Mediterranean Diet – Grow A Food Garden This Summer

Portofino Food Garden

I read this article on Mediterranean Diet in  “Warm Earth“, an Organic Gardening magazine. It is an excellent magazine and I can only praise it’s Editor Liz Sinnamon for the  work she puts in every issue, delivering on a multitude of subjects and making “Warm Earth” the only Magazine of it’s kind.

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The Mediterranean diet is reputed to be the worlds healthiest.
It
is abundant in fruits, vegetables and olive oil, sparing with meat and
anointed daily with red wine. There are over 30 varieties of vegetables
that grow well in a Mediterranean climate, and most will grow well
in all areas of Australia.

by Anne Sutherland,
Mildura, Victoria

A few years ago, I was offered a six month temporary teaching job on the Spanish Mediterranean Coast. My husband, Anthony, always ready for an adventure, tagged along.

Two days after we arrived, on a beautiful sunny day, we decided to hike a scenic trail along the coast to a local fishing village. Along the way, we were surprised to see so many large vegetable gardens, together with chickens, donkeys and goats.

When we arrived at our destination we were quite weary from our walk, and settled into a small café for lunch. In this part of the world, lunch certainly wasn’t a quick snack, eaten on the run, but a long and delightful enjoyment of food and wine.

Our first course was a small plate of pasta with freshly made pesto, which was absolutely delicious. This was followed by fried fish on a platter of grilled artichokes and capsicums plus a large carafe of house red (wine).

This was our first experience of the Mediterranean lifestyle in its home base, and it felt wonderful.

A few days later, we found a lovely little furnished villa to rent and I quickly became addicted to cooking shows where the hosts of the shows get ordinary people to participate.

Not only do they show the cooking process, but they also film the people as they go to the market to do the shopping. Daily shopping is a big part of every day life, as fresh ingredients are an essential element to dining.

The local market offered wonderfully odd-shaped tomatoes that were absolutely delicious, olives of every character, shape, and flavour, along with olive oils to match any dish. But it was the simplicity of recipes that was so interesting. Usually only four or five ingredients were used, and these were all available locally.

For example, grilled, freshly caught sardines with a large salad, fried squid with roast vegetables, pasta with tomato and garlic sauce, sprinkled with a local cheese.

The worlds healthiest diet

The Mediterranean diet is reputed to be the worlds healthiest diet. Based on the age-old dietary traditions of Crete, Greece and southern Italy, this `diet,’ or eating pattern, is abundant in fruits, vegetables and olive oil, sparing with meat and anointed daily with red wine.

I learned that for many years meat was expensive and scarce in Italy, so pasta with tomato sauce and a small amount of cheese was served to hungry families as a hearty and filling entrée. A small amount of meat or fish was then served with a large salad.

Mediterranean climate

The Mediterranean basin is conceived broadly as the lands and nations surrounding the Sea as well as the Sea itself. It is generally accepted that the Mediterranean climate also occurs in southern and southwestern Australia, and two or three other parts of the world. We now live in Mildura in Victoria, which is well known for its Mediterranean climate.

In most Mediterranean regions climatic changes are pronounced. It is in the autumn—after summer drought and dormancy—that the yearly life cycle of plants starts anew, like the awakening in spring that follows winter dormancy in cold climates. In autumn the days can be radiant and warm, then suddenly change to periods of rain and cool weather.

Spring ends quite suddenly and is followed by hot, dry winds and rising temperatures. Summers can be painfully long and hot, and irregularity of rainfall—which can vary considerably from year to year—accentuates the severity of the Mediterranean climate. In winter the temperature may fall to zero degrees Celsius and may bring short-lived frosts, yet these temperatures depend a lot on the location of your house.

In a hill garden, the clouds will hang low over the mountains, but on the coast in a protected corner you may enjoy the cherished winter sun. Mediterranean gardeners are grateful for their mild winters—mild enough for garden work to be an ongoing activity.

Nine basics of a Mediterranean diet

  1.   VegetablesThis is pretty easy, as it’s hard to eat too many vegetables.
  2.   LegumesEat more beans to replace bread.
  3.   Fruit and nutsPerfect for snacks.
  4.   CerealsWhole grains are really good for you.
  5.   FishEat more fish, less meat.
  6.   Olive oilThis means eating more monounsaturated fat.
  7.   Dairy productsThe traditional Mediterranean diet doesn’t have dairy products  as a major focus.
  8.   MeatsLess meat and lean meats.
  9.   AlcoholThere is good evidence that moderate use of alcohol is good for you.

Vegetables that grow well in a Mediterranean climate

Artichokes, asparagus, eggplant, capsicum, carrots, potato, tomato, broccoli, cabbage, turnip, radish, beans, peas, broad beans, garlic, leeks, onions, shallots, squash, cucumber, pumpkin, carrots, celery, parsnip, beetroot, lettuce, silverbeet, sweet corn, asparagus.

We have included growing information in this edition on artichokes, cucumbers and capsicums. Fact sheets on most of the other vegetables are available from Warm Earth. See ‘O.G. Info’ on inside back cover.

Artichokes

Artichokes are native to the Mediterranean.

Plants reach a height of around 1.5 meters with a similar spread.

They are grown for the edible flower buds, which resemble a deep-green coloured pinecone. The plant produces a stalk that grows up to two metres high with numerous lateral branches. Flower buds form on the end of these branches. If the buds aren’t picked to eat, they will produce spectacular, large mauve thistle-like flowers, 10 to 12 cm in diameter.

The globe artichoke has a delicate nutty flavour causing it to be prized in salads or hors d’oeuvres.

It can be served as a hot vegetable with butter or a special sauce such as hollandaise, bechamel or spicy vinaigrette, or served cold. In addition, the globe artichoke can be cooked, chilled and sliced to be used in salads.

Growing globe artichokesArtichokes

Globe artichokes (Cynara scolymus) may be grown as an annual that is replanted every year, or left in the ground as a perennial plant to produce a successive harvest over several years. Plants can live for up to 5 years, but it’s best to divide the clump every three years and replant.

They do best in areas with a Mediterranean climate— mild winters and warm to hot summers.

Plants don’t do well in the subtropics. Excessively high temperatures during bud formation result in artichokes that are bitter, distorted and tough.

In places with cold wet winters, plants may rot in the ground. Heavy frosts will also take their toll. In these areas it’s best to grow globe artichokes as an annual.

Like most vegetables, they prefer a deep, rich fertile soil with a pH around 6.5. However, fortunately for some of us, they are extremely adaptable and forgiving, tolerating rocky, sandy, and slightly salt-affected soil, provided drainage is good.

In areas with heavy clayey soils, or with poor drainage, it’s best to plant them on mounds.

The plant will withstand dry periods once established, but lack of moisture when buds are forming will produce loose flower heads of inferior quality.

Plants grown from seed can be variable in their growth habit. Any rogue, spiny seedlings need to be culled, although the Emerald variety is said to grow true to type from seed.