Vegeculture: Further Rethinking How We Eat

Sharon September 15th, 2007

In his book _African-American Gardens and Yards in the Rural South_, Richard Westmacott notes that a good bit of Southern African American agricultural practice derives from West African and Caribbean practices of “vegeculture” as opposed to European style-seed agriculture. The term, coined by D.B. Grigg in his classic _Agricultural Systems of the World_ is based primarily on root crops, including manioc, sweet potatoes, yams, taro, arrowroot, and in cooler climates was adapted to potatoes as well.

Vegeculture has several advantages over grain culture. For example, you don’t have to till up a lot of ground at once, since these crops are adapted to “patch” culture. They often can be stored in the ground and dug up as needed, and can tolerate being integrated with perennial tree plantings. The tradition of planting in patches and leaving grown fallow to restore fertility in West Africa translated well in slave garden in the US and Caribbean islands because such gardens often had to be hidden. Often slave and later share-croppers had only hilly or otherwise difficult to use land, which is best served by being kept in perennial or semi-perennial root crops. Because slaves and tenant farmers had very little time to work their land, they needed high yielding crops that could provide nutrition and caloric density together.

In her essay “They have Saturdays and Sundays to Feed Themselves: Slave Gardens in the Caribbean,” Lydia Pulsipher observes that there is considerable evidence that islands that included many slave gardens didn’t suffer the classic malnutrition of slavery. In fact, the available data on the history of produce sales by slaves (who sold their surpluses to both white and black customers), suggests that white people were considerably healthier on islands that had large numbers of slave gardens. The implication seems to be that the starchy, vegetable poor diet of Europeans on these islands was significantly inferior to the vegetable rich, nutrient rich diet of the slaves, and the influence of slave gardens improved the European seed diet enormously (probably to the less-than-total delight of the slaves themselves).

As I was reading these various sources, tracked back from Westmacott’s fascinating book, I also read The Community Solution’s latest bulletin, which among other things observes that only 2.5% of American agricultural land produces vegetables, fruits and nuts. The other 97.5% is largely devoted to the production of grains and seeds for things like feeding livestock, feeding cars (ethanol and biodiesel) and transformation into processed food.

What struck me about this is how small an impact we would on the industrial agricultural juggernaut even if we were able to replace every single vegetable, fruit and nut we eat with locally, sustainably produced produce. That is, if we are looking to home production to help end the tragic power of industrial food production with its heavy greenhouse gas outputs, water consumption and soil degradation, we need to start thinking in terms of producing more of our total calories at home. Growing our lettuce and tomatoes is a good start, but the next step is a return to home production of calorically dense foods, and to that, I am more and more convinced that vegeculture is part of the answer.

Now the majority of that 97.5% of agricultural land is producing feed for meat, so obviously, and as I’ve said before, we simply must stop eating feedlot animal products – period, no negotiation. All of us need to eat less meat altogether, but also must, if we continue to eat meat at all, choose better sources of grassfed local or home produced protein.

Now most of us, in our city lots and suburban yards, will not be raising a lot of animal products. That doesn’t mean we can’t grow some. But if we are to get more of our calories from our own yards and from local farmers wherever we are, we need to choose high-nutrition, calorically dense, satisfying foods. Right now, as Michael Pollan has documented, Americans eat mostly corn, either as meat or highly processed foods. And it is hurting us. Although our lifespans recently inched up to 78, that’s still several years behind other rich nations, while costing us twice as much. Quality of life in later years has fallen steadily over the last few years.

We simply have to change our diets, and eat more whole foods. We also have no choice but to live off a much smaller amount of agricultural land. In a 1994 paper, David Pimmental and Mario Giampietro document the falling amount of available arable land in the US per person http://www.dieoff.org/page40.htm. Between desertification, the transformation of agricultural lands to housing and a rising population, by 2050, there will be less than half as much arable land available to feed each person in the US – a total of 0.6 acres, as opposed to the 1994 1.8 rate. The current American diet requires 1.2 acres. We cannot hope to continue deriving many of our calories from “shadow” acres in other nations, in part because it would be unethical, and in part because it is likely that China, which is right on the cusp of being unable to feed itself, will be able to outbid us. So while we may have the luxury of a considerable amount of land per person, our children will not. It would be unconscionable, however, for us not to begin to transition to living on a fair share.

