Saturday, 25 April 2009

Herb heaven

After a 24 hour delay due to the car misbehaving (flat battery) I finally got to visit Jekka's Herb Farm today. Jekka is the most famous herb grower in the country thanks, at least in part, to the fact that she's helped plan and plant Jamie Oliver's herb garden. Normally you can only buy from her online but three times a year she has an open weekend where you can visit and collect your own herbs.

Despite the fact that the 'farm' (more like a commercial nursery) is down pretty, twisting country roads it's not quite as romantic as you might think. I was expecting a beautiful Sissinghurst-style herb garden rather than a few polytunnels but everything in them looked robustly healthy. I went mad and bought a whole range of herbs for the tiny paved area outside our flat: parsley, sage, thyme, rosemary, mint and oregano - and rather more ambitiously chervil and tarragon, herbs that are tricky to grow. Plus a couple of 'cut and come again' living salads that I hope will see us through the summer.

I hardly like to admit how much it cost, rationalising it on the basis that it's cheaper than buying cut herbs and that it worked out less than a night out for two at a cheap(ish) restaurant. But by the time I'd bought a couple of extra containers, some compost and a small fork and trowel I'd spent a fair bit.

As it was brighter than forecast this afternoon I potted everything up and must say it looks pretty good. I christened the pots by adding some just-picked oregano and mint to a pork osso buco this evening the recipe for which I'll post in a couple of days' time.


As we were out and about we decided to do our weekend shop at Waitrose for once which cost a further hefty amount, despite the cheapness of the pork (£3.45 for enough for 4). Which made me realise that going shopping with the car is a Bad Idea. If you only buy what you can carry you're less likely to overspend - although obviously it depends how near you are to the shops.

How do you shop? Do you take the car and do one big weekly shop? If so do you find you need to top up again during the week? Or do you shop on foot and carry your shopping home? Which do you think is cheaper?

16 comments:

Lizzie said...

When I invested in my seed growing paraphenalia, it was a lot of money but I saw it as not just for food but a little hobby too. I am now very excitable, telling all and sundry the status of my tomato plants, much to the boredom of my friends.

I don't have a car, but I live 10 minutes from Borough Market, Lewisham market ("Paaaahnd a bowl, any one yer like!") and a Sainsburys. I usually do a weekly shop on Monday night - sainsburys reduce a LOT of their veg and that'll see me through the week. Thank god for canvas bags, or my hands would suffer!

James said...

I've always found tarragon goes rampant once it gets going. Likes feeding though. More frugal to buy seeds though.....

First place I lived in London I used to go shopping with the (70 litre) rucksack and wait for the night bus home round the corner.... at 2am. Definitely brought less that way. These days I can shop every day, maybe twice (isn't it annoying how each shop has different things, but not everything you need?), but I stick to the list by the letter. You really have to switch off your instincts to the rostisserie and baking smells they waft out at you to make you spend. And how many cut price items do you really need?

If you're not careful though shopping more than once a week can be expensive - it's easy to forget how much you're spending at each time and it accumulates to far more at the end of the week. It helps to question each item you buy - do you really need this, and are you going to use it? It'll always be there for another time, and maybe be on special offer then anyway.....

ginger@dinnerdiary.org said...

I'd suggest planting out your mint in a separate container, it grows mush faster than everything else and will strangle yout other plants.

A weekly shop with the car for heavy things with daily topping up from the butcher or fishmonger is our way. Occasional online deliveries too, more to take the pain of supermarket shopping away than anything else though.

notSupermum said...

I take the car and do a big shop once a week, but still find I need to do a couple of extra top-ups during the week for milk, bread, etc. I do go to different shops though to try and get the best deals, and always check the price of things before they go in the trolley.

Amanda at Little Foodies said...

We grow veg and herbs. Last year a lot failed with the weather making it very expensive veg. This year my husband has turned over most of the front garden to veg beds, lets hope for better weather.

