There is a Part II to gardening that often gets forgotten. It demands attention and yet is scarcely mentioned in the gardening community. It is: How to use the vegetables after they get picked and need to be eaten. Sure, most of us know how to nibble on cherry tomatoes and enjoy some steamed peas but I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about using those vegetables for your everyday cooking and knowing how to do that with confidence.
I remember the first few years of growing a garden. I had a bounty of homegrown vegetables but I didn’t know how to use them efficiently. Often I would pick the vegetables only to watch them rot on the counter. Don’t get me wrong, we did eat plenty of them. But too much of the food went to waste even after giving lots to neighbors and friends.
The craziest part was that even though I had all this homegrown food, I was still going to the grocery store to buy vegetables. Instead of replacing the food I bought from the grocery store with garden produce, I was only supplementing it.
And the funny thing is it wasn’t just a problem I was having. I was seeing it among some of my friends. I noticed the same discrepancy between what they grew in their garden and what was on their table.
I went to a friends house and they had a veggie tray they bought from the grocery store and yet they had cherry tomatoes and sweet peppers just outside in their garden. Another friend had carrots from the grocery store in the refrigerator yet they had a garden full of vegetables outside.
I’m not trying to make out buying food from the store when you have a garden as a shameful thing. Truly, having a garden at all is so awesome! What a great step toward health and self sufficiency! However, I do believe closing the gap from your garden to your table can be done more effectively. You could be shopping entirely from your garden for all your vegetable needs and saving money while you’re at it!
Why then is it so difficult to transition from buying from the store to shopping from the garden? I have a few reasons why I believe this happens.
First, you grow things you wouldn’t normally eat. For me, this was swiss chard. I had never had it before and I was entranced by the colorful stalks on the seed package. When it came time to eat it, I didn’t like it very much. And unfortunately, no one else in my family liked it either. It is good to try new vegetables, but to start out, I would stick to what you know you like to eat.
The second reason is that most of us are used shopping for food differently. Here is the usual routine: Pick several recipes for the week, write down ingredients for a grocery list and go buy exactly what you need. When you have a garden, you have to do it the opposite way. Produce ingredients are already picked out for you, then you need to pick or create recipes from what you have.
It takes quite a bit of rethinking how you cook to prioritize your homegrown food first. You look at a counter of tomatoes, a bowl full of squash and think, “How am I going to use these for dinner?” Or if you have been already eating them for two weeks, you say, “I am so sick of tomatoes and squash!” Trust me, I have been there. The trick is to have a plan. Two years ago, I set a goal to eat only the vegetables from my garden for a whole year. We made it just over 10 months. Do I consider it a failure? NO WAY! That year completely changed my thinking about how to use my garden and my cooking.
This year, even though it wasn’t a set goal, I still used the vegetables from my garden first because it was a habit, not only for me but for my family too. I don’t think everyone needs to or can go a whole year off only their homegrown food. You may set a goal based on the size of your garden and family. Can you go 1 month only eating vegetables from your garden in the summer? Set a goal to get you jump started into remembering to go to your garden FIRST.
The next step is the recipe organization. When I was shopping at the grocery store for produce, I didn’t make up my own recipes very often and didn’t have much experience with it. Because of my lack of experience, I opted to reorganize the recipes I already had.
The result was that I went through everyone of my favorite recipe books and looked at what vegetables they used. I categorized each recipe by main or most used vegetable. Then I wrote the source and page number of the recipe so I knew exactly where to go. Last I wrote other needed ingredients in the recipe.
So if I have tomatoes and squash available in the garden, I can go to my tomatoes page and find a recipe with other ingredients that includes squash. Sometimes I don’t have all the needed vegetables only most. That’s where the bit of creativity comes in to play to complete the recipe. I have several recipes for each individual vegetable so I don’t get sick of eating the same meal. Even if tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, and green beans is all we have available in July, I still have 20 different meals I could choose from.
I have a free download for you guys to help you! It includes 13 pages of different vegetables so you can organize your recipes.
You can add your own favorite recipes to my free printable. Go through all your recipe books and your favorite pins. Select recipes that use lots of fresh ingredients, especially ones you know your family loves. The trick is to do this now, before the overwhelm of the garden vegetables.
At the start of each week in spring, summer, and fall, I go out to the garden and assess what I have. Then I make a menu plan for a week based what vegetables and fruits are available. Once you change your mindset and have your recipes organized by vegetable it’s very easy to meal plan for the week.
After your use your garden produce in your everyday meals, if you still have extra then you preserve the harvest for later. I have four main ways I preserve: Freezing, Fermenting, Dehydration, and Canning.
Coming this summer, I’m going to create guides on each of these preservation methods to help you use your garden to it’s fullest. I’ll also be sharing some of my favorite recipes and continue to share my garden tips and tutorials. After all, in order to get to part II of gardening (Garden to Table) you need to master the gardening part! :)
I hope you feel inspired to eat what you already have in your garden. Making the most of the garden produce from your backyard has so many benefits- gaining health, saving money, and a sense of joy from becoming self sufficient. You will not regret the extra effort to eat Garden to Table.
Psst… If you know someone this post would help, I’d love for you to share it with them!