I hope by recounting my own kitchen garden experiences I will encourage you to think of how you can start gardening. Remember, regardless of where you live and how much land you have around you, you can grow at least some of your own food. Just do it! - Stephanie Alexander
From the author of one of Australia's best loved cooking bibles, The Cook's Companion, comes the Kitchen Garden Companion, a guide to harvesting your own ingredients and transforming them into delicious meals. For anyone who has ever dreamed of picking fresh salad leaves for the evening meal, gathering vine-ripened tomatoes or pulling up your own sweet carrots, this is the ultimate book. Follow in the footsteps of one of Australia's best-loved cooks and food writers as she reveals the secrets and rewards of kitchen gardening.
The Kitchen Garden Companion includes detailed gardening notes that explain how to plant, grow and harvest 73 different vegetables, herbs and fruit, and 250 recipes that will transform this fresh produce into nutritious meals. Whether using a large plot in a suburban backyard or a few pots on a balcony, readers will find everything they need to get started in this inspiring and eminently useful garden-to-table guide.
Review: Stephanie Alexander is inspirational, her recipes sensational and easy to replicate. In the biggest book I've seen for a while, Stephanie Alexander's 'Kitchen Garden Companion' makes a wonderful present, as she shares her experience from garden to kitchen to table. Exceptional!
Stephanie Alexander ran the acclaimed Stephanie's restaurant for 21 years and was a partner in the popular Richmond Hill Café & Larder for eight years. Stephanie was awarded an Order of Australia in 1994 for her contribution to hospitality. In 2000 she became involved in initiating and promoting a primary school kitchen garden program in the belief that the earlier children learn about food through example and positive experience, the better their food choices will be through life. Stephanie is now a director and board member of the not-for-profit Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation, which supports kitchen garden school programs throughout Australia. She is the author of numerous food and recipe books, including The Cook's Companion, one of Australia's best loved and most popular cookbooks ever.
Kitchen Garden Companion
Author: Stephanie Alexander
Tell us a bit about Kitchen Garden Companion:
Stephanie Alexander: The books basic aim is to encourage families to at least consider growing a little bit of their own food or a lot depending on how much space they have got. Also it aims to try and involve the whole family in some of the food preparation and certainly involve the whole family in eating together and enjoying the delicious food.
It is certainly not chef food, it contains dishes that the whole family can make, and that really celebrate the things you grow in the garden or buy from the local farmers market; or fresh produce you have got from a friend and doing it in a way that is really manageable for people. The idea is to celebrate fresh food and seasonal food and doing it in a way that is really manageable and that people can cope with.
Why do you think ingredients from your own garden improve the cooking experience?
Stephanie Alexander: It is because they are fresh. There is no question about that. You pick them, just at the moment of perfection; they don't have to travel, sit on a shelf in a fruit and veggie shop or a supermarket, or sit under harsh light, or maybe even stay there for two days or longer before they are purchased. I think when you taste one that you've grown opposed to one you have bought the difference is quite stunning!
Is it still possible to grow vegetables if you have a tiny yard, kids and pets?
Stephanie Alexander: Well, there are some things you can't grow if you have a tiny backyard, but you can grow some in flower pots in the sun. There are quite a lot of things you can grow still; you can grow cherry tomatoes, you could grow a small fruit tree or herbs, or salad greens, rocket, you could grow one capsicum plant, or an egg-plant plant. There is still a lot you can do. My advice for someone who has a very small amount of space, would be if you are only going to put in two pots, choose to grow something you really love. Something like a cherry tomato can be a fantastic thing to have, they are great for kids to graze on as they walk past and they usually crop heavily so you get plenty of cherry tomatoes.
Pets are not normally likely to be a problem, especially if you grow your food in pots, unless you have an enormous dog, the normal small-house dog won't get terribly excited by a flower pot.
I think if you are encouraging kids to actually plant the seedlings themselves, providing they are old enough to understand the concept that it needs to grow and that it takes time to grow, so about 4 years old, you won't have them pulling the plant up to see if there is anything on the plant. On the whole, when kids get to do it, they get very excited about it by themselves. It's 'their cherry tomato' or 'their lettuce' or 'their radishes'. Of course the most enjoyable thing of a child is that their mother, or father or grandparents also values this activity.
What is your favourite thing about cooking?
Stephanie Alexander: I think it is the sense of achievement. I feel as excited as I'm sure a child does. I like going out of the late afternoon and saying "Ahuh! Ripe. That lettuce is ready, or there are another handful of snow peas I can gather." Growing your own ingredients is a really primal sense of providing for myself. I think children definitely feel great, if you are in a family situation you can say "James grew those beans" and "David grew these". Your child will swell with pride and they will certainly eat their beans!
What is your favourite recipe in Kitchen Garden Companion?
Stephanie Alexander: I couldn't possible say, I couldn't choose one! I would just have to say what it really makes me and other people do if they are growing some stuff, they can only grow what is in season. So, at the moment in my garden I know there is the first of the artichokes appearing. I like those; I would just pick one of them, boil it and have it with some melted butter or with tomato-type vinaigrette. That is probably a little bit unusual, a lot of people don't grow artichokes but that just happens to be in my garden at the moment. On the other hand I could also make a green salad with a beautiful lettuce; I'd put a bit of goats cheese in it, or radish, and bits of pieces of crotons in it or something. If I had a young child with me, I'd ask the young child to make the dressing, and then help toss the salad so they would get the idea.
Do you have one overall cooking tip you can share with us?
Stephanie Alexander: I suppose the fact that a lot of your home grown vegetables cook very quickly. So, those who say they don't have time to cook, I disbelieve that. I can pick a carrot from my garden, slice it finely, toss it in a pan with a tiny bit of cooking oil and water, put the lid on and it will be ready to eat in less than 5 minutes.