The Socially Acceptable Kitchen Garden: Fruit & Veg Snobbery

Deciding on the varieties of fruit and vegetables to grow is a delightful undertaking. Experienced kitchen gardeners tend to base their choices on; taste, (seasonal) yield, ripening period, soil suitability and disease resistance to limit/prevent use of pesticides. Nostalgia often also plays a part, where (local) heritage varieties may be chosen over modern (F1) hybrids. However, one can’t help but notice the ever increasing pressure to grow the trendier; unusual, unbuyable, unexpected and ‘not available in supermarket’ produce. Is our progressive hankering to grow the socially admirable, ‘remarkable’ produce, in fact detrimental to taste, where so dubbed ‘ordinary’ varieties, would have shined?

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate diversity and understand the merit in growing varieties that are not easily available, but that is not a premise for enhanced taste. Nor is omission from supermarket shelves. A pursuit which is becoming progressively difficult as supermarkets have jumped onto the ‘remarkable’ food band wagon, stacking their shelves with ever more unusual varieties.

There is no question that there are many (new) tasty varieties out there, some tastier than others, and I am certainly not arguing as to which is the better to grow. Only that it seems that our kitchen gardens seem to be trying to play catch up, to the forever aspiring, and somewhat over-oxygenated, celebrity chef food culture. Is the Oca really that much tastier than the humble spud? Is that new white strawberry (Pineberry) from South America really that much better than native red varieties?

Supermarket Staples

The absolute joy of a kitchen garden is the availability of, genuinely fresh produce of undeniable domestic provenance. Fresh makes all the difference, arguably no matter what variety of produce. Take for example, the ultimate purveyor of bad taste press and supermarket omnipresence; the Golden Delicious apple. For the commercial grower and retailer, the Golden Delicious is an attractive proposition; easy to grow, heavy cropper, and capable of long storage. As a supermarket stalwart, the prospect of growing this variety in a kitchen garden seems valueless.

However, a freshly picked, home grown Golden Delicious, is simply delightful, and just bursting with flavour. A far cry from its green picked, stored for months, supermarket siblings. More over, the Golden Delicious is a much revered apple by pastry chefs, not just for flavour, but because they hold their shape in baking, due to the relatively low water content. Hence, a guaranteed means to avoid the dreaded soggy pastry bottoms. Therefore, despite its undeniable abundance in the supermarket, is this variety not a valuable addition to the kitchen garden?

Perhaps simply personal nostalgic enthrallment, but there is nothing quite as satisfying as growing, harvesting and eating ones very own produces, picked just yards from the kitchen. The process thereof, perhaps wrongly, does impact flavour and overall joy, irrespective of the supposed variety superiority or humbleness. Agreed, potatoes are cheap and widely available, but the excitement of digging up those golden nuggets remains incalculable, and probably personal folly, they taste better for it.

Horticultural Snootiness

I have certainly been guilty of growing the, shall we say, socially admirable oddities, primarily for that silly sense of pride that comes with growing that rarest of fruit or vegetable. However, often taste is not on par with the initial aspiration.

We grow several curiosities in the fruit cage, alongside their more ‘common’ compatriots. Instead of growing another Blackcurrant, we opted for the rarer Jostaberry, which despite delectable parentage and vigorous growth, produced but a small yield of rather average tasting berries. Whereas, its (to some perhaps) unexciting counterpart; the Blackcurrant, produced the most delicious fruit.

By all means, experiment and be adventurous in one’s kitchen garden, but remember rare does not always mean tastier, and crucially nor does run-of-the-mill, mean less flavour.

Marketing Mantras

HTA Market Updates suggest that the ‘grow your own’ vogue is set to continue, with the subsequent expectation for further sales increases of vegetable seeds. Prospects of market growth will be met with increased supply of ever more ‘interesting’ and new varieties to stand out from the competition, frantically fueled by the incessant marathon for growing the extraordinary. One can’t help but wonder if our desires for gastronomic allegiance is simply the result of rather clever marketing strategies.

I’m reminded by the relatively humble vegetable patches of friends and relatives in Italy and other ‘foodie’ parts of Southern Europe. I can’t say I have ever heard them speak of plans to grow Wasabi, Stevia, Oca, etc., yet they relish in generation old varieties of more ‘ye oldie’ veg. No sign of that undiminishing desire to grow the next new thing, instead there is pride, respect and joy in their ‘simple’ produce.

