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Liam Butler interviews Jill Brewis

Liam Butler interviews Jill Brewis, co-author of The Grower's Cookbook.


Liam Butler

The Grower's Cookbook

Fresh Produce from the Garden to the Table
$30 www.calicopublishing.co.nz/book/the-growers-cookbook

by Dennis Greville and Jill Brewis

In The Grower's Cookbook authors Dennis Greville and Jill Brewis combine their gardening and cooking talents to show you how easy it is to grow and cook your own produce.

Question one:

Jill, as some older people move into smaller homes they lose their large gardens. How can they continue to grow their own food and make the most of their smaller gardens?

Downsizing often means not only the loss of a large garden but also acquiring just a tiny patch of garden by the front or back door or even just a corner of a balcony. Fortunately you don't need a large space to grown enough vegetables to keep two people in fresh greens all year round.

A garden less than two metres square can be really productive, especially if it's in full sun. Choose vegetables that are going to give you the greatest reward, such as lettuce, spinach, silver beet, celery and broccoli. All of these survive well when a few leaves are plucked off as they are needed. You can even cut florets off a cauliflower and fold the outer leaves back over the remainder for future use.

So often when you buy some celery, two stalks are used and the rest is left to wilt in the fridge. In your own garden you can pick off a stalk or two when required and the rest happily keeps growing. When you pick the big new broccoli head, the rest of the plant will send out shoots of new broccoli; these fine broccolini-type shoots are seldom as big as the first main crop but still delicious eating.

A good way to overcome a lack of garden space is to use pots. A collection of herbs in one pot and lettuce varieties in another not only provides a dash of bright green colour in the garden but also an ongoing supply of greens for the kitchen. Choose the biggest pot you can find, put stones in the bottom for drainage, add compost and good potting mix and the plants in your pot will serve you well throughout the year.

Growing fruit trees is a problem in a small area. Miniature varieties are available or try espaliering apple and pear trees down a fence or trellis. In my little townhouse garden I have citrus trees growing happily in pots around the front door; being evergreen they look great and provide oranges, lemons, mandarins and limes throughout the year.

It's also fashionable to plant vegetables among the flower beds these days (check out the Wintergarden in Auckland Domain). Coloured lettuces, kale or some red- and yellow-stalked silver beet works wonders in a herbaceous border or even around a rose bed.

Question two:

Jill, some health professionals work some pretty unhealthy hours. What are some tips for people who want the benefits of being able to cook their own fresh produce but do not have a lot of time to garden?

The best gardens are, of course, those that have constant attention. But we're not talking about gardens that require a lot of time. Many gardens flourish on semi-neglect. Abandon it for a month and it survives, albeit together with a forest of weeds. When I was working full time¸ weeding, planting and harvesting was done irregularly. A lot can be achieved in ten minutes a week.

As well as being short on time, a lot of older people have another constraint: being short on energy. The mind is willing but the body is unwilling to cope with too much physical exercise. For many over 75 year olds, an hour to one and a half hours' bending - whether digging, weeding or planting - may be all we can manage. After that the body cries Stop. My advice is to do just that. Stop and rest as soon as you feel an ache here or a niggle there. The garden will still be there next day and so will your enthusiasm for gardening.

Raised gardens are a great idea. Again they need not be big. A garden that is 15 centimetres off the ground is much kinder to one's back. If you are growing root crops, a depth of 25cm is good; leafy vegetables are less demanding.

Whatever the constraint, be it time, space or physical ability, the best plan is to concentrate on quality rather than quantity. Grow only those vegetables that have most value for you. Forget about potatoes and other root crops that take many months to mature - unless of course you yearn to be able to dig the first new potatoes in your own garden before Christmas.

Buy heavy cropping varieties of those edibles you most love. Each year I grow tomatoes even though I know by the time they ripen there will be heaps of cheap tomatoes available in the shops, The flavour of a newly-picked tomato is so superior that it tastes like a different food altogether.

After all, superior flavour, convenience and pleasure of producing our own food are the reasons why we grow on own fruit and vegetables.

Question Three

By reading The Grower's Cookbook I learnt that Rhubarb was introduced to Europe in the fourteenth century by monks, who used it to treat illness. What are your favourite desserts using rhubarb?

As my aunt used to say, Any fool can grow rhubarb. My first attempt was in a side border where the rhubarb clump sat and sulked; I moved it to a sunnier spot at the back of the vegetable patch and it has rewarded me with years of fresh stalks.

Rhubarb does not seem to have a season but keeps producing all year round. It's easy to grow, easy to harvest and easy to cook. It can be sweetened with sugar, honey or golden syrup. My great fallback dessert is to keep stewed rhubarb and a container of crumble topping in the freezer: whenever an instant pudding is called for, out they come and into the oven goes a warming, flavour-filled and colourful dessert.

RHUBARB MOUSSE

When I was an au pair in France many years ago, this was often served when friends came to dinner.

1 cup cooked rhubarb

2 bananas, mashed

300 ml plain yoghurt

½ cup cream

2 tablespoons sugar

2 egg whites

Cinnamon and grated chocolate to garnish

Mix together the rhubarb, banana and yoghurt.

Beat the cream and sugar until thick and add to the fruit-yoghurt mixture.

Just before serving, beat the egg whites until stiff and fold in.

Sprinkle with cinnamon and grated chocolate to serve.

The Grower's Cookbook

Fresh Produce from the Garden to the Table

by Dennis Greville and Jill Brewis

If you like the idea of growing your own food and cooking with fresh produce,The Grower's Cookbook is the ideal companion. Even if your space and time are limited, you can enjoy the benefits and convenience of fresh, homegrown vegetables, herbs and fruit. With stunning photographs, this all-in-one gardening guide and recipe book provides a wealth of practical information that will inspire gardeners and cooks alike.

For gardeners

Choosing well - the most suitable vegetables, herbs and fruit
Managing your edible garden with minimal effort
Maintaining a chemical-free approach.

For cooks
More than 70 easy-to-prepare recipes
Hundreds of seasonal food ideas and serving suggestions
Storing, freezing and preserving your produce.

To Win a Copy of this Book - CLICK HERE Competition closes 15th October 2014. Open to NZ residents only.

ends

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