I embark to rediscover the beauty of home-grown food
Earlier in my life, picking broad beans and digging potatoes was a family affair in our household. I have fond memories of days spent with my brother and grandparents at the fields. Seasons dictated our duties. In summer, we spent balmy late afternoons twisting balls of melon and watermelon until they gently part with the vine and collecting them in crates. In spring, we would be pulling at the pods from long rows of tall broad bean crops, digging down with the three-prong fork and lifting up forkfuls of potatoes or soaking courgette plants.
As my grandparents grew older and the tough agricultural jobs became too much for them to handle our home-grown fruit and vegetable fare elapsed. Gone were the days when the abundance of broad beans made us eat kosksu every other day, or when their refreshing smell impelled us to feast upon numerous slices of crusty Maltese bread smeared with tomato paste and spotted with these pale green beans.
These nostalgic memories, spun around childhood and food, were acutely revived during my recent outing with a long-time friend. Off we were to spend some hours with his father, Nazzareno, at their field, which enjoys magnificent views of the barren islet of Filfla in the South West of Malta and a multi coloured panorama of the Maltese countryside. In this peaceful and remote area, where you can forget all about the stresses and strains of the daily hustle and bustle, I was overwhelmed with recollections. Easily rekindled by the buzzing sounds of the bees as they approach to rest on yellow sorrel flowers, the earthy smell of the soil as you thread on it, and the explosion of bright greenness, alternating with stretches of pale yellow straw and wine coloured silla flowers, occasionally dotted with the red of ordinary poppies and sun-brilliant yellow marigolds.
At this time of year, the surface of the fields is a mine of gold for food lovers. This season brings on a luscious selection of vegetables which with their versatility are a source of inspiration in the kitchen and whiff in fresh, warm aromas and flavours after the cold and humid winter. Nazzareno, a tradition embracing and benevolent gentleman, guides me around the crops explaining some crop rotation techniques and the use of natural fertilisers. Proudly, I realise that I could still identify many of the crops, thanks to my precious agricultural adventures with my grandfather.
Broad beans, peas, artichokes, garlic, onions and potatoes are the yield of the hard work of Nazzareno who accepts no compromises and tenders the crops with resilience and dedication. He gladly invests time and energy to provide synthetic pesticide-free provisions for his family and friends. Certainly, the work of a farmer is no walk in the park. The backbreaking work and the dependence on the weather make it hard to understand why people like Nazzareno not only enjoy this unprofitable job but are so passionate about it too. Yet, the reward comes if the yield is abundant and the crops remain healthy. Moreover, being closer to this natural process is part of the well-being of Nazzareno.
Undoubtedly, home-grown food is tastier and fresher than any other you buy from supermarkets or grocer shops. As I pick up broad beans and pop them into my mouth, skin and all, I find their taste irresistibly bittersweet. The earlier the pods are picked the sweeter is the harvest. Same goes for peas; they are best eaten as soon as picked otherwise the sugar in them turns into starch within few hours. You can always freeze any pea and broad bean surplus after lightly blanching them; they will retain their original taste and nutrients.
Growing your own produce may be a demanding assignment yet returning home with a bagful of freshly picked and seasonal ingredients which end up on your plate is particularly rewarding especially on your taste buds. It surely tastes better, it’s fresh, and you know exactly what’s into it!