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!

Growing squashes for Autumn

Knucklehead pumpkin growing in September

Knucklehead pumpkin

This year I was given a selection of squashes to grow by Marshalls Seeds, and whilst I’m still trying to find a way to use up all the courgettes, the other cucurbits are also romping away. The happiest of all is my Knucklehead Pumpkin plant, which has now grown to about 7 or 8 metres long and is producing two large fruits. Well, that’s two fruits that I can see as the vine has scrambled its way across the scrubby area by the compost bins. There could be more lurking.

The knucklehead pumpkin is yet to start going orange or knobbly… but I’m hoping that by mid to late October we’ll have a lovely pumpkin to harvest for pies, soup and all sorts of autumnal foodie treats.

Munchkin pumpkins

Munchkin pumpkins growing up the arch

And on the arch – my biggest, bestest bargain of this year – nestling amongst the flowering Spanish Flag, my munchkin pumpkins from Sarah Raven are also starting to fruit. Although it’s fairly late in the year for the vines to be producing flowers, I’m hopeful that they’ve got a lot of growing left in them and we’ll have more than just a small handful of the impossibly cute and pretty mini pumpkins for harvesting this year. I’ve counted about ten flowers and buds so it’s a game of wait and see… not sure the persistent damp conditions and lack of warm autumn sunshine will help my cause though…

Funnily enough, the sunniest side of the arch has been swamped by the Spanish Flag climbing vines, so the munchkin pumpkin plants have struggled to compete. On the less sunny side that faces to the east, the munchkin pumpkins are thriving. Something to bear in mind next year as I’ll most definitely be going for a Spanish Flag-munchkin pumpkin combo again. It’s been my little crowning glory this year.

Arch with scrambling Spanish Flag (Ipomoea lobata) and climbing Munchkin pumpkins

Arch with scrambling Spanish Flag (Ipomoea lobata) and Munchkin pumpkins

Successful Autumn harvests

On a personal level, 2015 has been difficult, sad and very challenging. One thing that’s kept me going, kept me grounded and kept me sane is my veg plot. And this year, after putting no-dig into action, I’ve had one of my most successful growing years ever. One of the greatest successes of the veg plots has been the arch.

Munchkim pumpkins and Spanish Flag (mina lobata)

Climbing munchkin pumpkins and Spanish Flag (mina lobata)

I’ve been growing Spanish flag (mina lobata) up and after a very slow start, they’ve been romping away with wild abandon. I’ve also weaved in the munchkin pumpkins, hoping to have a little crop later in the year. The munchkins are also a bit on the late side and have yet to flower, but I have hope that they’ll get there eventually. If not, then we’ll just have some pretty squash leaves adorning the arch too!

Spanish flag scrambling

The raspberries have been producing fruit for picking on a daily basis for the last fortnight at least, and we’ve got more than enough in the freezer ready for some jam. This year I’m going to try seedless jam so it’s a case of getting a few bits and pieces before the jam pan comes out again.

Polka raspberries

The peas came out and straight away, in went some salad leaves and leeks so I have a ready supply for some serious soup making later in the autumn. There’s nothing like snuggling down with a steaming bowl of leek and potato soup and a chunk of crusty bread on a cold but sunny Saturday lunchtime.

Knucklehead pumpkin

I’ve been digging up monster sized Picasso potatoes, but they’re not the only super-sized produce we’ve been growing at The Smallest Smallholding. The knucklehead pumpkin has grown about six metres long and is looking to produce some hefty fruit for the Autumn, with leaves about twice the size of my head. Meanwhile, the yellow courgettes have been popping out fruit for harvesting, but Rich isn’t eating them fast enough. Courgette cake may well be on the menu.

Yellow courgettes