Which means, if our children are to eat, we have to change the current American diet. One way we can do this by adding land to our stock of “arable” lands – that is, we can start growing food on lawns, in public parks and anywhere else we can fit it. There are millions of acres of lawn available to be transformed into food producing land, much of it in housing built on the planet’s best farmlands. And if there is to be enough food to go around, those gardens will have to include our staple crops, not just the things we grow for pleasure and flavoring.

And our farms will have to grow more calorically dense foods, suited to our particular climates. I’ve written about this before, of course, but we simply can’t go around with all Americans eating the same basic diet of french fries and soda. Not only do our diets have to become more nutritious, and not only do they have to be produced more locally, but they have to reflect local conditions, and produce as much food as possible in as small a space as possible. We have, for the last 60 years, concentrated on making land more efficient in the sense of reducing the amount of labor needed to produce food on it. It is now deeply urgent that we change our notion of efficiency, and think in terms of total calories, fiber and fertility per acre, investing more human energy, more attention to soil humus and more care into our choice of crops. We cannot simply go on growing continuous corn, and washing our remaining soil down into the Mississippi.

Traditional West African gardeners, growing food in hot, dry areas of comparatively low fertility emphasized perennial vegetable crops as their base food crops, as have many Latin American farmers. Indeed, despite their tendency to rely on grain crops, Northern Europe made much of its agricultural prosperity on the turnip, and later, the potato. Large scale root cultiv
ation enabled the milk culture of northern Europe, and there is archaeological evidence that in areas where turnips were cultivated, people grew taller and healthier than in areas where wheat and barley were emphasized. Root crops were higher yielding than grain crops, particularly when grown on a small scale. Hot weather root crops like sweet potatoes were tremendously drought tolerant and could be grown on ground of low fertility.

A few centuries later, John Jeavons at Ecology Action would pioneer an intensively grown diet for a human being based largely on calorie and nutrient dense root crops. In his book _One Circle_ David Duhon documents his life on a diet that could average less than 700 square feet, and heavily based on parsnips, potatoes and sweet potatoes. By eating these in place of grains, one could get virtually all the nutrition needed, keep full and healthy and feed four people on a single yard.

Meanwhile in Cuba, as grain imports fell, Cubans were raising more vegetables, and replacing rice and beans with sweet potatoes. In Russia, when no one could figure out why the Russian people weren’t starving to death, as wheat imports ceased, beets and potatoes provided the primary food sources to keep people alive.

While most of us would rather live on a diet slightly more varied than the one that Duhon describes in _One Circle_ what is remarkable about all of these agricultural systems is that they represent a high yielding, extremely nutritious, good tasting diet that can be produced easily by ordinary people on comparatively small pieces of land using hand tools. Hand production of potatoes, for example, outyielded corn well into the industrial age. Hand produced polycultures of one acre that emphasize roots integrated with perennial plantings a la permaculture or vegeculture and include animals to eat wastes and maintain fertility can dramatically outproduce existing monocultures of grains.

But this involves changing our diets to emphasize not seeds, but roots. That doesn’t mean we won’t eat bread or rice or other grains. But it means that most of us need to think in terms of the root crops we can easily grow as our household staples. And the perfect time to begin such a dietary adaptation is in the autumn, when roots are at their finest. Now is the time to think in terms of beets and tomatoes and carrots (where I am) and in terms of sweet potatoes and taro in hot places. By integrating vegetable proteins or very small quantities of meat with these roots, we can have sufficient protein, excellent nutrition, comparatively low levels of fat and a great deal of food satisfaction. These foods taste good.

In the spring, or in the winter for those in warm climates, we can begin to grow them as well. Of course, in most places, potatoes, onions and other roots are cheap and plentiful – it seems so much more sensible to focus in on high value vegetables like tomatoes and lettuces. But some potatoes on the ground, or sweet potatoes in the backyard not only are a source of security, they represent the beginnings of something important – an old new kind of agriculture, suited to a world in which fossil fuels must be replaced by human power, and old priorities must be replaced by the notion of a fair share.

I’ll write more later this week about what such a diet actually looks like, and I invite people here to share their favorite root crop recipes.