Is that not enough?

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any comments?

Comments: 26

  1. My garden vegetables are pretty simple…the standard stuff. If I want something special, I go to the supermarket. I have tried from time to time to add something interesting like dark purple peppers or yellow tomatoes…not that out of the ordinary…but it is just easier for me. Great post!

  2. I grow so-called ‘novelties’. I don’t do fashion, or watch the shallow, superficial so-called ‘cooking programmes’.

    I grow different coloured carrots & beans because I like to paint pictures with food to feast the eye as well as the taste buds. If they taste good and look good on the plate, then that’s a bonus for me.

    As someone who is also developing a forest garden for increased sustainability, I also experiment with growing other plants to see how they work and how beneficial relationships may be created. As Emma said, this experimentation is important.

    You refer to oca quite a bit. I grew this for the first time last year and will be growing more this year. It ‘may’ be fashionable. I’ve no idea. It’s not a direct potato substitute because it tastes quite different and gorgeous. The ‘oxalis’ in its name gives the clue. It ‘could’ be a good starchy staple crop. Its benefit in a polyculture garden is that it provides good ground cover through which taller plants can grow. It’s also not susceptible to as many diseases as the potato. It’s problem is that it doesn’t tuberise until after the autumn equinox. Which means that it can be cut down by early frosts. What some of us are trying to do is to cross breed varieties to come up with a day-length neutral variety. If (when) this is done, it would be viable to grow more commercially and increase what is available to us all to choose to eat.

    There are all sorts of reaons for growing new things. I don’t think as growers our views, motives or intentions are homogenous. I guess sometimes one’s own view of things depends on the frame we put around it.

    • Thank you for great comment Carl! You certainly know your Oca and very interesting to read of the variety of vegetables you grow. I am not against experimentation at all, nor diversity, only that it seems we are forever endeavouring to grow what’s around the corner and thereby not valuing the enormous range of produce and varieties that we have. Which, as Emma quite rightly pointed out, our ancestors worked so hard for. Just as there is a slow food movement, we should have a slow-grow-your-own movement, where we learn to appreciate what we have, instead of always rushing to grow that next best thing…!

      • Thanks for the reply Petra.

        Part of the point I was tried to make so clumsily was that there is no ‘we’ in this.

        You may well be right that ‘some’ growers are subject to fashion in all this. But I think you are misplaced to generalise that. There are growers exploring and innovating in order to increase sustainabilty and food security. The issues around peak oil, our use of machinery and petrochemical inputs into agriculture mean that this is essential work.

        I was involved in an approach from a national newspaper journalist who wanted to interview wacky people using their own hemp in the economic downturn. It’s not helpful to any of us to characterise ‘all’ people doing this sort of thing that way. Some may be, some are not.

        I’ve probably now belaboured the point. I now have your email and will send you oca :))

    • First apologies for the extraneous apostrophe in “it’s problem” up there.

      Second, if you’d like to try oca for yourself, I’ll happily post you some to plant and try out for taste, appearance and growing habit.

      • Don’t worry about rogue apostrophe’s! Points made and discussion generated much valued and appreciated. Thank you, that is very kind indeed!

  3. Great post! Enjoyed it very much! The mere fact that after much work, your own vegetables and fruits do grow, can be consumed fresh and enjoyed, covers up any shortfalls, in yield, shape, color, taste! Therefore always better then what is bought in the supermarket!

    • Thank you Peter. Very kind indeed. You are very right, I always think that produce grown at home, tastes so much better just because it’s grown by oneself. And yes, nothing beats fresh produce, often harvested just a stone’s throw away from the kitchen.

  4. The Socially Acceptable Kitchen Garden: Fruit & Veg Snobbery #growyourown

  5. If our ancestors hadn’t experimented with unfamiliar plants then there wouldn’t be much on our supermarket shelves – spuds and strawberries both originate from the Americas, and the wild ancestor of your Golden Delicious came from Kazakhstan. Tradition and innovation are two sides of the human coin.

