Sunday, April 24, 2011

Vegetable heaven

Vegetables were always a very important part of the meal, in my childhood. We always at least had two beautifully-cooked types of vegetables and a bowl of salad. Potatoes, incidentally were considered a vegetable, not an indispendable part of every meal as was often the case in Australia (indispensable though was bread). In Sydney, Dad always bought our vegies on a Saturday morning at Flemington markets; in France either at the markets in the town closest to the village, or from the mobile fruit and vegie man who would bring his van to the village two or three times a week(he alternated with the fish man and the butcher and the grocer--the baker however came every day--bien sur!). But though our French 'parc' had lots of old fruit trees, and though our Sydney back garden was big, my parents never grew their own vegies or even thought of doing it. It just wasn't in their habits--despite their love of the country, they were born and bred in the city, and besides the French system of marketing is so well established and the produce so good that very few people outside the villages grow their own as a matter of course. I never grew up going out to the garden to pick the evening vegetable course; but now it's part and parcel of daily life. And that's all thanks to David, who unlike me grew up in the country and with the vegetable patch as a normal part of existence.

He's not a frangaroo, but of another related subspecies, the britaroo, having come to Australia from Britain when he was in his early 20's. Growing up in rural Worcestshire on a smallholding with parents who were early adopters of the self-sufficient lifestyle, he has a knowledge and understanding of growing things that leaves me way way behind. Under his talented hands our garden which started off rather unpromisingly with clayey soil that was great for the mudbricks of our house but not exactly fertile ground, has become a deep rich territory, which produces practically all the vegetables we ever want all year round, all in season of course. It's only in very early spring that things are a bit thin on the ground, but otherwise, from asparagus to lentils, tomatoes to potatoes, capsicum to cabbage, lettuce of all sorts to artichokes, carrots and buk choy and spinach and pumpkin and sweet corn and squash--you name it--as well as lots of herbs, onions and garlic, and quantities of berry fruit--strawberries, raspberries, boysenberries--the garden is a never-ending source of bounty. And not only is it fruitful and fertile, but beautiful too, recreating within itself that bucolic and charming feeling of European smallholdings, while happily sitting within the Australian landscape.

And the taste of the produce--well, if you grow your own vegetables, you know exactly what I mean. A potato that's just been dug up and cooked is silky and buttery without even the addition of butter; the green vegetables are concentrated green, sweet corn really merits its name, tomatoes are exquisite. And that's why, despite the fact I've been living like this for decades, it never ceases to thrill me, going out into the vegetable garden to pick the ingredients for that night's meal.

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