Shalom,

Sharon

35 Responses to “Vegeculture: Further Rethinking How We Eat”

  1. LimeSarah says:

    One of the stock things I tend to do with root vegetables is roast them all together:

    Cube the veggies into about 1-inch squares, toss with some oil (or butter), and put in a large baking pan. Cover. Cook at 400 for about 20 minutes. Uncover, stir in seasonings of your choice (I particularly like a mix of cumin, paprika, honey, lemon juice, and salt). Cover again, cook for 20 minutes or until tender — if you’re using lots of beets or rutabagas it might take another five minutes. Uncover, cook for five minutes until it starts to brown a little (sprinkling cheese on top at this stage might be really tasty). Very hearty vegetables such as cabbage work well mixed in, as does some fish, chestnuts, and probably land meat as well, but I’ve never tried that. If you add in protein it’s a complete meal.

    I feel like one important thing to remember when contemplating a more roots-based diet is that good homegrown/farm-grown potatoes *taste like potatoes*. I hadn’t realized they actually had a flavor other than “vaguely starchy”! That said, roasted veggies get boring after a while no matter how much you vary the seasonings. I’m eager to see other people’s recipes.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Not exactly root vegetables, but could I put in a word for greens? They’re another **magical** group of vegetables that has been ignored.

    Collards, kale, beet greens, and swiss chard, for example, are easy to grow and are about the most nutritious vegetables around. In our area (SF Bay Area), swiss chard grows like a weed. I grew tree collards which shot up to about seven feet and produced abundantly for years.

    They can be cooked in a number of ways. One way is to cut out the stems, place several leaves on top of one another, roll them up like a cigar, then cut in about 3/4-inch slices. You can parboil, boil, steam, put in soups, stir-fries. I like them mixed with onions, garlic and olive oil. Maybe a few little chunks of bacon.

    They may take a little while to get used to, but if prepared well they are addictive. Collards, corn bread, a little pork. Mmmm!

    P.S. Don’t throw out the ribs of Swiss Chard. In France, they are considered the best part.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Sorry, forgot to sign my name to the post about greens.

    Bart
    Energy Bulletin

  4. Amelia says:

    More farms here are opting out of growing alfalfa (too water-intensive) and going back to things like sugar beets and potatoes — a few people are getting the message.

    While working up the grocery list, I realized that we haven’t had red meat in some time: speaking only for myself, I haven’t missed it, and I was brought up in one of those families where fish was considered a vegetable!

    My son and I harvested our grapes today: only 36 pounds, but we’ll get some decent juice out of them. The figs are coming on strong, and we’ve had so many tomatoes, apples and raspberries from our neighbors — with almonds, filberts, currants, pears, walnuts and pecans to come — that I’m feeling a bit better about this winter. I’m sad that the apricots and plums didn’t do better, but I’ll swap figs with someone whose trees bore well.

  5. Robyn M. says:

    I have become a devotee of everything sweet potato/pumpkin (firmly believing that, in most recipes using the pulp, they are interchangeable according to what you’ve got on hand). By the end of preschool last year, I was in serious danger of becoming known as “the pumpkin muffin lady.” I offer a family favorite, an application not often thought of by most cooks:

    Sweet Potato Biscuits (from “A Real American Breakfast” by Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison)

    1/2 lb. sweet potatoes, cooked, mashed, and chilled
    6 Tbsp. milk
    1 1/4 C. low-gluten biscuit, pastry or all-purpose flour (or just plain old AP flour–slightly tougher biscuit, oh no.)
    2 tsp. baking powder
    1 tsp. sugar
    3/4 tsp. salt
    1/4 tsp. nutmeg
    pinch or two of cayenne
    3 Tbsp. butter, well chilled
    2 Tbsp. lard or shortening, well chilled

    Puree sweet potato with milk in food processor or blender. Sift flour, baking powder, sugar, salt nutmeg and cayenne into large bowl. Cut butter and lard into small chunks and add to dry ingredients. Combine with pastry blender until coarse meal forms (I use my food processor for this, too). Make a well in the center and pour in sweet potato mixture. With fingers and a few swift strokes, combine just until it’s a sticky mess. Turn out onto a lightly floured board or pastry cloth. Clean, dry and flour your hands. Gently pat dough and fold back over itself about 6 times, just until smooth (a bench scraper really helps here). Pat out to about 3/4 inch thick. Cover and refrigerate for about 20 minutes. Cut dough with biscuit cutter, using straight up-and-down motions (do NOT twist the cutter!). Place about 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheet. Bake at 450F for about 12-14 minutes, or until lightly browned.

