A Taste of the Unexpected: A Revelation

There are moments in life when you have what can only be described as a light bulb moment when disparate thoughts suddenly come together to create a  tangible whole and this revelation is often brought about by an intervention from an unexpected source.

This is exactly what happened to me a couple of weeks ago whilst reading an article in the Observer newspaper written by Mark Diacono.  There I was sitting in a rural airfield cafe circa 1940s when I became completed obsessed with the notion of growing edibles.  This may not seem such a big deal to most, especially the gardeners out there, but any who know me will know that I have been quite vocal in my refusal to grow edibles. Why? Because I have found it to be a completely unrewarding experience.  Yes I can grow things from seed, I can plant tubers, set etc but I haven’t felt that I have had the time to look after my crops properly or to harvest them and when I have the result has been somewhat disappointing.  Despite vocalising my decision to forego this part of horticulture there has been a small voice muttering in my ear asking if I really want to let a whole section of horticulture defeat me; I have felt a bit of a failure.

So when I read Mark saying that really we should be banned from growing the run of the mill crops of carrots, onions and potatoes in favour of growing truly wonderous crops, edibles that were that bit unusual, edibles that were perennials I felt that light bulb well and truly glow.  The article is a precursor to Mark’s book A Taste of the Unexpected which will be available in the next week.  The foreword by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall indicated that finally I might have stumbled on something for me; “Mark believes that life is too short to grow unremarkable food.  He would rather we grow things that thrill us and delight our palates.”

So what are the edibles that Mark wants us to try.  Well how about Japanese Wineberries for a start (mine are already ordered), a perennial which just gets on with it and have “an unusual grape-raspberry flavour”, they just aren’t available in the shops and this is part of the premise for Mark’s argument.  We shouldn’t be wasting our time, energy and money growing stuff that is available cheaply in the shops but edibles which taste fabulous and either aren’t in the shops due to problems sourcing, transporting or costs producing  or are harvested before they are at their best and therefore we never experience them at its best.  Peaches, Nectarines and Apricots all fall into this second category; Mark tells us that the changing climate make growing these at home more realistic.  Then, my favourite section, what he calls the Transformers, the spices.  I discovered Carolina Allspice and Szechuan Pepper. Having tried the latter at Mark’s talk this weekend at the Autumn show I am converted to the idea that these edibles can transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.  There are 40 such edibles in the book including the amazing Egyptian Walking Onions – you will have to buy the book to find out more about that one!

The majority of the edibles are perennials so for someone like me with little spare time they are idle, not only that but many of them appeal to my plant hunter instincts and desire to try growing new and unusual plants.

So I have a Japanese Wineberry and Bilberry on order along with some Raspberries.  I have received lovely donations from garden twitter friends of Strawberries (including Alpine), a Walking Onion and from Mark a Szechuan Pepper.  I am looking into Chilean Guava and Carolina Allspice and the best thing is that I can plant them around the garden rather than segregated in a veg patch.

I would thoroughly recommend A Taste of the Unexpected to all gardeners, veg and non-veg growers, it truly is a revelation.

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9 Comments Add yours

  1. Christina says:

    Wow! It only takes the right boxes to be ticked and we can all do something that we thought we never would. Good luck and I’m sure you’ll keep us informed. I heard Sarah Raven say much the same thing and certainly never grow something neither you nor your family actively love eating (I know that might sound obvious advice but it’s very easy to start reading about food crops and simply do as you’re told). I’ve really enjoyed everything I’ve grown this year with the added excitement of new crops that I couldn’t grow in England. The cover of the books looks rather attractive too! Christina

  2. This sounds like a must have for winter reading. I get a little bored with humdrum veggies, too. 🙂

  3. Nick says:

    It’s probably a bit soon for a Diacono backlash to start, but it might be opportune to pause for thought before falling headlong for Mark’s evangelical zeal….I grew wineberries for the first time this year, and found them really disappointing – grow like topsy (just like all other rubus then) but fruit intermittently, and the fruits are really small – takes ages to pick anything more than a garnish worth, and frankly, didn’t seem worth the effort! Almost any other soft fruit would give a better yield for the garden space consumed, and would still comply with the “grow better stuff than you can buy” mantra – almost anything you choose will be better than the bred-for-shelf-life stuff you’ll find on the high street. Similarly, Peaches, Nectarines and Apricots are all notoriously difficult to grow in UK climates, and while any you do manage to get to harvest will undoubtedly be absolutely wonderful, I can’t help thinking there might be lots of rather easier and more rewarding crops to have a go at first….

  4. MarkD says:

    No no no, not too early, let the backlash start now! Or should I say continue….I get endless grief from most people who know me.

    The reason your wineberries may have been disappointing is that they grow canes one year, fruiting off them the next adn they need to get a good set of roots down to give a really good harvest.

    Peaches, nectarines and apricots are really EASY to grow in the UK if you get the right varieties, give them shelter from cold winds and let them have a sunny spot. Get any of those wrong and you may as well not bother. But that applies to tomatoes and many other stuff people grow perfectly commonly too.

  5. Nick says:

    Ok, I’ll give the wineberries another year! They were pretty large when they were planted tho’ – they’d been in 10 lt pots for a year before they made it into the garden, so they had a decent amount of old wood on which to fruit, and good roots; anyway, one more chance – this time next year they’ll either have been a triumph, or consigned to the compost heap!
    I think really we agree on Peaches etc – sunny spots out of cold winds aren’t that readily available in UK gardens, and even if they are, that isn’t always enough (we can’t all bask in the benign climate you enjoy down there in the soft south!). And I can’t help thinking that if you’re lucky enough to have such favoured spots in your garden, there might be better/more productive uses for them than raising a handful of peaches/nectarines/apricots.
    My real concern is simply that little-grown plants usually achieve that status for a reason – often that people have tried them, found them wanting, and moved on. Hopefully, you’ve found one or two that snuck under the radar and really do deserve a wider audience – it’ll be an interesting year reading how the bloggers that you’ve inspired get on…

  6. MarkD says:

    I think most things arent well kinown because of two reasons – the suopermarkets control most of what we eat, and if its not in them for some reason (eg fragility) we rarely get to try them. Mulberries for example, as good as fruit gets but too ytender to make the journey to the shelves. Secondly, we’re very narrow minded when it comes to growing food. 3/4 of personal edible space (eg allotments) in this country are dedicated to maincrop potateos, onions and carrots – the cheapest most widely available, disease prone foods we have, that taste the same as the ones you buy. Most of us simply follow what everyones always done and grow the staples – assuming most of us arent growing all we eat, that leaves us to buy the expensive stuff and all the tastier food. Which i think is bonkers. Peaches, apricots etc can be grown almost anywhere in this country if u get the right varieties. Some I have ripen outside in July…even in Lancashire they will ripen in August. And the 2 year old dwarf peach gave me 31 fruits this year, which is more than a handful. All these are growing out in the field, far windier than the average hedged garden. Its all perfectly possible, but fair play to you if you fancy growing other stuff

  7. Anna says:

    You sound full of infectious enthusiasm Helen! I am really looking forward to getting my teeth into Mark’s new book very soon 🙂

Please feel free to leave comments as its always lovely to get feedback. I try to respond to comments as much as possible but sometimes life and work get in the way but I will do my best to respond especially if your comment is a question.

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