We bought 3 sets, then two lots of neighbours gave us more to plant, one being very generous with garlic as well! We are basically going to be growing an acre of onions next year… if I get them all in.
The varieties of onions planted so far are Senshyu, a golden coloured variety, and Electric, red coloured.
If they all grow, we’ll have a lot of onions but fortunately, onions are one of those vegetables that appear in soooooo many recipes that everyone will always find a way to use them. They are essential base ingredients. They are in stews, stocks, curries, casseroles, pizza, raw in salads, moussaka, raw with burgers, fried with sausages, bolognese, quiche, stir fry, soups… but here is a new recipe for onions to get you in the bulbing spirit.
Pasta with Fried Onion and Tomato Salad
-About 400g tagliatelle pasta -2 onions -Olive oil, for frying -8 handfuls of spinach -16 cherry tomatoes
Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Add the tagliatelle pasta and cook for about ten minutes, or until cooked through. Drain and set to one side.
Peel and cut the onions in half before slicing thinly. Put them in a frying pan with some olive oil and fry until soft and golden. Remove from heat.
Cut the cherry tomatoes in half. Put the pasta on each person’s plate and mix in 4 tomatoes worth of the halves and two handfuls of spinach, per person. Divide the fried onions evenly and mix in too. Serve.
Earlier this year, we raked up some of our leaves and squashed them thickly into large bags, leaving them under a hedge. We looked at them last week and they had rotted down into leaf mulch.
Now, there are plenty of nutritious ways to feed your gardens, and of course you can buy most of them. But doesn’t making your own sound so much better? You never know what goes into the compost you are buying, but if you make your own it saves money and will be a hundred percent naturally made by you!
Back to nutritious feeding: leaf mulch is what Monty Don called ‘gold dust’. And here is why he is right:
Organic mulch improves soil fertility as it decomposes, reducing the need for fertilizers. Mulches maintain soil moisture by reducing evaporation so less irrigation is needed from you. It inhibits weed germination and growth, reducing the need for herbicides. It buffers soil temperatures keeping soils warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. Mulching leaves simply recycles a natural resource.
This is the time of year for making your next supply. We use large bags that were once used for animal foods, similar to compost bags one can buy from the garden centre, but slightly tougher.
Word of caution: avoid “volcano mulching”, when mulch is piled against the base of a tree, it holds moisture, encouraging rot in the trunk.
Forget the leaf blower and bonfire, grab your rake and a large bag and get to storing some of that nutritious leaf mulch for your veg patch!
Mustard plants are any of several plant species in the genera Brassica and Sinapis in the family Brassicaceae. Mustard seed is used as a spice ( Collecting Mustard Seeds). Grinding and mixing the seeds with water, vinegar, or other liquids, creates the yellow condiment we buy from the supermarkets. The seeds can also be pressed to make mustard oil, and the leaves can be eaten as mustard greens.
The word mustard is derived from the Latin mustum or must, the grape juice that the Romans mixed with honey and the ground seeds of the mustard plant (sinapi) to create their mustum ardens, or ‘burning must’.
Some varieties of mustard plants were well-established crops in Hellenistic and Roman times but it is historically noted that: “There are almost no archeological records available for any of these crops”. Wild forms of mustard and its relatives, the radish and turnip, can be located in west Asia and Europe, suggesting that their domestication took place somewhere in that area. However, historians have concluded: “Suggestions as to the origins of these plants are necessarily based on linguistic considerations”. Encyclopædia Britannica states that mustard was grown by the Indus Civilisation of 2500-1700 BCE. According to the Saskatchewan Mustard Development Commission, “Some of the earliest known documentation of mustard’s use dates back to Sumerian and Sanskrit texts from 3000 BC”.
The mustard plant was brought to Britain by the Romans via France and there are numerous Roman recipes that use mustard as an ingredient. However serious mustard production was first recorded in France in the 9th century, usually based in religious establishments and this then spread to Britain in the 9th century. By the 14th century mustard was being grown in various parts of the country including the area around Tewkesbury, where the mustard was mixed with horseradish and took the name of the town. Most mustard produced in the Middle Ages was based on using the whole or crushed seeds, mixing them with liquid and letting the mix mature. The mix was often dried, making it easier for transportation, and then liquid added again when required for use.
