Part Two: Cooking
Last month we discussed growing your own edible garden, with some tips and tricks designed to help even the most beginner gardener grow their own fresh produce. This month we’re taking it from the paddock to the plate, and discussing the greatest part of growing fresh produce – eating it! Here are some tips and tricks on how to make the most of the fruit, vegetables and herbs that you’ve grown.
The main benefit of planting an edible garden is that you have access to a ready supply of the fresh fruits, herbs and vegetables you love.
- Plant foods that you love to eat and cook with, and garden maintenance will never feel like work.
- Herbs bring flavour to almost any meal, and are an easy, no-fuss plant perfect for beginners.
- Certain pets love vegetables and fruit. Reserve a bit of space for their favourite treats, and you will have a cheap, ready-made source of food for them. Beware, though, as some plants are toxic to our furry friends.
- Give back to the environment. You can plant a bee-friendly garden, turn food waste into compost, and go organic to attract beneficial creatures to your garden.
You’ve done all the hard work, and your thumbs are turning an impressive shade of green. Don’t ruin your hard-won crop with bad harvesting! Follow these tips for a bountiful harvest:
- The more you harvest, the more your plants will produce, so don’t be afraid to adopt a pick-as-you-go system, and harvest your vegetables and herbs at the height of their tastiness.
- Check your garden every day, making sure your crops are disease and pest-free and you catch any sneaky new blooms that have sprung up overnight.
- Get rid of sick or diseased plants as soon as possible so they don’t spread to the rest of the crop or attract pests.
- Most plants like to be harvested in the morning. Always use your clippers or a sharp knife, as ripping or tearing with your hands can cause damage to plant tissue.
Don’t throw away excess crops! You can freeze, dry or preserve your bounty and enjoy it for months to come.
- Before freezing fruits and vegetables, check that everything is ripe and unblemished. Food should be stored in airtight containers or freezer bags. Remember to date the packages!
- Before freezing vegetables, boil them briefly, drain, then plunge into iced water. This prevents enzymes from damaging colour, flavour and nutrients.
- Delicate fruits – like strawberries or raspberries – freeze best with a sugar or sugar syrup preparation. Fruits that tend to brown – apples, nectarines, apricots – will freeze best when treated with ascorbic acid. The easiest way to do this is to crush some Vitamin C tablets in water and sprinkle it over the cut fruit.
- You can pickle and preserve a lot of fresh produce – mmm, olives! – or make jam, preserves and chutney. These also make lovely handmade gifts.
- One of the easiest ways to dry fresh herbs is to harvest them before they start to flower, tie into bunches and hang upside down in a dry, airy spot. In a few weeks they should be dry enough to cut up and store in jars for a ready supply of dried herbs.
The best part – eating!
- Be creative when it comes to food and adapt recipes to whatever fresh produce you’ve just harvested. Salads and soups in particular are very adaptable.
- The simplest and yummiest way to eat a surplus of fresh vegetables is by roasting or sautéing them. Add a touch of garlic, salt and pepper to bring out the robust flavours. The trick? Don’t overcrowd. Only sauté or roast a single layer of vegetables at a time. Most vegetables release water when cooked, so overcrowding means they will steam and turn to mush.
- Fruit and veg – if you are not going to preserve them – may need to be stored until needed. Learn if your produce likes to be stored in the fridge or pantry. One of the most controversial – the tomato – should never be refrigerated. Citrus fruits should be stored in the fridge but taken out a few hours before using to get some extra juice.
- As you cook with your fresh produce, develop a cheat sheet for what produced the best results. For example, coating roasted vegetables in a thin batter of rice flour to give them a delicious crispness, or smoking peppers and eggplant on the barbecue for the most robust flavour. Tasty have some amazing insider tips on the best ways to enjoy fresh produce.
For tips, techniques and ideas on preparing your garden for harvest, CAE offers a range of Gardening courses, and our Cooking classes will provide you with inspiration for dishing up your fruit and veg!