In Our Little Garden
It’s just a little patch but we love it. It’s green, everything’s organically grown and we do get quite a bit from there to put on our table. Summer in Pune, the city we live in – three hours away from Bombay, India’s commercial capital – is dry and scorching. So it’s only the larger trees that survive – everything else becomes brown and dry. Fortunately, that lasts for just two months of the year. Then comes the rain in June, armed with a palette of the most incredible shades of green. Almost overnight, there’s a miraculous change and we wake up to a garden that has been painted with hues no human can match! The very air changes – filled with moisture, Nature’s great refresher….. and it’s time to plant and to reap.
We have a bit of this and a bit of that. My husband, who hates the ‘manicured’ look when it comes to gardens, loves it when everything springs up lush and full of life. We have a gardener who thinks the same – I swear I’ve heard him singing to the plants! So let me take you on a tour, to be followed in a few days with some of my favourite recipes using what we get from our little garden.
A banana plant bears fruit only once. Once the bunch of bananas is cut, you need to cut down the plant. The great thing is, there are always three or four young trees that grow around the root so the garden always has a surfeit of banana plants. They need a lot of water. Everything can be used – from the leaves which people used to eat on – now used only in traditional wedding feasts, the flower which you find at the end of the bunch, the bananas themselves, both raw and ripe and the centre of the stem.
Overflowing with Passion
Passion fruits hang in bunches like orbs – green at first, then a wonderful yellow. The flowers are lovely and the pulp inside is a bright yellow-orange. The plant is a creeper and you get quite a lot of fruits from one plant with a sweet-tart taste. It hardly needs any looking after – just a fence or tree to grow on. There’s a lot you can do with passion fruits.
Custard Apple Treat
The fruits from our garden may be smaller than the ones we get at the stores but they are also sweeter. Not everyone likes to eat this fruit because it means ploughing through so many seeds. If you have the patience, you’ll find that it really is a delicacy. They’re best eaten when they are slightly soft to the touch. They’re great in desserts too.
Pink with Pomegranate
This tree needs a lot of sun and you get plenty of fruit from a fairly small-sized tree. Our fruits don’t have the smooth look you see in the shop stores but they taste wonderful and can be used in so many ways.
Papaya – packed with nutrition
The fruits have just begun to appear and we’re hoping we get a good crop this year. Both the raw and the ripe papayas are used – one in curries, the other usually as a breakfast fruit. It is said to be a great digestive.
They’re known as sapotas in most other countries but here in India we call them chikkoos. They can be eaten as fruit or pureed and used to make fruit shakes and desserts. You should wait till they are fully ripe when they are sweet and delicious.
The flavour of Bayleaf
Some use them fresh, most dry them a bit and use them as a flavouring. All one needs to do is to cut a small branch, leave it in the sun for two days, take out the leaves and store them. The Indian bayleaf is used extensively in curry powders and in biryanis.
I don’t know what these spinach-like greens are called – all I know is that they are great in soups, as a vegetable dish and in salads. The leaves are slightly fleshly, the flowers are a lovely delicate lilac.
The other greens that we love are the leaves of a creeper called Ceylon spinach. We use a lot of the leaves in cooking. They’re great as a snack too – dipped in batter and deep-fried.
Drumming with Drumsticks
The drumstick or Moringa tree supplies us with so much more than something to put on the table. While drumsticks (they really do look like drumsticks!) make a great vegetable, the leaves are used to make a vegetable dish. More than that, the leaves are very useful to get rid of a fever especially in a flu attack. A decoction of the leaves is used as a preventive as well as to treat flu. Almost every part of the tree is used by traditional medicine practitioners.
Seasoning with Curryleaves
It’s what we use to temper our curries. A few leaves and a few mustard seeds. It has medicinal properties and is said to stave off infection.
The awesome Neem
We let the leaves that fall be – they’re the best pesticide ever. Skin irritation? Wash with an infusion of neem leaves. Dogs with bad breath? Give them a twig of neem to chew on – it also prevents worms. Put a few leaves in the rice or lentils you store and in cupboards to keep bugs away.
Some of the plants we grow are seasonal. Okra or lady’s fingers, eggplant or brinjal, tomatoes, lemongrass, fenugreek, turmeric, ginger, bitter gourd, lemons,mangoes, coriander, beans.
It’s great to be able to get so much from this little patch of ours. With the homes around us coming down and huge apartment blocks being built in their place, will our little corner last? One can’t tell. To live hemmed in by ten and twelve storey apartment high rises is not very appealing. Till that happens, though, we’ll just go on enjoying all the goodies from our garden.