Homegrown vegetables for a chef's kitchen
The property Nicola Galloway and her husband Holger bought in central Nelson a decade or so ago boasted grapevines and numerous fruit trees, including figs, greengages, the white-fleshed peach 'Wiggins' ("It's so delicious, I can't eat any other peach now") and a 30-year-old apricot tree that could be relied on to produce a 50-plus kilo harvest each year. It was, admits Nicola, a little overwhelming. "To begin with I simply didn't know what to do with all that fruit," she says. "I gave a lot away and sadly plenty rotted on the ground."
It was when she was pregnant with her first child Mika (now seven; she also has five-year-old Teo) that her nesting instinct kicked in and she started trying to preserve the garden's bounty. "Actually, I went a bit nuts buying Agee jars in op shops. And because I was preserving food that might be eaten by this unborn baby and because I knew it was a good idea to be careful with sugar in a baby's first year, I started to try preserving with less sugar and none at all where possible. And it turned out that tasted plenty sweet enough for us, so I still preserve that way."
Although she moved onto the 800sqm section with virtually no gardening experience, the plan has always been to start growing their own, and she established her first no-dig vege bed in their second year on the property (she now has 30sqm of growing space, about a quarter of which is inside the glasshouse that Holger, a builder, upcycled from old windows).
There were some hits and misses as she worked out what could cope with the conditions. Tomatoes, peppers and other heat-lovers struggled in the shaded valley (hence the glasshouse), but spinach, silverbeet, parsley and coriander thrived. Now she produces a large number of the veges her family eats.
Growing her own has really changed the way this trained chef and nutritionist thinks about food. "What's in the garden comes first," she says. "I harvest what I can, and then I plan our meals. I remember before I started growing veges, I'd go to the supermarket and buy tomatoes, cucumber, lettuce and broccoli every week. Now we eat what's in season."
They've taken out some of those original fruit trees, but they've planted more too – most recently two avocado trees ("Friends down the road have a productive avocado, so we just have to get our trees through the first few winters"). Now there are 35 fruiting plants on the property, mainly heirloom varieties. "I find the flavours are better for preserving."
Nicola's fourth cookbook, Homegrown Kitchen (named after her popular blog), focuses on creating wholesome food using fresh, seasonal ingredients. While many recipes use little or no sugar, Nicola isn't anti-sugar or aiming to be sugar-free. "I just suggest you use the least amount of it you can so it still tastes good." People are often surprised to find you can preserve food with little or even no sugar, says Nicola. "But you can, provided you're scrupulous about sterilising your jars and proper preserving techniques."
For many years, Nicola has hosted workshops on food and nutrition in the Nelson area, but increasingly, she says, her focus in on teaching people to simply cook. "All this talk of paleo and vegan diets is almost missing the point of what healthy eating is about. Just cook good food that tastes good."
- NZ Gardener