  6. Won’t hear a thing said against Japanese Wineberries (sorry WW and Petra)! Small, intense and sweet, plus their good looks too! Great post! After a few years experimenting with all sorts of new and old veg, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s best to grow what you love eating, be it of the more exotic variety of veg or leeks and potatoes. Growing tons of lettuces this year as we eat so many salads, plus leeks (lots of ‘cos we love ’em), but always up for trying something new too. This year it’s Kohlrabi for its alien appearance as much as its taste, plus some climbing squash and Tromboncino courgettes-possibly/partially a sucker for a good looking (possibly trendy?) veg after all!

    • Apologies regarding wine berry! It is a superbly striking plant, which is why we have some growing. The berries are ok, not my favourite, but nice none the less… Couldn’t agree with you more on growing what you like, and not be led by trends. Even if that includes an alien looking Kohlrabi….!!!

  7. Oddly enough for someone who is easily wooed by the new, exotic and plain old contrary, I agree with you. I recently flipped through Taste of the the Unexpected and the intro to that did take a similar line about not growing traditional veg as they are easy to buy (although to be fair it did say “grow them if you like, but think about what you like first”). In fact it’s very difficult for a lot of people to buy good vegetables and when it comes to those that suffer from being transported about the place (new potatoes kept in the light, or tomatoes and sweet fruits picked under ripe), it’s impossible to replicate what you can grow and pick yourself.

    Having said that I love a bit of experimenting; I can highly recommend oca, personally – not better than potatoes, just different in timing, habit and taste. However I’m still learning to love yacon (it’s very easy to grow and pretty to look at, though). And don’t forget that once upon a time, potatoes and tomatoes were also dubious new crops from mysterious foreign climes!

    Right, I’m off to check on my woodland strawberry seedlings (red) and that new spike on the mango ginger (not recommended…)

    • Brilliant! Your veg patch must be extraordinary! Forgot about the Yacon. Never tasted it, but heard/read about it. Very good point about veg that now seem so ordinary, yet once not so ordinary. I suppose that is much the result of our multicultural society and especially allotments. So perhaps some day soon, Oca mash will be gracing M&S shelves and no one will batter an eyelid… Do keep us posted on your veg experimenting!

      • At the moment our veg patch is pretty embarassing! We’ve just moved a couple of hundred miles and having to start a lot of things over, in a smaller backyard. I think you make an excellent point that we need to look at what we are growing and why – after all there’s a reason why those “exotics” became established, or a lot of people spent a lot of time selecting unpromising roots and leaves to make them tasty and nutritious…I think I need to make sure show the carrots and peas enthusiasm the enthusiasm they deserve :-)

  8. The Socially Acceptable Kitchen Garden: Fruit & Veg Snobbery

  9. We’re trying Oca this year ;) Although I will add that the tubers were sent to us as part of a small Seed Circle that we partake in :) I’d never heard of them.
    We tend to focus on growing what we like and what we use most of. Although our heads will be turned by trying something new, we always make sure that we have sufficient of our tried and tested staples. I guess we ‘dabble’ ;)
    Interesting topic :)

    • I think dabbling is the way to go. Just feel that sometimes we forget how lovely it is to grow vegetables, any vegetable, in that quest to grow the ‘new’. Do let us know what that Oca tastes of and if it really is better than that good old spud!

  10. Hi Petra, A really interesting topic. I like to grow quite a bit that I can’t get at my supermarket such as yellow and purple french beans, different coloured carrots and courgettes and lots of salad varieties. I agree though that some of the plants that are being sold to gardeners now seem to be just another marketing ploy. I’ve tried jostaberries from the farmers’ market I wasn’t impressed at all. I had planned to buy a japanese wineberry until I tasted one last year and found it unremarkable. We got a tayberry instead. I think one of the problems is that these companies think there customers will probably have the traditional stuff so how can they keep generating business, they have to keep finding new things to flog to us. On the other hand there are some allotments next to mine that grow only potatoes, leeks and cabbages. Possibly the easiest to come by and cheapest of the veg they could grow.

    • Thanks for great comment. Interesting that you mention the Japanese Wineberry. Agree with you in that taste wise it’s not that remarkable, but as a plant it is superbly beautiful. We therefore have two growing on the wall, outside the fruit cage. The odd bit of fruit is a ‘bonus’, but its primarily grown for its foliage and autumn colour. Understand that potatoes, leek and cabbages are easy to come by, but I would argue they still better than when purchased in the shop! Also, love leeks in the garden. They look and taste good.

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