    Serve any way you like! One of our favorites is with a slice of breakfast sausage, cheddar cheese, and grainy mustard. Homemade jams really shine on these, too. Mmmm. Now I just have to wait for the sweet potatoes to show up in my CSA as promised!

  6. Anonymous says:

    i grew up in post-war England – we ate alot of parsnips, swede (rutabaga) turnips carrots and beetroot, radishes. Root vegatables were central to our diet. We always ate “greens” cabbage and brussel and beet tops and leaf cabbage, spinach – my mother gave us the spinach cooking water to drink hot ! Delicious.
    Those seem to me to be the days when people were more in touch with their food.

  7. cath says:

    We roast a lot of root veggies from our CSA – we tend to mix beets, potatoes, carrots and sweet potato with lots of lemon, olive oil and rosemary. Divine.

    I also often make sweet potato soup with lots of lime, coconut milk (not 100 mile, I know, but sometimes our recipes pre-date our awareness!) and coriander.

  8. Sacheen says:

    Sharon -

    I have wanted to write this for a long time but did not want to disrupt what I consider to be the positive energy from your blog. I hope I does not do so. I want to say thank you for writing with an awareness that sustainability is not an ethnic/racial issue that will leave some behind merely because we might appear ill-equipped to adapt to a more agrarian society due to being of a certain ethinic/racial group.

    I appreciate your pieces that pull in many cultural aspects and honor those traditions along side the more dominant one. Agrarian society did not care about color of skin and rewarded hard work, determination and community no matter what form it took. I believe it will do so again.

    I have had to stop reading some PO and sustainable blogs due to a definite feeling that people of color don’t belong in the conversation and are going to be left behind in a new world order.

    Thank you very much for your inclusiveness and your encouragement to us all to begin the fight to save ourselves, our families and our planet.

    As soon as I can, I will be posting my grandmother’s sweet potato pie recipe.

    Shalom to you and yours

  9. Anonymous says:

    Oh yum! Here are some of the things we like to do with root vegetables…

    potatoes cut up, tossed in olive oil and rosemary and roasted

    root veggies glazed with apple cider or with a bit of honey

    potatoes roasted with leeks

    sweet potatoes and maple syrup glaze

    root veggie “fries” sliced then, brushed with oil and baked

    as a mashed puree (potatoes mashed with a little homemade pesto mixed in is fine for a change, too)

    in a North-African style couscous recipe, sweet potatoes and turnips are yummy

    pickled beets

    potato corn chowder

    This post makes me hungry and wish we had a yard…

  10. kate says:

    I like the general idea of this post but am a little confused about the idea of perenial root crops. Most of the veges mentioned (beets, potatoes, parsnip, turnips) are annuals aren’t they? Is it the hot climate ones that perennial?

  11. e4 says:

    Great article. Gives me something new to read up on.

    I wonder if sunchokes qualify as root crops in this context…

  12. Leila says:

    I roast root veg much the same way as limesarah although I’ve never tried honey.

    My favorite beet recipe is from an ancient Marcella Hazan book – I don’t even look it up anymore. She roasts beets in foil in the oven (I might steam them in the basket or pressure cook them – not as nice) then peels and slices them while warm; make a vinaigrette of lemon juice, olive oil, fresh garlic and possibly dill if you want, and pour that over the warm beets. Delicious.

    Pumpkin tahini – I know pumpkin isn’t a root veg but you mentioned it before – here’s the recipe, on my blog:

    http://bedouina.typepad.com/doves_eye/2007/09/pumpkin-tahini.html

    Oh, and how about my favorite summer “salad” – green beans and potatos with basil? BOil or steam high quality new potatoes (Yukon Golds are nice; red or any other color also work) until tender; about ten minutes (or less) before you think they’ll be done, add fresh green snap beans. Romanos would be lovely with this. When tender to the bite, drain and dump into a large bowl with a good handful of fresh, torn basil leaves. Douse all with fresh-squeezed lemon juice, olive oil, and salt. Don’t be stingy with the salt! While doing this, open up the potatoes with your mixing spoon or a sharp knife – I sort of whack them in half. The basil wilts, the potato mealiness gets amalgamated with the impromptu vinaigrette and makes a delicious coating for the green beans. This dish drives people crazy with its goodness.

