Eye gardener and artist paints a delicious picture

PUBLISHED: 11:36 25 March 2010 | UPDATED: 16:58 20 February 2013

An illustration from Mary's book

An illustration from Mary's book

Mary Woodin is a one-woman food industry. not only does she grow vegetables at her Suffolk home, but she devises recipes and illustrates her own cookbooks

From palette to palate

Eye-based artist and food lover Mary Woodin is about to see the latest fruits of her labours published next month. The Painted Garden Cookbook will feature 150 illustrated recipes, many using ingredients from her farmhouse garden
Explains mother-of-three Mary: Four years ago we moved to the country, and created a fruit and vegetable garden. That is how this cookbook came about. It is a collection of recipes of the sort of food I like to eat, bolstered by or in some cases, entirely consisting of the fruits of my labours: simple dishes that make the most of fresh, seasonal food. I still get excited by each seed that germinates, and I absolutely love the conundrum of what to cook from an armful of freshly gathered produce. Fortunately, farmers markets have made that easier for everyone, even if your own gardening exploits extend no further than a pot of basil on the kitchen windowsill!
Marys background as an artist means she can add another dimension to her book . . . bringing to life fresh fish, meats, vegetables and fruits in beautifully painted watercolours.
I recorded all the flowers in our London garden in watercolours. There, I battled with tree roots and slugs and foxes, and the irises struggled to bloom behind the football goal. I cosseted a few herbs, grew tomatoes in pots, planted a damson tree and made two pots of jam! she says. Increasingly though, we felt this flirtation with gardening needed space to stretch its wings.
It was then that Mary, with her greeting cards publisher husband Andrew, relocated to their Suffolk farmhouse in north Suffolk with three acres of garden.
With fruit and vegetables added to the equation, my sketchbooks rapidly became recipe notes. Fresh produce has a depth of flavour that requires minimal fuss. Simple seasonal dishes speak for themselves. The fun comes with creating happy combinations, or cooking the same vegetable, day in day out, but in new and inventive guises, explains Mary.
I am the product of gardeners, and it seems to run in the family. My parents have been cultivating the same soil for 50 years. My childhood garden was largely given over to growing fruit and vegetables, and it still is.
I wasnt a very enthusiastic helper: gathering strawberries was the best job, because you could pick and eat; gooseberries were delicious too, but prickly; forking manure felt heroic, but collecting stones was just irksome. We had to be paid to do that.
Funny how the chickens come home to roost; I love all those jobs now, and feel privileged to be able to tinker away in our own productive garden.
Some days its disheartening: the tomatoes get blight, a deer nibbles the broad beans, or the parsnips fail to germinate, but usually theres something to pick, and cook, so Im happy.
Occasionally I venture from my country nest back to the city. Recently, it was to discuss ideas for this cookbook with my agents, Lucy and Steph. We enjoyed a fabulous lunch in Soho, the heart of hustle and bustle. I arrived home late, greeted by the silence of a moonlit night. A frog sat in the middle of the path looking straight at me. I can only imagine he was waiting for a kiss. . . I had returned to the fairy tale.

Signed copies of The Painted Garden Cookbook (published by Running Press) are available direct from the artist for 15 each (incl. postage and packing). For additional copies with your order add 12 each. Email orders to marywoodin@uwclub.net or send a cheque to Mary Woodin, Orchard House, Braiseworth, Eye IP23 7DS. Tel: 01379 870157. Sea Pictures Gallery, Clare hosts a special weekend launch for the book on June 12, 2010as part of their East Anglian Artists Show, when you can come and meet Mary. For details, call 01787 279024.

Summer Vegetable Soup with a Twist of Lime Croutons

Serves 4
6 scallions
12 ounces (300 grams) new potatoes
2 small zucchini
2 tbsps all-purpose flour
2 tbsps olive oil
8 ounces (200 grams) green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths
6 ounces (160 grams) shelled peas (allow double the weight with shells)
2 pints chicken or vegetable stock, heated and kept warm
2 tbsps chopped fresh parsley
2 tbsps chopped fresh marjoram
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup (100 millilitres) heavy whipping cream, or low-fat crme frache

For the croutons
2 thick slices good-quality white bread
Juice of 1 lime
2 tablespoons olive oil

Chop scallions finely, including green parts, as far as they still look fresh and unwilted. Peel and chop the potatoes into 1/4-inch cubes. Chop the zucchini into similarly sized cubes. Combine all the chopped vegetables into a bowl and toss with the flour.
Heat the olive oil in a skillet over a low heat, add vegetables, and saut for 5 minutes, stirring regularly to prevent sticking. Set aside in the skillet.
For the croutons, cut or tear bread into 1/2-inch chunks. Place bread in a bowl and toss with lime juice and olive oil to coat. Set a small skillet over low heat and cook the croutons for about 5 minutes, until they have toasty golden edges. Stir frequently to avoid sticking. Set aside.
Set a pot with 1 inch of water to boil, and set a steamer insert inside. Steam the green beans and peas for 2 minutes, or until just al dente.
Place the stock in a large pot over a medium-low heat and add the cooked vegetables and the herbs. Simmer gently for about 6 minutes, or until the potato chunks are cooked through. Add the cream and heat through, then season to taste with salt and pepper.
Serve the soup in warmed bowls topped with the all-important croutons.

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