As we live in a semi rural area I drive to the shops, normally once a week, I also top up with things from the village shop which is really expensive.

Signe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Signe said...

The herbs look fab! Must try and grow some this summer. Trick is finding a safe spot to grow them when our landlord forbids pots on the windowsills and we live on a busy street so chances are the pot and/or herbs would get nicked if we put something by the front door. Frustrating.

Agree with ginger@ dinnerdiary.org that mint runs riot - it's lovely to have herbs in abundance but mint has a particularly hegemonic streak so best to separate it from other herbs I've found...

Definitely find I shop less when I walk to local supermarkets - also as James says, following the fabled shopping list is a must, any deviation results in chaos :-) Never seem to find these famous reductions though, even when I go late on a Sunday afternoon there's not much discounted...

Waitrose announced recently they've scrapped their delivery charge if you order food online, wonder what effect this will have on buying habits?

robert said...

I work for a major retailer but despite a ten per cent discount. I do often find it cheaper to buy from ethnic grocers or markets. For instance mint is 69p for a massive bunch (am addicted to mint tea) compared to a few sprigs from Xxx stores for the same price. I don't drive and not too keen on carrying heavy shopping so I tend to remove items from my basket at the end of shopping...

I will google that herb farm as it sounds so great. I love herbs as they bring depths of flavour to otherwise boring cheap vegetables and meat cuts. Livening up stews with fresh bay leaves etc from the garden.

Fiona Beckett said...

Many thanks for all your comments everybody. Away on business (well, actually wine-tasting) in Spain at the moment but will get back to you mid-week!

Andrea said...

I am lucky enough to be living in a house at the moment which has a huge bay tree in the back garden as well as enough rosemary and sage (another fast-grower) to sink a ship! We also have quite a few chives (beautiful at the moment with lovely purple flowers which I also try to incorporate into dishes), parsley, mint and thyme, although I find thyme very difficult to grow. I don't know where I would be without the herb garden!

Alex said...

The herbs look gorgeous!

And we walk to the market for fruit, veg, fish and sometimes cheese on saturday morning. Then onto sainsbury's for bulky things like cereals and loo roll (does that count on a food blog?!). Sometimes I'll shop with the car, maybe once a month, but the two minute walk isn't too bad, even with lots of bags.

We always need a top up for milk and iceberg lettuce mid-week

Fiona Beckett said...

Two interesting threads here. I'm glad you're all into your herbs. I'm envious of your success with tarragon James - I've never had much luck with it but am hoping this organically reared plant will survive. (My daughter gave me some herb seeds for Christmas so I'm going to have a crack at them too) On the other hand I've never seemed to have any problems with thyme Andrea. Maybe it's your soil? Have the gardeners among you got any suggestions? (I envy you your bay tree).

Good tip about mint, Ginger. I've planted it now but will re-pot it if it looks like getting out of control. And so far my herbs haven't got nicked even though they're out in the front of the house, Sig. Crossing fingers!

Jekka's has a couple of other open weekends this year and is always at the Chelsea Flower Show for those of you who go to that. (Definitely worth doing once but get there early to avoid the crowds!)

Fiona Beckett said...

Mixed views, it seems, on the merits or demerits of shopping with a car.

I think you have to go with what works best for you. I reckon I spend less shopping little and often than I do on a supermarket shop where I always seem to get waylaid and buy more food than we can get through before it goes off. But if you're someone who's good at planning ahead and don't tend to have last minute changes of plan (one of my failings) then it could well be that the big weekly shop is cheaper. And it depends where you are - we're lucky to have local shops within walking distance.

Lots of great ideas from you all anyway. Thank you so much for sharing your tips

Helen Yuet Ling Pang said...

I've just sent the link to the husband, who is in charge of herb purchases for the garden! We have so many different herbs now, but he can't seem to stop planting...I look forward to the eating part!

Fiona Beckett said...

Not sure that was wise, Helen! Jekka's site is very tempting :-)

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