In the 18th century, with the developments in milling techniques the husks of the seeds could be more easily removed and the seeds finely ground. The first record of the production of mustard flour is credited to Mrs Clements of Durham in 1720 who managed to keep the milling technique used a secret for some time allowing Durham to become the centre of mustard production in the country and allowing herself to accumulate considerable sums of money selling her mustard flour. Once her milling secret was discovered, other entrepreneurs began to invest in mustard production. Most notable in the 19th century was Jeremiah Colman who began milling mustard at his flour mill in Norwich. His mustard became the English mustard, a finely milled flour, yellow in colour (assisted by the addition of turmeric) and very hot in taste.
Mustard is now a world-wide condiment and there are numerous companies involved in making, using and marketing the product. The whole or ground seeds are still an important ingredient in cooking, especially in India and Asia, while in Europe and the Americas the processed seeds are still used as a table condiment.
There are three main varieties: white (Brassica alba) brown (Brassica juncea) and black (Brassica nigra).
Recent research has studied varieties of mustards with high oil contents for use in the production of biodiesel, a renewable liquid fuel similar to diesel fuel. The biodiesel made from mustard oil has good cold flow properties and cetane ratings. The leftover meal after pressing out he oil has also been found to be an effective pesticide.
We use mustard as green manure. Green manure is created by leaving uprooted or sown crop parts to wither on a field so that they serve as a mulch and soil amendment. Typically, they are ploughed under and incorporated into the soil while green or shortly after flowering. Green manure is commonly associated with organic farming and can play an important role in sustainable annual cropping systems.The value of green manure was recognized by farmers in India for thousands of years, as mentioned in treatises like Vrikshayurveda. In Ancient Greece too, farmers ploughed broad bean plants into the soil. Chinese agricultural texts dating back hundreds of years refer to the importance of grasses and weeds in providing nutrients for farm soil. It was also known to early North American colonists arriving from Europe. Common colonial green manure crops were rye, buckwheat and oats. Incorporation of green manures into a farming system can drastically reduce, if not eliminate, the need for additional products such as supplemental fertilizers and pesticides.
Benefits of using mustard or any other crop as a green manure:
When allowed to flower, the crop provides forage for pollinating insects. Green manure crops also often provide habitat for predatory beneficial insects, which allow for a reduction in the application of insecticides where cover crops are planted.
Suppresses other weeds from growing.
Green manure acts mainly as soil-acidifying matter to decrease the alkalinity/pH of alkali soils by generating humic acid and acetic acid.
Incorporation of cover crops into the soil allows the nutrients held within the green manure to be released and made available to the succeeding crops. This results from an increase in abundance of soil microorganisms from the degradation of plant material that aid in the decomposition of this fresh material.
Releases nutrients that improves the soil structure.
Reduces likeliness of plant or insect disease, notably verticillium wilt of potatoes.
Used for animal grazing, especially poultry.
Contains nitrogen that fertilises the soil without the need of commercial products.
So I’ve continued to harvest mustard seeds to put in homemade curries, but my mum has gone one step further – she has started harvesting little young mustards and adding them to her egg sandwiches at lunch time. Here is her recipe:
Egg and Mustard Green Sandwich
-1 egg -2 slices of bread (or 1 large cut in half) -Butter -1 tbsp mayonnaise -1 handful of mustard -Lettuce, tomatoes or other salad, to serve
Bring a pan of water to the boil. Stick a pin into the top of the egg and remove. Put the egg into the pan of boiling water and leave until it has become a hard boiled egg (completely solid). This could be between 5-10 minutes.
Remove from the heat, drain the hot water and cover the egg in cold water, leaving it to cool.
Spread butter over the bread so that both halves of the bread are covered on one side.
Once cold, remove the egg from the pan and peel away the shell. Cut the egg into thin slices, then dice so that it is in lots of cubes.
Mix the egg into the mayonnaise and then spread over the buttered bread. Add the mustard greens on top. Close the sandwich and serve with salad.
What to think of growing for next winter’s hungry gap?
It will start to flourish in the most ‘hungriest’ gap of all, around February when all of your stores have dwindled. Boil, steam, fry or add to stews, curries, soups, pizza toppings, lasagnes, bologneses, casseroles, etc and it will wilt down to nothing but is so good for you!
