As a wine merchant the term 5-a-day has always conjured up alternative connotations to those of my more self-conscious friends. Previously five had been a number conveniently split into red, white, rosé, sparkling and fortified, with the accompanying corkscrew and glass as my tools of choice.

These days I search my garden, heron-like, amongst the green foliage with spade and fork in hand seeking signs of edible life to satisfy my nutritional desires.

Renowned as I may be for ignoring most governmental dictates and health warnings alike, I have now become a slave to the freshly picked, a captive of the newly grown. If you count the abundant use of herbs alongside the cornucopia of vegetable produce that has begun to spring from my cultivated beds, 5-a-day has become a mere snack by my newly informed standards. The joy of discovering the daily growth that early morning inspection reveals is surpassed only by the sheer pride of laying a table of arguably interesting cuisine that same evening, the product of one’s own amateur husbandry from start to finish. To select a style of cooking or perhaps just simple food preparation that fits both the day and the available produce, has provided nothing short of unbridled joy when the plan comes together. So it is with continuing surprise that my scrutiny of the raised beds reveals the best part of a small greengrocer’s barrow every week. Of course the amazement of my discoveries spring more from personal ignorance than knowing expectation. From my first visit to the seed merchant’s warehouse to the eventual receipt of my annual supply, seeds tended to all look rather similar to this non-gardener. Some were wrinkled some were smooth, sizes varied from grit to abacus counters and some offered a palette of pink, purple, yellow or olive green hues. Some were for spring, some for summer, some indoors, some out, and as I am easily confused and I did not have time to get caught up in extra-mural details – lets get it all going at once I felt. A thought which like many early judgements, I would later come to regret. Examples are myriad. Inadvertently spilling several different bean varieties in the same pocket of my working trousers was pretty good, planting so many vegetables too close together that in some cases a charge of sexual harassment could be easily proven amongst the carrot family alone, and somehow deciding that the best place to inaugurate a pea bed was on the lay lines of a field mouse pilgrimage where Ms Potter’s favourite friends destroyed my best laid plans on a nightly basis. I also discovered that I need an air lift in order to reach the centre of the close knit courgette forest I have inadvertently created.

I began to discover how emotionally draining this creation business could be.

Was it the Polar explorer Amundsen who said, “that an adventure was just a plan gone wrong”? Well I had more than my fair share of ‘gone wrong’ plans during the early trials of seed distribution.

But after the potatoes had begun to provide early suppers and the new-found appeal of salad leaves and thrusting radishes pervaded my new life, the garden and I began to work as one in spite of my free associative planting techniques.

Speaking of salad leaves, I cannot recommend too highly the pages in good seed catalogues marked – Orientals. A puzzling reference to our former Empire should not discourage salad lovers who have yet to discover the crushed pepper sensuality and fulsome taste of leaves such as Mizuna and Mibuna. Both of which kick Rocket and Little Gem into a cocked hat for my money. The joy of leaves is threefold, they grow quickly, they need precious little attention and they cost a mere fraction of those imported, nitrogen filled salad bags we keep turfing into landfill sites. Unlike most foodstuffs, the more you harvest them the more they provide you with additional growth. ‘Cut-and-Come again’ is I believe the protocol here.The added joy of growing your own leaves is that they stay fresh until you pick, and you only pick when you are hungry. Life gets considerably cheaper once a simple home-made vinaigrette, chilli jam or garlic mayonnaise is on hand, to enhance newly sprung greenery at every meal. One main course winner from a book of Persian cuisine I came across, was butter-fried hazelnuts, tipped over salad leaves at the last minute and served with homemade soda bread, more filling than I would have previously given credit, and more nourishing than a skip full of takeaway pizzas.

Next up in the vegetable contest, that would have given the late Donald McGill so many risqué postcard ideas, were the elongated French breakfast radishes. With their salt and pepper condiment already built in, this blushed pink variety offered much more subtlety than those little clown’s noses I had periodically selected at the greengrocers. The wonderful French discovery was that the breakfast radish is very good at doing what it says on the le tin. They dip neatly into your four minute soft boiled egg, and offer those wishing a change from their morning toasted ‘soldiers’ a delicately spiced alternative.

Beetroot’s plump, round emergent roots were the next to burst forth, although for these purple and golden beauties I was for once forearmed. Our son Matthew had rung with the news of a surprising First in his degree results, no lack of faith on our part I might add, it is just that he bucks the trend in our house with his self-effacing and modest progress reports. A restaurant in Clerkenwell, only a stone’s throw from Liverpool Street, was his choice for a celebratory lunch and, combined with his birthday treat, was an irresistible awayday bargain I thought. The eatery was the much admired Moro, a centre of Spanish and Moorish  cuisine unbeaten in the capital since it opened in 1997 and run by two dedicated English enthusiasts Sam and Samantha Clarke. Two of the dishes we consumed on that day were to send me searching for their published cookbooks to provide wider inspiration of the edible assembly of my own crops. Beetroot looms large in Iberian and Moroccan cooking and after using the traditional technique of pot-roasting, (foil wrapping serves the same purpose by the way) I may never boil again. After the roasted softening and the subsequent skinning to reveal their glistening sheen, (much enhanced when they are not waterlogged), my yellow and purple spheres became a hassle free lunch with the simple addition of vinaigrette, rock salt and pepper. The Moro restaurant had gone a little further and integrated salad leaves and herbs, sherry vinegar, honey and crushed garlic. I cannot tell you how far the distance is between this simple rustic style and those ghastly jars of malt vinegar sodden beetroot slices, mysteriously appearing from my parent’s store cupboard over the Christmas period when distant Aunties turned up with a six-pack of Babycham.

