I thought it had to do with the lack of chemical insecticides that were used on the vegetables, but when I dove a little deeper into this matter, I came up with the idea that it largely depended on which vegetables I ate at that time. I will explain this below.

Nature has a certain schedule of events, think of a repeating climate, a breeding time for animals, and every species has its own recurring and timed cycle of growing. I am a person that likes reasonings and meanings behind things, and therefore I believe that these natural schemes exist for a reason. Next to timing, the place is important as well. 
Insects know exactly when and where to lay eggs. For example, a butterfly named Alcon Blue lays her eggs on Gentian flowers. She ensures to time this perfectly so the larvae come out at the same time the specific plant flowers. It is this exact flower that provides the best nutrients for the Alcon blue caterpillars to be able to grow into mature butterflies. 
I believe this is similar for humans and the plants they eat: vegetables ripen during the time when the eater needs this plant's nutrients the most, to grow and become healthy. 
Eating the plants at the time they ripened in your living area, means that this fruit has grown in and from the exact atmosphere, soil composition and climate conditions where you live in as well. I believe that the plants use and store these seasonal and local conditions, and transform them in nutrients that are needed at that exact time by the ones that eat the plants. 
There are medicinal herbs that grow in the season when you need them the most (think of our post on Lungwort); young nettles in march help against spring fatigues; nuts ripen in autumn, from which you can use the fat to built up resistance for the coming cold winter; et cetera.
It works as follows: plants create phytonutrients to protect themselves against certain climatic conditions or pollution. For example, UV-rays trigger biochemical processes in plants to create phytonutrients that help the plant to resist these radiations. People and other animals that eat these plants, and its nutrient composition, will be protected as well. If the plant is eaten by a person from the same living area, the plant's nutrients are perfectly matched with the eater to be able to stand firm in these shared conditions. 

To conclude: I believe that the growth, flowering and ripening of local edible plants is inherently timed to and matched with its regional eater's needs.

For now, our prescription for a healthy summer: eat lots and lots of strawberries from your garden!

So not merely for its lesser environmental impact, the support of local farmers, the better taste and the cheaper price, but also because of this aforementioned principle, I encourage you to eat seasonal vegetables from your own region. In addition, vegetables that are artificially grown outside 'their season', or picked unripe to travel great distances, lose some important vitamins and minerals. Here are some links to start with, but these do not provide a clear chart for very local seasonal foods. You have to find out for yourself by visiting some neighboring farms. Or start your own of course.

The information on phytonutrients was based on information from the following link: "does seasonality affect nutrient content?".