“The pleasant hours of our life are all connected by a more or less tangible link with some memory of the table.” Charles Pierre Monselet (1825-1888).
My Tea Towel Blog has been about recording the memories triggered by a particular tea towel; I’m always amazed at the way my tea towels are often linked with food in some way, which triggers memories from the past. It’s like reliving those original experiences, and maybe prompting me to seek out further experiences. I am very lucky to to have been given this tea towel by Stuart Gardiner because it links my love of good quality food, home grown fruit and vegetables and, of course, my passion for tea towels.
When the post arrived the other day, I opened the envelope with this tea towel in it, very excited; I hadn’t seen this one before but one brief look immediately told me that this was a Stuart Gardiner tea towel. His style is so distinctive. I just wonder how he came up with the idea that you could create a tea towel that could contain so much information; let’s face it, not just one tea towel but a whole range. This must be a man with an eye for detail and precision. Besides the fact that this is a 100% organic cotton tea towel, hemmed on all four sides plus a very neat hook to hang it up by, the first thing that stands out are the colours: there is a bright red and blue framework with the months of the year down one side and, across the top, 74 columns of fruit and vegetables (I know, I am sad; I counted the columns). The use of the stark, contrasting red and blue, alternating, means that it is much easier to read and cross-reference the columns. The columns indicate the months that each of the fruit and vegetables are in season; this is illustrated by ‘dinky’ little illustrations of vegetable and fruit in appropriate colours e.g. Carrots are orange, strawberries are red, blueberries are purple, cabbages are green and each of those illustrations are a detailed representation. If you didn’t look at the top of the column to see what the vegetables were, you could tell from the pictures; the rocket is perfect, the chard so accurate. It’s so clever. This is what I mean about an ‘eye for detail’. This is the sort of tea towel I love; I don’t believe in using tea towels to hang on the wall but if I did, this would be the one. It would go well with a large framed poster I have in the kitchen of herbs that can be grown in the garden. This tea towel would be very useful in planning your own self-sufficiency, from home grown produce.
Personally, I like seasonality of fruit and vegetables. I like home-grown produce. What this tea towel clearly demonstrates, at a single glance, is that it is perfectly possible to be self-sufficient, in Britain, throughout the year, in both fruit and vegetables. There are no months where it isn’t possible to grow and harvest fruit and vegetables; with the use of a good freezer you can be well supplied. My keywords are eat fresh, freeze, pickle, make jam and crumble; this is my way forward. Although we have a reasonable sized garden, I do not consider that we are avid gardeners; however, looking at the tea towel, I realise that we produce quite a lot of vegetables and fruit without too much hard work. If I can do it, anyone can. Blackcurrents and red currents are bountiful; in the main, we cook these directly they are picked and then freeze them. (A bit like the old Birds Eye peas advert!). In reality, they provide enough fruit to keep us in crumble throughout the year; additionally, this is supplemented by blueberries, gooseberries and rhubarb. Damsons and plums are used for jam. Strawberries and raspberries are eaten fresh. I do have a medlar tree (not on this chart!!) which produces fruits; I think these are scary fruits, so I give them to Liz K who makes great medlar jelly.
I have tried to grow asparagus for a number of years with absolutely no success but it is one of my favourite vegetables; if you look at the tea towel there is only a short harvesting season. I like the seasonality of asparagus; I don’t want to buy asparagus from Peru in November. There is an asparagus farm near where I live and I look out for, with mounting excitement, in early May, the A-Boards saying that they have started harvesting. For between six and eight weeks, I will eat fresh asparagus and make sure that we make enough asparagus soup for the freezer. The freshness of the asparagus gives it a great flavour, always better than asparagus that has a huge carbon footprint.
The greenhouse at the bottom of the garden grows tomatoes, cucumbers, chillies and peppers; there is nothing like a homegrown cucumber. Growing them at home means a much wider variety of cucumbers, often more flavoursome than those available from the supermarkets. I really like the small cucumbers, they have a lovely taste. I like being able to pick a cucumber that will serve one meal and not have to hang around the fridge for days on end because it is ‘supermarket large’. Similarly, if you go into the greenhouse today there is a wonderful smell of flowering tomato plants and basil growing in pots; it gives you that feeling of excitement that fruit will be available soon and salads will be livelier, tomato sauce will be ready for pasta and homemade pizza, both available for eating fresh and for delayed pleasure by putting them in the freezer. One of my favourite raised beds holds the rocket, beetroot, radishes, lettuce and fennel. Not only is it very attractive to look at, but it produces great salads and, together with chard, can be planted on a sequential basis to extend the growing season.
I love the promise of courgettes, butternut squash and pumpkins; they are such beautiful vegetables, with a range of colours, sometimes you don’t want to pick them, just leave on the plant to admire. Can’t say that I would want to eat any of them as straight vegetables but as soups they are a wonderful addition to the larder: courgette and potato is probably my absolute favourite. Onions, potatoes, leeks, garlic and shallots are all good staples in the garden. Several years ago we decided that we would not attempt to grow brassicas; the stress of fighting the Cabbage White Butterfly takes away some of the pleasure of growing your own vegetables. I can remember trying to put the netting across the raised beds and always finding that gap that enabled the Cabbage White to decimate the crop; or sitting in the early evening, picking off the caterpillars and knowing this was a true losing battle but nevertheless attempting the impossible. Runner beans, French beans and mangetout are very ‘hit and miss’ in our garden. We decided some time ago, to ‘give it a go’ each year, trying to grow them and just to wait and see if the slugs have the upper hand. Slug pelletts are not an option where you have animals and we have tried all those deterrents recommended by gardeners – grit and sharp sand round the base of the plants, beer to drown the little beasties, copper tape. We might have stopped one or two slugs but not the marauding hoards. You can’t worry about everything in the garden or you will get no pleasure from it.
When I reflect on the gardening year, with the help of the tea towel, I realise we do quite well out of the garden, without too much stress. The main thing is trying to live with seasonality and the nearer that we can do that the happier we are. Of course, there is the added pleasure of being able to ‘swop’ any excess produce with other gardeners; fortunately, we don’t all grow the same, successfully.
When the tea towel first arrived, I did think ‘Lyn and Rob would like that’; Rob is a very keen gardener, does great broccoli, parsnips and potatoes. We did try parsnips in the raised beds, only to find that the roots were so deep that we could not pull them out. I had to resort to climbing on a three foot high raised bed to try and lift them. Even that was not fully successful. But having written about this tea towel, I can’t very well give it away as a Christmas Present because they would know where it came from and I really do like it. Sorry Lyn and Rob. But thanks to Stuart Gardiner who has given me this opportunity to reflect on my own garden and what I might do to improve it. Thanks also for having the opportunity to look at, and own, a really great tea towel with a huge amount of detail, a true work of art.
Click below to return to the Virtual Tea Towel Museum