Food for Body and Soul

Deborah Madison explains how growing her own ingredients makes mealtime truly nourishing.

By Deborah Madison


Grow Your Own!
We seem to be in a collective state of anxiety about our food. Knowing that trucks and planes must roll and fly if you are to eat, and seeing the rising prices at the pump, you may suspect that there's a downside to your long-distance food and that food could get very costly. You might well wonder if indeed it makes sense to fly a few ounces of easily grown arugula from one end of the country to the other in indestructible plastic clamshells.

Should you rely on Big Organic, or support local farmers? Shop at high-end groceries, or at Wal-Mart? Are expensive organic vegetables as pure and wholesome as the stores would have us b Ask elieve? yourself any of these questions, and you might be tempted to throw up your hands and say, "Forget it, I'm growing my own!"

And that would be a good idea.

Whether you are a seasoned gardener or a neophyte, I'm confident that the most important reason you have for filling your backyard with trellises, hills, and beds for vegetables is that growing your own leads you to an experience—first of all, of real food; but also of your connection to the earth, the seasons, the weather, and other people.

You may have started gardening to correct problems in your own world, but the correction has surely enlarged your life, putting you right there where Jonathan Raban was when he sailed along the British coast, looking for signs that would tell him where he was. Garden, and you know where you are.

The signs a garden gives us to look at are many. Is the soil hard and dry with drought, or moist and full of worms? Did the lettuces sprout a month earlier than usual? Was it that late-spring rainstorm that kept the pollinators away from the fruit blossoms so that this will be a year without fruit, or was it that untimely freeze?

Be in the garden, and you learn firsthand about the large and subtle shifts in the world around you—about climate change and global warming, about migration and survival, and about the astonishing ability of tender seedlings to push out of rough ground each year and grow.

Ultimately, your garden gives you a real experience of plenty and even diversity. Your garden gives you tasty little fennel and beet thinnings to add to a salad, or tiny zucchini attached to big yellow blossoms that are begging for fillings. Creeping purslane nourishes you with good omega-3s, and your luscious purple amaranth sprouts make a gorgeous garnish, as will the violet sage blossoms.

Imagine having enough sorrel to use it by the fistful, instead of having to buy just eight sad leaves at a time. At last you can make a stupendous sorrel soup. You may discover that cauliflower greens are delicious, and that those small heads that come on at the end of the season lend great charm to a meal. A lovage leaf for your sandwich? No problem if you have a plant. Same with chive blossoms scattered on ricotta cheese or arugula sprouts adding bite and charm to a hard-cooked egg.