I’m reading Kitchen Garden Revival (Cool Springs Press) by Nicole Johnsey Burke at the moment and I have been strongly struck by two of the central planks in her approach to kitchen gardening. The first, but not the main thought in my mind at the moment, is that the kitchen garden – and I imitate her usage in not calling it a vegetable garden – must, by design and intention, be a thing of beauty, an addition to the aesthetic of the garden, central to the connection between house and garden, attractive, well designed, functional and to be enjoyed everyday, not hidden away in some far-off corner of the garden.
Secondly, and what has struck a chord with me this evening, is what she gives as one of the reasons or benefits of kitchen gardening – an appreciation of food! Having grown your own lettuce, tomatoes, apples, scallions or whatever, you will now know what it should taste like and you will no longer be duped by the far less than perfect produce offered at the supermarket or local shop where the needs of shelf-life or ability to survive countless food miles are considered of more importance than ripeness, freshness and good taste and flavour.
Reading this section of the book reminded me of a television programme seen a year or more ago, presented by the French chef Michel Roux Jn. The programme was from his cookery school and he explained how he would introduce his students to the raw materials of their recipes – the vegetables grown in his gardens – so they could appreciate just what they should look like and how they should taste. He then explained that before the students were asked to prepare any meal he would first demonstrate the process for them and serve the meal to them so that they eat and know what it should taste like. He believed that many young chefs simply did not know how their dishes should taste because they had not grown up eating them; they lacked that taste experience.
It is the same with vegetables, and fruit: many people no longer have the taste experience to know how a properly grown and ripened tomato, for example, tastes and, as a result, lack a basis for judging what is offered to them when they go to the shop or the restaurant. Growing and eating your own produce is an education in taste!