A Smallest Smallholding view on beautiful food

To tie in with the launch of their new range in collaboration with House Beautiful magazine, I was recently nominated as Carpetright‘s ‘foodie advocate’ to celebrate beautiful food. I’ve never been one of those foodie architect types dedicated to spectacular presentation. As a grow-your-own advocate raised on wholesome home-cooked meals, it’s safe to say that my food is more hearty, colourful and flavourful end of the spectrum than the delicate, refined stylised associated with gourmet and fine-dining. But that’s not to say it’s lacking in its own kind of beauty; growing a little of my own food and cooking nourishing, honest and scrumptious dishes has allowed me to enjoy the beauty of food throughout the seasons, as nature intended and with all the boldness and nuances in colour, taste and texture. I just believe that beautiful food begins with beautiful ingredients.

Grow your own raspberries

For me, creating beautiful food is not just about aesthetics; beautiful food is an experience. In my opinion, the most beautiful food is grown organically in tune with nature, enjoyed seasonally when it’s at its best (think supersweet parsnips after the first frosts, jewel-like tart berries in summer and autumn, crisp but juicy apples enjoyed straight from the tree or creamy, fluffy potatoes, slow-baked in the oven or freshly harvested head of steamed purple sprouting broccoli).

Purple Sprouting Broccoli

Growing even a tiny fraction of your own food can provide a treat for the senses and really bring a dish to life. A freshly picked side salad, zesty homemade pesto or serving of homegrown roasted vegetables can add so many new dimensions of flavour or hue to even the simplest foodie favourite. I’m a huge fan of soups and stews – the presentation of these dishes might be less than impressive, but again, it’s about the experience; how the slow-cooking gives that mix of flavours time to mature, develop or blend. It’s about the accompaniments too, the side notes; the perfectly cooked rice, the cracking of the crust of a freshly baked cob with a chunky homemade vegetable soup, tangy dips and mellow marinades. That, to me, is simple but beautiful food.

Here's one I made in our home-made dutch oven earlier!

Here’s one I made in our home-made dutch oven earlier!

Growing your own or buying seasonally also offers up something different for the palette throughout the year. In spring, we can enjoy the vigour of crunchy salads, the earthy melodious flavours in homegrown beans and the zing of the first alliums and punchy garlic bulbs of the season. In summer, it’s about rich and full flavours, juicy tomatoes, a time of plenty with plates piled high with produce straight from the field or veg plot.

Tomatoes

A season at its peak, where the intensity of flavour changes and develops as the earth soaks up the sun. From tender baby vegetables and the unbeatable freshness of homegrown asparagus in early summer to rich summer berry desserts mid-season.

Homegrown asparagus tip

Autumn brings a deeper, lusher palette – root vegetables, pumpkins, squashes, autumn berries. Cinnamon-laced baked apple pies. The first bottling of decadent festive drinks, like the deeply smooth and sumptuous notes of sloe gin.

Sloes for gin

And winter is a time to enrich meals with dark, leafy greens, sweet root vegetables and intensely zany winter onions. Mouthwatering rhubarb crumbles served with lashings and lashings of custard. There is always something to enjoy, to cherish and look forward to.

I have to admit, that I could grow a lot more at home than I do. I’m hoping to put up a polytunnel this year (finally!) and extend my growing season and repertoire, but sometimes life just gets in the way. Although a large allotment or veg patch could feed a family for a year, inevitably modern life and time restrains can and do put a limit on just how much we can grow in our own backyards or plots. That’s why I would encourage anybody who doesn’t have the capacity to dedicate some time to growing their own to perhaps swap the supermarket trip for a visit their local farm shops, farmer’s market (organic is always best) or just your simple weekly market.

I love taking my wicker basket down to our local farm stall on a Saturday morning. We plan a few meals ahead in the week, write a little list and then spend time picking out what we’d like, and seeing what’s new and in season. As a vegan, fresh fruit, legumes and vegetables are intrinsic in everything that I do. We love piling in the veggies, popping into the local bakers and thinking up new dishes to try our locally sourced goodies in. Somehow, it means we have more of a connection, an understanding and appreciation for the food that we buy, prepare and eat.

If you’ve been inspired to trying growing a little of your own food, I thoroughly encourage you to have a go at no-dig gardening, and have a little read up on permaculture principles. The results will be stunning, because these methods are not only easy and mean less weeding and watering, but also work in line with nature– a win, win! Visit Charles Dowding’s website for more information on why no-dig gardening is so successful and such a no-brainer, and there’s plenty of information and articles to chew over at the Permaculture Institute if you’re new to this sustainable gardening concept.

You can also check out Carpetright’s new HouseBeautiful range right here, and enter their competition to win £700 worth of vouchers or a selection of other prizes here, including a year’s subscription to HouseBeautiful magazine and a Riverford recipe box. Good luck!

New no-dig plot

Lawn is, essentially, a pain. It’s more work, it needs to be fed and watered regularly in summer to look half decent (ie unsustainable, bad for the environment), and needs mowing on a regular basis too. To me, that’s just unnecessary extra work with no real benefits for me or for wildlife.

While I’m happy for Rich to take care of the lawn on the “flower” side of our Smallest Smallholding, on the veg side the super-poor soil under the lawn means that weeds rather than grass tend to thrive. There are ants nest aplenty, and mowing it regularly is arduous. It’s essentially unproductive land that could be doing so much more.

(Its only saving grace is the fact that we have a LOT of clover, and the bees love clover flowers. So we let big patches grow and do a sort of mowing rotation system so that there’s always an abundance of fresh clover available for them.)

How to make no-dig plot

Laying out the no-dig plot

Given that I am always struggling for space, it seemed such a simple solution to just reduce the amount of lawn and increase the amount of available veg bed space. In the past we’ve opted for traditional wooden boards to line our veg plots, but with my new-found fondness for no-dig vegetable growing, it’s just a case of compost/manure dump and go.

I’ve outlined where the new plot will go and put down some compost I had to start to suppress the grass. We’re off to a local stable to collect some fresh horse poo and hopefully by late Autumn we can start winter planting. I’ll keep you posted with some “how to advice” if  you’d like to give no-dig beds a go. In the meantime, check out Charles Dowding’s No Dig approach on YouTube.