Huge plants that should last for two-three years once sown. They are frost resistant and produce huge green leaves that you harvest like kale. Pull them off, cut them up, and cook like cabbage/kale. They taste just like them.
Purple Sprouting Broccoli
This one will not be ready until just before spring each year, but it will give you an early green before the calabrese broccoli has even been planted out into the ground. Snip off the little flowers as the grow and boil or steam for some homegrown goodness before the rest of the veg is ready for harvesting. The plants are frost hardy during the winter months.
Giant spinach that lasts all year round and self-seeds magnificently. Plant a few and they will die back when they get worn out but will regrown pretty quickly. You will want to cook these leaves as they are a bit strong – avoid the stalks, they are not very tasty. I like putting mine on top of homemade pizzas or chucking them in a stir fry.
Plant lots of potatoes, store some and cover the rest in the ground with tonnes of soil and some horticultural fleece to prevent frost damage. They might suffer a little from slug damage but I promise that they will still be completely edible and wonderful! They last a lot longer in the ground than they do in storage.
These should be ready to harvest after the frosty time, during December and throughout the winter months. They can be roasted, boiled, mashed, made into soups, added to stocks etc. for a nourishing root vegetable.
I was surprised when our watercress flourished in the cooler months than it did throughout spring or summer. Grow it in pots and cover with fleece and it will be a salad leaf that will see you through winter.
It won’t last as long as watercress in the cold months but it will see you through a majority of it as long as you keep it fleeced.
Grow these on your windowsill indoors. These can include speedy cress, sunflower seeds, beansprouts, alfalfa, pea shoots, and lots more sprouting seeds are available in the shops.
Do you have any winter veggies to grow through the ‘hungry gap’?
Brussels Sprouts are members of the Gemmifera Group of cabbages, Brassica oleracea, grown for its edible buds. They look like mini-cabbages and taste like slightly stronger versions. The Brussels sprout has long been popular in Brussels, Belgium, and may have originated and gained its name there.
Forerunners to modern Brussels sprouts were likely cultivated in Ancient Rome. Although native to the Mediterranean region with other cabbage species, Brussels sprouts first appeared in northern Europe during the 5th century, later being cultivated in the 13th century near Brussels from which they supposedly derived their name. The French coined the title in the 18th century. It was common to put a landmark on a food. Whether they actually were developed in Brussels is not certain but there are records of Brussels Sprouts around where Brussels is as far back as the 13th century. During the 16th century, they enjoyed a popularity in the Southern Netherlands that eventually spread throughout the cooler parts of Northern Europe.
I grew this year the brilliant ‘Maximus’ which I highly recommend. I sowed it in February and planted it out after the frosts had gone. I did not harvest any until Christmas Day, Boxing Day and the day after but they could be picked from September onwards if you are lucky. I still have a few small ones left to develop that should see us through the winter months.
Other varieties to consider:
‘Noisette’ and ‘Groininger’ are good earlies, pre-Christmas.
‘Seven Hills’ is recommended for the Christmas season.
‘Wellington’ will offer a late winter harvest as will the red coloured ‘Red Rubine’.
Start sprouts off indoors in February in pots of compost, 1.5cm (1/2 inch) deep. Transplant April-June when the plants are big and strong with at least three leaves growing. Plant firmly in a trench with well rotted manure and Blood Fish and Bone mixed in. Space them 60cm apart. Water well – brassicas need hydration. Prop the plants up with sticks, especially as they get bigger. You will want to net them straight away to keep out the pesky Cabbage Whites, and I am afraid you will have to keep the insect netting on them all year round. However, these hardy plants will not need fleecing or any type of frost protection. In fact, they need a little cold to prosper.
Pick the sprouts from the bottom of the plant upwards, the largest ones first, a few at a time. However, don’t ignore the leaves of the actual plant. They make good cut-and-come-again greens and often taste milder than the sprouts themselves. Take a few at a time. Another thing you can do is chop the tops of the plant off. They taste very mild and are like mini-cabbages when boiled.
