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.