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?