Brussels sprouts are rich in many valuable nutrients. They are an excellent source of vitamin C and vitamin K. They are a very good source of numerous nutrients including folate, manganese, vitamin B6, dietary fiber, choline, copper, vitamin B1, potassium, phosphorus and omega-3 fatty acids. They are also a good source of iron, vitamin B2, protein, magnesium, pantothenic acid, vitamin A, niacin, calcium and zinc. In addition to these nutrients, Brussels sprouts contain numerous disease-fighting phytochemicals including sulforaphane, indoles, glucosinolates, isothiocynates, coumarins, dithiolthiones and phenols. Brussels are credited with reducing cancer, cardiovascular disease and supporting the dietary system as it contains a good amount of fibre.
Steaming or boiling sprouts should only take about 6 minutes. Cook until just tender. They are of course brilliant with Christmas dinner or any other boiled veg meal (sausages and mash, roasted chicken are such examples) but don’t just reserve them for roast dinners. Shredded bacon mixed with Brussels Sprouts makes a good side dish. Bubble and Squeak is a classic. Chestnuts is another good one to mix in. Melted parmesan cheese on top. I personally like boiled potatoes, Brussels sprouts and cranberry sauce mixed together in the form of a dish – a light, warming continuation of Christmas dinner.
Another veg to consider is Brukale – which I actually prefer to Brussels Sprouts. It is a cross between a Brussels Sprout and a Kale. It is basically mini-kales that grow like Brussels Sprouts. Sow indoors in February (try ‘Petite Posy’ from Mr Fothergills) and plant out along with the Brussels Sprouts. Pick them like you would pick Brussels Sprouts and boil them for slightly less longer. Their taste will be less potent than a sprout.
Cranberries are a group of evergreen dwarf shrubs or trailing vines in the sub-genus Oxycoccus of the genus Vaccinium. Cranberries are creeping shrubs or vines up to 2 metres (7 ft) long and 5 to 20 centimetres (2 to 8 in) in height. They have wiry stems and small evergreen leaves. The flowers are dark pink, with very distinct reflexed petals. The fruit is a berry that is larger than the leaves of the plant. It is initially light green, turning red when it is ripe. It has an acidic taste that can overwhelm its sweetness.
Most cranberries are processed into products such as juice, sauce, jam, and sweetened dried cranberries (see useful recipe for these below), with the remainder sold fresh to consumers. Cranberry Sauce (see recipe below) is a traditional accompaniment to turkey at Christmas dinner in the UK, and at Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners in the US.
The name cranberry derives from ‘craneberry’, first named by early European settlers in the US who believed the expanding flower, stem, calyx, and petals resembled the neck, head, and bill of a crane. Another name used in northeastern Canada is mossberry. The traditional English name for cranberries is fenberry, originated from plants found growing in fen (marsh) lands. In 17th-century New England cranberries were sometimes called ‘bearberries’ as bears were often seen feeding on them.
American Indians enjoyed cranberries cooked and sweetened with honey or maple syrup—a cranberry sauce recipe that was likely a treat at early New England Thanksgiving feasts. By the beginning of the 18th century, they were being exported to England by the colonists.
Cranberries were used by the Indians decoratively, as a source of red dye, and medicinally, as a poultice for wounds since not only do their astringent tannins contract tissues and help stop bleeding but we now also know that compounds in cranberries have antibiotic effects.
Although several species of cranberries grow wild in Europe and Asia, the cranberry most cultivated as a commercial crop is an American native, which owes its success to Henry Hall, an gentleman in Dennis, Massachusetts. In 1840 he noticed an abundance of large berries grew when sand was swept into his bog by the prevailing winds and tides. The sandy bog provided just the right growing conditions for the cranberries by stifling the growth of shallow-rooted weeds, enhancing that of the deep rooted cranberries. Cranberry cultivation spread across the US, but also across the sea to Scandinavia and the UK. Cranberries became popular for wild harvesting in the Nordic countries and Russia. In Scotland, the berries were originally wild-harvested but with the loss of suitable habitat the plants have become so scarce that this is no longer done. The berries arrived in Holland as survivors of a shipwreck: when an American ship loaded with crates filled with cranberries sank along the Dutch coast, many crates washed ashore on the small island of Terschelling. Some of the berries took root and cranberries have been cultivated there ever since.
