I have not worked in the vegetable garden at all this Christmas break.
I know, very bad. But I was juggling work, university work and working in the pig run to prevent it from resembling the battle of the Somme over winter. Those are my only excuses.
Despite my lack of care, the garden has looked after itself pretty well (the grass is thriving in all of the beds it should not be in…)
It has been so long since I worked over there regularly that I had actually forgotten what I still had planted and left to harvest. I had forgotten the kale, the rest of the sprouts and carrots, the tree cabbage… all I thought we had left were potatoes. So I made a big effort and harvested and prepared lots of our produce during the week.
Carrots: these are the last of the carrots sown this year. They were under horticultural fleece and managed to survive some of the freezing temperatures we had suddenly. Not one has rotted so thank goodness we are on sandy soil. They were delicious and not a lot of damage or forking going on. We even had one gorgeous proper sized carrot!
Think they are ‘Flyaway’ carrots.
Celeriac: first homegrown celeriac harvested from this crop. I know, lazy. But it was in really good condition, a good size, and tasted really good. I like to boil mine but roasting them makes an excellent replacement/accompaniment to roasted parsnips as they apparently taste the same. I have also eaten it raw, grated with apple, in a salad and that is surprisingly good too.
Brussel Sprouts – the left over small ones from Christmas finished up. They did really well and packed a punch to the taste-buds.
Kale – the kale is still alive and doing pretty well despite the various slug/pigeon/ cabbage white attacks it had this year. I do love kale boiled and it goes great in stews, on top of pizzas, in casseroles or stir fries. Kale is brilliant because it fills in the cold ‘hungry gap’ aka, winter, when most other things aren’t available.
Garlic – I sneak up a bulb every time I need it. Garlic is still prolific in our garden from years of growing it.
Potatoes – Too. Many. Luckily, they taste really good and are in pretty good condition.
All of this dinner was homegrown, except the lentils. Self-sufficient and proud of my little garden for doing so well all on its own.
Christmas dinner can be a little tricky if you are vegetarian. Sure, you’ve got all the veg, bread sauce, Yorkshire puds and vegetarian stuffing if you like it, but unless you are splashing out on a nut roast, there isn’t a lot to make up a ‘main meal’. As a vegetarian – not just a vegetarian, but a fussy vegetarian who needs a balanced meal with all the groups for health reasons – Christmas dinner can be a pain when it comes to protein. I don’t like bread sauce, Yorkshire puds, stuffing or nut roast, so I’m basically doomed. This year, as I was catering for two vegetarians, I thought it was time to try a new recipe. I still had three pumpkins from the veg patch and I thought it was perfect for xmas dinner – I know they are traditionally linked with Thanksgiving, but in the UK we didn’t have it a month earlier so we could afford to use the pumpkin again!
I needed something quick and simple, with some protein in. I opted for cheese. As pumpkin is, well, bland, I also decided to throw some garlic in there too.
It is really basic and can be made in advance of the big day so it doesn’t take up space in the kitchen. Of course, you could make this any time of the year too 😉
Pumpkin, Cheese and Garlic Bake
-1 large pumpkin -Olive oil, for drizzling -260g cheddar cheese -20g Swiss gruye -2 garlic cloves
Preheat the oven to 180C.
Cut the pumpkin and remove the seeds. Cut the pumpkin into large slices and place on baking trays. Drizzle with olive oil and roast in the oven for about 45 minutes, or until golden and cooked. Allow to cool completely.
Cut the pumpkin up into small cubes and place in an oven-proof dish.
Grate the cheese and dice the garlic up into small pieces. Mix together and then sprinkle it over the top of the pumpkin.
Preheat the grill to high and heat the bake until the cheese has melted at the top is golden – it should only take a minute or two so keep an eye on it. Or, preheat the oven to 200C and bake for approximately 10-20 minutes, or until the top is golden and the cheese has melted.
Last night was probably the coldest nigh in the South East in months. The sun is now no longer reaching parts of the veg garden and it is dark sometime around 8pm. Now is the time to find something to grow in the last few months of 2018.
So what can you try growing as the weather cools down and the light fades?
