It’s been almost two years since I embarked on this journey of (what initially was) having my own herb garden so that I wouldn’t have to buy big packets of herbs to just use a few sprigs. The eventual goal was not to buy any more of the commonly used herbs. What really started me off was a little dill plant that my dear friend gave me. Before that, I killed a lot of plants. Those supermarket herbs in pots were supposed to be able to grow well when repotted. It didn’t seem to happen that way for me at all. However, that dill (weed) grew rather easily and fast. It gave me the confidence booster that I needed to try again.
Soon I was onto hydroponics (growing mint and basil. That grew very well and effortlessly until the mint became much bigger and then the styrofoam box couldn’t hold the weight of the tall growing plants. So I went off to Ikea to buy some terracotta pots. I repotted those and they grew very well. I gradually added plants from Far East Flora to my collection like curry leaf, lime, pandan (screw pine), peppermint, rosemary and sage.
During my trip to New York, I chanced upon a fantastic collection of seeds from Botanical Interests. Their lovely packaging enticed me to buying quite a few packs to try and grow them. Besides those seeds, I brought home organic lemons from Whole Foods. Those lemons were deseeded and planted. Out of these, I successfully grew broccoli, blue lake beans, golden zucchini, a basil mix and the lemon. I’ve harvested the broccoli leaves and stir fried them. They taste like kale or chinese broccoli (which are both from the same family from it).
I also took a small piece of Japanese sweet potato that had sprouted and grew that. To my surprise, it took only 4 months before I was able to enjoy Japanese sweet potatoes. Usually to be able to store sweet potatoes and develop their sweetness, they are cured. The process involves drying the sweet potatoes on the surface of the soil for a day, then transferring them into a box and letting them sit for 8 days to 2 weeks. What this does is it breaks down the starch in the sweet potato into simple sugar. In this case, we wanted to taste it fresh so in this picture, this sweet potato was steamed the next day. Uncured sweet potato tastes not as sweet and more starchy.
What is the most special to me in my garden has to be the plants that were cuttings or plants swapped from someone else’s garden. I have a roma tomato plant from my best friend, a fig tree from my dearest uncle and of course that dill. I’m looking forward to using the fig leaves to braise, smoke, steam or grill meat in.
Growing some of your own produce helps you to understand food better from an end to end perspective. I’ve learned just from my garden, how all the elements that we take for granted affects the flavour (and growth) of my produce, how watering also affects it. In my also strange sideward glance perspective, I feel more connected to the environment, and every time I eat something, I have so much reverence for the farmer. The arduous toil to force a living from the land. I feel compelled to eat everything and leave nothing to waste because I think that will be the best way to show my gratitude. I think also harder about the fresh produce I buy, I rather pay more for a smaller quantity because that’s what I really need and I rather buy better quality meat, fruits and vegetables.
Eating mass farmed produce, simply does not taste the same. It lacks flavour because most of them are harvested before they are allowed to ripen on the tree/vine. That’s why if you can get the fresh produce from farm to table as soon as you can (besides the exception of root vegetables like potatoes, onions or garlic that need to be cured to improve the flavour), they will taste the best. Tomatoes for example lose their flavour gradually after they have been off the vine even though they might still continue to turn red. My best memory of some of the best fruits I’ve eaten were when I was studying in Melbourne. Strawberries plucked fresh from the farm, or when a speciality fruit grocer had first picking of the harvest season fruits (I hear some of these are even auctioned off), these were the best tasting fruits. It was amazing, nothing came close. I remembered eating them and thinking how fortunate I was and how inspired I was to want to cook a good dish out of them.