Historically, cranberry beds were constructed in wetlands. Today’s cranberry beds are constructed in upland areas with a shallow water table. The topsoil is scraped off to form dykes around the bed perimeter. Clean sand is hauled in and spread to a depth of four to eight inches. The surface is laser levelled flat to provide even drainage. Beds are frequently drained with socked tile in addition to the perimeter ditch. In addition to making it possible to hold water, the dykes allow equipment to service the beds without driving on the vines. Irrigation equipment is installed in the bed to provide irrigation for vine growth and for spring and autumn frost protection.
To grow at home: if you can grow rhododendrons or blueberries in your garden soil, cranberries should succeed. Otherwise, grow plants in pots, hanging containers or raised beds in ericaceous compost. Water with rainwater, not ‘hard’ tap water. Compost should be moist at all times, not waterlogged and should never dry out. Peg down or bury long, trailing stems – these will root over time. Feed during the growing season, if growth is poor with a little hoof and horn (15g per sq m) or sulphate of ammonia. Old beds can be revitalised by covering them with a 14mm (½in) layer of sharp sand in spring and working the sand down between the stems.
Propagation: peg down trailing stems from March to June, to encourage rooting.
Little pruning is required, other than to remove any excessively long and congested arching growth in early spring. Trim out straggly roots after harvesting.
Cranberries need organic, rich, moist to boggy acidic soils, ideally at pH 4.5, in an open, sunny site. Although they like constantly moist conditions, plants should sit above the water. Plant in garden soil, providing it is suitable. Alternatively, dig a trench 90cm (36in) wide by 30cm (12in) deep and line it with heavy duty polythene or pond liner, fill it with ericaceous compost for acid loving plants and soak with rainwater before planting or create a raised bed, 30cm (12in) deep. Plant at a spacing of 30cm (12in) in and between the rows in from October to December, in mild spells in winter or in March and April.
As far as pests are concerned, cranberries are vulnerable to primarily birds. We netted ours as soon as berries appeared this year and fortunately managed to harvest the (few) all (our cranberry bushes were only just planted last season so to get a few berries was pretty wonderful). Harvest from late-September to mid-October, when the berries are red and prise easily from the plant. They can be frozen or eaten straight away. We froze our few this year to add to my dad’s wonderful yearly Christmas creation of Cranberry Sauce for our Christmas Day dinner (see recipe below).
RHS recommended varieties:
‘Pilgrim’:We have two of these. Ideal for container growing, fruits ripen from July to September.
‘Early Black’: Early harvesting, small and deep red; ideal for sauces and for baking.
‘Redstar’: Ideal for window boxes or containers, dark pink flowers are followed by bright red fruits.
‘Stevens’: Mid season with large, red fruit.
Raw cranberries have moderate levels of vitamin C, fibre and the essential manganese (each nutrient having more than 10% of the Daily Value per 100 g serving, as well as other essential micronutrients in minor amounts). As fresh cranberries are hard and bitter, about 95% of cranberries are processed and used to make cranberry juice and sauce. They are also sold dried and sweetened.
For many years, researchers believed that the ability of cranberries and cranberry juice to help prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs) was partly related to the strong acidity of the cranberries. Recent research has shown that it’s not the acidity of the cranberries, but the unusual nature of their proanthocyanidins (PACs) that is related to prevention of UTIs. The special structure of these PACs (involving A-type linkages between their components) acts as a barrier to bacteria that might otherwise latch on to the urinary tract lining. For the cardiovascular system and for many parts of the digestive tract (including the mouth and gums, stomach, and colon) cranberry has been shown to provide important anti-inflammatory benefits. It’s the phytonutrients in cranberry that are especially effective in lowering our risk of unwanted inflammation, and virtually all of the phytonutrient categories represented in cranberry are now known to play a role. These phytonutrient categories include proanthocyanidins (PACs), anthocyanins (the flavonoid pigments that give cranberries their shades of red), flavonols like quercetin, and phenolic acid (like hydroxycinnamic acids). Dietary consumption of cranberry has also been shown to reduce the risk of chronic, unwanted inflammation in the stomach, large intestine (colon) and cardiovascular system (especially blood vessel linings). Drinking a little cranberry juice now and then seems to be a good idea…
So if you don’t fancy your cranberries raw, try making your own cranberry juice (if you have enough to spare), perhaps a Cranberry Sauce instead of Redcurrant Jelly for your roasts (see recipe below) or dry them out like you would to make apple rings and use them in a bread recipe or follow my Christmas Brownie and Walnut Cake recipe and serve them alongside it for a delicious dessert (you don’t have to wait until Christmas for it!).
