I have been looking at the garden seed catalogues trying to plan out what we will grow this year in our wonderful garden, but it seems every year the dilemma of deciding becomes more difficult. It is bad enough I have to choose between beets and turnips or decide whether the extra space at the back is best for potatoes or squash – now I have to choose what colour I like my vegetables to be! (For those interested, the beet versus turnip debate is actually no contest, as the Chef does not like turnips enough, no matter what colour they are.)
I know we live in a world where technology allows for life to go at the speed of light, and traditions and old ways are meant to be expanded and revamped, but really, do we need to change the colour of our vegetables? Where does it stop??
Don’t get me wrong – I am not talking about Mother Nature’s variations, like green and yellow beans. A little bit of variety is a good thing – the spice of life and all that. However, in the first place, what is the point in having a funny-colored veggie if it doesn’t stay that colour when you cook it and in the second place, if the colour is only skin deep, does that even count? Aren’t we supposed to consider what is inside?? Perhaps this is a sign that we should only eat food uncooked and unpeeled. (Certain trend-watchers would say this is a topic for another column!)
Part of me is intrigued by these fantastic foods. There is a Roald Dahl aspect to the idea of a garden that has an imagination of its own, like the Giant Peach or Charlie’s Chocolate Factory. You have to choose wisely to maximize your exotic efforts, as often it seems to take extra energy for the plant to produce a more unique product. Sometimes the Chef just smiles and shakes his head, but I enjoy the taste of lemon cukes and green zebra tomatoes. He did use some of our weird and wonderful tomatoes in his menus last summer, and he liked the striped Chioggia beets we planted. However, purple dragon carrots were most impressive in name, and orange cauliflower was just more difficult to grow than the white variety. Creativity is required when appreciating Mother Nature, though, and what would a garden be without a little experimentation?
I should add that carrots actually were purple to start with, and only became orange more for marketing reasons (wouldn't you know it!). They originally were grown for their seeds and leaves, as many of their relatives are still - dill, cumin and fennel are all in the same family of plants. They are recorded as being purple in the 10th century in the Middle East and Europe, and it wasn't until the 17th century in the Netherlands that orange carrots appeared in quantity. Breeding of different colours and varieties has occurred to make carrots sweeter and less woody as some root vegetables can be, but the orange colour was more appealing to markets in the western world - settlers took orange carrots to England and America in the 17th century and the rest of course, is history.
I guess at the end of the day (or the summer) I should just marvel at it all – even the green vegetables that grow quietly in their rows. I suppose having a colourful garden plot is another way to salute individuality… and besides, can someone who, as a girl, liked to wear red and pink striped socks with her favourite purple jumper really judge what colour a carrot should be?
Chef Martin says:
I really like being able to choose vegetables from our own garden for cooking, and I enjoy visiting the farmer’s market when it is in season, too. I don’t specifically look for weird or exotic foods, but they are fun to use from time to time. One of my contributions to the garden was some golden raspberry canes, and I don’t mind saying, they are very tasty!
I don’t mind yellow kiwis either. Actually, in the last few months I have used broccolini for many high end dinners I have done for people. The comments were nice, as many people had never tried broccolini before. It’s not a very complex vegetable: it’s a cross between broccoli and rapini (which is also known as broccoli raab). It’s long and skinny and tastes similar to Gai Lan, a Chinese green vegetable. (It takes very little time to cook, so watch it carefully.)
I don’t really mind what they cross vegetables with as long as it is another natural vegetable and not part of the genetically reproduced stuff that we hear about on the science network. Although, if the children of farmers don’t decide to take over our food chain as farmers themselves, who is going to feed us veggies in 30 years from now? Maybe genetic veggies will be the only choice left. Over the years, Hot Houses have created the perfect tomato, always the same color, the same size and the taste is also often the same… BLAND as hell! So this year, I will chose to plant heirloom tomatoes just like last year. Go visit Veseys Seeds or West Coast Seeds for good seeds online or ask at your nursery to help you choose what's best for your plot.
Support your farmers and promote good eating! Check out a great new page on Facebook called Soil Mate that has a collection of local farmers, markets and all that good stuff.