Broad beans – Aguadulce or Superaguadulce– sow Oct-Feb, harvest Jun-Aug
Pea – Meteor – sow Oct-Nov, Jan-Mar, harvest May-Sep
Autumn planting onion sets – red Radar, brown Electric, white Snowball – sow Sept-Oct, harvest May-Jul
Picked first green-gage plums yesterday and collected a fallen ‘Victoria’ plum off the ground too. Blackberries are ripening. Broccoli has been picked. Five pumpkins are growing. It is August now – so that basically means autumn in the UK, but there is talk of 30C at the end of the week…
Yesterday I harvested our first aubergine – eggplant – of the year and made Ratatouille. I have posted a recipe before, but I think this one was better, so I will re-write it in a moment.
One of the best things about this dinner is that everything (except for the olive oil for frying and the rice I ate with it) is homegrown.
So here is the updated recipe:
-Olive oil, for frying in – 1 onion, sliced – 1 large aubergine (eggplant), sliced into small chunks – 2 medium sized courgettes (zucchini), sliced into discs – 1 red bell pepper, sliced into small chunks – 1 large garlic clove, diced – 250g fresh tomatoes, sliced in half – Salt and pepper, for seasoning
Heat the oil in a large pan. Fry the sliced onion and aubergine, turning it down to simmer.
Add the sliced courgette and pepper. Add the diced garlic and the tomatoes, stirring to combine.
Leave to simmer for at least 15 minutes – 30 minutes, the longer the better, stirring now and then.
Once the vegetables are tender and the tomatoes have broken down, releasing their juices to become a sauce, add salt and pepper for seasoning and remove from the heat and serve hot in dishes.
Option: serve with potato, sweet potato or rice, and any other vegetables for a hearty meal.
Other news: Firstly, my new fiction book, Crazy Killer Sister, is available now. If you fancy a summer read, please consider? I’m not one for advertising so apart from Facebook, this blog is the only way I promote it!
I don’t like rain, but I am actually happy it is here because it has been weeks without a drop and I am relieved to be given a night off from watering the parched plants.
So as you may have guessed from the title, we have a fridge full of courgettes (zucchini). They are going in everything I am cooking at the moment, such as my dinner from tonight, dahl. For the recipe, check out my Courgettes page, Carrot and Courgette Dahl.
Eaten with, of course, runner beans, and some kale. Using homegrown onion, garlic and mustard seeds as part of the spice base.
Runner beans: froze two bags today, cooked one container that I picked today for dinner tonight, and have another whole container to do tomorrow… before picking the next lot. Does anyone else feel like they have suddenly become blind while picking beans and always seem to miss some that turn into GIANT beans?
Bought a new bean slicer to replace the old one we broke which is making life a little simpler again. Anyone else tried standing there for over an hour slicing runner beans with a knife? I could not move my legs they got such bad cramp…
Not much has been going on in the veg patch as time has been taken up with watering and picking, again. The raspberries are nearly over, the strawberries have finished. Now we are onto harvesting potatoes, runner beans and courgette/ zucchini by the bucket-load.
Also picked this week beetroot, broadbeans, cucumber, lettuce, rocket, spinach, first tomatoes, blueberries, blackcurrants, loganberries, boysenberries, jostaberries, redcurrants, onion, garlic.
Bad news is the birds are still being pesky. We have quite a few pairs of blackbirds taking up residence in the acre. They already stripped the morello cherry by sneaking under the netting and stripped a blackcurrant bush yesterday that got exposed. They are not very good at sharing…
Slugs and snails – touch wood – have not been trouble lately due to the hot dry weather but almost had a heart attack when I nearly stepped on a grass snake when I was locking up the other day.
And finally, celebrated my sister’s 20th with a homemade cake which I have to share because it has unicorns on it…
Rosmarinus officinalis, commonly known as rosemary, is a woody, perennial herb with fragrant, evergreen, needle-like leaves (similar to hemlock needles) and white, pink, purple, or blue flowers. It is a member of the mint family Lamiaceae. The name “rosemary” derives from the Latin for “dew” (ros) and “sea” (marinus), or “dew of the sea” – how beautiful!