Dad’s Cranberry Sauce
(Makes 4x 350g jars)
-900g fresh/frozen cranberries -Juice of 2 oranges -150g granulated sugar
Place the cranberries in a large pan.
Add the juice of the oranges to the pan followed by the sugar.
Bring everything up to simmering point, stir well, put a lid on the pan and let it all simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the cranberries are breaking down. Stir now and then.
Remove the pan from the heat. When it is cool enough to handle, scrape into sterilised jam jars. Store in the fridge. For freezing, when cool transfer the relish to a plastic container and freeze.
Christmas Brownie Walnut Cake with Dried Cranberries
Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a 23cm/9inch cake tin with baking parchment.
Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl in the microwave. Melt the butter and add to the chocolate mixture.
Whisk the eggs and sugar together until the mixture is pale and thick enough to hold a trail when the beaters are removed. Mix in the chocolate and butter mixture.
Add the flour, baking powder and cocoa powder, mixing to combine.
In a food processor or nut grinder, grind the walnuts. Mix into the other ingredients thoroughly.
Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin. Bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes until the cake has a nice crust on the outside but is slightly soft in the middle. When you cut into it to serve, it should gradually get gooey-er as you go further into the middle, the brownie element of the cake. Leave to cool in the tin.
Dust with icing sugar and scatter dried cranberries in the middle for decoration. Serve these cranberries alongside the slices. Store in an airtight container.
What has my mum been doing while I have been absent at uni? Collecting chestnuts. No, no, not just a handful. I am talking kitchen-overflowing-with-chestnuts sort of collection. There will not be enough for the squirrels despite ht productive year.
Last year (luckily) we got away with a poor chestnut harvest – I had too many apples to deal with that autumn – but the year before we had a similar glut. I am ashamed to admit that I don’t like chestnuts. It is a nice little fantasy of chestnuts roasting on an open fire, a Victorian Christmas treat, but I just don’t like them. Give me walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, brazil nuts and I am fine – dare to wave peanut butter under my nose and you risk a slap. Again, just don’t like the stuff!
However, in an attempt to find a way to a) preserve chestnuts, b) see if I can like them and c) just for fun, we tried making chestnut jam last winter with what we had.
Unfortunately, I still don’t like it but for anyone who likes chestnuts, vanilla or fun things like this, it might be a good gift this winter.
The recipe is from the River Cottage Handbook: Preserves. It is also on their official website. They recommend dolloping it on top of meringues or ice cream or buttered toast. I tried mine on toast, a bit like Nutella. If you like the idea of mixing it with whipped cream in a chocolate swiss roll it might be nice?
(Makes 5 x 225g jars)
1kg sweet chestnuts
400g granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla paste or extract
The first task is to remove the leathery shells and skin from the chestnuts. Use a sharp knife to make a knick in the top of each chestnut. Plunge them into a pan of boiling water for 2–3 minutes – sufficient time to soften the shell but not to let the nuts get piping hot and difficult to handle. Remove the pan from the heat. Fish out half a dozen or so chestnuts and peel off their coats. With luck, the thin brown skin under the shell will peel away too. Continue in this way until all are peeled.
Put the chestnuts into a clean pan and just cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 25–30 minutes, or until tender. Strain, but keep the cooking liquid.
Purée the chestnuts with 100ml of the cooking liquid in a food processor or using a stick blender.
Pour a further 100ml of the cooking liquid into a pan and add the sugar. Heat gently until dissolved. Add the chestnut purée, vanilla paste and honey. Stir until well blended. Bring to the boil then cook gently for 5–10 minutes until well thickened. Take care, as it will pop and splutter and may spit. Remove from the heat and stir in the brandy. Pour into warm, sterilised jars and seal immediately. Use within 6 months. Store in the fridge once opened.