In a world increasingly geared to instant gratification, vegetable gardening doesn’t really play the game. The results are never instant – vegetables take weeks, sometimes months, from seed to harvest. But when it finally comes time to pick your home-grown crops (provided the slugs haven’t got to them first!), it becomes well worth the wait.
Green Tomato Antipasto Pickles – they keep for months, so I always have something in the fridge I can whip out and pop on a platter when guests (expected or unexpected) arrive.Growing vegetables at this time of year can often be uninspiring. Growth slows right down and the nights are colder – which means you run the risk of a frost knocking back all but the most hardy. Many of the crops that went into my city garden in early February are now ready for eating – a profusion of spinach, coriander, lamb’s lettuce, broccoli, carrots, bok choy, silverbeet and radicchio – but crops such as chillies, peppers, tomatoes and beans, along with all the cucurbits (cucumbers, pumpkins, zucchini etc), are just not getting enough heat or sun to keep them maturing. If your chillies are still hanging in there like mine with no sign of turning red or you’re waiting in anticipation for those tomatoes to change hue – well, I’m afraid it just isn’t going to happen. They won’t ripen now we’re getting to the end of autumn, and if they’re not picked, they will just fall and rot on the ground. Green tomatoes have some fantastic uses – their firm texture and tart flavour soften when they're cooked, so they make great additions to stews and casseroles and can be used to make chutney, relish, salsa and jam. I use them to make
Getting ready for a winter vegetable garden means you need to work a long way ahead. Winter crops like brassicas, leeks, carrots and fennel need to be well established if you want harvests through the winter. I was a bit slow with leeks this year and missed my run. Instead of planting leek seeds in the spring I didn’t get any plants into the ground until February, and as a result I am only going to have baby leeks this winter – they just take forever to mature.
Celeriac is a slow-cropper too; it needs to be started off in the spring to get a crop for winter. It’s a really useful winter root – a celeriac’s scruffy looks belie a tempting sweetness and celery flavour. I love the classic French celeriac remoulade as a winter starter: simply grate peeled celeriac coarsely and mix it with a mustardy, lemony home-made mayonnaise to bind. Celeriac is also really good in a mash with potato – I tend to use 50-50 celeriac and potato. It has a slight piquant acidity, which goes well with fish and rich dishes like pork.
In putting a little bit of time and effort into keeping my garden going as the weather continues to cool, I find that the good outweighs the bad – pests such as slugs and snails are less of a threat as they start to hibernate and, though it’s tempting to hibernate a little ourselves over the winter, maintaining a garden is a good excuse to stay active.
Thai Pumpkin Soup, Braised Lamb Shanks and Leek and Mushroom Chicken Pot Pie. And of course, who can look past a good roast? My Perfect Roast Beef or Easy Roast Chicken, with a few roasted vegetables, make for great lazy Sunday (or any day) meals. In this delayed gratification there is a great deal of pleasure.But what I love most is the way the garden delivers harvests tailored to our eating habits right on cue. To coincide with the cooler climate, my meals have taken a heartier turn, with soups, slow braises, hearty pies and curries now on the menu – check out my recipes for