It’s superb how a lot crossover there may be between gardening and cooking, not simply when it comes to the components themselves, however within the tradition that surrounds the 2 disciplines. As a homesick pseudo-Singaporean, this week I used to be catching up on a podcast from again east the place superb native chef Christopher Tan waxing lyrical about Asian patisserie actually helped me higher articulate what I’ve all the time thought of gardening.
Kueh is a little bit of a catch-all time period for a gaggle of conventional southeast Asian sweets which can be the results of centuries of cultural mixing. Incorporating Chinese language, Arab, Malay, Portuguese, Dutch and British influences, they are often every little thing from sticky, steamed peanut dumplings to crunchy, coconut-caramel fried treats, however what all of them have in widespread is how extremely elaborate they’re to make.
Kueh chef Christopher Tan helped me higher articulate what I have all the time thought of gardening
Just about everybody’s grandma would sit them down the day they have been in a position to maintain a spoon and put them to work, stirring slow-cooking coconut custards for hours, rolling discs of infuriatingly sticky rice and candy potato dough to fill, hand-peeling particular person mung beans to grind into batter. But at present these traditions are quickly being misplaced in favour of merely shopping for in pale, factory-made imitations. Abilities handed down by generations are evaporating in only a era or two within the title of the fast and simple.
As somebody who teaches folks about crops, I usually really feel an enormous strain to do the horticultural equal, with the clickbaity “Three prime tips” or “5-minute fixes” to recover from the “drudgery” or “faff” of gardening. I’ve all the time discovered this uncomfortable, as to learners it immediately makes gardening out to be one thing not simply boringly disagreeable, however (worse nonetheless) low talent.
But if you happen to ask any baking obsessive or passionate gardener what they love most about their pastime, the reply tends to be as a lot concerning the course of itself as the tip consequence. There’s the artistic buzz when dreaming up a brand new concept, the nostalgic reference to outdated household traditions, the therapeutic good thing about calm focus.
Chef Tan has an exquisite phrase to reframe the narrative right here. As somebody who is consistently requested if making kueh isn’t “troublesome” or a “trouble”, he rails towards these unfavourable worth judgments with the time period “effortful”. The concept is that placing in effort, removed from being an obstacle to the enjoyment present in cooking, is important to reaching it. It’s an expression of the love, dedication and respect that’s solely made attainable by investing time, care and a spotlight. It’s the distinction between grabbing some petrol-station forecourt flowers and designing a homegrown bouquet for the one you like, from seeds you fastidiously chosen months earlier than and nurtured daily over every season, come rain or shine.
So, let’s embrace “effortfulness” as not only a advantage in itself, however a fully important ingredient to expertise the true pleasure gardening can carry.
Observe James on Twitter @Botanygeek