    I learned it from an Italian (Rome) a long time ago; it’s only “local” for Californians and Mediterranean dwellers. I suppose that vinegar and local nut oils could work in this salad for those of you in the East.
    And by the way, I am indeed Bedouina – there is some mixup with the old and new Blogger accounts

  13. Leila says:

    Trying again to provide pumpkin tahini link.

  14. Liz says:

    I completely agree with limesarah’s comment about home/farm-grown potatoes tasting like real potatoes. My 10yo has always hated potatoes but when we started buying a variety of organic, locally-produced potatoes at our farmer’s market she has become a complete convert. Still won’t eat the mass-produced ones on the occasions we’ve had to substitute, and having now tasted *real* potatoes I can’t blame her!

    We are putting in our first food garden this spring, and one of the crops we’re planting is two different varieties of potatoes.

    I particularly love root vegetables in stews and legume dishes. My favourite would have to be stewing potatoes and carrots with barley and onions, finishing with wholemeal dumplings. Mmmm. They are also fabulous paired with lentils – sweet potato dhal (I make it with a bit of tomato paste for added flavour) is divine.

    Liz in Australia

  15. feonixrift says:

    “emphasize not seeds, but roots”

    It’d almost be possible to build a whole philosophy around that concept. It’s a very different take on preparation for the future on the part of the plants themselves, I’m sure there’s some way to show that as a reflection of the sustainability concepts those crops work well with.

  16. BoysMom says:

    My family (mostly small boys) is very fond of boiled potatos mashed with milk and garlic, covered with cheese, and run under the broiler.

    Also I do pancakes with grated potatos in them. (About two cups added to my standard recipie.)

    I am going to get some Jerusalem artichokes in a few weeks to expiriment with. I find them unpalatable boiled. Does anyone have suggestions? They are one of the few vegetables that ought to produce in my climate (range of 28-60 frost free days).

  17. Mavis says:

    With jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes) I find its best to eat them raw, sliced thinly wiht an equal amount of fresh carrots, also thinly slices, and tossed together in a dressing of Bragg (mild soy sauce), toasted sesame oil and lemon juice.

    If you get an upset stomach afterward, you may be someone who has a hard time digesting the difficult to digest sugars in sunchokes. In my experience, cooking them doesn’t make them any easier to digest.

  18. Christina says:

    We grow several kinds of roots. Some of our favourite recipes are

    carrots, parsnips, turnips, yellow beets etc. roasted with honey, lemon juice and thyme

    mashed potatoes and parsnips

    mashed rutabagas (mash with a small amount of potatoes and carrots – lovely orange colour) served with salted pork

    fresh carrots with anything

    grated carrots with raisins and chopped oranges

    curried roots – cube roots, chop onions, fry in a little butter, add curry paste and a little water, cook until tender, serve with naan bread and homemade squash chutney

    oven roasted beets with goats’s cheese (chèvre)

    veggie “hamburgers”: finely grate your favourite roots, mix with an egg and a little flour, make “hamburgers”, fry in oil or butter

    In our part of the world all kinds of brassicas are good staples too – kale, cabbage, brussel sprouts etc. They will overwinter sometimes – in some parts of Sweden kale is a traditional Christmas dish.

    We can grow pumpkins and winter squash rather successfully but since they are not a traditional part of our diet we don’t have many recipes. But cubed winter squash roasted in the oven with lots of garlic and a little olive oil is really good!

  19. Christina says:

    Oops, forgot to add: I live in SW Sweden.

  20. jewishfarmer says:

    Hi Folks – Thanks for all the wonderful recipes. LimeSarah, roasted vegetables are such a staple in our house that it is rare we don’t have them. One of my favorite things to do with the cold leftovers is wrap them in homemade pita, with some mustard or chutney or cheese and have them for lunch.

    Bart, I’m a dedicated green eater (in fact my first CSA customers called me and kept asking me “who actually eats 8 bunches of greens a week” – it turns out only me ;-) , although I don’t use pork on mine (not kosher). But yes, they are important. The thing is, in much of the US, you don’t even have to grow them seperately – you can simply enjoy the greens from roots, perennial and annual, and the weeds from your yard. Not that we don’t grow them – we do, tons, but greens are comparatively easy to keep going.

