Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.

30.10.09

A shorter history of the vegetable garden.

Beans take a few months to grow, and then you have enough to feed a suburb. Unless you preserve them and who can be bothered doing that?

Our childhood household had a preserving set that was thrown out unceremoniously during the Great Food Revolution of the 1960s, when everyone abandoned vegetable gardens and turned to the supermarket for salvation. It was called liberation, from chores and peeling; from chopping and wrapping up scraps in newspaper to be placed in corrugated galvanised iron rubbish bins with lids that clattered along the street in a storm like hubcaps off a car.

My father persisted with his vegetable garden through the flower power years, growing radishes well into the early seventies until everyone stopped eating them. People laughed out loud when they saw them on his salad platters, as if they were some kind of odd food relic from an earlier time. Yes! They are edible! So the 1970s arrived and the radish was out and the exotic avocado was in; but you didn’t grow avocadoes, you bought them, just like asparagus, which came in cans, limp and grey, to be served in crustless sandwiches. Liberation! And cans of vegetables!

So Dad retired his vegetable garden and took up eclectic pursuits such as painting in oils, reading the form guide, raising zebra finches and drinking endless cups of tea. The garden was turned over to some kind of surly perennial and the only edible plant on the property that remained, apart from the mint border that you couldn’t kill, was a straggly choko vine that clung to the garage, holding it together. I don’t remember ever eating a choko; but once the vine went, the garage fell apart; but my brother’s gargantuan Mark IX Jaguar might have had something to do with that. (He stored it behind the garage when he went overseas, and had to excise part of the garage wall to angle the car out a couple of years later; because a tree had grown larger, blocking its egress. The things you don't think of.)

Now everything old is new again and people are ripping up old lawns and digging lumps of concrete and old bricks out of the ground and doing soil analyses so that they don't poison their children with lead and arsenic in the guise of ‘returning to the earth’. It’s the new liberation: liberation from the supermarket that was once salvation from labor. No wonder religion gets a bad name.

Now all we need is a Fowlers Vacola preserving set. (Funny thing: everyone had Fowlers Vacola sets in the fifties - along with pressure cookers – but they were unsighted until they all turned up about ten years ago at garage sales, meaning they must have sat in attics for around forty years before people turfed them out. My sociological conclusion: people keep things they know they will never use for forty years, just to be sure. Proof: recently, I have noticed an abundance of orange or lime green electric fry pans circa 1970 at garage sales and op shops, complete with grimy old brown plug-in cords. Yes, it's safe to throw them out now! Bingo: a thesis. Where’s my grant?)

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Back to the beans. About three thousand of them ripened at once, necessitating a day of harvesting and picking. I am proud to say that Thomas sat on the lawn, in the shade, and podded (yes, that is a word, we used to do it in the 1960s) a whole colander full of broad beans, occasionally chewing on one. A job not to William’s liking; he rode his bicycle up and down all the while, singing Ridin’ the Rails, à la Johnny Cash: "Mm, mm, mm, mmmm."


Middle Eastern-style broad beans pureed with garlic, cumin and coriander.


Harvest a kilogram of broad beans. Get your children to pod them. You don’t have to peel the individual beans, a job that would take you about a week.

Meanwhile, cook two chopped onions in olive oil in a large heavy pot for three or four minutes, add two scored cloves of garlic, cook a little more, and then add two teaspoons of ground cumin, half a teaspoon of cayenne pepper and a dash of ground coriander.

Now add the beans along with a cup or so of water. At this stage, I had to upgrade to a larger pot. How are we going to eat all of this? Cook on low heat until the beans soften.

Now add half a cup of lemon juice, two or three more tablespoons of olive oil, and process in batches to a semi-smooth consistency. Reheat if desired, adding chopped coriander or dill.

Ideal on grilled fish; wrapped in pita or Turkish bread with kebabs; as an accompaniment to chick pea and tomato stew; on toasted Lebanese bread with zatar (particularly delicious); dipped with those red pickled turnips you find in middle eastern shops; dipped with fresh blanched new-season asparagus; served on baked potato and scattered with toasted pine nuts and blackened sesame (again, particularly delicious); eaten straight out of the jar with a spoon standing in front of the fridge, etc etc etc, ad infinitum, so on and so forth.

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Now: what am I going to plant where the beans were?

Maybe radishes. Maybe not.

6 comments:

selena said...

Ahhh lovely post. Except I have a black thumb. I've even killed rosemary.

White Dove said...

One day several years ago now, while browsing thru an old family owned hardware store in Nth Fitzroy, my older daughter chanced upon a Fowlers Vacola Bottling Set, covered in dust and a price tag that wouldn't have surprised me had it been in pounds shillings and pence! The owners were selling up and let her have it for $50....(and that included extra bottles and clips!) It made her day as she's a bottling fiend from way back. Her pantry is stacked with bottled produce from her garden, (fruits & veg) jams, pickles, lemon curd, sugo to name but a few, and her friends love her gifts at Christmas...(you're sooo clever they say and rave on ad finitum)... She's my girl!

neil said...

We're sitting on the back deck of a B & B with the most amazing gardens. There is large patch of broadbeans which are still so young you can eat the pod and all. Saves a lot of work.

Ran said...

sounds like how my mum makes it except we dont even pod the broad beans we just the cook up the whole thing and eat it like a dip. im still waiting for mine to be harvested. cant be long now

maybe grow tomatoes? or corn. Im gooing to try okra and see if it can grow in Melbourne.

mary said...

Buy a Fowlers Vacola set if you can lay your hands on one. Mine came with a book on preserving which is great. You can often pick up the bottles, clips and lids at op shops too although I always buy new rings at the hardware store. They are the best for making your own tomato passata and can be used to bottle apricots, plums, peaches, figs etc. perfect when you need a quick dessert and much better than the canned stuff.

Note to Ran: Have successfully grown okra in the Yarra Valley but you need a whole lot of plants to get enough ripe at one time to use.

kitchen hand said...

Selena, my rosemary died last year in the heatwave. don't be discouraged.

White Dove, you trained your daughter well.

Neil, I sometimes cook them in the pod.

Ran, okra sounds good. It's expensive to buy.

Mary, I think my mother still has her Fowler's cookbook.