A New Year symbolises a fresh start and a chance to wipe the slate clean – or in our case, the plates clean! We all enjoy making resolutions – a common one being to eat healthier. While many of us will calorie-count all the way through January until succumbing to a Mars bar in February, eating healthily doesn’t have to be the calorie-counting, rule-heavy activity its often made out to be.
Eating healthily can be as simple as eating more fresh produce or even growing it yourself (see our guide on growing vegetables here). It is no secret that, with over 100 different varieties of vegetables, fruit and herbs in our own walled garden and a contact list of brilliant local suppliers, we’re passionate about local fresh produce.
Eating food sourced locally doesn’t just help the community and independent suppliers, but also the environment. ‘Food miles’ is a term used to describe the distance food to get from the farm to the plate. The more ‘food miles’ a product has, the more fuel is used in the process of getting it to you. There is also an impact on freshness – a tomato from Spain will take more time from harvest to a dish, so won’t be as fresh as one grown in your back garden, for instance. When you open that sealed pack of tomatoes from the supermarket looking invitingly still attached to the vine, believe us, the smell is from the vine, not the tomato!
One of the great advantages of living in Britain is the seasons. We’re particularly proud that, whatever the time of year, there is something that can be grown and used in the restaurant. Anything from potatoes to beans, cabbages, cauliflowers, asparagus, roots, greens and herbs can find its way to our tables. Having seasonal variations also makes menu planning more exciting, ensuring there is plenty of opportunity to experiment throughout the year.
For an avid foodie, it is very satisfying to grow your own salad or vegetables, prepare a meal and eat it on the same day – safe in the knowledge that you have used zero food miles. Of course, you can’t always avoid food miles or food yards in our case – for example it isn’t possible to grow bananas or pineapples in the UK – but it is possible to grow lots of fresh fruit and vegetables at home. It’s a fun activity to do with your family and you don’t necessarily need a big garden or allotment to experience the excitement of growing your own fresh crops.
So, if less ‘food miles’ is part of your healthy eating plan for 2014, here are some suggestions for easy-to-grow produce:
Mixed salad is a wonderful food to grow all year round and you don’t even need a garden, as you can grow it indoors. One of the fantastic things about growing mixed salad leaves is that you can keep picking the leaves and the stumps will grow back two or three times. You will have seen ‘micro greens’ on many a good restaurant’s plate in recent years, and these tiny explosions of flavour are surprisingly easy to produce. We plant them in long pieces of semi-circular drain pipe gutter.
You can grow mixed salad leaves from the seed and you can even buy pre-seeded pots and trays from some shops and supermarkets. There are many different types available and you can buy seed packs containing lettuce, rocket, spinach and host of different leaf varieties. If you like specific varieties then buy separate seed packets and blend to create your own unique salad mix.
Tomatoes are a green house favourite and very easy to grow. They can be planted from the spring and there is a huge variety available with different flavours and colours – they can be grown from seeds or you can buy plugs (small plants that have already started growing). Tomatoes are best grown in a green house but they can be grown outside as well. We love heritage varieties for their flavour, and yellow plums to tomatoes as they look so great on a dish.
Potatoes are a fun vegetable to grow at home because they are easy to care for and you can even grow them in a large pot on the patio. You can buy ‘seed’ potatoes from the garden centre and if you pick an early variety and plant in March you should have a crop by late May/early June. Try to sow successions so they don’t all come at once.
Strawberries are very adaptable plants. They can be grown in the garden, in a large pot or even in a hanging basket. You can usually buy plants from April onwards. Pot them up and you’ll have delicious fruit in time for Wimbledon! This season we are trying a new variety of white strawberries, yes, white! …We’ll keep you posted.
We hope we have inspired you on to your own fresh food adventure and we would love to hear how you get on in 2014.