    Cath, I have some coconut milk around, so I’m definitely going to try your sweet potato soup recipe, even if it isn’t 100 mile ;-) . I also like thai-style root vegetable curry, with green curry paste, coconut milk and whatever roots I have lying around.

    Sacheen, thanks, that’s very kind of you. I’m glad to get to publicize some ideas that we’ve let pass us by, because we’re not looking in the right places.

    Kate, I’m sorry, I wasn’t very clear here. In warm climates, many of these root vegetables are effectively perennials – sweet potatoes, for example, and taro and manioc. There are also a number of cold climate perennial root crops that can be used as food staples, including as E4 mentions, sunchokes/jerusalem artichokes, salsify, scorzonera, groundnut, cattail and daylily. Potatoes are vegetatively propagated semi-perennials. That is, if I forget some potatoes in the ground in my zone 4/5 climate, they will grow new potatoes in the spring. Eventually, if I leave them that way, I’ll get blight, so I don’t, but they are effective perennials here, and could be treated as such under some circumstances.

    Other roots are biennials or annuals, mostly the former – carrots, beets, parnsips, turnips, rutabagas, celeriac, kohlrabi, mangels and some others. And some are annuals here in teh north that can be grown profitably (sweet potatoes) but not perennials. Most of these are seed propagated, but sweets, like the above, are mostly vegetatively propagated. Sorry if this is confusing.

    Feonixrift – I think you are right, there’s a whole agricultural culture and philosophy in here, but I haven’t tracked this idea that far. I do think it is an important tool – too often we distinguish between “vegetables” which are secondary and “grains” which are primary – but we should be thinking in terms of staples, which can be vegetable.

    It certainly would change the culture enormously – seed culture is very labor intensive, root culture tends not to be. So it would change our perceptions of what the burdens of home agricultural production are.

    Boysmom, I like my Jerusalem artichokes raw, and also lightly steamed. I don’t like them cooked to mush much, although roasted they make a good puree.

    If you are having trouble digesting them, one thing you might try is growing a different variety – I’m told that some have more of their sugars as inulin than others. There hasn’t been a lot of backyard breeding of Jerusalem artichokes for taste and nutrition, and there should be. I’ve also heard of them being grown in a three-sisters style perennial system with groundnut and something else, which I have forgotten.

    Thanks so much for all the wonderful responses – and I’d welcome more recipes. I’ll write more about this later in the week, but I’m definitely going to be make some of these!

    Sharon

  21. Deb G says:

    My favorite potato recipe is potato gnocchi. Here’s a recipe:

    4 potatoes
    2 eggs
    pinch of salt
    Enough flour to form a dough

    1. Boil potatoes with skins, drain, peel and mash. 2. Add eggs, salt and flour to form dough. 3. Roll into snakes and cut into 1/2 inch pieces. Roll the uncut edge along a fork with your thumb so that a ridge is formed on one side and a hollow on the other (this might take some practice :) ) 4. Cook gnocchi in a pot of boiling water. They are done when they rise to the surface and have floated on the water for a minute or so. There are several directions to go from here. My family puts the gnocchi in a baking dish, covers with tomato sauce and cheese and bakes until it’s kinda crunchy on top.

    Also- I want to second the comment that potatoes and green beans are very good together!

  22. katuah says:

    Hi Sharon; I grew up in the Appalachian Mountains, from a family of long-time hill folk. When I was little, my parents and grandparents always had at least one large patch of potatoes, as well as beets, carrots, and lots of other vegetables. I know some of the garden was corn, some beans and squash, but the biggest area was always the potatoes. Now, both my grandparents were Depression survivors (my mom was born in ’33, hard times for coal miners, especially ones with a family), and I wonder now how much of their gardening was learned out of necessity rather than luxury. I know I can’t get much of anything to grow in my own garden. But I keep trying!

  23. Beo says:

    Great article and thanks for promoting more Americans growing there own food and incorporating perrenial food crops into a historical framework

  24. Christina says:

    Potato gnocchi is good! And even better if you mix potatoes with Jerusalem artichokes.

  25. ewt says:

    I grow potatoes in a stack in my back garden, it’s a very low-labour, high-yield way to grow if you have enough soil for it. The thing with growing roots and tubers as perennials or semi-perennials is that one must be quite careful to avoid various diseases.