The plant is also sometimes called anthos from the ancient Greek word ἄνθος, meaning “flower”. Rosemary has a fibrous root system. It is native to the Mediterranean and Asia, but is reasonably hardy in cool climates. It can withstand droughts, surviving a severe lack of water for lengthy periods so perfect for the really sandy soil gardens. Forms range from upright to trailing; the upright forms can reach 1.5 m (5 ft) tall, rarely 2 m (6 ft 7 in). The leaves are evergreen, 2–4 cm (0.8–1.6 in) long and 2–5 mm broad, green above, and white below, with dense, short, woolly hair. The plant flowers in spring and summer in temperate climates, but the plants can be in constant bloom in warm climates; flowers are white, pink, purple or deep blue. Rosemary also has a tendency to flower outside its normal flowering season. It has been known to flower as late as early December, and as early as mid-February (in the northern hemisphere).
The Virgin Mary is said to have spread her blue cloak over a white-blossomed rosemary bush when she was resting, and the flowers turned blue. The shrub then became known as the “Rose of Mary”. Rosemary was considered sacred to ancient Egyptians, Romans and Greeks.
In the Middle Ages, rosemary was associated with wedding ceremonies. The bride would wear a rosemary headpiece and the groom and wedding guests would all wear a sprig of rosemary. Rosemary was often entwined into a wreath, dipped in scented water and worn by brides at the alter. The wreath symbolized fidelity, love, abiding friendship and remembrance of the life the woman had led prior to her marriage. The crowns and garlands of rosemary at weddings, in turn, led to the lays, or amorous ballads of the Troubadours, 1100 – 1350, referring to rosemary as “Coronary”. Anne of Cleves (1515 – 1557), Henry the Eighth’s 4th wife, wore a rosemary wreath at their wedding. At that time, wealthy bridal couples would also present a gilded branch of rosemary to each wedding guest. Robert Hacket, in a wedding sermon in 1607 said, “Let this Rosemarinus, this flower of men, ensigne of your wisdom, love and loyaltie, be carried not only in your hands, but in your heads and hearts.” Rosemary root was “seethed in wine vinegar” and the lotion was then used to wash the feet of a thief. The lotion was thought to sap the strength of the robber so that he would not longer commit robbery, steal or do any further harm. The Countess of Hainault, Jeanne of Valois (1294 – 1342), sent her daughter Queen Phillippa (1311 – 1369), wife of King Edward III of England (1312 – 1377), an accounting of the virtues of rosemary and it is presumed a number of plants or cuttings accompanied the gift. The original manuscript can be found in the British Museum. The Countess suggests that laying the leaves under the head of a man while he sleeps will “doth away evell sprirites and suffereth not the dreeme fowl dremes ne to be afearde.”
Bancke, in his work Herball from 1525, suggests techniques to use rosemary as a remedy for both gout of the legs and to keep the teeth from all evils. He also recommended that smelling rosemary regularly would “keep thee youngly”. Serapio suggested that a garland of rosemary worn about the head was a remedy for the “stuffing of the head, that commeth through coldnes of the brain”. He also says that rosemary grew so plentifully in Languedoc (a former province in south-eastern France) that “the inhabitants burne scarce anie other fuel”.
Rosemary was also believed to offer protection from the plague. In 1603, when bubonic plague killed 38,000 Londoners, the demand was so high that the price increased from one shilling for an armful of branches to six shillings for a handful. To put that price increase into perspective, one price list from 1625 indicated that one could obtain 18 gallons of good ale or double beer with carriage delivery for only 3 shillings or an entire ‘fat pig’ for 1 shilling.
Rosemary has long had a popular reputation for improving memory. The Guardian reported in 2017 that sales of Rosemary oil to students in the UK studying for exams had skyrocketed because of Rosemary’s perceived benefits to memory (that was the summer my mum started feeding my sister rosemary for her A-Level exams…). The plant has also been used as a symbol for remembrance during war commemorations and funerals in Europe and Australia. Mourners would throw it into graves as a symbol of remembrance for the dead. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Ophelia says, “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance” (Hamlet, iv. 5.). In Australia, sprigs of rosemary are worn on ANZAC Day to signify remembrance; the herb grows wild on the Gallipoli Peninsula. Rosemary history includes a number of references to its reputation for strengthening the memory and as a symbol for remembrance. Greek scholars were known to twine rosemary in their hair when studying for exams in the hope of aiding their memories. According to one old ballad:
“Rosemary is for remembrance
Between us day and night,
Wishing that I may always have
You present in my sight.”