Beetroot cooled with splashes of Greek yoghurt and roasted sunflower seeds was also something of a hit. Served with jamon Iberico and crunchy bread, pleasantly accompanied by an unsung Spanish wine in the form of Verdejo. A fresh vibrant white that helped to dispel the bustle of London for a few hours and reminded me how many medium acidity wines are often overlooked as suitable partners to vegetables alone.

Back at the coalface the following day, and with my bevy of crops beginning to force my hand, I had already spent the odd evening at the local pub, canvassing passing opinion of the legume family – peas and beans as I used to informally call them – and found out that gardening opinion was yet again divided. I recounted that my father, many years ago in his Dorset garden, was a keen runner bean man. I have vague recollections of the pyramidal canes with white twine and the tendril like growth of the plant itself, red and white flowers flitting across the tangled greenery like exotic insects. But my abiding memory was my mother blanching kilograms of sliced runners in huge cauldrons, turning an ample farmhouse kitchen into an impenetrable Turkish bath for hours on end. Neatly parcelled in clear plastic bags from the freezer shop, and signed and dated like an artist’s canvas in indelible pen, flat parcels of beans were lowered into a chest freezer like a Bolivian drug smuggling operation caught on CCTV. Brian down the pub, along with a few other customers, clearly identified with this common runner bean tale, whilst Alan, who can be very black and white about such matters, felt that runners were O.K. but that broad beans were an utter waste of space.

Although I had planted runner and broad beans, I suddenly felt duty bound to defend the more cosmopolitan nature of the bean species beyond runners in the deep freeze and the year’s protein accompaniment in the form of toughened favas. Does this stash of frozen harvest all reach the dinner plate I wondered, did it ever have a ‘best before’ date and why does its automatic selection traditionally dominate the otherwise regal nature of bean discussions? It was Charles I apparently who first introduced this verdant climber to our shores and it has been a stalwart of the kitchen garden ever since, yet supermarket sales suggest that when we actually buy beans we tend to gravitate towards the French climbing varieties. Louis X1V’s favourite of course. My guess is that like so many vegetables during my upbringing, we are either habit led on the one hand or menu led on the other. Runner beans and Broad beans lean towards the former whereas all others tended to gravitate towards the latter in ‘fancy, foreign’ cooking.

Here my frequent visits to the wine growing regions of Spain offered insight. Navarra, Rioja and Andalucia have a long tradition of Tapas culture. Bar hopping with nibbles I suppose would be our translation, but it is so much more. Tapas is by its very nature regional, seasonal and locally influenced. To the bar owner, what he or she grows and can carry into work was its foundation long before Napoleon turned up to impose snooty French cuisine on the confused locals. Not only was this a key that had been floating in the English ether for so long, it was a direct call to arms for the tenuously self sufficient like myself. Boredom or storage were the terms so often associated with an excess of home grown veg, yet it was the style of rural Spanish cooking, that could extend a season more usefully than vinegar or ice. As early crops give way to later harvests, so cooking techniques adapted to shadow the span of seasonal growth. In my Lost Gardens of Heligan, a term regularly used down at my local by some of my witty colleagues, my first broad beans appeared without notice. Never look the other way when nature’s on the go, was yet another evening class I had overlooked. I think I was still preoccupied with mourning the demise of my pea shoots, taken by snatch squads of Michelin Star rodent diners in their nightly forays through my chicken wire that I failed to notice the robust beans offer up their early vintage without fuss or drama. It was tapas cuisine which taught me that the earliest pods can be eaten unshelled, or that the first tiny beans, known as Billionaire Beans in Seville, could provide as delicious a Spring-time treat over in Spain as the advent of our own traditional new potato or fresh strawberry seasons can here. Within days we had turned our family, and half the village, onto a strategic review of beans on toast. With early broad beans no bigger than peas, blanched then seasoned in olive oil and lemon juice, tipped onto garlic rubbed toast, sprinkled with dry chilli flakes and new herb shoots, I reckon I could give Heinz a run for their money any day. Accompanied by an ice-cold glass of dry Amontillado sherry, we provided an international out-door banquet, for less than the price of an airport sandwich.

Now, when it came to exploratory cuisine, I began to understand that we could travel without leaving. The vegetables were eager for proper attention and the cookery books of all nations were readily available, we could grow in English, eat in European yet sit in Norfolk.

With distinct periods of almost equatorial climate visited upon this part of East Anglia, worker bees covering my borage bush, grey wagtails collecting normally absent grasshoppers and the wafting smell of my new silver thyme shrubs, Provence, Tuscany and Andalucia became mere suburbs of our NR11 postal district.

Growing, picking, cooking and eating amongst our own harvest in the orchard, has seamlessly replaced the need for a foreign holiday this year. If the mice and the weather throw their lot in behind us, we could get through to October without complaint.