    I’m quite fond of boiled beetroot, cooled, with a bit of apple cider vinegar and some garlic or chives. Add a dollop of sour cream or some plain yoghurt – delicious! I also eat raw beetroot but some people think that this is too much. I eat raw potatoes too as long as they have no green bits and aren’t too old.

    A lovely use for roasted root vegetables is to press them through a seive (or, if you must, use a food processor, but this really doesn’t take long by hand) to make a soup. Vary seasonings depending on the vegetables.

    My favourite pub serves root vegetable “chips” – just like big fat fries. These would be easy to do in an oven at home, just cut up the veg into appropriate shapes, parboil, brush with oil on a baking tray and heat until crispy. YUM. A bit of rosemary and paprika makes these quite divine.

    Baked potatoes seem obvious and easy but a lot of people don’t bother with them. I make mine by poking them with a fork, rubbing the with oil and a bit of salt, and putting them in the oven until they are done. Sweet potatoes get a similar treatment but I use cinnamon and nutmeg instead of salt.

    Baked onions are an old standby of mine as well. They’re easy and tasty, they are unusual enough to serve to guests and very cheap to prepare.

    Leftover mashed potatoes/turnips/whatever can be mixed with various veg and pan-fried to make fritters. Good with ketchup.

  26. Anonymous says:

    A roasting suggestion:

    Heat the butter and oil in the pan in the oven first, while you’re cutting up the veggies and the oven is heating. If you like, you can put herbs in at this stage to slightly infuse the oil with the flavor of the herbs (or to help soften them in the case of rosemary, etc).

    Cut the root vegetables in chunks that are about the size of a medium potato quartered, add to the hot oil/butter mix and toss in the hot oil. Return to the oven an roast at about 350 for about 30-45 min, depending on the size of your veggie pieces and your personal preference on the al dente to mush continuum.

    My mother does her potatoes this way and everyone in the extended family insists that this is “her job” for holiday meals (on top of whatever else she gets stuck with, of course). I asked her for the “recipe,” thinking it must be complicated to be that good, and discovered that her special seasoning mix is salt and pepper with the “secret” ingredient of a little paprika for color. Being the adventurous soul that I am, I immediately added beets and turnips to mine and was very, very pleased with the results — also great cold packed to work for lunch the next day!

  27. Anonymous says:

    I was recently on a historic house tour, and in the garden (which was supposed to be replicating a garden from approximately 196-1728 in NH) they had a root veg I never heard of: skirret.

    Same raised bed had salsify, black radish (and apparently they “canned” the black radish pods in addition), gilfeather turnips and white carrots.

    Another nearby bed had leeks. I luv potato leek soup….

    –mem

  28. Crunchy Chicken says:

    As usual, Sharon, another great post. I love roasted root vegetables and since my neglected beets are now football sized, we get plenty of them!

  29. Bedouina says:

    I can’t believe I didn’t mention garlic in the green-beans-and-potatoes recipe far above. Of course please do add crushed fresh garlic to the vinaigrette. Fresh garlic makes this dish intoxicating.

    Re: growing potatoes in a stack – I haven’t done this, but that guy with the book “20 Minute Gardening” claims you can grow potatoes in a hay bail or a compost heap. He says for the hay, just dump the potatoes on, fork over the hay, and when they need hilling, you put on more hay.

    Does anybody know if this would really work? Why couldn’t you do this with a pile of leaves? Compost seems yukky – slimy rotting produce anybody? but I suppose well rotted compost would work. Wouldn’t you want to use it on the garden rather than as a growing medium for potatoes?

  30. Anonymous says:

    We need to eat healthy! Try these new beet recipes!

  31. [...] Hell, if you grow the right things it’s not that hard to get a ton of calories from a small area. [...]

  32. [...] written about this more extensively in an article about Vegeculture – that is, the use of root crops as staple foods.  I believe that more and more of us, who do not [...]

  33. Therese says:

    Just wanted to let you know that I linked to this from this post at my blog Green Antilles. I found what you wrote here really interesting (I knew some of this stuff before, but not in this context), and I’m going to go out and try to get my hands on some of the books you’ve mentioned.

  34. Great stuff, so much that we saved as a favorite the post The Chatelaine's Keys » Blog Archive » Vegeculture: Further Rethinking How We Eat done wellBefore I forget our feelings go out to people at Tsunami we hope you are healthy as well as secure Rgds ! Flash Website Design ?

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