Parkinson (1567-1650), the King’s Botanist to Charles I, mentions that in countries where rosemary was well-suited and grows to a large size that thin boards of rosemary were used to make lutes and other instruments, carpenters rules, and a myriad of other implements. The French believed that combing their hair once a day with a rosemary wood comb would prevent giddiness. Rosemary wood was so prized that unscrupulous merchants would often use less expensive woods and simply scent them with rosemary oil. In Spain, rosemary was used as a protection against witchcraft and menaces on the road. George Borrow mentioned how he came to learn about this superstition in his work The Bible in Spain (1843). He first mentions meeting a traveler who had adorned his hat with rosemary and later mentions a lady, who concerned for Borrow’s own safety, offered him some for his own hat.
In 1987, researchers at Rutgers University in New Jersey patented a food preservative derived from rosemary. The chemical called rosmaridiphenol, is a very stable antioxidant useful in cosmetics and plastic food packaging.
Set out rosemary in spring, planting seedlings 2 to 3 feet apart. Plants are slow growing at first, but pick up speed in their second year. Feed with a good fertiliser and keep well watered. Mulch your plants to keep roots moist in summer and insulated in winter, but take care to keep mulch away from the crown of the plant. In the spring, prune dead wood out of the plants.
Since it is attractive and drought-tolerant, rosemary is used as an ornamental plant in gardens and for xeriscape landscaping, especially in regions of Mediterranean climate. It is considered easy to grow and pest-resistant. Rosemary can grow quite large and retain attractiveness for many years, can be pruned into formal shapes and low hedges, and has been used for topiary. It is easily grown in pots and the ground cover cultivars spread widely, with a dense texture. Rosemary grows on friable loam soil with good drainage in an open, sunny position. It will not withstand waterlogging and some varieties are susceptible to frost. It grows best in neutral to alkaline conditions (pH 7–7.8) with average fertility. It can be propagated from an existing plant by clipping a shoot (from a soft new growth) 10–15 cm (4–6 in) long, stripping a few leaves from the bottom, and planting it directly into soil.
Rosemary leaves are used as a flavoring in foods such as stuffing and roast lamb, pork, chicken and turkey. Fresh or dried leaves are used in traditional Mediterranean cuisine. They have a bitter, astringent taste and a characteristic aroma which complements many cooked foods. Herbal tea can be made from the leaves. When roasted with meats or vegetables, the leaves leave a mustard-like aroma with an additional fragrance of charred wood, compatible with barbecues.
Mum’s Herby Bread
-1tsp fast-action dried yeast -500g strong white bread flour -1tsp salt -1tbsp sugar -380ml tepid water -20ml olive oil
For the herbs: -1 handful rosemary -1 handful thyme -1 handful sage -2-4 large garlic cloves, diced -olive oil, for brushing
Add 1tsp of yeast to a large bowl. Add the flour, salt and sugar. Mix in a little bit of water at a time, turning over the ingredients with your hands or an electric machine’s dough hook. Once you have a sticky, but not soggy dough consistency, tip into another large bowl coated with the olive oil. Cover with a tea-towel or a plastic bag and place in a warm location (airing cupboard is good), for about an hour or two, or until the loaf has risen.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200C. Roll out the dough onto a surface dusted with semolina or flour and knead into a round shape. Place on a lined baking tray. Brush with olive oil before scattering a handful of rosemary, thyme, sage and diced garlic cloves on top.
Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes. The bread will be golden on top and will sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.
We’ve had some sad looking butternut squashes staring at us in the kitchen for a while and I finally took pity and tried out making my own quick tagine-styled dish. It is really good and not at all hard so give it a go if you have a squash glowering at you from the fridge!
