Early September is harvest time for gardeners and the most proactive among us are picking up the pickling jar and getting to work.
If you are among the many people who did not plant vegetables, your local farmers’ market or pick-your-own vegetable farm will have a wealth of raw material for the health-oriented foodie.
The recent Greenbelt Farmers’ Market Network Research Study tells us a lot about ourselves, at least, those of us who shop at farmers’ markets. For instance:
• Shopping at local farmers’ markets leads to consuming both higher volumes of vegetables and fruit and a wider variety of them.
• Two thirds of people who shop at farmers’ markets say they experiment more with produce, which results in healthier meals. I eat more healthy food from my own garden as many of the vegetables are a result of my ‘success’ there. Swiss chard is a good example: I had not even tasted the stuff until it exploded out of the ground.
• Farmers’ market shoppers are more inclined to bring their kids to the market than supermarket shoppers are. They are motivated to expose them to healthy, locally grown food. More than half of these kids are willing to try new foods.
• As many as 85 per cent of shoppers are inspired to eat seasonally, which leads to different buying and cooking patterns. In winter, the same shoppers buy what stores sell.
Grow Your Own?
If you invested in the sowing and tilling of a vegetable garden this summer, you are in luck. Your tomatoes are reaching their peak in late summer and fall.
There is a tendency, however, to overlook many of the edible flowering plants that perform well this time of year. Here are a few to help you beef up your daily quotient of greens while exploring some new taste sensations.
Pot Marigold Calendula
A few hundred years ago, the petals were used to add colour to cheese. Now it is recognized for its high carotene content, the antioxidant nutrient found in carrots and squash. For colour and nutrition, add half a cup of finely cut-up petals to two cups of rice. Because they love sun and tolerate a great deal of early frost, you don’t have to kiss your crop goodbye as soon as the first frost arrives.
They creep around your perennial garden, possibly at the base of your roses. You may hate their aggressive growth habit but they are a popular herb. The leaves are a tasty addition to many meals and beverages. Sprinkle cut leaves on fresh fruit, ice cream, or add some of the flowers to the frosting on a cake.
This may be the easiest to grow and the most overlooked edible flowering plant on this list. Every part of the plant is edible and the flower is now famous as a colourful garnish wherever a peppery flavour is favoured. Salads, salad dressing, vinegar, in cakes with a creamcheese frosting, or add petals to pasta dishes. The seeds also produce a peppery flavour that store well in a jar with vinegar.
Nasturtiums grow best in an open soil and bright sunshine. I grow them from seed for best results. Water frequently as they don’t like to dry out: leaves turn yellow and eventually the plant will collapse. Sometimes they will self-sow for another crop the following year.
It might surprise you that every garden-variety rose is a salad enhancer. Add colour and a unique flavour to anything green by adding some rose petals. The best for this purpose are the shrub-type varieties.
In bloom in your garden and at the aforementioned farmers’ markets right now, they are inexpensive and edible. Use the flower petals to dress up a steak hot off the barbecue or to enhance the appearance and taste of a salad.
If ever there was a time to experiment and challenge your taste buds, this is it. Harvest season comes but once a year.
Mark Cullen appears on Canada AM every Wednesday morning at 8:40. He is spokesperson for Home Hardware Lawn and Garden. Sign up for his free monthly newsletter at markcullen.com