The French are famous for their sophisticated cuisine but the past week has seen a blow to their national pride as it was revealed that the British are now better at home cooking. A survey, jointly commissioned by British and French magazines, found that the British cook more regularly and with more variety than their French counterparts! Home cooking is certainly something that we should be proud of given the increasing trends of obesity and nutritionally-poor processed food. Even better is to be using home-grown vegetables but can meals from your garden be quick and easy to prepare?
The traditional image of meals made from home-grown produce is that they need lots of scrubbing and peeling, lengthy preparation and cooking. In today’s time-stretched world it’s enough to put many people off the idea of growing a lot of food. However, it doesn’t have to be that way – there are plenty of time-saving tips that can put garden-fresh food on the plate quickly without sacrificing the nutritional quality.
Some fruit and vegetables actually require less preparation when grown in your own garden. Take peas for example. Picked fresh from the garden they can be served in their pods and will taste deliciously sweet. Opening the pods provides added interest at mealtimes for children and looks impressive in salads. Tomatoes and most fruit are equally quick to bring to the table – though they may end up being sampled on the way to the kitchen!
Likewise most salad ingredients can be picked, rinsed and served in minutes especially if you keep a salad bed near to your kitchen door. Unlike shop-bought bagged salad there is no need to pick through the leaves to check for the odd wilted or brown-edged one that slipped in (although it is worth checking for caterpillars – most gardeners will remember finding one on a plate at some point!)
Other vegetables that are normally cooked can be eaten raw if picked just before a meal. My children were delighted to discover that sweet corn tasted just as good raw when picked from their gardens last year as it does when boiled. Having fresh herbs to hand often lends itself to simpler meals too – bruschetta topped with freshly chopped basil and tomato is as tasty as it is nutritious.
Other vegetables take more preparation, particularly those grown in the soil such as carrots, beetroot and potatoes. Naturally these need scrubbing and preparing but gardeners can still save time by planning ahead. Often they can be prepared or cooked in batches and because they haven’t sat on grocery store shelves for several days they will keep well. Being able to harvest them just as they are required makes it feasible to prepare a bag full of carrots which can then be kept in a sealed bag at the bottom of the refrigerator and used as required over the following week.
By applying the same skills to weekly cooking as we use for planning our garden harvests it becomes easy to prepare fresh vegetables when we have time so they are available to be quickly steamed or warmed up when needed in a hurry. I often prepare sauces or soups in large batches after working in the garden at the weekend – one portion is served immediately and the rest is split into containers to be placed in the fridge or frozen for later in the week. A big pan, such as a cast-iron casserole pot, is invaluable for this as it allows large batches to be prepared.
Social Food Preparation
Let’s not forget though that speed isn’t everything when cooking. We may feel that we have no time to cook but that may be down to us seeing it as another chore to be fitted into the day. In many cultures cooking and shared meals are at the heart of family life. Another approach is to combine the cooking with other activities we would normally do. It may take longer to prepare a meal with others around but if we can relax and enjoy it then it can become part of the social experience and less time-pressured. For example, if eating with family or guests, why not involve them in harvesting the food and then preparing it? It’s a wonderful appetizer to walk through the garden gathering what you will eat and a great way to model healthy food habits with children.
From Garden to Plate
The above ideas are all starting points for integrating fresh food into our busy schedules. There are many such short-cuts that can be taken when preparing food from your garden but sometimes they take a little more thought or preparation than just picking a ‘ready-meal’ from the shelf of a grocery store. However, there is no denying that the quality, taste and nutritional value of home-grown fruit and vegetables are so superior that it is worth the extra effort.
If you have time-saving tips which help you fit freshly grown food into your lifestyle, or good quick recipes, then please do share them below and together let’s shake off the image of gardening as an activity only suited to those with too much spare time!