Butternut Squash and Chickpea Tagine
-1 small butternut squash/ 1/2 a large one -1 onion, finely sliced -Olive oil, for frying in -1 garlic clove, finely diced -16 cherry tomatoes or 4 large tomatoes, sliced -450g cooked chickpeas -Rice, to serve -Greens, to serve
Cut up the butternut squash and remove the peel. Cut into fine chunks and fry in the olive oil with the onion, continually stirring so that the squash cooks, but does not burn. Fry for about 5-10 minutes, or until the squash is browning slightly and is cooked through.
Add the diced garlic followed by the tomatoes. On a high heat, stir the mixture like you did when frying the squash. You want the tomatoes to start to break down and release their juices, but not to burn. This could take between another 5-10 minutes.
Add the chickpeas and mix in well.
Serve with rice and greens. Also lovely with sweet potato.
Not to try and scare fellow gardeners but hey, its not far off till March – the biggest sowing month of the year!
This is when my sowing indoors becomes nuts, but because of the frosts there is little you can sow directly outdoors at this time of year still.
What you can sow are the hardy things like Broad Beans, winter Salad – Lettuce, Meteor Peas … but they all need to be sown under horticultural fleece and, ideally, a cold frame.
But do you know what is a good idea to sow directly outdoors first thing in the season, that has to remain under the cover of fleece the whole year round thanks to pesky flies? Carrots.
Carrots don’t like to be transplanted, they need a lot of time to develop, and need covering from carrot flies anyway so why not make a little bed and sow some seeds?
To make you want to grow your own carrots, here is a recipe to get you enthusiastic. Do you know what carrots go great in? Bolognese.
*To make it vegetarian, omit the meat. You can put pre-soaked or canned kidney beans in instead, but you don’t need to add more protein if you are serving it with grated cheese.*
-Olive oil, for frying -1 large onion, finely sliced -4-6 giant carrots, or the equivalent as small ones -2 garlic cloves, finely diced -x2 450g cans of tinned tomatoes -500g beef mince (optional) -Dash of soy sauce -Dash of Lea and Perrins Worcester sauce -Pinch of salt -Pinch of pepper -Spaghetti, to serve (about 500g) -Peas, runner beans or broccoli, to serve -400g grated cheddar cheese, to serve
Warm the olive oil in a large frying pan. Fry the onion and the grated carrot together, stirring the contents. You want the carrot to lose some of its orange colour, to cook, but you don’t want it all to burn.
Once the carrot is cooked, add the tinned tomatoes and the diced garlic. Mix in well.
In a separate frying pan, fry the mince meat if using. Once cooked, add to the sauce, or if using kidney beans, drain if from a can and add to the sauce straight away instead. Mix well.
Add the flavourings and stir. Leave it to come to the boil and then turn the flame down and allow it to simmer.
Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti in boiling hot water until cooked through. Bring another pan to the boil and cook the greens.
Serve with a helping of spaghetti and greens, the bolognese on top, and a good helping of grated cheddar.
Left overs can be used for chilli con carne (just add diced chilli) or for lasagne.
I am going through a bit of an aubergine (eggplant) phase.
This curry is quick, simple and delicious with some rice and parsley and most of the ingredients can be sourced from your own veg patch.
-1 large aubergine, de-stalked and cut into medium sized pieces -Coconut oil, for frying -1 large onion, finely sliced -2 cloves of garlic, diced -1 1/2tsp mustard seeds -1tsp nigella seeds – 1tsp coriander seeds -1/2 tsp ground turmeric -1 1/2 tsp garam masala -4 large tomatoes/ 8 cherry tomatoes, cut into pieces -2 handfuls of parsley, to serve -Rice, to serve
Preheat the grill to high. Place the aubergine under the grill and toast until lightly charred on each side. Set aside.
Put the coconut oil in a frying pan and add the onion. Fry until turning golden, then turn the heat down to simmer.
Add the mustard, nigella and coriander seeds. Mix and simmer for a couple of minutes before adding the ground turmeric and garam masala, followed by the garlic. Mix.
Add the chopped tomato and turn the heat up. Keep stirring. The aim is to get the tomatoes to break down as much as possible before serving.
Cut the aubergine into small pieces and mix into the curry. Keep stirring for a few minutes until the tomatoes have released their juices and broken down so that the ingredients look combined.
Serve with fresh parsley scattered on top alongside rice (or I have had it with potatoes, to make it extra home-grown magic).